In conversation with Gry Tomte
MEET GRY TOMTE
Gry is one of the most inspiring women I have had the privilege of meeting, and am so lucky to call a friend. She is an incredible entrepreneur in her own right, and has cultivated a thriving multi-million dollar business that has 15 staffs members, high profile clientele and won countless awards. But what is the most inspiring part is that she has built her business HÜD, based upon a people and purpose first, profit second mentality - which is a true testament to Gry as a person. Let's find out more...
Tell us a bit about yourself? What is your background? Well, if you asked me 5 years ago I would have said I was a skin therapist. But now I guess my role as a solo founder and director of my business, my job is being a visionary and a leader for my team. Which is exciting but challenging at the same time. I never went to business school, so there's been some massive lessons learnt along the way. I grew up in Norway, in a small little town about 30mins from Oslo. It was a tight knit, lower/ middle class socio economic neighbourhood. And an amazing place to grow up. Growing up I always thought I'd be a lawyer - and after high school my first uni year was studying criminology. I guess it's safe to say that steered me away from being a lawyer. Luckily - because I'm much more of a creative and would have hated law! So instead I studied weird and wonderful things like Middle eastern and North African studies, Social Anthropology and Sociology. None of which came in handy as I started my business... But it instilled in me a love of people of all different backgrounds. Something i think is valuable in any business.
How, when and why did you decide to launch HÜD? What was the lightbulb moment? When I moved to Australia I suddenly developed pretty bad acne. It lasted a good 10 years and really took a toll on me mentally. It was also one of the best things that could have happened to me; it was the catalyst for me starting my beauty education. I was really interested and passionate about finding solutions for my own skin, and it led to a real all consuming passion for all things skin. After I did my training I worked in a little nail salon - don't ask me why, but I really wanted to learn how to do acrylic nails! So that was my first real job in the industry, afters a brief stint as a brow waxer in Toronto. After a year of creating nails for Toorak's elite ladies I decided that i needed to work in the area I was most passionate about - skin. And more importantly, problematic skin. So I started a little home studio and so it began. After 5 years I had built up a massive clientele purely via word of mouth. One day, as I was trying to book in a young girl with severe acne, I was looking at my 6 week wait list and I thought "I need to do more." I have the capacity to change so many people's lives by making sure they don't suffer from acne for as long as me - but I can't do it on my own. So I decided, against everyone's advice, to open my own clinic where I could have a team who would be able to help more people get the skin of their dreams.
It can be incredibly daunting starting your own business. What do you think equipped you for it and what gave you the conviction to actually do it? Haha! I wasn't equipped for it at all! But somehow I was too stubborn to let it go. I remember a well known designer I was treating at the time who told me in no uncertain terms it was the stupidest idea to take such a risk in an economical climate that was most certainly on the brink of a recession. It made me super nervous but luckily my husband and some very entrepreneurial friends of mine told me "what's the absolute worst that can happen?". I thought long and hard and decided that, "well if it all goes pear shape we can live upstairs int he building and rent out the bottom part". The funny thing is, I often talk about purpose, and at the time I hadn't defined it. But it was definitely my purpose that made me push through when the world seemed to tell me it was a ridiculous idea.
What were the major obstacles or challenges, especially unforeseen ones? Oh my goodness - so many! Firstly, the building was SO old and run down that even the landlord thought it was a bad idea and tried to talk us out of it! Then, one of the neighbours objected to the council, and took it through VCAT so it actually took a full year to get the permit to start the build. And in the meantime we had to lock in builders, and to be able to do that we needed to take out a bank loan - at 13% interest! And that loan started to draw down almost a year before we started building! Once we were finished I started recruiting, and thought I'd done a great job recruiting therapists who had strengths I was missing. But I had two of them actually quit the week we were due to open! They both said they had no faith in this ever getting off the ground and just couldn't commit. It nearly broke me. At the time I thought "they must know it's all going to fail, and I'm just too blind to see it." I could seriously go on and on, as I think every day in business has it's own set of challenges. But reflecting back on these major challenges and knowing I got through them just fine is so cathartic.
