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Anneke Van Den Broek Influential Entrepreneur Interview

One of Australia's 50 Most Influential Women Entrepreneurs

Anneke van den Broek, founder and CEO of Australia's most awarded pet care brand Rufus & Coco, started her entrepreneurial journey at just six years of age, breeding mice and selling them to the local pet shop for 40c each.

This entrepreneurial spirit and an unwavering belief that she could achieve anything she set her mind to, helped when it came time to leave a high-flying corporate career behind to launch her business, taking on the likes of Mars and Nestlé who, at that time, dominated the pet care market.

"At the age of five, my father sat me at the edge of our large pool at home and told me to tell myself five times loudly "I can do anything I want to if I try," until I was yelling it. That day I swam for the first time to the end of pool and back unaided," shares Anneke.

With that same passion and determination, she's taken Rufus & Coco from a startup to a globally successful brand, in stores across nine countries and stocked locally in Coles, Woolworths and select IGA supermarkets, pet specialty stores and online.

Celebrating their 10th Birthday this year, Rufus & Coco are marking the milestone with the launch of their grooming range into 1,459 pet stores across North America.

Success didn't come easily though. Prior to launching Rufus & Coco, Anneke began her career in the cut-throat fashion industry and by age 23 was single-handedly running 300 David Jones fashion shows across Australia each year.

Executive Management roles soon followed and by age 29, Anneke had secured the position of Marketing Director of Blackmores, leading a large, cross-functional team.

It was during her travels to attend health trade shows around the globe, that Anneke recognised a growing need for natural alternatives in pet care. Having owned more than 40 pets in her life she had struggled to find such products herself.

"The natural health and supplements industry was booming, yet there weren't many all-natural supplement and grooming options for pets."

Recognising a gap in the market along with the sweeping global trend towards pet humanization, she set about developing quality -Best of Breed' products that would make a genuine difference in the lives of pets and their owners.

"Like many entrepreneurs, I had a handful of ideas I wanted to bring to life and had to really hone in on what I was most passionate about," she says. "I grew up with rabbits, turtles, mice, cats - pets were already such a huge part of my life."

"I remember drawing up a business plan on a napkin while holidaying in Bali and Rufus & Coco was born. It was a longer and tougher journey to success than I could have imagined but any time someone doubted me it made me doggedly determined to succeed."

"I began operating like a big business from the outset with a strategic mentality, implementing 1, 3 and 5-year plans that laid the foundations for growth."

"I learnt quickly that when you don't have the big dollars behind you, it's harder to get the same doors to open. This is why we are still with many of our earliest suppliers and partners who took a chance on supporting us from the start."

Rufus & Coco has now received 7 product awards recognising innovation and product excellence.

"With each success we've had, our goalposts have shifted. I honestly believe Rufus & Coco can achieve anything we set out to. With a focus on innovation and creating products that truly solve customer problems, we plan to continue our international expansion and support of pets and their owners, locally and abroad."

Rufus & Coco is Australia's most awarded pet care brand, providing well-bred pet care to ensure that pets around the world look good and feel great. Australian owned and globally stocked, Rufus & Coco's accolades include seven Australian Business Awards for product excellence and innovation, and a proud win in the 2016 Telstra Business Awards in the NSW Micro Business category.

Providing innovative and inspired solutions for pets from hamster to horse, the health and beauty range includes vitamins, grooming and cleaning products, fashion and home accessories and award-winning cat litter.

Product is available from Coles, Woolworths and IGA supermarkets, select pet stores and online at

Interview with Anneke Van Den Broek, Pet Expert and Founder and CEO of Rufus & Coco

Question: What is Rufus & Coco?

Anneke Van Den Broek: Rufus & Coco is Australia's most awarded pet care brand, providing well-bred pet care to ensure that pets around the world look good and feel great.

Providing innovative and inspired solutions for pets from hamster to horse, the health and beauty range includes vitamins, grooming and cleaning products, fashion and home accessories and award-winning cat litter.

The Rufus & Coco toy range donates 5% of sales to Australian Pet Welfare Foundation - a foundation aimed at improving the bond between pets and humans, and at reducing unnecessary euthanasia to zero percent in Australian pounds.

