The PROPPR story, and resulting business partnership of Zhenya Gerson and Jacqueline Weiley, started back in February 2018, through a random conversation about a beautiful looking toilet foot stool that was a fixture in Zhenya’s southern Sydney based colonic hydrotherapy clinic.
The PROPPR is an elegant, Australian designed and owned bathroom foot stool which helps replicate the proper ‘squat position’ in the bathroom. Using a bathroom footstool like the PROPPR ‘unkiks’ the colon for a more effective release – going to the loo for a #2 is easier, quicker and more complete!
The product was brought to life by a crowd-funding campaign back in 2015, but by 2017 the business was on the market and with no sale impending, it was about to close.
Both Zhenya and Jacqueine loved that the product was not only functional, but beautiful in design and believed that there was a place in the market for a foot stool that was not only designed for purpose but was also a stylish and modern piece of bathroom furniture. So, after a few months of due diligence and negotiations they became the co-owners of the PROPPR in May 2018.
Jacqueline has worked as a marketing and communications professional for over 25 years, primarily in the corporate and not-for-profit sectors. Throughout her career she has also undertaken freelance consulting work on a range of brand, marketing and communication projects, primarily offering services to start-ups and small businesses.
Zhenya is an entrepreneur who just so happens to love all things gut related! She is driven by empowering people to be aware of their own bodies, to live a healthy life and to make conscious decisions about their own health and personal well-being. Hailing from New Jersey and having lived in fast-paced New York, her passion for gut health and yoga began while living in California.
The PROPPR recently took out a Good Design Award…
In early 2019 we decided to enter our Tasmanian Oak timber PROPPR in the Australian Good Design Awards. We were confident that we met the entry requirements in terms of design, purpose and sustainability; and in July 2019 we were the recipients of that award which we used to further profile the brand.
The Good Design Awards Jury praised the PROPPR commenting; “This is a really neat example of good design making a difference to product. An honest, intuitive and no nonsense design approach has created a unique product that will enhance our health and wellbeing. The Jury applauds the use of certified Australian timbers and toxic-free varnish. Well done.”
Did you initially face any difficulties getting the stool to market?
The PROPPR is not the first toilet footstool on the market, so information as to why we should use one is already out there and relatively easy to find. And there is science which supports the use of a footrest in the toilet; it helps to replicate the ‘squat’ position, with the important element being to get your knees higher than your hips. This ‘unkinks’ the colon and removes the ‘S’ bend which is created sitting at 90 degrees on a western pedestal toilet. Placing your feet on a footstool is also very beneficial for any pelvic floor issues.
While our bathroom habits are still a bit of a taboo topic, interestingly, once you start talking about it, the conversation opens up quite quickly; usually with jokes and puns thrown into the mix. More and more information on gut and digestive health comes out every day, so it’s a great time to be in the market of healthy bowel habits.
Who or what was integral to you overcoming these hurdles?
PROPPR had previously been on the market before our purchase of the business in 2018, and like a few other products we know such as Modibodi, a toilet footstool is not something that everyone knows they need, so a little education is needed for our product.
At the start we approached Zhenya’s other Colon Hydrotherapy colleagues, as they know the importance of using a footstool and are great advocates for it. We also have several naturopaths, pelvic floor physiotherapists, as well as some GP’s and Gastroenterologists who also recommend the PROPPR.
We are also featured in the guest suites at the Ovolo Wooloomooloo hotel in Sydney, and will soon be a part of a new hotel opening in Auckland, which has a specific health and wellbeing focus.
We have also utilised social media and our own personal networks and contacts, along with our previous experience creating PR opportunities (such as the Good Design Award entry) to help profile the brand.
It was with that in mind and nothing to lose, that on a trip to the US in mid-2019, Zhenya packaged the Tasmanian Oak PROPPR in its calico tote bag and wrote a personal note, highlighting the recent Good Design Award, and dropped it off to the buying team at Goop.
After a few nervous weeks, loads of follow up emails and calls, we started to get a bit despondent… but then we received an invitation for PROPPR to be a part of the 2019 Goop Holiday Gift Giving Guide, a globally renowned, highly anticipated list known for its many unique (and sometimes weird and wonderful) inclusions.
You’re both obviously passionate about shining a light on gut health, what led to this?
Zhenya’s journey into gut health was due to her own tummy troubles, and in 2002 she started to discover that overall health begins by healing your gut. She started colon cleansing and discovering what eating right meant for her body personally and then colon therapy became a consistent part of her life from that time. Seeing the differences it made to her overall health, her skin, mind, hair and manner, she wanted to help others in the same way.
