Essano founders Anthony Gadsdon and Shane Young were just 24 and 26 years old when they started making hair wax in a shared flat.
The men, who now run multimillion-dollar skincare brand Essano, had no idea that their dabbling in hair styling products would 20 years later grow into one of the country's largest natural skincare brands.
Essano turns over north of $30 million each year and its skincare and hair care products are sold in more than 8000 stores in eight markets worldwide.
The South Auckland-based business is in expansion mode, and this week launched into the United States, where it sees its greatest opportunity.
The operation started in 2000, when Gadsdon by chance met Young, a barber, who was flatting with his girlfriend at the time, "cooking up" hair wax in the flat.
"I was new on the scene, came along and was pretty intrigued. He was selling it to a number of barber shops and salons in Auckland, and I had just started my career at Progressive Enterprises (now Woolworths NZ) as a trainee category manager, and I was an avid hair wax user, so I saw there was an opportunity for a more premium product in supermarkets. I went back to him and I said 'I think there is a business here and we should have a look at it', and it started from there with our first brand Dominate," Gadsdon told the Herald.
"We were literally cooking the hair wax at the back of the barber shop back in 2000, it was a hobby for a few years. We managed to get ranged in Woolworths in Australia with 950 stores so suddenly in 2003 it went from a hobby to a small business.
"As we built the brand over a number of years we added in a couple of other brands and tried different things. The big step-change growth we've had was back in 2013 when we set up our own factory and our own chemist, we had built a brand called Primal Earth in the men's skincare space and we were starting to get some experience around that and both of our wives were looking for affordable natural products that looked great and smelt great and they really struggled to find that, and they encouraged us to use our experience and resources to look at a women's skincare that ticked all of those boxes."
In the early days, the business was funded on Gadsdon's credit card. He told the bank he was off to Europe for six weeks and was able to get a $6000 limit on his credit card, which the pair used to buy pots and raw ingredients.
Fast forward to today, one Essano product is sold around the world every 10 seconds and the brand - which aims to bring department store quality into the mainstream - has almost 200 products on the shelves. It released 50 new products last year, and has since expanded into new categories such as candles and fragrance.
Parent company Mix Limited owns and manufactures Essano, Shockwaves Gel, Dominate and Primal Earth brands. About 90 per cent of group sales come from the Essano brand, which launched in 2013 after 18 months in the making.
In seven years the brand has experienced phenomenal growth. It is expected to double in size over the next two years and sales revenue is forecast to exceed $50m this year.
Essano first launched in both New Zealand and Australia, in the pharmacy and grocery channels, and took off "far faster" than anticipated, Gadsdon said.
"We sold six months worth of product in six weeks" he said.
"The smartest thing a couple of guys that own a skincare brand or manufacturing business can do is hire much smarter women that really understand their category, and that's what we did. We hired a great team that understood the customer and where the gap [in the market] was."
Growth the business is experiencing today began in 2017. Gadsdon said the focus was now firmly on Essano and creating a men's range under the brand.
"We still see a huge amount of growth in the business, there's still untapped opportunity in New Zealand and Australia, and a big focus for us is Asia."
It already exports to Malaysia, Singapore, China and Japan, as well as Canada and the United States.
"We spent the last three years thinking about the US, researching it and trying to pick our timing, but we've really been investing more heavily in the last 18 months trying to understand the market and competitors and build relationships with distributors and retailers."
Gadsdon has spent one week of each month for the last 18 months, up until February, in the United States and Asia to establish business there. Its products are now sold by US retail giants CVS, Rite Aid and Harmo across a network of 3000 stores.
It wants to triple its number of stockists there within two years for it become one of its biggest markets. Australia is currently its largest market, followed by New Zealand.
Gadsdon believes being on the ground in the markets it operates in and building its own 3550sq m Mangere factory have been instrumental to Essano's success. It has had four factories prior to its Montgomerie Rd site, which it moved into eight years ago.
The company employs 85 staff and celebrates its 20-year anniversary on Friday. Gadsdon said the business had changed phenomenally in that time, particularly in the last five years.
Gadsdon focuses on sales while Young focuses on product development. "We've always thought big and been ambitious, but it was pretty hard to comprehend that we would get to this point back in 2000 pouring out hair wax, funded on a credit card."