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Hailey Bieber, a deadstock money mistake & $100,000+ formulas with MARA Beauty’s Allison McNamara (part 1)

by Female Startup Club
March 7th 2022

Today on the show we’re learning from Allison, the founder behind Mara Beauty. 

A lifelong beauty and wellness enthusiast, Allison has always had a passion for beauty and drummed up the idea ... More

are you on the lookout for a new podcast? To listen to being boss by Emily Thompson is brought to you by the hubspot podcast network and something I love about this show is getting the chance to support my community of fellow creators and business owners. Being boss is an exploration of not only what it takes, but what it means to be a boss as a creative business owner, freelancer or side hustler and I know it's going to resonate with so many of you who are listening in. So if you like female startup club, trust me, you're going to love being boss. This is Alison McNamara for female startup club mm hmm. Hey everyone welcome back to the show. It's Dune here, your host and hype girl today on the show, we're learning from Allison, the founder behind mara beauty, a lifelong beauty and wellness enthusiast. Allison has always had a passion for beauty and drummed up the idea for her clean algae based skin care line mara on a trip to Istanbul growing up with her father working in skincare and cosmetics, she's had a robust knowledge of ingredients dating back to middle school and spent her weekends on commercial sets, learning about brand marketing and formulation.

In this episode. We cover her journey in creating the brand along with some mishaps that she's had along the way. The time when Haley freaking Bieber bought her product and spoke about it on Youtube and a painful money mistake she made early on now before we get into it. A total side note here, I have been having so much fun over on Tiktok creating quick business breakdowns and money mistakes. If you've got a money mistake, you want to share with us. Check out the format at Dune rasheen, which is D double O N E R O I S I N on Tiktok and slide into my DM with the dates. I'm gonna be choosing a handful of favorites to create videos out of over the coming weeks and I think you can't slide necessarily straight into D M S on Tiktok. So feel free to slide into my instagram. DM maybe that's easier. Let's get into this episode. This is Alison for female startup club. If your marketing and e commerce brand, you already know that data changes everything more data means more power.

And if your email or SMS tools can't handle all that data, they're probably holding you back and that's where Clay Vo comes in. It's top notch personalization and segmentation help you send the right message at the right time, guided by unlimited real time data from your online store and tech stack, request a demo at Clay vo dot com. That's K L A V I Y O dot com email startup Allison, Hi, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be here I'm so excited to have you here to. I'd love to get started by getting you to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your brand and the ethos behind it. So my name is Alison McNamara and I'm the founder of mara, which is an algae based clean skincare line. I launched it in 2018 with just one hero product, the Universal Face Oil. And every product that we created centered around this proprietary wild collected algae blend.

We spent two years clinically developing it. So it's clinically tested too plump, firm smooth. We use two types of malaria escalon to extract from Brittany France and Ireland and a micro algae. And so this is really like the secret sauce in all of our different products. And so I've grown the line from the one product to now include six full size skincare products, lots of travels and minis and some supplements and more on the way. Oh, it sounds so good. I love anything algae related like Spirulina. I'm like, this sounds like health, health and wellness, Health and wellness, it sounds like health. I know you started developing the brand quite some time before you launched in 2018, I think I read circa 2015, where do you like to kind of start your entrepreneurial story with this brand? Well, honestly, I think my entrepreneurial story started when I was a television host because even though I did work for brands really when you are the product, when you're selling yourself as the product, you have to become an entrepreneur pretty early on. You know, I didn't always have a full time job.

