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How two university friends turned coffee grounds into a beauty gold mine

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MELBOURNE, Australia – How much does it take to convince the average woman to take off her clothes, rub brown coffee granules all over her body, and then rave about it on social media?

Melbourne friends Jess Hatzis and Bree Johnson, who met at university nearly 10 years ago, may have the answer, having turned their $10,000 “side business”, frank body, into more than $20 million annual turnover.

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“We didn’t have a proper plan, we were so reactive for the first few years. We were chasing our tails but we had to work on the fly,” said Ms Johnson.

With phrases such as “get naked” and “you’ve come to the right place, babe”, the cheeky, flirty marketing, almost exclusively conducted through social media, has reclaimed some of the territory of traditional beauty brands, which are often accused of talking at women, not to them.

“We wanted to cut through the jargon in the industry. We set out to take [the beauty industry] on in our own way,” Ms Johnson said.

The women don’t have a beauty or science background and make no claims the all-natural product does anything other than exfoliate and moisturise skin, despite others claiming coffee can help with everything from cellulite to eczema.

Frank body has nearly 700,000 followers on Instagram and the pair acknowledge the role it has played in the company’s growth, as has frank’s “very important babes” (VIB) loyalty program.

“It’s been a strength and a weakness. We have had to fight really hard not to be known just as ‘that Instagram brand’,” says Ms Johnson.

Ms Hatzis said while the company has done paid posts, she was glad to see more transparency around social media marketing.

“Although I still find it funny you can still do product placement on TV and you still don’t have to declare it.”

Adds Ms Johnson: “Consumers are our best ambassadors and we really love to ‘hero’ them.”

On Tuesday, Ms Hatzis, 30, and Ms Johnson, 29, were named the 2017 winners of the Veuve Clicquot New Generation Award, which is awarded to businesswomen under 40 who show “innovation, audacity and fearlessness”.

The award honours Madame Clicquot, who was just 27 when she took the reins of the famed Champagne house.

Ms Hatzis and Ms Johnson are “double entrepreneurs”, having launched a content agency, Willow and Blake in 2011.

“What frustrated us was seeing beautiful design and just ‘fluff’, not real quality content,” says Ms Johnson.

With two other partners, including Ms Johnson’s now fiance, they launched frank body online in 2013 and the small range is sold in 141 countries and recently expanded “offline” to Urban Outfitters in the US, and in Australia through Mecca Maxima.

“We wanted a creative challenge to show people what can happen when you take risks and you really stick to the brand ethos,” Ms Johnson says.

The pair agree that juggling the two businesses can sometimes be challenging.

“[On occasion] we’ve burnt ourselves because we have been operating at a speed that you cannot sustain for long periods,” Ms Hatzis says.

Melissa Singer