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Ridding the bathroom of single-use plastics

 (Handout)
(Handout)

Matt Kennedy is adamant that his company, Fussy, wasn’t named after his own career path — but he has been picky in his choices.

After studying mechanical engineering at university, the 36-year-old certainly found it hard to settle down. He became a DJ, then a recruiter; he later qualified as a chartered surveyor managing sustainability projects in the City. From that he made another move, this time into adland, working on campaigns including M&S’s Christmas advertisements, while running a side hustle making Japanese sake.

And finally, working on ads for shampoo and shaving brands that created lots of single-use plastics, Kennedy found himself “witnessing first-hand the failure of these brands to address many of the environmental problems we face”. At home, meanwhile, his wife “was struggling to find a natural deodorant that actually worked”.

Putting the two problems together, Kennedy started the next trajectory of his career — as an entrepreneur, setting up Fussy to make “sustainable, natural products that actually worked”.

Success has been swift: the Bethnal Green-based firm has sold £3 million worth of refillable deodorant in its first year. Now, Kennedy says, he’s “on a mission to banish single-use plastic from bathrooms worldwide with simple, convenient and effective sustainable personal care products”. Sounds like he might settle down in this role for a bit.

How did he conjure up a natural deodorant in a refillable container, when his varied career had mostly involved sitting behind a string of different desks? “Googled it,” Kennedy laughs. “We went through more than 20 pages of Google, spending hours and hours scrolling through blogs and forums looking for formulators and manufacturers. The refill casing was the hardest part — it’s made from waste sugar cane and every time we sent prototypes to the factory to insert the deodorant, it would collapse in the middle.”

Some £20,000 of savings and loans initially took the deodorant from concept to reality: Kennedy worked with a cosmetics scientist, coming up with 40 deodorant formulations: “Testing started off very crudely — lots of sniffing our armpits and measuring damp patches with napkins – now we have external sniff tests and a bacteria incubator to prove it is effective for 24 hours vs benchmarks.” Fussy launched on Kickstarter in October 2020. That campaign pre-sold £100,000 of deodorant in 30 days, “with no marketing spend,” Kennedy points out. A £470,000 pre-seed round, partly via a beauty accelerator platform, led to him quitting corporate life to work on Fussy full-time.

Initially, the entrepreneur had expected to launch a refillable deodorant in three months. “But it took us almost two years from the idea to the reality. People often speak about the naivety you need to start a business and I can certainly agree with that.”

Social media fuelled sales at first: “It is a deodorant for the Instagram generation — a product that people want to share and tell their friends about.” But appearing on Dragons’ Den last February saw demand soar. “It was amazing, but also totally broke us,” Kennedy laughs. “We’d spoken to lots of people who’d previously been on the show, and they said, ‘take your best month, and double it’, so we’d spoken to our supplier and thought everything was ready. But we sold out of everything: we had at least 20,000 new customers that night.” Kennedy also left the Den with investment from Peter Jones and from Deborah Meaden — who will be speaking on sustainable business growth at the Evening Standard’s upcoming entrepreneurs’ event, SME XPO in April.

Fussy has now raised a total of £2.1 million of equity funding, with backers including SFC Capital. Next month its deodorant is set to hit shelves in a High Street chain, and Fussy will launch in Europe later this year — Kennedy is eyeing its £3.8 billion deodorant market.

Revenues are forecast to double this year, and its founder is still shocked at Fussy’s speedy growth. “Turnover is more than £3 million, and we’ve stopped over 100,000kg of single-use plastic. We’ve graced the armpits of everyone from Holly Willoughby to the Dragons to the musical superstar that is Lizzo. But to me, Fussy is still just an idea discussed around the kitchen table and I have to pinch myself that there’s now thousands of people using it and a whole team supported by the business.”

Founded: 2020

Staff: 14

Turnover: £3.1m

Headquarters: Bethnal Green