Indie Beauty Brand Founders Share Their Worst Rookie Mistakes

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 20 founders and executives: What’s a rookie mistake you made in business?

Francelle Daly Founder and CEO, Lovecraft Beauty

Our first mistake was with trademarks and names. Before we launched, we named one of our products and made packaging without winning our trademark. So, we had to eat the packaging and start from scratch. Lesson learned. Always have your trademarks and names in order before producing packaging.

Julianne Robicheau Founder, Robi Luxury Skin Care

Trying to be too thrifty! Like printing my labels at home…just, no. I didn’t have a solid plan, and I was more in a test phase. I quickly realized I wanted my business to succeed, and it was like switching my vision from farmer’s market to Sephora.

Bootstrapping is great - that’s how my business is debt-free at the moment - but you have to know what not to skimp on. And having some debt is not a bad thing if you have a good business plan. I’m still working on my risk-taking skills.

Crystal Williams Founder, The Balm Shop & Co.

I remember being so nervous when preparing for my first big show. I was still working full-time in corporate when I started my beauty biz. Though I was well-versed with planning events, I was still very much a novice with stocking for retail. This show was a live market test for my products. My biggest concern was figuring out how to prepare for 10,000 people.

I was so afraid of running out of products that I purchased a ridiculous number of jars for my balm that ended up being obsolete a year later. To this day, I still have a couple hundred of those jars left over. I learned that it is best to go small in the beginning when testing a new product and packaging. It will save you a lot of money and some storage space.  

Pats Krysiak Founder and Creator, Glossy Paradise

There's definitely been many rookie mistakes. My ingredients come directly from the Amazon rainforest, so logistics can get a little tricky. But I think the biggest mistake was thinking that I could do it all. When you're formulating products, managing finances, creating content and developing packaging, things will get extremely hectic.

When I started getting disorganized and behind, I decided to outsource the tasks that were taking up the most time or that I did not enjoy doing. Keeping in mind I have a tight budget, I really had to select tasks that were my weaknesses to outsource. I outsourced an accountant to manage my finances and a community manager to work on content and grow the social media community.

I also use apps like Google Keep, iCal and Xero to stay organized. Organization is super important when starting a business and developing the discipline to stay on top of organization daily is key.

Rooshy Roy Co-Founder and CEO, Aavrani

An early rookie mistake was thinking we could move office locations with just the two co-founders and couple of interns. We had thousands of pieces of inventory, boxes, photography equipment and more. We rented a U-Haul, and what should have taken three hours took 12. 

In the end, we were exhausted and sore, having saved less than $100 and wasted a lot of time. Although we love a good workout, we will save it for Flywheel and just hire a couple of movers in the future. There are some tasks, regardless of how tight the budget is, that aren’t worth doing yourself.  

Sabeen Zia CEO and Founder, Muskaan

Just one mistake? Ha. Overspending would be my biggest mistake. What I've learned is organizing a budget is extremely crucial. It seems like an obvious thing to do, but, when you have the cash flow, you think you can do it all until the flow is gone and, then, you're budgeting left and right.  

Negotiate and prioritize your spending to where it's important like the quality of your product and, then, worry about the other things later. Marketing and social media opportunities will always be there, but you have to get your product right first. Also, don't launch until your production is complete and test the product out for a few weeks to catch any issues. You rather catch the problems than your customer.

Patti Pao Founder and CEO, Restorsea

My biggest mistake was not to enter into Instagram sooner. We felt we didn’t need to because our business is B2B selling to doctors. We have rectified this by entering into this forum over the summer. I think that our brand will benefit from the increased awareness.

Freda Mooncotch Owner, Real Simple Soaps

My biggest rookie mistake to date has been packing and labels. When I started out, I didn’t take myself very seriously. I thought it was a hobby. I’m not very creative, so I had some guys draw up a simple logo, and we went with that. I wanted to have a natural look, but I quickly realized that as natural as my packaging was and could be, people weren’t having an experience with it. They picked it up and put it down.

I watched this over and over. I quickly realized that people can say they want natural and sustainable packaging, but, if they do not have an experience with your packaging, I don’t care how awesome it is, they will never buy it. It took me six months of observing this behavior at farmers markets and other places to see I was making a big packaging and label mistake.

