Tell us about CleanKit and what it does?
CleanKit is a specialist range sports care products for sportswear and equipment, which helps you to look and feel your best at every work out. Our products are developed specifically to clean specialist gym clothes and kit, helping to keep that ‘like new’ feeling.
Where did the idea for sports care come from?
Myself and Sinem, CleanKit co-founder, are both pretty active. Sinem loves yoga and I box and go to the gym most days. We wanted to create products which enhanced the gym experience.
It was Sinem who really had the eureka moment when she realised, people pay for premium gyms, premium gym classes and premium gym kit – but there is no premium cleaning product. Sinem asked me what I’d change about the gym. Easy, the smelly gym bag. We wanted to create a cleaning alternative to every-day detergents made specifically for gym kit and clothes.
What is a typical day for you?
It does not exist! We’re a very small team and I led on all aspects of the launch and now manage the brand.
One day I could be focusing on marketing and branding, another finance and forecasting and the next day looking at supply chain and logistics – anything and everything.
What main challenge did you face during this process and what did you learn?
With CleanKit we were keen to move as quickly as possible, so the main challenge we faced was from being a small team and needing to pull in skills. CleanKit was driven through agile working. When needed, I’d pull together squads drawing from existing expertise within the business. This allowed us to act quickly and responsively, constantly bringing fresh minds and perspectives to the project.
Sitting as a lean start-up within Unilever created great opportunity for two-way learning between large company and small start-up. I was able to draw from the experience and knowledge within the Unilever network, and in return the teams who joined our squads could bring learnings from CleanKit and the benefits of agile ways of working back to their teams.
What advice would you give to other aspiring entrepreneurs?
Network as much as possible. If you share your passion and ambitions with people around you, you’re more likely to connect with the right people at the right time.
Understand that you can’t be the expert of everything! Seek and take any opportunity to sit down and talk to an expert – listening and learning something new first-hand is worth its weight in gold.
Learn to be decisive and, regardless of obstacles put in front of you, always find an alternative route. If you’re in a situation where you’re saying, “if this happens, that’s it we’re finished” you’re not thinking about it properly. Learn from every mistake, take a step back and then re-approach.
And finally, if you do something you love – it makes it a whole lot easier. When you really love and understand your business and brand, you want to fix every problem and you persevere because you know that the product you are making will help someone one day, including you!
What do you think is the most valuable skills entrepreneurs should have?
I’d say the overall mindset – you need to be positive. Always take value out of every decision and step, regardless of how its gone. Just because something fails does not mean there is no value. Ask what you have learnt and how you can use that to improve. Even before CleanKit launched, we’d already learnt so much and had so much to share.
When did you join Unilever and what led to you being the co-founder of CleanKit today?
Having just completed my PhD in Chemistry, I joined Unilever as an R&D Graduate on our Unilever Future Leaders Programme (UFLP) in 2016 where I worked in our R&D Disruptive Innovations team in Port Sunlight.
There is a great support network here at Unilever and you are encouraged to pursue projects you are passionate about. It was my director who suggested I get in touch with Sinem, as he knows I love sport, and from that introduction I began leading on the launch of CleanKit during my final UFLP rotation.
I’d never seen myself as an entrepreneur, but I jumped at the opportunity and have developed new skills way beyond the scope of my original role. If you speak to someone at Unilever and you share your passion and ambitions, it doesn’t fall on deaf ears.