Current Job … Serial Entrepreneur, the definition of serial being ‘repeatedly committing the same offence and typically following a characteristic, predictable behaviour pattern’. That’s me. I can’t stop.
First Job … Technically, it was babysitting Adam, my next door neighbour. I have also been an aerobics instructor, a waitress, a gymnastics coach, a personal trainer, worked a reception desk, done facials and waxing…
You have founded an incredible 5 companies – Bliss, Soap & Glory, FitFlop, Soaper Duper and now Beauty Pie. What are some of the highlights from your journey so far …
Working with amazing people. Creating jobs that support families. Helping team members and customers navigate the ups and downs of life through the community that you naturally build around any business. Providing a downtown refuge for firefighters in the aftermath of Sept 11. Rubbing shoulders with (and in my case, rubbing the shoulders of) some of the world’s most successful and often interesting people). Watching an idea turn into movement, five times over. And in my ‘Forrest Gump’ list, I have also had my portrait taken by Irving Penn; had my portrait taken by Raymond Meier; appeared on Oprah Winfrey’s 25 years in TV finale; installed an art project in the Alster in Hamburg (called Die Badende) that got something like 4 Billion media impressions over 2 days; walked out of my facial room at Bliss to find Calvin Klein standing there, shopping from me and given facials from everybody from Bette Midler to Madonna to Courtney Love to Uma Thurman.
There have been a lot of wildly surreal moments, but I like to keep my feet on the ground, so if I happen to fall down, it doesn’t really hurt.
What are some of the lessons you have learned along the way …
- Get everything in writing.
- Be like a river, ready to curve your way around any rock that’s in your way. It might take time, but the Grand Canyon took time.
- Never hire somebody for a big entrepreneurial job that hasn’t done that job (or anything big and entrepreneurial) before. People fall in love with the idea of the excitement of the startup, but the idea and the execution are two very different things.
- Slight delusional optimism is necessary if you want to be a leader.
- There are never any shortcuts.
- Gut instincts are just unexplainable points of data. So when people ask for data, gut instinct is as good as beginners data to begin with (if other data backs it up, that’s fabulous) becaue data only measures what you’ve tested, it doesn’t matter what you haven’t tested.
- Copycat businesses generally don’t have the stamina, because startup stamina requires inspiration and belief, and you don’t get that from borrowing somebody else’s idea.
- Gratitude really helps.
- Cleaning up is way more painful than waiting to get it right.
- If you wouldn’t buy it, pay for it, choose it for yourself, don’t sell it.
Necessary extravagance … Hundreds of skincare items, obviously.
You sold a majority stake in Bliss to LVMH and Soap & Glory to Boots – what was that process like for you and do you have any advice on exits for other founders … I handed both ‘processes’ over to some very well-equipped teams to deal with negotiations for me. When it comes to exits, if you’re a founder you have to be ready psychologically to move forward. So if your identity and your business are one and the same, get a therapist lined up to help with the ‘cleave’ because it can be a very hard task. For that very reason, I would never name my brand after myself. Because it becomes you that you’re selling, and it’s complete cognitive dissonance every day, if you’re a demanding, perfectionistic entrepreneur to see your name on a brand but not be able control what it represents.
Favourite productivity tool … Microsoft OneNote. My new obsession.
Can you explain the concept behind Beauty Pie for those who are unaware … It’s like a buyer’s club for luxury beauty product addicts. You join, and your membership is like an access pass to shop from the backdoor of many of the world’s leading cosmetic and skincare (and fragrance) suppliers, without paying the 1000% extra cost normally attributed to celebrity marketing, and middlemen and retailer markups. It’s the fairy tale, for beauty junkies.
What do you wish you could change in the world of beauty … The fact that few if any suppliers have developed fully recyclable packaging options for colour cosmetics, especially for compacts. And that everybody uses foil (silver and gold and bronze) finishes, and they are really tough on the environment.
