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?
Yeah, I think so. I think there are some people where, for example, with the lightning wand, it's a brightening serum that helps with the hyper pigmentation. And there are probably a lot of people who have hyper pigmentation and are interested in the product, in the format, but they don't necessarily have acne because you get like sunspots or age spots or you can get dark spots from, like, a lot of different things. So I think, yeah, my guess is that we're getting people who are not necessarily interested in the patches because maybe they don't break out, but they're interested in having the rescue bomb because it's sort of a healing cream or they're interested in you one, because they suffer from sunspots or AIDS spots or something like that.
That's so interesting. And because I also imagine that people who use your patch product, they would tell their friends about it, but then their friends would be like, oh, I'm suffering from another issue that's related, but it's the same. So of course, I can't use that. Oh, that's amazing. It's kind of genius. I love that for you.
Yeah, I think it's super interesting. I didn't think that this would be I thought the numbers would be reversed. I thought actually, like 70 percent of the customers who would who bought these products would be repeat would be people who already know our our brand. But yeah, I was very pleasantly surprised that over 70 percent are totally new customers to the franchise, which I think is awesome.
When you look back on the last few years, obviously there's a lot of brands that start they don't continue this. A lot of different brands in the beauty industry in general. What is it that you attribute your success to and why do you think it's been to the success that it has reached?
That's a good question. I mean, I think we got kind of lucky because we found a product that actually provides a real solution to a real problem. So then cosmetics and beauty, it's kind of hard because there are a lot of products that, you know, they'll say, oh, it helps keep your skin hydrated or helps with fine lines, but it's hard to see the difference. It's hard to see the noticeable difference quickly. But with our with our patch products, you see the difference. Sometimes literally overnight you'll see the gum, you'll see the parts absorb out the dog, and then your pimple will literally be like flattened overnight. And and those kinds of results, I think while people because they're not used to products that do that, like, so quickly. So I think we got lucky because we have a product that is an actual solution to a very real problem. And you can see and feel the visible results and like I guess a lot of skin care products. And then. Yeah, and then I think we also we kind of hit the mark with a lot of our messaging because we're clean, we're vegan. You know, we have certain values that people now care about that a lot of the other kind of incumbent brands weren't really talking about internally.
And if I'm to ask you the same kind of question, but on you know, just relating to you as an entrepreneur and building this business, what do you think it is about yourself that you can attribute that success to? Or maybe the better question is, what's your superpower in building this business?
That's a good question, I think one of my superpowers is I have a good sense for product and I think it probably comes partly from intuition, but partly from my training at Kraft Foods, because I used to love when I was working there at one of my favorite things to do to launch new products. And there was a lot of research that goes in and and ideation and brainstorming and creativity. But I think I have that. I think I have a good sense in terms of what will do well and what will do well. And I mean, so far, all of our products have been hit. So I think that's definitely a superpower.
And then probably the other one is I think generally I can hire pretty well like you in an interview because your team is so important as you're building your company. And we have a really great team. We've had no turnover, basically no layoffs or no answer. I know no one has left our company voluntarily. And I don't know, I think maybe that same intuition. But when I interview people, I kind of I can get a sense of yes or no, they're not a fit. And so we've created a great team.
I love that. How big is your team, by the way?
We're 15 going on 20 very soon.
Oh, my gosh.
Well, in New York, Onaka are mostly except for myself. I live in Paris with my friends in Seattle.
Amazing. What does the future look like? What's coming up next that you can shout about?
Ok, so we have a ton of innovation in the pipeline. I'm really excited for some of the products that we're launching next year. Judging by the success of our non-match products, we're going to be doing a lot more unpatched products. And I think it's going to be a hit because we see a lot of white space in the category there. Yeah, I mean, it's just going to be really focused on distribution, really deepening our relationships with current retail partners, setting the stage for twenty, twenty two and continuing to hire. We're going to be going on a hiring spree, so we're going to be beefing up our team a lot. I'm also really excited to do a lot of cool marketing starting next year because the first three years we were so scrappy, we just didn't have that money, a lot of money to do anything like crazy. But I'm hoping starting next year we're going to be able to take a lot more risk with our marketing.
Sounds exciting. Exciting for everyone who is looking for interesting jobs. They can come and knock on your door.
Yeah. Yeah. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business?
I tell people, start small, I think people will have these great ideas and then they get very intimidated because they don't know where to start.
You have this big idea of how do you how do you get there? So I usually tell people to start small, like whatever your idea is, create a prototype. Just have the goal of, like, making 10 and selling 10 or making 20 and selling 20. It's easier to start something if you break it up into smaller steps and really you just have to go and you have to do it. I do talk to a lot of people who have all these amazing ideas, but they never take action. And so it's really, really important to take action, just do one one thing a day and just keep that ball moving, because, again, like, obviously we didn't build here overnight. It took over three years to get here, but you just built a little bit every day. And then and then suddenly you might have a big business for us. But I think the most important thing is you have to start and do something and then it's much easier to start if you start small and just break it down to very small steps.
