Frank Body co-founder Erika Geraerts left her $20 million coffee scrub company to invent a new category within the beauty industry.
She’s now on a mission to empower young girls everywhere to feel more comfortable with themselves. According to this forward-thinking founder, the world has enough makeup products, and what the industry really needs is better products with better brand messages.
Geraerts thinks makeup should be fun, not a necessity or a chore, which is one reason she called her company Fluff. But there’s nothing frivolous about her approach to business. Geraerts is filling a void in the cosmetics industry and raising up the self-esteem of women globally in the process.
From $20m Business to starting all over again with Erika Geraerts from Fluff - YouTube
In this compelling video interview, Geraerts reveals why she decided to leave her booming skin care company, and what she sees on the horizon for Fluff. She also talks about her strict manufacturing process, her focus on sustainable products, her unique customer development process, and the distinct way the company creates online content.
How Geraerts chooses manufacturers to create her products
The company’s unique customer development process for finding out what types of products solve her customers’ problems
Why she won’t be focusing on traditional influencer marketing to promote her products
Fluff’s unique website launch strategy and how they work with their customers and freelancers to curate all of their content
Full Transcript of Podcast with Erica Geraerts
Nathan: Hey guys, today we’re speaking to Erika Geraerts. I hope I pronounced her name correctly.
Erika: That’s a good start.
Nathan: And she’s the founder of a company called Fluff. I actually interviewed her three years ago when I first started Foundr in the early days. She co-founded another company called Frank Body, which she has since exited, and now she’s building this incredible brand called Fluff, where we’re going to really find out and hear how it’s all starting on the ground level, because when did you launch?
Erika: We launched officially about two months ago in terms of really pushing our website out there.
Nathan: Yes. Okay, there you go. I guess the first question In ask everyone is how’d you get your job?
Erika: This job?
Erika: I save people a lot of money. I think Fluff came about because after being at Frank Body for about three years I felt like there was something missing. Frank was an incredible place to work. I started with my two best friends and two others, and we learned a lot in that time, but I was super young. So I’d like to think that I’ve changed a lot as a business person. And one day I woke up and I didn’t want to go to work, and that was my own job. And I thought that, that was pretty crazy. So I knew that I had to make a pretty hard choice. We were actually seeking investment from an American company at the time. So that was a catalyst for change for me, because we were all asked to sign on for five years as co-founders.
And so, I had to really look down the barrel at my future, and in a lot of ways it was a really successful one, but I thought it would be an unhappy one. So I made that call, and it was super hard to have that conversation with the two girls that I started Frank with, but I had to do it. And I did it, and I’d been thinking about what I would do next already, and had spent so much time in the beauty industry, and I really felt like there was this gap that was what Fluff fulfil.
Nathan: What’s the vision for Fluff? Can you tell us like … Yes.
Erika: I really want to change the face of the beauty industry, that’s what we like to say, without changing the face of our audience or our customer. So what I felt like about two and half/three years ago, was that there were no brands in the beauty industry being responsible for the message that they were putting out there about consumption of makeup, and how it was affecting especially young girls, and how they saw themselves.
And there’s a lot of research out there about rising rates of depression, especially amongst teenagers. And they’re spending so much time online, and it’s really easy to connect the dots. And for a lot of brands who were driven by profit, they’re just pushing out product after product, and telling girls to wear more. Whereas we really want to tell girls to feel more comfortable with themselves, and that makeup can be fun. It’s great, but it’s not necessary. It’s just an addition. That’s why we called it Fluff.
Nathan: You launched with one product, was that strategic? Can you tell us a little bit about the product and why you chose to launch with that particular product?
Erika: I could definitely tell you it was strategic, but we intended to launch with four products. So another big thing for me in the beauty industry is about transparency of ingredients in products, and we have a pretty strict blacklist in terms of what we don’t want in our formulations. And one of those things is palm oil, just because it’s harvested incredibly unsustainably. And so, our biggest problem however is that most manufacturers use palm oil in beauty products. It’s a base ingredient. There’s nothing wrong with the ingredient in itself, in how it performs, or whether it’s not bad for your skin, but just in terms of how it’s harvested.
And it’s a big concern for our audience as well. But that’s something that we’ve had to compete with, with our manufacturers in terms of making them understand why we don’t want to have it in our products, and getting them onboard. So we’ve been able to take it out of our first product, our bronzing powder. And then we’re still working through formulations for mascara and a lip product. But that’s the biggest thing. Once you take out palm oil, you need to reformulate, and you need to find substitute ingredients. And then you still need the product to perform. So you have to make a compromise at some point.
Nathan: So to actually manufacture this product, or this user product that you’re envisioning, is going to be quite expensive, right? Are you manufacturing locally, or overseas, or …
Erika: When I first started working on Fluff, I really wanted to work with Australian manufacturers. And with Frank Body we had an incredible manufacturer here in Australia, but cosmetics is a little bit trickier. And the best cosmetic manufacturers are actually overseas, in Europe. So we work with manufacturers in Italy and with Germany. Basically once you put a brief out for a product you get sent a lot of base formulas to work from. And if it’s a mascara, we might find that the best ones come from Italy, or say, our line of products come from Germany, and we work from there. So we make tweaks. We either add specific care ingredients, or we take out ingredients that we don’t like, and then we do a load of testing.
Nathan: And then, when you talk about the testing and the formulation, are you doing … You’re not doing it here, you’re just going up and back, and saying, “Hey, try this,” and they send you a sample.” And, “Hey, try this,” they send you a sample, right?
Erika: Yes, we talk to them just online. At the moment we’ve gone Hong Kong for packing expos, which is really interesting. And once, I think, we develop a really great relationship with the different manufactures that we’re working with, we’ll go over to see them, and I think a big thing for me is, well, is making sure that we’re happy with how they work their processes, their factories, how they treat their staff. That’s something we want to get to. But again, these sort of things cost a lot of money, and take a lot of time. This is where we’re starting, and we’ll keep going from there.
Nathan: I see. You raised … Are you able to share how much you raised? No? Yes?
Erika: It’s fine. We’ve raised, to date, about $710 000. I put a fair amount of my own money in after leaving Frank Body. And then I always knew that I wanted to raise, because I had really big ambitions for what I wanted this brand to be, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to dot hat without money. With Frank Body we started that brand with maybe seven grand, because we were making that product by hand out the back of Steve’s cafe kitchen. If we got one order and we would make that one scrub, but it’s not the same with cosmetics.
You have minimum order quantities of anywhere between 10 000 and 20 000 units. So straight off the bat you have a lot of costs going into your product development. And then we wanted to make a product that had value to it. There’s a lot of shit cosmetics out there, to be honest. And I don’t really think the world needs more makeup, but I think the world needs better makeup, and better brands.
Nathan: And why do you care about this problem so much?
Erika: It’s funny, a lot of people have asked me that. And I think as we have developed the brand, and the more we looked into it, and the more we’ve researched, because we were just … We were talking to our customers for about 18 months, trying to figure out what their issues with the beauty industry were. And the more girls I spoke to, the more I could relate in terms of what they had gone through growing up, because I’d been through it at the same age, yet they have so much more noise in terms of the media that they consume. When I was a teenager I just essentially had Facebook. And I’m 29, I’ve still got my issues, but I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a 16 to 18-year-old now with all of the noise that they have.
Nathan: The Kardashian culture. You know, all the Kardashians.
Erika: Yes, it’s pretty crazy, and I think that we can laugh about it, right, and brush it off. But I don’t think we yet even realise the impact that it’s having on consumers, or on the mindset of everyone. So that’s what I care about, is changing this awareness of everyone about makeup, and consumption of brands as well.
