In lockdown, the glass can seem half empty. And not just the glass either. Streets, shops, pubs and schools are not what you might call full. For Natalie James, however, indomitable founder of the start-up Tingle, the glass – not to mention her working day – have been as full as she could want. When lockdown stopped her browsing the high street for cosmetics, Natalie missed the thrill of  discovering new products. Believing other women felt the same, she began supplying subscription boxes of self-care products, helping customers around the world reclaim a little luxury in their lives.

For £10 a month, Tingle’s subscribers receive a curated mix of five or six full-size self-care products that can include anything from skincare to makeup, cosmetic tools, even a sweet treat or two. Previous brand partners have included Umberto Giannini, Sleek MakeUp, LA Girl, Anatomicals and Beauty Launderette, among others. Speaking from her home in east London, Natalie says “Tingle is all about helping women to feel good as opposed to focusing on looking good.”

Natalie set up a fashion PR company four years ago, and with this filling her working week she developed Tingle in her evenings and weekends. When she was ready, she invested £300 of her own money in a website, and asked brands whether they wanted to be in the box in return for marketing. The companies that partner with Tingle get to include information about their brand in each box, along with discount coupons for further purchases.

“I like the excitement and the buzz”

Running two companies simultaneously, Natalie has a disciplined weekly regime that some might describe as brutal. She carefully structures her week, dedicating specific evenings to particular parts of the new business. “I know I need a team at some point”, Natalie admits, “I like managing everything. I don’t like the stress but I like the excitement and the buzz.”

Buzz is an understatement. As a PR expert, Natalie knew how to market a product and “get it in front of people’s faces”. Using influencers to promote the brand, she built a campaign that catapulted Tingle into people’s consciousness before she’d even launched the business, creating a buzz that was almost audible. “I started to build a really millennial Instagram feed”, she says, “I used a lot of imagery from pop culture throughout the 90s and 2000s, and that’s where my audience started to come in. I used a lot of memes that relate to women and how we feel and how much we love countdowns, like on Fridays when we can drink wine.”

Tingle’s unapologetic tagline is ‘For girls. By girls’. The livery is baby pink, the Instagram feed is “super feminine”. Tapping into the mindset of potential customers, Natalie wrapped the pre-launch campaign in an atmosphere of countdown and anticipation, which encouraged people to join a waiting list. “They knew something was coming but they didn’t know what it was”, she explains. It was a shrewd move. Natalie hoped to sell a certain amount of boxes in the first month, but an unexpected level of interest meant she had oversold before she’d even started. She ordered extra products, yet still sold out just two weeks after launching, in August.

“There’s been tough moments”

Working alone, Natalie throws herself in to all the things a start-up demands, from customer service, to press outreach, marketing, email marketing, business development, contacting brands and working on partnerships. She also does all of the packaging and fulfilment, including packing and postage. “I’m doing that and a full-time job. It’s a lot to do,” she says with a laugh.

Natalie’s uncompromising drive and commitment has attracted subscribers aged from 19 to 60, and after opening up to worldwide shipping she received orders from Australia, Serbia and Dubai. In November, she began offering a letterbox-friendly mini self-care box, currently on offer at £5 as a one-off product. Natalie is now looking to grow the brand worldwide and compete with bigger rivals. She’s worked with big brands like Yardley and Neutrogena – both of whom came to her –  and she’s hoping that next year she’ll be able to launch a Tingle-own product such as an organic lip balm. Ethical values are a key part of Tingle’s USP, many of the products are vegan and the boxes are re-cyclable.

For customers, Tingle is a hug in a box. For Natalie herself, things haven’t always been as simple. “There’s been some very tough moments over the past six months”, she says. International orders, initially from Italy and France, brought postage costs at a level she hadn’t anticipated. And despite occasional challenges, replies to customer service emails always need to be written with a smile, “you have to give excellent customer service,” she insists.

While Natalie’s fiancé, a pharmacist, is at work, she’s home alone and unable to easily bounce ideas off anyone. She admits to being nervous in the beginning, but managed to hold on to her sense of focus. “In order to launch a brand and get it running, you have to be completely committed”, Natalie says, “you can’t do these things half-heartedly.” She describes with dizzying passion the need to abandon lazy nights in front of the telly, and focus instead on finding the fresh products and packaging that will provoke new interest in the brand, “you need to have that momentum. Commitment and perseverance are the things that have kept me going. And on some days wine.”

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