How I Became an Accidental Entrepreneur

 


I stood at the window of an operating theatre and watched my grandfather lead his team through a total knee replacement. I was barely ten. My grandfather is in his eighties now and still a practicing orthopedic surgeon. Both his sons — the elder one is my father — followed him into medicine, and as a child, I planned that I would do the same. I was good at science — the typical geeky student with braces, spectacles, and a bad case of acne — and my future in medicine seemed bright.

A decade later though, I wasn’t in medical school; I was in business school, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in operational research and clueless as to what I wanted to do post-graduation. I graduated in 2016, and soon enrolled in an operational research MSc program.

My program began drawing to a close in the summer of 2017, and I found myself in Milan for the holidays. My pimples had also decided to keep me company. Over the course of the previous 6 years, I had tried several treatments for them and visited multiple doctors. I had taken antibiotics and at one point, even started Isotretinoin, the so-called “miracle drug”, but experienced intolerable side effects. I had also tried skincare — all the big names from Proactiv to Neutrogena and Noxzema — but nothing seemed to work.

But on my last day in Milan, I found myself in a LUSH store behind the Duomo where a chance encounter would forever change the trajectory of my career.

A Lucky Encounter

LUSH is a colorful store, and I walked in eager to try out everything on display. Rosie*, the LUSH customer service representative who helped me that day, was also eager to help. Rosie was well informed and understood my skin exceptionally well. I had a lot of acne, redness, and inflammation.

Rosie recommended products that would calm down inflammation and soothe my skin. I had always been told that acne resulted when your skin overproduced oil and needed to be treated with aggressive products that would dry the skin out. But I took Rosie’s advice and bought everything she recommended — nothing had worked in the past and I was willing to take a chance.

I began using everything religiously and noticed a difference in the health of my skin. While my acne didn’t clear completely, a shift away from the harsh acne products significantly reduced how inflamed my acne was and how irritated my skin looked. My perspective around skincare shifted and I began to see it as more than just an unnecessary activity; I began to believe that the right skincare could make a difference in my skin — without any medication.

When I originally started exploring skincare, I subscribed to the “natural is better” philosophy and even experimented with essential oils (which I now know are not recommended for the skin). This was primarily because LUSH, having stimulated my interest in skincare, was responsible for shaping my perspective. LUSH products always highlight the natural ingredients that they contain. Ingredients are classified into three categories: “natural ingredients”, “occurs naturally,” and “safe synthetics”, and the former two are highlighted in the ingredients lists of all their products. As I started doing more research, however, studying cosmetic chemistry and skin biology, my perspective shifted and I learned that natural isn’t always better.

The ingredients list of “Dream Cream”, a body lotion by LUSH. The ingredients lists for all of LUSH’s products follow a similar format.
The ingredients list of “Dream Cream”, a body lotion by LUSH. The ingredients lists for all of LUSH’s products follow a similar format.

Becoming An Accidental Entrepreneur

With no products 100% right for me, I began experimenting. I was still in the UK then and had easy access to ingredients that I would have difficulty finding in Pakistan. I remember the first cleanser I ever made for myself: a DIY concoction that leveraged honey, apple cider vinegar, and coconut oil — the last of which, as I found out later, is not suitable for acne-prone skin and caused me to breakout.

A lot of research and DIYs later, I decided to pursue my own brand of skincare. I was acutely aware of the lack of gentle yet effective products, especially for acne, in the market. And this shortage was even more pronounced in Pakistan, where access to most foreign brands was limited at that time — global conglomerates like Dove, Neutrogena, and L’Oréal were some of the only exceptions, and few, if any, reliable local brands existed. So in the spring of 2018, a few months after returning to Pakistan, I launched Skin Solutions — my first ever skincare brand and my very first experience in business.

In the beginning, Skin Solutions products were natural products — mostly the result of some research and my prior experimentation with DIYs. I created the formulations myself and had been actively using them for a while before launching them, and they had legitimately helped my skin. My motivation behind launching the brand was to bring natural, clean — by which I mean not toxic for the human body — beauty that’s also good for the skin to a wider audience, a category of skincare that I felt Pakistan lacked.

However, as my knowledge base grew, I continued to improve the formulations and discarded everything I was doing wrong, starting with using the word “natural” to advertise. I knew this word sounded attractive to consumers but I couldn’t morally justify lying to market my products and pushing a philosophy I no longer believed in. However, the decision to change the name of the brand was a chance decision based on regulation governing brand registration — I found out that I couldn’t register the name Skin Solutions since a company with a similar name was already registered. Changing the name was a highly advantageous decision that allowed me to rebrand, and Solutions became AccuFix Cosmetics in January 2019.

While some of my later products from Skin Solutions are still part of AccuFix Cosmetics, most of the range is entirely new. I now subscribe to a different skincare philosophy: I believe in using gentle ingredients that respect the skin, regardless of whether they’re natural or synthetic. I also believe that “less is more”. Customers should be recommended what their skin needs; they shouldn’t be recommended unnecessary products that do nothing more than serve the brand’s interests and pollute the environment. And I believe that philosophy, in addition to a genuine concern for the customer’s health, was key to the success of AccuFix Cosmetics.

Reflecting On My Journey

From humble beginnings in 2018, I’ve come a long way. Skin Solutions started with simple products that I made in my mother’s kitchen. I had a job in a technology services company along with it and treated the brand as nothing more than a side hustle for the longest time.

I was, however, adamant that I didn’t want to be stuck in a job all my life and actively worked on finding ways to promote the business. My first little growth spurt happened in 2019 when I appeared on Juggun Kazim’s YouTube channel. She’s a popular actress who, among other things, also discusses DIYs and skincare on her channel and has a large, loyal following. I worked hard after that to sustain the growth and make AccuFix a well-known brand. At that point, it wasn’t much more than a small concern with one full-time employee that handled operations and a part-time employee that handled my social media feed.

In early 2020, I quit my job and decided to work on AccuFix full-time. I developed a new website and redesigned my packaging. I focused on keeping the packaging design, and website user interface simple to align with my less is more philosophy. I also made ingredients front and center to emphasize their importance in product performance.

The packaging of one of AccuFix Cosmetic’s latest products, the Hydrating Gentle Daily Cleanser.

Since the start of 2020, I’ve come a long way and employ around 20 people. We no longer work in my mother’s kitchen. As a team, we’ve serviced 20,000 customers and counting. We’ve also grown from 2,000 followers on Instagram to 25,000 and reach almost 300,000 Instagram accounts every week. We rank top in Pakistan for several relevant keywords on Google and have built a brand that’s now recognized across all the major cities in Pakistan — all without having a brick and mortar presence.

It’s been quite a journey. Every day, I’m challenged to be better and do better than I did yesterday. I’m constantly learning new things in various domains, from accounting and administration to cosmetic chemistry and product development.

It can be challenging, and at times, overwhelming — in today’s market, you need to evolve at a breakneck pace, as evidenced by the simple fact that even over the last two to three years, accessibility in Pakistan to products from around the world has improved considerably, resulting in a significant increase in competition.

In business, you’re constantly reminded that there’s more that you don’t know than you do and that what you knew yesterday isn’t enough for today. But seeing a happy customer who went through exactly the same struggle I had before finally finding a solution in AccuFix, makes the sweaty long hours worth every minute.

*The name has been changed.

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