Name: Kiwi Keeley
Company: Elemental Herbology
Job: Head of sales and development
Location: Shoreditch, London
Elemental Herbology is a naturally active luxury beauty company, available in 24 countries and spas worldwide. Kiwi Keeley was the first staff member to join founder Christy Goodger in the company's infancy, building it to a global brand and now acting as Head of Sales and Development.
the Story so far:
Leeds University (English Degree): 3 years
Head of Marketing and Online for a HR company: 1/2 years
Production Secretary for the BBC: 2 years
Travelling: 3 years
MA English Literature, Kings College in London
Marketing role in a Brand Development Company: 2 years
Marketing role for the National Trust for Scotland: 1 year
Head of Sales and Development for Elemental Herbology: 2008-present
Where did it all begin?
I did an English Degree at Leeds pre-tuition fee era when it was very much routine to go to university post A-level (perhaps now it's more 'acceptable' to consider alternative routes into direct employment). I had grand visions of working in publishing, like everyone who did an English degree. But things worked out differently.
So you moved to London...
I moved to London really just to get the first job I could. I was sending my CV to anybody, all the recruitment companies I could think of. I got a job completely by chance with a recruitment company who said ‘we haven’t got any roles for you but we do need someone to head up our marketing department’.
It wasn’t even an industry I wanted to be in. But the point was it got me into London and got me meeting and mixing with people. I think if I was to give anyone advice about anything, it’s all very well trying to look for work experience in the sector you have your eye on, but increasingly it’s so difficult to do that. You can get stuck living at home, always trying to search out the 'perfect' voluntary role that exactly matches what you think you want to do.
I really think if you just get yourself into London or Manchester or wherever the centre of the kind of thing you want to be doing is, then opportunities will find you, if you keep your eyes open to them.
And that’s exactly what happened to me.
A friend of mine was working at the BBC. They used to have a production panel – almost like a secretarial bureau, very 60s – where they had freelance staff, and people going in and doing quite admin based jobs. My friend recommended I go and speak to them and after a rigorous interview I managed to get onto their books.
So I left my job and went to work for the BBC. I had my English degree, and had a broad interest in culture and the arts in general which led to an employed role in the BBC Arts department, working as a Production Secretary. My job involved managing the team diaries, logging programme scripts, helping on shoots and connecting the office with the production teams out filming, whether that was hiring helicopters in London or researching hotels in Afghanistan.
I was working on a programme called Omnibus, which doesn’t air anymore unfortunately. The problem, as often happens in huge corporations, was if you’re good at your job, you tend to get stuck there, and if the job you’re doing isn’t necessarily something you want to be doing forever, it’s quite hard to elevate from that.
I stayed there for 2 years. The whole experience was amazing. I met lots of interesting people, and as an employer the BBC does look brilliant on your CV.
But I wanted more challenge, to be the one that they made programmes about, not the one wondering where the helicopter was.
So what did you do about it?
I was 23 when I left the BBC, and I went travelling with my then boyfriend for about 3 years. It was amazing, we just packed up our bags and went, Asia, India, China, Eastern Europe, Australia. Don’t discount the value that this kind of experience can have on your life or as part of your broader self-education. We learned so much about different cultures, working practices, and our own skills and capabilities. You do a lot of thinking on a 15 hour bus journey across Inner Mongolia.
By the time I was about 26 I started thinking I really ought to be get back to the 'real world' and so I came back to London and went back to the BBC. The benefit of having worked somewhere with a lot of short term contracts is that there is often temporary and contract work available. I ended up working as an assistant in the drama department, and while I was there successfully applied to 'finish' my academic learning as I had always wanted to do by completing a Masters in English Literature at Kings College, London.
Doing my Masters was essentially a self-indulgent personal pursuit, as it doesn’t offer any direct vocational skills or opportunities. But it was something that I had always wanted to do and it did allow me to continue to explore my own mind and passions.
So how did you get back into the job market?
Whilst completing my Masters, I obviously still needed to earn money to stay living in London where I had settled. A friend of mine, who was on the board of several start-up companies, knew of a small company needing to expand their team, so I went for it. This was a company that specialised in brand development.
