Joining me on the show today is Katie Sturino, dog mum, influencer and beauty entrepreneur!
She’s the woman behind the brand Megababe, a brand creating products for women that no one seemed to want to talk about, products for booby sweat and thigh chafing. Katie found herself shopping for products that she couldn’t find anywhere else except the guys grooming department!! With her mega community behind her, she set out to innovate in the beauty industry and bring cute products to women all around the world.
We talk about her journey about getting started in beauty and what you should look out for when you’re finding a formulator, how long it takes to develop a product and why she didn’t want to take on any investment.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Um my name is Katie Sturino, and I'm based in new york city. I'm a body acceptance advocate on instagram, which is how I got into this whole business of mega babe and mega babe makes products for women so that they can feel more comfortable and ultimately more confident in their day to day lives. Love it, love it. We usually get started by going back to your early days, going back to your roots, I knew you grew up in the midwest and so I want to go back to that time in your life to find out what you were doing and what drove you to pack up your bags and move to new york.
00:05:38Edit I think that I had always had the very common fantasy that that a lot of girls have where they just, you want to be in the big city, you want to be doing the big things and being in Milwaukee. There is good stuff there, but you're not, you don't have the same access to fashion and two, it's not new york. Um so I, I started interning here during college at Chanel in their fashion department and then I decided that I really wanted to work in high fashion and then I kind of quickly found out that I didn't want to work in a high fashion because high fashion is full of awful people, so yeah, so I switched out, I I changed careers and went to work more on the boutique pr agency side of things. Amazing, and is that where you kind of decided that you wanted to get into blogging and you wanted to get into instagram and launch a brand or have you already thought at that stage?
00:06:43Edit Yeah, I'm gonna I'm gonna be an entrepreneur and get some experience here with pR to eventually do my own thing, you know, I did start my own pR company called Tinder at um at the age of 25 I which is very early and very young, but I just figured that I was doing the work on my own at all these agencies I was working at and why don't I just do it for myself, make a similar salary and not have to deal with, again, more awful people, what an industry. And then um I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I guess I was an entrepreneur because I started my own pR company, but I knew I wanted to do more things and then it was several years of me kind of thinking about things to do and then not doing them and I actually decided that when I, when Instagram was really like starting up about 10 years ago, I decided to make my dog famous. So I really put a lot of focus and effort into my dog toast and she ended up getting famous and having an incredible life and we raised a lot of money and awareness for puppy mill, um puppy mill awareness and uh, for rescue and adoption because she was a former breeding dogs for a puppy mill.
00:07:57Edit So that was magical and incredible. And it's interesting because you do all you can to plan and to make, I don't know if you think you can chart your course, but then it kind of charts itself for you uh, and it's not at all what you think it's going to be. But I, I basically got approached by the man repeller blog and I, they were like, we want to do a style profile on you about how to dress when you're curvy and I was like me because I've always been behind the scenes. So that took a lot of adjusting. But we did that profile and that's really where the seed came For starting my blog the 12 ISH style because I realised that there was nothing else out there for women who were just like above a size 12 that wanted to wear cool clothes. Yeah, for sure and quick shout out to toast because obviously I was one of those followers who absolutely loved toast and I remember how beautiful she was.
00:09:02Edit Um so cute, she made so many people happy the best. So you were doing the blog, you were building your own instagram and kind of building a community around body positivity and that world, what was the light bulb moment that you decided, Hey, I could actually start a beauty product here and I could turn myself into a beauty entrepreneur and I had no background in product at all. So I essentially, I realized that the solutions that existed in the world were for men and athletes to solve the problem of chafing and I, I was like, why is there nothing out there for a cute girl who wants to wear a skirt who's walking to work or walking wherever and why does she have to pull out this gross men's product out of her handbag, why can't she have something cute and empowering? And I decided to check out, I don't know how you make a product, essentially. I talked to some people who have companies and I was like, do you like go to a lab, do you have to make this in my kitchen, like how do you do this?
