Today we’re learning from Sarah, the founder of Curie.
Launched in 2018, Curie is a female-owned direct-to-consumer brand that sells clean, performance-based body care products.
They are on a mission to make clean, safe, and effective products for people who move. We’re chatting through the bootstrap to funding model, how to get on QVC and why you should prioritise building your network - which of course is cue for me to mention our private network for cpg entrepreneurs, hype club. Do come join us!
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Okay, well my name is Sarah Moret, I'm the founder and CEO of Curie. We are a clean body care company based in Los Angeles and we sell an assortment of clean body care products with a focus on delicious signature sense. So we have a aluminum free deodorant, aluminum free deodorant spray that you can use on your whole body, not just your pits. We have a hand sanitizer and a underarm clay detox mask. And we actually just launched our latest product last week which is a scented body oil. Oh nice, very nice. It's amazing. I'm wearing it right now in white T. And it's like the perfect amount of subtle fragrance and super moisturizing, absorbed right into your skin.
00:04:42 I'm clearly very excited about this strategy. I love that. I was actually just admiring and sniffing your product. That is the orange, narrowly narrowly deodorant and I love that it's so nice. Really cool. That is one of our top selling fragrances. Amazing. Gosh! Okay, well, so you're from sunny L. A. But you're in wine country told me in a moment ago, what are you up to today this week? Give us a little bit of an overview. Yeah, so I'm currently working remotely um from beautiful Healdsburg California. Um but this week. Um main thing is honestly preparing for my next Q. V. C. Uh segment which I'm going to be doing on Tuesday of next week. Really excited for that. We just launched on Q. V. C. In january of this year. Um So it what this is I think our fifth appearance which is really, really fun.
00:05:45 It's wild filming Q. B. C. During the pandemic has meant turning my living room into like a set. I literally have like mike UBC set up and takes lots of preparation but it's been a huge, we can get into that a little bit more later but that's been a huge needle mover for us. Um And that's become a big part of my role as Ceo is also key Bc on air talent. So preparing for that and we're just about to start fundraising. So also putting together all the fundraising materials, death, all of the fun stuff. So it's a busy week. It is a busy week. I want to ask you some questions about the Q. B. C. Thing, but let's come back to that like towards the end when we get up to where we are today in the picture because I have so many things that I don't know about Q. V. C. Or what it really is actually. But let's go back to the beginning of where this story starts for you and what got you interested in entrepreneurship and what got you thinking about starting a business in the first place.
00:06:54 Yeah, so I started my career I'll give you the full story but try to make it quick, started my career as a C. P. A. Um which is I worked at a big four accounting firm for two years out of college. Absolutely hated it, not the right career for an extra vert and quickly realized. But it really did give me a great foundation in business and finance and most importantly accounting, which is I think one of the most underrated skill sets for a founder to have um is a really good grasp in you know, financial modeling and accounting. Um So I'm happy for that experience although I hated it at the time and left left PWC where I was at and joined early stage venture capital fund. Um That was where I, you know, I joined as a back office accounting higher, but that was really where I got my start in investing. So I ended up working in venture capital for about five years, four years. I'm starting in back office accounting, but then moving my way onto the investing team where I got to meet with hundreds of entrepreneurs as an investment associate.
00:08:00 My job was to source new deals, bring in new companies um for the partners to take a look at and decide whether we wanted to invest. And so I was kind of not first meeting the first layer, I would get the companies to come in, I would do a one hour call with them and I, like I said, met with hundreds of entrepreneurs and was just so inspired by um, the hustle and you know, we were, this were a seed stage fund, so a lot of the companies that were coming to us, we're early, early, early days, some of them hadn't even started yet and it was so inspiring for me to, to meet these entrepreneurs and frankly, the biggest thing that I learned was like, there's really no difference between, you know, you and me and any entrepreneur out there. I think there's this, this being on the outside of it and not being an entrepreneur yet, you think that these ceos and startup founders are like these special superhumans and I think the biggest thing I learned was like, there are no different than me or you, it's, they just have founders just have the guts to go out there and do it and that is really what separates, you know, the average person from uh, startup founder and I think there was this like, kind of mystique behind it and then I realized, hey, all you have to have is an idea and like the guts to go out there and make it happen.
