Joining me on the show today is Divya Gugnani, Co-Founder of Wander Beauty.
Launched in 2015, Wander Beauty creates multitasking beauty essentials that are enriched with clean, skin-loving ingredients that work with your skin, not against it.
Each multitasker does double (and even triple) duty in your routine so you can stay gorgeous on the go.
In this episode we cover Divya’s blueprint to building this brand, her learned lessons after building 4 successful businesses (one of which sold to QVC|!) and what founders should focus on before looking for investment.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Divya Hi and welcome to the female startup club podcast. I'm so excited to be here. Me too. I feel like you have so much to share today with your wealth of experience in building brands and your current amazing brand. Wonder could you start by introducing yourself and what your business actually is. Sure. So I'm gonna be a good nanny, co founder and CEO of Wander Beauty. Wander Beauty really came out from a personal pain point. Like my co founder Lindsay and I really felt like there was no beauty brand in the industry that was speaking to us as consumers. I had two Children within two years. I was like very tired, like very, very tired and putting on under eye concealer on my subway in new york city on my way to work.
00:03:24 I was doing my skincare routine and the gym, I was sometimes brushing my hair and doing it at work and other times just rocking full bed head all day. And I just felt like I was, you know, in search of clean beauty essentials, the journey of actually getting pregnant and having challenges through that. I discovered that I really wanted to eliminate a lot of toxins and hormone disrupting chemicals and my beauty routine. I was, you know, became way more conscious about reading labels and wanting to put good ingredients into my system. So I wanted clean Beauty, but I wanted something that would go with me everywhere because my life was being led in motion every day. I was going planes, trains, automobiles, like working all the time, being a mom on the weekend. So I really just felt like there was no brand speaking to me, my co founder Lindsay was kind of going through the same pain points, but she was going through the same pain points in a totally different way. She being a supermodel and traveling all the time And you know, traveling with these times, she always had these tiny bags that she would just pack everything into and be popping around.
00:04:30 She felt the same thing. She only wanted clean, she was buying her products in Europe where you know, obviously they banned 1400 chemicals instead of the US which the only band 30 chemicals. So, um the restrictions in europe are, you know, way ahead of their time. And so, you know, she's like, I want clean beauty in the US that suits my busy lifestyle. I'm like, I want clean Beauty, the US that suits my busy lifestyle. We both kind of crystallized on this idea of wander beauty and wonder beauty is clean beauty essentials that you reach for every single day cross category. So whether you're cleansing your face and you need skincare or you want to make up some imperfections with makeup, we do that too. And then also select hair and body essentials. So it's clean beauty essentials that you reach for every single day wherever you wander. It's all travel friendly that you can take with you wherever you go. Sounds so amazing and it's so true. It's definitely something I experience as well where there's just a lot out there, right? And you don't know what you should be doing and there's so many options and you don't know what you should choose or what's in these products.
00:05:36 So yeah, I totally get that Mhm I want to go back to life before you actually got started with Wonder, I know that you are a serial entrepreneur and angel investor, you have so much experience. Can you talk about some of that background context and life before Wonder Beauty. Absolutely. So I, I started my career in investment banking at Goldman. Sachs, I worked very hard, A lot of long nights and late nights, long nights, lots of hours slept under a desk. I loved every day of it. I actually really feel I was challenged. I was motivated. I learned a lot in a short period of time. I watched a lot of people around me, I watched a lot of leaders, I really understood their leadership style. I obviously was my first job out of college and had no leadership and no leadership style. So I took it really as being a sponge, my career in finance was about learning from others, understanding how they negotiate, how they talk, how they mentor, how they build teams, you know how they execute deals and I just took those so many years as like learning and then I took a leap over the dark side and became an entrepreneur completely accidentally.
00:06:49 I was, you know, dating someone and we decided to start a company together and I was still working full time and finance and that experience was just incredible because I kind of had one ft in one ft out at a full time job. I had the security of having a full time job, yet I was learning how to be an entrepreneur at the same time and I was really enjoying that experience. That company ended up taking off and doing really well. We ended up selling it and so fast forward I ended up starting another business because said, now let me start a business and sector in an area. I'm really passionate about starting another business. It was profitable but it didn't scale started another business raised angel money, venture money and that's scaled, I sold that company to Q. V. C. So I've had three companies that I've been a founder and ceo of um prior to starting wander. And really what that means is that I've had the opportunity to make every mistake possible. And I've learned every single experience has been so different.