Nathan: Yes, well, so you’ve raised the capital, you’ve got your MOQ, launched two months ago, took around 18 months to get that product ready, yes?
Nathan: Talk to us around the customer development standpoint. Because, I think, one thing I’ve found from my journey and experience is, really, the most successful companies are the ones that have the most superior product. And so often people want to create a product or a service where they think it’s great, and they don’t do the time to actually find out if it’s a problem that people want solved.
So you’ve spent a lot of time speaking to people, you’ve got this showroom strategically to be able to speak to people and have that customer facing brand. For somebody that’s looking to start their own physical product brand, or any kind of product, talk to us around what kind of questions are you asking people. How did you go about and say, “Okay,” and find out, “This is the problem I want to solve”? How many did you speak to, just on volume, can you talk to us around that customer development phase, and you’ve worked out this is something that needs to be out there?
Erika: Yes, there’s so many things that I can answer off the back of that. We spoke to, or had about a 100 girls that we speak to regularly across everything from our marketing to our product development, to our message, to our customer service. Any customer touch point, we talk to these girls across. So, one of the biggest things for me was being able to talk to girls face-to-face, even before we opened this store, which is why started with my three cousins. Actually, who are very much a part of our initial brand development. Because they were of this age group that we were looking to speak to. And I just asked them to introduce me to a friend. And then again and again, which is great.
Nathan: And what do you ask? What kind of questions? So you meet your cousin’s younger friend, what kind of questions are you asking them?
Erika: Our biggest thing, we’ve just said that we wanted to discuss beauty with them. So we would ask them about their current consumption of beauty products. We really wanted to know what products they were using the most. And it’s, I guess, a common thread that most girls and women will use, mascara, some kind of lip gloss or lip balm, and a foundation product. Then we wanted to know how often they were replenishing those products. So then you start to get, I guess, an idea of your business model, and I guess your retention, and when your customers are going to be returning.
We wanted to know how much they were paying for products, and we wanted to know how much they were earning. We wanted to know who was buying the products. Was it them? Was it their parents? Were they using credit cards? Were they buying from a store? Were they buying online? Did they buy from indie brands they couldn’t find in Australia? Were they still happy to buy pharmacy products?
We basically just asked them to invite us into their world around beauty. I guess where they were inspired in terms of beauty, whether they looked to social media, whether they looked to their friends, what their relationship with makeup was, which is really important. Whether they felt like they needed it, whether it was driven by any kind of insecurity, or whether it was just a fun additional thing for them. We had so many questions, and we still do. Every time we’re developing a new product we get them to come in and try it. And what’s great about the demographic that we’re working with, is that they’re so honest. They can really see through bullshit from a brand, so we get this incredible insight as to what they expect. And for us that just becomes the standard.
Nathan: So you’re looking for the trend-setters before it’s a trend?
Erika: Yes. I guess you could say the first follower.
Nathan: Yes, Yes. Because they say when it comes to building … Starting a movement, you have those indie people that are people that is not cool yet, but they’re doing it, or they’re using it. And then eventually there’s a tipping point where it becomes mainstream.
Erika: Yes, definitely.
Erika: And a lot of people ask if we’re working with influencers, or who’s the celebrity that we want to represent the brand, but we’re just not there yet. And I’m not being a jerk when I say to you, “You won’t know anyone that we’re working with,” but you wouldn’t. Because it’s Sarah from that high school around the corner who has maybe 200 followers who are her friends, but she has an incredible influence over them. So we’re really, really working with small groups to get as much feedback about the product, get as much feedback about the brand. So that we know when we do push out, or if it does hit critical mass, that we have a really strong foundation to go from.
Nathan: Yes, I think that’s really smart, I think, like you said, it comes back to having the most superior product out there. And you guys are just going really, really deep on that customer development, really knowing your target market, and who you’re speaking, and entailing everything around that. And so, just coming back to those questions you were asking. Is that where you had the idea for the four staple products that you wanted to launch, because those were the key things that this target market of girls were using?
Erika: Yes. In terms of our product SKUs, we like to call it a foundation without a foundation. So in terms of it’s the base of what you might use if you’re going to go out. But we are quite against foundation products for now, just because they more have also the purpose of covering up as opposed to just showing who you are, so yes.
Nathan: Okay, interesting. Talk to me about this influencer piece, because it’s something you’re quite passionate about. Like at Frank, you guys work with Jen Selter, you spend a lot of money investing in influencer marketing. You guys were on the forefront of that trend, especially here in Australia. Like in Melbourne you guys were known, and it sounds like you were probably leading a lot of charge, known for utilising influencer marketing, especially through social media. To amplify the reach and word of mouth of a brand, right? Now you’ve actually done a full 360, and you’re not that interested. Why? Because you said you think it’s a sinking ship, just before we hit record. Tell us about that. What’s your thoughts?
Because most people that want to launch a physical product based business, yes, I believe personally there’s a couple of different channels you want to use, right? There’s, you know, if you go to the B to C play you’d want to use Instagram, and you want to use influencer marketing. But then also, you’d probably want to use Facebook ads. You look at a brand like HiSmile for example, another really successful-
Nathan: … Australian company. Apparently they’re on track to do a 100 million this year after five years, or four years or something, which is incredible, right. And their two key channels is influencer marketing and Facebook ads. So that’s what most people think. I’ve got a physical product brand out of Foundr that’s doing quite well, all through influencer marketing. It’s doing exceptionally well, and doesn’t really take much work. So talk to me, why so anti … Why do you think it’s a sinking ship. Why wasn’t part of your launch strategy so much. Yes, you’re getting the content, but yes …
Erika: I think there’s a few things in that, when we launched Frank Body, that was five years ago now, and we really were, I think, at the forefront of influence marketing, and it was incredible for us. And influencer marketing was a new concept, and it was very much genuine referrals. Influencers were reviewing products, and telling people what they thought because they generally wanted to share that with the world. And it has become a business in itself, and I think that it’s one that should be credited. It’s a business for them, and they should make money, and they should be respected, and they should be paid what they’re worth. But I think that the amount of influencers that are online now, and the amount of probably not credible ones has actually tarnished the space as a whole.
Nathan: Yes, I agree.
Erika: Just like you would say that the amount of brands, or copycat brands, which makes it hard, essentially. When Frank launched we were the first coffee scrub. Now, there’s so many. And ones you start getting some bad ones amongst the mix, it takes away from the group as a whole. I still believe in influential people 100%, but I think it’s a lot more closer in terms of networks and groups.
I think an influential person is my best friend referring a product to me. While me sitting down with a girl and noticing her eyelashes look amazing and asking where her mascara’s from, and wanting to try it. As opposed to seeing [inaudible 00:21:07], which I know more often than not is purely transactional. And I saw the relationship and the conversations change with influencers over those five years. Where it went from them being very curious about the brand, and wanting to support, and wanting to get to know us. To now being very much, “Here is my rate.”
I don’t even know if they care about our product. And I honestly don’t want people posting about our product if they don’t care. Because we’re so much more than our product. And it’s not to say that a business like HiSmile can’t exist, but I would question what they really care about. And it’s not to say they can’t make money doing what they do. I think it’s great. But I think maybe past their product, there might not be a business with very strong values.
Nathan: Yes. I agree.
Erika: And again, not every business needs to have that. But we’re in it for much greater reasons than profit, with just our products existing in the world.
Nathan: Yes, you have a very, very strong purpose and why. What I find interesting is it sounds like you’ve learned some key things from Frank that you’re taking, that you want to bring to Fluff now.
Erika: Yes, totally.
Nathan: Talk to me around the launch strategy. So you’ve launched two months. First of all, how’s it all going, and what would have you changed? Because I find it interesting. I was looking … We caught up, let’s say three, four, five, six months ago. And you were talking about a magazine, you’ve got a little magazine there. You’ve these cool little merch. You’ve got your beanie, you’ve got … I think you said the jackets, or I don’t know. I don’t know that much about chick stuff.
