Thursday, 03 September 2020
In 2012, Maleka Dattu left corporate life in the beauty industry to set up skincare brand Merumaya. Based on the principles of evidence-based active ingredients and simple, effective routines, Merumaya aims to inspire confidence through great skin, embracing the idea of ‘youthful ageing’ rather than ‘anti-ageing’. Here, she talks about leaning into fear, the power of being out of your comfort zone, and why keeping tabs on the messages you tell yourself is vital….
What is essential for success in your routine?
I have a routine in the sense that certain things need to be included in my day, but a lot of that is working around getting my daughter to school, for example. I used to work long hours in my corporate job, and I still do, but the difference is the intensity – and the fact they’re interspersed with family things now. I was probably one of the first people in the beauty industry to be ‘anti’ anti-ageing – my focus is on ‘ageing youthfully’, which means being mindful of what you eat and exercising. I believe these are essential to success. Controlling fear and self-doubt is important too, and I listen to positive podcasts and audiobooks when I’m walking to help with that. I also look after my skin, even more than I did before, but take less time doing it. That comes back to my skin philosophy — use the minimum number of effective products in the shortest possible time, so that you get out there and live and make memories. Because I guarantee on your death bed you’re not going to be saying, ‘I wish I’d had 17 cleansers’.
Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit from, and what did you learn?
My mum was really good at communication and building relationships, long before Facebook or Instagram, and her favourite proverb was, ‘It’s better to have tried and failed, than never to have tried at all’. This helped give me the courage to take that big leap from employment to entrepreneur. My dad was super intelligent, but had regrets about things he didn't do, so I went the opposite way. I decided that even if I had to fall on my face it would be more painful not to have tried. The other person who really influenced me was an entrepreneur called Anthea who brought build-up nails, warm wax and individual lashes to the UK. She gave me my first job and on my first day, I saw her drive up, park on a double yellow line in a red BMW and get out with the wind in her hair. I thought ‘I want to be her’. The thing they all have in common, though, is that they instilled in me the idea that you're going to feel fear — but you can't let it stop you.
What sacrifices have to had to make as an entrepreneur?
If you want to be an entrepreneur, you’ve got to be ready for sacrifices and they're going to last for longer than you thought. I thought I was going to be profitable at year three, and at year eight I'm still making sacrifices. In the corporate world, I used to go to restaurants or on holiday regularly, and I never had to think about it. That carefreeness has gone. The other big sacrifice has been at home. My office is on the top floor of our house, and people are walking in and out all the time. Occasionally when my husband and daughter are out, and there’s no one working there, I come home and feel peace. And I'm quite wistful for that. But that sense of home was a big sacrifice and one I didn't realise I was making at the time. Ultimately, though, I’d rather spend money on customer facing initiatives than on paying for an office. The customer doesn't care where your desk is, they care about whether someone will pick up the phone when they have a query.
What makes you feel out of your comfort zone and how does that inspire growth in you?
You have to recognise that being out of your comfort zone is going to be a recurring theme in your life — but unless you are out of your comfort zone you’re never going to grow, learn or experience new things. I constantly say to my daughter, ‘You weren't born walking. How do you think you learned how to walk? You fell over at times, but imagine if you'd stopped trying because you fell over.’ As women, we're often so worried about getting it wrong — but that is central to our growth and development. I feel out of my comfort zone a lot of the time, but I force myself to do things in order to be able to perform, such as learn about tech. I started my business when I was 48 and I didn't grow up in a digital world, but I’ve learned to use social media and enjoy it. I get validation about whether I did well by whether the post inspires someone to engage through social, the website or make a change in their life that helps them feel more confident about themselves.
What is your tip to stay on top of finances, practically emotionally or strategically?
Don't be afraid — and don't worry about asking questions. Cash flow is king. We hear that all the time, but don't necessarily understand what that means. I didn’t until I started running my business. I realised that I can be growing sales but if the cash is not there for me to pay someone’s salary then that work isn't going to get done or the product shipped. It’s also good to underestimate sales and overestimate your expenses. I'm conscious of what's in the bank at the moment and constantly thinking, ‘It costs me £X to run this business every month, so how long can I carry on for?’ Because it's not about whether you can pay someone their salary this month, it’s about whether you can pay them their salary for the next 12–24 months.
How have you had to adapt or pivot during the COVID pandemic?
My business is largely digital, and business has actually grown during Covid-19 – in part kickstarted by a Guardian journalist who raved about three of my products in a piece. The big pivot for us has really been around communications — how we communicate via the website, through social channels and videos. With people being at home, they’ve had more time to watch videos, and watch them all the way through too, so I started an Instagram live called Skincare Science every Wednesday and another one on a Thursday, themed around women's confidence. We’ve also pushed out personalised skincare consultations a little more. I've always done those, but now we have a booking system and we’ve had good uptake from that.
How do you manage your digital balance?
I don’t think there is such a thing as digital balance and I don't use digital as an excuse for not having a balanced life, because I think sometimes people do. Your attitude is critical in how you perceive and manage things like this. I don't expect balance, which can be quite a relief actually — I expect some stress in my life. It's what gets us up in the morning. The trick is not to let it overwhelm you, and that comes back to the messages you tell yourself.