I started out doing a lot of freelance work. So I think that was always kind of built in me in a way. But my journey started in 2015 for mara when I thought of the idea on a trip and you know, I didn't know if anything was going to come from it, but I, I planted all the right seeds and did all the right exercises and then I'm so excited that it actually did come to fruition. Where were you? And what gave you the idea? Like what's the lightbulb moment for you? I was on a trip to Istanbul Turkey. We also went to Greece and I've always been really obsessed with the mediterranean. And so I thought of the idea Mara on the sea of Marmara in Istanbul Turkey and mara is also the last four letters of my last name. So I'm like Mara, that's perfect. It's like my name, but also means sea and Gaelic and it pays homage to my irish heritage. So I thought basically if I could get the name mara trademarked, if it wasn't already in use, that would be a sign to kind of go forward with the business. And we were able to get it. So I took that as like my little sign, not that you need one, but that was my, I kind of took that as my, you know, omen to try and put more direction into this versus hosting and then all of the color palettes are really inspired by my travels.

I love just traveling like Italy and Greece and my hometown of Palace Birds all really play into the aesthetics of mara amazing. And so in that like kind of three years from when you have the idea in Istanbul to, you know, when you're on the trip to Istanbul and you know, actually launching in 2018, what are the key kind of milestones that you like took to bring the brand to life and develop the products, hero product rather than the hero product. There were so many small steps that really kind of led to the launch right? Like you don't realize you're doing these small steps and you don't realize that they're so important until you have some hindsight under your belt. But I think really just learning as much as I could. I went to so many different, I call them ingredient festivals, but I'm sure anyone in the beauty industry would like cringe if they heard that I went to know they're like cosmo Prof, all of those like makeup L. A. Where you go and they're basically booths and there's everyone from manufacturers and ingredient raw materials to packaging.

So I called the ingredient festivals. But I went to all of the ones that were in close proximity to me. So luckily being in Los Angeles, we have a lot of them, you know, cosmo Prof is in las Vegas and they have makeup L. A. And there's a scientist convention here of ingredients in Long Beach. So I did all of that in the years leading up to the launch, I met with lots of different manufacturers and formulate ear's and I really found one who I thought specialized in what I was trying to create and also really understood the vision. So picking the right partner for your formulation, if you're not a scientist is super important and you also have to make the decisions if you want to own the formula or if you want to do more of like a white label manufacturer where you go to a manufacturer and you create a product but you don't necessarily own it, you don't know exactly what's going into it. You have the pinky list but you don't know all the suppliers and the raw materials. So yeah, if you don't own it just to cut in here for a second, if you don't own the formula, how does it work if you sell the business down the track, you know, you basically have an agreement with these manufacturers but they're not really permanent.

So I've had friends who have had actually are going through issues where you know, they're manufacturer took on a really big client and they no longer can have time or make the quantities for, you know the smaller brand and since that manufacturer owns a formula, you basically have two backwards formulate, which is really hard. Oh my God, that's crazy. So in that scenario, like is it really because I obviously don't come from the beauty world, so I'm just trying to understand here if you go into like building a brand, but you don't necessarily know that you need to own the formula or not need to own the formula. Is it made clear to you that you can buy the formula in the beginning or is it kind of like a gray area? It's only if you bring it up. Not really, because most people go straight to manufacturers to work on products and most manufacturers don't sell their formulas because they'll use like a tried and true based formula and then add in your marketing components. Um I went to an independent formulate er and had to like pay a ton for our formulas and then I had to find a contract manufacturer to scale up the formula that we've created, so they're very separate, so it's more work.

Got it. Okay, I understand. Now, are you able to share, like, you know, ballpark what you spent to like develop those formulas versus what it would cost if you just went to like, you know, off the shelf product? Well like white labeling a product. Yeah, so we we got a bulk deal for our formulas I created, I think five of them in the first package, you know, that was kind of what we built together and it was over $100,000 just to make the formulas without having anything. So no no actual product that's just no blanket that's like a piece of paper with you know how to make it and the raw materials. Okay so R. And D. Is expensive in the beauty world. Got it. Okay. Yeah but I've also done, I'm working on something with a manufacturer and my R. And D. Costs were between $502,000 for the one product. Right? So it can vary drastically much cheaper though if you're thinking about a five products cost you over 100,000 that's on average about 25,000 and Formula it's a lot more than 500 to 2000.

