Today we’re learning from Charlotte Chen Pienaar, the founder behind one of the coolest bootstrapped companies around right now.
We’re talking about how she approaches money and the old school tips to funding a CPG brand, why retailers like Ulta and Sephora came knocking on her door and the pros and cons to creating a truly sustainable brand.
Everyday Humans make next-generation sunscreens that are comfortable, conscious and designed for all.
If you’re building a CPG brand and want to learn from women like Charlotte, come join us in Hype Club where you can access our take on Modern Mentorship, live workshops and masterclasses.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Sure. Like, so I'm charlotte, I'm the founder of Planet Friendly sunscreen brand everyday humans. So we make planet friendly sunscreen that is comfortable and it has added skincare benefits that actually, you know, catered to your everyday routine. So I mean I can tell you a little bit about how I started the brand.
00:04:47 So I'm an elderly millennial. So I'm in my late thirties. So um you know aging is human and you know, we make lifestyle mistakes, but I was part of the, not, not east areas where I turned a lot. So you know how like 20 years ago it was really cool to tan and like now, you know, nowadays, like, you know, the sunscreen sort of like conversation so prevalent that you're like, whoa, why didn't anybody told me when I was 16 that when I was tanning every day with SPF four with oils and stuff? That you know, this is the number one thing that you should avoid is actually the son, it's not smoking, it's not sleeping poorly. It's not bad eating habits. Actually the sun that actually ages you. So, you know, like I was like, okay, well if that's the most vital weapon against wrinkles, why aren't there more cool sunscreen brands that actually encourage young people to buy? So I started, I was like, I noted out was, okay, let me just do some research that's just walking down the supermarket aisles and like noticing that, you know, like unlike, you know, small skincare and cosmetic brands out there, you know, sunscreen is actually really dominated by a few players. So, and what all these players really do, especially in the supermarket aisles is that, you know, they're always marketed to seasonal or occasional users.
00:05:55 So you're talking about people who like do sports, like you're like, I'm gonna go running. So I need a sunscreen. I go surfing, I'm gonna get a sunscreen or like I'm a beachgoer, then I'm going to use a sunscreen. So I was like, if you looked at it, I was like, wait, why isn't there really a sunscreen brand is specifically designed to make building a habit of wearing sunscreen a no brainer and I really couldn't find a brand that has the ethos that you're like, okay, I wanted to be everyday, but so you wanted to not just be like a, like a sports brand or whatever it is or like a, like a beach going brand, rather like an everyday skincare brand. And I guess that's why, you know, I started everyday humans, you know the clues of the name. So we're brand for everyday humans so that you can wear sunscreen every day. So we're gonna show, I love that. So that's sort of like the origin story. That's amazing. Did you always want to be an entrepreneur? Yeah, I guess how did you know that you wanted to start a business? I mean I used to be in finance and then I was in tech, I'm a single founder. So like this is actually my first start up on my own and I used to be in things that is not tangible.
00:06:58 So I just wanted to actually make something that can touch and tell people that and it's not hard to explain to somebody I love skincare. So it's just something that I'm really passionate about. And while while I noted out in the category and I found this beautiful white space where it's like, well why isn't isn't anybody tackling this particular space that identified? And like I live, I used to live in Singapore with literally it's sunny every single day, like it's summer every day, 365 days, you know, So, so that's why I was like, okay, well obviously this is a no brainer. Like I should, you know, make something that I personally use every day because I need it 100%. Yeah, I love that founder fit I think is what they commonly refer to it. As yeah. I want to go back to the very beginning kind of, I think I read that you were working on in development from around 2018 to find out what those kind of early years were like and what you were doing and how long the development process kind of took manufacturing and all That kind of stuff. Oh, it's long because I guess I got into industry being very like naive thinking that you can just bust out of products like within like 68 months, no screen.
00:08:05 So I think sunscreens technically are more difficult to formulate. And for me, like I have a wish list of things that I want to say, okay, if I want to make sunscreen, you know, an everyday thing, number one thing you need to tackle is actually texture. So if the, so you know, generally sunscreens are really groupie, it's really thick. So hence you don't want to wear it every day. So if I'm able to solve the comfort thing and make it actually feel like skincare. So when you're incorporated into routine, it doesn't feel like a shawl, it doesn't feel like your mom sort of like telling you, oh my God, you have to wear something, you're not gonna die of cancer and you don't want that sort of like fearmongering situation. So what I wanted to do, the number one thing is to tackle texture. And the second thing that I want to tackle is white cast. So you know, like as an asian founder, like, you know, we're obviously our skin tone is a bit different, so but we live in like Southeast Asia and I live in the US as well and I know that you know, like skin tone color is actually a major issue when it comes to selecting sunscreen. So some, you know, get white cost, some people with dark skin to actually get a purple cost.
