How to Launch a Skincare Line From the Ground Up

October 29, 2019
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We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kickstart the process (and ease some of those first-time founder nerves) we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their story in our new series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life. We’re getting down to the nitty gritty from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves, we’re not holding back. If you want to know how to start a business, you’ve come to the right place.

Why do good wellness products always seem to hurt your wallet? Madison Ruggieri has a very simple answer to this question: they shouldn’t. Frustrated by the lack of choice in the skincare aisle that felt luxurious and affordable, Ruggieri decided to do something disruptive and start her own. She joined forces with her brother Matt to launch a luxury men’s grooming e-tailer called TheMotley.com and a dedicated men’s skincare line, Port Products available in Nordstrom, Neimans, and Lord & Taylor.

Through working in men’s grooming for the past decade, they became aware of how unnecessarily marked up skincare aimed at women can be. Because of their backgrounds, the duo was able to produce quality products that were more affordable than those sold by their beauty competitors. And so the idea for Onekind was born—luxurious skincare made accessible for all.

Today, Ruggieri sits down with us to share her words of wisdom that can only be gained from years in the world of business. From talking about how to stand out in a saturated industry, to the importance of teamwork, to the most difficult parts of building your own brand (the name being one of them.) You’re not going to want to skip out on this segment of From Scratch.

Did you write a business plan? If yes, was it helpful?

“We did put together an informal business plan with a plan for growth and revenue projections. Our projections were based on our previous experience running a men’s grooming brand, and it’s been helpful to have some kind of framework on which to establish goals.”

How did you come up with the name? What was the process like?

“Coming up with the brand name was one of the absolute most difficult parts of developing the brand. We had product formulas finished before we had a brand name. We wanted a name that would feel inclusive and that we could take in whichever direction the brand might eventually grow into. We also wanted a name that expressed our values without being cheesy.

“We spent weeks shooting ideas back and forth around the office. We even went to a naming expert. We had a few false starts and then would check trademarks or social to find those names were taken already or would be confusing to the consumer. Onekind ended up being absolutely perfect. It checked all of our boxes and I love that it brings to mind both “one of a kind” and “humankind”. It’s really important to me that the brand feels, first and foremost, human and honest.”

What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?

“While trying to come up with a brand name, we were constantly checking to make sure the name would be available across all the necessary channels from the website domain to social. Once we had the name Onekind, we just hit the ground running to secure a website domain, social accounts, file for a trademark, etc.”

What research did you do for the brand beforehand? Why would you recommend it?

“My brother Matt and I have been running a men’s grooming brand for the last 10 years so we had plenty of experience with all of the steps needed to launch Onekind. We already had experience with sourcing, product development, marketing, etc. We also know how important it is to speak with your customers and ask them what they actually want you to make. That’s why prior to any development, I surveyed a few hundred people on their skincare routines. I was specifically interested in hearing what types of products they were currently spending the most money on and which ingredients they were looking for in those products.

“It became very clear that anti-aging and targeted treatments (specifically night cream, serums, eye cream, etc) were where people were splurging the most, and we decided to tackle bringing consumers those products at a much more affordable price point first. I highly recommend doing some market research, both reading up on industry reports and just talking to as many people in your customer demographic, before investing in production. You may think you know what consumers are looking for, but you really don’t know until you ask.”

How did you find the manufacturer/production facility that you use?

“For Onekind, we knew exactly who our all-star team of manufacturers would be because we’ve been developing products for our men’s brands for a decade. When we first delved into product development years ago, we reached out to tons of local Los Angeles labs only to be turned away because we were too small. We finally found a few willing to work with us at a low minimum, and we’ve built those relationships over the years. We’ve learned how important it is to educate yourself on raw materials, packaging, testing, all the elements that go into production and then always ask your manufacturers the details: What exactly does this ingredient add? Do we really need it?