00:07:49 Every team has been so different. Every sector has been different. So I've learned a lot through these experiences when I started wander, I really feel like I hit the ground running with like this is what I need to do to be successful. These are the people I need around me and I had less hesitation in the early days of being an entrepreneur. In the first couple of times I did it, I made a lot of mistakes because I was nervous and I didn't know whether to go right to go left with wander. I was way more comfortable and confident in myself and my decision making. I was ready to execute and I was ready to take bigger bets and make bigger mistakes. So that's kind of how that's worked out for me. Obviously going into wonder you, as you said, you kind of had a blueprint because you have made mistakes, you'd also figured out what to do what were the kind of key things that you need to do to build a successful business. In your opinion. I think one of the most important things is focusing on the people in the early days of every company I started, it was all about, I had the vision, I was the ceo, I kind of had this really like strong idea of what I was trying to build and then I hired a lot of, you know, eager, excited, less experienced people who would come in and just kind of execute and that's what the early days look like, you hire people who are going to be jack of all trades and just do a little of this, a little of that and help you get from like, you know, zero to wherever you get.
00:09:14 So it's those early days of like and then as you build in scale and organisation in the later years, you really bring on more senior leadership and you actually find that the roles are reversed. So you're bringing people into the organization who are so smart, so bright, who have domain expertise in a particular area, bring that skill set to the organization and you're learning from them. And so that's kind of what I've learned the hard way, having done this a few times over is that in the early days you need one set of people and the later days in a different set of people, very few can kind of scale from early to late and then every bit is a journey and every single person you bring on incrementally should be growing the pie and making the opportunity bigger and creating more value for the whole organization and be a new person for people to learn from and grow from. Mm Yeah, totally. That's so true. And I guess there must be such a interesting transition phase from people who are early on in, you know, startup scrappy mode to bringing in, you know, more experts and more senior executives and things like that must be such a process.
00:10:23 Yeah, totally. I mean just said to talk about your business model obviously it sounds like you did some early stuff when you were bootstrapping but then you said you in later business you had got some angel investors and raised money. What was the business model like for this brand? Were you starting bootstrapping or did you go out and raise money initially? So I started the brand in the business out of my living room and we were there for a long time. We migrated from the living room to the guest room to taking over the dining room. I mean it was hysterical but I just had a baby and for me I was so important to be home with my Children and I really wanted to you know, I missed that time with my son because I in my prior venture had sold my company and I was working at a large corporate and I had my son and I went right back to work there was just there was, I didn't skip a B and I missed those important early days with him. I always feel like, you know, it was so challenging to like have a young baby, feel the guilt, go to work, be rushing back and forth all the time.
00:11:28 It was just, it was tough. And so when I had my daughter, I didn't want to live that life anymore and I knew I wanted to start a business and I knew I wanted to work very hard, but I knew that I also wanted to prioritize spending time with my Children and so It was nice to just be around and like it was really funny, we have comforts calls and then I would go in my bedroom and I would nurse my daughter and then we would have more calls and then I would go and feed my daughter. It was just like it was so special, I would do it all over again 20 times over. I know it was hard for my team to be in that kind of environment, but I think they were all incredibly supportive of it. We raised very little angel money. It was mostly my money for Wander in the early days. We then raised a series a in April 2017 and that was our first institutional round of funding. Um we later raised some pe money, which you know, hasn't been disclosed, but I've raised every type of money you can imagine. So I've raised angel money, venture money, private equity money, family office money.
00:12:30 So if anyone has any questions about that, they should feel free to DM me on instagram and talk to me about it. I'm at D G U G E N A I D, good nanny, wow goodness. That is such an achievement. What do you think of the biggest learnings that you could share, all the best advice you could share for founders who are potentially wanting to raise money? Um, and you know, create their own pitch. I think that the early days is less about the pitch and more about the person, you know, as an investor who has been investing in companies for over 20 years, I have my own investment fund, it's called Concept Taco and I invest in early stage companies kind of precede seed series A sometimes Series B. I get pitches in my email every single week and I have people who work on my team who kind of review these pitches and the reality is that we get a lot of great ideas and it's less about the idea, It's more about the entrepreneur in the early stages. If you really want to stand out, then you should focus on solving a problem focus on being in an industry which has a large market opportunity where an investor can say, hey, I'm going to put money into this sector in this space.