But you’ve got all this really cool stuff. Talk to me around that strategy, and how’s it all going, and what do you. What do you wish you had have done differently, two months later?
Erika: While we launched our website two months ago, the brand has existed and had a social presence for a lot longer. Maybe almost a year, I would say. Our first move was really finding girls to talk to, and take them on this journey about the brand and the company’s development. So we were working on this magazine for maybe nine to 12 months, where we wanted our demographic to create the content for us. And the reason behind that is very much to do with Fluff’s brand strategy, and that our personality is a mirror, and we want to reflect what these girls are currently doing.
Instead of us telling them how they should be, and what they should think, we let them tell us what they think, and how they want to be. And that’s really important for me, because I think there are a lot of brands in the beauty space who will tell you that they’re a democratic, and that their customers decide what happens, but they’re still pushing out a certain view.
We wanted to work with girls who create all of our content. So that’s probably our biggest strategy in offering them a platform to write, to take photos, to show us how they want to use products, or what products they want. So we paid girls to create content for us, but it’s more … I guess you could look at it as a very early contract, or freelancing role. We want them to pursue whatever creative endeavours they’re into. And that’s part of our brand message as well. We want them to know that beauty is so much more than what they put on their face.
But it’s what they’re doing with themselves. And so often, I think at a young age, that creativity is squashed out of you. We want to tell them, that’s what they can be here for. And where they might typically be getting jobs during high school, or while they’re at uni, a retail store that had no connection to what they’re interested in, and they can..
Bobbi Brown Is Back in Charge
The makeup mogul dishes on the wellness, lifestyle, and even real estate projects she’s been running since leaving her cosmetics line—and why she never wants to build a billion-dollar brand again.
Bobbi Brown has spent her life helping people embrace who they are. Embracing herself—strengths and weaknesses—has also proven to be a powerful career strategy.
The veteran makeup artist and founder of the eponymous cosmetics line built her empire on the belief that people are most beautiful when they love who they are. This natural approach to makeup went against the over-the-top aesthetic of the 1980s—which, at the time, critics said would be her undoing—and people couldn’t get enough of her.
“My hope is to help women everywhere understand that being who you are is the secret to lasting beauty,” she writes in her book Pretty Powerful.
Powered by that philosophy, Brown became known as a makeup artist to the stars, touching up the faces of Carla Bruni, Katie Holmes, and Michelle Obama, to name a few. With characteristic warmth, she treats even the biggest of celebrities like old friends. A videofor HELLO! Canada shows Brown in the back seat of an Uber with actress Meghan Markle, dishing out makeup tips and jamming to Biggie Smalls. As they part ways, Brown tells the now-Duchess of Sussex, “Text me later.”
Whether she’s getting celebrities ready for their close-ups or hobnobbing with the rich and famous in the Hamptons, Brown remains refreshingly down to earth. “One of my best attributes in life…is I’m incredibly naive,” she tells Foundr. “I think everything is going to work out.”
And for Brown, a lot of it has. She scored big with her first job out of college as a freelance makeup artist, catching the eye of Vogue, which hired her for a cover shoot with Naomi Campbell. In 1991, with just 10 lipstick shades, Brown launched a cosmetics line that she would sell to Estée Lauder four years later, and continue to work at for more than 20 years after that. When Brown stepped away in 2016, she left behind a billion-dollar company. And in the midst of all that, she met the man of her dreams, Steven Plofker, to whom she has been married for 30 years.
Yes, she has had an illustrious life and career. But one look at her latest projects makes it clear—Bobbi Brown is just getting started.
On Being Boss Again
When she left Bobbi Brown Cosmetics (which she calls her “first baby”), the beauty world was stunned. But the company was no longer in her direct control, and she was eager to be back at the helm.
“I realized that it was time for me to be the boss again because that’s really what makes me happy,” she explains. “I like to be in charge, and I like to work with really fun, cool people to create things.”
And that’s exactly what she’s been doing. Her first project after leaving the company was to write and promote a book, Beauty From the Inside Out, a lifestyle guide that details recipes, nutrition recommendations, and confidence-boosting tips. This was a nod to Brown’s aspirations to broaden her scope from cosmetics to general health and wellness.
“I don’t like a lot of makeup,” says Brown, who is an outspoken opponent of contouring, using darker shades to “reshape” parts of your face. “I don’t believe women need a lot of makeup. And I think the healthier you are, the better you feel and the better you look.”
In 2017, Brown opened Just Bobbi lifestyle concept shops inside of Lord & Taylor department stores, where she curated her favorite wellness and beauty products for the public to peruse.
Earlier this year, she launched a line of wellness products, Evolution_18, on TV shopping network QVC. She also runs a film and TV studio, 18 Label Street, and her own line of eyewear, Bobbi Brown Eyewear.
And in an unexpected move, she partnered with her husband to breathe new life into a 1902 historic landmark and launch The George, a boutique hotel in their hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.
As if that weren’t enough, she’s got a podcast in the works.
With so many projects, how does she maintain her focus and a sense of cohesion? “It all works together for me,” Brown says, “because it’s pretty much authentic, and it’s marrying, finally, really what I believe in.”
Why She Never Wants to Build Another Billion-Dollar Brand
With Brown’s hard-earned success and elite status comes perhaps the greatest privilege any entrepreneur can obtain: the power to say no to otherwise enticing opportunities. She says many of her friends in venture capital have asked her, “How many millions do you want?” in an eager bid to invest in her projects—regardless of what those projects are.
“Look, it’s very tempting,” Brown says of the investment offers. “But I don’t want it.”
For entrepreneurs who have pounded down the doors of VCs hoping to snag just one investor, that outlook may be difficult to understand. But for Brown, it’s all about freedom.
“I don’t want to have to report to anyone,” she says. “I don’t want to sit in meetings.”
While many tout the venture model of forgoing profitability now in order to borrow money, spend it on growth, and sell the company later, that’s not Brown’s style. If she were to sell 500 bottles of vitamins, for example, she says she would reinvest the profits by ordering 1,000 more bottles and keep growing incrementally from there.
“I’m very simple-minded,” she says. “I know it makes no sense, but I really do believe in making a profit.”
So, for now, she’s content to bootstrap, even if that means slower growth or a smaller business. “I never want another billion-dollar brand. … I never want to go that big again because the headaches that come with it are not worth the rewards.”
Reflecting on the expansion of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, she calls the first 15 to 17 years “amazing,” but says that as the company grew, her control over it diminished. “I’m not the boss anymore,” she says, “which is why I’m not there.”
Beauty, Glam, and Instagram
So if Brown is hesitant to grow her new businesses too big or too fast, and still wants to be able to call the shots, what is her plan for growth? A lot of it revolves around working her connections—especially the connection to her audience.
Back when Brown launched her career as a professional makeup artist, and even later as a cosmetics line founder, there was no such thing as social media or ecommerce. To get her products off the ground, she started mailing out lipsticks until one day, a New York department store agreed to carry them. In the digital age, when brands have direct access to consumers online, Brown is thriving.
“The internet is an amazing place for people to go on and really look and find the community they need,” she says. “Whatever you’re going through, there is a support group for that. There are people teaching and empowering.”
Brown is active on Instagram (in fact, she manages at least four accounts), where you can find anything from the announcement of her latest probiotic product to photos of her recent trip to Paris. On Facebook, she hosts a weekly livebroadcast where she interviews everyone from Gary Vaynerchuk to her Aunt Alice. And the best part? These episodes don’t cost her a thing; they’re shot on an iPhone.
