From Science to Sponges
Founder of Barkly Basics, Natasha Malkov, has gone from researching breast cancer to redesigning the kitchen sponge and other kitchen accessories.
We just love her simple, stylish, monochrome products because it means we no longer need to have those ghastly fluro sponges or dish detergents sitting on our lovely kitchen sinks *applaud Natasha*
In the second blog of our 'Getting to Know' series (where we learn more about the people behind Little Koha's gift items), we talk to Natasha about why she changed careers and what it takes to be an entrepreneur.
What inspired you to design kitchen accessories?
The idea of redesigning the kitchen sponge came to me in a moment of mindfulness. As I was washing the dishes, I tuned in and started to examine the sponge I was washing with. It was at that point that I had the “light bulb” moment where I thought to myself, ‘surely there must be something out there that looks better than this?’
After doing market research, I realised there was nothing other than the standard yellow, blue and green varieties. I took it as a challenge to create a range of sponges that were aesthetically pleasing, so people would want to display them on the sink rather than hiding them under the sink!
How would you describe the moment you decided to change careers from researching breast cancer to becoming an entrepreneur?
I knew I was ready for a change in careers. I got to the point where I had used my science qualification in every possible way. From being a research scientist for a major Australian pharmaceutical company, working for the Victorian Government in the Science and Technology department, to working for the University of Melbourne as a partnership consultant that then led me to start my own consulting firm in the science and tech space. I knew, however, there was a creative void.
I have always seen myself as a problem solver and idea generator and when the idea of redesigning the kitchen sponge came to me at the sink that day, I just ran with it.
Your dish wash is eco-friendly, why is that important to you?
I try and make my products as eco as possible. The dish wash and hand wash are made from eco and human friendly ingredients and the bottles are recyclable. I also make sure the stickers are removable so customers can re-use the bottles if they wish.
I have made a 1 Litre refill for the dish wash in a recyclable pouch, so my customers can top up their 500ml bottles. This reduces the amount of 500ml bottles used over time. I will do the same for the hand wash.
Tell me about Barkly and how he became apart of your brand?
Barkly is my friend’s dog’s name!
When I was brainstorming what the brand should be called at some ridiculous hour of the night, I knew I wanted the word “basics” in the title. I began thinking of names including pet names that sounded good with the word basics, a name that was easy for people to remember, rolls off the tongue and was not offensive in other languages… that’s when “Barkly” popped into my head and in the morning it became the brand!
What has been the highlight for you throughout the start-up process?
One of the biggest highlights would have to be when I got my first prototype/sample sponges made from my manufacturer. I was over the moon that I managed to even get that far.
What has been the biggest learning curve?
The biggest learning curve would have to be the whole process of importing and exporting. It is so complex and I am still learning every time.
Describe a typical day in the Barkly Basics HQ?
Coffee first! Then, like most of us, I check emails and respond to any urgent stuff. The rest of my day is usually filled with processing orders. This involves picking, packing and sending parcels all over Australia and overseas. Not glamorous in the slightest!
What are your goals/aspirations for Barkly Basics?
My main goal for Barkly Basics is to become the go-to brand for all basic kitchen needs.
What skills, characteristics, and knowledge do you think is needed to start a new business?
- You need a good viable idea. Good ideas can come about through everyday problem solving!
- Be alert and mindful. Opportunities are everywhere.
- Look for a point of difference.
- Have a good business plan and within that a good marketing plan.
- If you are manufacturing overseas, make sure you understand that your idea of quality control is different to your manufacturer or supplier. Make sure you have independent quality control agents to do product inspections.
- Attend networking events to meet like-minded people. This is how I met my formulation guy who makes my dish wash and hand wash!
- Be aware of Government funding and programmes available to assist small businesses.
- Be aware that universities have many technologies on offer to assist businesses. One of my favourites is 3D printing!
- Stay focused on your business.
- Aim to grow slow. Fast growth can mean huge changes in your business and most businesses aren’t ready for those changes!
What is your favourite Barkly Basics product and why?
The all white cellulose sponge. My partner thought I was nuts adding an all white sponge to the range. He insisted it would stain and it wouldn’t be very popular. It turns out that the all white sponge is one of my best sellers and also seems to resist stains. Who would have thought!