00:09:05 So you know, we wanted to be able to tackle that head on and like figuring that portion out was really difficult, you know, like in order for you to do and then added attitude that we wanted to have, you know, skincare benefits for our product. So yeah, so you know, the first thing I really want to tackle the formula. So I think the biggest complaint with sunscreen is actually about comfort. So if the sunscreen is not comfortable to wear, you wouldn't want to actually incorporate into your daily routine. So this is the number one thing I want to tackle. The second thing is white cost. So you know, most sunscreen have like a groupie feeling or like leaves this horrible sheen. So you know, for darker skin tones is actually reflects purple or you have a great tinge. So I want to make sure that it's really serum light and it's actually invisible so that you would want to wear it and you can actually incorporate it into your makeup routine as well. So the third thing we want to tackle that well. So I think nowadays like if you want to have everybody is so super busy, right? You really want to be able to have a multitasking sunscreen that actually does more than just protection. So we also wanted to add skincare benefits.
00:10:07 So you know like antioxidants, hydration and anti pollution that targets skin concerns for young people. So that's why I wanted to like when I had all these wish lists and I went to my manufacturer, they're like, oh my God, like it's one of those people, you're one of those. Yeah, I'm one of those who just want everything. So it took a long time. So you know, I started off with like you know, asking around but that didn't go very far. So then we started I started visiting trade shows. So I just went to on the bigger ones and one of the biggest one in ASia is Cosmo profit Asia. So looking at co co packers out there and just like, you know, you know like cold emailing people and just like finding and at the beginning like, you know, I had like literally a website and like my name and I was just like asking all these huge manufacturers to work with me and of course I get rejections. Like it's like I write these big proposals and you know, I just keep radio silence the whole time. So I just keep knocking on doors. I was just persevered and then one person or one manufacturer finally answered and it was in Australia and I was like, oh my gosh, thank you.
00:11:08Edit So, um, so they saw my wish list and they're like, oh my gosh! So, so we just went through the process and it just took a long time. It took like almost 18 months just to get the first formula like, you know from the, from the, I guess from the ideation, you've got this wish list of things and you started understanding the limitations of what I want to be able to get to achieve and you start iterating and so you've got samples of the samples and then now from the texture, you've got the white cars, you've got the skin care benefits. But then maybe it's the actual packaging that has an issue. Maybe like it actually have a reaction sensitivity issue, all that, you know, you know, there's just, and then maybe the fragrance is really bad. You know, there's just so many things that you don't know when you just started off and you just think about all these I wish list but there's so many nuances on formulating that you only know when you get yourself deep into the formulation sort of situation and then the process like when you first start, when you write a brief, you don't really know and then you start to learn more about the limitations and learn more about the jargon, the lingo. And then you just build more and more and from there like each time that you make a change is another three weeks.
00:12:12 So after three weeks after three weeks and weeks And it becomes 18 months. Oh my gosh! Yeah. I mean I guess like at the beginning, you know I was alone doing this so I did the formulation with some assistance but like it was predominantly myself so just learning the trade so quickly, it was really difficult. But you know, I went through the process and you know, I overcame and finally got the formula that I want and I was like yeah I mean the product is really good. I just tried it this morning and I thought it was so amazing in terms of the texture. It definitely feels more like a serum once it's rubbed into the skin and also the smell. I really quite enjoy, I'm so glad we actually try. I think you've done such a good job behind me. There's like a box of frequency tried. I think I think We picked like, I don't know like 25 fragrances because we want natural fragrance. So that's really generally most brands like they would use synthetic fragrance but I'm like a nontoxic brand. So what we really wanted to do is to find a cosmos certified fragrance, natural fragrance. Don't really work well with like a very like a sunscreen has a very distinct scent.