“There are so many ways for people to start their own brands,” she says. “There’s a lot to teach and a lot to learn.”
Making It Up as She Goes
By this point, Brown may seem unstoppable. But she’ll be the first to tell you that accepting her weaknesses has made her a stronger entrepreneur by forcing her to embrace her strengths, and get help with everything else. It’s similar to her approach to cosmetics. As a makeup artist, Brown refuses to hide clients’ “flaws,” preferring instead to accentuate their natural beauty.
“It’s such a sign of strength for someone to know what they’re not good at,” she says. “And I think a lot of…people starting to be entrepreneurs think they could do everything, and you can’t.”
For instance, Brown doesn’t know how to type—but she’s written nine books. At times, she gave an assistant her handwritten notes and had them transfer them to digital; other times, she had writers interview her and take the information down for Brown to edit. “What you’re not good at, find someone that is and tell them what to do.”
ES Magazine – Bobbi Brown at the Connaught Hotel
Her sharp sense of self-awareness was honed from a young age. Growing up, she struggled in school and didn’t have access to tutoring. “Either my parents punished me or they said, ‘Oh well, she’ll never be a secretary.’ They were right…because I dropped out of typing because I couldn’t figure it out.”
From those early experiences, she learned a valuable lesson. “I had to figure out, like, almost coping mechanisms. I don’t know if I had learning disabilities. I wasn’t good at something, but I knew I had to do this.”
When conforming to convention didn’t work for her, Brown would develop her own distinct approach. For example, the first time she wrote a book, she followed the rules: write the book, edit it, then source the photos. But it was extremely difficult for her. So with her last couple of books, she did photo shoots first, then put the book together based on the photos, then had the writers write. “I drove my publishers crazy,” she says. But for her, it worked better.
So if there’s something essential you don’t know how to do? “Figure shit out,” Brown says. “That’s my only advice.”
Happiness Never Goes Out of Style
In many ways, Brown has been a contrarian in an industry that is notoriously cookie-cutter. And maybe that’s been the key to her success. While she used to compare herself to the supermodels she worked with, she’s learned to be comfortable in her own skin. When people told her things had to be done in a certain way, she forged ahead with her own process and succeeded. But even with her many accomplishments, Brown doesn’t subscribe to any notion of perfection or “having it all.”
“I’m not tall and blond and athletic, which I always wanted to be,” she says. “I can’t sing. I can’t draw. But I have a sense of humor, and I have a lot of friends. I’ve been married 30 years…I have three amazing boys that I adore…and I’ve been able to be an entrepreneur.”
“Is that having it all?” Brown says. “No—there’s no all. But I’m happy with what I have.”
Why Brown never wants to create another billion-dollar brand
Her philosophy on what makes entrepreneurs strong
What she believes is the ultimate secret to lasting beauty
How to accept your weaknesses as an entrepreneur and forge ahead in spite of them
Full Transcript of Podcast with Bobbi Brown
Nathan: The first question that I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job?
Bobbi: I never had a job. The only job I ever had was selling shoes. So I never, ever … And I was 16 at the time. I never had a job. So I worked for the company I sold my makeup line to, and before that I was a freelance makeup artist. So the first job really, it’s when your freelance is a day job. So I worked really hard, pounded the pavement, and met people, and got hired as a makeup artist to do a photo shoot. That was basically my first job. But it was one day.
Nathan: There you go. So can you tell us around, I guess, how you got started doing the work that you’re doing today? So was your first company Bobbi Brown Cosmetics?
Bobbi: Yes. My first company was Bobbi Brown Cosmetics. So my brief history is, after graduating college, three colleges, I ended up having a degree in theatrical makeup. And I moved to New York and I thought, “Well, I would love to work in the movies, or in fashion, why don’t I try to do it all?” And I basically just put together a portfolio and started calling up magazines. I looked at mastheads to see who I should call. I opened up Yellow Pages, and I just started figuring out what the industry was like. It was before the internet, so that was my information was just figuring it out. I started to get hired as a freelance makeup artist, and took me about seven years that I got a Vogue cover and I started to really grow in the freelance fashion world. And then I met the man of my dreams, got married, and I didn’t want to travel anymore, and that’s when I got an idea to create a lipstick that didn’t exist that I knew that I wanted and I made a lipstick. That’s basically how I started this crazy company.
Nathan: We actually have a lot of founders that [inaudible 00:05:45] that are into the e-commerce space. And you know, back then, when you started Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, that was maybe a time where creating e-commerce brands or physical products was maybe not as popular, definitely not as popular as it is now. And a lot of people are intimidated by all these big competitors out there. What would you say for anyone that wanted to start an e-commerce brand in today’s age, and how did you differentiate yourself even back then, with your lipsticks?
Bobbi: Well back then was 1991, and I don’t even know what year the internet started, but there was no e-commerce. No one ever heard of the word, and I basically started selling lipsticks to friends, to models, to editors, and then someone that worked in a magazine wrote about it and people started calling and I believe it was my home phone even at the time … Excuse my dog.
Nathan: It’s okay.
Bobbi: And then I started mailing out lipsticks to people. And then one day I met somebody that worked in a very big department store in New York, and I pitched her the idea and she started carrying the lipstick. So really what the takeaway from that is, you have to tell people about what you’re doing. Now that’s PR, so you have to get press on what you’re doing, and then you have to figure out how people could learn about you. So since I sold the company, after four years, and I stayed for 22 years, we did have a digital presence when I left. But now I’m starting new companies, and I am absolutely direct to consumer, so I’ve kind of done both, which is really fun.
Nathan: And talk to us about, I guess, selling to Estee Lauder after four years and staying on, because you stayed on for a while.
Bobbi: 22 years I stayed, which is amazing, kind of unheard of, I hear.
Bobbi: Well, you know, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics was my first baby. I had three boys after I started the company, and one of my best attributes in life, and I don’t know how I got this, and I don’t know how to teach it, is I’m incredibly naïve. I just never think anything can’t be fixed, and I think everything is going to work out. So I would say the first 15 years it was amazing, you know, 17 years. But by the end it got rougher and rougher and rougher. The company got bigger and bigger and it was more corporate, and when I left it was a billion dollar brand. So pretty amazing, and I realised that it was time for me to be boss again, because that’s really what makes me happy. I like to be in charge. And I like to work with really fun, cool people to create things.
Nathan: So tell us what are you working on right now? What are these new brands? And how do you plan to approach things differently, because now you’re going direct to consumer.
Bobbi: Right. Well when I left the brand, the first thing I did was promoted my ninth book which is called Beauty From The Inside Out, which was basically not a makeup book, but a health and wellness book. So that was really my passion for many years, while I was even working at the brand. And I just really started to work on new platforms and new speaking engagements, and at the same time I was given an opportunity to create these shops in a department store called the Just Bobbi concept shop, which kept my hand in a creative process, and I got to curate my favourite things. And that was for a year.
And then I also developed and designed a hotel with my husband called The George. So that was another creative outlet for me. And while I was doing those things an opportunity came up to create a line of wellness products that basically were inspired by my Beauty From the Inside Out book. And we launched in April. We opened the hotel in April. We launched the products in April, and opened a direct to consumer site, opened an editorial site, and I have three full time people.
Nathan: Yeah, wow.
Bobbi: It’s really, really cool. And you know, we have a bunch of freelancers, and people we go to all the time. But the great news is the girls that work for me, no one has titles on their cards, because I can’t even describe what they do. They do everything. And anything they want to do. And we figure it out.
Nathan: So a lot of questions here. You’ve got the media play, like you said, the media platform play with justbobbi. Then you’ve got the new wellness brand, Evolution_18, then you’ve got The George hotel. How come the three different verticals? Would it be difficult to focus and double down on one thing?
