How to start an indie beauty brand with Kiramoon’s Lindsey Martin

Joining me on the show today is Lindsey Martin, Founder of Kiramoon.

Kiramoon is challenging the way effective skincare can be delivered. Inspired by the fun and whimsy of Y2K pink aesthetics, they create holy-grail, science backed formulas and deliver them in a cute and user-friendly package.

In this episode Lindsey steps me through how she started her brand from finding the manufacturer, through branding and finding a design agency to her influencer marketing strategy, to launch - and she spares no detail! This is such a cool insight into building an indie beauty brand and what you NEED to be doing in 2021 to win at e-commerce. Lindsey is such joy to speak with and this episode is packed with so much value that I guarantee you’re going to pick up some insights, especially if you’re a small business owner working on your brand at the moment.

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

Speaker2: Definitely so. My name is Lindsey Martin. I'm based in Austin, Texas, and I am the CEO and founder of Kiramoon and we are skincare brand that just launched three months ago. So you're here at the very beginning of our journey and we are creating skin care that inspires joy and self care.

Speaker1: I do feel a lot of joy when I look at your brand and when I look at your channels. That's definitely taking the bugs of Karaman. By the way, what's the name from.

Speaker2: Yeah, so I knew when naming my brand, I didn't want it to sound clinical and obviously skin care because, you know, my wife or care about is so much deeper. It's more about a feeling. And so I wanted the name to evoke the same feeling that the cute products or the formula that smell so nice evokes. And so Chiara is a common Japanese girl's name and Caracara is Japanese also means glittery or sparkly, which is a nod to kind of the over the top branding. And then moon is a nod to luminosity or glow of the skin without being so obvious. And together, in my mind it sounds sort of like this mythical fun, you know, person that loves skincare and pink and iridescent. So that's how the moon was born.

Speaker1: Shut up. That's so cool. I love that. And I love that Instagram filter called Caracara. Is it an Instagram filter, I think, or something like. Yes, yes. Oh, my God, I love it. Pink and stuff that speaks to me

Speaker2: Saying

Speaker1: I want to go back to pre launching the brand. Where does your entrepreneurial journey start?

Speaker2: Definitely so to go way, way back, so my dad is an entrepreneur and growing up, he never you know, he never pushed or taught, oh, you need to be a business owner. But I think, you know, as a child, you observe and you kind of see and I think I saw the work ethic. I think I also saw the highs and the lows and I saw how rewarded and fulfilled he was when his business was successful. So deep down, I always had that entrepreneurial seed, but it took me a bit later in life to kind of nurture it. So I'm thirty five now and I think my entrepreneurial started probably around 30 and I was having quite a bit of success in my corporate job. I was running a sales team for a very large, large software company and I really got to see, you know, the top end of the business. And I saw all the cogs that were making the machine turn. And I thought, this is incredible. And I kind of fell in love with business and I saw where my career was going and I thought, I can do this. Why would I aspire to be the CEO of a software company when I could build my own dream product or service? And I think that that's when it kind of clicked for me. I had enough confidence in the career that I'd built and in myself to kind of take that leap and say maybe this is something you should consider. And so that moment, maybe I want to start my own side hustle or business or whatever, that happened at an intersection between having a really hard time at work and little time to myself and my skin care being this kind of sacred moment at the end of the day. And so that's kind of how the idea of a skincare brand came to life, because for me, skin care had become such an important part of my everyday routine. And so those things kind of happened at the same time. And here we are now. I have a skin care brand

Speaker1: And here we are. Can you dig a little deeper on like these things are happening in your life. You're enjoying your moments of self care in the evenings, but what was actually the thought process into being like, OK, I'm going to start a beauty brand? Like, that's it. That's the light bulb.

