Indie Beauty Brand Founders Share What They Learn From Competitors

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 19 brand founders and executives: What have you learned from a competitor that’s helped your business grow?

Sara Grey Founder, Fitonic Body

At three different trade shows, one particular competitor sent different teams to my booth. Each time was a different, but equally bad experience. The last time, one of their staff openly mocked our strapline to her colleague in front of me.

Here’s what I learned: There is enough for all of us. Unlike that competitor, a handful of other competitors took time to explain important information to me, help me, encourage me, offer to make introductions for me, etc. And, at the close of one call, one of those generous competitors said, “Pay it forward.” So, I do.

Our mission and message has always centered on helping women accelerate in their goals. Another woman’s success is not an obstacle to mine. There is abundance enough for us to all find our own success. Our brand chooses to lift up others, those we serve and those who are running alongside us.

Andrew Glass Founder, Non Gender Specific

I've watched a few competitors let personal or employee issues take control of their social media content, so that has definitely helped shape the type of content we allow to go online. Watching a brand I admire spiral downwards on social media has also helped me determine the types of employees I want working with me as well.

PILAR QUINTERO Co-Founder, Care Skincare

Our other co-founder, who happens to be my husband, worked at a very large, global beauty company. One of his frustrations is what he calls “the bad side of being big." This covers a cumbersome bureaucratic process with lots of layers and slow decision-making. Our goal in our new small business is to be nimble and agile. Make decisions quickly. Test and learn without fear.

Peter Lee CEO, Saranghae

The biggest lesson is that one can't sacrifice quality and customer service for growth. Many brands will prioritize topline revenue and product launches over customer experience in the name of growth.I think, if you're goal is long-term success, customers need to come first.

Kirsten Thomas Founder, Ayr Skin Care

I found myself in a strange position coming into the skincare world because I had zero experience with online sales and knew no one in the skincare industry. I found myself studying those that had a similar ideals to mine, and seeing how quickly they had launched products, and how they did their launch in terms of publicity, banners on their websites and packaging.  

No matter what you learn from looking at someone else's line, you can never know what is really going on with them. Did they do a second mortgage to make their line so they could only introduce one or two products to start with? Did they give away half of their business in order to get financing to launch?  Did anyone who gave them money hold them to a timeline? In other words, did they have to launch quickly and cheaply in order to get numbers to satisfy a financier?

These are all private questions and things that we will never know from just looking at product launching. What I did find useful was inspiration. No matter what finances were going on behind the scenes, I was inspired to really stay true to my dream to have a natural, vegan line of clean skincare products. So many times I knew it would be easier in formulating to just take the silicone, PEG, artificial color route, but I stayed true to my ethos.  I applaud any young line that is able to do this because competition is stiff.

I also learned how to do Instagram photography, online contests and other social media interactions from seeing what others did. We didn't copy anyone, but we took note of what they mentioned, celebrated and photographed. Over time, my daughter, who is our social media expert, got really good at creating a feel on our threads that really reflects the simple natural vision that we had. Competitors can be a great inspiration. I see companies that never seem to give up and that inspires me greatly.

Lori Gildea Founder, ThePureBag

We love the concept of sustainability and giving back or paying it forward. We admire companies such as Athleta that invest in doing the right things and companies such as Tom’s that donate to worthy causes. We want to incorporate a similar approach. The power of social media has been key. Outdoor Voices is a great example of how social media can quickly amplify and elevate a brand’s exposure.

PETER SCHAFRICK Founder, Schaf Skincare

The best lesson I got from a fellow competitor was to be patient. It’s a very competitive and noisy market we are in, and persistence is needed to gain any market share. Credibility is important, and it takes time to develop a core following before being able to scale to the next level.

Magdalena Ryczko Owner, Hairrari

I read an article once about Rudy’s Barbershop having multiple locations and also owning Ace Hotels, so that inspired me to open more than one location. Also, the place I used to work had a fun, playful decor and that also inspired me to make my place as I want it, not copy the standard decor of shops. Additionally, everyone’s work on social media is high quality, so we try to do the same.

Justin Silver Co-Founder and President, Aavrani

Prior to Aavrani, I worked closely with Tatcha. Seeing Vicky Tsai’s passion for the brand inspired me to bring that same passion to work every day. Watching her interactions with makeup artists, her staff and investors made me keenly aware of how in touch she was with the brand, the details of every product and the plan for growth. As we grew from scratch, we always had in mind the short-term goals (one to six months out), the long-term goals (six to 18 months out) and the three-year vision.

Courtney Alexandria Founder, Candid Tea

As a startup, it’s so easy to get sucked into the social media world. Platforms like YouTube and Instagram have over 1 billion monthly active users, which can be very appealing for a new company that’s looking for exposure, an audience and cultivating brand awareness. But what I’ve learned from brands in my industry, is that despite the draw to social media, building a personal connection face-to-face is equally as important.

