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 kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their stories in our series From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life profile. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details—from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves—we’re not holding back.
As alums of major beauty brands including Revlon and L’Oreal, Jessica Stevenson and Jayme Jenkins saw from the inside that the beauty industry has a major plastic waste problem. “Before we even had a business plan or a product idea, we were committed to finding an innovative way to solve that problem,” Jenkins tells Create & Cultivate. “We had multiple aha moments or pivots along the way including, Why are we shipping large, heavy beauty products full of water and excess packaging around the world? Why do we need water in haircare when we’re already showering in water? We just knew there had to be a better way.”
And, as the co-founders of Everist, a zero-waste haircare brand, it’s safe to say Stevenson and Jenkins have indeed found a better way. The brand’s inaugural products, a Waterless Shampoo Concentrate and a Waterless Conditioner Concentrate, boast silicone-, sulfate-, and preservative-free formulas made without any water and 99.7% pure aluminum recyclable packaging. The brand also uses recycled packaging for shipping, opting out of any plastic packaging and shipping materials, and has partnered with Climate Neutral to offset carbon emissions.
Ahead, the co-founders tell Create & Cultivate how they launched an industry-disrupting haircare brand, including the mistakes they’ve learned from along the way.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you were doing professionally before launching Everist?
JESSICA & JAYME: We’ve both spent over a decade in the beauty industry in various roles and categories, most recently as a general manager (Jessica) and a VP of marketing (Jayme) for the beauty brands Nude by Nature and The Body Shop, respectively. Prior to that we both led marketing for some of the top brands from L’Oreal to Revlon and learned from some of the brightest minds in their fields.
Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful, and if not, what did you use to guide your business instead and why did you take that approach?
JESSICA: We did eventually when we had narrowed down the idea, but in the beginning, we cycled through dozens of different concepts and did an exploration to see if they made sense. Was it profitable? Scalable? Was it even possible to bring to market? Was it a product or service that we would personally use? It took us a while to zero in on the right idea. Once we had our winning concept we did write a thorough business plan to give our early investors confidence in our idea and approach. It served as a great starting point, but things are constantly changing in startup-land and you need to stay flexible throughout the whole process. We view our models as live working tools to strategize vs a one-time exercise.
How did you come up with the name Everist? What are some of the things you considered during the naming process?
JAYME: We wanted a brand that would be named after our customers; they are the Everist. They are the ones making small eco-conscious choices in their daily lives that together add up to a big impact. We exist to help them by making eco easier and without compromise. We also wanted a name that didn’t sound too “crunchy” but had the connotation of mindful consumption; an Everist thinks about their forever impact on their two homes: their body and our planet.
What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?
JESSICA: We had to have a chemist and a manufacturing partner to help us create the product first (which ended up being a very long process since we had such a “blue-sky” brief). We also needed to find a sustainable packaging partner. Once we made some headway on that, we got started on our incorporation, trademark, domains, social handles, and in our case, patent process.
What research did you do for the brand beforehand, and would you recommend it to other founders?
JESSICA: Coming from the industry, we did bring with us a great deal of knowledge to set a solid foundation. Although not essential, starting in a space where you already have some expertise, will give you a good head start. From there we did do a thorough competitive analysis and whitespace mapping, followed by continuous formula experimentation and business model profitability analysis to ensure our idea was viable to scale. In the end, the most important advice we can give is to always start with a large enough customer need and quickly test a bunch of solutions to find the one that best meets that need for market fit versus developing a product and trying to force-fit it to a customer.
How did you find and identify the manufacturers that you work with? What was important to you during this process, and are there any mistakes you made and learned from along the way?
JAYME: We wanted a manufacturer that was local for environmental reasons and also so we could be very involved in the process. We wanted a partner that believed in our ideas and was committed for the long run to help us bring them to life. It’s not always easy, but a strong partnership can help you move mountains.
How did you fund Everist? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend your route to other entrepreneurs?
JESSICA: We started self-funded, like many entrepreneurs, as we were solidifying our idea, but we soon realized we would need more investment for inventory, brand building and to scale quickly. We attended events and casually met as many people as we could to learn and develop relationships. During one of those events, we were lucky enough to find the right strategic partner to lead our pre-seed raise and bring on other like-minded investors who could add value and believed in our long-term vision. To us, the right strategic fit was everything, especially early on as you need to have people on board who believe in you and support all the twists and turns that will inevitably come.
Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you know what to pay yourself?
JESSICA: We don’t currently pay ourselves, but we plan to after launch. This is a personal decision based on both the founders’ and the company’s financial position and equity growth prospects. Cash flow is the company’s lifeline, so we will definitely not be taking our past corporate salaries, but enough to cover some living expenses. However, as the company grows, we do believe in founders taking a reasonable salary for their position.
How big is your team now, and what has the hiring process been like?
JESSICA: We are currently a small team of two who have embraced the gig economy and have brought on amazing freelance and vendor partners to help us scale while remaining flexible at this early stage. Most of our partners have been brought on through research and referrals. That said, we are both seasoned people managers coming from big beauty and believe in developing diverse talent for long-term success. Therefore, we look forward to growing our team soon!
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup, and are there any tools or programs you recommend for bookkeeping?
JESSICA: Since we are both business grads, we had a baseline of knowledge to build our own financial models and were able to handle our own expense reporting through QuickBooks pre-revenue. However, as we were preparing to launch, we knew we needed to bring on experts to set up a solid foundation for growth. Therefore, we hired an outsourced accounting firm that specializes in bookkeeping and controller services that scale with the needs of the business. Other systems we explored were FreshBooks, as well as inventory management through a system such as SOS Inventory or QuickBooks Commerce. Once you have sufficient scale, a fully integrated ERP platform such as Oracle NetSuite could be useful.
What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing your business?
JAYME: Everything? That’s really what’s made this experience so exciting (and at times overwhelming). We have been hands-on in every area of the business where previously we were more specialized or leading a team of specialists. Learning clean chemistry, web platforms, fundraising terms, IP law. It’s been a wild ride.
How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?
JAYME: Our first marketing investment was bringing on a great PR team. We knew that part of our uniqueness was that we had an innovative product with a great story to tell and we wanted to make sure we had help getting it out there. We’re also believers in creating a strong social community, encouraging reviews, partnering with like-minded influencers and brands, developing valuable educational content, and A/B testing digital media campaigns.
Do you have a business coach or mentor, and if so, would you recommend one to fellow entrepreneurs?
JESSICA: We don’t have a formal coach or mentor but have been fortunate to be surrounded by great industry experts, inspiring entrepreneurs, and investors who have also become valuable advisors. It is definitely helpful to have a strong support network around you for your entrepreneurial journey. If that doesn’t happen organically then there are many organizations or accelerators that you can join to connect you with a relevant mentor. However, it can take several tries to find the right mentor-mentee fit, but when you do it can add tremendous value.
What is one thing you didn’t do during the setup process that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?
JESSICA: Register your business name and international trademark early. It’s not necessarily one we didn’t do, but it’s something we hear as a stumbling block all the time. Especially for brands, you don’t want to be forced to change your name after you’ve built up awareness once you find out there is someone else already using the same name in your local market or another important international market.
For those who haven’t started a business (or are about to), what advice do you have?
JAYME: There are a million problems and to-do’s vying for your attention every day, so be laser-focused on what your priorities are and keep moving forward.
What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new business owner and why?
JESSICA: Managing your cash flow is critical. In a past side hustle, I’ve been in the situation that I had to personally finance a retailer PO when I was already deep in student debt. It quickly teaches you how real a cash flow problem can be versus numbers on a financial statement in business school. Make sure you know your burn rate and have a plan A, B, and C to extend whether through self-funding, an equity raise, or a loan. It can also be a good idea to have a working capital line of credit ready as a safety net to cover inventory costs before revenues can be collected.
If you could go back to the beginning with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give yourself and why?
JESSICA: It will take longer than you expected, so enjoy the process. When a problem arises, get the right people in a room (or virtual room) and keep asking clarifying questions to uncover the root of the problem that needs to be fixed. Then, focus all your attention on the solution as people can be very creative when they are open to new possibilities and stay positive. The end result might look different, but often better if you’re open to it.
Anything else to add?
JESSICA: There are always going to be reasons and risks that can feel like now’s not the right time, but if you’re passionate about your idea—you just have to jump in. Best to ensure you have a solid support system around you and then be as flexible as possible to learn and pivot as you go.