Speaker2: Definitely. I, I remember I had gotten off a phone call with a girlfriend and I was sharing with her. It's so strange. I studied fashion. I worked in fashion before I got into software sales and I was on the phone with a girlfriend that I went to college with who was working in fashion and just telling her I feel really confused. I'm very successful in my career. I'm financially stable. I should be so proud. But there's something missing. And she was like, well, what do you love? Like, if money wasn't an issue, what would you be doing with your life right now? And I was like, well, I spend a lot of time like Googling ingredients and product formulation. And so she was she said, oh, you should start a blog, you should be a skincare influencer. And I really didn't want to be in the spotlight. I said, I don't know. So that night I was doing my skincare routine and I was kind of looking at my products, these products that I love, that, you know, when you buy that new lipstick or new serum and you get so excited, there's like this hope like this is going to make me feel beautiful. I can't wait to use it. I think any beauty lover knows that feeling. And I had those feelings about all my products, great brands that I still love and adore today. But I looked at the packaging and it felt like it was really only catering to one aesthetic. It was very clinical and it was white and black and cream. And I just thought to myself, we can do better. This is magic to me. These are magic potions that put a smile on my face. Why is the packaging kind of lackluster? Of course, that was five years ago and I don't think the landscape is the same at all. There's so many incredible brands doing really unique things with visual branding. But that was my aha moment. I looked and I said, we can do better, I can do better. And I decided to do it.

Speaker1: I really love that question. Your friend asked you. And I think it's a really important question that people should remember to ask themselves. Like if you could do anything, if money was no object, what would you do? What would your life look like? It's like a really important deep dive that people should catch up with themselves every now and again to just check in and be like, is this the path for me?

Speaker2: Absolutely. I think it's really hard. There's this sort of momentum of life that we're pushed through. And it's, you know, you go to school and you decide what you want to be when you grow up, and then you're supposed to work and maybe become a manager. And I think having the courage and honesty with yourself to stop and say, am I happy? Do I want this is so scary for me. The moment I realized. There was something greater I was meant to do with my professional career. It is terrifying because then you can't hide from that, you've visualized it, you've realized it, and then you have to do that hard work, which is all the courage and bravery and vulnerability of deciding to start a business, of giving up maybe financial stability. And I think for a lot of women and men who do a career shift in midlife like I am, I think you lose a part of your identity. I really identified with the career that I had before I had so much of my confidence, so much of my confidence came from that career. But I knew I had to take a few steps back and kind of start over to get to a greater long term outcome. So I thought I did it. But it's very scary.

Speaker1: Yeah, absolutely. Something that I really love about your content, especially on Tick-Tock, is how transparent you are about the process. So I want to kind of go back, you know, to when you've started building the brand and you're going through that phase of finding the manufacturer and actually developing the branding and things like that. What are the key steps to building a beauty business?

Speaker2: Yeah, definitely. So I think first step, all the things you need for any business you need to incorporate into business banking account. You need to pick a name, make sure that you're not infringing on anyone's IP, make sure the domains and social handles are available. I made the mistake early on if picking a name before I checked with an IP attorney and I got kind of far in the development and then had to pivot. So yeah, it was awful. I would say that was that's step one in any business. Make sure you have your IP in order and everything is good to go in terms of a beauty business. It really does start with the formulation and the manufacturer. And there's many ways you can do it on many different budgets. The biggest obstacle I had was finding a manufacturer that had the history and longevity that I trusted and felt really comfortable with their practices, with their formulators, their chemists that would also accommodate the Mockus for someone that was self funded. So I would say typically when you approach a large scale beauty product manufacturer, the MACU start at around five thousand units, which, if you're not heavily funded, isn't within reach. And so in the beginning, I was just emailing all these manufacturers and just trying to get them to respond to me. And I would ask, what's your specialty and what's your Macu? That's the most important thing to us, because Amoco's is what's going to eliminate you from being able to work with 90 percent of the beauty manufacturers out there.

Speaker1: Mm hmm. And when you say you were reaching out to people like, how many people were you reaching out to, for example?