00:10:11Edit So I ended up calling a few labs and figuring out the pricing and I asked around, I asked my family asked my friends and the majority of the responses from people around me and my world where that this is a bad idea, no one really has this problem. It's very niche. I don't think this is like something you should do, talking to, like the labs. Um, it was mostly men who are like, we don't know what this is. I don't think this is a business idea and it was no, no, no, no, no. Until I finally got to a woman working in the lab who understood, she was like, I get it. Yeah, she was like, oh yeah, totally fi chafe and I was like, exactly. So yeah, and then I pulled in my, my sister and my best, my best friend from childhood and we decided to give it a go. That's crazy. That's crazy. And so during that time, had you even started talking about it on your instagram? Like had you asked other women like, hey, would you buy this or were you just like, I'm clear on the vision.
00:11:15Edit I knew that, that, that because for several years every like March or april when the temperatures would start to get hotter, I would be like, okay, what are we doing for Chase? And then I would ask people what they were using, how to test out products. I would, it was pretty clear on the market because I was, I'm a user found a fit founder and I think that's what they call it for women who want to get into beauty and are going through the process of finding a formulate er, or finding a lab, what are the kinds of things that you should look for aside from someone who believes in what you're doing and gets it. Yeah, that is very important. Um I think that it's also important to find a lab that is not charging you too much to develop a product that is able to work with you on your minimums. Uh the world of working with labs and manufacturers was so new to me and it still is something that I don't really understand sometimes. Um but the development world is very dated.
00:12:21Edit I don't know how it's to say it, but like it's just like a very old school way of doing things a lot of the time, which is hard for me to deal with anyway. So you have to find a lab who gets your vision, who is not going to overcharge you for development and sometimes development can be even be free With many places, so don't go, don't stop at one place who's like, it's 20 grand to do or indeed you can find it yet you can find a place that will either do it comped or for much less money. Yeah, wow, that's a great insight. And so then you're basically like, okay well let's place an order, how many units do you buy? Like what happens next? God, it was so nerve wrecking. So we decided that we would, as long as we were doing this, I decided to also bring in a product for boob sweat called bus dust and it's a, it's an hands free or yeah, it's enhance free application of powder in like a pump, They can pump right inside your bra, it tell free all natural.
00:13:27Edit And so we ordered, we ended up ordering 10,000 units of Uh I rescue because that was the minimum that we, that was the minimum and 10,000 units of bus dust. And we were prepared to have them sit in in my sister and I parents garage for like 10 years. You're like west case scenario. I've got a lot of products that I love and I will use one day. Yeah. And I'm like, I'll get to all of these eventually. Yeah. Um but we didn't end up, it didn't end up sitting in my parents garage. We actually sold out of fire rescue in the first month and we sold out and bust us before we even put it up for a regular order. So that in pre order, that is so insane and so exciting. That must have been such a big special day of your life. It was insane. Were you talking to your community in the lead up to launching the product to tell them about the brand and that kind of thing or did you just kind of like drop it and be like, hey, I have this thing, I really dropped it, dropped it, whoa, that is crazy.
00:14:33Edit I didn't talk about the process because I just, uh you know, I'm kind of a person who doesn't like to talk about stuff until it is ready, it's come to fruition. Yeah, I wasn't sure. I didn't want to give anyone any ideas. And now I kind of have the now I, I like sometimes like my co founders will be like, Katie, you can't talk about that, it's six months out from launching, and I'm like, but it's so cool because now, you know, you get the products so much earlier and you anyway, um but no, I didn't talk about it, didn't bring people in on the process, like I do now. And so when you had those moments, you sold out of the first products really quickly, what happens next? Will you like holy crap, we need to get like a lot more capital together to place a huge order because obviously this is needed for women everywhere. And like, what happens? Well, the first thing I did was cry that we, we were out of inventory in june so that meant that the entire summer was there and no one could buy our products.
00:15:38Edit Um the second thing we did was, yeah, we face the reality that it takes like 4 to 6 months to fill things and to get a product made and I that that lead time is tough for me emotionally. And because I want things to happen now and that is not how this business works. And I think as well, if you're a creative and well, I'm speaking from my own personal experience, but someone who likes to do things ad hoc and you're like, well this is a great idea, let's do it now, but you're not like the same six months ahead, you're like, oh, that's six months away, like what? Yeah, who even cares about six months from now. So I've had to address the way I think a little bit, but not really. I'm, I'm still pretty much annoying to everyone around me, but yeah, we, so we, we are self funded by choice. We've had and have a lot of options for capital, but we have decided to take a different route. I think now some of those things have come out in public where you're seeing companies who took a lot of investment that have failed and I think especially over the past three or four years you've seen, it feels like every day a new brand launches and it gets like, and there's billboards and there's everything and then like, you see like a little article that they are out of business like 18 months later because they burned through all their money.
