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How HiSmile grew from $20,000 to a $40 million business in 3 years

Written by Mariah Klay
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From $20,000 to $40 million in 3 years

Gold Coast entrepreneurs Nik Mirkovic and Alex Tomic were only 21 and 22, when they invested $20,000 of their own money into launching teeth whitening company HiSmile.  

Spotting a gap in the market, Nik and Alex decided to produce a vegan-friendly, cruelty-free teeth-whitening range that includes a one-size-fits-all attachable mouth tray and LED kit.

Since launching, HiSmile has become a globally recognised brand, turning over more than $40 million within only 3 years of launching.

We caught up with the entrepreneurial duo to get insights into some of the unique tactics that have enabled their rapid growth.

A Q&A with Nik and Alex

Talk to us about how HiSmile started… how did you think of the idea originally?

We worked backward, looking at the market and where we thought we could find our niche. We first wanted to understand what cultural and business trends were relevant and then how we could capitalize on them.

Looking at social media and the power of speaking to your brand, we realised that there was a definitive gap in the market in oral hygiene. All of the big players had been around for decades and, there was an incoming trend of teeth whitening (but with no companies harnessing brand well enough to capitalise on it) That is where we decided to start HiSmile.

So many aspiring entrepreneurs have great ideas but get stuck when it comes to actually building a first version of their product. Can you share how you went about actually creating a teeth whitening product that worked?

We obviously had an idea of the type of product we wanted to create and did our research on it to make sure that we were understanding the basics. Then we took it to a chemist outlining clearly our ideas for manufacturing and went about tailoring a product that fit HiSmile. We made sure to get all of the relevant approvals globally to make sure that our product was safe for general public use, and most importantly we tested it on ourselves to make sure it was a good product because if you don’t think it’s worth the time, why would anyone else.

I think the most important lesson for aspiring entrepreneurs is to not get too romantic about getting the product perfect on the first go, everything in entrepreneurship is flexible and changing, so you must not get too set on your ideas, just go out there and test, and let the market be your judge.

You launched in 2014 with only $20,000. What did you spend this initial budget on? For other entrepreneurs looking to start a business on a limited budget, what are three tips you can give them to help them get the most out of their money?

We spent the majority of our budget on creating and purchasing stock, and the rest of our money we had bootstrapped, we used to send out to influencers (who were an underutilized asset at the time).

Three tips we would give to entrepreneurs would be:

  1. Understand clearly your target market so that you are not wasting budget on areas that aren’t relevant to them, and where their attention is
  2. Linking to tip 1, understand where their attention is, and focus all energy on that area (in our case, social media)
  3. Listen to yourself and don’t care what others think, at the end of the day, it’s you that you answer to, so it’s you, you need to listen to.
You’ve engaged a lot of influencers to increase awareness of HiSmile. In the early days when you had a limited budget, what did you do to get these influencers on board?

We always wanted to make sure that we provided more value to them than they were giving them. And we focused small first, only targeting the Gold Coast, and the surrounding suburbs, focusing on influencers who we believed had an impact in the region. We made sure that our product was top-notch, so that we were giving away a product that many of them would’ve purchased if we hadn’t sent it to them.

This year you’ve had some really big names like Conor McGregor, Kylie Jenner, and Kendall Jenner promote HiSmile. What’s the secret to getting in touch with high-profile people? What impact has it had on HiSmile’s growth?

There’s no secret sauce to getting in contact with these high-profile influencers. I think first of all you have to believe that you will get there one day, so visualization is key, and then second, making sure every action you take maps towards that goal, and that you are truly putting all of your time and energy towards it. If you do those things, a lot of things tend to fall into place.

In terms of impact, obviously big names such as the ones stated are great for brand building, BUT you must have all the other stuff in your business churning at 100% before even thinking about reaching out to one of these names. We had all the relevant points of attention (in terms of marketing) already mapped out and executing before we approached these big names so that when they did promote for us, the results were 10x as opposed to us struggling to get ROI on our investment.

A lot of businesses shy away from influencer marketing as it can be more difficult to track results. What do you do to measure the ROI of different influencers?

We don’t really measure ROI in the traditional sense of how many sales we can create. Instead what we look at is what can WE do with the content they create for us. We like to think about our large group of influencers (2k at any one time) as actors in a larger film/production we are creating.

At HiSmile we believe in the idea that we are a media company like Buzzfeed, much more than we believe that we are a product-based company. So, with this thought process, we don’t view influencers in terms of direct ROI or reach to their followers (which is still great) but we instead look at what we can do with their content on our own platforms.

To go from $20,000 to turning over $50 million in three years is a massive accomplishment. We’re sure there are many factors that have led to this, but if you had to distill HiSmile’s success down to just 3 or 4 core factors what would they be?

There are 3 core factors – hard work, visualisation, and execution.

One of the many things that set HiSmile apart is the fact that you offer monthly subscriptions. What are the advantages of having a subscription model business? What percentage of your revenue comes from new customers vs. subscribed customers?

The advantage of having a monthly subscription is of course that you’re not only paying for new customers with your marketing and have a rolling income that comes in each month for the company. As well as this, the product we are offering is toothpaste which is something that every person needs/uses. As is, our subscription model is less than two months old, so of course, it’s a process, but we definitely envision it being the largest part of our business going forward in the next 1, 5, 10 years.

We’ve talked a lot about what you’ve done right. But in business, some of our biggest lessons often come from the things we do wrong. What are some of the mistakes you’ve made in business? What are some of the things you’ve tried that haven’t worked?

I don’t think we ever think of anything we do as a mistake. Might seem cliché but we truly believe that every move that has been made was for a reason and has lead us down the path we are now. It is either a lesson learned that made us better or something that caused us to not make a mistake that we otherwise might have.

We’ve tried to launch other previous businesses before individually and those haven’t worked out, but the mark of a true entrepreneur is the ability to persevere and learn, which is what we are continually doing on a daily basis.

What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you before starting a business?

Honestly nothing, the process has been amazing, but the one thing we would say to someone starting a business is that you have to love the process of creating a business, not just look forward towards the outcome.

So, what’s the future looking like for HiSmile? Where do you hope to be in 6 to 12 months from now?

The future is bright for HiSmile and we believe that we will be one of the household name brands not just in Australia, but worldwide. Big goals, but that’s something we are continually working towards.

There’s no doubt that the success of Hi Smile is incredible. Any business owner can achieve the same level of growth if they have the right strategies in place.

Hear more from the top entrepreneurs in Australia

If you loved hearing how Nik and Alex made HiSmile into the success it is today, check out our weekly podcast The Make It Happen Show where we feature the top entrepreneurs and industry experts in Australia to ask them how they made it happen, and their biggest lessons and strategies to help you make it happen too.

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