Being cramped at the back of a tour bus and subsisting on roughly half the amount of sleep a human is supposed to get does not seem like ideal conditions for starting up a creative new business. But these were exactly the kind of circumstances that gave sound engineer Micaela Nisbet the impetus to get Neighbourhood Botanicals off the ground in the first place: her skin was ravaged from a hectic, less than healthy tour schedule and nothing was patching up the (literal) cracks. Travelling the world exposed her to exciting green skincare innovation she wouldn’t otherwise have been exposed to, and the seed of her botanical plant oil based brand was planted. Here’s how she took her lightbulb moment from ‘back of the van dream’ to day-to-day hustle, how her famous music industry testers help to spark ideas and how she makes the hard and boring stuff involved with running your own company more bearable (*pours large glass of red wine*).
She tours with Rejjie Snow, burns the candle at both ends and somehow managed to set up a skincare company on the side. Here’s how the founder of Neighbourhood Botanicals is making moisturising cool, plus her tips on starting a business when you already have a busy job (tip: lots of lists)
Photography: Blair Brown
Why I started Neighbourhood Botanicals
“Touring can be an isolating alternate reality world, so I’m forever thinking about creative side projects and what’s next. I’ve always been into skincare and home remedies and the like, and there’s a LOT of time to daydream in the drives between cities while we’re on tour.
“Added to that, in my mid-twenties the flights and late nights started taking their toll on my health, and skin in particular. I just lost my glow, I started to notice the signs of age and chronic dryness. I went back to using simple oils like I used to as a teen in Byron Bay, and my skin loved it.
“The ah-ha moment came on a long tour through the States, seeing all of the amazing indie and natural skincare brands they had there. Just gorgeous green, natural products, and thinking, ‘hold on, I can totally make this!’. So I did. It’s been fun to have a project so separate from my career, and then to see the ways in which both worlds collide.”
How touring and travelling impact on skin
“It’s really hard to keep up a healthy routine while on tour and my skin shows it. It’s not all glamour and champagne backstage. There’s a lot of three to four hour nights of sleep and not nearly enough 2L waters being drunk. As a result, my main thing is moisture. Flights kill it, as does heating and AC in the van, bus and backstage. On some days you can’t even make it outside, so you’ve got all these environments trying to suck your skin dry. That’s why the big focus for me is face oils. A well formulated face oil delivers immediate hydration and then a lasting barrier against moisture loss , not to mention the botanical benefits and plumping, dewy effect as soon as you apply it.”
Realising the dream
“The hardest thing is actually starting. Personally I just wrote a list of steps that I thought it would take to get a skincare business running and added to it as I went along. I’ll never run out of bullet points, but the framework is still there. Just start with the first thing and keep going. Just. Keep. Going.”
Starting a business alongside the day/night job
“It’s a lot more time consuming than you’d think (well, than I thought!). Just editing a product photo or figuring out what the hell an EORI number is and how to get one can take the most part of a day, and then you’ve missed the ‘ideal insta post window’ and forgotten to send that stock off, and this invoice is overdue…. you get the idea!
“It’s really tricky to stay focussed on tour when you’re in a different situation every day and people are requesting your attention constantly. I write tasks per day and try to check them all off, but I also don’t beat myself up if I can’t. Sometimes you just need to disappear solo into your bunk with a podcast for an hour, and that’s ok. You can get the EORI number tomorrow.
“I spent some time out in Berlin to try to find some more headspace, but that didn’t really work, so now I’m back in the big smoke and back touring a lot! I definitely work better when everyone around me is hustling too.”
Getting the business off the ground
“Well, there were the fun things like researching, experimenting and brainstorming names. Equally there were a lot of things I had to learn about that don’t interest me at all but are necessary. Business registers, safety documentation, EU regulations, essential financial structure, VAT accounting, general red tape. It’s dead boring but this stuff just pops up and you add it to the list and get it done over a glass of red wine.”
