Annabel Biggar-David is the CEO and Founder of OCO Life a multiple award-winning brand born in Africa, pioneering the health sector. Founded in 2018, Cape Town-based OCO Life is a market leader with a revolutionary range of organic essential oil blends, aroma diffusers, air purifiers & traditional medicine including Imphepho, Africa’s most sacred herb. In addition to offering a holistic approach to health, they take care of their employees, close communities, clients, and suppliers. With over 50% of South African’s living in poverty and the staggeringly high unemployment rate, as a passionate and purposeful driven team, OCO Life strives to capture the essence of economic value by upskilling employees while reducing their own ecological footprint. The company believes in People. Planet. Profit, to create a lifestyle of harmony, where a balance & collaboration exists between people, as it does in nature, with ethics, integrity, and respect.
We sat down with Annabel Biggar-David to learn what it takes to be a South African eco-warrior creating effective health solutions while making a social impact and contributing to the green economy.
PerceptivX (P): What was the inspiration behind OCO Life? Take us through the journey of your company.
Annabel Biggar-David (ABD): “As a woman of mixed race, being able to cast my vote at our first democratic election on the 27th April 1994 in South Africa was a massive moment in my life. My Gran was the one who instilled the entrepreneurial spirit in me. She helped me start my first business at 9 years old. Growing up in a racially divided country, as a colored person, with a childhood spent on the gang-infested Cape Flats, poverty is like paying for a crime you didn’t commit. As an adult, I realized no amount of security was worth suffering a mediocre life. I wanted to contribute to something bigger. I did not want to be imprisoned by a haunting thought of “I wish I had” so was willing to risk almost everything I own to make a difference in society. My love for alternative medicine came from my childhood, it took trial and error as I would concoct anything that would help prevent me from having to go to the doctor. Growing up poor does not leave spare cash for “indulgences” like going to a doctor. Friends and family were responsive to my homemade remedies so I decided to research the global market. Always interested in holistic health, I contacted a company in the USA asking if they would provide me with a global market report on the industry. They said “sure…. it costs $10 000” …. I begged and pleaded and eventually paid $100 and offered them essential oils for life. On our first free democratic elections, I knew my life now had a purpose & sold almost everything I owned and when the money ran out would barter furniture for services. That’s how OCO was born.”
(P): You describe your products as revolutionary. How are your products changing the lives of your customers and the world around them?
(ABD): “We improve lives and have created solutions to our client’s health needs, our products are different, innovative, interesting functional, and provide an excellent holistic approach to health. Sustainable farming practices ultimately contribute towards a sustainable ecological environment for future generations. When buying organic, you are assisting in reducing the amount of pesticides used on our planet since these unwanted toxic chemicals have far-reaching effects on our bodies, wildlife, and the environment.”
(P): What is cooking up in OCO’s kitchen nowadays? Are there any new products ready to be launched?
(ABD): “We have made one’s home a haven and a safe, tranquil one at that. Our global design award-winning Air purifiers are a great addition to our range especially during these challenging times we find ourselves in. As a brand our consumer trusts, we are diversifying and have three incredibly exciting product lines in development which include the Beauty, Home, and Pet industry. We will be launching within the next month and a half. OCO Life, OCO Beauty, OCO Home, OCO Pet – sub-brand brand called Luna Life (after my rescued Rottweiler).”
(P): As a women wellness entrepreneur what do you think is the most important skill that has helped you build your brand?
(ABD): “Compassion! Knowing we are serving a purpose greater than ourselves. We have a great company culture and I personally strive to be flawless and impeccable with my word with my employees and customers. As women, our default state is to help and nurture. Honest, raw, and real conversations, exposing one’s vulnerability has opened many doors for me. I keep my values front and center. I believe Ego will destroy one. I am an open book, transparent about myself, my life, and my products. People buy people not products. Persistence has taken me places, not talent or genius or even education. In business integrity is everything. Generosity and kindness go a long way too. I do not take the smallest gestures for granted as they speak the loudest. Being quite self-aware and prioritizing personal development and that of my team, their development, and becoming the best versions of themselves is integral to my leadership style. I try and encourage strategic thinking, innovation, and action. This is the rainbow nation and we ensure to practice effective cross-cultural communication. I coach, motivate, and lead by example. I have a responsibility and need to develop others to succeed in their roles and prepare for future roles. Other roles include being a facilitator, strategist, visionary, a shoulder to cry on, a life and work coach but also being able to make tough decisions. Also, my company is a 100% black women-owned business and all of us come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Most of my staff are women, gender bias- an inequality- is not a challenge we face as a company.”
(P): You described gender bias as an inequality. How can we advance female entrepreneurship and what can we do to stop the backslide?
(ABD): “Governments need to realize the importance of women entrepreneurs in their economy and to inspire entrepreneurial attitudes. Women in business, sometimes feel invisible. African Women have a voice that can no longer be silenced. We are wanting to be the change and help create employment. But it starts with young girls at home: instill in them a love for reading and learning which will lead them to a sense of curiosity about the world. As the sayings go: “Little girls with dreams become women with vision” and “It is easier to build strong children than repair broken adults”. Government needs to create links between women entrepreneurs and corporates. Have these corporate giants pledge their support to include women entrepreneurs in their supply chain and governments to be equally committed to keeping those conversations alive. For a successful African woman, it is your duty as a woman to help another woman. When women support each other, incredible things happen. I do mentor a handful of women in business including our female staff complement and recommend they participate in great accelerator programs that are funded by the government. To women, I would recommend learning the basics of business, study, read, job shadow, ask for help. Use what is at your disposal, visit internet cafes and google, programs are waiting for you to sign up with. In South Africa, an organization called Seda will help you with your business idea and help turn it into a reality.”
(P): Finally, what would be your advice to women who want to start a business?
(ABD): “Remember start-ups default state is a failure, as an entrepreneur we have to work to un-fail it. In business we mistakenly think it’s all about that great idea, it’s not. Everyone has ideas. The most successful companies are founded on a combination of frugality, wise spending, customer service, and superior products. Always spend wisely. Don’t go broke trying to look rich. That’s a mistake lots of entrepreneurs make. When you buy things, you don’t need soon you will have to sell things you do need. Do you know that 85% of your financial success is due to your personality, ability to communicate, lead and negotiate? Only 15% is due to technical knowledge. Don’t get me wrong, KNOW, ABSORB, BREATHE and LIVE every aspect of your business but it brings it back to this. People buy People, not products. They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Hustle like hell. I’ve begged, pleaded, and borderline harassed editors of magazines for free editorial. I hand-wrote letters to every single person who appeared on the tv show Undercover Boss USA, Dragons Den UK, Richard Branson, and every other successful person I admire asking for tips and mentorship. I work like there is someone else working 24 hours a day to take it all away from me.”