I am a divorced mother in my 40s with a son who is a college student. Now I run a $34 million supplement company.

  • Maxine Laceby was a stay-at-home mom for 25 years, until a moment of clarity sparked major change.
  • Her company, Absolute Collagen, is currently the UK’s leading liquid collagen supplement.
  • She shared what it was like to start her own business for the first time in her forties.

This article is based on a conversation with Maxine Laceby, founder of Absolute Collagen. The following content has been edited for length and clarity.

I grew up in a single-parent home with an alcoholic mother. We have nothing. I left school at 16, worked in a factory and a clothing store, and ended up working in sales and marketing at a small hotel outside Bath, England.

I met my now ex-husband in a hotel and we got married when I was 25. He was successful and I didn’t need to work. I have been a happy stay-at-home mom for 20 years.

I always had a business idea but couldn’t put it into action because I had kids to look after. As a mother, I wake up every day thinking, “Who does everyone need me to be today?”

In my forties, I finally found my own time

My husband and I broke up when I was in my forties. By that point, I stopped doing school runs. It’s finally time to put yourself first.

It can be scary to have so much free time when your kids are away from home, but I find it liberating.

I went to college to study art. I went without makeup for four months for a project. It makes me feel ugly and invisible. I thought, if I’m going to strip myself down for this project, I need to feel good inside. I make bone broth from scratch.

It gives me a sense of happiness. My eyes are sparkling, my steps are springy, and my skin is hydrated.

I noticed jelly forming on top of the broth and realized that the hero ingredient was collagen.

Maxine Lesby

Maxine Laceby worked in the kitchen of Absolute Collagen in its early days.

Maxine Lesby

Bone broth is a gateway to entrepreneurship

In 2015, I made a big vat of bone broth and gave it to all my friends. It dawned on me that if they all liked it, why couldn’t everyone? I was a single mom and wasn’t making any money, so I decided to start a collagen supplement business.

My eldest daughter Darcy is studying food science and has access to a lab. We started researching collagen supplement recipes in the kitchen.

We discovered that marine collagen was far superior to collagen in broth and launched Absolute Collagen in 2017. The business is self-funded. I sold jewelry, borrowed money, and mortgaged my house.

In everyone’s eyes, we are an old woman, a freshly graduated college student with no business experience. But we believe in our product.

I told my daughters, “If things get worse, we’re going to have to sell the house and buy a smaller one.”

It was never about being a wildly successful business

We just got on with the job at hand. We have this product and we know it works.

The house was full of collagen and the first batch had to be thrown away because it expired before we could sell it. I keep overpaying people because I’m not good with finances.

Growth happened because I took thoughtful risks. I know that our clients, or “Absolutes” as we call them, should be at the forefront.

So even though everyone said we had to be in the retail business, we still went direct-to-consumer and offered a subscription model early on. I also insist that the price must be reasonable.

It’s a new market and a new way of doing things, but providing a quality product and delivering it directly to our customers is effective. We didn’t do any promotion, we just pushed our customer success stories on Facebook and Instagram.

we create Sales in the first year of selling just our supplements were $630,000. By the second year, our sales reached $3 million.

Maxine Lesby

Maxine Lesby with her daughter and colleague Darcy.

Maxine Lesby

Gradually, we brought in new talent for finance, social media and digital marketing. After a few years of hard work, we moved from the garage into the warehouse.

In 2020, we started looking for external investment. I don’t want the investor who provides the most money. I want investors who share my business vision and can look me in the eye when trouble comes.

This investment is a turning point for our small business. Last year our sales were $34 million. Our team consists of 67 employees and our warehouse is three times the size of our first warehouse.

People don’t underestimate me, now I have experience

Women are undervalued in business, but the most undervalued are themselves. We’re very humble, which is nice, but it doesn’t do us any good.

Maxine Lesby

Maxine Laceby is now an award-winning entrepreneur.

Maxine Lesby

That said, no one was going to take me seriously until I hit $16 million in revenue. Unfortunately, it’s also true that only 2% of investment dollars go to women. That’s not a lot.

That’s why I want to use my success to help other women. I’m part of a group called Buy Womenbuilt, a movement of brands founded by all women to help each other.

It’s not hard to do business, it’s really hard work. All you have to do is do the next right thing and don’t take shortcuts.

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