So got it. Okay so in that early time you've obviously formulated in those first few years you've formulated the brand, you've you've invested that amount of capital. How much do you then need to invest to actually buy into product for your launch product and launch the brand. This is so different now than it was when I launched my brand. So I almost feel like I can't speak eloquently on it because in 20 I started ordering my components in 2016 2017. And at the time people were still really keen to work with indie brands and I felt that the M. O. Q. S. Weren't quite as high. The minimum order quantities. So what I did is I actually purchased dead stock materials which ended up being the kind of core color way for my brand? I found these blue bottles that were just here in Los Angeles that some other beauty brand had purchased and no longer wanted. So they're just they're called dead Stock. And so so clever. It doesn't happen for everyone. I actually looked at several different houses that had dead stock or things that people had printed on that they rejected that I could easily just you know, remove the printing from.

And so I found those so I was able to buy very small quantities. They let me by I think like 5000 units or even 3500 units for my first order, which is like unheard of usually an M. O. Q. Is minimum 10,000 if you're going for somewhere in china 20,000 plus units. So I didn't have to invest as much capital into my components even though they're very expensive components. It was definitely a way that I was able to save money but I'm not sure like with supply chain issues in 2022 I doubt there's dead stock anywhere. Everyone is just trying to like get stuff wherever they can. So it's a lot different now, that's so interesting. I've literally never heard of that when you say like these houses where you would go and find the product, is it like how do people research these? Like how would other people that are like listening being like wow I'd love to see if there's anything out there, what would they do to find those? So you go to those different raw materials ingredient festivals, if you will that I mentioned cosmo Prof, any of the ones that make up L.

A. They have them all around the world and like there's one in Italy, that's the biggest Cosmo Prof but that's where you can find, you can see different suppliers from different parts of the world and if you know you want to maybe cut some costs then maybe you do a chinese based brand for your glass but maybe if you want to go a little bit more luxe you go for like a Taiwan or Korea glass and you kind of see the different suppliers there from where they're from and you can learn a little bit more about their minimum order quantities. We just so happen to be in Los Angeles and there are a lot of different manufacturers based here, so we're kind of lucky so I was able to go and physically see things I got it, That's so cool, I've never heard of that, love that great tip, I want to talk about, you know, your kind of leading up to the launch and bringing this brand into the world, you obviously come from a beauty background, you've worked for amazing publications, you were a reporter and you had a lot of connections, you have an industry connection kind of black book, I guess you would say. So you're in this really great position to be able to launch with a lot of coverage for anyone listening who is like wanting to get pr coverage and kind of doesn't have those connections.

What was it about? Like when people were pitching you when you were working in the industry, what stood out for you or like what would get you excited about a new brand and what's your kind of advice to small business owners who were in that position? Your brand has to be beautiful and stand out in a press release because at the end of the day, you know, if you're a publicist you're just getting or if you're an editor, you're getting hit with all these different Pr requests every day, these different blasts. And so things that were beautiful, always stood out to me when I was getting sent all those blasts, which actually, I still get a lot of blasts and it's funny to see the ones that I open versus the ones that I don't even open, it just delete because honestly, I'm not in that world anymore either, but I think, you know, having a beautiful brand, having a really strong founder story, having a really strong point of view when it comes to what you're trying to deliver. And I think that mars messaging was very clear early on and we also only had one product, so it was really easy for the customer to understand or the publicist or the writer to understand. So it made the whole thing really easy to pitch because it was one product, it did it all, it was super hydrating, it was in the clean space, which was new and innovative at the time.

