Talk through problems with others, it can be lonely being an entrepreneur. I have always been a sole founder but sitting alone and thinking about how to solve complex problems can be daunting. Talking out loud is a really important exercise with family or friends just to gain clarity.
I had the pleasure to interview Lauren Bell. Lauren is the director and founder of Cosi Care, a business dedicated to creating products that help families manage skin disease. Cosi Care has won a number of awards in the UK since being founded in 2018 — including the Mayor of London Entrepreneur of the Year, the Tata Varsity Pitch 2019 sponsored by NACUE and Santander Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Iam happy to get involved! My story started when I graduated from Brunel University, London last year after studying Product Design BSc. For my last major project, I had to solve a problem through great design. I decided to look inward at a problem myself and my family has faced for years, the problem of managing to scratch when living with eczema.
I and my younger brother, Rhys, have suffered from eczema since we were young, with my brother, unfortunately, suffering from particularly severe eczema. Growing up, “stop scratching” was a famous phrase used in our household and with our cupboards full of moisturizers and steroid creams there was clearly something missing. The light bulb moment for the business was when I quickly realized that there were no products or tools that either myself, my brother or my parents could turn to for instant relief. Itching and scratching were such a huge problem for us and I really wanted to design a product that would help with this behavioral element.
The resulting outcome has become Cosi Care, a brand that creates alternative products for children and parents living with the daily struggles of skin disease, and we are very much at the start of the journey. “Cosi” translates to “itching” in Welsh, as a subtle nod to my hometown of Swansea in Wales. I really wanted all the elements of the brand to relate back to my family!
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?
Exhibiting at the Allergy and Free From trade show and putting our first product, Cosi Care Instant, in front of a wide audience within the eczema society was a brilliant moment! It was the first time we were able to test the concept, with hundreds of children with mild to severe eczema, gaining valuable feedback and reviews.
It was a real eye opener to see and understand how many families are currently living through a near mirror experience to what Rhys & I faced when we were younger. Meeting these families made me even more determined to take the product to market. It was shocking to see how little things had moved along within the eczema community, with treatments not improving or adapting in 20 years, and the important gap that our business could fill.
The ‘lesson’ learnt was that the focus on ‘itch-management’ is currently not on the daily routine and well-being of children living with eczema. There is a fast jump to serious and harmful medicines as opposed to looking at the simple lifestyle changes that can be made to help the condition improve.
Unfortunately, people forget that there is a social and psychological side of eczema. There’s the side where you wake up every hour in the night scratching, there’s the side where you can’t focus or concentrate because you’ve been up all night in pain, there’s the side where you feel like you’re different to all your friends, the side where you can’t concentrate in class because you’re scratching your hands under the table, there’s the side where you can’t eat the things everyone else is eating because you’ll get a reaction. It is more than a quick fix with the next “miracle” cream. There are a whole routine and lifestyle that centers around that child or person that suffers from eczema that has been completely overlooked. Cosi Care wants to be the brand that actually designs and creates products that help that daily routine and help the person behind the disease.
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?
It’s really hard to put my finger on one monumental mistake that I have made where I am able to say, yes, this is my “biggest mistake”. For me, the mistake I made early on is more focused on the mindset that I regret having. When I first started Cosi Care, I was incredibly affected by negative feedback. It was such a personal business, built from personal pain and struggle, any negative comments I would immediately take to heart. I’ve learned how to process feedback and ensure that I learn and grow from it. It is important to take on board opinions you may not like or agree with and take them on in a constructive way. Running a business you learn quickly how to have thick skin… no pun intended.
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?
As a new entrepreneur, I’m incredibly lucky to have such a supportive family, who have been instrumental in helping me with the start-up of Cosi Care. Selling the idea to my parents that it was a good idea for them to lend me thousands of pounds to spend on a patent was a tricky moment! I was lucky that they had the confidence in me to support me financially early on because without that patent I wouldn’t have been able to progress the business and focus my time, money and energy on Cosi Care rather than taking a full-time position in another firm.
