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Tara Tan of ‘Grin Natural’: “Helping others is helping yourself”

Helping others is helping yourself. — People often say that “when you help people, you too often get helped” and I firmly believe in this. When you change your mindset and truly begin to think about others, without asking or expecting something in return, you often start to receive a lot of support and feedback that you […]

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Helping others is helping yourself. — People often say that “when you help people, you too often get helped” and I firmly believe in this. When you change your mindset and truly begin to think about others, without asking or expecting something in return, you often start to receive a lot of support and feedback that you never thought you would get, or that you would ever ask for — which then helps you to further learn and continue growing.


As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tara Tan, CEO and co-founder of Grin Natural Products Ltd.

Tara Tan is a New Zealand based entrepreneur, and the founder & CEO of Grin Natural, a natural oral care brand that’s bringing clarity and innovation to the category with the purpose of inspiring happier and more sustainable choices to consumers around the world.

Over the past five years, Tara has successfully managed the growth of the Grin brand, launching into eight international markets, and building social good partnerships with some of the world’s most respectable organizations including UNICEF, PADI and UN Environment Programme.

Tara’s commitment to bringing much needed change to the industry was sparked by her own life journey, where she had concern about the oral care products her daughter was swallowing, and believed all parents deserved access to safer and environmentally friendly solutions.

Tara studied at the University of Auckland and graduated with a Master of Commence, majoring in finance.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Our story started out when my partner, Leo, and I were anticipating our first baby. We began hunting for products that were both natural, safe for us to consume, and that we could feel good about using. We noticed that we were unable to find a toothpaste that was effective yet free from nasties such as artificial flavors, sweeteners, parabens and sulfates, so we set out to make one!

When we started, our goal was to create the best toothpaste that not only we would be proud to use, but also other mums, as well as our next generation would love, too! As a mum, you find yourself not only thinking about your own child, but you also want to look after everyone, as well as the planet. We’re all humans and part of this one ecosystem; we need to support each other so that we can all live happier lives together.

Although our brand is still young (Grin just turned five and just entered the US market!), we are grateful for our journey so far. Looking back, it enabled both myself and the whole team to understand ourselves better and to find our true value in this industry. It’s all about putting our community at the center of what we do, rather than being caught up driving sales or distribution, we focus on what’s most important to our community. From learning and practicing this, we feel happier and more accomplished both as a team and as individuals.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

One of the more meaningful stories that has happened came about during the COVID-19 pandemic. Like most businesses, COVID-19 has had a big impact on us, and it has been one of the biggest challenges that myself and the team overcame together. What was most interesting was how much we all changed together as a result of this global pandemic.

At the beginning of the year, we were so focused on ourselves and what we wanted to achieve as a business, but when COVID-19 hit, and you see what people are doing overseas — where healthcare workers, community workers and frontline workers are all out-right risking themselves and their families to save others. You know these people are fearless and they want to contribute in helping to save lives and reducing the spread of the virus. This really inspired us, and was a big turning point. We started to think differently as a business and take more responsibility, meaning we stopped thinking about ourselves and started contributing. As soon as you begin contributing, you understand the meaning of being an empathetic human.

I think the key takeaway here is that we realized that being a good business isn’t just about selling great products, it’s about doing the greater good for the community.. We launched our ‘Thinking Of You’ initiative which brought together 12 of New Zealand’s biggest and most regarded grocery brands to provide Care Packs and messages of support to front line staff across New Zealand (as well as a handful in U.S). As a result, we were able to make a social impact, which in turn was even more important than a sales impact

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When you first start a business, it’s easy to over-excite yourself by thinking you have the best product in the world and that your business will be uber successful. And while this may be the case, you have to realize that it may take a while to get there.

When we started five years ago, we were under this guise and we were knocked down to reality, so to speak. We knew we had a great product and great branding to attract the best people to work with us and we automatically thought that would earn us the respect in the market. I now know that even the best of the best won’t always work out in your favor. We’ve faced challenges like rejection from retailers which was shocking to us. I now realize that providing a good quality product is just the foundation, you also need to be altruistic and be proactive in creating value for your community and for your partners. We went as far as to employ this mentality with the key opinion leaders and influencers we work with. It’s less about them exchanging with us, but how can we create value for them! The businesses of today which are most successful, are so not because of their product, but because they helped their community in solving a problem.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Absolutely! I would like to take this opportunity to share my appreciation for Ms. Gao, she’s my business partner, and both my business and personal mentor.

She has been the one to really make me think, “what does being an entrepreneur mean?” Many people choose to become entrepreneurs because they want to prove to the world that they can make things happen, that they can grow a successful business, or that they can make lots of money, however, what Ms. Gao has helped me to see is that actually, being an entrepreneur means that you are proactively looking for opportunities to take on the responsibility and to put others ahead of yourself, this pushes you to think truly for others, rather than yourself.

One example that I can share, which not only touched but altered my way of thinking was from earlier this year when China began suffering from COVID-10. I was stressed as it began to quickly unfold and then Ms. Gao called me and said this was going to impact the whole world, at which time it was hard to comprehend just how much. She then shared what she was going to do and this impressed me as she wasn’t worried about herself or her businesses, instead she was already planning what she could do to help. She wanted to go beyond just giving donations and wanted to do things differently. She could see the toll it was having on front line health care workers, not only mentally but physically — they were constantly wearing masks that were leaving marks around their face and scarring their skin, and were having to continually sanitize which was leaving their skin dry. She brought educational programs and tips, and through her beauty clinic members she was able to help many frontline healthcare staff protect themselves better, and keep themselves safe with her resources and provided them with the right products to do it.

