When she heard her daughter screaming from the bathroom,
rushing to her already red and swollen face, neck, and forehead, it didn’t take Mona Elerian, the at the time Middle Eastern director of one of the pharmaceutical companies, much time to realize her daughter is having an allergic reaction. To her surprise, she found some dangerous chemical, can cerous compounds in the product she easily gave her daughter. Since then, the determined Mona decided to make it her duty to educate people about the vitality of natural products. Starting off from making olive soaps from her own kitchen, sharing her products with her small circle, to launching the impressive skin brand that we all -including their market in Japan- admire today: Nefertari. We’ve talked to the ambitious lady about her brand, her employees, and how she preserved its identity, and more.
You initially launched Nefertari in 1998. Can you tell us more about its business journey, and the bumps you faced on the road?
At first, I wasn’t experienced in accounting and taxes. It was rocket science to me. I actually
How is the market different from when you started in 1998 to today?
In fairness, the market has changed: it is enlightened, yet ignorant. A woman comes in and asks for shampoo without sulphate, without really knowing what that is. The market nowa days is full of myths and fables. For that, I have a YouTube channel that provides people with in formation about such questions: essential oils, preservation ways, and so on.
With the current increase in awareness of the benefits of natural products, have you noticed a jump in the demand for Nefertari’s products lately?
Of course. We sell more, especially for a young category of aware people, of the ages eighteen and twenty, who read and research. I thought that I would sell to an older category. A very good sign is that the girls at these young ages are getting used to more healthy products when it comes to body care. It is really encouraging.
As a single mom who started a business from scratch, how did you manage the work-life balance?
It was very difficult, to be honest. I had my daughter. I had a job. I had to quit to start this business which was difficult, as I was a pharmacist and an expert in my field. I had to start from scratch from my own kitchen. I was new to this; it was very hard, but I had the determination to convey this new idea to our society.
Maintaining and expand ing on a growing business is indeed challenging. What’s your key to maintaining the company’s performance consistency?
Like Martin Luther King used to say, I have a dream. I want Nefertari to become a very strong, Egyptian company. I depend on three pillars: handmade, 100% Egyptian, and 100% natural. I am always keen on sticking to the packaging material made in Egypt when I can easily import cheaper and higher quality from elsewhere, but I would trust only Egyptian hands on Nefertari. I am the first one in Egypt to write: “Proudly made in Egypt.”
In one of your previous interviews, you said that “you are committed to buying your employees’ entire production, regardless of market de mand.” Why is that? And how do you compensate if the demand was less than the products you bought?
We put our products in baskets made by women working from home. Because I am a single mother, it makes me relate to them. This is their bread and butter; they need the income for their children’s education and not to end up on the streets. For me, these ladies are my back-bone. During the revolution, we weren’t selling. Our shops were broken into and stolen. I almost started from scratch. So I started to buy all what they were making. I couldn’t tell them not to. But thank God, everything is going okay now. We have around 360 working ladies and on the premises, we have 167 employees.
As an entrepreneur, why do you think it’s important to maintain a healthy, non-exploitative relationship with your employees? And how do you think this makes a difference in the overall performance of the company?
It’s very important. My current employees stood beside me during thick and thin and the revolution -a long period. They bore decreasing their salaries. They never bailed out on me. They could have left for another company, finding a new job. I have had employees for more than twenty years now. Most of them stayed. Employees are the company I owe them a lot.
How do you feel about your daughter joining your company now, especially that she was your inspiration to launch Nefertari in the first place?
To be honest, I am thrilled. Going through the experience herself, watching her while she speaks about it and how enthusiastic she is, makes her more convincing than I am. After coming all this way here, finally, I can see my daughter speaking and arguing with me.
Mona hopes to make Nefertari 100% natural and 100% organic body care products in the next five years.