Meet The Disruptors: Philip Freeman Of Murphy’s Naturals On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Surround yourself with a team that is as passionate about the business and mission of the company as you are as the founder. Our incredible team is bright, hardworking, passionate, caring, and motivated. You can do a lot of good with a team like that, and you can build one hell of a company with a team like that, and we’re doing exactly that.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Philip Freeman.

Philip Freeman is the founder and CEO of Murphy’s Naturals, an outdoor lifestyle company specializing in plant-based mosquito repellents. Prior to launching Murphy’s Naturals, Philip served as a Deep-Sea Diving Officer in the US Navy for eight years. Following his military service, Philip spent 23 years in packaging sales at International Paper. In 2013, he launched the outdoor natural products company Murphy’s Naturals. Murphy’s Naturals started in a Raleigh, NC garage, quickly grew to a 40,000 square foot facility in 2016. That space expanded to 90,000 square feet in 2021.

Under Philip’s leadership, Murphy’s Naturals became a Certified-B Corporation in 2017. Murphy’s Naturals commits 2% of revenues to organizations that share its vision of a healthy environment. The company is also a member of 1% for the Planet, a global organization that helps companies give back to mission-aligning organizations and holds several sustainability and sourcing certifications.

Philip is also the founder of The Loading Dock, a collaborative coworking and co-warehousing company for small businesses. Murphy’s Naturals is named for the Freemans’ outdoors-loving dog, Murphy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory?” What led you to this particular career path? What led you to create Murphy’s Naturals?

I’ve always been curious about business — writing out different business concepts and plans and filing them away. After serving in the U.S. Navy, I worked for 23 years in the corporate world, and all that time I kept coming up with ideas and tucking them away. Finally, I reached a point where I said, “You know what? Maybe it’s time for me to execute on one of these ideas.”

And one of those ideas was solving a problem at home: My wife, Pam, is a mosquito magnet, and every time we tried to hang out together outside, she’d have to run inside to escape the mosquitoes. I really love spending time with Pam outdoors, so I wanted to find a solution to that problem, and what better than to solve a problem at home, right?

We wanted to create something that we felt comfortable putting on our skin — nothing chemical-based — that was actually effective. I had a real hard time finding an effective natural product on the market. There were plenty of chemical-based mosquito repellents that work well, but not a whole lot of high-quality, natural products. So that led us to come up with our own formulations and products and to eventually create Murphy’s Naturals, which was at first a side hustle for me until I transitioned out of my full-time job.

Can you tell our readers about Murphy’s Naturals and what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Murphy’s Naturals is an outdoor lifestyle company, and we make top-quality natural products for outdoor living. One of the biggest challenges when you think about being outdoors — as my wife can attest — is mosquitos. So that’s our focus area.

We launched in July 2013 with mosquito-repelling incense sticks called Murphy’s Mosquito Sticks that we sold on Amazon. Now we have many other products that focus on outdoor living. The company’s name, by the way, is an homage to our dog Murphy. He also was no fan of mosquitos! We continue to honor him in some of our charitable efforts as well.

Our mission is to celebrate nature and inspire good through quality, natural products. That’s intentionally simple, but there’s meaning behind every part of it. To celebrate nature is to enjoy it and preserve it. One of the ways to enjoy nature is to live life outdoors and experience everything that nature has to offer. And one of the ways to preserve nature is to be responsible citizens: Murphy’s Naturals is a Certified B Corporation, meaning we meet the highest standards of social and environmental responsibility, transparency, and accountability. And to inspire good you need to do good, and by that we mean leading by example, which we try to do in myriad ways with our employees and customers. Through it all, we maintain our commitment to quality in creating natural products.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Which one? (Laughs.) Creating a product is always a challenge. I remember one of the first formulations that I was working on included a fantastic ingredient from the Brazilian Amazon. And that ingredient, unbeknownst to me, wasn’t on the U.S. EPA’s list of approved products. You can have a formulation with five, six, seven ingredients, and if one of them isn’t on that list, then the entire thing is disqualified. So, I had put a lot of work and a lot of pride into a natural product that was highly effective — but wasn’t recognized by the EPA, and I had to go back to the drawing board. I learned that it’s critically important to do your research before you get too far along down any particular path.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

A lot of people have been an inspiration to me. My Mom has always been my biggest cheerleader and a great supporter of entrepreneurism.

