Secret to finding manufacturers in South Korea revealed in this episode with Hero Founder Ju Rhyu

Joining me on the show today is Ju Rhyu, Founder of Hero Cosmetics.

Hero makes super-powered skincare products to put you back in control of your skin and to help restore your confidence and they’re best known for their Mighty Patch acne patches.

And here’s a super Fun fact, they sell a box every 15 seconds with over 2 million boxes sold in over 8,500 retail doors.

In this episode we’re covering why they decided to launch the brand exclusively through amazon, how she she went about finding her manufacturer and what they do today to drive crazy growth.

Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!

Ju: Sure, so I'm the co-founder CEO of Hero Cosmetics. If you've never heard of us, we're most known for our mighty patch patches we sell. If, in fact we sell a box every 15 seconds with over two million boxes sold in over a thousand stores. We have been in business for about three years. And the fact about me, I actually live in Paris, but my company is based in New York. So I kind of joke that I have a very long commute because usually I'm going to New York once a month for work. But obviously, given sort of the health pandemic, I've been able to do that as much this year. But normally I'm kind of split my time between New York.

Wow. Every 15 seconds. That is crazy stuff. I love those kind of statistics.

Holy moly. Wow.

Doone: I want to go back to life before you got started with here to talk about what you're up to, what you were doing and what kind of led to that moment where you actually thought, hey, I'm going to start something now.

Ju: Yeah, I mean, I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. My dad is an entrepreneur, so I sort of grew up with that as an example. But then I ended up going more the corporate route. I actually got my MBA in New York at Columbia Business School. And then I after that, I worked for a series of a joke that I worked for some of the world's biggest companies. And then I left I left it all to start my own small company, but I worked for Kraft Foods and Brand Management. I worked at American Express, actually worked at Samsung in Korea, which brought me to Seoul as an expat for two years. And that's actually where I discovered the acne patches. So it was while I was on an international assignment and I was living in Korea working out. And then I noticed a lot of people walking around with these these patches on their faces. I asked around about what they were. Someone told me they were for acne. I decided to give it a try. And I was just so amazed at how well they worked. And then immediately I started wondering why I was learning about it at that moment and not like 15 years ago and why it wasn't more readily available in the US. And then that sort of gave me the spark of like, hey, this could be a business idea.

Doone: That is so cool. Oh, my gosh, it's funny how Korean beauty is just so ahead of the rest of the world in those kind of innovations. Yes. When you had that idea and you kind of had that moment of, OK, I'm going to turn this into something, how did you go then about validating the idea to a new market and kind of thinking, OK, will this actually work in America and the world?

Ju: Yeah, I mean, one of the first things I did was do research, so I immediately started researching on the Internet to see if there actually were products and brands like this that existed in the US.

I went on Amazon and Google search and then what I discovered was that there the product did exist. Actually, there were like maybe one or two brands that had keloid patch for acne, but they weren't beauty brands. It was like they were like medical brands, like Bande Brands that sold at Walgreens in the banded aisle.

And so when I did the research, I was like, you know, I think there's opportunity here to introduce this product as a beauty brand. I thought there was room in the market and then immediately started looking for manufacturers just to kind of get samples and see if I could establish a relationship.

And then in Korea, every sort of either cosmetic, basically every cosmetic manufacturer, you have to put the name of the manufacturer on the back of the box. So I went to a pharmacy. I bought up like so all these different types of acne patches flipped over the box. And then I took note of the manufacturer names. I Googled them. I called, emailed them. Sometimes I called them to see if I could get some samples and I told them I have this idea. So those are the two things that I did at first. I did the research to see if if I thought that there was actually room in the market for this idea. And then the second one was I started reaching out to manufacturers to see if I could work with them, to concept, to really concept my idea.

And what were they saying to you when you were reaching out with a like interested in having someone come on board to create a new brand for a different market? And what was it that they were looking for in a partner to actually build a brand?

I mean, actually, a lot of them didn't even reply to me. I'm sure it's like some random person sending them a cold email, like wanting wanting samples of their products. But some of them did reply to me. And it's just it was kind of luck, actually, because the manufacturer that I think a two or three manufacturers ended up replying to me and then one of those we still work with and they make like the best quality has patches in Korea, in my opinion.