00:17:03Edit So we decided to just keep it self funded and pulled from our personal savings to fill those next orders and we've actually been profitable since our first year? Well, incredible. And what are the kinds of things you're doing now in your marketing to grow the brand and is your philosophy more in terms of like, let's grow slowly or are you still trying to accelerate growth with your own um, cash that you're putting in and that kind of thing. We're growing slowly I think by choice I guess because we're not putting in extra capital from outside sources so we do, we can with the budget that we can and for us that means paid social and it means like we're just getting into some sampling opportunities, sampling is really expensive and that's like something that you don't think about and you're like, well, it's just product, but you're like, oh, that's like 50 grand of product. So when you start to put those things in terms your marketing budget can get kind of big pretty quickly.
00:18:10Edit And uh, we did our first influencer campaign this summer, which was very interesting coming from the other side because I coordinated it. So it's like I'm coming from, I'm a brand and I know how to, I know how to perform for a brand to, because I do that from my own personal income and um, it was so interesting the way that some people just really performed and some people just flopped and how disappointing it was for the flat part, but, but wow, when someone does perform, it's really incredible. There's such value in it. And do you mean perform in terms of you have an influencer who has obviously a really engaged community and then their community buys, buys the product and comes in to learn about mega babe. Yeah, it's not just conversion. Like I understand that people don't necessarily buy right off the bat, but even eyeballs, if you, if you see someone, if you have someone who has so many views on their story or so many swipe ups, you know that maybe you've gotten at least an introduction into someone's brain who might buy you in a month or two or after they see you another time.
00:19:22Edit How do you think then you can avoid that happening again? Like second time around when you go for another influencer campaign. I don't think you can, it's like, it's because also within, I know this from my own job, it's just that some things like the headphones could perform really well and the hairspray could flock. So it's, there's just, you don't know what your audience is going to react to and you kind of just have to try things and that's how I feel like that's how marketing is. Sometimes you have to try things. I made my sister pay $7,000 to put up um those weak Hastings and uh, you know, like the advertisements outside and uh, I do too, but they flopped big time, they got covered up in one day and it was like a total waste of money, but you have to try. Yeah, I was like, this is what everyone does. this is what you have to do. Yeah, I guess it's like the trial and then testing and then doubling down on, you know what's working and the influencers who do really perform being like, okay, let's keep working together.
00:20:27Edit Yeah, Exactly. Because now you know that you have like two or 3 people in your stable that like perform and that you can tap again. Yes, absolutely. Yeah. I'm wondering about the challenges that you face because obviously from the outside, you know, your brand is firing, you have an amazing community. So everyone I assume looks to you and it's like, yeah, but you have everything, it's perfect like everything is going so well. But of course as an entrepreneur, it's problem solving things go wrong all the time. What are you facing at the moment? That's challenging. To be quite honest. I would say that we're facing burnout with three years in, We're self funded. We have, we do all the work ourselves essentially. I, I mean we have a very small team, very small to support us and like, I think just like three years in of of everyone kind of working two jobs because we all worked two jobs meaning that we, we don't take money from mega babe.
00:21:34Edit So we have to like get income from our regular jobs. Um, and I, and I had someone say this to me a few months ago and it really hit me the wrong way. She was like, oh so many waves your side hustle. She was like, have you ever considered putting more energy into in it? And I was like, no, it's not my side hustle. I just like we just work all the time, that's all and hopefully that will be changing in the next year because we're gonna, yeah you're reinvesting. Yeah. So uh I would say that that will change in the next year because I think we're gonna like maybe do some sort of salary or something like that where we can make some adjustments, make some adjustments, give everyone a chance to breathe, keep growing in a healthy way. Yes, keep hiring. I think hiring is really key for us. We just hired a marketing person and we um I know that we need a product person and we need, there's there's there's some things that we need.