00:13:16 So to be able to mask that fragrance and and have the original fragrance to come through. It's really hard to generate synthetic fragrance and easily covered but with natural like it's just like it reacts, it changes so it's just like oh my gosh! Like just a fragrance took 1000 years and like but for me it's like I want every single aspect of it to be like well thought out perfect and I just don't wanna put a coconut fragrance in it and just like blanket. I want it to be something that's a bit more enjoyable and not like I think a lot of sense reminds you of the beach. Like I want my sense, we should not remind you of the beach so that you actually would wear it every day. I love that. That's so clever Because it took 18 months and also from what you've told me, you know, sunscreen is more difficult to develop it. It's just a different process and then with things like testing and that kind of thing percent. Did you have to have a bigger budget to get started and how were you funding in the beginning in that pre kind of launch phase? Yeah, I guess like in skincare I think your M. O. Q. S would be like you can even run it at like 1000 units or something like that for us to say You start in 10,000, you know like so you kind of need to be super committed and like know what you're doing and be really sure before you pushed a button and you know because I'm working with supplies that traditionally don't work with small brands so it was like even more difficult.
00:14:35 So when I commit my first order like with my p. O. I was like I want to make sure that my product sales, so I really wanted to nail wholesale first. So one of the things I did is pre selling I guess in a way. So um I wanted to make sure that I actually have customers before I even push production. So I pitched retail quite early on with just sort of sample formulas in the deck and like pitching wholesale accounts is another journey in itself and it was very cool to be able to secure, you know, a wholesale account prior to launch. So that's why I was simultaneously launching with alter. So like my first retailers Ulta dot com. So it was really really fortunate that you know they are like the biggest retailer in the sort of the musty. I love that you're like you're getting alters your launch partner yet just on a sample and a deck that speaks volumes about the product. I mean it's true. I was shocked myself as well. So I mean I think it really helps that you know, I went to the target accelerated program so I was a graduate of it in 2019.
00:15:40 So I was one of 10 founders to go through the accelerated Minneapolis where it's like a five week program. So it was funny because I was like one of 10 founders. I was the only asian, I was the only non american I believe in the program. So I was just like random person like and I was only like my brand was like six months old so I was like, hi guys, you know like people are like super like and I learned so much in the process of learning how to pitch the big big box retailers. I think that process really helped me and guide me through you know how to work with you know be an army channel Brown and I think that I benefited so much just to understand nuances are working with big retail like what so many nuances like it's a machine like their fortune 10 competition 20 fortune 50 company right? So you know like opening an order from from like a mom and pop shop and opening in order with equivalent of altar, like just on the supply chain side to be able to accommodate with all the boring stuff. You know, they have systems specifically required to plug into their systems, you know like so just like small nuances that you know, I always say that, you know, as I found out my job is to fill out forms, I just fell out so many forms and like signing documents just to be able to get like all these like systems sorted out.
00:16:55 So it's just like a, it's a journey in itself and you know, you do pre planning quite early. So I was mentioning that I Pitch all to, you know, prior to launch, I pitched them I think 6-9 months before launch and just to get a feel and how we are. And so it was a long process and it's not like, like I think a lot of people underestimate how you get into wholesale accounts. You can launch a brand and next month you get into retail. It doesn't work that way. They planned so far ahead like 6, 8, 9, 12 months ahead that you know, you need to stay ahead of your game quite early on. And so getting that account with Alta which is obviously amazing. What kind of order do they place in the beginning and is that kind of like, Hey, here's my 10,000 that I need to launch and then you know you're negotiating payment terms with them on the side to be able to like cash in or something like how we know there's no pain. No that doesn't work that way with them so you can't like they always pay post delivery Leave isn't it 45 days. So what I've been trying to do is keep your financing meeting when I received the purchasing order and I borrow on top of it to be able to pay for my who used to do that.
00:18:00 It can be just like commercial banks like I know in the U. K. There's like way flyer and clear bank and things like that. I see them promoting heavily for those kind of things. Yeah it's similar to that so in ASia and actually commercial banks do that as well like it's just doing the old school way. Just like working with patients B. C. Actually Like I mean don't I think it's interesting that people forget that you know 2030 years ago that's how people start businesses. You know collaterals, mortgages. You know like the old school ways I did it the old school way I guess like borrow money with collateral you know for money off appear and start and just do it the old school way and because even though I raised our friends and family around I don't want all of the money to be tied up in inventory. I want obviously to build the team to marketing and so and so forth and grow the brand rather than like, you know, use all of my proceeds for infantry. So I was very fortunate to have pos to be able to do that. Mm hmm. Yeah, that's amazing. And I love kind of that stripping it back and just being like, hey, let's go back to the old school and figure out how to do this without having to think about, you know, the trend at the moment feel or not the trend, but the landscape at the moment feels very much like, you know, e commerce founders that are scaling into retail, go out, raise institutional funding scale like crazy.