00:13:41 The winds are, you know, in their favor, it's growing rapidly. This company is going to scale rapidly, that's what an investor wants to see. And ultimately, there are a lot of different parties that could eventually by the business because the investor needs to see what the exit is going to look like. And so that's why I love beauty and personal care because there's so many big beauty conglomerates that don't actually incubate and innovate and create their own brands, but rather they buy them. And so when you launch a variant and beauty, you have a high likelihood to get purchased because there's so many acquirers out there multinationals across the globe that by young brands and brian de brands and so less. So do I see that in fashion unless so do I see that in accessories and so I'm always thinking about sectors and spaces where I can put money in where it's a large growing market opportunity. But ultimately the bet is really on the entrepreneur. It's like you are trusting this person with your money to take their vision and hire the right people and put the right people around the opportunity to make that vision of reality.
00:14:46 And that person is going to have a really strong ability to sell investors and get money to sell customers and sell products and to sell their team to recruit the best talent. And so they have to have a really strong DNA to be able to do that. And so founder DNA is everything in the early days They need to sparkle really bright. It sounds like when you're thinking about wonder then and about the exit plan for potentially selling to a bigger beauty brand, what's that timeline look like for you? Do you think like 10 years down the track or is it something that you built in an earlier exit plan? So we've had acquisition offers already. Um, we actually just had one pretty recently and we've decided not to sell it. It's really hard to tell you like when the right time is. Um I am really enjoying building and growing the business alongside my co founder and our team and I feel strongly that we believe and we feel there's potential and we feel like there's growth, we just need to put our heads down and execute and deliver on that growth right now And so when, and if an opportunity comes where we really feel like we can forge a great partnership to help scale and build our business to the next level, then we'll potentially consider it.
00:16:01 But for now we're really happy just putting our heads down and building. Amazing that growth, love it. I want to talk about your marketing, especially in the days where you were in your apartment, hustling the scrappy phase. Well, I mean I guess sometimes the scrappy phase never ends, but that early phase of finding your first customers, Finding that tribe of people who really loved you, your loyalists, what were you doing to acquire them? Get in front of them and find them. I think we did a lot of market research and I think that helped us find the right customers. So in the very early days, lindsey and I surveyed 100 women from the ages 18 to 72 across the United States, we asked them what their pain points in their beauty routine were. What did they like? What did they not like about their beauty products? What we're areas of friction, how could we improve with those? So we started kind of building some recognition and brand awareness by just doing a lot of focus groups and talking to people and then, they you know, got intrigued and interested in our brand. And then when we launched our brand in May 2015, we launched with the on the globe blushing illuminator.
00:17:09 It was the ultimate multitaskers. So if you were looking for a clean beauty essential you can reach for every day wherever you wander. There was truly a multitasker and replacing for products and your beauty bag. You know, you were sold on wander because this was a lip and cheek formula on one side. It was a nude glow illuminator on the other side. You could use it on your eyes, your cheeks, your lips, your shoulders, your legs. We just showed how incredibly versatile and multifunctional it was. And we created video content to tell that story and show that performance and that's what really sold our consumers in the early days, like who doesn't want to save time space and money by buying one multitasker that's going to replace your lipstick, your blush, your cream eyeshadow, your highlighter. It was for products and one and so telling that story and having that story and having that point of difference. So innovating in the product and put in great ingredients in and leaving bad ingredients out was part of it.
00:18:10 And then telling the story of like every woman, what's her most precious commodity, her time. And so saving her time to get ready and feel polished and pretty and you know, seconds, which is what we showed in that video made a very compelling case for them to try and take a bet on our brand and try something. And so we launched with one multitasker and I really think that that was a smart decision. People thought we were crazy. They were like, where's the collection? Where is the line? Where's the mascara? Where's the eyeshadow? Where's the skin care? Like, You know, I don't think that you should do throw a bunch of stuff against the wall and see what ticks. And I think a lot of beauty brands do that, they launch huge assortments. I mean, you look at the most recent brand launches um some specialty retailers and there's like 60 skews and 80 skews like to get all of that, right? There's so much beauty out there like you just the world doesn't need any more beauty products like I just don't think that's smart and it's not eco friendly or conscious. So I think creating one thing and having a point of difference and really trying to get the customer around that one multitasker and telling the story of why they needed and how it fits in their life.
00:19:20 That was our early marketing strategy. And when you did that, does that mean that now when you approach like a new product creation, you're following those same kind of steps in customer research, figuring out what's potentially different to launch. So everything at wonder Beauty is completely driven by the consumer. We believe in social co creation of every multitasker. So we're surveying her, we're doing focus groups were doing text message surveys, were doing email surveys were you know doing I. G. Polls. So our consumer and our community is involved in every step of the ideation process from category selection of the product, you know, focusing on payoff, texture, pigment, whatever it is. She's telling us what she wants and what she desires and she is involved in the journey. She often also helps decide the packaging and so we really kind of peel the onion back and allow our community to get involved with us because ultimately we feel like there's so much more loyalty in the creation, you know once it's created then there's a wait list of people who actually want to buy it totally.