00:22:37Edit Yeah, absolutely. And I've heard women say before, you know there's that feeling of being like constantly and that you know, fight or flight survival mode and at some point you need to get yourself out of that to actually sustain long term growth and and be able to enjoy the journey as well. Yeah, that's where we are right now is I think is pulling out of it and like after three years just like getting some help. Yes, for sure. And actually I guess looking back and celebrating what you've achieved already because three is a short amount of time to be like winning so much at that we're really bad at that and I think that part of the reason we're bad at it is because like it's hard to look back when the mountain is so high And you're like we've got like 10 products to develop and we have to like like this is the deadline and this and like Oh my God they put the wrong fragrance in like You know 100,000 units of this product. So now like what are we like? So there's always fires and I think it's if you do need to look back but it's hard to do for sure.
00:23:42Edit I've heard that before. What advice do you have for women who have a big idea and want to launch their own business? Oh I would say if I think the thing I hear most often is people are like well I can't quit my job until I can't I have to quit my job and then I'll do my big idea of business but I disagree with that um advice whole heartedly because I think you will know when your big idea has got into a place where you can quit your other job to work on it full time and until then you just have, You have to find the time like you have to hustle and it might be soul crushing that you still have to go to your 9-5 and then work at night on your passion project, but like that's what you have to do. I think, I don't know unless you, unless you are someone who is, I'm very scrappy and that's what I would do. Some women are like, great, I'm going to go raise money and go do this and that's just not me. Yeah, absolutely, and I think having that extra level of security to know that you're able to pay your bills and and also teach yourself the hustle of entrepreneurship in general because when you quit your real job, you're still gonna be working the night.
00:24:58Edit Yeah, yes, you actually work more exactly. We are up to the six quick questions part of the interview. I love this part. Question number one is, what's your why helping women, helping women feel confident, comfortable, keep them sparkling everyday. Love that question number two is what's been the number one marketing moment that made your business pop? I think um we appeared on the Today Show our first summer and that was that, that pushed us over the edge for our lunch. Absolutely. And I imagine that drove a lot of like mass audience for people who were just, you know, watching from absolutely everywhere. Incredible. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading listening to? What are you learning from? I listened to how I built this, I listened to uh you know, I follow basically like every other beauty entrepreneur in the space I fell on instagram.
00:26:11Edit I watch what they're talking about. I watch what they're doing. I, I have a small, like a group of friends that are in the business that I can text questions too. So I think it's important to find people who you can trust to touch base with and then also watch similar journey so you don't feel so crazy alone and regarding the experts and learning something disappointing that I have found I think is that um, I guess it's not disappointing. It's just like you get to a certain place and no one has the answers. It's not that they're smarter than you. It's just that they have done it already. So it's like, like you keep expecting this person to be like, let me fix everything for you and make it all easy and it's just that it's not easy and that's the answer. Yeah. And everyone faces unique challenges that are only specific to them as well. Yes, for sure. Question number four is how do you win the day and that's around your AM and PM rituals that keep you feeling happy and successful and productive.
00:27:18Edit I meditate in the morning. I walked the dogs and get coffee with my husband and that's like a very calming part of the day and then I, I actually have started to clock out kind of early, like especially during Covid, like I stopped working around like six o'clock and I try to just be done. I like that. And that's not always true because I end up bringing my phone to the couch and then I end up answering DMS and during that kind of stuff. But if I can I try to shut it down, try and have that hard finish. Yeah, I think that's really important because it's so easy during corona, especially to just stay on the laptop, just have it on the couch, have it in the bed, it's awful. Um question number five is if you only had $1000 left in your business bank account, where would you spend it? I would hire a pr firm. Nice. So if someone was doing it one month of $1,000 retainer, I would, I would do that.
00:28:21Edit Amazing. And last question is how do you deal with failure? And that's around either your mindset or personal experience? I would say that failure is uh sounds so annoying, but failure is always there to teach you something and you just have to believe that you're still going in a direction that is ultimately where you need to be, we've had so many things happen where you're like, are you effing serious? But I think that those have been learning points for us and that sometimes when we want something really badly, something else shows up that we weren't even expecting and it's even better. Yeah, I hear that, Thank you so much for taking the time today to be on the podcast. I have loved chatting with you and hearing about your business. It's so cool and I'm excited for what's to come. Thank you again.