Product is available locally from Coles, Woolworths and IGA supermarkets, select pet stores and online at

Question: What inspired the creation of Rufus & Coco?

Anneke Van Den Broek: Rufus & Coco was born from my own frustrations with trying to find quality, stylish and natural alternatives for pets, having owned more than 40 pets in my life. Going back ten years to when I first had the idea, there were a limited number of high quality, fashionable and natural pet products in the market. I always knew I wanted to run my own business and had my first taste of entrepreneurship at age six, selling mice to the local pet store for 40c each. I had a few different business ideas I wanted to bring to life and decided to hone in on an idea that combined my passion for pets with my background in the fashion and health industries and catered to the growing pet humanisation trend! Rufus & Coco was born! Each and every year Rufus & Coco introduce new and innovative products to the market that solve the everyday problems faced by pet owners.

Question: How do Rufus & Coco products make life easier for pets and their owners?

Anneke Van Den Broek: We've received seven Australian Business Awards for product excellence and innovation, plus a proud win in the 2016 Telstra Business Awards in the NSW Micro Business category.

Innovation goes to the core of the Rufus & Coco brand. If a product isn't truly performing better than existing products in the market, we won't produce it.

Some of the most exceptional products in the range include -Wee Kitty Clumping Corn Cat Litter' Winner of the 2013 Australian Business Awards (ABA) Best New Product and Product Innovation awards. Made from biodegradable corn with clumping technology, the litter forms scoopable clumps, which are easy to discard and safe to flush in small quantities. Absorbing 4 times its own weight in liquid and providing quality odour control, it's a feline favourite. Litter needs changing less frequently. Instead of throwing out the whole tray, you only remove the clumped litter making it better for your wallet as well as the environment. In addition, as the purrfect accessory to clumping litter, Rufus & Coco have introduced the only litter scoop designed to hang from the side of the litter tray.

Other pet parent favourites include a self-cleaning slicker brush, natural, hypoallergenic grooming range, and -Wee Away' stain remover which has built-in enzymatic technology to go beyond removing surface odours, breaking down uric acid salt crystals in urine to remove a common trigger for pets to -re-offend' in the same spots.

View the full range at

Question: How did you turn a small start-up into a global brand?

Anneke Van Den Broek: When I launched Rufus & Coco as a small Australian brand, I was competing against the likes of Mars and Nestle who dominated the market at the time. With patience and perseverance, Rufus & Coco is now stocked in 9 different countries. The road to success was slower and harder than I had imagined and there were, of course, times when I wanted to throw in the towel. I was raised however, to believe that I can do anything I put my mind to, and I truly believe this. You might not achieve your goals on the first try, but with resilience and determination, you can reach them. It took us three years of trying to achieve ranging in supermarkets until we caught a break. Woolworths were the first supermarket to stock us, and we are now the largest Australian grocery brand within the pet accessories category! We are stocked in Coles, Woolworths, select IGA stores, pet stores and online at Internationally we are stocked in the USA, Canada, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

Question: How do you manage your time between Rufus & Coco and motherhood?

Anneke Van Den Broek: Naturally for me, my most important role is that of mother to my two children, Saskia and Saxon. There can be no greater influence than the role of parent to child, and I am really conscious of injecting quality time into what matters to them. I want my kids to remember a strong, independent and all the while loving mother that spent valuable time with them, and want them to know that they were loved unconditionally. I focus on being completely present when I am with my children (no technology!)

I'm thrilled that I can play my part in inspiring the creative entrepreneurs of the future and I love to involve my children in the business when I can. My daughter Saskia was with me at the Telstra Business Awards dinner when we received the award, and it really felt like a whole family achievement.

I believe that with careful planning and management, it is possible to have the best of both worlds. Running my own business has given me the opportunity to structure my time and workplace to achieve that. I am meticulous in my forward planning around the children's calendars and my own to ensure that I can keep all the balls in the air!

I also love that I can offer a more flexible, supportive workplace to other great mothers, and enable them to maximise their potential.

Question: What's next, for Rufus & Coco?

Anneke Van Den Broek: Rufus & Coco is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this year. We've hit another milestone - launching the Rufus & Coco grooming range into 1,459 PetSmart stores across North America this month! Beyond that, we have plans to continue our global expansion, launching into new markets and continuing to innovate and create new products each year.

