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It's a Matter Of...Honesty

Screw the Rules - Forge Your Own Path

October 12, 2021 BeautyMatter
October 12, 2021

Building a brand is hard work, and it doesn’t always go as planned. In fact, it has never been more competitive or required more money to scale a startup in this category. Remi Brixton, the CEO and Founder of Freck Beauty, built a brand from her obsession with freckles. She sits down with Kelly Kovack to share stories about her missteps, and how she turned defeat into a cult community driven brand.

[beginning of recorded audio]

Remi Brixton [00:00:17]: Hey, I’m Remi Brixton. I’m the Founder and CEO of Freck Beauty, and to me, it’s a matter of honesty.

Kelly Kovack [00:00:29]: Founding stories often evolve over time, getting polished up to signal business objectives. I’m Kelly Kovac, Founder of BeautyMatter. The truth is, building a brand is not only hard work, it often doesn’t go as planned. In reality, it can be pretty messy. Picture-perfect founding stories help perpetuate narratives in the beauty industry that it’s never been easier to launch a beauty brand. In fact, this might be true. But what is also true is it’s never been more competitive or required more money to scale a start-up in this category. It’s not always easy to be radically transparent about your missteps, but there is a generosity of sharing these missteps so others can learn from them. Remi Brixton, Founder and CEO of Freck Beauty, built a brand from her obsession with freckles. It hasn’t always been easy and some of her struggles were very public, but she turned defeat into a cult community-driven brand in growth mode while remaining brutally honest about what success has taken.

So Remi, thank you so much for joining us this afternoon.

Remi Brixton [00:01:36]: Thank you so much for having me, Kelly. I’m excited to be here.

Kelly Kovack [00:01:40]: Yeah! So I don’t really think that we can sort of start this conversation without diving into your obsession with freckles. And a little bit about your background and how you turned an obsession with freckles into a business.

Remi Brixton [00:01:52]: I know, right? It’s funny because I feel like everybody knows that my brand, Freck Beauty, is known for freckles, but a lot of people don’t put that together. I’m Remi, I’m the Founder and CEO of Freck Beauty, and I am obsessed with freckles. I have always been. And I wish there was, like, a crazier, more wild story, but really it is that I have always been obsessed with freckles. I’m from Seattle, so obviously not a lot of sun, I’m very pale, so I never had freckles growing up. And if you look at my childhood drawings, the sun has freckles, the plants have freckles, the cats have freckles, so I just always have been obsessed with them and was always very envious of people who had them.

Kelly Kovack [00:02:36]: So, Remi, in doing some research for our chat today, I have to say I have so much respect for your transparency when you’ve sort of shared what it’s taken to build your brand. So many founding stories are told in this perfectly crafted narrative, a bit of revision is history, and often done for the purpose of raising money or landing retailers. But in reality, the reality is usually far less polished and full of missteps and a lot of hard work. What was the vision you had in mind when you set out to launch a beauty brand in 2015?

Remi Brixton [00:03:09]: Yeah, it’s a great question, and thank you for noticing because it’s one of the things that I really pride myself on because it’s hard and it’s really intimidating, and I think that it’s a disservice to future entrepreneurs and trailblazers to not be honest about what it really takes to build something. But to be totally transparent, like I said, I just really wanted freckles always and forever, and I kind of had this idea, wouldn’t it be so cool if you could just put on freckles with your makeup? And I kind of sat on it forever, and at one point I said it out loud to a girlfriend when I was in college, and she was the first person that I said it to. And she was like, oh my god, that’s such a great idea, I would love to be able to wear freckles. So I think to answer your question, there’s so many pitfalls and steps that have happened since then and now that it’s almost impossible to remember everything. But I think that it’s just putting one foot in front of the other over and over and over again, and every time you mess up, just learn from it, and talk to people about what you’re doing because it’s way easier once you say it out loud to somebody and it kind of gives you the inspiration and makes you think that your idea has legs.

Kelly Kovack [00:04:25]: So when you were putting together the brand, did it start with that one product and then you kind of built the brand around the freckle product?

Remi Brixton [00:04:34]: Yes, definitely. Okay, sorry. I completely missed your question.

Kelly Kovack [00:04:40]: I want to hear the story.

Remi Brixton [00:04:42]: Classic Remi, sorry.

Kelly Kovack [00:04:45]: I’m like, okay, that’s a great answer, but, uh, how’d you do it?