Many direct to consumer companies are competing on price but they too are building a brand with hefty margin in the price tag. How do think about Beauty Pie in this paradigm, is there any scepticism … I wanted to build a company that was completely transparent to the customer. And where our motivations were always about getting the customer the best possible product. Anytime you start trying to make more margin, or trying to squeeze a few cents out of a product to make a bit more money on each transaction, suddenly, you’re making a decision that isn’t in her best interest. Beauty Pie’s business model is created to eliminate that. The only thing we think about is getting the best possible product to her, for the price we pay for it. She’s not going to find better value for luxury quality products anywhere, ever. And that is a loyalty builder. We make our money only from memberships.
Recent inspiration … I listened to Daniel Goleman speak at the WOBI conference in New York. He takes emotional intelligence to a whole other level.
How are you thinking about building the Beauty Pie brand itself, do you expect a lot of UGC or do you think you appeal to a different audience … First, I think UGC is an urban myth. And second, yes, I’d say we are the anti-Sephora, and built for people who have grown out of Glossier. We’re a curator. And editor. And a buyer. We are made for people who want the best in beauty, but without all the bullshit. I remember our data scientist telling us after about 3 months that he’d looked at our customer base and it was all professors and highly educated professional women, and it’s all been a trickle down from there. Beauty Pie is fun, but first and foremost, it respects the intelligence and independent-mindedness of its members. If you don’t care whether Rihanna is fronting your foundation or not, you just want the good stuff, and a lot more for your money Beauty Pie is for you.
What do you believe that most around you disbelieve … That homeopathy can solve almost any systemic imbalance in the body.
How do you think about building a team and retaining staff … I hire like-minded people, and hopefully keep the ride exciting enough that they are learning, having fun, being challenged, and want to stay. I’ve been building teams for 25 years. It’s about personality fit, attitude, willingness to learn, for me and for them. I like the analogy of porous versus metallic. I have a very hard time working with metallic people (who don’t want to discuss, compromise, learn, open up, accept that there are options) so they don’t last very long in my organizations. The others, who are flexible and optimistic and roll up their sleeves, they become like family (very competitive, driven, fun, smart family).
Favourite blog or podcast … How I Built This (NPR/Guy Raz), Ted Radio Hour This American Life, The Hidden Brain, The Daily (New York Times).
What has been the biggest challenge so far … With Beauty Pie, getting customers to believe that yes, for the last X number of years they have bought their beauty products for 10X more than they cost to manufacture, and that this is not necessary anymore. (Nobody likes to feel like they’ve been ‘had’, so the new truth isn’t so easily accepted) It’s funny, because on social, when we are first encountered, a lot of people get really angry at us, for being transparent. And said ‘this must be scam’. What’s a scam is that women have been paying £60 for a lipstick that costs £6 leaving the factory, fully packaged! If you can get 10X more for your money, without sacrificing quality, it’s now an available option.
Are there any brands that you think are worth the price in beauty … Hermes Perfumes, Byredo, and Frederic Malle Perfumes are really art, and the mood they create cannot be replicated, so if you want it, you have to pay for it. But in colour cosmetics or skincare, I don’t think the markups are justified by any value added by branding and celebrity advertising. (Why pay 10X more for something because an actress gets paid to be on the posters. The posters will not make your face look firmer! Nor will the retailer’s 60% margin make the lipstick stay on any longer.)
You began with beauty and more recently expanded into skincare, can you share what else is on your roadmap … We’ve just launch a fragrance collaboration, with Frank Voelkl of Firmenich. We’re launching really great technical shampoos and conditioner next year; supplements; more beauty accessories; makeup artist collaborations and staying at the forefront of the cosmeceutical ingredient revolution, so it’s constant iteration and constant evolution, bringing her the best in class in all product categories that make her look, feel, and live better (without paying for middlemen, celeb marketing or retailer markups).
What personal qualities to you attribute most to your success … Open-mindedness. Unrealistic optimism (slowed down only slightly by experience). Curiousity. And a really good memory which helps me connect the dots in new ways.
What is the best piece of advice you have received … That in every business situation, the thing that you have to get to, to wade to, to decipher, and to be able to listen to and understand, without being defensive, is the truth. And that what’s better for the customer always wins. And that in any situation, the decision that increases customer trust is always the best decision.
What does success look like in 5 years’ time? Millions of members, saving billions every year, while having access to the world’s best products, each getting a bigger piece of the Beauty Pie!