00:20:33 Everyone's already bought into the offering, everyone's excited. Yeah, I totally get that. That's incredible when you're looking now, you know, your five years into the brand, how has your marketing evolved and what do you think is the biggest driver for growth at the moment? I think that we continue to story tell, I think we continue to leverage our community, we have over 300,000 Instagram followers, we have a Facebook community, I think we're going deeper and getting more meaningful with involving our community. We continue to just that is our marketing strategy, we didn't raise a lot of money, We're not a huge venture backed start up, we are not pouring money into tons of ads, like that's just not the brand we're building and so building authentic connections with influencers who are organically sharing their experience with our multi taskers, taking those experiences and weaving them together to be the voice of our brand and be the narrative of our brand. That's what wander beauty really is.
00:21:35 And so our marketing strategy continues to be community. First leveraging, organic relationships with influencers and building the brand, that's kind of business to be, and that sounds amazing, wow, really? Obviously leveraging that word of mouth, you know, that's inherently built into the brand, love that, I'm interested to know what kind of challenges you face, obviously you have so much experience and you've been able to go through the mistakes of past brands and that kind of thing, but what are the kinds of challenges you face now as a seasoned entrepreneur, you know, I think scale is really challenging and I think it's also a personality thing, like I love the early days, I'm an early days entrepreneur, I love finding the white space in the market, I love understanding how to launch something new, that bright and shiny penny, how to create it, what it should be like, those are my most fun memories of the four brands that I've been a part of is like the creation the launch the early days of you know working seven days a week now the scale of challenging and the scale of, you know, it's a different set of problems, entrepreneurship is problem solving every day, it's just that the problems get a lot more challenging and a lot bigger as you scale and so for me it's kind of like recalibrating my brain into like what are the things I should spend my time on, what are the things that teams should spend their time on, so that were blocking and tackling what we need to do and so a lot of the challenges are operational, it's like how to stay in stock and not be out of stock of your best heroes and how to predict that volume and you know when you have, you know recently carrie Washington posted our baggage claim gold eye masks and it was completely organic and she loved them and we sold out at amazon like immediately.
00:23:22 And so this notion of just, you know, you plan and then you know, everything goes just the way it's gonna go regardless of how well you plan. Um, I think it's just going with the flow at a larger scale is hard. Um, and having things like safety stock and thinking through how to quickly adapt when you're a larger organization and put things to play. Um, it's a lot more challenging. It's a lot more time spent planning and really laser focus executing. So that's, those are kind of the challenges and also scaling and building the team. Um, is another set of challenges. It's like the skills you need at one point are different than the skills you need another point and kind of recognizing that and dealing with it is also, you know, challenging. Mm totally, wow. Gosh, that sounds really crazy though. So, so exciting at the same time. Um, the patches, they're really, really cool. I can so see why they sold out there. So beautiful. I'm interested to know what you think your superpower is when you've built these four businesses, you obviously have a knack for it.
00:24:26 You've, you've had some really great success. What's your superpower? My superpower is definitely that I'm intellectually curious. I am not a no at all. I'm a learn at all. I, I always say that like learning is a key value of wonder beauty. We always say respect, integrity, teamwork and learning those are our values and we really live and breed those every day and I as the Ceo live and breed those values every day and I lead by example, so if I don't know something, I find someone who knows the answer, I will find my way shamelessly reach out to people I don't know, I will, you know, google till my ears turn blue, I just really feel like I love to learn and I'm continually learning every single day and I love speaking to other entrepreneurs and it's not just about You know, finding people who are so far ahead in their career and begging them for advice in 15 minutes, like to be quite honest with you, I found some of those conversations to fall flat, I found the most valuable conversations that I have as an entrepreneur every day or with my peers and people who are starting out because the people are starting out are finding better, faster, cheaper ways to do things that I did five years ago when I was starting out and I have a lot to learn from them and that's why I love having a huge network of entrepreneurs and peers to learn from every day, incredible.
