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How to start a haircare company with Odele’s Co-Founder Lindsay Holden

In this episode you’ll hear my convo with Lindsay Holden, one of the 3 co-founders behind Odele.


I learned so much in this episode when it comes to tips on launching into the likes of Target.


How she pitched her manufacturer to get them to fund the entire development process which blew my mind, why she chose a sampling program and shipped circa 5000 samples out over performance marketing in the beginning and the challenge that indie brands have when wanting to succeed in retail.


Odele is a clean, inclusive, salon-quality hair care brand that comes in beautiful packaging and is priced for the everyday consumer at $11.99.

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


Sure my name is Lindsay Holden. I am one of the Co Founders of adult beauty along with Shannon Kearney and Britta Chatterjee and Odele Beauty is a clean hair Caroline were available at mass and it's meant as a line that's meant to meet your high standards as a consumer, but also enable to share with whomever shares your shower. I love that. And I want to repeat the story that I was telling you before we actually pressed record. So for anyone listening, I have obviously been researching Odell. I was reading about the background of the story and I was like, gosh, this has actually happened to me recently a few months ago, I was asking my friend who is very clued into beauty products and what we should be using and all that kind of stuff and I always go to her as my resource for what I should be using and I was like what do I use for shampoo and conditioner, like what's the brand that doesn't cost, you know $50 for a tiny little thing that runs out all the time.

00:05:46 And so when I was reading about Adele, I was like, Oh this is for me, like I've experienced this problem, I want affordable good quality. Heck it, But I want to be able to buy it in my supermarket, I want to be able to like get it off the shelves like really easily. I mean you explain it perfectly. I mean we saw a white space, you know, to your point, we were looking at supermarket shelves, we're looking at math and we just couldn't understand why there wasn't something that addressed exactly what you're describing to us. It felt like there were clean brands but they were really expensive, their salon quality brands but they weren't clean. And then the truly like the few clean brands that were less expensive like didn't need our performance expectations and you know the result of this is like a very cluttered shower, you know, bottles everywhere. I'm a mom, I've got three kids in my shower. I had the fancy stuff for me, you know, whatever kind for my husband and then the clean and safe stuff for my kids and inevitably you turn around and your toddler is squeezing like Your salon grade, $50 bottle of shampoo and the boat to make bubbles and so yeah, it was born from that need just like, wait, I don't think that crazy good has to equal crazy expensive and this is a space where I want that recipe.

00:07:10 And so Adele was born and you know what else I find funny about this is like if you told someone at the beginning of this journey that you were creating a shampoo and conditioner brand, they'd be like but why it's so saturated. It's so noisy. There are so many options on the market. Yet I met a lot of women like me and like you have experienced this problem and it makes sense like in hindsight kind of thing. Whereas in the beginning people would probably be like you're crazy. I know, I know it is. I mean there are so many options out there. It is a really credit space. And so you know we just really believed in this and because I couldn't tell you why I was buying a really fancy salon kind for my hair. We set out to make that balance and hope that it would get noticed right for that reason. It was important to us to keep the price point. Well, yeah. Was it always hair care? I know you just said you were looking in the supermarket, you were thinking of building a mass focused brand. But was it always hair care?

00:08:11 Yeah, it was hair care. I think for the reason of you know the pain point of the high price point but also thinking like we can do this for a lot less. We can make sure that we over invested. You know the proof is in the group, right? And so that is where we started. I think it's also a much harder category to navigate. Um We saw differences between categories like hair is hair, right? It's like if you're using a men's shampoo versus a women's shampoo a lot of times the differences fragrance. And so we really wanted to make sure that the difference is like we were leading with their benefit driven were based on people's hair type and texture, not by their age, not by their gender, not by any other measure. It's what is your hair type? What is your texture. And then what are the common benefits thought based on people who have those hair types and textures. And so we set out to develop that because we wanted to also simplify the process. We don't think you should need like a PhD to navigate like what shampoo is right for me.

00:09:13 So we wanted to make a really kind of edited. Yeah. It's It's something that you can call right away. Is that working? Is it not working for me? And so we wanted to make that edited like, Oh yes, this is why I'm using this one and make that decision like quick and instantaneous. Even if you're at the shelf in a store shopping for 10 other things. So I'm totally it was hair care. We do see legs and other categories. You know, we see. Do you think about what she terrible. You know, kind of the most basic products. There was a lot of runway there. But hair I think was the obvious place for us to start. Mm hmm I've got it. I've got it. And so if we think about where your story actually begins, where does the entrepreneurial kind of spark kick in for you? And when was that kind of decision to the three business partners? We're going to join together and we're going to launch this brand. When was this happening? Um it's kind of it was a really long time coming. And then also like it happened really fast.

