Julie Macken, co-founder of Neve’s Bees

Photo of Julie Macken

After graduating with a Chemistry Degree and subsequent MBA, Julie spent 25 years ‘in corporate life’ working in Sales and Marketing for companies including Unilever, GSK and McDonalds initially client side, then moving to agency, specialising in marketing training and consultancy, with 18 months living in Tokyo. Her ‘aha moment’ came whilst running a marketing workshop in Sao Paulo Brazil, the objective of which was to persuade South Americans to eat plastic-packed frozen chips instead of fresh potato. Realising there were more fulfilling ways to utilise her skills, Julie founded Neve’s Bees a family skincare business using only natural products and sustainable ingredients which donates per sale to wildlife charities and projects. Julie is committed to sharing the joys immersion in the natural world brings. Julie lives in Rural Oxfordshire with her husband, 2 children, 3 cats, 4 hens, 5 beehives, 6-acre wildflower meadow…and Bella the Dog.

What is your background? What made you decide to get involved in supporting entrepreneurs?
I was searching for good natural skincare products and found that most skincare products (in fact all ‘creams’ and ‘lotions’) are mainly water. Whilst there’s nothing wrong with putting water on your skin, the chemicals needed to preserve the water and mix the moisturizing oils are not good for your skin. I realized that we could make a comprehensive range of truly natural skincare products that are significantly better for your skin…and with a much lower carbon footprint!

What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Neve’s Bees Logo

Taking a good idea and running with it!

How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
Neve and I started out using our skincare on our own skin – with sensitive skin and a history of eczema, we are really fussy on what we put on our skin. We then started giving our products to friends and family. When we realised we had something truly unique in the market, we knew we could make a success of Neve’s Bees

What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
Tenacity for sure – there will be lots of knock backs and you have to pick yourself up, learn from your mistakes and make your offering even better. Positive creativity – instead of seeing a problem, work out the solution and, again, improve your offering from this JFDI attitude! Just Do It! – make your product or service the best it can be… but don’t worry about getting your strategy or peripherals ‘perfect’ – just get started and know that you might have to improve along the way

What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
It’s really exciting knowing there are so many opportunities and challenges

What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
I think anyone who is a disruptor inspires me, looking at Richard Branson and how he creates change and a different way of looking at the market for every market he enters be it air travel, festivals, or weddings!

If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I’d just like to soak up his vibe – I bet he’s loads of fun to be around!

What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
Winning competitions and awards is always fun but the aspect that brings me most joy is getting positive testimonials from our customers

What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
We’ve had several products that haven’t sold as well as we’d hoped but, from each one, we’ve learned and launched better products – we have so many new products in the pipeline that we’re constantly ‘knocking’ the lower sellers out and improving our range and our positioning

How have you funded your ideas?
From the outset, we did not want to take investment. Our products have good margins and we’ve grown organically from the start. We still own 100% of our business and I’m very happy about that!

Are there any sector-specific awards/grants/competitions that have helped you?
OxLEP and OSEP have been great sources of support and companionship.

What is good about being an entrepreneur in Oxfordshire? Bad?
There’s a real desire for making a difference environmentally in this region which is totally in tune with what we’re aiming to do with Neve’s Bees

If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Talk with other business owners and go to local networking groups – find ‘a tribe’ to support you and enable you to bounce ideas

How could institutions such as the University of Oxford better support women entrepreneurs?
I always find networking events really useful – find someone who inspires you and talk with them

Any last words of advice?
Don’t get too stressed about being perfect. You do not have to be brilliant at academics, you simply need a good solution to a customer’s problem that nobody else has done and the guts to persevere…and the tenacity to keep improving constantly!