Meet The Under-The-Radar Beauty Platform That’s Becoming A Powerhouse Incubator And Investor
Volta Digital Brands has been pretty busy lately. Over the past two years, the incubator and investor has launched three brands (Geneva Naturals, No B.S. and NootroBoost) and sold one of them (Geneva Naturals), acquired another (Earth Therapy), backed two more (MM.LaFleur and Context), and gestated yet another slated for a June debut (Mia del Mar).
Under the leadership of Diana Briceno, a former Procter & Gamble global brand manager who joined Volta Digital as CEO last year from Palladio Beauty Group, the offshoot of investment firm Volta Global is honing a specialty in building direct-to-consumer brands tailored to distinct customer segments. Mia del Mar’s upcoming skincare will cater to Latinas while No B.S. targets health-conscious natural beauty enthusiasts and Earth Therapy is aimed at seekers of holistic pain management solutions.
“My personal belief is that brands should start by talking to a very defined audience,” says Briceno. “If you manage to attract a few thousand people to love your brand, it’s a lot easier to peel the onion and attract more consumers than the other way around. If you start a brand that’s made for everybody, you’re not going to stand for anything.”
Amazon shoppers have been a strong priority for Volta Digital. It purchased Earth Therapy because the brand’s London-based founder Loretta Cowles cultivated loyal Amazon customers, garnered enviable reviews and landed its products among the top search results on the giant e-commerce website. Volta Digital studied and expanded Earth Therapy, which has branched into aromatherapy, as it simultaneously nurtured in-house Amazon skills and Geneva Naturals, an affordable Swiss-inspired skincare line.
“I had experience dealing with Amazon before at Palladio Beauty, where we used to manage it using an external agency. I learned enough to know that Amazon changes so often, and it’s such a unique ecosystem that, at Volta, we decided to develop an in-house team and gain expertise in it,” says Briceno. “We now manage to have direct access to the team at Amazon. We can call them on the phone, fly and meet them, and develop plans that aren’t offered to sellers. Of course, it was a learning curve, and a lot of hours, sweat and tears, but it paid off.”
Geneva Naturals’ assortment grew to 11 products while it was owned by Volta Digital, including ingredient-driven items such as Advanced Anti-Aging Retinol Cream and Anti-Aging Vitamin C+E Serum prized by Amazon customers. The current owner is Sapna Shah, whose husband, doctor Rishi Sheth, was won over by the efficacy of Geneva Naturals’ offerings. Volta Digital and Sheth declined to discuss the price Shah paid for Geneva Naturals.
“This is a luxury product at a premium price. If you look at the packaging and quality of the product, it’s very competitive. We want to continue with the same concept. Luxury anti-aging products shouldn’t just be for certain customers. They should be accessible to everybody,” says Sheth. “I am bringing a twist from the medical standpoint in terms of a scientific approach. As we were looking to buy, what I saw in this industry is people starting beauty or supplement companies that have manufacturers make the product, they sell it and are good marketers, but they have no medical background.”
The sale of Geneva Naturals isn’t necessarily the precursor to additional deals. Briceno emphasizes Volta Digital isn’t pursuing set exit strategies. “We are going to put our resources, effort and heart into all of these brands. If an opportunity comes up where it makes sense to sell one of the brands, we will do that, but we are not here to build brands to sell,” she says. “Our best scenario is to build a conglomerate of beauty brands that are doing great from a profitability point of view, and we can use the profits to grow the business for years to come.”
Asked about possible future investments, Briceno elaborates, “We don’t have a plan to create five new brands or six or 10. We are basically investing on a case-by-case basis and are very opportunistic. Because we are a small firm, we can be very flexible.” Placed in Volta Digital’s portfolio via minority investments, unisex skincare brand Context and professional clothing specialist MM.LaFleur remain operated by their founders David Arbuthnot, and Sarah LaFleur and Miyako Nakamura, respectively.
For the rest of this year, Briceno mentions Volta Digital’s attention will be largely focused on No B.S. and Mia del Mar. No B.S. hit the beauty scene in January with bold packaging and six products containing potent plant-derived ingredients. “Brands playing in the natural, clean field tend to adopt old-school design cues, meaning they have a lot of green, brown and white, and raw-looking paper or cardboard,” says Briceno. “We want to disrupt the industry, so we decided to go other way and use saturated colors. We want it to be fun. Natural products don’t have to be green, brown, white and boring. We want to make them Instagrammable, and have them pop in feeds and e-commerce.”
Similar to its other brands, Volta Digital concentrates on No B.S.’s DTC business. However, Briceno points out physical manifestations are likely for the brand with pop-ups and retail distribution expected. She details pop-ups could feature charitable tie-ins. No B.S. has partnered with Project Glimmer, an organization helping at-risk girls and women. “Whenever we do pop-ups, we want to do them in a way where people can not only try skincare, but maybe benefit from a talk on how to confidently ask for the salary you deserve or important LGBTQ topics,” she says. “We want to bring benefits to the community.”
A native of Venezuela, Briceno is particularly pumped about introducing Mia del Mar to consumers. “A lot of brands claim that they are catering to Latinas or are Latina-centric, but, for some reason, they aren’t effective enough at doing that. If you survey Latinas, which we did, they still feel underrepresented whether it’s because the products aren’t formulated specifically for them or because there isn’t enough representation of them,” she says. “We are creating a brand for Latinas by Latinas. It’s going to revolutionize the industry in terms of bringing Latinas to the forefront.”
Mia del Mar’s products will revolve around beauty ingredients passed down through generations. Briceno explains, “They are so precious in Latina communities. For instance, whenever we had a rash or scratch, my grandmother would put honey on our scars. We would lick our fingers after because it was sweet, but honey has antibacterial properties.” Mia del Mar’s motto is, “Abuelita inspired, nieta approved.” Abuelita is the Spanish word for grandmother, and nieta is the Spanish word for granddaughter.
At Volta Digital’s Miami office, 20 people are dedicated to its brands. The brands are generally separated structurally, but social media and digital marketing know-how is shared by them. “I tell the brand managers, ‘You are the CEO of your brand, and I want you to treat this brand as if it is yours, and you’re doing it in your garage,’” says Briceno. “We believe in trial and error and trying several things even though only one or two may be successful. We want to create very unique mini companies, and we operate each one as a mini startup.”