Speaker2: Yes, I for sure emailed more than 50 manufacturers. And I would say for the most part, they would reply with some automated message just to filter out. They get inquiries like this all the time. It's I think every day there must be dozens of people that want to start a beauty brand. It's kind of like, you know, beauty is it's a thing right now. And so they would basically reply and say, these are our Mockus just to weed you out. And I think at the time, I was also reaching out using my Gmail, which isn't the end of the world. But I think if you really want to get traction with some of these legit manufacturers, you need to look at yourself. It's a two way street. You know, they're running a business as well. And so I struggled in the beginning. I emailed at least 50 manufacturers with my personal Gmail. And I don't know the response rate from people that took me seriously. That wasn't just an automated email was very low. It was definitely a labor of love.

Speaker1: Like five or like less.

Speaker2: Probably five. Yeah, right. That really replied and said, great, tell me what you're working on. And it's interesting, the manufacturer that I have right now that I landed on, I just caught them in a pocket where I think I emailed them first in like twenty eighteen. It was a while ago and they were really trying to expand their beauty business. So they had lowered their mockus to fifteen hundred units per formula, which was crazy because I'm like, you're one of these big manufacturers, they're based in Dallas and they manufacture products, you see, and Sephora, Alta, Nordstrom, they're legit. And I couldn't believe they were really willing to work with me at that quantity since then. Actually, just this year, they raised that Macu again because they realized, you know, they were opening their doors to so many small businesses that weren't going to become profitable for them. So I feel really lucky that I got in at the right time. But to anyone listening that wants to start a beauty brand, that is something you're going to come up against. So you do almost have to sell yourself. Let them know why they should take a risk on you. Why is your product different? What hole in the market are you filling? Otherwise it could just take you months. It took me months to find my manufacturer. It wasn't easy to get started in that way.

Speaker1: What's the timeline difference that like from when you were doing that? Reach out to now I know you just mentioned twenty eighteen. What's the kind of time that it takes to find someone and formulate.

Speaker2: I would say you can expect. Two to three months minimum to find your manufacturer, unless, of course, you know someone that can vouch and say this is great and you're very excited, but if you're like me, I had no beauty industry contacts. It was me and a Google search. I would say two to three months to find your manufacturer, make sure they're right for you. Hopefully in the future, some day will be able to visit facilities again. I was lucky enough that it was before, but I got to visit my facility. And then after that, the formulation can take anywhere from one to three or four months. And then right now lead times to manufacture a product at your actual fill facility, another three to four months. And that doesn't even include sourcing, designing, testing your other components. But just like, say, today you met your beauty manufacturer, I would say at least a year to get a product to market if it's your first time doing it. That's the timeline that I would expect a year to year and a half.

Speaker1: Got it. Wow, that's so interesting. Yeah. And when you started having this conversation and these guys were like, yeah. Fifteen hundred Macu per formulation, et cetera, what actually happens next in formulating a product like what are the steps.

Speaker2: They're definitely so it absolutely varies. But I can give you what I believe is a pretty general like standard procedure. So basically you just consult with each other on what it is you're trying to create. And in my case, they sent me like a brief to fill out. I have two products that they helped me formulate, which is are exfoliating mask and are hydrating serum. And basically I filled out this form that says I'm trying to make an exfoliating mask. I want it to do these things. I want it to look like this, smell like this. I want you to include these ingredients. Don't include these. There's like the super long list of things that they can't include. I want it to be vegan, gluten free, cruelty free. None of the even ingredients can be tested on animals prior to the lab purchasing them. So basically, you send them this like big you know, it's like a cake recipe and you say, I want you to make this kind of cake and they send you the first iteration. It's like the most exciting thing. They send you samples to try and you smell it and you use it and you give it to your friends or your test group and then you go back. I think most formulators will include three different variations of a formula before they charge you to do more. A really good chemist should be able to nail it in those first three, but it's also not unusual to have to do a second round.

Speaker1: Hmm, that's so cool, I must imagine that getting those samples back would have been like Christmas, getting so excited to be like, is this it? Is this the one?