In the business industry, I’ll cite one person who has influenced Murphy’s Naturals and how we built this brand. During my 23-year career before starting this company, I had the opportunity and privilege to work with a brand called The Body Shop. Prior to working with them, I had read a book called Body and Soul by Anita Roddick, the founder of The Body Shop. I was inspired by her passion for natural products. She started in her kitchen — like I did. And she ended up forming this global brand, over time, yet she kept the same principles in place throughout.

Anita was very focused on environmental stewardship; she was focused on her people, her employees, and her communities; and she was also very much focused on quality products that they created and derived from ingredients that came from all over the world. And very often, they came from communities that really needed a source of income. She made sure that she paid indigenous people a fair value for their products, and she really created this concept of community fair trade.

Reading that book led me to The Body Shop to make them my customer. I worked with them for nearly two decades, and what I saw throughout that organization is that it was filled with people who were passionate about the mission and who were following the lead and inspiration of Anita Roddick. She passed away several years ago, but her legacy lives on through that brand, through her products, and through people like me who were inspired by her to create companies focused on doing good and doing well.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is difficult. I think there has to be a balance between being disruptive and having longevity.

In our industry, there are a lot of big players. If my intent as a “disruptor” is to go after them directly and beat them at their own game, that can be exceptionally challenging. But if my goal instead is to differentiate my brand by being better than the big players, then I can succeed.

Our disruption was figuring out what in nature worked well at repelling mosquitos, and then figuring out what concentrations of those ingredients were most effective. That’s not a crazy, outside-the-box idea, but it’s one where we could carve out a niche. The big companies were trying to cut costs in their natural products by putting lower concentrations of ingredients like essential oils into their formulas, which lowered their effectiveness. We don’t do that, and it’s made our products stand out.

We have other disruptive products on the horizon, but being disruptive requires capital, and we’ve finally reached the point where we can truly fund the kind of R&D we need to get to the next level.

Lastly, I would say that something we do differently than most of our larger competitors is how we focus on giving back. As a Certified B Corporation, we’re very mission-focused. We give back 2% of our revenue — not our profits, our revenue — and split it between 1% for the Planet and to other causes, including veteran organizations, animal welfare groups, and to the five honeybee hives that we keep for honey that we bottle and sell and then donate the proceeds.

Can you share some of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey?

Surround yourself with a team that is as passionate about the business and mission of the company as you are as the founder. Our incredible team is bright, hardworking, passionate, caring, and motivated. You can do a lot of good with a team like that, and you can build one hell of a company with a team like that, and we’re doing exactly that.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

We have some innovative products coming. Timing is always a big question when dealing with government regulation, but we have several exciting things in the works. We are also working on some products that don’t have to do with mosquito repellency but about another one of the challenges of outdoor living: the sun. We’re developing a reef-safe, natural sunscreen line that ultimately will lead to a combo line of products that will have our repellent plus SPF protection. We’ve also fielded a lot of requests from our consumers to come out with a more premium, upscale line of our repellent products, which is something we’re coming out with now. Our candles, for example, we’re going to be presenting them in a stoneware vessel in a few colors that are very clean and upscale — and true to our brand and mission they are also refillable, reusable, and recyclable.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I’ll mention three:

  • How I Built This podcast with Guy Raz on NPR is just an incredible source of inspiration for me from all the entrepreneurs who are featured.
  • Body & Soul, which I previously described, by Anita Roddick.
  • Conscious Capitalism, co-authored by John Mackey, is a terrific example of how for-profit companies can do good and do well.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Here’s a story as it relates to an individual’s potential influence versus that of a company, which I like to use as an example of how doing good inspires good:

When you go to a grocery store and you get out of your car, you’ll see shopping carts that are in the corral, and you’ll also see some that are just left in the middle of the parking lot. We assume someone has been lazy and just didn’t care enough to push it over. But we never really know what the situation might have been. Maybe it was a new mom who just put her infant in the car and didn’t want to leave her to push the cart all the way to the corral. We don’t know. So let’s say you see that errant shopping cart and you move it out of the parking lot and into the corral, or you take it into the store yourself, you may not think that’s a big deal, but it actually is. People will notice, and they will see you making that extra effort, and they will be inspired by it.

You can inspire good in the simplest ways. Sometimes that’s as small as putting your own shopping cart back — that sets a good example — or taking it one little step further and putting someone else’s shopping cart back. I think those little measures in life make a big difference, and whether you’re an individual person or a whole company, we should never lose sight of the fact that the little things we do can inspire others to do good, too.

How can our readers follow you and Murphy’s Naturals online?

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Meet The Disruptors: Philip Freeman Of Murphy’s Naturals On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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