I went back to the drawing board and defined my brand, what I was attracted to and started piecing a look together. I hired a graphic artist and together we came up with something that represented the product inside the bottles better.

Not surprisingly, sales increased and people started commenting on how much they love my packaging. Now we are upgrading to glass and new boxes but keeping the classy, sleek look that I’m really proud of and excited to show people.

Zane Piese Founder, Atlantis Skincare

I think the mistake we remember most was our first ever expo, the Natural and Organic Products Asia. We took so much stuff with us, too many products, samples, leaflets, etc. We really went overboard.

Some of the other exhibitors said this was a mistake that many new brands make with their first expo. They said that the best way to do it is to bring display products, a few boxes for the background so your shelves look full. For those who want samples sets, it's best to send these once you get back.

Chelsea Cannon Founder, Forever Wild Organics

A couple rookie mistakes I made when I first started was spending too much of my budget on social media advertising instead of in-person sales through vending. In the beginning, social media likes and comments seemed like the best way to increase sales, but this doesn’t build trust, only likes.

Once I realized that I needed to invest my time and energy into selling the products in-person, I started to build real capital, and a loyal fan base that translated to social media and reliable reviews. All of this contributed to the growth that my brand has experienced this year.

Another mistake that I made when I first launched was overspending my budget on resources that I could have waited on. When I decided to launch a new product, I would buy hundreds of dollars of inventory that I was not ready to sell, which became an overhead problem.

By the time I realized I wasn’t spending my resources properly, I was so low on money that the only thing I could afford to do is try to sell, sell, sell. This added a lot of unnecessary stress and slowed down the progression of my brand.

Annie Tevelin Founder, SkinOwl

In SkinOwl's second year of business, I was intimidated about the growth and never-ending work that laid before me. I was very able and extremely excited about the road ahead, but also scared and nervous that I wouldn't be able to do it by myself.

Around that time, two people reached to be potential business partners. They had a lot of industry experience and a lot of capital. They knew people who could take me there and quickly. I let one of them take a stab at recreating my business plan. After reading it, I realized that their vision was not the one I had.

I didn't want a business partner with a different vision. I wanted to give myself the opportunity to do something big by myself. After letting someone attempt to help me with SkinOwl's growth, I realized I much preferred the old adage, "slow and steady wins the race." Just because you know a lot about skincare doesn't mean you know a lot about how you want your business to look and feel to yourself and others. By going slow, I've been able to architect a business that resembles me and constantly reassess what success means to me. I'm so happy I didn't let fear take the wheel.

Amanda Stultz Owner and Founder, Sitronu

One of my biggest mistakes has been to rely on only one supplier for certain ingredients. This only recently caused a big issue for us two years in and set us back several hundred dollars for product I cannot use.

When the quality was extremely poor on a certain shipment, I alerted the company it was unusable and expected them to replace it with perhaps me paying for shipping. Other suppliers for my labels, bottles, packaging have done this free of charge and no hesitation. However, they refused, implying the hot weather and the fact I live in Virginia attributed to the problem. I am in the midst of preparing for the busy holiday season and was left with no ingredients to finish a lotion.

Now, I am scrambling to not only find a new source for these ingredients, but two or three other backups, paying attention to quality and shipping costs as well as the potential to scale up in the future. Most importantly, I will be looking at their customer service policies and actually calling them to see how responsive they are.

I am interested in companies that can cater to a small business as well as a large account just as effectively and pleasantly, just as I treat my own clients. What I’ve also taken away from this experience is how crucial customer service is and to help your client find a solution any way you can if a problem does arise. They will move on if you don’t. It all comes down to relationships and caring about the way business is conducted.

Yoel Vaisberg Founder and CEO, Haille

We applied for our trademarks, name and logo years before launching the products. The trademark registration process can’t be completed until the products are on the market. We spent a lot of money requesting extensions to the USPTO [United States Patent and Trademark Office] and in attorney fees. If I have to register new trademarks in the future, I would do it only a few months before the launch.

Michelle Ranavat Founder, Ranavat Botanics

I’ve made so many mistakes! When I first launched, I wanted really amazing packaging, so I went with invitation-grade stationary paper, which is so beautiful and expensive, but definitely did not hold up the way it needed to. I knew it needed to change, so I spent some time visiting packaging expos and researching companies and, finally, found the right team.

