This couple bootstrapped their way to a multimillion-dollar business. Here are their top tips for success

Running a business is never smooth sailing.

But Emily Hamilton and Alexander Ostrowski count themselves as “very lucky” — not just because they have each other as husband and wife, but because they’re “complementary” business partners as well. 

“My area of expertise is managing the finances and operations, making sure the business is as smooth and effective as possible,” Ostrowski told CNBC Make It

“What I admire Emily for is her product knowledge … We are complementary in our experience, responsibilities and abilities.” 

The Singapore-based couple runs Coco & Eve, a Bali-inspired beauty brand behind the “Like a Virgin” hair masque — which has a cult-like following on TikTok

Like many other companies, the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges such as supply chain issues, but it also was a time of opportunities. 

Mastercard: $900 billion more was spent online at retailers last year as COVID kept consumers at home

With more people around the world stuck at home and shopping online, the couple quickly pivoted from direct-to-consumer to an “omnichannel” strategy.

They partnered with online marketplaces such as Shopee and Amazon, while expanding their presence in physical stores such as Sephora, said Ostrowski.

Hamilton added: “This helped us survive through Covid.” 

But they did not just survive, they now seem to be thriving — Coco & Eve claims to have grown 240% from 2020 to 2022. Launched five years ago with $220,000, the founders say they are “well on the way” to $100 million in annual revenue. 

The duo shared three tips with CNBC Make It on how to run a successful business —  in good and bad times. 

1. Putting customers first 

When it comes to building a successful business, Hamilton has one guiding principle: you have to make products that people love. 

She launched the hair masque in 2018 when she saw a “mid-tier space” in hair care products that had yet to be filled — products of salon-grade quality, but at an affordable price.

“That’s where I really saw the market potential. When we were launching, vegan beauty was definitely on the radar,” said Hamilton. 

The best thing you can do is identify problems early and fix them.

Emily Hamilton

Co-founder, Coco & Eve

“So it’s important for us to be vegan and cruelty free — to be ingredient conscious … that really resonated with our customers.”  

But the work doesn’t stop at creating one successful product. Hamilton said she still looks at customer feedback everywhere from emails to social media. 

“It’s a really good source of feedback, from what customers love, to what problems they are facing,” she added. 

“The best thing you can do is identify problems early and fix them.”

2. Being cash-conscious 

With rising inflation, the cost of doing business is not only higher — consumers are also thinking twice about their spending habits. 

The founders said they’re “cash-conscious every step of the way,” even though the self-funded company has been profitable since the end of 2019. 

“Every retailer we have on board, every product we launch, every new initiative —  we do a business case,” said Hamilton.

“We look at how much it’s gonna cost for logistics … marketing or any other costs and then we break it down.”

This is crucial for the company, even if it requires them to “annoyingly measure everything” in the business, she added. 

3. From ‘product love’ to ‘brand love’

A huge part of being an entrepreneur is taking risks — that’s the part that is most exciting for Hamilton.

“It’s the creativity and being able to build something … You can work on a product for two years and you don’t know who’s going to buy it — that’s what I love,” she added. 

“When it is a success, it’s amazing. If it’s not, you accept that these are just some bumps in the road.” 

When people love one product, you can convert product love to brand love.

Alexander Ostrowski

Co-founder, Coco & Eve

Today, Hamilton continues to expand the range of hair care products for Coco & Eve, and has even ventured into skin care, body care and sun care. 

“When people love one product, you can convert product love to brand love,” Ostrowski shared.

The company said there’s been a “300% increase in R&D investment” since the pandemic and it’s their commitment to innovation that has cultivated a loyal customer base.

“I’ve been having a lot of fun with innovation — we’re aiming to launch 10 products a year,” she added. 

“We want to keep that going and build up all the categories while the brand is growing.”