Former Estée Lauder Exec Ricardo Quintero Launches DTC Brand Incubator Digital Brands With Skincare Line Care
Ricardo Quintero rose up the executive ranks at some of the most storied companies in the consumer packaged goods sector, including Procter & Gamble, Pepsi and The Estée Lauder Companies Inc., where he was senior vice president and global manager of Clinique from 2010 to 2014 before serving as president of Movado Group for three years.
Now, he’s making a late-career pivot breaking from the traditional structures that defined his previous roles to develop a forward-thinking beauty startup spinning out digitally native brands. The startup, aptly titled Digital Brands LLC, has introduced its inaugural brand: Care is a filler-free science-meets-skincare provider of daily essentials.
“The idea is to launch different brands each with different positioning. We grow them and, if they don’t work, we move on to the next one,” says Quintero, who founded Digital Brands with his wife Pilar. “It’s a very modern approach to business. We want to be really nimble and fast, try things and do a lot of testing. We have a willingness to fail.”
Acknowledging gaps in his expertise, Quintero has turned to outside firms to hone Digital Brands’ capabilities. He hired branding agency Avec to craft a bold and clean design for Care that stands out on computers and mobile phones, where 80% of the brand’s traffic is coming from so far. He tapped digital growth specialist Blackbird Garage to supercharge customer acquisition and social media shop Social Fly to guide influencer strategy.
“We are working with the best talent available. Personally, I’m having a ton of fun. I’m doing a lot of reverse mentoring with the younger people,” says Quintero. “In my P&G days, there was this notion of putting the consumer first and learning from the consumer, but the amount of information I have today compared to what I had then is night and day. This is a marketer’s dreamland. We are in the very fun part of the project because we’re learning a lot.”
“The idea is to launch different brands each with different positioning. We grow them and, if they don’t work, we move on to the next one.”
Digital Brands has been gathering insights since early last year, when it began experimenting with several names for the brand that would become Care. Quintero speculates the name Care trounced possible alternatives because it connotes nurturing and ties in well to the purpose of skincare. Digital Brands continues to trial pricing and advertising tactics for Care. Quintero shares 52 versions of Care’s ad campaign have run to date, and the brand has discovered simple and direct imagery outperforms gorgeous conceptual imagery.
The prices of Care’s products are intended to be below the prices of comparable products at retail, but its products aren’t bargains. Current prices range from $24 to $45 for the brand’s five items. Quintero says, “Nobody knows who we are yet, so we’re trying to figure out the sweet spot: What’s the price point that offers value to our customers to try us and, if they do, to want to buy from us again?”
Quintero has a strong belief in hero products that’s carried over from his prior jobs. Care’s hero products are the multitasking moisturizer The Everything and retinoid night serum Tireless. The rest of the products, which are meant to be combined with the heroes in a skincare routine, are hydrating water cream Deep Moisture Fix, micellar cleanser and toner Soft Sweep, and nourishing cream Eye + Lip.
In its marketing, Care leads with the hero products and, subsequently, emphasizes it sells potent and vetted no-fluff custom formulations that can replace many products in a customer’s skincare arsenal. “One of the tenants of this brand is that it’s very straightforward,” says Quintero. “Our message is about decoding and decluttering skincare.”
“One of the tenants of this brand is that it’s very straightforward. Our message is about decoding and decluttering skincare.”
Quintero expects Care to be profitable in its initial year on the market. “I’m personally financing this, so we’re being very thoughtful about how we allocate our resources. We talk to a lot of people and some will say, ‘What you want to do is build it really fast and big so someone will come in and buy it.’ That’s not my game,” he says. “I want to build something sustainable, and I’m not looking for investors, so profitability is a must.”
Once Care is on solid footing, Digital Brands will roll out additional brands. Quintero reveals there are two in the hopper waiting to be let out of the virtual gate, and an Amazon-focused play is forthcoming. He’s not in a great rush, though, to bombard the direct-to-consumer landscape with Digital Brands’ properties.
“The beautiful thing about this model is, if you’re going to fail, you can fail fast and fail cheap. Of course, I don’t want to fail. I want to win, but you also have to have patience with the digital model,” says Quintero. “You have to have the humility to be able to learn and fail. It’s not a surprise, but I make mistakes. At a different time in my career, I would be devastated to make a mistake, but, now, I’m not that worried.”