‘How I Did It’ Episode 1: Yaw Okyere, Founder of Ava Estell

Published in
8 min readDec 15, 2022


In our first episode of How I Did It, we have an in-depth interview with Yaw Okyere, founder and CEO of beauty brand Ava Estell. We go into the detail of exactly how he scaled his brand into the millions, focusing on the step-by-step process of how he went from one to 1000 customers and managed his cash flow conversion cycle, all while scaling and entering the American market. We hope you enjoy.

How did it all start?

I had always been interested in business, either starting my own businesses or working for startups. However, Ava Estell in particular all started when I met my wife in 2016. I noticed that whenever we would go out, she would always wear long-sleeved blouses, due to being shy about blemishes she had on her skin. Luckily for me, I had a background in product formulation due to the last startup I worked for, so I decided to put my skills to use and create an all-natural solution for these skin blemishes to help her boost her confidence, which worked really well.

However, it wasn’t then that we launched. I was actually focusing on other businesses during that time, and it wasn’t until lockdown in 2020 (when everyone was getting paid 80% of their wages to sit at home) that it dawned on me now could be the perfect time to revisit the skin remedy project I had started due to my wife.

So I did: I went through all my notes, reformulated the product slightly, got all our safety approvals and testing done, and sent it to 20 of our family and friends. They all loved it! So I invested £5,000 to buy ingredients, products, manufacturing, and everything else required to make more. That was the start of Ava Estell.

What was the planning process that you carried out? How did you plan and execute to achieve the growth you experienced?

I never wrote a business plan. I don’t believe in traditional business plans, personally. What was key for us was having a clear direction and strategy — knowing exactly where we wanted to take the brand and how we were going to get there.

With that being said, there were some regulatory steps we had to take in order to ensure our product was safe and meet all the requirements of a skincare line. For anyone going into any industry that is highly regulated, I advise you to find out exactly what the regulatory standards are in your industry and create a plan to meet them before launching. But once this is done, get in front of your customers as soon as possible.

I ensured that we didn’t spend to much time on things like our website and logo because I knew we were going to iterate. For example, our logo took me 15 minutes on Canva and our first website took me a day to create. It’s not that these things aren’t valuable, they are — but they were not as valuable as understanding why people bought from us.

So that’s what we focused on early on: we took the minimal viable product approach at the start and iterated constantly. Not just by listening to what our customer said, but by watching how they reacted because we realised very quickly they were two different things.

How did you go from your first customer to your 1000th customer? Could you walk us through the steps of everything, from marketing to logistics?

I’ll try narrow it down to exactly how it happened and what I did. Hopefully I can remember all the hacks lol…

Hack 1. I started an Instagram page one month before launching the product, which I used to direct people to an email opt-in landing page. This helped build hype and allowed people to know there was something coming.

Hack 2. I used the results my wife achieved from using the product to market to others; I noticed people really bought into real life testimonials. This helped me make our first few sales to those following us.

Hack 3. I asked for help. I pushed it out to family and friends and asked them to spread the word. Follow, like, share our posts and website/ landing page.

Hack 4. Special offers: I ran a number of special offers on our landing pages for a select number of customers. For example, when we first launched we gave 50% off to the first ten people to try our product.

By the time we had done the above, we got to our first 100 customers. We got to 1000 by using a lot of the hacks above but by pushing ad spend behind them.

After four weeks of launching, I had a conversation with a friend who advised we run an ad on a meme page which worked really well for them, so I decided to try it out. Once I did, things went crazy.

To break it down, what I would do was reach out to Instagram meme pages to get them to post our testimonial videos, and then based on the new followers we received I would direct message them and offer them exclusive discounts. We were getting so many followers from the meme pages that I wasn't able to keep up. In one weekend, we ended up getting £10,000 worth of sales. As you can imagine this didn’t last forever, but we rode the wave whilst we could, and by the end we had served well over 1,000 customers.