And I was lucky because my email landed with the person who was in charge of international sales. And so he was really interested in expanding his international business and exploring new markets. And so for him, it benefited him because it would help his business and then it would also help him look good if he could find the right partner to really tap into the US. I think they have tried the US on their own, but they couldn't really break through. And so I think he was interested in working with an American who was also Korean Americans, who was also Korean, the kind of straddle the two. So I think he was eager to find a new contact.

Yeah, amazing. Wow. And so you have the guy, you're like, OK, let's start sampling and getting the products ready. What was that timeline like and how long did it take until you had a product where you were like, OK, I'm actually able to place an order now and get started for real.

It probably took about a year, so there was initial contact, there was a period of getting some samples, there's a period of working with them to kind of refine the samples and to kind of customize the samples and then their logistical, administrative things, like I actually have to co-founders. So coming up with the company name incorporating or solve getting, you know, maybe in Europe, it's like that number or that number. But in the US it would be a number getting like legal documents. So just getting all that stuff in place and then going from sort of idea to launch probably took almost like 12 months.

And so we launched we on September twenty seventeen. So and actually, in my experience now, I've noticed that launching new products does take about 12 months. So I think that's kind of like a good rule of thumb in terms of if you're thinking about launching a product, how long it would take.

Yeah, that's a great insight. That that that's what you've noticed now. Now, having launched multiple products, how are you funding the business until that point?

We are self-funded. We were we were totally bootstrapped, so myself and my two partners, we each put in X number of dollars into a joint like a company bank account. And so it was good because it forced us to really focus on being profitable from the very, very beginning. We are not a U.S. backed company, and so we couldn't pay ourselves like fancy salaries. We can spend too much on design. We can spend too much on fancy PR firms or anything like that. So it was really like, you know, boots to the ground, really being resourceful. And we're still bootstrapped to this day. So I think focusing on that profitability really helped us. And it actually makes us more attractive as as an asset or as a business to other investors. That's what I noticed.

Yeah, absolutely. Wow, that's so exciting. So cool. It's a really nice Segway to get into talking about specifically how you launched and how you brought the brand to to market.

Yes, so we took a different route than a lot of other consumer brands we launched on Amazon first, so, so kind of related to your previous question about how we improved our product market fit.

We use Amazon because, again, we we didn't have all this money to put up a DC side and to find three people to do the design.

So the most resource efficient channel for us was to put our product on Amazon to see if people actually wanted a product like this. So it's really easy to sign up for a seller's account. You create a product page, you put your images on there, you put your content on there, you make sure all your copy and descriptions are optimized. You can even send your products into the Amazon fulfillment center so that they do the fulfillment for you so you don't have to go looking for your own fulfillment center. So we use Amazon to prove out kind of the initial product market fit. And then we proved it out very quickly. Within three months, we had sold out of our initial inventory, which was how many pieces or how many boxes?

Ten thousand. Ten thousand units. Wow. OK, yeah.

So were you like directing people to Amazon? You were still doing your marketing as per usual.

Yes. OK, right. Got it right.

So you know, with an Amazon strategy, there are three things I think that are very important. One is you can advertise within the Amazon ecosystem.

So Amazon has our own paid media platform that you can leverage to boost awareness of your products. The other thing that you need to do is focus on organic content so I can focus on like the product titles and then the copy and the description so that you have the right keywords, so that when someone's searching for a similar product, your product can show up in search results. And then the third part is you need to do you need to focus on marketing outside of the Amazon ecosystem. So I focus a lot in the beginning months on PR.

So I did a lot of PR outreach, influencer outreach also, and then made sure everyone pointed back to our Amazon page. So. So at that time we were just really focused on Amazon getting all our marketing point back to Amazon. I think we built like a Shopify, like a one page site, and then with the product image description and then even that page linked to Amazon. So we were like hundred percent focus on Amazon getting all kind of marketing to lead to that, to that channel. So that's I get the question, how do you start out on Amazon? How do you get sales? And that's kind of what you do. You have to I think you just really have to focus on it and then get Prescot influencers. Get everyone to really point to is one channel.