Question: How did it feel to be recognised as one of Australia's 50 most influential women entrepreneurs by Rare Birds?

Anneke Van Den Broek: When I was 12 years old, I remember picking up a magazine filled with successful businesswomen in suits and thinking -I want that to be me one day'. Being featured in Rare Birds list of 50 most influential women, which was produced in a glossy coffee-table book, was an honour. It was very humbling to be featured alongside women like Carolyn Creswell (Carman's) and Jo Horgan (Mecca Cosmetics). It was also a great opportunity to reflect on everything I have achieved and set my sights even higher. I hope that my journey can inspire young women who are starting their journeys to back themselves in business and know that they can achieve what they set out to.

Question: Can you talk about your role at Women of EO?

Anneke Van Den Broek: Being a member of the Sydney Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) has been an incredibly valuable experience. It's a place to connect with other successful entrepreneurs and learn from each other, both our mistakes and successes. It also offers a sounding board for any issues you might be facing.

After being a member of EO and with a background in executive coaching – helping design strategies and develop teams - I began running the Women of EO Forum in Sydney, connecting female leaders. I personally mentor four young business owners through EO, helping them to grow their ideas into multi-million dollar businesses.

Question: Why is it important for women to be in leadership positions?

Anneke Van Den Broek: Having women in leadership roles is great for the economy. According to Forbes magazine, women are starting business at twice the rate as men, creating jobs and driving local economies. Every brand or product needs female energy behind a marketing strategy. Women are great at understanding consumers. Consider that a high proportion of household spending is done by women and women innately know what women want. But that's not all…

Women are great listeners and are empathetic. Women tend to empathize with the whole person, not just the issue right in front of them.

Women tend to work more collaboratively to achieve results, engaging team members rather than working in competition.

Let's face it women are great multitaskers – and isn't this the way of the world – the other day I had my office phone, iphone and skype ringing whilst receiving What's App, Facebook and messenger pings and people at my office door. Sound familiar?

Women tend to take the ego out of the workplace that men can sometimes bring to the table, thus making a more effective leader in most cases.

Question: What's a typical day like for you?

Anneke Van Den Broek: 6am Start the day energised with a Barre or Yoga Class - Health is our first wealth!
7am Head home to get my monkeys (Saskia and Saxon, aged 9 and 10) ready for school, and pat the extended fur family Kiska and Mischa, my beautiful Siamese cats.
8am Check my emails and the AUD:USD currency exchange rate en route to school drop off
8:30am Arrive at our Cremorne office where the real fun begins! Anything can be on the agenda but it usually involves me being on the phone, so the team close my office door a lot!

I travel often, but when I'm in the office I spend the day catching up with each of my unicorns (my amazing team who create magic everyday) on key strategic projects.

A regular day would see me:
Touching base with key customers across the globe - customers always come first. Without them there is no business!
Commenting on new packaging and product designs
Reviewing cashflow and sales forecasts
Meeting with manufacturers face to face or on WeChat to ensure new product development and manufacturing is on track
Trouble shooting team roadblocks - helping to remove any barriers to success
Liaising with Australian Pet Welfare Foundation and assisting with their great work to achieve zero euthanasia in Australian pounds.
Speaking to media

I break my day into half hour time blocks in outlook to ensure that the key things that will drive the business forward are getting done. Without extraordinary time management, planning and delegation skills my life wouldn't happen.

5:30pm Check in with my community of fellow entrepreneurs. I mentor four business owners and lead the Women of EO forum. This amazing crew continue to inspire me daily.
6:00pm I attend networking or educational events through the Entrepeneur's Organisation (EO) a couple of times a week. I am passionate about continued self-development - learning never stops!
Or I'll head home to have dinner and family time with my monkeys.
7:30pm Check emails/SMS/WhatsApp/LinkedIn/WeChat/Skype/Facebook/Instagram to make sure nothing critical has been missed!
9:00pm Technology off! This is my reading time. I have leadership books breeding by the side of my bed like mice. I love learning from the stories of other business leaders.
10:30pm Sleep and get ready to do it all again tomorrow!

Interview by Brooke Hunter



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