00:09:19 And that was really, really inspiring for me and that's when I decided to start my journey as a founder and uh, started curie um kind of as a side hustle to be honest, uh started working on curie nights and weekends. Put my own savings into starting it. Built the website myself, designed our branding myself. It was very humble origins, but I'm really happy with the way that I did that I I didn't dive right in, I didn't go raise money. I really found like made sure there was a market for the product before I went all in. Um and you know, running it for running curie as a side hustle for the first year was very challenging. But um it kind of taught me discipline and it taught me to do a lot with pretty scarce resources. So for the first year you were doing it as a side hustle. What led you to personal care in general? And when you were just kind of starting out, how were you actually validating the concept to yourself and getting that customer kind of insight that you were on the right track.
00:10:32 Yeah. So the to answer the first part of your question, when I was at I worked at two different venture capital funds. The second one that I worked for was based in L. A. And we were consumer focused, mostly consumer technology, but we did a little bit of direct to consumer brands as well. And that was where I got really interested in the queen beauty space. It was 2016 2017. Um It was when Moon juice like literally was down the street from us how to line down the block for their adapted jin's and all that beauty counter was just starting Gupta just launched their marketplace. Clean beauty was becoming this like category. I think it used to be seen as kind of a niche category. It was like yeah you could buy natural products that like your whole foods or at the farmer's market but it wasn't super mainstream yet and that was shifting like right in front of me we were seeing so many companies coming and pitching us with clean beauty and wellness brands and companies and I started to get really interested in the science and doing tons of research.
00:11:40 I worked for biotech startup for a hot second. So I got, I got really good at reading research papers and understanding you know the science behind some of these ingredients that were used to putting on our bodies every day. So I learned a lot kind of self educated myself on some of the dangers of these conventional ingredients that we all use um these, I call it drugstore products and I started to make the swamp myself of you know swapping out my products where I could um and deodorant was one of those products where I couldn't find anything that worked for me, it was like when I came to natural aluminum free deodorant like I was better off like wearing nothing like I tried everything out there and I am a sweaty girl so I couldn't find anything and that was where the journey started. I was like I know, I knew that other people were having the same issue as me and um what's team up with a team of chemists that know what they're doing and make something that really, really works.
00:12:45 I think a lot of the other brands at the time were kind of like it was still very much like I made this in my kitchen kind of deodorant formulas and so what I decided to do that, I felt like was something a little bit different than whatever else was doing was I teamed up with this amazing team of chemists that have created, developed some of the most well known, you know skincare in personal care products today and gave them are no no list and things that we didn't want in the products and the ran with it and made our incredible deodorant formula and so it just kind of expanded from there and then I think I was lucky and that I was my first customer like this was a personal problem for me. I think a lot of brands kind of start like that where the founder has a problem and or a need and it's not being met and I think being your own first customer is really powerful because I could test the formulas on myself and I knew if something didn't work for me, what probably was gonna work for other people and that was really helpful because I kind of got to validate the idea with myself.
00:13:52 But then I did I did do a lot of testing. We've iterated on the on the formula several times since we launched. But one of the biggest things that was important to me was the fragrance. I wanted sense that we're unique. I wanted sense that you know everyone, you know how you sometimes I get a whiff of your armpits during the day. Like your deodorant sent is very much part of your personal sense. And so I was sick of like these, a lot of the natural, the natural deodorant. I was testing out. They all smelled like patchouli or like pain trees and I was like that's not the sense that I want to be getting a whiff of throughout my day I want something I do not want to associate with pine trees. Yeah. I was like I love pine trees but I don't want to smell like one. So I paid a lot of attention to those types of details because it mattered a lot to me. And so we developed our signature sense with a scent house. It's been incredible to work with.