Bobbi: No. Well first of all, being a creative person, I either don’t focus or I’m hyper focused, which is what most creative people are. And if you really ask me, one day it’ll be, Bobbi left the beauty industry and opened a lifestyle brand. So under the lifestyle brand, what is a lifestyle brand? It’s how you live your life. So from travelling and the hotels you go to, to health and wellness, to anything else, there’s other products in the works that will enhance someone’s lifestyle and a lot of great information and communication to people how to live a better life. I’m working on a podcast that I think will also be part of this, the big picture. So it all works together for me, because it’s pretty much authentic, and it’s marrying, finally, really what I believe in. I don’t like a lot of makeup. I don’t believe women need a lot of makeup. And I think the healthier you are, the better you feel, and the better you look.
Nathan: Interesting. So I’m curious. How come, if they all coincide, was there a reason that you named each company and brand differently?
Bobbi: Well number one, I sold my name. So I do not own my name anymore.
Bobbi: So that creates a challenge, but an opportunity. So if there was no internet, and social media, people would not really know that, would not know what it was doing, but because everything is transparent now, even if my name is not on The George hotel, it’s … And it’s a different world. I think people’s names get to be a little bit boring, and things are a little cooler and more indie and more creative right now. And I like the spirit of indie startups. So it’s really fun to do things different. And by the way Evolution_18 came from my umbrella company, the lifestyle brand is called Beauty Evolution, and then I also, my husband and I also own a film and TV studio in the town we live in that’s called 18 Labels, which is also the address. So Evolution_18 was the combination.
Nathan: Got you. So I’m curious around selling your name and that component. So that means, because you sold Bobbi Brown Cosmetics to Estee Lauder you cannot launch another brand under your name. Is that correct?
Bobbi: Correct. Correct. That is correct. Nor would I want to. I mean, why would I want to … If I go into the beauty, cosmetics world again, I would not do what I did, I would do something different. I already did that. So beauty is my life. I will be back in beauty at some point. I fell like I am in beauty right now because what you put in your body is really the ultimate thing that affects how you look. You know, there’s no creams that you can boy on the market that’s going to make you look as good as fruits and vegetables and water.
Nathan: Yeah. So this is, I guess a new, in a way it’s a new vertical or industry that you’re trying to disrupt. So can you tell us, you know you said that you’ve got an indie startup, you’ve got three full time employees, and it sounds like you’re having a lot of fun and getting back to your roots. What’s the plans? How do you plan to grow this brand? How do you plan to scale this thing?
Bobbi: Well, we are self funded. I have been begged, you can imagine, at my position, and friends in my life who are in the venture world, they’re like, “Okay, we’re going to invest. We don’t care what you’re doing, here’s how many millions do you want?” And it’s very tempting, but I don’t want it, and my husband doesn’t want it because I don’t want to have to report to anyone. I don’t want to sit in meetings that aren’t conducive. So you know what, we are doing okay. We are supporting ourselves and we’re starting to make money, and I don’t mind not being a profitable billion dollar business right away. I never want another billion dollar brand. I would really love to make money, because the more money you make, the more you get to spend and give away. And it’s really cool to create something that people want but I never want to go that big again, because the headaches that come with it are not worth the rewards to me.
Nathan: Can you tell us more about that? Because I think, and everybody has these big aspirations to build billion dollar company, 100 million dollar company, even a 10 million dollar company, or a million dollar company. Like yeah, can you tell us
Bobbi: 10 million dollar, 100 million dollar, I can handle that. A billion dollar company, for me it’s inconceivable. And it’s amazing to be able..
Danielle Roberts and Shea Kucenski, Co-Founders, Tail of Two Creatives
Welcome to part two of our two-part podcast series that’s shining the spotlight on successful entrepreneurs who hail right from our very own Foundr community!
If you haven’t listened to part one featuring Gavin Symes, you can check it out right here.
Today, we talk with Danielle Roberts and Shea Kucenski, courageous entrepreneurs who started a marketing agency while working full-time jobs. Roberts and Kucenski took all the action steps laid out in the Consulting Empire course and in two months took their business from slow and stagnant to closing 20% of all proposals, doubling their earnings, and reaching their first $10,000 month.
In this inspiring interview, you will hear about Roberts and Kucenski’s journey to success, how they overcame their perfectionism and fear of failure, and how they land high-paying clients while managing busy schedules.
We are extremely proud of Danielle and Shea’s achievements and we are happy to share their amazing story with you!
ATTENTION: If you want to learn how to start and scale a service-based business like Danielle and Shea, whether you are a consultant, coach, or freelancer, agency founder Sabri Suby reveals all of his golden strategies (the exact ones he used to scale from zero to $10 million) in our Consulting Empire online course.
We only open enrollment a couple of times a year for a limited time, and it’s open for just one more day this week! Check out the Consulting Empire course before we close the doors again.
How to push past the fear of failure and start moving the needle for your client-services business
Roberts and Kucenski’s main focus that helps them seal the deal when they prospect for clients
How they manage their busy schedules (they both have full-time jobs) and keep the business running smoothly
How to get started consulting or freelancing and get your first client
Key Resources From Our Interview With Danielle and Shea
The Foundr community is full of passionate people from all walks of life, in the trenches daily doing what it takes to make their startup dreams a reality. In this week’s podcast, we want to highlight one of these entrepreneurs we’re especially proud of—Gavin Symes of The Foundry Group.
In part one of this two-part podcast series, we talked with Consulting Empire student Gavin Symes, who advanced his business growth and management skills to create a profitable consulting business.
Symes took all the action steps laid out in the Consulting Empire course—from validating his service to developing a lead-gen machine—and built his consulting business from scratch. Three-and-a-half months into the course, he closed 10 clients and generated over $50,000 of monthly revenue. He plans on scaling to $1 million this year and then to $10 million in three years.
In this inspiring interview, you will hear about Symes’ own journey to success, the biggest problems most businesses face when scaling, and how to set up processes to overcome common business growth challenges.
We are extremely proud of Gavin’s achievements and we are happy to share his amazing story with you!
ATTENTION: If you want to learn how to start and scale a service-based business like Gavin, whether you are a consultant, coach or freelancer, agency founder Sabri Suby reveals all of his golden strategies (the exact ones he used to scale from zero to $10 million) in our Consulting Empire online course. We only open enrollment a couple of times a year for a limited time. Get on the free VIP waitlist here to be one of the first we notify when we re-open!
The top problems most entrepreneurs face as they scale their businesses
The one thing that can derail your business if you let it (it has nothing to do with sales or customers)
The very first thing to do if you want to start a freelance or consulting business
How to create business playbooks to fast-track your growth
New to the US from Pakistan, Syed Balkhi was a lonely and isolated 12-year-old. Unable to speak English fluently, he took to communicating with new friends—computers—and quickly found comfort interacting with these non-human companions. Soon Balkhi was learning how to code and build websites, and that very same year he made his first dollar from a website he created.
Now 27, Balkhi is the founder of WPBeginner, the first and largest WordPress resource website in the world, and co-founder of many accompanying businesses. He was also named a top entrepreneur under the age of 30 by the United Nations, his websites receive millions of monthly pageviews each month, and his software runs on nearly 8 million sites serving billions of monthly impressions.
Listen in as Balkhi takes you through the early years of his entrepreneurial journey and how, brick by brick, he built his empire.
How Balkhi decides which versions of existing software to acquire and improve
Why managing four products independently helps his team increase focus and output
How to build a business, one small step at a time
The key factor behind his companies’ explosive growth
Dog toilets and co-working spaces? An unlikely pairing. But if you talk to Tobi Skovron, you’ll find they have one thing in common—they inspired him to create two passion-filled businesses and realize his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.
