A closer look: Nimble and ex-Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King

Former Sainsbury’s CEO Justin King CBE has backed a baby-friendly cleaning brand – Nimble, founded by chemist Von Sy.

With six of Nimble’s cleaning products hitting the shelves of Tesco and Sainsbury’s, it sets itself apart from the market with plant-based ingredients, and with the company’s initiative not only championing sustainability, it ensures children are safe with non-toxic compounds.

By keeping both babies and the parents in mind and tapping into a gap in the market for effective and chemical-free cleansing options – Sy had caught the attention of distinguished retail name, Justin King.

Unlike Sy, King has an extensive background in food retail including serving as Sainsbury’s CEO for 10 years and director of food at Marks and Spencer and senior positions in Asda. On top of this, King launched Häagen-Dazs ice cream in the UK and worked for Pepsi-Cola International and Mars.

Whereas Sy comes from a chemistry background which helped him develop the formula for Nimble’s child-safe cleaning products. He has also worked as an R&D manager for 10 years at Unilever. As a result, the brand cohesively takes from his chemist foundations and experience in consumer goods – bridging a gap in the market for sulphate-free products for parents.

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Crossing paths

Sy and King’s paths first crossed in January this year during a Zoom meeting set up by an interested investor from a panel in December.

“I was admittedly quite nervous meeting him given all his success and achievements, but he was very kind and I felt that we clicked and that made me relax and be myself,” Sy said.

“What I remember from that first meeting was that [King] was very sharp and highly experienced but despite that, he understood our challenges as a scaling business.”

King added that it was “very easy to say ‘yes’ to Von” as he was “impressed” by Sy’s “energy and enthusiasm” which lead to his “unique products which have built a loyal following”.

“I felt I can make a difference and help him scale this business and create a bigger impact on the lives of parents Nimble is trying to serve,” King added.

Central to King’s reasoning for agreeing to mentor Sy and previous ventures has always been “about people” and secondary to that “an interesting market”.

“A differentiated product within [an interesting market] is a prerequisite, “King elaborated but in the end, people passionate about their products and the customers they serve are the difference.”

The Nimble Creation

Nimble’s backstory is simple and personal but also reaches the universality of parental concern and children’s safety.

“It all started from a simple chat I had with my sister a few years ago where she told me that she found washing my niece’s milk bottles a bit of a challenge,” Sy explained

“Too much washing-up liquid made the bottles smell like washing-up liquid and that made her worried of chemical residues. Too little made the bottles cloudy, greasy, and smelling of spoilt milk.”

As an observant uncle, Sy caught on to the fine balance of chemical cleansing, and toxic exposure. By harnessing his background as a chemist, Sy “embarked on developing a formula that removes milk fats and proteins using plant-based ingredients.”

Eventually, the Nimble CEO secured a patent for the solution.

“Working on this product opened my eyes to the world of babies and parenting and saw there is a big gap in the market for effective but safe and sustainable cleaning products with both babies and parents in mind,” Sy added.

Currently, the brand has six cleaning products from bottle cleaners to surface cleaners and even a laundry range available across 900 Tesco and Sainsbury’s stores. In addition to this, the baby-friendly cleaning company has an 8% market share of the sterilisers segment under the Baby category.

Nimble’s products are also available on Ocado, Amazon and our own D2C website, making it “a strong omnichannel brand”.

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Partnership and Growth

Sy describes King’s involvement as “pivotal”, citing his “vast experience in omni-channel retail”, which will help Nimble “scale efficiently as an omni-channel brand and avoid many potentially costly mistakes along the way”.

However, King also brings decades of industry connections to the table, which the Nimble CEO hopes will catalyse the growth of his brand.

With a large retail name attached to the project, Sy was also able to expand investor involvement. Prior to this, Nimble surpassed their target of £200,000 via Crowdcube, and have switched to “overfunding mode” to maximise investments.

“This fundraiser will help us execute our business plans in the next 12-18 months, which means that we will be one step closer to our vision of every parent using an effective but sustainable cleaning product around their young children,” Sy explained.

The success of the cleaning brand, which has generated +88% sales in 2021, has also attracted former Waitrose head of growth Dean Brown to the team. Brown, who is currently CEO of toddler-food brand Little Dish will serve as Nimble’s chairman.

Brown’s diversified experience in senior positions at both Waitrose and Tesco as well as his knowledge of the nursey FMCG industry has made him a valuable asset.

Sy added: “Dean has already supported me so much, connecting us to industry experts, advising me on tricky business challenges, helping me build a bigger operations team and guiding me through a successful launch into Tesco last year.”

The Future of Nimble

While the future for Nimble is promising, it is also incredibly ambitious. Sy hopes to “double the business every year” including growth within existing retail channels and scaling its Amazon channel which has grown by +280% last year.

The company also hopes to launch new products to establish Nimble as the leading brand for all needs, “both on and around baby”.

Sy recognises the simplicity of his dream will be a tough reality. Core to reaching said prominence is to successfully infiltrate supermarket aisles as the “majority of new parents still browse the Baby aisle to explore new products”.

The Nimble CEO also expressed interest in tapping into rapid grocery delivery as it tends to “over-index in Baby products”.

“My dream is to see every parent with a young baby that I bump into on the streets would know Nimble and have a product or two in their cupboards,” Sy admitted.

“I want every parent to not be worried or stressed about the cleaning up job and just say “I’ll just Nimble that”.

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