00:19:15 And that's like kind of the pathway I guess. But you've taken this like approach of being like, no, I'm going to figure it out and figure it out and figure it out until I really need to take on any VC dollars. Yeah. I mean like there actually are a lot of pathways to money. Like it doesn't have to be one set way. And I think the media obviously shine a little light upon instead invested for companies a lot more than us, you know, in these startups. I suppose there's sort of bootstrap is set up and you just don't know those stories and that's why you have people like you to talk to people who don't do the traditional path and say, hey actually there is a way to do it without instant money at the beginning, like there are alternative ways to do it, you know, I mean, I've heard founders like, you know it max out the credit card to borrow money from the family, you know, like I did it that way, you know, and there's nothing wrong with doing it that way as well, It's like, it's not, not as glamorous, just a different way. Yeah, absolutely. I was talking about this with someone yesterday actually, I was on someone else's podcast and we were talking about the media and you know this kind of like culture around lifting up the people who are raising loads of capital and that's like on the front pages of Forbes and Techcrunch and all this kind of thing and that's all well and good, but I was like why don't people highlight the boots trappers who are building these amazingly success, wildly successful businesses, but they have just taken apart that to me, it's kind of like, hey, I don't know, like obviously there's pros and cons to both, but like pretty amazing to bootstrap and especially to get to the point that you are like a year in and you're in all these incredible retailers, you're obviously doing a really good job.
00:20:49 It's interesting, I don't get it, I don't, I don't get it either, I mean I wish there were more people who just do the traditional, like I guess the old school way, So then I have more friends to talk to on how they do it alternatively and we did financing or like pure finance all that. I mean they exist like there's now startups do specifically that knowing that there's this limitation on, you know institutional rounds or VC funded rounds. But you know there are alternative ways to access capital if you look so if you look yeah. And if you get someone that points you in the right direction. Yeah, exactly. As if you look so I want to talk about your launch. Obviously you launched in collaboration with alter. You said, I imagine you were also ticking off some extra partners along the way there in the lead up to getting the brand out there. But what were you doing in the lead up to launch to get ready and market and build your customer base and kind of if you could talk a little bit about that time and how the launch went. Oh gosh! I mean I launched at this craziest time which is the last week of May 2020 in the middle of the pandemic and a week after black lives matter.
00:21:52 So I have to work extra hard because you know, I had all these plans. I first I need to shoot my campaign. We couldn't shoot at that moment because everything you cast the outdoors. I wanted to launch a new york and la with dolphin experiences and in person activations that got planned. So I had no choice actually, I I I had to pivot. I didn't, I didn't want to just delay my launch because I already signed on a retail partners. I was like, okay, I got to focus on building a strong and like a hyper local community online. And basically what I did was like instead of like doing these offline things and do press junkets and all that stuff, like we did everything virtual. I mean this is nowadays like completely normal, like what we're doing right now, but a year ago it's like completely unheard of like to do all the stuff. So we just started off with like, you know, like good old influencer marketing, right? So it's just like send boxes out and just like scrolling on instagram, finding all the leads. Like, you know, you know, marketing like finding like micro communities amongst the people that I want to activate and like talking to press and so forth.
00:22:53 And that's sort of like where we started. And it was just, I guess it was like timing as well. It was an interesting time to be alive at that point where you know, actually not, not a lot of people are going outdoors, which was interesting as well at the same time. And even, you know, the big players are figuring out how to be able to build communities and activate online. So we just like sort of like noted out and like, you know from community that we do reviews from reviews that we need to scale, you know, like affiliate programs like so and so forth and just like learning as we go. But you know, like we're just super fortunate to get a lot of doors and locking at us, you know, so like, so afterwards we signed Sephora impact, so we're in seven countries for exclusive Sephora. We're now at target dot com as well. And then we're at urban outfitters, three people revolve. So in the UK were at beauty bay and Natalie como we're also speaking to a couple of more like you and like, you know, EU and UK players as well. So it's been really interesting because I don't really pitch and like they just find us on instagram actually like it's amazing And like when we get dems because I was, I was doing my own dems, what I was doing my own social and I realized, you know, instagram in the end of the day is actually really powerful tool to market your brand and you know, buyers are there, you know, customers are there.