Skovron walked away from a promising career in medicine to pursue entrepreneurship, even though he had no idea what business he wanted to run. It wasn’t until Skovron got a dog that he came upon an idea that would take Australia by storm—an indoor dog toilet called Pet Loo. Piggybacking off of the success in Australia, Skovron decided to expand into the US market. He quickly faced a lot of challenges, however, since he made the move right as the 2008 recession hit. Skovron lost half his money right away.
Starting over in Los Angeles, he realized the spare bedroom in his Venice Beach apartment was not the ideal environment for him to breathe life into his US expansion, so he joined a co-working space to rekindle his inspiration. There, Skovron realized a new passion for this collaborative environment, which ultimately led him to his next project.
Skovron sold Pet Loo and started CreativeCubes.co, a hotel-like co-working environment that houses a curated community of passionate people. We here at Foundr have even used CreativeCubes.co to shoot many of our course videos!
These days, Skovron’s less interested in financial return, and more interested in providing quality experiences and fostering an environment of positivity and creativity. Listen in and get inspired by this journey from aspiring entrepreneur to two-time founder.
How the idea for Pet Loo became a reality (it was his wife’s idea)
The 10-year journey of designing, manufacturing, marketing, and selling Pet Loo
How Skovron’s love of the co-working landscape led to the creation of his second successful product
Why Skovron won’t scale his business for the sake of scaling
Key Resources from our Interview With Tobi Skovron
Nathan: So, the first question I ask everyone that comes on is, how did you get your job? –
I don’t think I have a job, man, honestly. I’ve actually never had a job. I’ve never felt like I am going to work. I’m legitimately passionate, probably maybe too passionate about what I’m doing. Sometimes I’ll lose my head in that because I just love it, and I do it for the love of the game, but the reality is I don’t feel like I have a job.
Nathan: Awesome. So, how did you find yourself doing the work you’re doing today? Can you tell us a little bit about your journey and what you’re working on right now, and what led to that?
Yeah, absolutely. So, you know, the journey has pretty much led me to where I’m at. So, I’m an entrepreneur. I was born and raised in Sydney, Bondi Beach, or North Bondi. Grew up there with Mom. Unfortunately I lost my father when I was a lot younger, so grew up with…- Sorry to hear that, man.
Yeah, man. And it’s painful, but, you know, like, the reality is I don’t think I’d be who I am, what I’m doing, etc., if, you know, that disruption didn’t happen in my life. So, grew up with a single mom, two sisters, was kind of like the man of the house, and this entrepreneur being lay dormant in me forever.
As a young kid, you know, I had aspirations of starting shops and doing a whole bunch of different things. I loved sneakers. I’m a bit of a sneaker head. I’m not crazy sneaker head, like, I don’t go to shows and, sort of, like, meetups, and all that, but, like, every city that I go to, I have to stop by a sports store, or a unique shoe store to see what’s up. And so, sort of, started studying podiatry.
All my friends were doctors, lawyers, dentists, you know, surgeons, etc., and I felt that at the young age I need to try and keep up with those people because that was my crowd. And so, I studied podiatry, but the spin-on that I had was, “I’d love to be able to create a fashionable, but functional shoe, sort of, like an Asics but like Nike, so like Nike cool, funky, retro, but like Asics, taking into consideration the biomechanics of the foot.”
Nathan: How long ago was this?
Tobi: This was in, like, ’98, ’99, 2000.
Nathan: Wow. So, you were into sneakers, like, back then?
Dude, I…like, crazy for sneakers. I’d get 100% from my grandmother who was so poor that she used to put cardboard in the bottoms of her shoes because she just didn’t want to let her shoes go. She loved shoes that much. And so, she literally wore them to the death.
And then, when the shoes were about to die, she would put cardboard in them to, sort of, try and keep the soles intact. But, I totally get it from my grandmother, and I’ve loved shoes forever, and I’m sitting here today in a pair of Jordan Ones, just for context. So, I studied podiatry thinking, “Hey, I’ll be a doctor that creates really cool shoes.”
Three years in, learning about skin disease, distropathy, like, all the revolting stuff, fungus, I went to my mom, and I was like, “Listen,” like, “I’m really sorry, but this is just not for me. I promise you I’ll make you proud one day, but right now I can’t continue to do this. This is just not my flavor.”
And my mom was like, “You do what you want to do.” Anyway, during my time in university, I was working at Athlete’s Foot and Foot Locker. I started at Foot Locker, then moved across to Athlete’s Foot because it was considered more of a science focus than…so, like, fashion at Foot Locker, and then, sort of, like, tried to convince my mom that I’d be amazing franchise owner of an Athlete’s Foot store.
It’s so dumb when I look back at it, but that was, sort of, like, “Mom, I can do this. I love this. I can make this a success.” Anyway, she was like, “No, I think you can do other things.” Anyway, long story short, I met this beautiful girl along the journey. We fell in love. I moved from Sydney to Melbourne and, literally, was kind of a little bit lost professionally, because I, kind of, was like, “I’m a university dropout. You know, I haven’t disappointed my mom. My mom believes I can do bigger and better things, but I haven’t found that thing yet.”
I met this beautiful girl, moved from Sydney to Melbourne over a period of time. It was like a year after we started seeing each other that I moved, because she was in university and I was, kind of like, not. And, I rented a one-bedroom apartment in Melbourne and my girlfriend at the time who’s now, thankfully, my wife and mother of my two kids, and we live in a very loving home, I bought her a dog, who’s actually also with us and roaming the floors here at CreativeCubes.
But, I bought her a dog, and Sim said to me, “Tobs, we just need a patch of backyard on our balcony,” because we lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and that was the Eureka moment, Nathan. Like, this entrepreneurial instinct just took over, and over the next 10 years, I basically built a dog waste management company, and a thriving brand in the global pet industry that was, in 2013, acquired for cash by the largest player in the space, called PetSafe.
Nathan: I see. And, you spent a lot of time in the States. Was that for that Pet Loo? So, the company was called Pet Loo?
Tobi: Yeah, it was, P-E-T L-O-O, Pet Loo, and it’s exactly what it stood for, a pet toilet. And then, I basically built out a bunch of value-add products and, ultimately, for the business enthusiast listening to the podcast today, you know, I turned that business, or that product into a printer-paper ink-cartridge business model.
So, for every Loo that was purchased, I would see recurring revenues through our consumable products which were, you know, made to fit, designed to complement, and it became a very nice business. In 2008, sort of, like, five years after I’d moved to Melbourne, and the business was up, like, business was thriving in Australia, Sim said to me, “Tobs, would you like to live abroad?”
And I said, “Yeah, but we’ve got a business now. Like, I can’t just pick up and just walk away from this.” She was like, “What if we took the next year to orientate a managing director for the Australian business, which would then free you up to be able to go and execute the business abroad and we, kind of, lived and work as a young married couple, and throw ourselves to the world?”
And so, in 2009 I moved to Los Angeles. The end of the previous conversation was, Sim says to me…she says, “What do you think?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m in. Like, where do you want to go?” And she goes, “Where do you want to go?” I go, “No, no. I asked you first.” And she said, like, “On the count of three, you say where you want to go, I’ll say where I want to go.”
So, “One, two, three,” she said LA, and I said Los Angeles. So, in 2009…April 22, 2009, I got on a flight a week ahead of Sim, because she was flying a week later with the dogs, and basically found an apartment, set us up, and we lived…in the early days we lived in Venice Beach, and then we moved to Brentwood, which is infamous for O.
We spent a year in Beverly Hills, sounds really exotic and really great. It was actually in an apartment, not in the hill, but on the flats in Beverly Hills. And then, we ended up going back to Brentwood the last four years, ended up staying eight and a half years in Los Angeles. Were supposed to be there for two, we ended up staying eight and a half.
