More than 20 years ago in an average kitchen in Australia, Sue Ismiel concocted a solution for her daughter Natalie’s unwanted hair problem. She was tired of exposing her then-6-year-old child to chemicals that harmed her skin and believed there had to be something better and safer than what was available in the marketplace.
Ismiel’s idea became a mission and eventually grew into what we know today as Nad’s, the no-heat hair removal gel, made from natural ingredients that could be found in anyone’s cupboard or garden.
“We as human beings have an infinite intelligence in our subconscious mind and we’re always recognizing opportunities, and in the back of our minds, we know this thing is going to be a winner but I think what really stops most people from pursuing their most deepest, deepest desires and their dreams is fear,” Ismiel said.
Determined to turn her idea into a reality, Ismiel began creating a hair removal agent, despite having no scientific or bio-medical background.
“For me it was really avoiding all the naysayers, all the dream killers and also being able to monitor my own thoughts, negative thoughts that would quite often pop up. I had to manage me,” Ismiel recalled.
“It took 12 months for me to perfect it and in my heart of hearts I always knew that I was going to perfect it,” Ismiel continued. “But there were moments where I would come up with a remedy and it was the wrong formula and it wouldn’t work and I’d go to bed at night after hours of trial and error and I would sometimes think, ‘Maybe people were right, maybe I’m wasting my time.’ So there were moments that I doubted myself but the following morning, the very first thing that would pop in my mind, would be ‘Oh my God, what am I going to try next?’ I’d forget about the failures of the night before or the day before and I would try again. There’s always doubts, but it’s about managing those doubts.
“There’s got to be a deep desire within you that really pushes you to go beyond your boundaries,” Ismiel added. “As a little girl, I’ve always wanted to do something, I’ve always wanted to be the best in the class, always wanted to have immaculate bookwork. There was always that high expectation of me and I had high expectations of myself and in what I tried to achieve in life; there was this knowing, a deep knowing that I would be able to get to it somehow.”
Ismiel’s expectations for her life changed dramatically in 1974, when at 15 years-old she and her family immigrated to Australia from Syria.
“I could not speak the language. I left my friends behind, my culture; it was a whole new world to me,” she recalled. “There was an expectation of me to build a life in Australia, a much better life than I’d already had.”
Her new life, however, was not without some hardship.
“On the third day of school, I was bashed up, assaulted on a school bus by a group of girls because I couldn’t speak English. For me that was a defining moment at such a tender age and I really had only two choices: become a victim of bullying for the rest of my life or learn English. And of course I chose the latter,” Ismiel explained.
“So for me, everything I’ve achieved in the past 40 years, I always go back to that defining moment and think if I could turn that situation, that unbearable situation in my life, into what I have today, which is accepted and embraced by my fellow Australians, achieving all these awards in the past 40 years, then I can do anything,” she continued. “Everything that I put my heart to achieve in life, takes me back to that moment, flat on my face in that school bus, humiliated and yet being able to turn it around. So, there’s always a way for me.”
Holding no grudges, Ismiel chose, and still chooses today, to always move forward and see the positive in everything.
“We only hurt our own souls with negative thoughts, so why would you do that?” Ismiel asked.
Ismiel credits such a positive outlook to helping her achieve success early on. She was employed at a private hospital in a medical records office when she finally perfected the formula and would take jars of the finished product with her to work.
“Everybody wanted to try it,” Ismiel said. “I had a lineup of nursing staff watching me try the product. That’s when the idea occurred to me of starting a business and turning it into something bigger than just a solution for my own daughter’s problem.”
Ismiel cashed in a $5,000 service fee to help with operating costs.
“I had never sold anything in my life,” Ismiel admitted. “I didn’t even know how to sell raffle tickets, but there I was, I developed a box of this green goo that worked like magic, I put my own label on them and the only way I knew how to sell was at the local market.”
She set up at a local flea market and spent a “frustrating” three hours behind her table display without even one person taking interest.
“I was about to pack up and go home and forget everything but then a thought entered my head and I said to myself, ‘These people have no idea why I’m standing here,’” Ismiel recalled.
Mustering what confidence she had, Ismiel emerged from behind her table and started approaching people.
“In that instance, I became the problem solver. In less than an hour I had sold out,” she said. “That box had gone, I had never seen that much cash in my life and I knew I was going back.”
Ismiel established her first sales point in the local markets, enlisting family members to spread out and reach a broader audience. Eventually business moved from markets to shopping centers, at one point, employing 50 sales girls in every major state in Australia. With a young family though, Ismiel found her rise becoming harder to handle and wondered if there was an easier way to sell her product.
Ismiel got on the phone and contacted her local Channel 10 and their program, “Good Morning Australia” and spoke with the producer.
“That was a turning point,” Ismiel exclaimed. “When the segment went to air, it was a phenomenal success.”