Where I spent money
“To come up with the concept and develop the formulations actually didn’t cost too much. I was lucky to find suppliers who would work with small orders for my bottles and labels. Packaging is so important, however, so I would definitely advise dropping the cash there.
“Initial start-up costs were around £2000-3000, but it was in chunks here and there. Being freelance I just waited until I had a few invoices come in and then bought the next items on the shopping list. It adds up, but you can spread costs out and go at your own pace. That’s probably why it’s been such a long-lead development for me. I don’t have £200,000 investment from Dragon’s Den that I can use to hire 20 staff members.
“I’m pretty handy with websites and accounts so I did everything myself or watched some YouTube videos to learn the ropes. That helped a lot, and it’s grown very organically from there. Now the outgoings are much heftier and I’m still bootstrapping it all. I have had some interest from investors, but I figure that if I can just keep it going myself for a little longer, I won’t have to give any shares away.”
The good and bad surprises
“Every time I type out my email address I scold myself that I chose such a long name. It was also was hard to create a slick, snappy logo that would work in tiny square boxes on social media. My designer Mason London really nailed that brief!
“In general, everything takes much longer than you expect. Lead times kill me. Because I have such a small team I can be super nimble and flexible, so when working with companies if I need to wait four weeks for a label and six weeks for a coloured bottle sample, it’s very frustrating. I want everything yesterday!
“As for the good stuff, I remember the first orders I had from names I didn’t recognise, and I was like ‘wow, this is real!’ It was an unexpected feeling of validation that I didn’t know I needed. Now, recognising all the repeat customers makes me feel validated and inspired to keep on going.”
My ultimate ‘dos and don’ts’
“You have to know the market, and you have to know your target customer. Really narrow it down and be specific. Throw the net too wide and the fish will just swim through. Is that the saying?! It’s not but you catch my drift. Focus in. It’s hard to know precisely what your niche will be when you start out, but ruminate on it and it will come.
“I would also recommend not really telling anyone about your plans until you have a strong vision and a focus and are well on the way. Don’t endlessly workshop your friends, just sit down and do it yourself. Stop procrastinating . And don’t be a fear-monger of ‘toxins’ and synthetics. That’s so passé. You don’t need to have that view to want to use natural products . It weakens our whole brand, and the natural community as a whole.”
Packaging and environmental issues
“I grew up in Australia with a mother who would rummage through the trash for receipts my sister and I had thrown out and move them to the recycling bin…and tell us all about it. I cleaned up the beach rubbish after surfing. So you could say it’s not simply the focus of the brand, but that recycling and environmental issues are ingrained in me.
“The glass, PET and cardboard packaging at Neighbourhood Botanicals are recyclable. And where I have the option I choose recycled stock. As we grow I would love to partner directly with the family farms producing the raw oils. I think that’s such a special angle, plus, it’s a great excuse for holidays to Morocco, Italy, Indonesia…”
Music industry marketing
“I’m not a big promoter of my wares within my touring community, but invariably someone finds out, then everyone wants to try my oils, and they’ll use them all up on a tour, feel guilty and buy their own. It’s a very good marketing technique.
“Most of my music family use my products now, which is a lovely feeling. It’s been interesting to hear what other touring folk feel that they want out of a product. It’s definitely influenced the next few products that I have coming out. Also, in terms of my artist collaborations, the concept is all down to them, and I’ll produce the formula to their wish. Watch this space!”
Famous facial oil fans
“Oh, a lady never anoints and tells! Neighbourhood Botanicals is definitely ‘behind the scenes’ improving the glow across the UK music industry though. Our first artist collaboration was the face oil ‘Young Luv’ with Rejjie Snow, so since then all his gang are reaping the benefits! In regards to testing, it’s really just anyone I’m in front of and can hassle for feedback! I don’t see anyone complaining though, at least not to my (dewy, glowing) face.”
Check out the Neighbourhood Botanicals range