What really prompted her career as a Colon Hydrotherapist was her father’s colorectal cancer diagnosis in early 2008. (He caught it early and it was treated successfully.) She wanted to be a bigger advocate for gut health knowing that it’s one of the most treatable forms of cancer if caught early. And with a healthy lifestyle, we can reduce the risk of many bowel diseases and issues.
Zhenya’s goal in establishing Exhale Wellness Spa was to create a space for people to relax, be nourished and supported through whatever health issues they may be experiencing. She’s deeply passionate about helping people with their gut health, making it easier to get through their day, to think more clearly, and avoid the ‘tummy rumble’ in middle of that important meeting with your colleagues. Now, owning a toilet footstool business, also allows us to help many, many people across the globe.
As part of her own health and wellbeing journey, Jacqueline discovered the merits of a toilet foot stool as a client of Zhenya (not to mention remembering her dad advocating this via a herbalist he was seeing over 30 years ago!), and became the owner of a PROPPR herself. She’d followed the principle of ‘squatting’, as advocated by Zhenya, by using a makeshift toilet footstool and with its benefits proven, was attracted to the PROPPR for its simplicity and discreet form.
When the PROPPR business opportunity arose through a chance conversation in the clinic, we decided to embark on the journey together, combining our respective business skills and passions to keep it in the marketplace. It’s such a simple and effective solution and while it won’t fix all issues it can go a long way to preventing them and helping in the healing of the gut, for example, following years of pushing and straining in the bathroom.
You’ve gone into business with each other, was there any initial hesitation?
We’d both had business partners previously, so we knew how to work with someone else, and with that we knew that there are both negative and positive aspects of working with someone else. For us, open and honest communication was the key from the beginning. We were both excited by the opportunity which the PROPPR presented, but we did take the time to fully explore each other’s goals and expectations for both the business and a potential partnership.
Once we decided to seriously consider the business opportunity together, we spent time discussing what we were each looking for in terms of outcomes and how we’d best work together to make that happen. One of the most important things we did in the beginning was have an outside consultant come and spend several hours with us, discovering and unearthing how each of us ticks. This brought a level of understanding in terms of how to communicate with each other and outlined our individual strengths and weaknesses, along with preferences. It certainly has made it easier to divide tasks and responsibilities within the business.
What do you think makes a successful business partnership?
We are quite different but recognised early that as long as we communicated well, along with playing to our strengths, skillsets and experience, our partnership could be successful and also enhance our business outcomes. I think we recognised in each other fairly early on that we both have a good work ethic, that we both have the ability to juggle activities and priorities (especially as we each needed other sources of income), and that we had a common vision as to where we felt the business could go.
Having someone else who is as committed to the business and its success is also so important – and necessary – to make a working partnership thrive.
What do you believe was the best decision you made in business?
That’s a hard one as we’ve had to make certain critical decisions at different points in the life of the business and our partnership.
For us, an early ‘good decision’, and as outlined, was to sit down as part of our due diligence and discuss what we wanted from the business, how it would work (we do live 1.5 hours apart and have no formal ‘office’ as such), who would be responsible for certain activities etc. We make it really clear up front what each of us was looking for and what we could offer.
We then acknowledged where we’d need help. For the past year or more we’ve been working with a business adviser as part of the NSW Business Connect program. This has been really valuable to have someone help us prioritise our activities and next steps, and assist in areas that we have little knowledge in. He has helped us manage the constant juggle between investing (time and money) in production vs investing in marketing and sales vs investing in business development (for longer term sustainability).
As we both have a services background, we’d never had experience in manufacturing a physical product, nor have we been involved in exporting. Again, through the Business Connect program we’ve been introduced to advisers and experts who have helped with introductions and contacts to help us on this part of the journey.
We’ve also engaged other expert consultants and service providers in areas where we have little expertise or have limited time to address.
Another big decision we made early on was that we would focus most of our time on the PROPPR but that a portion of our working week would need to be focused on income generating work for the first few years at least. We didn’t want to put pressure on ourselves for the PROPPR to deliver income. We wanted to be able to invest in building the brand, building sales and we know that the PROPPR does require some education as to its ‘reason for being’.
Finally, we would both say that you should start a business that you are deeply passionate about and that resonates with you personally. The world wants to buy products and services that are built on a sense of purpose. We think consumers today are willing to spend time and money on things that matter and what will help make their lives better in one way or another. Your business and brand should speak to that.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
In a nutshell: constant learning, problem solving, communicating, educating and flexibility!