00:10:16 So I say that I've always had the bug, I've always had the curiosity, I am Britta, one of my partners and I met about 12 years ago in business school and we knew our skill sets were very complimentary and we went on to each work for large corporations gaining a ton of experience. I mean awesome opportunities. Right then five kids later, it's like, oh my God, it was a lot. And I think like I had a moment where I realized, you know, my oldest was about to start kindergarten, my youngest was about to turn one and I'm like, I want to be more present for this and I want to remember like this time and you know, I think the large corporation was never like a long term goal or plan for me, like for the entirety of my career. And so there was always, you know, some turn, I think Britain and at one point actually we're talking about starting and made moves to start a baby company for baby gear that look good in your living room as opposed to like big plastic, you know, there's been strides, but then we're like, then we need to have insurance to hold babies.

00:11:26 But anyway, it wasn't the right time, but I ended up leaving my corporate job and just taking a pause because there was no way I could be a mom of three, well, you know working 50 hours a week and figuring out what's next and it was a few months into that then britta and Shannon Britain and Shannon at the company she was consulting for, they took a company through a sale and it happened to be in the hair care space and it was for a very um you know, it was for a natural hair care line and we just kind of started looking at the category in total and moved really quickly when we felt like there was an opportunity for something that was premium performance, clean, um long quality, really inclusive To be made. And so within a few months we started thinking about the execution of this brand, how we could bring it to life and pulled the trigger. So 12 years, but really like a few months, you know when we, when we had the idea and got excited about it and just started the ball rolling.

00:12:33 And when you say you were in that corporate career, your background, you were working for target as a buyer, right? So you also had a lot of insights into where those potential white spaces and where those gaps in opportunities were. Yeah, I would say I was never in beauty, I was always a merchant and I think you get incredible experience looking at how do I continue to grow a bit the business that I'm running or that I'm driving as part of this bigger equation and so that, yes, 100% you look at a category and you say, okay, like how do we make meaningful change and keep building on what's working pull back and what's not, but I love that about that job. And so no matter the category, I think it was a great experience to look and say, okay, here's something that I feel like is not being addressed yet, but I really want it. And I think the benefit to is, you know, that's not always done for yourself, like as a consumer depending on what it is you're buying or what role you have.

00:13:37 But for Odell it was so, it felt so natural and so easy because we're like, wait, I really want this and I can't find it. And so we went out and created it and it was, you know, a lot easier when you're the consumer as well. That's so true. Absolutely. It's like the product founder fit versus like that kind of thing, totally. I read that you did, you know, circa 83 iterations of your formula until you landed on kind of like what you would go to launch with. And I'm wondering if you can share a little bit about those early days of developing the product and what kind of capital is needed in the hair care industry to get started and I tweaked a moment ago, I tweaked my ears sparked a moment ago when you said this industry is particularly hard to navigate. And so I'm wondering if that is kind of part of it. Sure. I mean we love data, we love research. We took a look at like the whole population, right? We're like, what are the hair type and what percentage of people fall into each category?

00:14:45 And so how people talk about their hair, is that fine, medium coarse, is it straight, wavy, curly, coyly. And then what are the benefits that really people with those hair type C, you know, everyone seeks moisture but different levels depending on how fine your hair is or how of course or see your hair. Maybe people seek frizz control. People seek volume, curl definition. And so we boiled it down to the most basic right? Like what those key benefits were and that's how we came up with, you can almost think of it on the spectrum of like moisture that in like shape, right? So like volumizing regimen, smoothing regimen and curl defining regimen and you know, we were lucky and so far is that Minneapolis is this little mecca for beauty. There's a lot of beauty brands that started there. And so we were literally building this company over naptime. We had the benefit of like some of these partners in our backyard and so like all kind of product development, um, regardless of the category, we came, we found a manufacturer who was interested in, it was on this like, you know, it was a bit of the pitch, it was a sales pitch and so we found a manufacturer and a lot of times they have anistan staff and we sat down with them and were like, listen, we have something here, we think we have interest and here is what we would like to go and it was almost there investment in us to start to build these formulations against objectives that we laid out.

