Welcome to Fit for Business, a new column from Well+Good’s co-founder and publisher Alexia Brue. Each week, she’ll take you behind-the-scenes with the most successful healthy-living entrepreneurs around the world, so you can learn what inspires them, what challenges them, and what it’s like to work in the (booming) wellness space.
This week she’s sitting down with Tiffany Masterson, founder of the clinical-meets-natural skin-care brand Drunk Elephant.
Need proof that the clean beauty revolution is under way? Look no further than Drunk Elephant, a skin-care line with a whimsical name but a serious, scientific approach.
In the three years since Tiffany Masterson—a Houston, Texas-based mom of four—founded the brand, it's grown to a team of 25 people, has become one of Sephora's top-sellers, and, by early next year, will be launching internationally.
All of that on the strength of eight ultra-effective, completely non-toxic (that includes no fragrance—natural or synthetic—of any kind) skin-care products.
Impressed, I sat down with Masterson to discuss what drives her product innovation, why we should be suspicious of scent, and how food shopping while flying is a vital multi-tasking skill.
Were there any early experiences in your life that inspired you to be an entrepreneur?
Funnily enough, I never wanted to be an entrepreneur, though I was very interested in beauty and fashion. All I wanted in my life was to be a mom and a wife. But I actually think it helped that I didn’t have any pre-conceived ideas about starting a business because I didn’t overthink it. I was kind of naive about it and didn’t have any idea how hard it would be—and that was a good thing!
Where did your inspiration to start Drunk Elephant come from?
I had rosacea, inflammation, and combination, unbalanced skin. I had been studying ingredients and their effect on our skin for a few years because I had been selling a little cleansing bar, which led to my curiosity and passion on the topic. Silicones, essential oils, fragrance, dye, and chemical sunscreens were in everything I picked up.
"We don’t care at all about smelling pretty."
The idea of joining the good synthetics with the good naturals, while leaving out my triggers—essential oils, for example—really intrigued me enough to do the line. I suspected there were a lot of people out there who shared my same sensitized skin.
What differentiates Drunk Elephant from everything else out there?
We formulate all of our products without the ingredients we believe are at the root of confused, unhappy skin: silicones, essential oils, fragrance, dyes, and chemical sunscreens. We make sure that all of the pH levels are ideal, the percentages of the actives we use are at clinically effective levels, and that all of our ingredients are considered low-hazard or clean and safe—and we publish that information. Also, we look at internal health and external skin health when we are formulating. We don’t care at all about smelling pretty; we leave out all forms of fragrance, including natural.
Attracting talent is always a challenge. How did you convince people to join Drunk Elephant when it was little more than a dream?
I only had to convince one person to join my team, and that was my first investment partner. He was pretty quick to jump on board and he’d probably tell you it was based on my hyper-passionate drive to do the line. Once the brand was named and our story defined, we started attracting incredible talent. That has been such a dream come true for us. It’s a very fun company to work for and we laugh and have a great time together, which I think is so important. We all wear many hats and nobody is above the most menial task that needs to be done. A bonded, happy team is a productive team.
How did you decide whether to bootstrap the business, seek angel investors, or take VC money?
In the beginning I knew nothing about starting a business; I just had the passion and the idea. My first investor was my only investor for the first year and a half. We never had to seek any angel investors or VC money, and we are a small partnership to this day. I will say that it just happened organically and I didn’t even know enough to think it through. It was just one day at a time, handling any arising financial situations as they came our way. The majority is owned by family.
"I don’t try to hide that we’re still learning at Drunk Elephant, and as a result consumers really trust us."
Tell me about a key decision you made that was a turning point for Drunk Elephant, but that frankly could have gone either way.
I decided early on to never cut corners. I use the best packaging, the best ingredients, the best chemists, the best designers. It can make investors cringe! For example, I use unrefined ingredients that skin-care brands don’t typically use because you can’t control the color or the scent; I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the natural scent of the products. Also, we use a lot of marula oil and bamboo powder, which really drives up the price. My products are expensive and I want them to be worth it.
Also, I decided early on that transparency on everything was really important to me. We’re transparent about the pH level of our products, transparent about the percentages of ingredients in our products, and we’re transparent when we make a mistake. I don’t try to hide that we’re still learning at Drunk Elephant, and as a result consumers really trust us.
What keeps you inspired and nourished on the product innovation front?
The way I cook is the way I formulate: I’m always changing recipes and improvising, whether I’m making dinner or a facial mask. I look at nutrition trends and apply that to products. And fashion is very inspiring to me for packaging.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Stay true to your vision. As you grow, there are a lot of well-meaning cooks in the kitchen with lots of opinions, but you must remember how and why you got where you are. What worked early on is what will continue to work and keep your brand authentic, innovative, and outstanding.
A business owner’s to-do list is always long. Please share your favorite efficiency hack.
It has to be Instacart. I’m a mother of four, so when I’m traveling or am too busy to go to the grocery store, Instacart saves me hours. I can shop on a plane and know that my groceries will be there at my doorstep, so my family can have nice meals while I’m away. Lifesaver.
Everyone wants to know: Does Drunk Elephant have any open positions?
Our team is definitely growing fast. We are going global in early 2017, so there’s going to be a need in international markets, as well as more markets around Canada and US for sales and education. We always love to see resumes, even if we aren’t hiring at that particular time. It’s those go-getters who can make us realize that we need them before we are even aware of the need!
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