What It Takes To Launch An Organic Beauty Brand
Wanting a cleaner beauty routine after giving birth to her child, pharmacist Lily Rostami set out to make her own and share with friends. What served as a personal need turned out to help others too. The Selfmade alum and Office Depot OfficeMax scholarship winner shares how she turned homemade beauty formulas into a thriving business by listening to customer feedback and marketing her brand.
B + C: What motivated you to start Dr. Lily Ros Organics? What problem are you trying to solve for your customers?
Lily: When I was pregnant, my baby had a special problem that the doctors couldn't diagnose. But as a pharmacist I knew that some chemicals like corticosteroids can cause or exacerbate the problem. Since most ingredients in beauty products, including lots of natural ingredients, have not been studied enough to see their effect on the fetus, I decided to avoid most chemicals. Unfortunately, even natural products contain some herbal extracts and ingredients where safety is questionable. So, I started making my own skincare and makeup products based on my expertise for compounding and topical medication formulation.
Natural, clean, organics doesn't necessarily mean safe. In addition, there is not a defined standard for clean and natural products. At Dr. Lily Ros Organics we help health-conscious women and expecting and nursing moms to feel safe while enjoying the skin they always wanted. How:
- We have banned +2500 ingredients from our formulations, including all synthetic chemical and even some natural ingredients where their safety is questionable.
- All of our formulas are pharmaceutical-driven. The skincare products are inspired by topical medication formulas to ensure absorption and results.
B + C: How has the company evolved since your initial "aha" moment?
Lily: At the beginning I sent my products to my friends who were super aware of their health or were pregnant. They saw huge improvements in their skin conditions and encouraged me to think about it as a business. So, I started to build a website with no experience, ordering packaging and supplies with low minimum quantity, and marketing for my brand without a clue!
As the time went by, I've learned a lot about branding and marketing. I have changed some of my formulas based on my customers' feedback for different times to reach the formulations that meet my customers' expectations. And I think paying attention to the customers' feedback helped me hugely to have the products that my customers rave about. When I compare the website and the copywriting that I had at the beginning, I get embarrassed. My website still needs improvement and I'm working on it. You will see a transformation in our website in a few months.
B + C: What startup challenges have you faced along the way?
Lily: There were two big challenges for me as a startup:
- Having no experience and background for business and marketing. I thought if you have a great product it will sell itself. It was a huge mistake. During the past three years I've been learning about business, branding, marketing... every single day. At the beginning it was challenging for me to learn something totally new. But now I'm passionate about learning business.
- I wanted to have my customized packaging. It was really hard to find suppliers that customize packaging with very low minimum order. It was the same to order some ingredients as well. I had to order 50lbs of only one ingredient and I didn't have enough space to stock them. Most of the ingredients had expiration date, so I didn't know if I would finish them before the expiration date. I had to negotiate with suppliers without having any negotiation experience. I did it all intuitively and thank God that it worked.
B + C: What would you say are your top successes so far?
Lily: My products. It took me five years to optimize my formulations. Every ingredient has a unique origin to ensure that they are grown in the best environment to have the highest quality and efficacy. The dosage rate of every single ingredient is a complex calculation to ensure penetration and results on your skin. Also, having decent knowledge about branding and marketing. I can lecture about them for a couple of hours now! Lol. Finally, knowing my customer's persona. It took me a long way to have the ability to realize if a person can be my customer or not. It has helped me a lot to choose the influencers I work with.
B + C: How have you approached marketing your brand and raising awareness?
Lily: It was a long journey. For me, it was trial and error. At the beginning, I spent a lot of time and energy on content marketing. But it wasn't very successful. Then I started some influencer marketing without any knowledge about it. I wasn't successful either. Then I started to connect to lots of successful founders on social media, and gosh! Some of them were extremely eager to help. They tried to show me what to do. So, I started influencer marketing again but with more education and knowledge this time. It has helped a lot! Most of my sales are from my influencer marketing. I'm sure there are lots of great marketing and brand awareness approaches out there and I'm so passionate to learn about them.
B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
Lily: The incredible community. I've met so many successful business owners and so many amazing new entrepreneurs extremely willing to help each other. It's incredible.
B + C: Who inspires you?
Lily: It's really hard to name just one person because there are too many amazing and inspiring people. But Brit inspires me a lot. She is a young woman like us but with big dreams and she has tried really hard. It's so inspiring to see how successful and at the same time down to earth she is. She has helped so many women to be successful and get financial freedom and build big things and have huge impact.
B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
Lily: Dream Big! Deam Big! Dream Big! The challenges on the way are as big as your dreams. The bigger the dream, the more the challenges. But there is always a way to get through the challenges. It just needs hard work, patience, and educating yourself during the path. And remember the path is beautiful, enjoy every single step. Because it makes you smarter, more experienced, successful, and most importantly a more patient person.
B + C: What's next for Dr. Lily Ros Organics?
Lily: I'm continuing my brand awareness and marketing on social media. Social media is like a never-ending ocean. But my next step is approaching my brand to OB/GYN doctors and dermatologists.
B + C: What has receiving the Office Depot OfficeMax scholarship to Selfmade done to help you grow your business?
Lily: It was huge! I was at a stage where I couldn't afford Selfmade. I knew how wonderful and life-changing Selfmade can be. It has helped me to be connected to amazing people and learn from their experiences. It helps a lot with branding, social media, website essentials, marketing, fundraising... I wish I was in Selfmade three years ago. It would have saved me lots of time.
B + C: How have Office Depot OfficeMax services/products helped you accomplish more in your business?
Lily: I'm trying to switch to more eco-friendly packaging for my products. I have designed a secondary packaging that reduces the amount of paper up to 80 percent. I need a high-quality printer that I can do my secondary packaging from my office without a need to manufacture them in a professional packaging manufacturer. I just bought a professional printer from Office Depot OfficeMax that completely meets my needs.
Customers are the best critics and can help you evolve your product from idea to game-changer. Along the way, Office Depot OfficeMax can help you reach your customers with a suite of business services to help you accomplish more - from signs, posters & banners to marketing materials that will help you introduce your product to the people who need it most. Learn more at Office Depot's Selfmade page.
Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.