Absolutely. Is that something you learned from your dad as an entrepreneur, being an entrepreneur?
No, not really. I mean, I think from my dad, I learned more business oriented things like business finance, like the importance of being profitable and managing your cash flow and having good growth and vendor relationships and things like that are things I've learned from him and love that we are up to the six quick questions part of the episode.
Ok, question number one is what's your why?
My why is I just for me, I love to create I love to like I love to bake and I love to cook, for example, because I love making things. And so for me, my wife is I just love the art of creation. And starting a company is like such a great example of that, like starting from nothing and then creating this, you know, 15 to 20 person company with a product that sells every 50 seconds. I think I just get a lot of satisfaction from that.
Totally. Question number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that's made your business, pop?
Whew, that's a good question.
I mean, I think I think one of the key pivotal times was when early on the just launched and I was emailing editors and and people in the press and the first publication that we got was into the glass. And that drove our sales pretty significantly on Amazon. Also, I started getting a lot of inbound requests from people like, oh, I read about your product into the glass, like I'm interested in carrying it or oh, I read about your product. Can I can you send me samples? Because I have this article coming up. And so I think that was definitely a pivotal moment for us.
Hmm. Good one. Question number three is where do you hang out to get smarter? And that's around what you're listening to, what you're reading, where you're hanging out on the Internet.
I read The Wall Street Journal every morning. I also my favorite podcast is Pivot by Kara Swisher and Professor Scott Galloway. Those are probably the two biggest things that I do. I mean, I read a lot. I subscribe to almost a ton of trade emails or publications like The Morning Brew and. I read two p.m. I read the Glossy Independent. I read a lot of things, but I think it makes me a better marketer and a better business person.
I really love Lane looks. I'm like always on them. Be like, can I come in this group yet? Because I know you have a big wait list, but I've been reading this for a really long time. Yeah, it's such a good one.
Question number four is how do you win the day? And that's around your AMPM rituals that keep you feeling happy and motivated and successful.
I try to take a daily walk, so where I live in Paris, we are also in our second lockdown, but we're allowed to have one hour of exercise. So I usually take like 40 minutes of that and they go for a walk. And that's when I put my ear pads on. I listen to my podcast. I get fresh air, I get some sun if we're lucky, if it's a sunny day. And so that's really important to me. I think it's probably the most important thing that I do. I know there are some people who do like meditation or the journal, I haven't really gotten into that, but but yeah, that daily walk is really important.
It's key. Question number five is if you only had a thousand dollars left in your business bank account, where would you spend it?
Oh, that's a good question. I would spend it on. I'm a big believer in press and earned media, so I would spend I would probably spend half of it on sending out product to certain creators or influencers like this or Ramras or Tick Tucker's probably tick tock, because at this point, I think my dollars would go further than I was given the other half on sending products to press and trying to land. Another big article maybe in BuzzFeed or New York Times or The Wall Street Journal or something like that.
Totally. I'm going to break from format for a second. What's your experience with Ticktock been like?
Oh, it's. Amongst social channels, it's in the top two in terms of the most important, so both Instagram and Tick Tock are extremely important for us. We get sometimes better results with the creators on tick tock because their videos can go viral faster. And then also, like we started a year ago and years ago, Tick Tock wasn't as known and the rates were so much cheaper, like we paid a creator, I don't know, two hundred dollars and they had a million followers because then because the market wasn't as mature on tick tock as it was on Instagram. So we and we still get creators on to talk to converts so. Well for us I think, I think we're lucky because it's the right audience, the right age group, the right type of content. And it's always we have like a post purchase checkout survey that I'll read, because the question is how did you hear about us? And it toggles between tick tock and Instagram back and forth in terms of number one and number two responses. So for us, like, that's how they discover us.
Actually, that's really interesting to put that in the head. Did you hear about us and to actually drive further into those channels that people are telling you they're coming from? That's really cool. Yeah.
And last question, question number six, how do you deal with failure?
You know, I'm not really afraid of failure.
I think I think of it not really a failure of it as a learning opportunity and not everything's going to work out. I think people have different ways of coping. For me, I like to share and talk things out with people. So, you know, if something doesn't work, I'll usually maybe I'm talking to a friend or my husband or my co-founders or something like that, like, why did this work? What went wrong or what can we learn from it? How can we change things for the future? And so to process things verbally. And yeah, I don't think failure is like that big of a deal. It's just part of the process.
Part of the process. Part of the growth.
Thank you so much for joining me today on the female startup focused. I have loved all the advice you've shared and the learnings that you've had along the way. So thank you so much.
Now, thanks for having me this, happy to join.