Lifes2Good Chief and Galway Tenors singer, James Murphy, recently became one of the wealthiest self-made business figures in the west of Ireland when he sold his Viviscal hair brand for €150 million. Viviscal is endorsed by celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Gwyneth Paltrow and Reese Witherspoon, and is sold in more than 25,000 stores in the US and across Europe.
We caught up with the inspirational entrepreneur to find out how he struck the deal to sell his much-loved brand to Church & Dwight.
“ I wanted to establish a company that would help to improve people’s lives.”
James’ story began in University College Galway. After completing a degree in commerce, he took up a position in a local accounting firm working on liquidations and receiverships. “I became regarded as an expert as I was good at clearing the assets and releasing cash for the liquidator as normally they would take years to close out. I was then approached by the Limerick office of Reynolds McCarron where I set up their liquidation department and worked on some great jobs before moving to Brussels to work for Coopers & Lybrand (now PWC). They were looking for an English speaking partner so I took up the offer to move to Luxembourg. The best thing that happened there was I met my Swedish wife! After sorting out their finances, and setting up new systems for BMR Slendertone in Donegal, I saw the opportunity to get into sales and marketing. The French market was the biggest and the distributor didn’t speak English so I started looking after the market. I quickly realised that the only way to get the business off the ground was through direct to consumer sales, which we did very successfully on TV and magazines. I invested with the distributor in a deal with a big TV company and the business grew to £7m in just a couple of years. I realised then that we had a marketing and sales strategy which I used in Ireland and UK and further grew the business to £20m.”
By 1997, James had enough of the board and their demands so he agreed to deliver the budget for the UK and to buy back his shares. “I made around £500,000 from that which I partially used to finance my own business. I wanted to establish a company that would help to improve people’s lives so I set up a call centre, marketing department and warehouse in Galway. The initial idea was to start a distribution business sourcing products through the connections I had built up over the years.”
When James bought Viviscal in 2007, he had established many other brands so he knew the marketing strategy that was required to build the brand. “Initially Viviscal was targeted at men and packaged in a black box but we soon discovered that the majority of our customers were female. I thought they must be buying Viviscal for their partners so we did some research and established that they were actually buying it for themselves! I didn’t know anything about women’s hair loss so we had to dig deeper. We realised that hair loss was a major problem for them also so we decided to change the whole strategy and target women instead of men.” James was surprised to learn that it was a real taboo subject which no one wanted to discuss. “Everyone was in denial! The media didn’t want to talk about hair loss but we eventually got our break when The Daily Mail covered it and we sold £250,000 worth of product over the following six months. Viviscal took off in UK and Ireland. The US parent of Holland & Barrett asked if we could bring the product to the US given the success in the UK. Enterprise Ireland gave us a desk in New York and that was where it all started for us.”
“Galway is a university town with world-class educational institutions.”
James knew that the key to success was setting up in the right location, at the right time, with the right people and is incredibly proud of his staff and how they performed in such a competitive global environment. “Galway is a university town with world-class educational institutions. From a location perspective, I wanted Lifes2Good to have a global impact. I also knew that the bigger markets most likely wouldn’t be in Ireland but I was happy travel to create that global impact from our base in the west of Ireland. Whether I’m cycling in the countryside or strolling down the promenade, the overall lifestyle in Galway is a huge bonus.”
Understanding the value of a good team, James agrees that recognition and reward go hand-in-hand. “Money is not a long-term motivator. People crave positive feedback, recognition when they put in extra effort, and the feeling that comes with knowing an achievement has been seen, appreciated and celebrated.”
“I understand the importance of a work/life balance as flexible hours can be a huge bonus to staff. As well as this, everyone has something that they love to do. Some people love music, others love sport, more are into travelling. I find out what each team member loves and give them a gift that is aligned with their interest.”
“A lack of talent can be compensated, but there is no substitute for hard work.”
James is under no illusions as to what got him where he is today. “There is no substitute for hard work. A lack of talent can be compensated, but there is no substitute for hard work. The work you put in is what you get out. I’m young – I’m only in my fifties so I won’t be retiring anytime soon. I plan to invest some of the money back into the business so we can buy and build up more brands like we did with Viviscal. I’ve bought myself a few things here and there but with this sort of money comes a whole new set of responsibilities.
For more information about Lifes2Good and associated brands, Visit their website here