In preparation for her first television spot, Ismiel, for the first time ever, employed a fulfillment house to take calls and orders.
“I think gratitude was just the biggest feeling. When I walked into this fulfillment house, this agency that was working with me to take phone calls and orders and I actually saw my name, ‘Sue Ismiel, Welcome,’ in the foyer, it was just – emotional,” she recalled.
Ismiel continued to advertise Nad’s exclusively in Australia over the next four years until she received a phone call from “one of the greatest direct marketing gurus,” Hal Lederman, who wanted to replicate the product’s success in the U.S.
“Of course this was music to my ears,” Ismiel said, “because I always think big and I always knew we did not just want to start and end in Australia.”
Already spending between $30,000 and $50,000 each week on advertising in Australia, Ismiel figured she would have to multiply those figures by 10, at least, to reach the same level of success in America, an amount she wasn’t comfortable, as a mother, putting up herself.
“One of my greatest desires was to make sure this distributor was going to take the responsibility for funding the advertising campaign in the U.S. as I knew I couldn’t do it,” she explained. “Although I was an entrepreneur, I wasn’t going to risk the lives in my young family. I wasn’t going to borrow against my house or anything like that because I didn’t know the U.S. market at all.”
Agreeing on a contract that stated Lederman would take the financial responsibility for her ad campaign, Ismiel knew right away that this man believed strongly in her product and the strategy they had in mind.
“I guess that is entrepreneurship,” Ismiel said. “It takes confidence to achieve that kind of a deal and we did it and it was a match made in heaven.”
Nad’s went from having a four-minute commercial in Australia to an American-produced half-hour infomercial that once aired, clocked in an impressive 500 hours a week.
“It became like an amazing documentary,” Ismiel gushed. “When it went to air, it was incredible. I was on every cable channel. Whenever you flipped the television, I was there.”
In just two months, the Nad’s infomercial went from the 100th most popular spot on TV to landing itself in the top 10. Just a week after that, it was number one. Ismiel became the popularly recognized “Nad’s Lady” and in 2001 received the Advertising Age Marketing Award.
“It was the pinnacle of my career,” Ismiel said. “When I was told, I was number one in the U.S. for little Sue from down under is really big and I can’t really describe the emotions, but there was a slight disappointment there, thinking, well, where to from here? But it was an incredible moment.”
After cracking the U.S. market, Ismiel’s husband and his nephew were working 24 hours a day, 12-hour shifts between them, 7 days and nights a week packaging and air-freighting 30,000 units of product each day. Soon, producing this “green gold” of hers became more than Ismiel’s five-acre family home could handle. It became all too obvious that Nad’s would have to outsource to keep up with demand.
“We became the fastest growing business in Australia,” Ismiel said. “Whilst it was amazing, we knew we had to be better prepared. We had to grow fast, we had to be able to accommodate the giant U.S. markets.”
From the beginning, only two people in the world knew Nad’s secret recipe, and now Ismiel, a mother of three with no scientific background, had to meet with scientists and explain her formula.
“There was that element of fear,” she confessed. “But what do you do? If the intention is growth and expansion and to supply the world market then you can’t be consumed by that secret. So you do what you do, you go to the lawyers and then, you have trust. You’ve got to have trust, you can’t be consumed by fears.”
Seeing her product mass-produced for the first time, Ismiel was taken back to the moment where she first envisioned all this in her mind’s eye, before ever even perfecting her now famous formula.
“When I knew I was actually living in the moment, in the real world, it was just deep gratitude,” Ismiel said.
She has expanded her brand to Sue Ismiel and Daughters, a family owned and operated company, relying heavily on her three girls to keep moving forward and growing.
Ismiel’s oldest daughter, for which Nad’s was named, Nadine, is head of Research and Development, middle daughter, Natalie, works in Marketing and the youngest, Naomi, is their Creative Director.
With many products in the marketplace for hair removal, Ismiel and her daughters also entered the head lice category many years ago, with a brand called NitWits (not yet sold in the U.S.), focused on naturally removing lice off of young children.
“Everything we do, we look at it from a safety point of view,” Ismiel said. “Everything we’ve tried to create stems from that strategy of trying to be natural because we care.”
Ismiel and her daughters are also looking to dip into the skincare market. Nadine, who has a bio-medical science and herbal medicine degree, has been fighting her own battle with acne from a young age and at the insistence of her mother, became her own problem solver and came up with a formula they hope to bring to the public soon.
When asked if she had any advice for other budding entrepreneurs, Ismiel replied, “Just give it a go. Know there’s always a way. Don’t accept the status quo, just be yourself and avoid the dream killers. Have a moment to just focus inwards and explore the intelligence that you have and just do it. More importantly, be yourself, don’t be anyone else. No one really sees what you see in your mind’s eye. No one feels your feelings. You do. You’re the owner of all that so make the most of it.”
In June 2015, Forbes touted Nad’s as a $40 million and growing company.