So often selling your products or services, creating ad and marketing campaigns to attract your target audience, and increasing your customer base are among the top priorities for a new business. But what I’ve found over the one-and-a-half years of running Candid Tea is that creating a successful business is largely based on how well you sell yourself as a founder. Gone are the days where great products are enough to keep loyal customers. People want to know who’s in charge behind the scenes and what that person stands for.  

Holly Harding Founder, O'o Hawaii

Over the years, I've really begun to understand the importance of the founder's story and how it has such an impact on how the brand is perceived. In my previous business, which was bath, body and candles, I took inspiration from Brook Harvey-Taylor, the founder of Pacifica. Pacifica was one of the first indie brands in the bath and body beauty space to bring the founder's story to light through lifestyle marketing.  

Brooke, like myself, is an ocean lover, who has spent time in Hawaii and put her passion and beliefs into her products. She was able to identify that an ocean lifestyle is something most people desire or dream about and, when infused into products, even just for a moment, can help you achieve a piece of that lifestyle. It’s a concept that has proven to be a great success over the years.

Kristi Moe Founder and Designer, Zodica Perfumery

I’ve been in the beauty space now for over a decade. I’ve collected lessons along the way from brands and founders that have been on my radar over those years. I have incredible respect and admiration for Margot Elena ever since her years doing Love + Toast, a natural perfume collection. She taught me that natural doesn’t have to mean neutral [and] to have fun creating a vibrant brand personality that evokes an immediate emotional connection with the consumer.

Natural also doesn’t have to mean bad smelling products. I think for years the natural industry was plagued by everything smelling like patchouli. I’ve learned that, whether it’s hair care, facial care or perfume, most people are OK with products not being 100% natural. What they’re not OK with is sacrificing efficacy and, for me, that also means fragrance. Fragrance and aromatherapy are functional ingredients, especially when you look at how scent impacts brain chemistry.

Madeline Alcott Founder, Petit Vour

I've learned to differentiate our brand entirely from competition. Initially, there were quite a few similarities among the green/vegan beauty boxes, but now I feel pretty confident that ours is a very different experience for subscribers. We take into account every aspect of the customer experience: style, standard, the type of brands and products we feature as well as how we serve our subscribers and cater specifically to their needs and preferences.

For us, it's all about making the discovery of high-quality, nontoxic and vegan beauty both modern and fun. As far as what I've learned as a founder, really, just strive to be your best self. When I let my passion for good fuel my day, I feel strong and genuine and the creeping feeling of inadequacy fades away.

DANUTA DUDEK Founder, Cotarde

We believe competitors are crucial to keep you on your toes when it comes to so many aspects of running a business, especially when it comes to managing changes. One thing that you learn is to follow up on your ideas and do it fast before someone else takes it over!

Sébastien Tardif CEO and Co-Founder, Veil Cosmetics

I come from the 1990s prestige makeup brand school of thought where all product lines were pretty much black. I decided it was time to do the exact opposite and have fun with color packaging to create a cool statement and unique identity for each product line. My clients love it.

NIMA JALALI Founder, Salt & Stone

We look at other brands outside of the skincare market for inspiration. I really like brands like Acne Studios, Etudes, APC. One thing we like to do is not discount our products, so they are always at a premium.

Anne Kukkohovi Founder, Supermood

I call my colleagues “sisters in beauty." We always help each other, we communicate about everything, and I do my best to help others. For me, indie beauty is a movement. We are all in the same boat, so I give all my support to others. And I’m so grateful to get advice myself as well. What goes around, comes around. Here in the Nordics, we are very punctual. It has been a great asset to have friends from many cultures and understand different mindsets.

Tess Taylor Founder, Taylor + Tess

Like a lot of people today, I love listening to podcasts. I think it is important to filter your content to make sure that what you’re consuming aligns with where you’re trying to go. I try to spend at least 30 minutes a day listening to brand and founder stories on podcasts like How I Built This, Oprah’s Super Soulful Conversations and Breaking Beauty.

I think, collectively, the first biggest piece of advice is to keep going and truly appreciate the journey. Mistakes and failure are inevitable, so you need to get good at brushing yourself off and starting again. The second piece would be to know what you stand for and stay focused in your lane.

Joshua Neumann Founder, Kind Lips

I’ve learned that I don’t want a complicated business. Lip balm is simple, and I intend to keep our business simple. It seems that brands are continuing to come out with new flavors or new types of tubes or packages. I’ve learned that, as the founder of this business, I am not complicated or flashy, and the more authentic I can be as a person, Kind Lips will reflect that authenticity and consumers will hopefully receive and accept that and desire to be in a business/consumer relationship with us.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].