When Tim Keaveney had the shower that changed his life, he was working in corporate finance for Barclays. “I was living in a house share in Shepherds Bush,” the 31-year-old explains, “and in the shower, looking at all the single-use plastic products around me, I thought: ‘there has to be a better way’.”
Post-bathroom research taught him that a typical cleaning spray is made up of at least 90% water, packaged in a single-use plastic bottle - “and we’re using billions of them to clean our homes every year - completely bonkers!”
The timing, Keaveney adds, “felt right: David Attenborough’s Blue Planet and the Government’s plastic tax meant public awareness had never been higher. Data from [retail research firm] Kantar showed almost 29% of the UK grocery market was ‘Eco Active’ - so actively looking for more sustainable brands. I knew I’d found something that I was passionate about and had to tackle.”
Keaveney says he had “always wanted to do my own thing - I’d tried my hand at a few different things from a charity fundraising app to a fantasy football app at uni before taking a job in corporate finance to pay for those previous failures.”
He had been working in the City for five years, but quit his job to found Homethings. Its effervescent tablets, added to tap water to make cleaning sprays, now bring in revenues of £1.5 million, two years after their conception.
“But we had a nightmare getting the product to market,” Keaveney admits. “The idea just didn’t exist at the time. Working with expert green formulation chemists, we went through iteration after iteration of the formula and fragrances before we settled on one that performed better than leading eco sprays and smelt amazing too.
“We then approached literally hundreds of manufacturers of effervescent. None of them wanted to know. Almost all effervescents are produced for pharmaceutical or supplement brands - why bother with a piddly cleaning concept? We were at the end of our tether – when eventually one firm near Bournemouth was willing to take a punt with small production runs and an unproven concept.” Homethings products are still made there today.
Initial research was funded by savings from Keaveney and his fellow founder, uni friend Matt Aubrey, who together put in £50,000. To raise cash for production, Homethings launched on Kickstarter in September 2020: Keaveney says he “expected a trickle of family and friends to buy our things out of sympathy” but the firm ended up making £16,000 sales on the first day. “It was a seminal moment; it proved that there was real demand from shoppers for a new way of doing things.” In total, the crowdfund raised £45,000.
Homething’s first products, an all-purpose cleaner and bathroom spray went on sale online; initially the company used a third party firm to fulfill orders, “it was disastrous and we had quite a few instances of customers ordering cleaning refills but receiving wine, supplements and even a sex toy!””
By March 2021, the firm was stocked in Waitrose. Demand was boosted by an appearance on Dragons Den - a rare episode where all of the Dragons wanted to invest in the business. “We got a big spike in traffic to our website and we haven’t looked back since,” Keaveney says. He struck a deal in the den, but didn’t follow through - “We had mismatched expectations about how hands on they would be, but the Den was an amazing experience for the business.”
Since then, further backing has come from angel investors and a bigger Crowdcude round of £1.1 million in 2021. The firm is also sharing Amazon’s HQ: “we’re squatters as part of its sustainability accelerator,” Keaveney adds.
As for the future, Keaveney says Homethings will expand into more powder-to-gel cleaning products, and more tap-water refillable ranges. “If we walk down the supermarket shelves in five years time and it’s full of refills - for Homethings but also for other brands - that is what success would look like. We want everyone to stop shipping billions of single use plastic bottles filled with 90% water around the world every year. We need the big brands to follow suit to make a huge dent in reducing the carbon footprint and plastic waste in our industry.”
HQ: Liverpool Street
Turnover: set to hit £1.5m this year