And so I think that was what really stuck out to people early on. And it was also this new concept of launching less, you know, back in the day, even in 2018 when I launched, people were still launching full lines, you know, like seven plus products and I was like, here's one product and a few other brands in the space also had the same idea and I think we kind of started this new wave of like a less is more approach to beauty. And do you think when people are sending those, you know, blasts and emails, is it 100% necessary to send, you know, the pr package and the samples to the editor or is an email going to cut through? I think it's really important to get product in people's hands because where our product, yes, it looks gorgeous in photos and it reads well on a screen, but I think where it does the most is when you get to see it feel it, you feel the weightiness of the product, you see the details on the box and then you get to experience the formulas and they're amazing. We obviously worked really hard on them. So it's always my goal that even if someone is hesitant about the brand for some reason as long as I can get it in their hands, I know I can convert them to be a fan.

Got it, got it, let's talk about the launch. How did it go? What did you do besides like obviously the P. R. P. S. What else was going on in the background to bring this into the world? Literally nothing I look back and I'm like wow that was crazy that we did it that way. So I was just, we basically operated the business out of my house which I'm currently sitting in and we stored the product down in my guest house and we actually had the pallet truck, you know trucks come on pallets, you know all the product is on one large palette, we had them roll it down my driveway which is steep because I live in the Hollywood hills and the palette actually landed on my foot. I didn't break my foot luckily but it was like a £3,000 pallet. And so that was also, thank God it didn't break. Oh I know it was, it was honestly like I have ptsd from that that day when it arrived but I guess launch day rolled around. We had um we didn't send out any of the press product until the soft launch date which was february 19th.

So our fourth birthday is coming up in just a few days, but nothing. I literally put press live on the website and was like, okay, I wonder if people are going to come and they did, you know, we we had we had some sales our first day, we had a good amount of sales. Our first day, we didn't partner with a retail partner for the launch. So it really was just my reach and my contacts that got the business started. And then, so like what are those early months, like trying to get the ball rolling and what's happening, like, can you fill us in a little bit of, you know, trying to get that traction in those early days. Well, kind of like you mentioned before, I did work in the industry, so I had a lot of great contacts that were really excited to try the product and a lot of people, even though I didn't always work in the beauty space, I did a lot of fashion and beauty. I was always asked about my skin, I grew up with my family working in skincare, people would always ask me for what I'm using to keep my skin clear and healthy. So people were really intrigued people that I didn't even think would be intrigued from my, you know, that I had met in passing big bloggers, huge editors.

A lot of people were reaching out about this product and so I was very lucky to get a lot of buzz early on. And so we launched in february and then by May we were at Credo Beauty which is like one of my, my favorite store. Honestly, it's where I shop for beauty products. They have been the most incredible partner. They believed in the brand so early on and they were really excited about mara and so that was like our first big moments. Within the first three months, we were already at a pretty major distribution in the US. And then after that we locked in cult beauty which is an international, I'm sure you know, because you're a London based but cold Beauty is based in London and that's really big for a US brand to be able to have this international distribution at such an early stage in the business. So they were incredible too. And so it was a busy six months. It's, it has always has gotten busier every single month. So I love that for you. Yeah, if you're on the lookout for ways to make your business sail smoothly from one quarter to the next look. No further hubspot helps your business get shipshape with an easy to use crm platform that aligns your business and delivers a seamless experience for your customers.

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How do you approach them and how are you getting stopped into those places? So credo was word of mouth. I had reached out to the buying person at the time through a generic email that I had found, but I believe we were seen by the buyer on a big makeup artist instagram and she had shared it and I got really, they didn't respond to my pitch email, but I got a separate email being like, we saw you on. So, and so's instagram, we'd love to call on the product and so that was really big for us there. And then Cold Beauty, I got introduced to the buying director through um, a friend. And so that was how I kind of got my edge in there. So again, it's kind of like, it really is networking and who, you know, but I will say I have gotten into retailers through blind emails as well. Like Blue Mercury is one of them repeatedly emailed them for a long time and we launched with them in? I want to say I didn't, I'm not overly annoying. Like I'll send one and then I'll wait like three or four months.