All of this happened during Lunar New Year, a time when everyone is supposed to be celebrating and taking time off. Instead, Ms. Gao’s recognized that she needed to step up and look after the front line health care workers, who she deemed heroes. This act of thoughtfulness and action really inspired me and helped me to understand that in times of panic or uncertainty, we have the opportunity to help others and make a difference, rather than worrying about ourselves.

When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

My, and Grin’s belief is that when you have a purpose and you know your values, what you do and the way that you live your life, will make an impact and bring fulfillment to you.

As a business, ensuring we develop products that are safe, effective and sustainable is our foundation. We are constantly assessing and researching natural ingredients which promote good health in both the mouth and the body, and work tirelessly to source the best ingredients and materials available.

Following this, our mission is to raise awareness around the values that we believe to be most important when it comes to health and wellness, such as promoting and encouraging sustainability, caring for one another, and being connected with our community. Only by living and sharing our values everyday do we feel we can make an impact and to create a happier, healthier world.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

When it comes to lifestyle tweaks, we often jump to doing things externally i.e. relying on going to a gym class, or buying an e-bike, which are important elements in bringing your goal to life, however the most important thing I’ve learned is about internal change, once you change your mindset, and all of a sudden you’ll realize how many changes you can start making without intentionally changing. Adjusting my mindset is always the fundamental part to tackling any type of problem or challenge.

With this in mind, here’s my top five lifestyle tweaks I’d like to share with you:

1. Establish a healthy workout routine

The biggest ‘tweak’ I wanted to make during this unique year is an effort to establish a good gym routine. My initial motivation here was to lose the weight that I gained throughout my pregnancy, however through doing my workouts, I started to think what is the fundamental goal of what I’m doing here and what I want to achieve. What I mean by this is that, if losing weight is what’s driving you to the gym then at some stage you’re likely to drop out once you hit your goal or you get to a level where it’s hard for you to lose weight, but alternatively, if your focus is on building a healthy lifestyle, then this is what becomes your goal and working out simply becomes a regular activity. I find it really helps you to enjoy what you’re doing!

2. Create a good dental routine

Our body’s health is largely echoed by our mouth’s health, meaning that the benefits of a healthy mouth go beyond fresh breath and pearly whites. Similarly to my first tweak, achieving good oral health is easy when you establish the right mindset. People often think ‘well if I’m using a good toothpaste, then I should have good oral health.’ A good product certainly promotes this goal, however it goes beyond this. The reality is you need to consider your overall health, which includes eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and building a healthy immune system.

3. Practice a balanced eating routine

As mentioned in my previous point, a balanced eating routine (I avoid calling it a balanced diet as this has a negative connotation to it) plays a huge role in supporting good oral health and, of course, your overall well-being. One thing I learned when starting Grin was that different food groups can directly cause or prevent inflammation in the body so it’s good to understand these when planning out your meals!

4. Switch your beauty, health and wellness products to naturally-derived ones

Every product has benefits, however many come with highly processed or harsh chemical-based ingredients which you don’t really want to consume. I switched to natural-based makeup in my early twenties and noticed how good my skin felt and looked even without makeup, purely from not applying heavy foundations.

5. Reading

Feed your soul! Reading informs, educates, inspires, enlightens, creates and helps transforms reality. I used to struggle to find time to read, however I’ve recently carved out dedicated time to do so.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Myself, and Grin, believe that good oral care is fundamental to a person’s overall wellbeing and it’s so important to develop good habits at a young age so that they last a lifetime. Investing in the oral care education of parents offering them advice about how to best care for their children and their family is something I’m truly passionate about. I feel this is Grin’s purpose and what I, and my team, are working to achieve. Your overall health and wellbeing is echoed by your mouth, so it is so important, especially during these times, to make sure you are practicing proper oral hygiene with safe and natural products.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

1. Let your value be your driver, not money

Once you know and understand your value, this will guide all your decisions and keep you true to who you are and what you stand for.

2. Growing a brand is growing a community

Any businesses wanting to make an impact can only do so if they understand how to create value for their community.

3. Put your people before you

Support your people and put their needs ahead of your own, as without them you can’t look after your community, or build a business.

4. Good products are just the foundation

Good products are no longer praised, they are expected, so don’t put all your efforts on simply trying to sell them.

5. Helping others is helping yourself.

People often say that “when you help people, you too often get helped” and I firmly believe in this. When you change your mindset and truly begin to think about others, without asking or expecting something in return, you often start to receive a lot of support and feedback that you never thought you would get, or that you would ever ask for — which then helps you to further learn and continue growing.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

All of these are important to our current society. However, I would say mental health is the closest to me as sustainability, veganism, equality, and so much more, are driven by our behaviors as humans and our existence on this planet. I believe if our mental health is in a ‘healthy state’ [so to speak], then we are better equipped to recognize our habits and drive those changes to improve our focus. Solid and stable mental health is something we look to achieve and develop internally, everything else is an outcome or a response to this. By understanding and building good mental health, it means we can take better care of ourselves, along with caring for those around us, as well as our planet.

As a mum, a wife, and an entrepreneur, I know that all of us wear many hats and that everything can be challenging, so I feel it’s important that we all take the time to improve our own mental health and wellbeing, so that we can then help and care for others.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

Instagram: @grinnatural

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/grinnatural/

Twitter: @grinnatural

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/grin-natural-products/

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