Founder Spotlight: Tim & Dani Binnington on Surviving Cancer and Starting Manta

Founder Spotlight: Tim & Dani Binnington on Surviving Cancer and Starting Manta

Reviewed by Jasper Clinical Board

Last updated 5/24/21

When Dani Binnington received her cancer diagnosis at the age of 33, she and her family were shocked. Once she started treatment and began losing hair, husband Tim noticed her changing relationship with the hairbrush. What once worked to detangle and soften her locks was now too harsh to use on her growingly thin hair and sensitive follicles.
What followed was a five year journey neither Tim nor Dani would forget: as Dani faced her fears through treatment, survival, and a changed body, Tim worked tirelessly and hopefully to devise a new brush that his wife and thousands like her could use.
Read on to learn more about their journey to founding Manta, and why they believe the company—and its product—is rooted in hope. 

What inspired you to start your company, Manta? 

Tim: I’ve been a hairdresser since I was 16 years old, and my company has 50+ salons in the UK. I've been involved in hairdressing for most my life professionally, but after Dani’s diagnosis, my relationship with hair changed.
In the beginning, I took note of how Dani tried to brush her hair without a hairbrush, because the standard style was too harsh on her growingly delicate hair and scalp. Suddenly, it didn't seem logical that a brush always had a fixed base with large bristles and an inflexible handle. 
As I watched Dani attempt to comb through her hair with her fingers, I realized that she needed a brush that was as gentle and easy to use as her own hand.

How did you design your first Manta brush?

Tim: 3-D printing had just gotten off the ground, so I was able to connect with various companies to make the initial models I had designed. 
I took my time working on and improving brush. It took five years to develop the brush we have now—the exact length of time that spanned Dani’s diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. But it was an enjoyable journey because it was a distraction. It gave me something to look forward to and to work towards, and I knew it was something that would benefit Dani and millions of people like her.
Manta was, and is, a labor of love—and hope. It wasn't about making money. It was about building something that would help people.

What did you learn about how chemo affects hair and scalp?

Tim: We found that there were so many people with various hair loss problems, stemming from conditions like cancer, postpartum hair loss, illness, and stress. And men can be affected, too.
We also learned that when people's hair grows back after cancer, it can grow back with a different texture or density than before.
In Dani’s case, her hair is much finer now, but the Manta brush helps to stimulate blood flow to the scalp, which can help make the hair grow back healthier.

Can you tell us about your cancer experience?

Dani: I was 33 when I found my lump, our twin girls were two, and our eldest daughter was four. Because of my age, and the fact that we had young children, none of us expected the lump to be dangerous. Initially, I took my time in getting it checked out. But as soon as we knew it was cancer, everything changed and I took action quickly. 
In retrospect, I believe there is both good and bad news with these discoveries, even though at first, it all feels like bad news. It takes time for the severity of a cancer diagnosis to sink in, and all I can remember is feeling flooded with negative information in the very beginning.

How did your family cope with your diagnosis and treatment?

Dani: Through chemo, radiotherapy, and multiple surgeries, we as a family did really well. We like to make photo books, and when I look through the book of that time, it almost looks as if we had a normal year. We made a real effort to get up every day and do something special as a family. 
In truth, we also did a lot of pretending. I think we wanted to make sure everyone around us thought that we were managing brilliantly. Now, I realize that there was no one we needed to prove ourselves to, but in the moment, everything looks and feels differently. 
This “fake it until you make it” mentality helped Tim and I get through the difficult days. Because I was diagnosed with the BRCA1 genetic mutation, my journey felt neverending. Even two years after my surgery and chemotherapy were complete, I knew I had more to do. I’d have to consider additional surgeries, a double mastectomy, and oophorectomy due to my genetic risk. 

How did Dani’s journey and identity as a cancer survivor help shape the business?

Tim: When we first started the business, Dani said two things: If this is successful, you're going to work very hard, and if it's unsuccessful, you're going to work very hard.
She also said: If you’re doing this to make money, that's not a good enough reason—there needs to be a bigger purpose.  
As always, she’s a very wise woman. We’ve worked very hard to make Manta a reality and continue to use every opportunity we’re awarded to give back. We donate to a charity called the Little Princess Trust that provides real hair wigs to children with cancer, free of cost. We also give a Manta to brush to each child to use on their wigs.
Dani helped me to realize that this journey was never just about a hairbrush—it’s about how we treat ourselves.

How did building Manta inform your experience and survivorship?

Dani: In some ways, Tim and I existed in parallel universes. Tim is an incredible husband and father and was particularly supportive during my diagnosis and treatment. And yet, like many couples who’ve lived through something similar, we both had times when we felt very alone.
Starting Manta helped Tim focus on the future. There were moments when I couldn't even look two weeks ahead because I was so worried about my cancer returning, and that’s when having this project was so paramount for him. All I could think about was surviving—and working on Manta was his survival. We had different motivations that got us through, and they were both equally important. 

What role did you play in Manta’s development?

Dani: Initially, all I did was listen. I know my thinning hair and bald head gave him the idea for the product, but once it got going, my biggest role in the company was listening. 
Of course, I was also looking after my mental and physical health during this time. I did loads of yoga and changed the way I live and the way I eat. And that took up all of my strength. 
Manta is his fourth baby now. It not only got him through our scary time, it also gave me the space I needed to look after myself.

What wisdom can you share about your experience for other patients and survivors?

Dani: It’s all about managing expectations. I mentor women who are going through similar experiences as mine, and I’ll often hear the phrase: “I just need to get to the end of my treatment and life will get back to normal.” But that doesn’t happen.
One of the most difficult expectations you can have is that you will go back to who you were before the diagnosis. In my experience, our relationship as a couple and as a family changed, as did my relationship with myself. 
If I could speak to my younger self, I’d say: Be kind and patient with yourself. Give yourself much more time than you think you’ll need. And stay open to the possibility that you may turn out more beautiful, more compassionate, and more understanding than before. 
Additionally, allow yourself the time and space to grieve the loss of your old self. I'm loving who I am now, but it took time. And I know there’s no going back. 

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