I'll send, I only send when I have updates. I'm not like sending things just to send things. But Blue Mercury probably emailed them for like about a year before we got into their store. So yeah, I mean that's, I mean that's pretty substantial. That's a long, that's a long hustle. I love that for you when you look back, You know from those early months to now. What are the kind of key milestones that have moved you forward and propelled the business forward, whether it's like a positive milestone or like a really big challenge that like, made you pivot or whatever it might be. What are the kind of key moments since then? Yeah, that's a great question. I think the big ones were with supply chain issues that I had early on before Covid, you know, really making sure we, we had these amazing viral moments where the product would sell out, but when you only have one product, you don't have anything to sell if you sell out, so like, you have to make sure you have something to sell. Whereas when you have more products now, like I do, it's a little less stressful if we sell out of one skew because we probably have a smaller size or other things that people can still shop.

So I think that having that one skew early on taught me the importance of always being really on my supply chain and making sure I had, I was doing the proper forecasting in the proper order volumes to make sure we're meeting up with demand. And that is hard when you sign on a new retailer and you kind of go through what the predictions will be. Sometimes you blow them out of the water and sometimes you don't, but if you do blow them out of the water, you want to make sure that you have at least a way to continue feeding that customer at this new retailer. So I think that was really big for me and I went through some stuff in 2019 actually before Covid, so that I think really prepared me for this new phase of our lives where everything takes like a half of a year minimum to get in. It's true. Um and so that was big. And then I think the other things that have really propelled the brand are like the amazing celebrities, like true celebrities who have organically shared the brand, it's so cool when a huge public figure has the confidence to share, like a small indie brand and it's not only just pushing major brands, they're getting paid for, but also or the brands that they, you know, own or their friend zone, but you know, push a small indie brand, it changes our businesses.

So that's been really cool for us. Well, please name job, who are we talking about and how did they get hold of the brand or how do they know about it? You know, a lot. I'm so honored honestly to even have a list like this, but you know, Hailey Bieber was the most recent huge person the front door. I'm obsessed with Hailey Bieber, I mean obsessed, I mean, totally obsessed. So she mentioned Maheras Cleansing oil in a Youtube video last year and we've honestly, it's still been viral since then, like people were still getting press it on this story just because Hailey Bieber is so trendy and gen z and they married to Justin. So like, honestly perfect skin too, couldn't have asked for like, I mean perfect skin wow yeah, a more amazing spokesmodel and for her, she um, she actually bought the cleanser off of our website, which we did not realize because she used a different name than her last name. Like I'm sure a lot of celebrities do, but she did purchase the cleanser, but she knew about the brand because my fiance has colored her hair in the past.

My fiance is a hair colorist and so that's how she kind of was introduced to the brand I think. But yes, the cleanser was purchased, which was very exciting and then I guess some other people, I mean Addison Rae has tagged us Olivia munn has tagged us chrissy Teagan rosie Huntington Whiteley, we've had some really amazing people share or mention the brand. So oh my God, I love that for you. When you say like someone like, we'll just say Hailey Bieber because she's obviously like who we just spoke about when she does the Youtube video, are you able to share? Like what the kind of impact is? Like how many units does a celebrity like that actually like generate. We don't have exact numbers to share on this honestly, because it is a lot of them are more like a trickle effect, you know? Yes, she mentioned it in the youtube video and she did link to the brand, but she didn't actually say the name in the video. So where we got the most substantial, I think click back to the site would be from the press that we received as the aftermath. You know, Hailey Bieber shares her entire nighttime skincare routine and gets picked up by every major outlet and that's where the attribution comes from, even though I know it's directly related to Haley, so it is hard to kind of see and sometimes those attributions take longer, you know, someone sees it once, they see it twice and then a month later they buy the cleanser.

