Being brought up in the English countryside surrounded by nature was the perfect backdrop to Joanna Jensen’s success as the founder of the fastest-growing natural baby and child toiletries brand in the UK.
Joanna left school at 18 and began a career in property in London, and set up her first business as an Interior Design Consultant for Hong Kong and Singaporean property investors. She then moved into banking, travelling the world before founding Childs Farm in 2010.
Q. Where were you born and what was family life like for you as a child?
I was born in the UK. My sister and I were brought up in the English countryside, with lots of outdoors, running around, ponies, dogs and animals! I was brought up by a single mother, so what we lacked in funds, we made up for in fun.
Q. Who was your biggest influence or role model and how did they shape your vision for your life?
My grandfather has been the biggest influence in my life. He always supported my ideas, helped me start my first business, and never lost his temper. He also had a very dry sense of humour which I have inherited, and great big bushy eyebrows – which I didn’t!
Q. Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I’ve always been a risk taker, so wanting to set up a business out of the needs of my children – they both had sensitive and eczema-prone skin – was a natural solution. I think had I known the real financial risk some time ago, I don’t think I would have continued. But the risk paid off and we have a business which is making a profit and continues to grow in triple digits every year.
Q. Was Childs Farm your first entrepreneurial venture?
No. I set up my first business when I was 21 doing Interior Design Consultancy for Hong Kong and Singaporean property investors.
Q. Why did you step into the child skincare industry?
I suffered from skin allergies as a child, and then I struggled to find products for my two daughters who both have sensitive skin. What struck me was that natural products for kids just didn’t look very inviting; they tended to have medicinal-looking packaging and uninviting smells. I struggled to find any products that would look after the whole family and be a pleasure to use, so I created Childs Farm as a solution.
I already had some background knowledge of natural remedies and started the business at my kitchen table. The feedback I received was not only that the range smelled fantastic, performed brilliantly and that children loved using it, but also that it worked wonders on sensitive and eczema-prone skin. This unexpected outcome was the springboard for a series of clinical and user trials, which we still use today.
I then began to sell the range online and to independent UK retailers, before John Lewis and Ocado in 2012, and Boots and Waitrose following in 2014. Today we are in every major national retailer and are the fastest-growing baby and child toiletries brand in the UK: 150 000 bottles of our hero product, the baby moisturiser, are sold every week in UK – that’s one every 14 seconds!
Q. What has your journey been like as a business owner? (failures, successes, support, skills lacking and learnt, etc.)
I came into an industry selling to retail, which was completely new to me, so I had an extremely steep learning curve to climb. It has been extremely challenging at times – running a business selling product which needs to be produced in advance, always is. But without challenge we don’t grow, and I have loved the learning I have experienced. Some of the tricky times I wouldn’t want to repeat, though…
Q. Are you financially savvy? Did you know how to manage the books or did you have to learn this?
Yes, I worked in investment banking for a number of years so this is an area I was quite well equipped to manage.
Q. Do you have a business mentor? If you were to mentor a new business owner, what advice would you give them based on your experiences?
I don’t have a business mentor, no, but I am a great believer in asking other people lots and lots of questions! For any new business owner, I think the most important thing is to believe in yourself, your product and your success. I always remind myself of Walt Disney’s words, “If you can dream it, you can do it”.
Q. How would you describe your approach to leadership in the workplace?
Partially by example – I am happy to do anything that needs doing. But mainly by inspiration tinged with a little madness.
Q. As the brains behind an award-winning product, what’s next on your vision board?
We are always working on adding new products to the range but they are all top secret until they get released!
Being a Mom
Q. Tell us a little bit about your family (ages, names, personalities, etc.) and also about farm life.
I have two daughters, Mimi (13) and Bella (10). We live in Hampshire in Southern England with our four dogs and I enjoy walking them across the downs which surround our area to destress. We don’t have other animals now – the business took over a few years ago – but we used to breed horses.
Q. Momtrepreneurs constantly juggle careers with their home life. Do you think there is such a thing as a work-life balance, and how do you manage to juggle it all?
Working and being a parent is about the most challenging things that you can do together! Realise this, and then don’t beat yourself up. As parents, we often feel guilty for the amount of time and energy we spend on our work.
With over 50 employees, I have a lot to juggle and a lot of people to think of before myself, sometimes my girls are, unfortunately, compromised. If someone wants to catch me on the way out, I can be late home for dinner because that individual’s needs to them, at that time, is really important.
I need to get better with boundaries – and I am trying! – to say to my colleagues that yes, I can talk to you about this, but not right now as otherwise I will be late for my daughter’s flute recital (rather than talking to the colleague, missing the recital, and then feeling miserable because I have my girls down again).
My advice is to think about all the wonderful gifts you have in life – your children, your family, your home, food on the table, a roof over your head. And make sure you spend time every day thanking your God for them, and enjoying them. Be aware that there are compromises to be made for success; if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it!
Q. Can you share a few of your craziest moments as a mom and businesswoman and how you came out the other end?
I like to think that most parents have had to write notes in a business meeting using a crayon and a napkin when they realise they’ve left their bag on a train, but I’m of an age when I really don’t care what people think, and getting in a tizzy just isn’t worth. I just keep on going in my direction which part of being a challenger brand – you don’t really care what the Establishment think; if you know your consumer well, then that’s all that counts.
Q. How do you resolve conflict at home?
As diplomatically as I can – without losing it!
Q. You have two daughters. What are your thoughts on women empowerment and how are you raising them to one day become leaders in their world?
I am really conscious of how my daughters are completely unfazed by anything because of what I do for a living. They will be the best people they can be because they know they can do whatever their skills allow, and they witness daily me negotiating with various people, including them! They are a hoot and I love their individuality and awareness of themselves and the world, so whatever they choose to do, I know they will do it with great fun and humanity.
Note: Childs Farm products contain carefully selected essential oils that are mild enough to be used on newborns, babies and children. Aromas range from organic sweet orange, mint, tangerine, apple blossom, raspberry, grapefruit and tea tree oil, with moisturising elements such as cocoa and shea butter, argan oil and vitamin E. Childs Farm is currently available in Baby City, Clicks stores and via takealot.com.