Social entrepreneur Roz Campbell talks to Outlier about feeling like a fraud, the value of making mistakes, and how a seemingly meandering path can actually be anything but.
Roz Campbell has made some pretty big mistakes in her career.
“In my first crowdfunding campaign, I forgot that the manufacturer quoted me in US dollars,” she says.
“I also forgot about postage. So I didn’t do my budget properly, and the order cost me a lot more than I thought it would.”
But when you consider where things are currently at for Campbell’s social enterprise Tsuno—which specialises in sustainable sanitary products—it’s easy to dismiss those slip-ups as an essential part of her learning curve.
Flying by the seat of her pants is something Campbell seems to have always excelled in. Harking from country NSW, Campbell’s post-high school life was, as young adulthood often is, somewhat meandering. After a gap year spent working, she decided to study architecture—a decision that took her to Geelong in Victoria.
A year later, Campbell realised she wanted to pursue furniture design, prompting a move to Tasmania.
She spent a year studying in Hobart before again moving to Sydney. And nine months in, she decided to move again: this time to Melbourne.
“I moved a lot!” Campbell jokes.
In Melbourne, Campbell finished a course in furniture design at RMIT University before enrolling in industrial design. By her own admission, she was “all about furniture design” at the time.
Then, in 2011, a project she’d made in her design course was chosen to go to Milan to exhibit at a furniture fair. Unbeknownst to her at the time, it set off a chain of seemingly insignificant events that paved the way towards establishing Tsuno.
Taking the Milan opportunity to visit a friend in Finland was the first of these events. Campbell recalls the time she got her period at her friend’s house, and didn’t have any pads or tampons. She asked her friend for one, who responded with disgust at the notion of using either.
“I was like, ‘What do you mean? What do you use?’” Campbell recalls.
Her friend’s response? A menstrual cup.
“I remember being on the plane back to Australia, thinking about this little product and wondering why it didn’t exist in Australia,” she says.
“I started using it as I was formulating this plan, thinking that I’m going to tell everyone about it.”
But a range of setbacks quashed Campbell’s initial excitement for the product. The women she told about the menstrual cup were “grossed out” about it. Campbell herself started experiencing health complications with it, developing painful infections. And efficiency-wise, the cup leaked enough times that Campbell was getting frustrated.
Around the same time, Campbell learnt for the first time about what life was like for menstruating women and girls in Sierra Leone and Uganda through One Girl. It was the start of an enduring partnership with the charity, to which Tsuno now donates a portion of its profits.
A stint in the government’s NEIS program and a business plan later, Campbell launched Tsuno in 2014 via her first Pozible campaign. It was a success, raising enough to enable her to place a large order of pads.
In those early days, Campbell admits she was learning the ropes of business as she went along.
“I’d previously had my own business selling jewellery I was making, where I’d sell to shops—they’d add 100 percent, so I thought that must be how retailers do it,” she says.
“[I thought] you just go to the shop and have that individual relationship with them. I didn’t realise distributors were involved.”
While Campbell now has distributors that stock her products around the country, this anecdote is indicative of the totally organic way Tsuno unfolded.
“I didn’t think too far ahead. Part of me was like: I have to do it,” she says of the decision to pursue the business.
“My first step was to make it public, set my intention on Facebook or whatever—it’s happening.”
But behind that entrepreneurial drive, Campbell admits she suffers from constant self-doubt.
“I question myself nearly every day. Can I do this? It’s so hard,” she says.
“[I’m questioning myself] a lot at the moment—probably worse than I ever have.
“I think it’s because I’ve grown bigger, which is what needs to happen because it’s a high volume product. It’s grown beyond what I can do—this really stressful phase of growth where I’m pretty stretched with my own time. But I’m figuring out systems to manage it better.”
Adding to Campbell’s stress is the surge of social enterprises in the same space—a welcome development to the underprivileged people benefiting from their proceeds, but a prospect so daunting that she’s had thoughts of abandoning the enterprise.
“I worry about stuff like that—they’re all going to do what I’m doing, so what’s the point? This is hard, so why shouldn’t I just let them do it?
“But I’ve got to make it work. And having a shipment of pads gives it its own momentum.”
Campbell also admits to being afflicted by imposter syndrome, particularly as her business grows and attracts more attention.
“I feel like I am a fraud. I don’t feel like I deserve to be celebrated as a social entrepreneur yet,” Campbell says.
“I don’t feel successful yet, even when I’m asked to do interviews. I spoke at Pausefest in February, [where Tsuno was] considered to be a successful social enterprise, and I was like, ‘I feel like I’m only just keeping it going’.
“I compare myself to other people—it’s a terrible thing to do, but we all do it, don’t we?”
So how does she tackle those feelings?
“I speak to my studio buddies about it: ‘Why am I being asked to do these things?’” Campbell says.
“And they’re like, ‘You are successful, you’re still in business, it’s been three years and you’re still here’.
“And I probably do need to stop and look back on what I have achieved.”
In 2016, Campbell succeeded in her second Pozible campaign, this time to fund the social enterprise’s first foray into tampons.
And in another big development for the business, Campbell also recently outsourced all her shipping operations—a far cry from Campbell hand-packing pads herself from her shared office space in Thornbury.
But when it comes her ultimate vision for Tsuno, Campbell holds her cards close to her chest.
“I do have an idea but it’s not set yet, so I don’t want to say!” she laughs.
“But I have a million ideas every day.”
What about revisiting the product that kicked off this whole bloody journey?
“I haven’t even looked at my grand idea of reinventing the menstrual cup, but I would like to one day,” Campbell admits.
“Since I started researching in 2011 there’s been so many changes to the period world—no one was talking about it, and now there’s a real conversation around it.”
Virtual pep talk
“It’s OK to ask people for help. People are really helpful if you’re not a direct competitor. Don’t be embarrassed or afraid to look like an idiot.
Don’t just copy something—unless you see something you think could be doing much better. The idea of just doing the same thing and trying to steal customers is not good business.
Have a support network and remember [your work] is not the only thing in your life—remembering you’ve got other stuff in your life is really important. Work-life balance is really important when you’re doing something on your own.
And just be yourself. Be authentic.”