Rodial’s Maria Hatzistefanis Reveals How Snakes, Bees And Dragons Fueled Her Brand’s Success

Maria Hatzistefanis isn’t peddling snake oil. Taking advantage of surprising ingredients, The Rodial Group founder and CEO peddles skincare products with syn-ake dipeptide, bee venom, dragon’s blood, diamond powder and gold. A skilled marketer whose career path had stops in high-stakes journalism and banking, Hatzistefanis now oversees a portfolio of brands that includes Rodial, Nip + Fab and Nip + Man, and stretches across 20,000-plus stores in 34 countries. “At the beginning, when you have an idea as an entrepreneur, you really need to research your industry and make sure that your product offerings are very unique,” she says. “What will take you to success is execution, being persistent and focused.” Beauty Independent talked to Hatzistefanis about her new book How To Become An Overnight Success, saving happy e-mails to raise her spirits during rough days, working with upscale retailers and jotting down cogent messages in notepads.

What were you doing before you launched your brand?

A combination of beauty and finance. My first encounter with beauty was when I was a beauty writer for Seventeen magazine, and my first official job was in corporate finance, where I worked for Salomon Brothers.


How much money did it take you to launch Rodial, and how long did it take to develop it?

I started with a 20,000-pound investment, and I put a lot of personal work and effort in myself. I obviously wasn’t paying myself at the time. That was the initial investment to get the products and the basics done.

When did you or do you plan to reach profitability?

We’ve been profitable since year three, once the business reached the point of moving out of my home office. My husband and I own the business. We’ve never received funding. We’ve always operated from the point of view of spending what we have, not what we make.

Who is the Rodial target customer, and how did you identify that target?

Rodial has always been about high-tech ingredients, immediate and long-term results, and products that really work for specific skincare needs. Our customer is between 25- and 45-years-old, is looking for the latest in skincare technology, and isn’t afraid to push the boundaries and use exciting and innovative ingredients such as dragon’s blood [croton lechleri] and peptides.

What is your distribution strategy?

We are being super selective with the stores that we work with. We work with some exclusive department stores. In the U.S., we work with Saks and high-end boutiques such as Space NK and Bluemercury. Our strategy is researching stores that we can see our products in. We want to keep this very upscale. We launched cosmetics three years ago with our first flagship counter and sculpting bar here in London at Harvey Nichols. Now, we’re looking to grow our counters into other key places of the world like New York, L.A. and Hong Kong.

What is your company’s e-commerce strategy?

We have a very high-end and advanced website. We use it as a platform to present our products in the best possible way with the best photography and videos. It’s fully operational and super successful. It contributes about 20% to our revenue.


What is Rodial’s hero product, and how did it come to be?

Our first hero product was the Snake Serum. I initially came up with a product that was super basic and boring called Anti-Wrinkle Serum. While I was working with my team and looking at it, I thought, “Oh my God. I’m already bored. Who’s going to be interested in this product? It doesn’t sound exciting. I really don’t want to launch it.” We had to launch something because we already promised the retailer. So, I was looking into the ingredients, and I saw that this peptide called syn-ake dipeptide that mimics the effect of viper venom by freezing the muscles. I thought, “Let’s use this amazing story and call the product Snake Serum, which will be anti-aging.” We made the product black, and we did a photoshoot with some snakes. That was the first product that brought a lot of attention to the brand. Everyone pretty much knows Rodial for our Snake Serum.

Besides yourself, who is key to making Rodial work?

My husband, who is co-owner of the business. He’s the CFO. He takes care of everything I don’t want to take care of, payments, operations, warehousing, and all those boring things. I can focus on sales, marketing, ingredients and enjoying what I do.

Do you have a mentor?

I don’t really have a mentor. I wish I had. I did read a lot of how-to books. Whatever problem I had, I would search it. I didn’t know how to do anything in business. I like reading those books, and taking on information and experiences of people who have been there before. I guess one of the key pieces of advice that I read somewhere was, “Be focused on your goals, but also be flexible and have a plan B to get there.” Sometimes, in business, I get upset when something doesn’t go my way. Then, I think, “What’s another unconventional way to get there?”

Is there a supplier that you work with that you wouldn’t be able to execute your brand without?

Absolutely not. It’s business basics 101. Never, ever count on one supplier. We work with about 30 different suppliers. We make sure none of the suppliers have the power to affect our business in any way. We always have a back-up and negotiating power. We’re very well spread around.

For other entrepreneurs in your boat, what suggestion do you give them on how to pull through the tough times?

It’s really tough, especially in the first few years. Anything positive and small that happens to you, whether that’s an email from someone or it’s a small success where you’ve sold five products, instead of one, cherish those moments. Keep those emails and use them to give you power. I have a folder filled with happy e-mails. When I’m having a tough day, I will go back, read through the folder and feel good about myself. It could be thank-you’s from customers saying, “You changed my skin, you changed my life,” or a retailer who said, “Your team did amazing today at an event,” or it could be someone saying they were inspired by one of my talks. Anything that I get that is positive, I keep it all.


What’s been the worst day at your business, and why?

Bad days are when people who work in my business that I treat as my family decide to go. I do understand that people need to move on, but I feel sad about it. Then, we bring some new blood in, and we can turn things around. And I see opportunities for growth and new beginnings.

Pretend I’m a retailer. Give me a one-sentence pitch on why I should take Rodial.

Rodial is a high-tech innovative skincare and cosmetics range for targeted skincare concerns, and natural, flawless makeup used by celebrities and influencers worldwide.