Alongside executing this marketing strategy, we also put in place an operational logistics process which basically resulted in our customers paying for our product before we had manufactured it. This helped significantly in our run-up to acquiring and serving our first 1,000 customers, particularly as we had only invested £5,000 to begin with and needed a sustainable way to pay for the raw materials required.

We took advantage of the fact we always received orders on the weekend and that customers were willing to wait seven days for us to process their orders. By doing so, we would carry out the following weekly until we were too big to keep it going:

Step 1. Marketing over the weekend: Saturday and Sunday.

Step 2. Get paid by Wednesday latest: Shopify pay you in three days.

Step 3. Place all orders for raw materials for next-day delivery: it would usually arrive by Friday latest.

Step 4. Manufacture and package the products over the weekend: we’d start on Friday and complete it by Sunday.

Step 5. Ship all products to customers on Monday.

It was the perfect seven-day cycle. We had countless sleepless nights and from time to time there were issues but we would always try and work around it. We offered customer freebies or whatever we felt was necessary to put a smile on their faces.

Wow, it must have been crazy taking those risks. Considering how far you’ve come since then, what would you say is your biggest problem now?

Cash flow. As we continued to grow, the number of customers we served also grew, which meant our seven-day dispatch policy eventually got scrapped. We were manufacturing daily, which was a good problem because it meant more sales, but also a bad problem because it meant we could no longer rely on customer payments and had to start dipping into our profits.

Initially this was fine, until we began to suffer from what most product based businesses suffer from: cash flow constraints. One thing about having a D2C businesses is your profit on paper is usually very different to what you actually have in the bank.

[This meant that] despite the fact we were profitable, that profit had to go immediately into operational expenses like staff, stock and marketing to ensure we kept growing. However, in order to feed that growth we had to order more stock and order that stock well in advance due to supply chain issues — as we were anticipated to sell more and more product month on month.

This is where working with Lendoe came in handy, because I was able to use external funding to buy the inventory ahead of time, allowing me to secure more product for the continued growth whilst keeping my cash flow in check. In markets like ours where things are moving so fast, this is a must; you cannot afford to wait for your profits to materialise before ordering more stock to meet your growth expectations.

I agree that cash flow management is key for any fast-growing brand and we’ve seen this first-hand. There’s one last question I’d like to ask you. You currently trade in the United states — how did you go about expanding into the US?

We started marketing to the US three months in to starting Ava Estell. We ran a test and noticed that people from the US purchased our products regardless of us being in the UK, so we decided to secure a great fulfilment partner, Hutch Logistics, and they supported us with our US expansion. They had a great service where they would take our product and ship it to the USA overnight. By the time it landed in New York, it would go into USPC (the equivalent of Royal Mail) and then to the customer in 5-7 days.

That was a real game changer for us because we could get our products to the US and still make enough to generate a good margin. So we decided to continue selling there. We noticed that the US consumer was a bit easier to sell to, so over time we invested in this channel. We eventually found our own fulfilment centre in the US and began working with them and cut delivery times significantly. So now, instead of manufacturing and delivering from the UK, we manufacture here and send our products to the USA and have our US fulfilment partner deliver for us.

That’s the end of the interview but before we wrap up, please give our readers three key tips that helped you scale from £0 to £10 million in two years.

  1. Don’t be scared to take risks. Business is full of educated guesses and educated risks. You are constantly making decisions that are guesses and have an element of risk — so get used to it.
  2. Don’t get too bogged down with one idea. Before Ava Estell took off, I spent nine years trying to do a number of different ideas. It was all of those ideas, some successful and some not-so-successful that taught me all I needed to make Ava Estell a success.
  3. Don’t discount the element of timing. When you look at our journey, you see how timing played a massive role in accelerating our success. We launched at time that was perfect for e-commerce brands. Consumers had excess time and money and this was perfect for a brand like ours.

This was amazing, Yaw. I love the executable advice you’ve provided. Thank you very much and we look forward to working with you as your journey continues.

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