But it's, you know, we definitely sold out of the product within a few days when that happened. So it definitely moved volume for us and it still continues to do. So that is so cool When you think about now, like, you know, coming into 2022 and you're thinking about growth, what is working for you and what's your kind of like overall plan. So I know what's not working for us. How about that? Yes, it's not working. We have had and I'm sure lots of brands if they're listening will have the same thing. We've had a really hard time with our digital marketing since the IOS update last june and when you are a small brand and those marketing dollars really means something to you, you have to kind of go with what's working. So we ended up letting go of our digital marketing agency last month and we are going to just kind of restructure how we do our digital marketing and media buys. It's so hard. I think actually investing in things like podcasts like run, you know, is probably an easier and better and more effective way to actually reach the kind of consumer that we want to reach versus sending these ads out until God knows who's seeing them or not seeing them.

You mean like ads on podcasts? Yeah, I've been listening to a lot of great ads on podcasts. Um, A lot of my friends are also our podcasters, so when I'm listening to them, I'll hear like brands and I think that's so cool that they are doing that. So I think podcast ads, I think Tiktok ads, I just think like stepping away from the traditional, like dump all your marketing buys into instagram facebook because they have not been performing at least for us. And so that's something we're really focusing on this year is how to re engage with our digital customer because we're digitally native brand. And so we really want to make sure that we are having access to our person and being able to serve them the things that they want to see. So that is what's not working for us. And I guess what's working for us. I don't know, we're having a lot of fun with Tiktok, we don't have a ton of followers, but we get some really great viral hits that we find just to be so fun and the whole team enjoys doing them. So that's something we're focusing on and we've got some really exciting launches for this year. Products are at the core of mara, great formulas, great products, so exciting launches, anything you want to tease out there, any upcoming in a few months.

We are very secret about our lunches. Okay. We are, we don't talk about them, they're embargoed until the day they come out. So we're, we're one of the, I know I'm excited for you though. That sounds so cool. Yeah. What is the best and worst advice you've ever received in business? Oh, that's a tough one because there's so much bad advice that you receive. Um, you know, I just think like it's not one particular thing. I just think it's listening to too many people's opinions, right? Everyone's going to have an opinion on how you should be doing things and what you should be doing or what you should be doing differently. Your retailers, if you're in the product based business are also going to have a say and what you do and what they think you should do, and I think you should listen to all these different people, but also like keep your vision to the brand. And then I think the best piece of advice was from my dad that said, don't listen to all the advice you're getting kind of the same is that the advice that you like to pass on to other entrepreneurs or do you have something else that you like to share?

I share that pretty often. And also I think it's important to, I think people kind of glamorize this idea of getting big investments from, you know, you know, a big amount of money from another, you know, an investment banker or um you know, a big growth partner, which is a huge accomplishment, don't get me wrong, but I think there is power in being scrappy and self funded because you do control the business and so that's something I oscillate between mara has not taken any outside investment. So, um yeah, do you think you will take investment in the future? Obviously, given that, you know, building a CPG brand requires so much working capital to kind of keep that growth going. I do think at some point we will take investment, but I'm not sure when that will be got it. Cool, thank you so much for sharing that advice. Thanks for listening to this amazing episode. We are testing out something new here for the next while and we're splitting up each episode into two parts, the main interview part and then the six quick questions part to make them easier to listen to.

So that's part one. Done, tune into part two, to hear the six quick questions. Hey, it's doom here. Thanks for listening to this episode of the female startup club podcast, if you're a fan of the show, I'd recommend checking out female startup club dot com where you can subscribe to our newsletter and learn more about our D I. Y. Course. The ads, N B A. I also truly appreciate each and every review that comes our way. It might seem like such a small thing, but reviews help other heirs find us. So please do jump on and subscribe, rate and review the show. And finally, if you know someone who would benefit from hearing these inspiring stories, please do share it with them and empower the women in your network. See you soon. Okay. Mm hmm, mm hmm.

Hailey Bieber, a deadstock money mistake & $100,000+ formulas with MARA Beauty’s Allison McNamara (part 1)
Hailey Bieber, a deadstock money mistake & $100,000+ formulas with MARA Beauty’s Allison McNamara (part 1)
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