“We’ve found that a lot of ingredients are added to formulas in minuscule amounts just so a brand can make a label claim, and it was important to us with Onekind to only include ingredients that actually provide efficacy. If the only purpose is hype, we take it out of the formula. My advice when looking for a trustworthy manufacturer is to ask around. If you know other brands who have a non-competing customer demographic or focus, ask them who they’ve worked with. It also can be worth hiring a development consultant because they know the ins and outs of the industry, can open doors and will likely end up saving you a ton of money and mistakes in the long run.”

Did you self-fund the company? Did you raise seed money or initial investment money?

“We are currently self-funded, although we will likely raise money in the near future. There are definite pros and cons to both approaches. By being self-funded for so long, we’ve been forced to do everything in the most efficient way possible which is definitely a skill set. It also has allowed us to learn without being beholden to anyone else. On the flip side, there’s only so much you can do on a tight budget. There have been opportunities that we’ve had to pass up because we haven’t had the bandwidth to pursue them.”

How much did you pay yourself? How did you know what to pay yourself?

“I’m currently not paying myself as we’ve just launched Onekind. For a while, everything will be reinvested into the business.”

How big is your team now? What has the hiring process like? Did you have hiring experience? If not, how did you learn and what have you learned about it along the way?

“Our team is still really small. We’re a total of five on a daily basis. I didn’t have prior experience hiring or managing people, and it’s definitely a learning curve. It takes a lot of practice to be a good leader and to know who’s actually going to be the right fit for your team. We’ve learned by doing, and we’re still learning. One thing I think is really important when hiring is making sure you give the person you’re looking to bring on an honest look at what working with you will be like.

“It’s so easy to want to make the job sound super fun and glamorous, but you really shouldn’t shy away from sharing the down and dirty. Startup life isn’t for everyone. It’s a lot of work, and everyone wears multiple hats. You want anyone you hire to know exactly what they’re signing up for and still be excited about it.”

Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and set up?

“My brother and business partner Matt handle our accounting. If you’re not accounting savvy, which I’m definitely not, I’d recommend definitely bringing on someone who is.”

What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing a business?

“Starting a business is in itself a huge learning curve. I’d say the most challenging aspects for me have been those things that you probably would learn if you went to business school—corporate structure, fundraising, etc.”

How did you get retailers to start stocking your product? Were you told no?

F”or Onekind, our focus is actually direct-to-consumer so we aren’t looking for retail partners. Our only retail partner at launch is Heyday and that’s because we’ve had a long relationship with them. Their staff is extremely knowledgeable about product, and we wanted one trusted place for people to be able to try Onekind in person.”

Do you have a business coach or mentor?

“I don’t have a coach or mentor but I do have a network of founder friends who I can go to with questions. One thing I’ve learned along the way is how important it is to have those people who you can go to for advice, feedback or just to commiserate with. I’m lucky to have my brother as a business partner, but running a business can be really lonely and you’re constantly just trying to figure things out, so having other people who know what you’re going through and can maybe offer their support is key.”

How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?

“We’re doing a lot of gifting to micro-influencers, particularly other female founders, and we’re also hosting a few events in Los Angeles to create some buzz and get people excited about the launch. Advertising will be a big component of how we promote the brand, and we are also working with a great PR agency to help get press for Onekind.

“It’s a lot to focus on, but I think it’s important to try to get in front of people from multiple angles because if they hear about you once, they just forget. You need them to see your brand over and over to the point where they think, “I keep hearing about this new brand. I should really check them out.”

What is one thing you didn’t do in the setup process, that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?

“It’s too early to tell because we’ve just launched but check-in with me in a year. I’m sure I’ll have some mistakes to report then.”

For those who haven’t started a business (or are about to) what advice do you have?

“Make sure you’re really ready to do a massive amount of work and know you’re probably going to make a bunch of mistakes. It’s just part of the process.”

Read more from small business founders and how they launched their brand from the ground up in our From Scratch series.

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