We’ve been back a year and just shy of a year and a half now, and I absolutely love Melbourne. I love the people, but, my God, I miss Los Angeles, and the people, and the network, and the friends that I have over there.
Nathan: Yeah. That’s crazy, man. So, I’m curious because I really want to talk about CreativeCubes and everything you’re up to here now you’re back in Melbourne, but I want to go a little bit deeper on Pet Loo and everything few and far between. So, predominantly, was it an online business or you sold to distributors, or…?
Tobi: So, it started off as a really traditional business. We would manufacture products at plants, package them up, and then sell them through retail and distribution, both domestically and globally. So, distributors would be buying product by the container load, and then selling it through their distribution networks, and that was really, really, really strong business.
E-commerce wasn’t really strong in 2003 when I first started and, sort of like, the threat to retailers of starting your own e-commerce business after you…you know, 100% of your revenue was generated through retail and distribution, sort of, the becoming of e-commerce was a threat to some of these retailers.
Like, if you sell direct, we’re going to discontinue you. So, I never really got to a great e-commerce business. I had a good e-commerce business. I did set up an e-comm business which sold directly, but it didn’t sell directly in markets that we had retail and distribution in. It sold in markets where we didn’t and, like, it was a good business but, you know, the product was a big product, so shipping was quite expensive.
And so, really, I was kind of stuck. I really had these aspirations of running this awesome e-comm pet business, but the reality was, like, because I had 100% of my income, or call it 99% of my income coming through brick and mortar, you, kind of, never want to bite the hand that feeds you, and so I never set up e-comm.
I did sell through Amazon, SkyMall, [inaudible] I’ve sold through e-comm retailers, or e-tailers, but direct-to-consumer was a very, very small business for us just because, I guess, the age in which we were born and the way in which the business was set up. And the disruption of the internet for us was not something that we did direct, but it’s something that we…I mean, we sold millions of dollars through Amazon, and catalog companies, and a bunch of really cool players, but the business was very traditional.
Nathan: Yeah, got you. So, can you talk me through, like, so you started in Melbourne, you said you were manufacturing in a plant. Like, how did you go about producing that product and getting it right? Like, you obviously had the idea. Were there any other…because I don’t really know this space, like, were there any other players with this idea, or you’re…like, this product was completely new, unheard of, it was just basically like an invention?
Like, can you talk me through that?
Tobi: Yeah. So, I guess we got ourselves known in the market through the television show, “The New Inventors,” which was on the ABC back in those days.
Nathan: Yeah. Wow. So, how did you get on there? So, what happened?
Tobi: You know, it’s a really cool story. We eventually moved from a one-bedroom apartment to a two-bedroom apartment and, as part of the facade of creating a business, I had a P.O. box, because we didn’t have an office. Well, I did, but it was my spare bedroom. And so, I used to walk the dogs in the afternoons up to the P.O. box and, you know, get an ice cream or do something and check the mailbox, mostly for checks, believe it or not, which retailers would send me for a product that we had shipped them the week before, or a month before, or whatever their terms were.
And, I applied for “The New Inventors” like anyone else would, I think via their website, and I ended up getting a letter in the mail…in the P.O. box to say, “Thank you for your application. You know, we get hundreds of thousands of applications and, well, we’re enthused about your…” Is very generic. “It’ll take us several months, if at all, to come back to you.”
I’m literally, like, scrunching this piece of paper. I’m going like, “How many other thousands of people got this?” And my phone rang, in LA. “Hello.” He’s like, “Hi, this is so-and-so. I’m from ABC TV. I read your application.” I’m like, “Oh, really?” “Yeah, I got your letter.” Like, really just dismissing really, sort of, like, blase about it and they’re like, “What are you doing on Friday?”
I’m like, “It’s Wednesday.What do you mean what I’m doing on Friday?” They’re like, “We want to fly you to Sydney. We want you on our show on Friday night.It’s going to be our 99th episode.” And, we got on the show, and ended up winning the People’s Choice Award. People voted me in, I guess, much like “American Idol,” or “Australian Idol,” if that’s still relevant today, and we won.
We won the People’s Choice Award, and from there we went on to win the Australian Pet Product of the Year. And then, we won a bunch of International Design Awards, and a whole bunch of things. But, really, to answer your question, it was very inventive, it was very ground-up. So, I came up with an idea, was not really looking at sell it, was just looking to solve my own problem. The problem that I solved, people that were coming to our apartment were like, “This is incredible. You should sell it.”
I’m like, “Really?” And then, sort of, like I said, that entrepreneurial instinct just took over and I started, you know, 10 pet stores a day, five days a week for months at a time, and built it into a, you know, multi-million-dollar business over the course of a couple of years, and then grew it exponentially globally from there.
Nathan: I see. So, when you said, like, five pet stores a day, what do you mean by that?
Tobi: Literally putting the Pet Loo…do you remember these old bag trolleys back in the day, used to have these, like, bungee cord, you’d strap your suitcase or your bag to it and…?
Nathan: Oh, yeah.
Tobi: I literally had one of those. I would strap the Pet Loo to it, because this thing was, like, just under a meter by a meter, was, like, 90 centimeters by 90 centimeters, strap the Pet Loo to it and literally carted it from store to store, neighborhood to neighborhood across Melbourne.
Nathan: And you just pitch?
Tobi: Just pitch. And then, I got into a large chain, PETstock, Shane Young and David Young founded that business. I think they’ve got, you know, a couple hundred stores today, but at the time they had 12. And, I literally 12 customers, and I met Shane Young. And he was like, “Yeah, I’ll give you a go, mate,” and I literally doubled my store account from 12 to 24.
And then, not so long after that, I visited Petbarn, which is now close to 300 stores across Australia. I think they had 10 stores, and I became part of what they called Core. So, I pitched to this guy called Jim Watson, and Jim basically said, “I want to put this as part of our Core range.”
And, what that meant was, to every new store that would open, I would get X amount of units ordered and product ordered, and I’d be part of their core range. So, as they opened up 10 new stores a month, or 10 new stores every two months, I’d get 10 new customers. And then, that grew into the hundreds because my product was selling off the shelves, and they liked it, they liked me.
And, yeah, sort of, like, from there I then got into big chains like Petco, who have, you know, 2000 stores, or 1500 stores across the U.S., plus a raging e-commerce business. And then, the numbers just started to stack a lot of faster, and then I had a bit of a reputation for, you know, delivering good-quality products for a good price but, you know, I delivered on my word at every time.
So, yeah, does that, kind of, answer your question?
Nathan: Yeah, man. I’m curious…so, a couple things that I wrote down. Tell me about your pitch, like, in the early days, because, I think, one thing it’s intimidating sometimes is when you come up with a product, or you have an idea, you’ve got to be able to try sell it. Like, how did you pitch? When you said you walked to store by store, like you did five stores a day, what did that look like?
Like, anything that people can learn?
Tobi: There was nothing magical about it and, to be honest with you, my first pitch, I think I cut my finger opening, like, one of the…like, edge of the Loo. Like, I cut my finger open. But, every store that I visited, my pitch became refined, refined, refined because the person that I was seeing at 9:00 a.m. was a different person at the 10 a.m., which was different person at the 11:30.
And so, the conversations that I had between 9:00 and 10:00 helped shift and change the pitch between 10:00 and 11:00, and so on and so forth. But, the reality of how I went is I sold the product based on value. I never sold product…and I still don’t sell product on price. I’ve just never have. I’m, sort of, potentially allergic to price from a consumer perspective.
The reality is, in my world, I really don’t care, and obviously I don’t have unlimited funds, so I can’t be stupid about it, but I don’t care what it costs. If you’re going to make a difference and it’s going to solve a real pain point for me, like, I’ll throw everything that I’ve got at it, you know what I mean? So, I sold on value.
