Alexandra Keating is the Founder and CEO of Uni, the first ever closed loop refill system in bodycare. Alexandra spent much of her childhood on the beach in her native Australia, where she was taught to scrub off sunscreen to protect the ecosystem. During a trip to revisit The Great Barrier Reef, she noticed that the most visited areas were bleached in the most trafficked areas. After extensive research and gaining a deeper understanding of how harmful plastics and toxins found in consumer products are to coral reefs, she developed the concept for Uni, a brand that at the product process holistically – from sustainability sourced ingredients, to 100% recycled aluminum packaging that is infinitely recyclable, to a refillable system that keeps its bottles in an endless cycle of use and reuse, and eliminates the need to use single-use plastics.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Alexandra Keating: Fixing a problem and becoming obsessed with the answer.
Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
AK: I wanted to create a better solution to fundraising online with the launch of my first startup, GoFundraise. It was ~15 years ago. I taught myself how to code to create the website when I was still in school. I didn’t really see myself as an entrepreneur. I was simply trying to find a more time efficient/viral way of fundraising.
What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
AK: The personal care industry has a lot to answer for both in terms of its packaging materials and ingredient choices. Uni was designed to create a new standard in the industry, defining sustainability in the sector. Uni came together when renowned Creative Director Marc Atlan joined. The team is always the first step.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
AK: In tech you launch at 90% and work with consumers to refine. With products you can’t launch until everything is final. While I intuitively knew this, change is significantly slower in the physical world.
What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
AK: When larger players start to adopt our way of formulating, manufacturing and refilling. Our goal is to have a big impact and move the sector forward.
What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
AK: Like all entrepreneurs I have no off switch. I think that’s our superpower – working through the problems. High point would have been doing our series A with Greylock. As a female in the NY tech scene, it was a big moment and industry nod to the work we were doing. Low point would have been not structuring my voting position for the first company I co-founded. But this is how you learn.
What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
AK: Always do what is right.
How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles? Give us some examples.
AK: In practice we always do the right thing, it’s our hope that customers will recognize this and reward companies like us.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners?
AK: I prefer to work together – the most effective way to problem solve is together. We are a team and we flourish when we combine forces. Everyone is integral to our success.
Have you raised outside capital so far?
AK: Yes. [From] strategic groups and individuals. Each of them are able to move the business in some way, creating a bigger impact than a typical fund.
How long have you been in that process?
AK: We go out in a typical – 8-to-12-month window. We raise as we need.
How has your network helped you raise capital?
AK: By having strategic people involved, it in some ways guarantees the success of the business. Being able to de risk the business is key when raising capital ahead of launch/data.
Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
AK: I have a few mentors that I speak to based on different problems. Either way, they have done what I have done before. They know the answers to the problems that are arising.
What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
AK: I love helping people start companies. I’m pretty involved at the start of companies. Communication is key, I usually speak to mentees every few weeks, up until 2 years when they start driving revenue.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
AK: I wish I had more of a strict routine. I typically go straight into work, then I have my coffee. I think the secret to my headspace is my dogs – walking them gets me into nature. Our products have also helped me to wind down at the end of the day – having an evening routine where I use the Starter Kit products make me feel centered and relaxed.
What are you reading or have read?
AK: Always biographies, I love learning through others.
Where do you go for inspiration?
AK: Museums, usually modern art.
Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
AK: “To improve is to change, so to be perfect is to change often” – Churchill
What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
AK: I always go back to the data at night. Somehow I feel I am problem solving at night, while I’m sleeping. Often you see patterns in data, finding new ways to improve.
How do you think about helping others through your work?
AK: Uni is in service of our community, including the larger beauty and personal care industries as a whole, offering more sustainable and high performing solutions to daily use products.
What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
AK: I would say only hire people who have done it before, if you haven’t. Learn from your team. And always work with a proforma so you understand your position and what capital injection really means for you.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
AK: Have an impact. Another great Churchill quote – “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it”
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