Gaining Momentum: Sonia Deasy, Pestle & Mortar


The latest in our series of briefings with influential Irish business leaders features Sonia Deasy, co-founder and CEO of skincare firm Pestle & Mortar.

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Sonia Deasy has created a foundation for the future – literally. In 2014 she launched no-fuss skincare business Pestle & Mortar, combining generations of wisdom and natural ingredients with science to create a pure hyaluronic serum. Now, a whole range of products and profit later, she’s just won a contract with Bloomingdales in New York and is aiming for the UK and Australia.

What’s the unique selling point of Pestle & Mortar?

“Our USP is our approach to skincare formulations. We harness the power of both science and nature to create unique formulations that are free from worrisome ingredients but deliver real skin benefits. I’ve drawn on my heritage – I’m Irish-Indian and come from a line of six generations of village medicine men, and my uncle still practises natural healing in India. I’ve combined all that wisdom with science. We strongly believe everyone is beautiful, and our products are designed to nurture and protect that natural beauty.”

What were your early breakthrough moments?

“The main one was when we first realised there was a real need for simple solutions for beautiful skin in the marketplace. My husband, Padraic, and I used to run a portrait studio and saw how skin looked close up – it was often dull, dehydrated and lacking lustre. The frustration of the professional models with the products available echoed my own. Not only were they not effective, but the choice was too complicated – how are you supposed to choose one out of five moisturisers that a brand offers? We have one moisturiser, but the hero ingredients in it are scientifically formulated and clinically tested to suit every type of skin. They’re active ingredients but safe for everyone.”

What are the main challenges facing businesses, especially start-ups, that want to scale up?

“I suppose it’s making sure they can cope – and the way to do that is with robust systems. Padraic and I have always been self-employed so have learned to develop ordering, accounting and inventory systems that really work. If these systems are solid enough, they can take you up to the next level and way beyond.”

How has your business changed since you launched?

“We began in 2014 with just me, Padraic and one other employee, formulating one product and hoping we could sell it. Now we have a team of 25 with eight products in the range and have become a contender in the global market – we’re now on sale in Bloomingdale’s flagship store in New York, and they’re rolling out our products to their other stores across the US.

“We also have our own in-house marketing and graphic design teams and are just about to move into new 10,000 square foot premises, which is very exciting. But on the other hand, our philosophy has not changed at all – we’re exactly the same company with the same values as when we started. We’re a founder-led business, and although the company is getting bigger, I’m very involved with everything.”

“If you’re passionate about doing something, don’t wait around for the money, just start doing it. We didn’t start with the cash, we started with the passion”

Sonia Deasy, Co-founder and CEO, Pestle & Mortar

What about in terms of finance?

“We’ve grown nicely, but we’ve never overreached – the first product paid for the second, the second for the third and so on. We monitor our sales very closely – scaling up is fine, but if you don’t have the sales, you don’t do it.”

What attitude should entrepreneurs have towards financial support?

“We’ve got where we are without any loans or investors and are very happy with what we’re achieving. Down the line we might look at going outside for more finance but that’s likely to be if we got an enormous order from, say, China, and we needed to fulfil it very quickly, and it looked like it would be sustainable. You still need the sales to back it up, and it’s important to keep control of what you do.”

What should an entrepreneur’s approach to risk be?

“All entrepreneurs are risk takers by definition – Pestle & Mortar is both my and my husband’s job – we eat out of the same pot, and we have five children between eight and 14 to support with it. So if that isn’t a risk, I don’t know what is. You have to take risks to grow, but as I’ve got older, I assess them more than I used to. By all means you need to take risks – we all do – but you need to be able to cover it.”

Recommended Reading: Gaining Momentum: Niall Horgan, Gym+Coffee

How did you approach building a team?

“We hire people who believe what we believe. At Pestle & Mortar, you’re not just taking a job, you’re joining a brand and a family. Padraic and I have always done all the hiring. It’s not always easy attracting people because we’re on the outside edge of Dublin, but we do get some really good CVs on the desk. It’s important that they’re qualified and willing to learn, but for me, personality is a huge part of a successful hire.

“The right person for me is someone with whom I feel comfortable – good at what they do, sure, but also the type of person with whom you could have a cup of tea and chat about nothing. It’s about personality and fitting in.”

What’s the best business tip you’ve ever received?

“If you’re passionate about doing something, don’t wait around for the money, just start doing it. We didn’t start with the cash, we started with the passion. I think I learned that from my dad – like my kids, I grew up in a self-employed household and that taught me a lot about just grabbing the bull by the horns and going for it.”

What’s next for Pestle & Mortar?

“We’re looking to grow our range and our global reach – this year we’re launching into Marks & Spencer in the UK and Myer, the largest department store chain in Australia. Exciting times ahead.”

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