#HOWSHEDIDIT: Meet Ruth Marsden, Founder of Bettercup
Firstly, tell us a bit about you?
Hello! My name’s Ruth, I am 31 and live in Brighton with my husband and two small children, Jet, 4 and Nova, 2. We left the bright lights of London 5 years ago, after a very happy 8 years, in the search of a sunnier seaside existence.
Tell us about your business, how did you come up with the idea?
Back in early 2019 I was at the beginning of a journey to make our family home more environmentally friendly, reducing our plastic use and waste.
The process got me thinking about how much waste my period was causing each month. I’d heard of menstrual cups previously but always thought they sounded odd and a bit ‘icky’. It was my sister making the switch that encouraged me to give one a go myself and it was amazing! I couldn’t believe what a better period experience it gave me. Menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone and last up to 10 years, unlike tampons which are disposable and made up of a concoction of chemicals, plastics and other synthetics. Menstrual cups are so much better for your body as well as being better for the planet.
It was around that same time I was chatting to another sister who lives and works in Zimbabwe, at a rural farm school. She was telling me about the issue they have with keeping students in school during their period. The girls there tend to end up missing a week of school every month as they have no suitable sanitary wear.
The dream to start my own business was already in the back of my mind and in that moment the idea behind Bettercup was born. We would create ethically-made, beautifully-packaged menstrual cups and for each one sold we would donate one.
What was the moment that everything changed for you? Describe that moment when you decided to fully commit to your idea and the first few steps you took to make it possible.
After that conversation with my sister I knew I wanted to start the business but I had a lot of self doubt. I have no business experience or training. I actually went to drama school and worked as an actress before having children so the only thing I know how to do is fake confidence! I knew I needed to trick myself into thinking it wasn’t a big task I was undertaking so I just took one very small, tentative step at a time. I remember so clearly the first day I started working on the business. The children were both in childcare and I took my laptop to my favourite local cafe for the day. I sat down with my oat milk latte without even a hint of clue of what I should do first. And so I told myself there was no pressure, I didn’t need to ‘achieve’ anything that day. Which is something I struggle a lot with.
Having small children makes time very valuable and so I hate ending a work day feeling like I don’t have enough to show for it. But I took the pressure off and very gingerly started researching silicone, how/where it’s manufactured and also brainstormed any friends I have that could be helpful. Other entrepreneurs, finance experts, branding wizards etc.
I went home at the end of the day exhilarated and excited knowing that I’d started the journey even though I had nothing particularly to show for it, that day felt monumental and has become a really special memory.
What were the initial challenges you came up against and how did you overcome them?
The main challenge was just being so new to the business world. I was (and still am) learning everything as I go. I made mistakes at every turn but learnt so many valuable lessons. It’s been the most challenging but exhilarating 2 years.
What was the first win that made you feel you were onto something?
I worked on the business behind the scenes for about 9 months before feeling ready to launch. The product was finished but wouldn’t be with me in the UK for another few months but I decided to launch the social media/website with pre orders. I launched at 8am on 1st May 2019 and within the first 5 minutes orders started flying in. It was the most surreal feeling, I couldn’t believe people were even able to read the website and complete checkout in such a quick space of time! I was totally blown away and cried happy tears watching the pre orders coming in after months of quietly working on something with no idea how it would be received.
Did you take the investment route for your business or are you self-funded? Can you share some insights on your decision and the process?
I am self funded. I decided to start really small to avoid investment. I built (a very simple) website myself and did everything myself that I was able to, to save money. The initial product order was the smallest the manufacturer would let me get away with but it was enough to get started and since then the business has funded itself.
What has been your best investment?
The branding has been completely integral to the process. More so than I think I even realised at the time. It’s the first thing a customer sees and it sets the feel for the entire brand and product. I hired Sarah Archardfrom Essay Studio, for my branding and she delivered far beyond what I could’ve hoped for.
Have you made any mistakes or faux pas? If so, can you share with us?
So many! With an incredibly tight budget to get the business off the ground one of the most painful faux pas I made was ordering 1000 cotton bags in the wrong size. They were branded with the Bettercup logo and so I wasn’t able to return them. They’re still sitting in my office waiting for me to think of a use for them!
What’s your experience of being a woman in the start-up ecosystem and what in your mind needs to change?
Because I didn’t get investment I don’t feel like I’ve fully had a ‘start-up’ experience. My husband has also recently launched a business, his required funding and so he spent a long time pitching to investors, which was an incredibly male dominated world, to be honest I’m glad I was able to side step that.
I definitely do feel an extra pressure to achieve and to hold my ground and to show my children what women are capable of. I often find myself in meetings where I am the only woman. I think we’re moving in the right direction though, but in order to achieve a more balanced representation we need to keep working on how businesses set up their working hours/childcare etc.
What’s been the greatest lesson you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
You need some naivety to start your own business. If I’d known what it would involve and how overwhelming it was going to be I think it would’ve taken a lot longer to start. I’m glad I slightly blindly stumbled into it!
Have you had any role models or mentors along the way?
Yes definitely. I have surrounded myself with business women who I greatly admire and have been so generous with their time and advice and encouragement. It’s been a real game changer for me to have those people around.
What was your biggest learning of 2020?
Hard to put it into one learning because the whole business launched in 2020, so it was one big year of learning! My biggest learning within business and my life away from work is to enjoy the process. Within business I am constantly looking to the next target but I’ve been learning to celebrate the small wins and even try and enjoy the trials and challenges. And that’s been the same in life as well, 2020 and the endless lockdowns have taught me to enjoy where we are, its easy to wish away the time but the Corona Virus has now been around for almost half of my daughters life and so I don’t want to wish away the time that we’re in lockdown.
With the future in mind, where would you like to be/where do you see yourself in the next five years?
The last 2 years have been focused on building the foundations for Bettercup, the aim for the next 5 years is to build on those foundations, to grow and reach more people and in doing so increase the amount of donated Bettercups we’re able to give.
What books, podcasts or resources would you recommend?
I love How I Built This with Guy Raz, I find it incredibly inspiring and always gives me the boost I need. I tend to just listen to the female entrepreneurs he interviews!
What advice would you give anyone about to start a business?
Just do it! Start small but just start. Don’t think you need to wait for a -right- time, just start now in whatever capacity you’re able.
Where can we find you?
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