Their purpose was assist people developing their own brands. If you were a famous hairdresser and you wanted to launch your own range of shampoos and hair products, you’d call a company like the one I worked for and we’d go in and advise on how to develop your concept, secure retail positioning, that sort of thing.
It was a really small company, there were only about 4 people there, so everything was very integrated. I was going along to presentations, meeting clients, and being involved in everything. It’s great when you have bosses who are firstly very good at mentoring, and secondly quite trusting, so they let you do things and give you a lot of responsibility.
It makes you perform more and if you feel like you’re trusted, then you kind of raise yourself up to it.
After about 2 years at the company, I left, mainly because they were moving offices to the middle of nowhere. I started working for the National Trust for Scotland, once again in a marketing role. It was based in Edinburgh, but I worked in the London office, where there was one other person. It was all about fundraising.
I was liaising with all sorts of people from all manner of walks of life to put on events and raise awareness, which was really interesting. But it was actually quite eye-opening to see how charities function and how there’s so much inefficient bureaucracy. It was an exploration of something I’d always wanted to look at, but it wasn’t paid well and ultimately wasn’t where I wanted to be.
We must be getting to the Elemental Herbology bit now...
Back in 2008, I went for a drink with a mutual friend who introduced me to Kristy Goodger, the founder of Elemental Herbology. She knew that we would get on brilliantly and that Kristy, having just launched the company, was looking to start staffing her team.
At that time Kristy was a one woman team.
She developed the entire brand concept herself: every pump, every spritz, every bit of packaging, every spa treatment, all the products. She gave me a little pot of product to try, I totally fell in love with her and the brand, and decided that I really wanted to work with her.
It was slightly jumping into the fire, because my background wasn’t beauty per se, but it was development and branding, pitching to people, and translating ideas to public perception. I was getting all of Kristy’s product notes and information about the ingredients and the brand, and translating that to the customer, which was totally the sum of my previous experiences. There were just the two of us for about 18 months, working from home from our laptops, with a spare bedroom full of products.
What have you been doing for Elemental Herbology since then?
Initially, there was a lot of driving up and down England to all the different Space.NK stores and making sure everyone understood the brand, then pitching to new accounts and trying to get people to sell us. The thing about training, pitching and sales is that you’re saying the same thing to people over and over again. You have to maintain a genuine level of enthusiasm. I always enjoy talking passionately about our brand and our products. I love watching that enthusiasm spread through people, bringing them round to the concept.
I had been spending a lot of my time training store staff about our products, how to use them and sell them, so when we finally got people to do in-store training, it took a lot of labour off me and I was able to work more on pitching to new brands and the marketing side of things, such as developing new marketing concepts, looking at our online presence, designing posters, getting a new product launched, etc. We get enormous product specs from Kristy, about each ingredient and what it does. My job is to take that massive wedge of incredibly thick scientific information, make it look interesting to the public eye, and put everything into three or four concise lines.
It’s much harder than it sounds to maintain a clear voice as a brand. You want to be recognisable.
You have to make sure you’ve got the right phrasing, tone and level of information, not being too flippant or over science-y. It’s so easy to put in too many adjectives or to go off track and forget the key points. Most of all…
You have to make sure you’re delivering your message all the time.
What makes you love your job?
I enjoy many things about my job. Kristy and I have an obsession with spreadsheets, which is good as there is a lot of information to keep track of in this way. And I still love talking about the brand, delivering presentations or just training people. I get out of the office a lot but it's also good to spend consolidated time with our little team. I find my job incredibly satisfying, especially when someone emails and gives us great feedback about our products.
Who else is on Team EH?
We are a team of around 10 people now. My job title is still ‘Head of Sales and Development’, which means I’m mostly driving sales, opening new accounts, keeping a very close eye on forecasts, looking at what people have done historically, trying to project what might happen next year, keeping track of our accounts, and looking after the team. Basically, I’m the conduit between every aspect of the business, making sure I’m giving everyone the right information they need.
I sometimes think of my job as 'professional nag', where’s this, when’s this ready, have you done this.
