Founder Focus: Celia Hodson of Hey Girls
Newly crowned winner of the Natwest Great British Entrepreneur of the Year, Celia Hodson, started Hey Girls at the beginning of 2018 with her daughter, after she discovered that 1 in 10 women struggle to access menstrual products in the UK. Since launching, Hey Girls has distributed over 6.2
What was your eureka moment?
It was one of those; someone needs to do something kind of moments, not really thinking that someone was going to be me.
One of the reasons I am so passionate about ending period poverty is because I experienced it myself. As a single parent of three children (including two girls), I understand the struggle of bringing up a family on benefits. We now have the language to describe period poverty, but I know that it is not a new phenomenon. There was no help to cover the costs of period products twenty years ago, when my family was growing up, and the situation for low-income families is even worse now. Setting up Hey Girls seemed like the obvious things to do to make a change.
What would your elevator pitch be?
At Hey Girls, we believe that access to period products is a right not a privilege – no one should have to compromise their health and wellbeing. So, as well as manufacturing and selling Buy One Give One Period Products and donating the matched products, Hey Girls runs an education program to empower people (and that includes boys and men) to talk about periods– ending the stigma, and ensuring everyone has the information they need to manage their menstrual health. What’s not to love?
How did you test your idea?
I took the basic concept of a Buy One Give One model to focus groups across the UK. Wonderful girls and women gave their time freely and attended sessions in cafe and pizza restaurants to talk about their current choice of pads or tampons and they helped design both the Hey Girls brand and our prototype period products. I’m thrilled that all the girls and women on our packaging and featured in our marketing materials are those girls from the focus groups, donation partners and our team members. Hey Girls is just one big and constantly expanding family.
When founding Hey Girls, I brought a clear vision for what the enterprise should achieve – led by values. Everything is driven by generating donations to alleviate poverty, but Hey Girls also operates to the highest environmental standards. Our products are plastic-free, sustainably sourced, and biodegradable. That was one of the non-negotiables from our focus groups too.
What advice would you give someone thinking of starting a business on their own?
Start somewhere and move up! I meet so many budding entrepreneurs who tell me that they have been working on their business plan for twelve months and still not moved into action. I always suggest that folks start, just do a small pilot, reflect, refine and then go again – and if it’s not working then fail fast.
Know where you can flex. When I set up Hey Girls I hadn’t considered supplying public and private sector space with pads and tampons as I thought the market was online and in supermarkets but 18 months into our journey those contracts are 75% of our turnover. So keep an open mind to new market opportunities. Including that new segment of customers into our wider customer base as enabled us to donate 6.2 million period products across the UK.
Continue to upskill and learn from other businesses you admire! Hey Girls recently partnered with One Billion Lives – a fantastic new content channel created by SAP and Social Enterprise UK. Its main goal is to showcase the stories of a range of social enterprises in the UK and abroad. I’d encourage anyone interested in setting up their own social enterprise to check it out. You can see Hey Girls featured amongst a range of health and wellbeing brands here.
Finally, and most importantly, be honest with yourself. If you have that nagging feeling that something isn’t quite right, then it probably isn’t going to work, so listen to your gut.
Do you have a mentor or are you one?
I mentor several early-stage start-up enterprises but to be honest I’m sure I get more out of our sessions than they do. I love their can-do vibe and the agile way they work though tasks.
I have rolling mentors that can assist me with different areas of the Hey Girls growth plan. These have changed over the months as the business’ needs and mine as its leader have developed. Sometimes I just need to speak with someone who’s been there and done that. Someone who can say, “yes, we tried that and this was the result”, or even “watch out for X, Y and Z”. I’m all for learning by doing, but sometimes I’d rather take on board someone else’s knowledge if it’s going to save valuable time and save us from costly mistakes. I feel fortunate to have been introduced to several seasoned entrepreneurs who have all been extremely generous with their time and expertise.
What’s your plan B?
I’m more of a glass half full kind of a person so I go full steam ahead with plan A and flex as required. I had (temporarily ) retired before I started Hey Girls so I guess it would be returning to being a Granny to my three grandchildren and doing lots of gardening.
What is the most worthwhile investment that you have made?
I regularly take time out to reflect and have a conversation with myself about what’s working and what needs to change. Usually, that’s just a good walk with my dogs but its hugely valuable. I believe in investing in my team’s skills and capacity development where ever possible and get great enjoyment in watching them shine at work.
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
I’m not sure if it’s a failure, it depends how you look at life, but I turned down a listing offer in a supermarket because their company values didn’t align with those of Hey Girls. Getting your products on the shelves of a supermarket is seen by many as the holy grail in retailing but I guess it’s back to that gut feeling. Something told me that we were not on the same page around ethical supply and I decided to walk away from the contact. It hurt the balance sheet but I was able to sleep much better when I finally made the decision.
What is coming up for Hey Girls?
Since winning the Great British Entrepreneur in November it’s been all go at Hey Girls. We have a campaign going live in the new year with our wonderful friends at The Big Issue, Waitrose and Adam&EveBBD so look out for that in February. We will shortly complete our full range of period products with our very own period pants in six super cute styles and absorbancies and yes you guessed it – all Buy One Give One.
What is the book you would recommend that everyone reads and why?
I only read product improvement or leadership books so if you are thinking of setting something up and require direction I would go for Disciplined Entrepreneurship – 24 steps to a successful start-up by Bill Aulet. It’s a comprehensive guide to creating innovative and highly successful products – as the title suggests it walks you through the actions any industrious person needs to succeed. And it comes with a workbook to keep you on track. Amazing.
How do you find balance in your daily life?
Oh dear; it was all going so well! – I’m not sure I’ve quite sorted that one just yet. I spend time with family whenever I can which is so precious. It recharges my batteries and feeds my soul. On a daily basis I practice mindfulness – usually when travelling as its helpful when I’m captive on a train and I find it boosts my performance at the other end of the journey.