Yeah, well, I mean, ten thousand after three months. That's pretty impressive. Will you then like OK, now we should make our own site and start selling data, see through our own Shopify or our own platform.

Yeah, that happened, so we launched on Amazon September twenty seventeen, and then we lost on our D.C. site to like June of twenty eighteen, twenty eighteen.

So that's almost it's like nine, eight, nine months or something. After is when we launched our D.C. site. And part of it was just resources. Part of it was money because again, it costs money to put up a website to make to design and make it look nice. And then you have to find three people to do the fulfillment. And so part of it was just having the time, having the resources in terms of people and having the cash to make it work.

Mhm. Yeah. And in that time we also then starting to find the retail partners and building out that retail side of the business. Or did that come later.

That came before actually. So the cadence was we lost on Amazon September of twenty seventeen. I immediately started pitching retailers and then Anthropologie was the first retailer to take us on in January. So like three to four months later we were in Anthropologie. That pilot had gone really, really well. So they launched this nationally. And then as we started, as I started focusing on PR, I started getting a lot of inbound requests from retailers.

So like Neiman Marcus emailed me wanting our products, I think Goup American Eagle wrote like I had a lot of inbound because they would read about us on Instagram and then I'd get an email saying, Oh, we want to carry your products. So that happened. Some of that actually happened before site. So our order of operations was Amazon specialty retail and then dissy. And then a year later we launched into the Mass General.

Oh, wow, gosh. And what do you think was the specific thing that got them interested in your brand? Was it because there wasn't a lot of other competitors in the space or was it something else?

I think they so buyers are very trend savvy, like it's their job because it's our job to spot kind of what's new and and it's their job to create things that they think their customers would want. So I think Acme patches the I think because of beauty, a lot of the buyers new acne patches were kind of an emerging trend. But at that point in time, the only options really that were available were Korean brands. And so I think they liked the idea that there was an acne patch made specifically for the American audience with the company that was really going to support it with marketing and education. And then for them, I think acne is unfortunately, a lot of people still struggle from acne and everyone's still looking for the magic bullet for their for their acne. So I think they saw it as an emerging trend. And then, B, it was something that their customers still struggled with and were looking for solution for yet effective solutions.

Totally. And now that you're a few years and you've gone through lots of ups and downs and tried lots of different things in marketing, what do you find that's working for you now? And given that you are so big, how do you continue to scale and acquire new customers at scale?

Yeah, I know growth as you continue to grow, it just sort of gets more complicated. But so I mean, so we started out with one product and it kind of became a cult product. And now what we're doing is we're building a whole new regimen and we're building out our product portfolio to include different products for the entire lifecycle of your your people. So we have the patches for like when you have that we had we have micro pads for when it's underground. We have products where the discoloration that happens after people. So we're kind of building up this routine. And then actually what we've noticed that's interesting is that every time we launch a new product, that's not that's not a patch, we gain a ton of new customers. So we launched two products. One was lightning, one which actually will grab it as like a brightening serum in the stick. Looks like we lost it. Yeah. And then we lost the rescue bond, which is kind of our version of Neosporin. It's a healing bond for the people. When we launched those two Skewes, which are non-cash items, like over 70 percent of the customers that were buying those products at launch were new customers, totally new customers of the brand. So what I realized is every time we launch an incremental new product, it brings incrementally new customers. So that's a great way to acquire. And then in terms of the scale, I think retail partnerships also are great, because if you can partner with a national or global retailer, that brand Halo and that brand awareness really just helps your company overall. So those are two things that we're looking at.

Yeah, that's so interesting about launching the new product. And I guess, you know, you'd gone from having that kind of one, one SKU store that you were able to easily divest all of your attention to and then direct all of your attention to rather and then adding in those new products, you're kind of like, oh, this is an interesting insight. Do you think that because people there are some people who just aren't kind of interested in wearing the patch, but they know about your brand or that heard about your brand?