Everyone on our team has very different backgrounds. Kristy’s background is in spa, massage, skin, natural therapy, and she has a hardcore Chinese medicine diploma. She’s obviously the mothership. Fiona, who’s Operations Director, has a more business-oriented background. She’s worked for Red or Dead (fashion brand), and she had her own florist business, so she’s got a keen understanding of how things work logistically. Anna, who was our first admin assistant, has an arts background. She started working with us when she was 19, so her work experience was limited, but she has a very methodical mind, and she’s incredibly good at talking to people and diffusing tension. That’s a whole different skill set! Mollie, our Marketing & PR Assistant, works very closely with me. She has a degree in Biology, so it is useful for us to throw science questions at her all the time, like how essential fatty acids work, or what the scientific terminology for something is, or helping me put the science speak into normal person speak. She’s a tremendous asset.
My own skills are on the creative side. I enjoy exploring how we can translate our ideas to the public domain and finding the buzz-words to excite each different group of people with whom I am discussing the brand. It all comes back to knowing what your skills are, and you don’t have to work in a publishing house to use your skills if you’ve got an English degree. At the end of the day, if you work in your dream sector in marketing or sales, you’re just selling a product: whether it’s books or apples or fashion, the job’s the same.
Just because you’re in the industry you’ve had your eye on doesn’t automatically mean that you’ll enjoy your job.
Do you live the brand?
Elemental Herbology is a lifestyle brand. It’s about looking after yourself holistically, using nutritional skincare, and recognising the external triggers that can affect your skin. The elemental part is about targeting the seasonal lifestyle and hormonal change. Before I joined Elemental Herbology, I wasn’t the kind of person who would necessarily shop at Space.NK or get regular facials. But I am definitely someone who views life in a holistic way, does yoga and eats vegetables, and I totally believe in the simple lifestyle choices that we advocate.
Being in the industry we’re in, you have to look healthy and we believe in the idea of natural beauty. We wouldn’t ever hire someone who was wearing lots of makeup and lipstick and extensions, at least not facing the public. That wouldn’t reflect our brand ethic. Maybe in the office, but then we might still feel that they clearly didn’t really believe in the concept.
I’m a very firm believer in trying to do things personally where you can. We have a very strong ethic about always being open, trying to do things one on one, whether it’s with accounts or the customers.
Was your education relevant in the end?
Was my degree necessary to get me where I am now? It’s difficult to answer because everything I’ve done has been so random in a way, but each part has led to something else.
It’s all about exposing yourself to new experiences and being open to new situations and ideas.
University isn’t going to be valuable for everyone. Now there is more awareness about doing internships. Molly, our Marketing Assistant came on as a post-graduate intern, amongst a flood of CVs from people saying they couldn’t find a job and they wanted to work for us for nothing. Still, I loved my degree. On a personal level, it fulfilled me intellectually in a way going into work might not have done.
What gets you up in the morning?
I’ve never thought of myself as particularly career-driven, which is not to say I am not focused. It’s about feeling fulfilled and giving everything you do your best shot. I’m certainly not money-oriented, and I don’t need the status that comes from being the head of something, as it doesn’t give me any inherent sense of self-value. I am ambitious, but my goals are more related to a sense of challenge and learning. I always think the people who’ve had the most successful, productive life are the ones with the best stories at the end of it, and who have achieved their personal goals. My career ambition is not to have made x amount of money but to have experienced everything I can and to have challenged myself on every level.
When you’re 18 or 19, you tend to look at a lot of people, deciding whose life you want and don’t want. I would suggest looking closer. Is there anyone who really seems fulfilled by the job they’re doing? Use that person to inspire you.
Kristy has been an inspiration of mine because she’s achieved a lot, launching a company in her early 30s, getting funding, developing it, and getting it out there. And she’s done all that whilst raising her young daughter and being a brilliant wife.
What I learned from Kristy is that you can totally do things your way and you can make your own rules.
You can start a business, and get married, and have a baby, it’s totally achievable. But you have to stick things out. I can’t stand it when people try things for 2 weeks and say they don’t like it, how do you know?