What were the unexpected rewards or highlights? For every challenge there's definitely been just as many rewards. Knowing that I've managed to create a great team environment where people feel safe, loved and cared for and where they get to do what they love every day without a boss hanging over them pushing to hit targets - that's definitely a highlight for me. Because I never had that experience when I was a team member. Mine was pretty terrible. All the awards we've won, some of them top in Australia, are also a great reward because they definitely install a sense of pride - not only for me as a business owner, but also for the team. I'm also pinching myself knowing that we were able to buy our own house last year! Seriously, for a good 10 years we thought there was no hope we'd ever be able to afford it. So when we bought our dream home in St Kilda East last year it was truly a dream come true. I am so grateful that following my passion and purpose, and taking a huge risk, allowed us to do this.
Having your own business can at times lead to self-doubt. Do you relate to this and how does it manifest for you ? How do you combat it? Can I ever! I'm not sure the self doubt ever stops? If someone finds the magic pill, please contact me! Look, I think it's natural for someone who puts it all on the line to be constantly self examining and wondering if we're doing the right thing. I am a classic over thinker and perfectionist. So pretty much everything I do I have a tendency to question "Am I doing it right? How will other people view this? Will I hurt someone in the process?" etc. But I also think this is healthy to a certain degree. I try to spend time every day though, reflecting on the things I've done RIGHT, instead of what I've done wrong. And making a conscious effort to adapt a growth mindset, and know that mistakes are nothing but valuable lessons to learn from. I've recently also started hypnotherapy - mostly because I can never seem to sit still long enough to meditate! It's a journey...
On the flip side, what are your hopes and visions for putting your work out there – how do you hope the world benefits from your work? Our clinic's vision is to build Australia's most excellent skin clinic. A place where both our guests and our team can't wait to arrive, feel like they belong, and can't wait to tell their friends about us. So I guess it's two fold - being a great employer who cultivates more leaders and providing the kind of environment where the employees feel heard, cared for and where they can work to purpose every day. And also, being able to change more lives in an environment that feels like a family more than just a skin clinic. In terms of my own personal vision, the last year I've started speaking a lot more openly about the struggles I have gone through and do still go through mentally as part of being a business owner and leader. I feel really strongly about helping other business owners feel less isolated and understanding that what you see on social media really is the highlight reel. I feel like mental health issues amongst founders and business owners are way more prevalent than they should be, and I really hope I can play a role in changing that. I also have a burning desire to help other business owners create more safe, purpose driven workplaces. We have a huge epidemic in our industry of burn out due to unrealistic expectations and a profit first mentality amongst business owners. I hope to turn that around so we can have more employees loving what they do for years to come.
What relationships have been integral to your journey? My husband is the most supportive human I could ever ask for! It's not easy living with a perfectionist who lives and breathes work... But he is the yin to my yang. The calm to my storm. Especially being that we have no family here, the two of us have always been a strong unit. I've also been really fortunate to have a small group of friends who are founders themselves, who pushed me to do the things that really scared me. And also, having had several business coaches and mentors along the way who have all added value in different ways. Without them I definitely wouldn't have been able to grow into the leader and business woman I am today. Some teaching me about numbers and policies and procedures - and some, more recently, teaching me how to be a better leader for my team.
What is your favourite life lesson? Your biggest challenge can lead to your biggest reward. This was the case with my acne, which was the catalyst behind finding my Why.
If you could tell your 15 year old self anything, what would it be? Every mistake is a gift and brings you closer to your goal. Embrace them - don't let them stop you.
What advice would you give women wanting to start their own thing? Be clear about your Why. Take the time to find the thing you're passionate about and let that guide you in everything you do. Business is tough every day - having an authentic connection with purpose makes it possible to overcome some pretty big challenges that otherwise would seem too hard. Then surround yourself with people who know more than you. You'll never be good at everything, so draw so other people's strengths - together we are better. Work out your strategy and what makes you different.
Then GO FOR IT!
Sweet or Savoury: Sweet
Morning or Night: Night
Books or Podcasts: Podcasts
Beach Holiday or Adventure Holiday: Beach Holiday
Summer or Winter: Summer