00:16:21 So we're like for the volumizing line, we needed to address oil production and be very efficient and like, you know, have a lighter moisture load, not weigh hair down and it's like the chemistry of it. So we're like, here's our goal costs or other objectives, like needs to be eU compliant. We need this the past term testing, we need this to use 100% natural fragrance and here's how it should perform. And so we started testing than their versions of the product objectives that we laid out. We then rolled it out to a larger group of people who also tested these versions and then a larger group of people and then all of that feedback and formed the iterations and got us to where we were today, but as far as capital for that, we didn't need any. And so our partner as the manufacturer, this is their investment in the hopes that this would come to fruition and we would get orders and so so like they're an equity partner, that's what you're saying, they're not an equity partner, but they have the promise of manufacturing, you know, should it become a reality and to them, that business for then the agreed upon terms, you know, a few years, for example, was like there stake in it, that's a pretty good deal to have someone so committed to nailing this and being part of the journey.

00:17:43 Yeah, because I mean, we literally just hired our first person were like, we've been with three of us founders since like day one and a lot of what we've been able to accomplish is through incredible partnership contracts. All right. And that's one great example of it and just to dig one layer deeper for anyone listening who's like, hey, I want to do that. Did you set out with that intention of being like, we're only going to find a partner who is so committed to the cause that they're going to work through this process with us for the commitment of the future or did it just kind of happen like that? And what are the insights or the learnings that anyone else listening could potentially sponge from this conversation and take into their own? Yeah, I think that was what you describe was are optimal path, we are still small that a lot of the bigger guys aren't interested, right? And so we found kind of the right size partner at the right time in their business to capture their attention.

00:18:47 You know, and it was like a reverse cell, just like you'd sell your product into a retailer. We were selling them on our opportunity. Similar is like you go to investors, right? And so I think that there's a lot of different ways that you can do it. You can get if you want to own your formula out of the gates, you can work with a chemist who is free and then shop that formula around to different manufacturers who have different minimums in terms of what they're willing to produce because every time you kind of stop and start, that adds cost. And so I think there's a lot of factors to consider like the volume you need made. Do you want to own your formula out of the gates? Are you willing to partner with a certain manufacturer for committed amount of time in order to not have that upfront investment? But they see a lot, they see a lot. And so it's really having that selling that opportunity and believing in what you're doing and you capture, they were right there with you having that true conviction of what you could do.

00:19:51 Yeah, I mean, it's pretty crazy to me that you've only just hired your first full time staff member because you guys are in like, you know, 1000 plus target stores at this point. Something crazy as well as you do to seaside. That's wild. Yeah. And I mean, I would say that like we also didn't, you know, we launched a month before the pandemic. So we were there and we have all these plans and then all of a sudden we're like, oh my God, right. And so I think we're still working from our bedrooms looking for some office space, but just figuring out like what is this going to look like next? And I think that delayed are hiring. But it was it was okay like we did that there's just so many great people out there who specialized in their fields of expertise and yeah, we made it work, kept it lean. I love that Kathy lien, very lean. Well I guess there are three of you as well. So it's actually, you know, that's pretty cool.

00:20:52 Yeah. Yes. Mhm. Hey, it's doing here. I'm just popping in to bring you a quick message in every episode of the FSC show, you'll hear women who were just like you trying to figure it all out and hustled to grow their business. And I would know a lot of you might be sitting there asking yourself, but how do I actually scale my revenue and get to that next level from where I am now. You also know that so many of the entrepreneurs I speak to have mentioned facebook and instagram ads as a crucial part of their marketing mix from today onwards. I'm really excited to be able to offer our fsC small business owners and entrepreneurs and no strings attached. Our long chat with leading performance marketing agency amplifier, who you might also remember from our D. I. Y. Course, Full disclosure amplifier is my husband's business. And what's really important to know is that I've been able to witness first hand the transformation of so many businesses going from as low as $10,000 a month, all the way to $300,000 a month and in some cases upwards to seven figures.

00:22:11 So if you're listening in and you feel like you're ready to take your business to the next level, jump on a no strings attached call with amplifier where you can ask all the questions you have about performance marketing and whether it's the right time for you and your business to get started. Go to female startup club dot com forward slash ads. That's female startup club dot com forward slash A. D. S. And booking a call today. I want to talk about the launch in that early time to understand what was really working for you in driving that initial momentum. And did you launch into target or was that kind of as a result of your early momentum that they were like, okay, let's do it. Yeah, no, we launched with target. We launched into target and part of, you know, the equation of what I think make models of successful is our price point and we wanted to protect that Low, accessible price point at all costs. You know our products are all 1199 and we needed more volume in order to achieve it. And so we got that with being on target's shelves right then we were able to kind of set with that volume as opposed to what I'm now learning to is a very slow growth, you know, for the DDC at least in our experience.