While so many people out there claim to know beauty packaging, there are just a few that are detail oriented enough to get it right. I finally feel like I’m on the right track with my outer packaging, but I’m sure there will be another challenge waiting for me.

James H. La Founder, NIUCOCO

Where to start? We’ve made them all. What you know in one industry doesn’t necessarily translate into success in another industry vertical.  

Our first expo, we spent too much on our booth, but didn’t plan on how to actually get attention to our booth. Make sure you have something fun that draw people into your booth. You spend significant dollars to be at the expo, but, if you don’t spend on how to get people into your booth, you’ve basically wasted your money. Lesson: If you’re going to spend, spend wisely and be effective. Know what to get out of your exhibition.

With regards to packaging, what we thought would be good wasn’t. The orifice for one of our products was a 1.5 millimeters too big, and we found out the hard way after we produced our first batch. The product ended up dispensing too quickly. It was crisis management 101. Thankfully, we produce in small batches, and it allowed us to adjust accordingly. Lessons: Start in small batches. Look at your problem areas in depth. Fix them before it becomes an epidemic.

There are a lot of people out there who work in PR. Unfortunately, not all good. The biggest thing for you to do is to ask for their references and conduct them thoroughly. Lesson: If they promise much exposure before doing anything, it’s a classic case of if it's too good to be true.

We were on the verge of signing a contract with a distributor to get us into over 300 stores. We were hesitant because something didn’t seem right in the negotiation process and the terms just didn’t make sense to us. At the end of the day, that distributor changed the terms again just before signing, putting all of the risk on us while recuperating a high margin. Lesson: As a brand, your job is to make sure that you are getting attention, that includes buyers. Don’t settle for anything that doesn’t make business sense. If the right deal isn’t there yet, be patient. 

David Simnick CEO and Co-Founder, Soapbox

Prior to the beautiful design we now have, we didn't spend enough time on our packaging. We struggled to identify a look that did justice for the quality and effort we put into our formulas. We went from solid colors in rectangle packaging to block colors all in bright shades, and it really did a disservice to us. It made us look too childlike when our target demographic is millennials.

We finally took the much needed time to sit with a design team and not only come up with a new look, but test each step of the way with focus groups to make sure we were as thoughtful as possible in this process.

Jennifer Freitas Founder and CEO, The Truth Beauty Company

Business, in general, is a risk. Fact. Location, location, location, there is also truth to that. When I opened my first brick-and-mortar, the rent I agreed to was too high compared to the traffic that the location brought. However, when preparing projections, you truly are guestimating what business will be like. I was also signed into a lease.

However, after a second tough year, I began to speak to the landlord to see if there was something we could arrange. They wouldn't lower the rent, but they let me out of the lease. I took the opportunity to look for more fair rent and found it. I moved to a space up the street that was bigger and cheaper. I have since made that space work. In fact, now, I have two locations.

I chose to pivot because, while in the original development, I saw 13 other businesses close, I knew businesses were not failing because they were bad ideas, but rather because of the circumstances. Always review, revisit, and examine in business. There are always things that can be done wiser. That was my lesson.

Jessica Kizovsk Founder and Lead Formulator, Veriphy

At our first expo, we underestimated the number of samples we would need to bring. Samples are a great way of getting a conversation started and also leave a lasting impression of the brand. Even retailers and buyers who may not have time to chat are able to take a sample and try it at a later date.

We also found that the samples we did give out led to media reviews and sales. I would recommend including samples in your manufacturing plans. Also, I would recommend deluxe samples. Although they are costlier, they leave a better lasting impression.

Beatrice Feliu Espada CEO and Founder, The Honey Pot Company

Oh man, I’ve had so many expensive rookie  mistakes, but honestly you fail fast and move the hell on! Stay present and try not to make the same mistake because, as a founder you’re always going to make mistakes, but mistakes are good because that’s how you learn.

Matthew Schirle CEO and Founder, SkinKick

I have made every mistake possible. My philosophy is that, if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not trying hard enough. The trick is to identify your mistake as quickly as possible and correct it. They only rule is that you never make the same mistake twice.

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