00:25:45 And I bet you have a great community around you where you're able to get all those resources, where is the business today And what does the future look like for? Wonder is there new products collaborations, what's coming next? So where Wander is today as Wander is globally distributed. We've won 36 beauty awards, six allure best beauties, which is the most coveted award in the industry. We are global through need support. We are global through our footprint with Sephora. Um we are continuing to build our EU business with cult beauty. Um I'm really excited at the progress we've made in terms of geographic expansion, retail expansion. We're still digital first R. U. S. Consumer who shops us on wander bt dot com is still the largest piece of our business and will continue to be um she's primarily shopping mobile, which is always exciting and she's using Apple Pay and checking out in a minute and 30 seconds, which is fine. I think for us, The big focus for us as we think about the future is that our skincare business is growing dramatically.
00:26:52 People know us for really high quality skincare. That's efficacious. That's minimum effort, maximum results every time they pick up a wander beauty multitasker. They know it has highly effective ingredients are Moisturizer as 1% testified in that's going to lock in moisture for 72 hours. Our overnight concentrate, you know called do not disturb that you put on before you go to sleep is 1% retinoid that's really going to stimulate collagen and change the appearance of your skin and so they've come to trust us cross category, but I think our skincare business will continue to grow and flourish and thats a big area for us. Geographic expansion will continue at wander beauty And then really just focused on our domestic business here digitally and creating the opportunity to acquire more customers and to build constant retention with the customers. We have those are kind of our big focus is and obviously there are lots of new multitaskers coming in 2021 so keep an eye out for them, exciting. I'm gonna be cheering you on the sidelines and checking them all out for sure.
00:27:56 What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business? I think the best thing they can do is a lot of research and really identify if there's gonna be product market fit early on. So I think too many people focus on, oh, I'm going to a big market opportunity or I'm the best entrepreneur who is best suited to solve this problem. That's all great. Ultimately where businesses go wrong or two places, one lack of product market fit and money conceals that. So an entrepreneur is very successful raising money, they just keep pouring money into advertising and people buy the brand because they keep seeing every facebook ad, every instagram ad, every billboard in every city and they get brainwashed into like they need to have this brand, but when they buy it and the quality's not great at the product, like they don't come back and so you can conceal the fact that a product doesn't fit the market by pouring a lot of money into marketing. Um And so I feel strongly. The biggest challenge is product market fit and getting that right and starting small with a small set of customers where you can be meaningful to them and there is a fit where your product is something they are willing to pay money for and they will come back for, that's where you need to start start their figure that out, then raise money, then find more customers and build that pool of customers.
00:29:17 Got it amazing! Thank you. We are out to the six quick questions part of the episode, one of my favorite parts. Question number one is what's your why? My wife is really my passion to learn and help build female entrepreneurship. There's nothing that drives me more. I look forward to every call I have every day other than running my business with other entrepreneurs and like hearing about what they're up to and finding ways to support and help build their companies. So that's really my y in life, you are speaking my language. I get so much joy from these conversations, meeting women like you who are building amazing things for people all over the world. It's it's such joy. Question # two is what do you think has been the biggest marketing moment that made your business pup. I think it was the the ability to focus on community first and use real people and all of our marketing. Um we have the option obviously even with on a shoestring budget to use a lot of different models and get perfect looking people and represent beauty the way it's always been represented since I was a child, which is perfection, perfect eyebrows, perfect skin, perfect teeth.
00:30:26 And the reality is like I look in the mirror and like I'm far from perfect, my eyebrows are cousins, not sisters or twins. Um my teeth are crooked and I need Invisalign. And so I really wanted people to see themselves in our brand. And so from the very early days of launching wander beauty, we leveraged people around us, our friends, our family, my daughter had feeding issues and had a feeding therapist. She actually, my daughter's feeding therapist did one of our first facebook videos showing the application of our wanderlust powder foundation. She had Rose atia and she had a lot of redness on her face and she would put this powder on and all of a sudden they would all go away. And this was one of the most successful ads that we ever ran in facebook and it's amazing that when you take real people with real issues and real challenges and you put them in the context of their real lives and show how powerful your multitaskers can be in making this person feel more beautiful and confident. It was just, that was, I would say our number one marketing moment is the leveraging of real people and real experiences.
00:31:31 That is so incredible. Wow. Gosh, I love that Question. Number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What books do you read? What podcasts are you listening to? I you subscribe to any amazing newsletters? Yeah, I talked to people. That's how I get smarter. Like I read all that stuff. I, you know, I listened to the glossy Beauty podcast from pre around which I love. Um you know, sometimes I listen to how I built this by guy raz. Um I listened to the skim news podcast to see what's going on in the world. I read a lot. I get, I subscribe to the broadsheet which is a newsletter focused on women um particularly which I really enjoy. It's from fortune. So I read a lot of stuff