00:23:29 And so um I think we really, you know, we're kind of old school and a lot of our marketing tactics and I think we really won getting into targets incredible, you know, they've got an incredible assortment and offering at store and so that felt like a stamp of approval. But then once there we also made sure we had our bottles themselves like make this beautiful brand block, it's like okay how can we get her to stop an aisle and pick us up? Right, and then once she picks us up then how do we make it clear that? Like this is great, this is a great option for you. And so everything from our packaging design, it was kind of a risk because it's very quiet and design, we made it look you know, we wanted it to look beautiful sitting in your home, people put so much into their homes were design junkies, it's like how can it look pretty in your shower as opposed to something that screams at you for all the reasons to why to buy it on the shelf. And so I think like that helped our quiet design health in terms of getting it to pause.

00:24:32 We really leaned into pr we've got some really awesome early accolades and mentions and supports from incredible publications. We started getting awards for items out of the gates and I think, I mean I'm of the firm belief that it's like, like I said before, like the proof is in the group, like getting people to try it. Like is our best way of like hooking them, getting people to continue to buy it. And so rolled out a sampling program or I mean just, I guess we invested in a bunch of mini, you know, and we sent them out to as many people as we could and like a beautiful box and like how many? I think that was it. I think we did. Oh my gosh, they're going to like check me later. But I want to say that Like 5000 or so. You know, we made a lot about But how do you even send out 5000? Like who are you sending 5000 samples to? Well, I don't think we got that all through all of them.

00:25:33 We have to dream some donations. Where do you have a list of 5000 names and addresses? That's a lot. Yeah. You know, we just ended up, it's constant outrage. Right? And so I think we started with friends and families were all about sharing, sharing is in our name, Odalis iteration on the um, Norwegian phrase, a deli, which means to share and usually you might, you may know this, right? So it's like, it's a shared, it's a shared product. It's a shared experience. And like it's all about kind of like word of mouth. And I'd much rather you tell a friend about our product. And so we just set out, you know, starting close to home with these gifts and we found some events of mom events, for example, put them in those bags. We, we said a lot of yes, right, because it feels like a better investment than kind of some more of that paid ads or paid influencers, I'd rather a friend tell you about it or you hear about it, you know, based on how they used it.

00:26:38 100%. I read an article and I can't remember if it was you or perhaps british saying it, but either of you, one of you were talking about the struggle of indie beauty brands and the problems that they face in not being able to scale into retailers like Target. What does Target want to see like if you come to them and I know you have a background there. So of course you have a little bit more insight into how this works, but for those of us on the outside, if you come to target and you say, hey, I have this amazing product, it's, you know, it feels this particular space that we've noticed you have on the shelves, it's the price point that's desirable for your customers. What do they want to see? And I mean like, do they need to be like, hey, we need proof that you have the funding or the budget to be able to buy into inventory of 100,000 units or is it more negotiable or flexible? I'm kind of wondering what they actually ask for when brands come to them. Sure. I think it's important to know the cost of doing business and that may be harder part for some of the indie brands, the scale, you know, there's a lot that goes into it.

00:27:43 You know, we have a group that helps manage all the promotions, making sure our product gets there on time in the right place and we support the promotions that they plan, we plan our own promotions on top of it. All these things cost money. Right. And so I think it's kind of familiarity with like how to be successful because the most important thing is making sure the shelf has product on it and that's sometimes it's like harder than you want it to be. And I think ultimately though, it may depend on the merchant on the category, but it's how are you incremental to their offering, right? How does your brand support priorities that they may have for their total category? Because they're always looking to make sure it's a balance portfolio of brands that make it up. And so I think it's being able to articulate why you believe that's the case. It's knowing, you know, ultimately it's proof is in the sales and the velocity, right? Of course.