Speaker2: It's so fun and exciting. But I'll tell you, you know, pretty immediately it's no different than as a consumer when you buy a new cream or whatever and you put it on and it doesn't take a day, it takes minutes to know, did I enjoy that experience? Does it feel nice? Does it smell nice? What's the packaging like? And so it's pretty similar, I think, with the exception of long term actives like vitamin CS or retinol, obviously you need more time. But you know, the products that I've developed up to this point are pretty much like you should see the benefits in one use. And so, you know, immediately this is great or I'm going to have to email my chemist and make modifications. So it's like the build up of the samples and then the letdown if it's not perfect, but that's fine. You go back to the drawing board and if you can communicate with a chemist that you trust, you can make something really special together.

Speaker1: Mhm. Absolutely. I want to talk about your branding. I had a bit of a look and a bit of a dig on the Internet to find out who you worked with. I think the agency was called Youngblood. Yes. What was the situation there. What's it like. How did you have the vision. Tell me everything.

Speaker2: Yeah. So I think it's important to touch on my branding experience, especially for any of your listeners that are just getting started or they're not sure where to start or when to start. So I had my formulas developed long before I reached out to young blood and actually committed like the capital to have them do our branding. I was really afraid of spending that money. And looking back now, the money that I spent on the branding, which I'm happy to share with you, Youngblood, they did all of our package design, all of our branding. They did our website and our photography and all in it was like twenty five to thirty K, which is a self funded brand, was I mean it was the scariest thing I've done for this business up to this point. But looking back so important and so I'm so glad that I took that leap. But to go back to your question, I knew that branding was going to be such an important part of Karaman, it needed to be Instagram a from a business perspective. It needed to be shareable. I wanted it to have sort of that like take it out of the box when you buy it and immediately want to take a photo of it. So that's kind of the North Star for everything that we do. And so it was so important that I picked a branding team that understood that vision and was willing to push the boundaries for me. And so I think I was on Behance or I was Googling, trying to find designers.

Speaker2: And I found some work from Laura Miller, who's the founder of Young Blood. And if you go to her website, it's like bright pink and neon and like topless women with nipple rings. It definitely pushes the envelope. And I wouldn't say that represents what I envision for Karaman, but I knew this is someone that is willing to push the expected in terms of branding. And so after interviewing lots of different agencies, I decided to go with Laura. And it's been an incredible experience. Laura is like my most trusted partner in Karaman. I feel like she totally understands what it is I'm trying to do. And we do a really good job of pushing each other. So like in the beginning, I came to her and I was like, Karaman, it's pink and it's purple. That's what it is. It's sparkly and glittery. Go make me this cute iridescent brand. And she was like, no, she was like, no, it's too cute. It's too much. You need edgy, you need sexy. And I was like, no, I want cute. And so we ended up somewhere in the middle and we find a balance. But yeah, I think that investing in the branding and making sure you picked the right partner is so important. And I just feel really lucky that I got it right on the first time. And it makes me sad thinking about what Karaman would be without young blood.

Speaker1: Honestly, they're so. Gosh, what a glowing review. Yeah. I love that for them. Were there any challenges in building the branding side of the puzzle?

Speaker2: I think one of the challenges I face right now that's worth sharing. I think I'm kind of pushing the envelope in terms of my branding and the price point of my product. I think a lot of people associate fun, playful, with lower price points. And at the end of the day, we do have a premium component. Our bottles are top of the line. We have an airless pump. One of our products includes a free brush, the mask brush and the formulas are exceptional. They're great formulas. And so I think that's something that I'm going to have to come up against a little bit just in terms of branding. But other than that, the branding has been received super well. I think people immediately see it and get it. So I think the only challenge that I'm going to have is can this premium product be packaged in this fun and playful way and be taken seriously. And that's really what I'm what I'm trying to do. Like, if we go back to my story of inspiration, that was the whole thing that I. Was missing. Why can't these Holy Grail science backed formulas be packaged in a cute and playful way? And so I'm really trying to push the envelope in that way.

Speaker1: The main thing I love that I think you're going to figure it out and hit the nail on the head, I'm sure

Speaker2: Thing