Beauty industry veteran Mike Indursky has a track record of challenging industry norms—innovation is his middle name and the status quo is not in his vocabulary. Mike believes, “If you’re not ruffling some feathers, you’re not making a difference. If you’re not making a difference, you’re not being different.” After 30 years in the industry holding leadership positions at Bliss, Burt’s Bees, L’Oréal, and Unilever, he has a reputation for breaking the “right” rules, leading by example, and pushing the industry and brands forward with equal parts creativity, strategy, and execution.
Mike has set out to reshape the industry again this time without the constraints of big beauty. Overpriced product, packaging that is not sustainable, claims that cannot be substantiated, and toxic ingredients are all in his crosshairs. His new venture is self-financed, grounded in the premise of conscience without compromise and with the mandate of being the voice and face of responsibility. Hear Me Raw is an activist brand built on the strategy of the triple bottom line People + Planet + Profit.
With 25 years as a global expert in personal care, beauty, and wellness, holding leadership positions at Bliss, Burt’s Bees, L’Oréal and Unilever, I’m sure you must be inundated with opportunities. What made you decide to take the start-up path and launch Hear Me Raw?
I’ve been so fortunate to work with some amazing companies and people and that education and those experiences have given me knowledge, desire, and confidence to go off on my own. So, this time around, I wanted to do something that was a true extension of my ethos and what’s most important to me and reach those who feel the same way. I want to share the passion I have for health and well-being and as a part, the awesome power of truly natural ingredients. And, I wanted to share the concern I have of what’s happening to our environment and the importance of sustainability. And when I looked at where the industry is, and how it’s so important to honor those we serve, I aimed to an even higher purpose of helping educate and reshape the industry to get to what I believe is a more responsible approach to beauty. In all, it’s a pure, activist approach, and you can see that throughout the brand, starting with the name Hear Me Raw.
Skincare is a competitive category flooded with indie brands. What is the vision you have for Hear Me Raw that will make it unique?
You’re so right—beauty is a relatively easy category to go into, unlike, say, cars, and there are indeed a ton of brands out there. But I believe that if you have great products and a unique story and you tell it well, you have no competition. That’s where Hear Me Raw is. On the flip side, if you have me-too products and an already-heard story, or even if you do have something unique but don’t tell it right, everyone is your competition. Hear Me Raw is a tight, simple skincare line of exceptional, unique, multipurpose products that are powerful, natural, sustainable, and beautiful. That is highly differentiating. It’s a brand with no compromises. No compromising between efficacy and being natural. No compromising between beautiful packaging and sustainability. No compromises between performance and price. And saying what we do and who we are in the provocative, unrepentant way we do solidifies all that.
Who is the Hear Me Raw consumer?
Well, I don’t want to play semantics or sound pedantic, but it’s important to make a point here. I think as a country, we wrongly think of people as “consumers.” As if they were only put on earth to consume. What don’t we call them “producers” or, God forbid, “people.” People weren’t put on this earth just to eat and buy things. And when companies think of women with that lens, thinking of people as just consumers, it leads to a lot of irresponsible practices, like unnecessary SKU proliferation, planned obsolescence, a disregard for the environment.
So, to answer your question, the people who we believe would love Hear Me Raw are mostly women who are activists. Active in the pursuit of well-being, believing that synthetic ingredients shouldn’t be put in or on your body. Active in fighting against environmental attacks and insensitivity. Active in their voicing of equal rights and other like issues. Women who care and want to make a difference in their lives.
What were your non-negotiables as you began the development of the brand, packaging, and formulations? Did you have to make any concessions? What was the biggest roadblock?
It started with Powerful, Natural, Sustainable, Beautiful. In other words, “Powerful” means best in class efficacy. “Natural” goes beyond just “clean” or “naturally-inspired” to being truly natural. “Sustainable” follows the 3 R’s—Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—with fewer, multipurpose products, in packaging that uses reusable jars and lids with refill pods, and all parts coming from recycled materials and/or recyclable. And “Beautiful” is how it looks and feels and how it makes you look and feel. The biggest roadblock was the sustainable packaging system with the refill pods. We custom designed it to look Luxe, be simple and, of course, of the highest sustainability. It was a huge undertaking, but it was worth it!
Can you share how you arrived at the refillable packaging system?
My inspiration came almost 20 years ago when I went to a parfumerie in Paris and saw dramming units for Thierry Mugler Angel perfume. People would go into the store with these gorgeous metalized Angel bottles and get them refilled on the spot. I was blown away that this Luxe brand would be so forward-thinking and sustainability-minded. It also showed that to have a jar that people would refill, it’s best to design one people would love because they’d never want to throw it away. So, in that sense, it became a real brand builder at the same time —beauty and sustainability—a win/win.
The problem, of course, is asking people to have to go to a store, which isn’t practical, so the system I designed has gorgeous packaging (jars and lids) you keep reusing and refill pods which are $10 less expensive than the jars. One part of the Hear Me Raw brand ethos is that the triple bottom line of People + Planet + Profit is better than profit alone. So the system had to win for the users (saves money and allows them to recycle), the retailers (the refills use less space and weight so they save significantly in retail space, warehouse space, freight, and shipping). And of course, the environment wins, as this system, over 3 years, uses 80% less packaging materials than is used with other similar-sized skincare jars.
