Jane Wurwand, visionary co-Founder and co-owner of the Dermalogica brand, launched her iconic skincare company a year or two before young entrepreneur, Peter Friis, creator of Essio, the industry’s newest name in aromatherapy, was even a gleam in his parents’ eyes.
As part of her responsibilities as a Board Member of the Price Center for Entrepreneurship at the UCLA Anderson School of Business, Wurwand mentors graduate students, offering her expertise and guidance for future entrepreneurs. Wurwand mentored Friis in 2012, as he was completing his Masters Program. Based in Santa Monica, CA, Peter Friis launched Essio, a unique, patented aromatherapy diffuser for the shower, in January, 2013. Beauty Launchpad recently caught up with both mentor and mentee for this candid, off-the-cuff exchange about risk, inspiration, challenge and success:
labs—told me that the Dermalogica product concept, made without artificial fragrance or color, lanolin, mineral oil, or S.D. alcohol, would be impossible to manufacture. Basically, everybody told us we were crazy.
PF: What are the most significant changes you’ve experienced in the skin care industry since founding Dermalogica?
JW: The most significant change is that skin care products like ours really are differentiated from beauty products. A couple of decades ago, there was just a lot of mystique and not a lot of science, which is why we created Dermalogica. There were lots of pink and gold boxes, containing magic and promises. Skin care products were positioned and marketed just like fragrances and cosmetics, and this is sadly still the case with some brands. But most consumers today are much better-informed, and demand concrete results from skin care. We are about Skin Health and not "Beauty."
PF: What motivates you today?
JW: What motivates me today is what has always motivated me: believing that women and girls are the biggest untapped resource on earth. Dermalogica is fundamentally about educating and empowering women. Our mission is much bigger than skin. For the past 25 years, we’ve literally put hundreds of thousands of women on the road to success in the professional skin care industry, most in their own entrepreneurial businesses, in more than 80 countries worldwide. We also help change the lives of women entrepreneurs via our global non-profit, FITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship; www.joinFITE.org).
PF: Many factors contribute to success. What is the most essential of these factors?
JW: The most important thing is that you have to really love — mad, passionate love — the work itself, rather than the money you hope or wish the work will bring you. People who only love the money itself should go into the financial sector, and help people make investments and manage their profits.
PF: There is so much controversy in the press about women in business, relative to “leaning in," “having it all," and life-work balance. What’s your secret?
JW: Every woman — everyone, actually — has to write their own personal formula for this. It’s not that it’s a big secret. It’s just that everyone has to figure it out for themselves. For instance, I find that making it work is more about resilience than balance — the ability to recover and bounce back from disaster, rather than “Om”-ing around and struggling to maintain perfect balance. Do what you can; it’s enough.
And I do know that the challenge is greater for women than men since women statistically do much more of the child-care and homemaking almost everywhere on earth. To get quite personal, I will say that Raymond and I were not young parents. We had our two daughters when we were more mature and our business had become somewhat successful. As for the rest, I can only quote someone who may not consider himself much of a feminist, but Mick Jagger is so right when he sings, “You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”
ng> I have high risk-tolerance, and I’ve already done the corporate thing. I was a product developer in digital marketing for Amazon.com. That was a great experience, for which I am very grateful. It taught me a lot, but is also made it clear that the slow-moving, risk-averse, bureaucratic environment is not rewarding to me. A start-up brings a lot of chaos, but I thrive on the responsiveness and agility required in a new, small, nimble venture.
JW: In Europe, and in the UK, where I was trained, and in many other countries, aromatherapy is better understood, and given more respect than is often the case here in the USA. What challenges face your brand in the aromatherapy space?
PF: What is lacking in the US market is awareness and education on the part of the consumer about aromatherapy. This space is filled with posers, to put it bluntly. Lots of companies are guilty of “green-washing”. They try to cash in on the green, health-minded, eco-conscious market by claiming that their products offer aromatherapy benefits, except that the products are filled with artificial perfumes and all sorts of other cheap, potentially dangerous ingredients which offer no benefits and may potentially be harmful. The term “aromatherapy” is used too lightly by many manufacturers. Consumers are confused. So a significant part of our brand mission is clarifying this term and delivering products which offer real benefits and honest, pure ingredients.
JW: My husband and I encountered a lot of opposition from many sources when we began our business. How do you deal with opposition or disagreement from your mentors, counselors or investors?
PF: This is the beauty, and the scary part, of being an entrepreneur. Although everyone wants to give you advice, especially if they are financially involved, you as the entrepreneur call the shots. You are not beholden to anyone. I do get a lot of feedback, and I do value the opinion of my advisors, and you, Jane, my mentor! But at the end of the day, I have to synthesize the feedback, then make what is basically a gut decision. I try to be sure that it’s an informed gut-decision.
JW: How do you know when you have a good idea?
PF: When I have a good idea, my instinct and intuition make me want to share the idea with everybody. I start texting people in other parts of the world when I know it’s right on and a great idea. If I’m ambivalent, even if the rest of the team is gung-ho, I don’t get these wild urges to show it to people I trust. I usually know immediately when I hate something. Love or hate, it is mostly a visceral kind of thing from some deep, reptilian recess of my being.
JW: The competition in the health and beauty spaces is keen. In your experience, what separates entrepreneurs from “want"-trepreneurs?
PF: There is definitely a difference. “Want”-trepreneurs just scour the marketplace looking for a gap to fill. They aren’t moved by inspiration. They are calculating mercenaries, and they view whatever they have to offer simply as a commodity. They offer a variation on something which already exists. This can indeed be lucrative, but it is not true entrepreneurship, at least in my sense of the word. Entrepreneurs are driven by a unique idea, which gives them a feeling— a kind of mania, rapture, ecstasy — that they hope to share with other people. Making money by doing so is also good, but it’s actually not the primary motivation.
JW: Our Company, Dermalogica, is dedicated to ongoing education. How do you keep yourself and your team at Essio informed, and how do you stay ahead of the industry curve?
PF: We pay attention to the industries which need our brand, meaning hospitality and spas. We also are very interested in what entrepreneurs of all kinds are doing, in all kinds of categories. We aren’t all that obsessed with following what our potential competitors do, though we do keep tabs on them. Right now, because we are in the early phase of our company, we want to be a strong presence at trade shows, too.
But the way we stay ahead of the curve is by being original. There’s no faking it. Maybe 70 percent of our business right now is based on understanding and interpreting customer feedback. But the other 30 percent is not responsive or reactive at all. It’s pure creative drive, our need to innovate, regardless of what anyone else happens to be doing.
All entrepreneurs must listen and respond diligently to customers in order to have a chance at success. But the most successful are equally able to innovate on behalf of customers. We sense what customers want, just before they know that they want it.
JW: Where do you see yourself and your company in a year? In five years?
PF: The first part of the entrepreneurial cycle really is just you and your idea, which is where Essio was 18 months ago or so, when I first met you. During this phase, the entrepreneur basically wears every hat and hustles to bring the company from idea to reality. For the next year or so, I think we’ll be in the second phase of the entrepreneurial cycle, which is all about scaling the product and the brand, and setting the idea on its journey. We’ll also be focused on attracting incredible team-members to the brand, to develop and grow together, because at this point it’s no longer just about the entrepreneur – it’s about a team and a shared vision. In five years, I expect that our rapid growth cycle will have peaked and the third cycle of brand management will be the focus. Who knows, by then I may have moved on to another idea!
JW: Peter, YOU are a "classic" entrepreneur – bold, smart, brave and a little crazy; we need MORE like you! I wish you every bit of your inevitable success and I will be watching with excitement.