00:14:53 They adhered to all of our clean standards and made some really incredible unique sense. We have the white t the orange narrowly, which it sounds like you've been using um in our grapefruit cassis and these scents are really what has set us apart. Um and in terms of validating, going back to your question um how I validated the sense because I knew that that was something that a lot of people are pretty finicky about. People have strong opinions about sense. And so that was something, you know, not only did I test out the product on, you know, probably hundreds of people before we launched, I also went to the mall. This is such a ridiculous story. But when it came time to finalize our signature scent, I was like, I need to get more opinions. I can't just have my friends and family telling me what they like. Like I need real people's opinions. I need people that are going to be my target customer. So I literally went to the mall on a saturday morning with, with I think our top five signature sense options and had little vials of each of the sense and had actually, I think I even had sticks of deodorant that had the scent in them, went to the mall with a clipboard and asked random women that were like walking in and out of Nordstrom to smell the different sense and vote on their favorite and that is how our first signature scent that we ever launched, which was our white tea.
00:16:20 That was how that came to be. That was like the clear winner. And was it what you expected when you on the same path? Uh yeah, I mean I loved our, we had five, I could only afford to do one cent because each sent that we did was like a different minimum and I could only afford to do 11 run. And so I had to choose one sense. I wanted something that was light refreshing and would be universally loved and that was really hard to do. And so I figured let's go ask people. Um, that really have no skin in the game. They're not my friends. I'm not gonna be worried about offending me. Um, and see what they like. And because you know, at the end of the day, that's all that really matters. And so there was a clear winner and it was the white tea, which still to this day is our number one top selling fragrance, wow. I love that as a piece of advice. Just like go to the mall, find a store that is going to your current like target in customer in mind and serve them your product outside and ask what people think.
00:17:26 That's amazing. That takes some real guts I feel as well. Mm that is a piece of advice for sure that I give a lot of founders is when you're starting out, if you're trying to get feedback or validation or even validating your idea. Don't ask your friends and family, like your friends and family, it's going to be really hard to get an unbiased answer. So go out and ask strangers and even if you look ridiculous standing at the door of Nordstrom, um it's worth it because strangers are going to give you honest advice and I think that's kind of sometimes hard to get from your family, friends, and family members, wow, amazing. I love that. It kind of leads me into a different topic that I wanted to bring up around. You said just a moment ago that you didn't want to start kind of by going all in and raising money and that kind of thing. You were bootstrapping it in the beginning, but then you were only able to afford one of the sense, what was your kind of initial capital that you invested into getting the brand off the ground?
00:18:35 Right up until around the launch? Yeah, so our initial capital was about $12,000. Most of that. I think our first production run, including like packaging and labels and stuff like that was 10,000. And then the other 2000 was getting our trademark getting incorporated, building the website, which Shopify makes it basically free. So it was $12,000 all in. Got it, got it. And so then getting to, you were obviously boot shopping it, you'd obviously come from a background working in VCU had really crazy insights that other people just might not have. What was your vision in terms of like when you were going to take on additional capital or, or were you even thinking you would ever take on capitol or what was your kind of like future thought on the money piece. I mean, I wish I could say that I had a plan. I really didn't when, when I started I it started as a personal need.
00:19:42 I figured let's make this, let's make this deodorant, let's see what happens. Um, I had no experience in building businesses and selling consumer products. I wasn't sure what was gonna happen. And so I didn't really have a plan to. Everyone asked me that like, what was your business? You know, you have this finance background, but frankly I just started it and figured, let's see what happens and we'll start selling. I didn't quit my day job. I worked on curie basically as a side hustle with a full time job for the first year. And um, during that first year we saw, you know, a ton of growth, all organic at the time we didn't put any money into marketing. It was all organic. Word of mouth, um, influence our social media and that really got the flywheel going and as I saw the company grow and grow, we hit six figures in revenue in that first year. I got to the point where I was like, all right, I'm on to something.
00:20:43 I think we've created something special here. We have customers that were repeat purchaser. They were buying more and more of the products, they were asking for more things. You know, everyone loved the signature sense the white tea and people were like you guys should do a lotion and body wash and all that. And so I started to see the long term vision here which is what we are today, which is kind of a personal care company that is focusing on, you know, not only effective products but these sense that just add some joy to your day. It adds, it makes these personal care products, not just the utility, it makes them something that you know, add some joy, makes you happy. And so that vision I think was crafted over that first year and that was when I decided to go all in, I put my job and raised a couple $100,000 on a convertible note. Right. And what was that? A couple 100,000 like what did that allow you to do? And what was that spent on in that next kind of 12 months? Yes. So the biggest thing first that I did was rebranded the name was curie all along and still is curious, but we are packaging was way different.