Why did you decide to launch with two products rather than launching with a full range of products? How will the assortment evolve?
There are a few reasons. First, part of our DNA is less is more. We’re against rampant SKU proliferation and really want to cater to the simplicity needs of skincare users. So to address that, we launched with two multipurpose products in January: The Brightener With Chlorophyll+, which is a mask and daily cleanser, and The Detoxifier With Charcoal+, which is a mask and daily scrub. And we will launch two more in spring. The second, very much related reason is that we have a powerful story to tell. We believe that focusing at the beginning on that story and building over time is the best way. Others have done that and it was a key to their success, and in this overcrowded market, we believed it was best as well.
Why did you decide to launch DTC rather than leveraging an exclusive retailer partnership?
We actually will be doing an exclusive retail deal. It’s just a matter of strategy, timing, and choice. Our strategy is to launch, start with DTC, work out the kinks, learn, fix, grow, and build momentum so we bring a solid following with us to retail. Stakes are high at retail and early missteps can hurt, so getting traction is important. Then it’s about choice, where finding a retailer who shares your ethos, or where you can make a bigger natural or sustainability impact in their stores and help their business, is key.
Retail partnerships are coming later this year, but what about Amazon?
They remain a possibility.
Part of the brand’s launch strategy was participating in the Women’s March in New York City. Why was is it important to you that Hear Me Raw be involved in activism? What issues/causes will the brand focus on? Are you afraid of alienating potential consumers?
The brand is called Hear Me Raw and it’s about honoring women. How could we not participate? And while that sounds reactionary, it wasn’t. This was planned and core to our beliefs. Our brand is about more than selling great products. It’s about making a difference in the world, and women’s rights and environmental protection are two key pillars of the brand. For the Women’s March, we had a huge turnout for a sign-making event at Wildfang, the activist women’s clothing company, in their Soho store on the Thursday before the event. For the march, we had 25 team members, friends, and influencers join us in Foley Square for the event itself. It was exhilarating feeling all that shared passion.
We will always fight the fight on those issues important to the brand, and we will get “political.” Not going after people, but issues that affect those who share our beliefs, like the thousands who marched in New York and around the country. We’re also teaming up with Global Citizen as their pillars and ours almost completely overlap. In the end, if someone doesn’t like us because of it, it’s a risk we’re completely willing to take because we’re not going to change our values of trying to help people—going after the greater good—just to sell more stuff.
You have a passion for wellness and a personal philosophy of “halving,” which is brilliant in its simplicity and profound in its potential impact. Can you share the genesis of this philosophy?
Yeah, this is a philosophy I created and have been personally living by for over 10 years. In essence, halving is about consumption. And if you make conscious decisions about what you eat, what you buy, how you use your time, how to get from point A to point B, you can improve your health, wealth, and the world around you. In the end, you can Halve It All. A few years ago, Random House was interested in doing a book on it but I realized I don’t know the editorial business. So, instead, I used much of it in the development of Hear Me Raw. In fact, much of the content that was created, like “How to cut e-mails or meetings in half” are being repurposed for the blog section on our site Beauty + Being, which offers news, tips, and advice on how to live a happier and more sustainable life. Again, we want to offer more than just great products. We have a duty to those we serve.
While you have a big beauty business background, you are also known as a rule-breaker with the ability to keep legacy brands relevant. Can you share some of your secrets to success?
Why would I want to do that? But, I like you, Kelly, so here is one. “Do things differently in proportion to the degree you’re smaller than the competition.” If I’m 10% smaller than another brand out there, then doing what they do and spending 10% of what they do gets me nowhere. So I need to be 10 times more differentiating than they are. I need to push every angle of every part of my mix and communication to be as relevantly as different as possible.
You’ve self-funded Hear Me Raw. With your track record and connections, you certainly wouldn’t have had any problem raising capital for this start-up. Why did you decide to self-fund?
Do you have any cash laying around? Is that an offer? Seriously, one reason is that I believe in putting your money where your mouth is. It’s an integrity thing to me. Second, is the difference in the cost of capital to equity in the early days vs. the later days. Finally, in these early days, I want to make sure I pursue and prove my vision without having to yield to others. Once I feel comfortable that it’s proven out, then I will likely indeed look to raise.
You’ve set a pretty high bar for yourself. What does success look like for Hear Me Raw?
It started. You’re writing about it. Check! Next, is making people feel respected and great about their skin, health, budget, and environment. Then there’s helping influence the industry to clarify what natural really means and make sustainability not a marketing tool but a non-negotiable, given where we are today. Finally, success is being happy in doing what I’m doing. Check. You know, in your career if you’re fortunate, you get to the point where you can say, “I want to do what I want and work with people I want to work with.” That’s happiness. So many inspiring millennials reached that level early on and did their own start-ups, eschewing the classic big company lifestyle, and dove right into doing their own thing. I’m just a late starter.
Photo: via Hear My Raw