Meet the Maker - Kotanical's Karl Murray
Kotanical is the first company in Ireland to distill oil from natural native sources. Its founder Karl Murray works with farmers and growers to produce Ireland’s first and only home-grown essential oils. Any essential oils that can’t be produced in Ireland are 100% Organic Certified and all Kotanical oils are vegan friendly, certified cruelty-free and are never tested on animals.
How did you first become interested in essential oils?
When I was younger I trained as a Muay Thai boxer. Before training we used an ointment with cinnamon and wintergreen to warm up our muscles. This is where my interest in alternative remedies began. I then went on to study aromatherapy and kinesiology.
Describe a typical working day for you
A typical day starts with going through emails and orders. Getting products out quickly to our customers like Faerly is fundamental to our brand. I’m full of ideas so I’m always at some kind of brainstorming and marketing.
I spend a lot of time testing products and our oils. Quality is the most important thing and it can be heartbreaking when a batch has a low yield or doesn’t meet my standard and we have to start all over again.
I try to get out in the sea for a dip every day when I can, or lift some weights to clear the head after a long day.
When you’re not working, how do you like to spend your time?
I love being out in the sea in the cold water. I do strongman training on a Wednesday and lots of weight training, cycling and cardio. I still keep up with some boxing training with a friend of mine when I can. You definitely won’t see me heading out to the pub on a Friday evening after work.
I love learning. College wasn’t for me but I probably read a book every week and I love learning new things and figuring out how to do things.
What’s one thing about you that surprises people?
I’m from North Dublin - people expect me to be a southsider or a hipster. They don’t automatically think of Artane in Dublin 5.
What inspired you to set up your own business?
There are 2 prongs to that answer. The quality of essential oils being sold in stores was really bad, with a lot of really cheap fragrance oils on the market. The only high quality oils were coming from an MLM (multi-level marketing) company, so I went into the middle to fill the gap in the market.
I wanted to bring something new to the market and stand out and no one in Ireland was distilling their own essential oils, so I decided to be the first. I had a few hundred euro at the time and I put it all into buying distilling equipment.
Where did the name Kotanical come from?
It’s synonymous with K from Kraft and in the early days I used a lot of kraft paper and I like the K sound and it's link to hand crafting. The K sound echoes Kardashian, Kodak and Kellogg's. I liked the word botanics so I took away the b and replaced it with the k. Now people always think the K is for Karl!
How would you describe your brand in 3 words?
Premium, Quality and Speed. None of it matters if we don’t get our oils quickly to the market when they're at their best. There’s no point being the best chef in Dublin if the food arrives cold!
What are some of the health benefits of essential oils?
Essential oils are from the parts of the plant that protect the plant and they are usually the most aromatic part of the plant. They are therapeutic and lower stress in the body which is why essential oils are so calming.
They help open your airways when you're breathing. When you take in more oxygen, then you relax more and this all helps to lower stress in your system.
Everything we buy is based on scent and aroma - think of coffee, food, wine, everything. Scent can boost your mood, like the ritual of putting on your favourite perfume to feel good before you go out. Essential oil is the purest form of fragrance without any synthetic ingredients added.
Can you tell us a little about how you create and source your products?
Firstly, I need to source the material, which can be difficult. I spend a lot of time building relationships with people who produce large quantities of herbs and resins, from local farmers to international sources.
Next I prepare the materials for distillation. They are either dried or soaked for a few days, ground or chopped and then I steam distil them. This produces a mix of water and oil, then I separate them using specialised equipment.
Then I need to test the quality so it is sent on to my organic chemist for testing. This is where it can be really disappointing because if the yield is low or doesn’t meet my standards I have to start all over again.
How would you describe your online presence for marketing your products?
I believe you need to produce consistent visual content constantly to build your brand. I like being creative when it comes to marketing. Social media is great in that you are so contactable online. Customers can give feedback or reach out with questions all the time. It's very rewarding when people contact you to say the oils are really making a difference to them, for example that they are sleeping better since they started using them.
What is unique about Kotanical essential oils?
We are the first Irish company to actually distil oil from natural, native sources. As part of our commitment to minimal waste we will take back all used essential oil bottles, even from competitors. We also make sure that all our oils are organic, third party tested and are never tested on animals as we ensure they are audited by the leaping bunny programme.
What are your favourite products from your range and why?
The forest diffuser blend, because it's like forest bathing - smells of the forest and the wilderness.
Also peppermint, it’s great for sea swimming or sea dipping really, no one really swims in the Irish Sea! It helps prepare you and prime for your breathing routine - peppermint expands your lungs and opens your airways.
Our PRIDE essential oil blend is also a special one. We had a lot of fun collaborating with Faerly to create this unique blend, with citrus notes of grapefruit, wild orange, lime and lemongrass. Every purchase raises money for BelongTo - Ireland’s natural youth services organisation for LGBTQI+ young people.
Which is your most popular product? Why do you think that is?
Our most popular product is our white stone diffuser. It’s a ceramic electronic oil diffuser at a reasonable price and the right quality. It’s a once off purchase and a really cost effective investment in your well-bring.
Our most popular oil is our lavender essential oil. It’s a really versatile oil that blends well with a lot of other oils. It’s a bit of a timeless classic in the world of essential oils. It’s great for sleep and relaxing but it also has pain-relieving, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities. Lavender has been used for medicinal purposes for more than 2500 years!
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received about your products?
A brilliant tip from one of our customers is putting essential oil in the hoover. You just put a few drops of essential oil in your vacuum cleaner bag or dust container and when you hoover, it diffuses the fragrance and leaves a lovely fresh smell around the house.
What has been the greatest hurdle in starting your own business?
Scaling the business is the hardest part. You outgrow last year’s ambitions and you always want to do better. Growing a company is a huge hurdle, you reach your goals and then that's yesterday's news and the tax man is always waiting. The tax we have to pay in Ireland is extortionate which is a challenge for growing a business. I’m based in Dublin and the cost of living here is astronomical. You couldn’t start a new business in Dublin and also buy a house!
Any good advice for entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
If you genuinely want to start your own business, you can learn so much now online. Everything is available on the internet. Once you have an idea you can learn everything from identifying markets, building websites, marketing, analytics and getting accredited on Google Adwords. You just need to be patient and willing to learn.
You have to make sacrifices when setting up your business. You’ll put all your money and time into it. You have to make your own success. It’s definitely not always easy and you won’t be happy all of the time. You have to learn first and then earn!
What other entrepreneurs do you admire and why?
I don’t look up to anyone. I paddle my own canoe and I don’t keep too many tabs on what others are doing. I look at myself in the mirror, not to be narcissistic but always trying to better myself.
What does the next year hold for you & Kotanical?
You can expect lots of changes. You’re going to see more products from us. I’m working on new products that haven’t been seen in Ireland - things brand new to the market.
An ambition of mine would be to produce an oil made from a native tree to Ireland like the Silver Birch. The tricky part is trying to find a sustainable source…. Watch this space!
Mountains or sea? Sea
Favourite place in Ireland? Howth Cliff Walk
What’s your favourite book? Chimpanzees, Politics and Sex - all about the monkeys and how they go about their own little way
What is your most-used emoji? Purple heart! 💜
Night owl or early bird? Neither. I don't go out or get up early. I’m never up before 8am.