00:24:08 So that's why we spend quite a bit of energy and you know, building out our community on social. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the fsC show, you'll hear women who were just like you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business and I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now? You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our fsc small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached. Our long chat with leading performance marketing, agency amplifier, who you might also remember from our D. I. Y. Course, Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business.
00:25:14 And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month All the way to three $100,000 a month and in some cases upwards to seven figures. So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started. Go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S. And booking a call today do you think all these retailers that have come to you? And this is probably like a really stupid question, but just to be clear, do you think for you it's strictly a combination of your incredible design and like the feel and vibe of the brand and what the actual product itself is, or is there something else at play that these brands are coming to you for?
00:26:20 I guess it's just I was mentioning that, you know, sunscreen is traditionally, you know, dominated by a few players, like the big guys, right? So there's not a lot of indie options, to be honest, and I think especially if it's an indie option, it will also be a very large brand, so they're not actually, there's no, so I think what's interesting that I've been here, I mean, I don't say it myself, like it's the retailers to tell me, oh, well we find that your branding is quite inclusive, so meaning, you know, it really has a unisex sort of like vibe to it. So, I mean when I build the brand, I wanted to I wanted it to not look like any other skincare brand, and especially not to look like another SPF brand. So we deliver as an example. We take a deliberate thing to avoid using the icon of the sun as an example and actually avoid using the color yellow altogether, like, so we we do only have a very small passion, our packs are all in different colours and there's only a very small kin to yellow. So there's all these like branding considerations that are actually inspired by street land, urban fashion that I think that makes the branding a bit more like, I guess inclusively unisex.
00:27:23 So what I want is that even your boyfriend or your husband would be like, oh, what is this like? Yeah, it's interesting, be trained, I don't mind buying, I don't mind using it. You know, I want the idea that hey, even, you know, straight dude would be like, sure, why not? You know, which, like, it's funny because afterwards, like when we launched around, you know, we have, you know, quite a few people who are texting or like DNA as hey, you know, I'm so surprised even my husband wears this, you know, or like even now my, you know, even my really like boyfriend boyfriend who just only wears, you know, washes his body and his face and everywhere else with one soap uses your sunscreen. So it's like really nice to know that, you know, our brand is not, is actually genuinely, you know, speaks to very diverse range and the age range also is quite diverse target demographic is like, I call them as millennials. It's like a 25 to 35 but it's also consume all the way down to like a 16 year old and all the way up to like a 55 year old. So I was like surprised that, you know, the branding or the language it speaks actually can be as diverse as that?
00:28:24 So maybe that's one thing, I guess the second thing would be have a big sustainability notes. So I think it really is comes from my family background, my father's and by the group of packaging, so, and you know, I just naturally I'm inclined to be super sustainable and stuff, so, and, you know, young people nowadays are really concerned, you know, about the environment and you know, and you're increasingly conscious about how you spend your money and so, you know, when I started and I was like, I gotta I gotta do this right. Like, I just need to make sure that, you know, every single aspect is, you know, considered and I think retailers really like that and it's really hard to do. So, I mean as an example, you know, like we are, you know, I started the brand knowing that this is going to happen. So there's three things we did like, um after year one, like we did a L C A C, which is a life cycle assessment. So what it does is that it's a technique for you to be able to assess the potential environmental impact of the business. So it's kind of like a cradle to grave analysis. So you would go through and no doubt on the production systems so that we have a really comprehensive evaluation on both our upstream and downstream energy so that we know and calculate our emissions.
00:29:26 So because I was like, if you don't know how much you're admitting, how do you know how to offset it? And we're like how to be to better. So one of the first things we did is like first we need to know where we start and then and then we when we develop a plan to reduce. So we are actually one of the first plastic neutral certified sunscreen. So what it means is that what we aim to do is to eliminate as much plastic waste as much as we use from nature. So I mean just as the get go, like all of our tubes are made out of posting human cycle plastic our boards are fsc certified paper bowl as we use soy ink. Even our laminate is biodegradable. So we really make sure that really you can actually, there is a chance for it to be you know, part of the circular economy. And we also take an even bigger step and say that, okay, well besides that, you know, we also want to give back by being plastic neutral where you know, we fund on the set up of you know micro enterprises in remote communities that are struggling with plastic plastic waste pandemic. So what we do is that we help them, you know to you know uh to to be able to eliminate plastic by offsetting our own plastic footprint and hence were plastic neutral.