Remi Brixton [00:04:49]: How’d I do it, yeah. So, okay. I came up with the idea, told my friend in college, she was interested in the idea, and then I sat on it and I was like – you know when you say, they should make, and who is “they”? And I sat on the idea for literally years. When I first initially had the idea of a cosmetic that would give your freckles was in probably 2009 or 2010. Flash forward to January 1, 2014, I met this woman named Melissa and she had decades of experience in cosmetic manufacturing and I told her the idea, which I was of nervous about at the time, because everyone says, don’t share your idea. But I was like, why not, you know? Maybe they’ll make it. They’ll make it. And she was the first person who actually knew what she was talking about to say this is really an interesting idea, and if you’re serious about it, here’s the first five steps. I would get on calls. She then became my mentor. And so shouts to Melissa, I wouldn’t be here without you. But I just kept chugging away and she kind of held my hand a little bit in the beginning. But again, the idea was a total side project. I was an interior designer at the time. I had not even fully developed my own relationship with beauty for myself, and I just, on a whim, wanted to figure out the puzzle. So I just kept kind of cranking away at the little pieces, and then when we launched, just with the one product, Freck OG, I just thought it’d be like I’d be slinging Freckles on the side, maybe eventually I would sell some of them, and the dream for me was maybe eventually I’d be able to buy a house, because I live in LA. So if you’re a designer in LA, forget about it. At least in the beginning of your career. So I just was kind of like, this is fun and it’s a side project and I’ll do it until it doesn’t serve me anymore, but I never in a million years thought we’d get to where we are now. So to answer your question, it was fun for me and I like figuring out puzzles and I liked putting one foot in front of the other over and over again. And I’m so lucky and the team is so amazing and that’s a huge reason why we’re here. But yeah, never in a million years did I think this would happen.

Kelly Kovack [00:07:00]: Also, it wasn’t sort of smooth sailing, you almost had a first incarnation of the business and then almost a point-two version. Honestly, in my person experience, I think failure can provide so many important learning moments in the evolution of brand-building, and they’re going to happen no matter how much you know about the business or you don’t know. Creating a beauty product is a complicated supply chain and things go pear-shaped all the time. So do you mind sharing a little bit about sort of those early days and that first incarnation of the brand? I know you had some funding issues, you had a marketing strategy, there was a viral moment – both a good one and one that you weren’t so happy about.

Remi Brixton [00:07:46]: Yeah, happy to. So Freck 1.0. So it’s actually really funny, because even if think about the name, it’s ridiculous. It started out as Go Freck Yourself, which I was like okay, that’s a little bit aggressive. So I launched a Kickstarter under the name just, Freck Yourself. Again, still aggressive, but whatever. And the Kickstarter was for a semi-permanent freckle cosmetic. So it was, if you can imagine, it was adhesive medical tape that had a bunch of holes punched into it, and then you would apply the tape to your face and use a rollerball filled with pigment and rollerball the pigment over the holes so that when you removed the adhesive tape the freckles would stay and the tape would come off. And the goal was to make it semi-permanent, so lasting a day or two, but definitely at least 24-hours, overnight. So that went viral because at the time, this was 2015, everyone was into pretty full-coverage foundation still, there were a lot of laser treatments for discoloration, hyperpigmentation, and freckles as well, to remove them. So everyone thought I was crazy – like everyone. And that’s why it went so viral. It wasn’t like, oh, this is so cool, I would love to be able to wear freckles. It was like, this girl is crazy and what does she think she’s doing? And it even got on Jimmy Kimmel and he was like, I don’t know what this girl is doing. They literally just ripped the Kickstarter, which is crazy.

But then, you know, I kind of went into a little bit of a hole. I call it a depression hole, but I was having fun, just took a little nap. And then new from the Kickstarter, like so many people – not so many, like 5,000 people, had started following my Instagram for Freck. And I was like, even if it’s such a small, tiny, niche beauty community, it’s got legs. So I think that was like an aha moment and I picked myself up by my bootstraps and went back to formulation. But I’m so glad that that Kickstarter failed, like actually so glad, because as you know being in the beauty industry, semi-permanent on your face is almost nearly impossible because of the oils of the skin, right? So, A, I would have just gotten sued, you know, if that had passed. B the product was way too expensive to make, it would have been like, close to $100 for one little kit, you can imagine all the pieces of the medical tape and the formula and the packaging and everything. But most important, the hugest thing that I learned from that is that I started driving around LA and offering to give girls freckles when I just had my little lab samples, just test it and get Instagram pictures. And I showed them how to do it with the adhesive tape, but then I realized that all the girls, all that they started doing is removing the rollerball and just taking a brush and dipping it into the formula and applying it to their face, which is what, flash forward, exists as Freck OG. So all that said, there’s a lot of ups and downs, but I’m so glad that that Kickstarter failed. And yes, I think that failure is where you find the most, A – the most strength within yourself personally and professionally, but also it’s where you pivot and realize different iterations to your product design and your branding and your marketing, everything. Those failures are really what allows you to think and become even better and stronger.