Has there been a rejection that particularly stung?

I still get those. We’re not over them. I get upset if there’s a specific store I want to get my products in and, for some reason, we can’t, whether it be space restrictions or no opportunity for it. There’s a lot of retailers that I want to get the brand in, but we’re not there yet. So, there’s a lot of work to do still.

What key functions do you outsource and why?

We pretty much have everything in-house right now. When I first started, I did outsource quite a lot of functions. PR was outsourced, but now it’s in-house. I used to source design and, now, we have a team of four in-house designers. When the volume of work is there, you’re so much better off having a team. But, in the beginning, it was a great strategy to our stores to have PR, design and accounting outsourced.

Financial documents: scary as hell or second nature?

They’re second nature in terms of reading them and extracting the information that I need to make strategic decisions, but I haven’t made a spreadsheet in 15 years. Don’t ask me to do them. I could read them, but I would die if I had to put one together. In terms of tips, I do believe that financial documents give you a very quick overview on where you’re at with the business. I do think you need to be looking at them on a monthly basis to see where your profits are coming from.

 Rodial Maria Hatzistefanis

If you could get your products into anyone’s hands, who would it be and why?

I would like to get Anna Wintour to try Rodial. I think she would like it a lot.

What packaging splurges are worth the money?

Airless packaging like airless pumps are worth splurging on. I know from our purchasing department that anything airless is a lot more expensive than other types of packaging like jars, but it keeps the product fresh, bacteria-free and ensures the ingredients are as active as the first day you used them.

How often do you take vacation?

Not that often. I travel a lot for work. I just like to be connected with the business. We do have a country house that I go to every weekend. If no one’s emailing me, I can relax. I relax on holidays. I take five days during Christmas and New Year’s.

What brands or products other than your own would we find in your medicine cabinet?

I’m a big fan of fragrances. I’m into the Clean fragrance range, and I have all sorts of different fragrances from them. I also have Atelier Cologne’s Orange Sanguine, which is fresh-cut oranges and tangerine. I do also use quite a bit of Ouai by Jen Atkin.

What sacrifice have you made to be an entrepreneur?

All the time that I have is pretty much for work, my team and my family. I don’t have a lot of time for hanging out with girlfriends. I guess I’m not very social because I can’t fit that in.

 Rodial Maria Hatzistefanis

What’s been the biggest product fail?

We launched a product a few years ago, which I called Size Zero. It was a slimming product. We got a lot of backlash from the name. Since we’ve started, we’ve used a lot of quirky names. I thought the name was cute and fun. It didn’t mean people have to be size 0 to use the product or that the product would make you into a size 0. It wasn’t taken very well. We learned from it. We do sell it in a few markets that didn’t mind, but it’s not available in most markets right now. We’ve had to rename it to Body Sculpting Gel to be able to sell it in certain markets. It has a couple of different names depending on the country.

What is your best performing retail door?

Space NK. Combined as a business, they have over 70 doors in the U.K. and over 20 in the U.S. So, it’s our biggest distribution anywhere, just [due to] the volume of the business. Our products also work really well with those customers.

What’s been your biggest influencer win?

We’ve worked with Kylie Jenner, who was a brand ambassador of Nip + Fab, our younger brand. We had Kim Kardashian two weeks ago. She did a story about our Dragon’s Blood Lip Mask. We work with a lot of influencers the likes of NikkieTutorials and Mario Dedivanovic, and some mainstream celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez. Ellie Goulding is a massive fan as well.

What have you found works for Rodial on social media?

With social media, it’s what you put into it that pays off. It’s about coming up with interesting content. It’s not rocket science. The key is to engage and understand your customers and followers. The days where you would just post a nice picture of products and would hope that people would comment on it, those days are over. You need to be there to answer people’s comments and engage. Interaction is more important than what you actually put there.

Give us a little teaser on your new book How To Become An Overnight Success.

This is a book for anyone who wants to move from one job to another, someone who wants to change careers, go freelance or who wants to be inspired in their life. I go through my journey from how I started to how I grew my business. At the same time, I share some really cool anecdotes from interesting people I’ve worked with over the years. At the end of every chapter, there’s a list of tips I give for every different part of someone’s journey. People have found it super inspiring and useful. I’ve seen some people leave their jobs and change careers, get the confidence to start their own business. It’s been a bestseller on Amazon in the U.K. I feel that it’s very user-friendly. A lot of people will relate to it and can take a lot of inspiration and tips from it for their own careers and lives.

Rodial Maria Hatzistefanis
Maria Hatzistefanis

What’s in your office or on your desk that’s precious to you and why?

I have these notepads that have little messages on them. This week, I have one that is for action items. One column is tasks, the other is urgency. I like really cool notepads that get me excited, and I buy them off Amazon.

If you have employees, how do you want them describe you as boss?

I hope that they see me as a person who gives them the liberty to grow their department. Let’s say, for the managers, I give them the goal, and they know where they’re going, but I let them get there by themselves by figuring it out, which makes them all feel very entrepreneurial about the job. I don’t like to micromanage. I feel that everyone is running their own businesses.

How do you make sure you embody your brand when you’re out in public?

When I’m representing the brand, I need to be well put together with hair and makeup done professionally. I have my office days where I can be super chill and comfortable. When I’m out there, I just have to look good for the business and the brand. Today, I’m wearing sneakers and an oversized hoodie, and I love those days, too.