I sold on convenience. I sold on, you know, being a good person. I sold on quality. I sold on everything but price. And the reality…even though my product was a 200-US-MSRP, and that’s a big number for a consumer product, the reality is that people were spending, you know, 5 to 10 times that amount per year on pee pads, which are messy, grotty, you know, bad for the environment, super-expensive over time, consumable aspect.
So, like, I was able to benchmark ourselves against that, and then started serving ads, you know, not digitally, but by print media to, like, this is how old this business is now.
Nathan: Direct mail, man, yeah.
Tobi: Yeah. I would start, say, like, you know, a pallet high of pee pads versus one little box, and then show you would spend, you know, $2,000 a year on pee pads and you can spend 200 bucks once-off with us, so like, you know, “What are you thinking?” And, sort of, like, I was able to, like, create a new category in the market, and continue to execute and create happiness, and loyal customers would refer.
And, even today…like, even today, someone…Facebook messaged me the other day going, “What type of dog do you have, and where can I get a Pet Loo from?” I’m like, “Dude, I, like, sold this company, like, eight years ago.” But, it’s amazing. It’s still going on. Probably the company is bigger and better than ever.
It’s in amazing hands with PetSafe, you know, a real large conglomerate for, you know, pet product manufacturing, and it still exists. And, my daughter, Maddie…her name is Madison, she’s six, she thinks I’m famous because I’m on the back of the box still, and I still look like I’m…- Oh, wow.
Yeah, I still look like I’m 28, or 23 when I first started the company. So, she thinks I’m famous in that regard. And, when you ask her…I’m like, “Why do you think I’m famous?” She goes, “Well, you’re on the back of Pet Loo.You’re on the back of the box of every Pet Loo, and that’s sold all over the world, so everyone knows who you are.” I’m like, “Yeah. I, kind of, wish that was a reality, but it’s not.”
Nathan: Well, that’s crazy, man. So, few more questions before we switch gears, I really want to talk about CreativeCubes, and how that all came about, and Orangetheory, and things you got going on there. But, how much do you know on how much to give retailers? Like, if someone right now is selling a physical product, what’s your recommended, kind of, percentage-wise to sell to retailers versus RRP?
Tobi: So, here in Australia we’re not allowed to tell retailers what to sell for, because that’s considered price-fixing, you know, and I’m not a lawyer, so I don’t want to go too deep into that.
Nathan: Of course.
Tobi: But, you know, if I look into the U.S., you know, we have MSRP, or what they consider MAP, manufacturer’s advertised pricing, and MAP is a big thing for e-commerce. Like, you can turn off a retailer for violating MAP, manufacturer’s advertised pricing. The general rule of thumb is, sort of, like, depends who you are, but like works out like this.
Welcome to our newest podcast format, video interviews! You can expect more of this format in the coming months. Subscribe to our YouTube channel here to be notified when we publish new videos.
Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with the co-founders of Quad Lock, a mounting device to securely attach your smartphone to your bike, car, motorcycle, arm or in any situation where you need a hands-free moment. These guys are killing it with $9 million in yearly earnings in only four years!
Zero to $9m in 4 years: How Chris Peters & Rob Ward Built the Quad Lock from a Kickstarter Project - YouTube
This was a phenomenal interview, as Peters and Ward gave us 45 minutes of pure gold on how they built a strong brand reputation and high-quality product, how they manufacture their products in China, how they got started as a simple Kickstarter project, and so much more.
They also discuss brand longevity, how to become trendsetters, and how they overcame their biggest scaling challenges. If you want to learn how to build a long-lasting brand and scale your physical-products business, this is an interview you don’t want to miss!
What you need to build a physical-products brand with a strong reputation
Why Kickstarter is a good way to introduce your brand to the market, as long as you do it right
How to get started and maintain manufacturing out of China
Quad Lock’s biggest challenges around scaling, and how they have overcome them
Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg started their business as good friends on a couch, with nothing but their laptops and a healthy dose of hustle. Today, their millennial women-focused media company theSkimm serves seven million daily subscribers, employs 70 people, and boasts more than 30,000 enthusiastic brand ambassadors.
The company also just closed a round of Series C funding led by GV (formerly Google Ventures) and a group of mainly female investors—including the likes of Shonda Rhimes, Tyra Banks, and Spanx founder Sara Blakely.
Weisberg and Zakin have maintained a close friendship and strong collaboration throughout their six years in business. This dynamic forms the backbone of their company and sets the tone for daily operations, which is largely focused on supporting and empowering women.
In this interview, learn about the early days of theSkimm, the power of community and connection, and how the brand monetizes its content to build a sustainable media business.
The company publishes news that fits into the daily routines of its members, continually nodding to its mission statement of making it easier for people to live smarter, more connected lives. But if you ask us, these powerful founders are the smart ones, effectively proving the mantra, “We are all stronger when we work together.”
How and why they waited two and a half years to monetize their community of loyal followers
How they monetize their content with multiple income streams to build a sustainable, well-rounded business
Details of the Skimm’bassadors program and why it has grown so rapidly
Zakin and Weisberg’s top tips for growing a content-based business
Key Resources From Our Interview With Carly Zakin & Danielle Weisberg
Mike Michalowicz, Founder, Speaker, Author and Advisor
Mike Michalowicz appeared to have everything an entrepreneur could want—big companies and lots of revenue coming in. But things aren’t always as they seem. As Michalowicz was high on fleeting indicators of success, his businesses were leaking profits. “I got caught up in the vanity metrics…how big my business was revenue-wise and how big my business was people-wise,” Michalowicz says.
After feeling the sting of and two failed investments and losing millions, Michalowicz found himself struggling with depression—along with a realization that ignorance and arrogance were a deadly combination. Thankfully, with support from friends and a rekindling of his love of writing, Michalowicz was able to pull himself out of the ashes and rebuild his career—this time with heart and soul.
Michalowicz used writing as a way to find solutions to all of the biggest challenges he faced as a founder. His books Profit First, Pumpkin Plan, and Clockwork tackle managing cash, business growth, and automating a company, respectively. His next book will focus on how entrepreneurs can serve a greater purpose and make an impact on the world.
Listen in and get inspired as Michalowicz gets brutally honest about his own struggles, and shares years of lessons learned to empower other entrepreneurs.
The actions that led Michalowicz to lose millions and hit rock bottom
How Michalowicz found his niche and rebuilt his career after 10 failed companies
Why working too hard can signal a lack of efficiency
How to manage cash and avoid spending money you don’t have
Key Resources From Our Interview With Mike Michalowicz
Learn more about Mike and get his free articles and resources on his website
“It took me 10 years [to create my own business], because I didn’t have the courage to start. But I still had this belief that one day I would start it.”
Fortunately for Aytekin Tank and 3.7 million happy users, he ultimately did start that business—JotForm, a profitable online form builder that houses 12 million forms; integrates with Paypal, Salesforce, and Dropbox; and spans two continents.
It took Tank a decade to build that business, but he couldn’t care less. In an entrepreneurial climate where rapid growth and risk-taking are worn as badges of honor, Tank considers his slow growth the reason for his strong company culture and long-term success.
Concerned that your wariness or risk aversion hinders your ability to become an entrepreneur? Listen in and get inspired by Tank’s journey. Anything is possible if you just take the plunge and then keep moving forward—no matter the pace.
How Tank has been able to grow consistently even though he started with zero management experience
The friendly company culture Tank built and why it has become so successful
Why Tank believes his slow and steady approach to growth has led to so much success
Tank’s three steps to slow and sustainable growth
Key Resources From Our Interview With Aytekin Tank