00:21:52 Um it was pink and white and very girly and not really um Not really, I think what, what the brand represented to me and it was very female focused and I learned that there were a lot of men that we're using our products too. So we decided to rebrand in, I think that was 2019 and that was what we used a big chunk of that capital for was creating our new packaging, a new website? I finally hired a professional to do our website. I have built our first website myself, so it was very bare bones. So we revamped our website, rebranded the packaging. We launched two new signature sense. So that's our grapefruit cassis and our orange narrowly. So now we have three right now, we're about to launch our fourth. And then we also launched a new product which is are actually no to new products with that capital. We launched our spray deodorant, which was, that was in January of 2020. We launched our spray deodorant and then we also launched our hand sanitizer in May of 2020.
00:22:59 Oh my gosh! So it was a busy 12 months quite a lot now. But I say that out loud, we did quite a lot with that capital. But another thing was we also, I finally had the cash to be able to start testing marketing channels, specifically digital marketing channels like facebook instagram. So we also use a chunk of that cash to start testing out acquisition channels and how we can reach more customers. Do you think that it was your kind of newness and new products? That was the main contributing factor to kind of your growth from that point on or do you think it was a particular channel like facebook ads, that was the contributing factor because obviously you said in that 1st 12 months things were kind of picking up and word of mouth. But then what was it that kind of tipped it over the edge and gave you that kind of snowball effect if you will. Yeah, that's a great question. I think, I think definitely launching new products is always a great accelerator for a business. I will say though that for other founders like make sure, I think having one product, you know, our soul product was our deodorant stick for the first year plus.
00:24:11 I think it was about 14 months that we just had the stick deodorant and I am really grateful that we did it that way because it let me scale easily. You know, having one product, once you introduce new skews, things get more complicated. So it just made us really lean, really like nimble, we could just make more product when we needed it. We weren't sitting on tons of inventory and it kind of helped us find that product market fit and figure out who our customer is before we started to add fuel to the fire. So I do think that was a really good strategy to start with a really limited number of skews for us. It was one, but I think you see a lot of companies launching with like two or three, you know, a little set of products and I think that is a really smart strategy so that you don't tie up too much cash and inventory and just add too much complexity to yourself. I chain early on, but we did learn, you know, in that in that first year who our customer was the best place to reach them where they're spending their time.
00:25:17 And so as we started to launch new products, you know, we launched the spray deodorant in january 2020 we launched the hand sanitizer in May of 2020. We launched our play detox mask this year and also our body oil. And now as we launch new products, we have this really strong customer base that using our stick deodorant every day, they're opening our emails and it just makes it so much easier to grow quicker once you already have that core customer base and you're just adding on new products that make a lot of sense with the product line and with the brand and so I think definitely launching new products, especially the hand sanitizer helped accelerate a lot of our growth in 2020 we grew 500% last year and I attribute a lot of that, oh my God, that's amazing. Lot of that growth keep in mind keep in mind that I was still doing this as a side hustle the year before, so I went from side hustle to full time and was able to bring on a team as well.
00:26:22 Um so yeah, we had a ton of growth last year and I think the biggest reasons were one launching the hand sanitizer in the middle of a pandemic. Was was um kind of right place, right time, We've sold out of our hand sanitizer four times last year. Um and that really, I think that product really took off in 2020 for obvious reasons, it was just really unique. It was better than any other hand sanitizer. It has hyaluronic acid in it and prickly paris etoile and it just feels like a skincare serum on your hands and it has our signature sense. And so our customers went wild for the hand sanitizer and uh we could not keep that product in stock last year, so definitely attributing a lot of that growth to launching new products and really accelerating our product development cycle. But I think also we unlocked some customer acquisition channels, some ways that we could acquire customers profitably that we didn't have before.