Kelly Kovack [00:11:19]: Yeah. I mean, you know, a lot of founders would have just thrown in the towel at that point. But when you kind of had that aha moment where you’re like, oh, I can make this simpler, and you were actually watching how people were kind of engaging with the product, was that sort of the point where kind of, I guess the brand kind of distilled itself into something that was more commercial?

Remi Brixton [00:11:41]: I wouldn’t say more commercial, just more approachable, I would say. And I don’t mean approachable as in like, we obviously have a very niche aesthetic at Freck Beauty, but it went from the idea of like, oh, I’m really committed, I am wearing semi-permanent freckles, I am literally dying my face, to what it is now, which is like makeup is a tool for expression, this is a tool for me to express myself. So that pivot was also key and opened up the market so much. Which of course I didn’t know that at the time, I had no idea what I was doing. But it ended up making Freck OG approachable and widespread in a way that it never would have been before.

Kelly Kovack [00:12:26]: Yeah. And so you know, the big question for every person who has an idea of launching a beauty brand and they see someone like yourself that has sort of had this success is how do you fund it?

Remi Brixton [00:12:40]: Oh my gosh. I love this question because it’s not talked about enough, right?

Kelly Kovack [00:12:45]: Or if it is talked about, it’s talked about, you know, once you go down that funding path, you constantly have a narrative that you have to play because you’re constantly thinking about the next fundraise. So the way you talk about funding is sort of – the story itself becomes marketing.

Remi Brixton [00:13:05]: Yeah, exactly. No, totally, I totally hear you. Obviously I tried to fund it myself with the Kickstarter, right? The goal was a quarter million dollars and there was no way that that was ever going to happen. It has happened on Kickstarter, but it wasn’t going to happen for me with my semi-permanent freckles. So what happened was after I kind of put Freck aside and then came back to it, I had been reached out to by a group of brothers who had seen the Kickstarter and they were also like, I think this has legs just based off of how people connected to the idea. And one of the brothers had passed on investing in Beauty Blender so he had a vengeance and was like, ugh, and this was six, five years ago, so Beauty Blender was like, on it, like on the top of their game. So they came and were like, okay, we’d love to invest and help you from a marketing/consulting side and just kind of help you because you’re trying to do this on your own, we can help you. And I was like, okay. So I took – I think it was $15,000 to do the first run of production, just as a test, and I gave them 20% of my business.

Kelly Kovack [00:14:15]: Ugh.

Remi Brixton [00:14:16]: I know. But at the time, I was like, I’d rather have 80% of something than 100% of nothing, right? And I don’t regret it, but that relationship, when we launched the product finally, we had a big surge of orders right away, and then I didn’t have a marketing plan, I didn’t have a business plan, I didn’t know how often I was supposed to be posting on Instagram, I didn’t even know that I was supposed to be sending email blasts to my mail lists, and I had two full-time jobs at the same time. So the relationship with them kind of soured because I wasn’t able to dedicate the time because I had two other jobs. So then – sorry, this is long story, but I feel like it’s important.

Kelly Kovack [00:14:58]: That’s okay. No, it’s important, so please, let it unfold.

Remi Brixton [00:15:02]: Thank you, thank you. So then what happened with those brothers is that they were like, oh, Remi, you’re not living up to your fiduciary responsibilities, right, which is your responsibilities once someone invests in you to do everything they’re investing in you. Like, sure, the idea is great, but they’re really investing in you and what you’re capable of. So not fulfilling those fiduciary responsibilities. And they asked me, they’re like, “Remi, we can take this so far. We can expand you into China,” you know, all of the things, “We can get you into Europe, all this international distribution.” And they said, “Why don’t you give us the business and we’ll give you 5% of sales the first year, 4% the next year, 3% the year after that, and so on.” And I almost – because I was so beaten down of working so hard and always feeling I was doing everything wrong that I didn’t even want to open my email box. So I was so close and I almost gave it to them, and then I talked to my uncle, thank god, and he was like, what are you talking about? No, you’re not going to give your business to them. You’ve worked so hard and it’s been so many years, so many ups and downs, but the business was making no money at all – like, zero money, bleeding money. And I wasn’t paying myself or anything and I was waking up at like 6am to pack orders and then going to the post office before I went to my first job and then I went to my second job. So I was really tired, really beaten down, as I’m sure so many founders and people listening to this podcast have felt before. And so I was like, you know what, on principle, I’m not going to sell them the business, but I was like, I have to get out of this relationship. So I took literally every single dollar out of Freck, out of my own personal bank account, and I paid them back $10,000 just to sever ties. So I guess I won $5,000 or whatever, but we just severed ties and I moved on. And I told myself in that moment after I did it, so I was like, flat broke, and I was like, okay, you’re going to give this everything that you have for six months. I’m giving you six more months on this idea, and if it doesn’t tick up or you don’t have any sort of reason to believe that this is going somewhere, you have to stop, you have to give up, because at this point it had been two or three years of me pouring everything into this business instead of my actual career at the time.

