I fled a dictator & lived in a refugee camp – now my haircare company makes £1.4m, I googled how to be a businesswoman

FROM the outside looking in, Georgiana Grudinschi has a charmed life – with her envy-inducing Chelsea home, handsome boyfriend and her own hugely successful haircare company. 

But the 28-year-old entrepreneur’s childhood was a world away from her perfectly curated Insta feed.

In 1997, she and her parents fled their native Romania in the wake of the  revolution to overthrow communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, and lived in a refugee camp for three years.

Speaking exclusively to Fabulous for our #BOSSINGIT series, Georgiana – who moved to the UK three years ago – explained how this experience inspired her to start her own beauty business OWOW, which turned over a staggering £1.4m in less than two years.

She said: “It was my dad’s dream to escape Romania. 

“He wanted to create a better life for us. I was only four, and leaving our friends and relatives was the hardest part. My parents said me and my sister Sabina cried for the first couple of weeks as we were missing home.

“But one good thing is that it exposed me to lots of different cultures. The refugee camp in Finland is how I learned English – it was all the other kids could speak.

“We tried our best to live a normal life in there. We didn’t have the freedom to travel but I started school at six, which helped establish a daily routine.”

In 2000, the family left the refugee camp, and Georgiana says this is when she started day-dreaming of one day being her own boss.

“I knew that in order to achieve that freedom of how I work and who I work with, I needed to become an entrepreneur,” she said.

At 18, Georgiana started her undergraduate degree in International Business Administration Management before going on to complete her Masters. 

After that, she began working as an accounts manager for an affiliate marketing company – and it was around this time that she discovered keratin treatments.

The treatments – which are loved by everyone from Meghan Markle to Love Island’s Jess Gale – smooth frizzy locks by injecting the porous sections with keratin, which is an essential hair protein.

“I was hooked,” Georgiana said. “I started having it done every three months but it cost a fortune. 

“Each treatment was around £345 so I was spending £1,380 a year. I thought there had to be a cheaper option.”

In an attempt to save some pennies, Georgiana started Googling at-home keratin treatments – but couldn’t find an alternative.

“This was a huge surprise to me because the beauty industry is so saturated and you can basically find anything that crosses your mind!” she said. 

“I thought, ‘If I’m looking for this kind of at-home alternative then I’m sure there are many other women who would prefer to do it themselves too.’

“And obviously I wanted to make the pricing accessible so everyone could afford it.”

Despite having total faith in her idea, Georgiana had no experience in the beauty industry.

She said: “Google was my best friend at the beginning. 

“I started searching for potential manufacturers and calling them and explaining my concept. 

“Most of them were very confused because even though they had experience formulating keratin treatments, they were used to doing it for salons. 

  • OWOW At-Home Smoothing Treatment, £39 from Beauty Bay – buy now

“I spoke to 80 manufacturers until I found the one in Brazil that we started working with.”

In order to give the business a proper go, Georgiana took a gamble and quit her job in early 2019 to focus on OWOW full-time.

Investing £8,500 of the money she’d saved over two years working full-time, she ordered her first 1,000 products.

Georgiana said: “Usually keratin treatments in a salon are creamy and are applied with a brush.

“We wanted to have it in a liquid format so we could put it in a spray bottle so it could be easily applied to the hair without any equipment.”

OWOW’s keratin spray works similarly to a salon treatment but is formaldehyde- and sulphate-free and results last up to three months.

How YOU can Boss It like Georgiana and launch your own business:

  • The influencer marketing industry isn’t what it used to be and it’s not that effective in driving sales. Instead, use it to create brand awareness. It’s very oversaturated too so you have to be creative with how they show products so they stand out 
  • When you’re in the early stages and don’t have a lot of money to start out, look for freelancers who could work with you on an hourly rate. We used UpWork at the beginning a lot. 
  • Outsource as much as you can afford. I made the mistake of thinking I had to do everything myself. 
  • A great way to get your product on the map is to get it in front of the media. So at the beginning, I was constantly reaching out to journalists and then working with a PR expert when we could afford it

During the three-month period where Georgiana was testing her product on different hair types, she was also busy kickstarting a social media campaign to create a buzz around her brand.

She explained: “I spent £2,000 on a pre-launch marketing campaign where we used targeted social media ads to invite people to join our waiting list.

“We had roughly 10,000 people signed up on the list before we even launched which was incredible.

“We also offered a scheme where people could collect points if they invited friends to join the waiting list as well. And if they collected a certain amount of points, they could win a free product.”

Alongside this, Georgiana also turned to her boyfriend of five years Tomi – who is a branding expert – for help developing OWOW’s packaging and distinctive logo.

Eight months after quitting her job, Georgiana – who is also based in Finland part-time – officially launched the brand in August 2019 with her £40 keratin spray.

Even as a little girl, I was a big dreamer. I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur so that I could have freedom and full control of my own life.

But just as OWOW was starting to get on its feet, the pandemic hit. Predictably, the beauty industry was hit hard,  with Boots’ overall sales dropping by a staggering two-thirds between March and April 2020. Meanwhile, there has been a 33 per cent increase in people starting new beauty and healthcare businesses in the UK after being made redundant.

“It was a nightmare,” Georgiana said. “We had a huge amount of stock waiting to be shipped to our warehouse and all the flights got cancelled. 

“They were stuck at the airport waiting for a flight for three weeks. It was very nerve-wracking and it was really important for me to be the one communicating with our customers.”

However, lockdown turned out to be a blessing in disguise for OWOW – as beauty fans who were used to having their keratin treatments in salons looked for at-home alternatives.

In the first five months of 2020, the business turned over £50,000 – but in November, OWOW made £30,000 in a single day through their Black Friday sale.

Now the company has turned over £1.4m – which Georgiana puts down to re-investing in advertising and working with e-tailers such as Beauty Bay.

Each month, she spends roughly £42,000 a month on paid social media ads to get the word out, and she has built up an advisory board of experts to help her become the world’s leading at-home salon beauty brand.

“At the moment, I have four people on the board,” she said. “This includes a Chief Financial Officer, a strategic partner and a businessman who is very experienced in the investment side who is helping to fundraise.

“The refugee camp taught me very young that if I want to live a good life, I need to push hard.

 “Even as a little girl, I was a big dreamer. I knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur so that I could have freedom and full control of my own life.”

For more inspiring real life stories, Jemma Solomon revealed her sister sister Stacey caught the labelling bug from her – she set up her company with £300 & now Lord Sugar has invested.

And Tropic Skincare's Susie Ma set up her £51m business when she was 15 – Lord Sugar fired her on The Apprentice but STILL invested £200k.

Plus Rayner Davies was a single teenage mum on benefits – now her cleaning business turns over £4m a year.

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