So for me, my parents have been an incredible support system, even though they are just playing the long game… hoping for a nice retirement home in the Maldives when Cosi Care finally does well.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
I am extremely passionate about creating a brand that anyone with painful skin disease can turn to. What motivates me is the thought of Cosi Care products being a source of relief and help to parents dealing with uncomfortable and itchy children — being the product they reach for when they are in need of comfort.
Scratching may seem like such a small action but it will lead to permanent scarring and infections if it is not managed and controlled effectively. My brother’s hands are now permanently scarred because of aggressive and repetitive scratching, and I really hate the thought that there are children following in his footsteps with no means of gaining back control over this urge.
Eczema sufferers can see a doctor up to five times a year and suffer regular infections, with antibiotic resistance on the horizon I knew it was essential to offer alternative solutions that are specifically focused on avoiding this. When you scratch you penetrate bacteria from your nails deep into layers of skin, our non-invasive solution offers the same satisfying relief without the harmful effect. There has been a huge shift in how people are managing their skin conditions; fewer and fewer sufferers want to reply on harsh steroid creams (no wonder, with their awful long-term effects!) and there is more of a focus on lifestyle and routine. Diet, stress management, healthy moisturizing routine using natural alternatives and managing scratching are the future of skin disease management.
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.
My top five for a positive mindset and well-being for new entrepreneurs is:
- Talk through problems with others, it can be lonely being an entrepreneur. I have always been a sole founder but sitting alone and thinking about how to solve complex problems can be daunting. Talking out loud is a really important exercise with family or friends just to gain clarity.
- Take time to switch off completely from your business. It’s hard (very hard) sometimes to switch off from your business. I find it difficult to have a day off or go the whole day without one eye on emails or jotting down an idea I have had. It is so important to switch off. You need time to detach from your business to ensure you look after yourself.
- Be selfish. I would always feel guilty saying “no”. You always want to help other businesses, founders, attend events and nurture your network. It is, however, to put yourself and your business first and you need to prioritize that and not get bogged down with other commitments that do not help you grow.
- Find a routine that works for you. If it’s working from home, in a workers’ space, in the library… find a routine that works. If you aren’t productive at 9 am in the morning don’t force it. Go to the gym, or for a nice walk. Don’t feel you have to fit in your work between 9 am and 5 pm. You started a business to carve your own routine and lifestyle. So do that! I enjoy working in the evenings, as I know I am much more productive than early in the morning.
- Think positive — yes this sounds like I have run out of ideas and have named a generic piece of advice… but honestly, if you think positive and embody positivity you will attract positive people and events to happen. I have visited so many networking events, and my pet hate is being in a conversation with someone that wants to list all the negatives in their own business and go on and on about all things disappointing. Why do that?! Why would anyone want to invest, spend time with, or even trust someone that can not see the value and the good in their own idea.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Start a spreadsheet and keep the details of everyone you meet! It’s so important to build and retain your network. You may really regret not creating a list as you may lose amazing connections!
- Don’t over promise, it’s easy to get excited when talking to potential customers and partners. Try not to over promise by saying your product will be ready within a certain time (for example), as it may affect your credibility.
- It may get lonely, so make sure you expand your network and connect with other businesses that are going through the same process. It’s so valuable to have mentors or friends within the start-up community that you can chat to.
- Don’t try and complete a huge list of things in one day. I used to write a huge, unachievable list to complete in a short space of time, and then get really disappointed if it was not done. Be realistic and give yourself credit.
- Don’t be afraid to adapt. You may have a plan in your head but be flexible and resilient.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Mental health is a cause that is dearest to me. As mentioned previously, my younger brother, Rhys, suffers from a severe form of eczema that has impacted all aspects of his life. Diagnosed at 3, now 21 he is still suffering in a number of ways due to the condition. Eczema will affect your self-esteem and confidence and I know for Rhys it has had a profound impact on his school life and social life. A recent survey by the National Eczema Association revealed that more than 30% of people with atopic dermatitis were diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety. I think the impact of a skin condition is deeper than the rash on your skin, and I feel really passionate about growing a business that understands the struggles sufferers can face.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Thank you for these fantastic insights!