00:28:43 But it's being able to make sure product, it's on shelf and there's a lot behind ensuring your insects as well. Got it. I have to follow up questions to that. The first is when you say you work with this team, is that like a team within target or is that like a group that you go out and hire to manage the logistics for you, There is a third party involved, usually that's a middle man or woman to target. That helps you stay on track because there is a lot of information coming at you and requests and so they help manage that hand hold you through it. Yeah. And I think that saves a lot of time. It saves a lot of time and make sure that you're not dropping the ball because there's so many coming at you at all times. Gosh, I bet it's hard for me to even wrap my head around being stopped in 1000 stores and what that actually means. In reality, I'm wondering when you say, you know, entrepreneurs need to understand like what the price of doing business is not necessarily relating to you and your business in your situation, but just say like is there a ballpark number that you're like, hey if you're looking to go into the likes of whole foods or Target or one of these big box kind of retailers, what's the number that you need to be like, oh I need to have this amount of money baseline per month ready to make these partnerships work.

00:30:04 Yeah. That's really hard to answer. But I think um because it depends on the category and the different margin expectations that each category entails and you forget it's like what's really nice about these retailers? It's like we get paid every time you're placing an order so it starts to fund itself if you have a solid business. And so that's the benefit. I think it's just making sure it's like okay after you know there's my markup right there is the margin that I am offering our product to this retailer at then what is the cost of the firm that's helping me manage the business? What's the cost of the promotions based on the frequency? Are they asking me for support in terms of education of their staff or do they want sampling programs? Do we need to help pay for P. O. P. On shelf? And so those are all little things that add up and I think like it's always great. I found like the Pure Network which I'm talking to you with a female startup club here, but like the pure network is such a wonderful resource.

00:31:13 So finding somebody who may be in your category who can tell you and help you and there's so many resources for you to then build like, okay, this is what it would feel like. And for us we ended up raising capital too, mostly just support our first inventory by and so in our first round to set the shelves and then once that was in and then we started getting paid like it's become more of a self sufficient cycle. Mhm Got it. And because that's something that, I mean we talk about this often on the show, one of the biggest challenges in the CPG space and like F. M. G. Products is that you need the working capital to be able to keep that growing. But does that mean for you, it sounds like maybe you're not going to take the path of constant VC funding and you're taking the path of you raised initially and then you might be good to go. Yeah, I think, you know, we've taken out a loan to help with for example, first year we started in 1000 doors an hour in 1800 doors. And so again to like to leverage that in order for that bulk up.

00:32:18 But yeah, I think like we're not ready for that yet. You know, we see money just yet. I think we see so much more potential for growth, just like on the path that we're currently on, and it may be a time where it feels better when we're okay, like we've done, we're the we're like needing to scale um down the road, you know, more with more experts, kind of in the business of scaling and more money and marketing and those kinds of decisions. So I think it's not an if it's like, it's a win and we don't really feel it yet. Yeah. And also, I guess, like, that's a great position to be in for you, because it means you can retain more equity, You can go to these partners with a lot more leverage and credibility and proof that what you're doing has the potential to be really, really big and at a huge scale. Exactly. Oh gosh, that's so cool. I want to know if there's someone listening who's in the hair care industry or in the personal care industry, are there any kind of critical two DUIs and critical not to do?

00:33:25 So I e don't waste your time on this, or waste your money on this in the very beginning that you could kind of, like, put out there based on your own experience you are. I mean, I've seen so many paths, it's so interesting to look at other brands who may have started at the same time we did, and they look completely differently and they're like, they're killing it. Um I think reviews are so important and back to, like, my comment on sampling, like just getting your product out in the hands, I don't think you need to pay people to talk about your product. I think it's like, I think like just fostering and investing in like those authentic connections, those authentic relationships, sampling, just focusing on reviews because it does matter so much what other people are saying and that's kind of that gut check right? When people go and look and find you online, they're like, what are the stars? You know how to sound this work? Yeah, totally. So I definitely think that that is super important. I think it's like be kind to yourself along the journey. There's just so many ideas and so many paths to take and it's impossible to do them all well at the same time.

00:34:32 So it's okay to take your time. Like as you're, as your scaling and growing um but you're never going to feel completely ready, you just kind of have to start, right? And then one thing that gets the next and like you, I would also advise, I mean talk to people, I'm a collector of information I've learned so much and like whenever you feel stuck, just reach out to appear and so many people are like so willing to share what their experiences have been, what worked for them or didn't work for them and you know, or reach out to this person when it comes to hey, you know, it's been wonderful, Like a wonderful community. So I would say also take advantage of that totally. I um, when this episode actually comes out, it'll have already launched because it launches on monday, but we, we've been working towards building our private network and community for women who are building indie CPG brands and to do all of those things that you're saying, like, firstly, you know, build a network of people who are at the simila