00:27:24 And I think that's the key to really accelerating growth for any company is testing different channels and figuring out what works for you, what works for your brand. And most importantly thinking outside the box, I think a lot of brands fall into this trap of like, oh facebook is all there is like we're going to just spend, spend spend on facebook and honestly right now it's a struggle to acquire customers profitably on facebook, especially for brands like mine where our average order value is, you know, in the high twenties, low thirties, which makes it really challenging. There's a ton of competition on facebook, I mean think about it like Procter and Gamble and Unilever are spending, you know, tons of millions and millions and millions of dollars on these platforms for all their suite of brands and like as a small brand, it's really hard to compete with that facebook is an auction. Um, so I found that early on that the best place for us to go to acquire new customers was the places that were a little more challenging the, you know, off the beaten path that nobody else, especially these big players of the big budgets are looking at and doing it better than then a lot of those companies.
00:28:38 So those channels for us are one influencers and I think, you know, that isn't necessarily off the beaten path, but I think we do have done it really well um, in, in a really high touch, um, you know, relationship focused way that probably, you know, those big legacy brands probably aren't doing, so we're lucky enough to be in Los Angeles, there's a lot of influencers in Los Angeles, so we've done a lot of in person events, we've done digital events. Um, I've taken several influencers out to coffee. Um, I'll treat them to work out and that relationship building like truly becoming, bringing them into the brand and making them feel part of what we're doing has made the biggest difference and is that with you, Like all those, you know, like going to a workout is like they are getting to hang out with you and like you're building that relation directly. It's with me Yeah, those are typically, you know, the bigger influencers that have several 100 or even millions of followers building that relationship and rapport with me directly.
00:29:47 The founder has been really um, really beneficial for us and has made those, those relationships a lot less transactional and I think that is why influencer marketing is, has such a high return for us because these influencers really know us and they care about the brand and when we launch a new product, you know, like the body oil for example, we sent it to those to those, we think of these people, the influencers that are really bought in, we think of them kind of as ambassadors and we're like, all right, let's send the first batch of body oil to these ambassadors, get their opinion and it's working really well for us. So influencer marketing, but I will say figuring out how to make it your own is the key to good influencer marketing. Don't just go out and DM you know, have an intern damning influencers and seating products with no, with no story, you lose a lot of the heart and soul of the brand and I wouldn't be shocked if that isn't very effective two 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.
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00:32:31 D. S. And booking a call today. Mhm. Yeah, so I would say influencer marketing but very high touch influencer marketing has worked really well for us as a channel. Um, and then another one that's an example of kind of an off the beaten path, you know, testing, where can we acquire customers where our customers spending their time? And we started to form partnerships with fitness studios. So one of our biggest partnerships, a Soul Cycle, we just launched uh cool, yeah, we just launched our spray deodorant and all soulcycle locations. So if your Soul Cycle fan and you're listening to go to a studio, you can use our spray deodorant in any of the locker rooms for free, can spritz it on before class, after class and partnership has been huge for us just in terms of getting exposure and getting people to test out our products and if they think it's actually, it's the orange narrowly sent that in soul cycle.
00:33:34Edit Um, and so people get to use it, get to experience the product and then we can propose people into customers. It's just an example of one of those channels that's like off the beaten path, like how can we get creative here in terms of getting in front of our customers that isn't just running facebook ads and those are two that have been really profitable for us. I love that and congratulations. Obviously that's huge. Thank you. That was super exciting for me. Yeah, I bet. I'm wondering how you organize that kind of partnership? Like obviously that's a huge, huge business, like how do you attract their attention to even have a meeting and to show that like you're relevant to them and all that kind of stuff. Like how does this actually work when it's a big kind of business like that? Yeah, I think this goes back to network. I think having a good network is really, really important as a founder. Um and I've always been really good at networking and maintaining relationships and that's in most cases like when people ask, how did you get into this whole cycle, how did you get into Nordstrom?
00:34:47 Um how did you get on PVC? All of those relationships have been huge for huge needle movers for us, curie and all of them have been the result of an introduction from someone in my network that you know, maybe I haven't seen in a couple of years, reached out, got an intro. Um so I think having a really strong network in building that is, it really just comes down to, you know, going out there and prioritizing networking. I spent years when I was in venture capital, you know, going to events, um, you know, meeting founders, getting introductions to other founders, having coffee with founders and really built my network up over those couple of years so that when I did start curie I had a really great network of entrepreneurs and company builders that I could lean on for various things. And so that is a piece of advice I will give even if you haven't started a company yet, you want to start now building your network because that has been just so critical having, having other entrepreneurs and builders to lean on for advice and introductions.