So that all said, I remember I was sitting in my parking lot going into my job and I was like flat broke and I was just like, oh god, I hope this is worth it, I hope this is all worth it. And I think a week later this influencer tagged us and it kind of all kicked off from there. It was crazy. It was like the first time I realized, oh, you can use Instagram for marketing, whatever. But it was also – yeah, since then it’s just been…everything else has come since then with a lot of – a lot of hard work, too. 

So now, to wrap up the funding question, we did recently take a raise in October of 2020 and we did a private friends and family in mid-2019 as well and both of those relationships have been wonderful. But it’s so important to know the people you’re taking on as investors before you do because you’re literally like married to these people.

Kelly Kovack [00:18:20]: Yeah, and you know, even if you ask investors, they’ll tell you the same thing. It’s hard to say no to money when you really need money. But it’s honestly like having a founder. It’s like being married to these people. And what advice would you give to people when sort of going into those fundraising meetings and kind of vetting – you know, vetting who you want to take money from?

Remi Brixton [00:18:45]: Yeah, that’s a really good question. One other thing I wanted to mention is that after I bought out those brothers, I was so terrified in taking money that…

Kelly Kovack [00:18:54]: I’m sure.

Remi Brixton [00:18:55]: Yeah, I mean, that’s like the glossy version. It was actually even more terrifying than that. But I ran with PayPal loans, all sorts of really high-interest debt for a year and a half. So that was one way that I allowed the business to actually grow to the point of having legs and then also deal with supply chain issues and all of the other reasons you need funding. It was super, super expensive, but I was like, I’m never giving 20% of my business again, ever, period, and certainly not for a lot of money. And so when you’re going into meetings with investors, I think it’s really important upfront, and one of my mentors kind of taught me this, be honest with yourself and what is really important to you in these relationships. Do you want quiet money? Do you want strategic money? And within strategic money, is it somebody who is going to help you with operations? With overall connections within the industry? With relationships to vendors that you want to be working with? Or is it kind of more of a mentorship type of money? One of the ones that was important for me, I was like, I would love to work with a VC company that was women-owned. But at the end of the day, that’s what I thought was so important to me going into these meetings, but after taking so many of them before we finally landed on Carp Riley and Stage 1 Financial who have been amazing, I realized strategic was more important to me than women-owned, although I’d love to have both. But at the end of the day, strategic was more important for me.

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And so where is the business now, from sort of a distribution standpoint, sort of the size of your team? Because for a long time, you were sort of a one-man show.

Remi Brixton [00:21:36]: Yeah. Yes. For a long time. It’s crazy. So, like, at the beginning of 2020, so right before COVID, we had – other than myself and my now business partner who is my COO, we had three employees. And now we have 12, so a year-and-a-half later, we have 12. But I oversee all of our marketing side of the business, and so we have about like 20 contractors in addition to the 12 that we have in-house, and we’re growing very quickly, we expect to be at about 18 to 22 hires at the end of 2021. So that’s crazy, and I’m just like, I don’t know how we got here, it’s wild. And you know, even when you do that, there’s still hiccups. There’s still supply chain issues. There’s still you don’t get an Instagram post up on time, even with all those people. It’s crazy. Even with all the support, which I’m so thankful for, it’s still really wild. And just even like having 22 Slack messages open at one time is wild, so.

Kelly Kovack [00:22:35]: Do you remember kind of the tipping point of the brand from kind of a business standpoint?

Remi Brixton [00:22:43]: Yeah. I think I really thank our partnership with Urban Outfitters. At the beginning of 2020, I think we literally threw the last party before COVID. We launched a line exclusively with Urban Outfitters, which was our Cheeks line, which is our blush, eye shadow palette, and some colored eyeliners, so exclusively with them, and they were just amazing partners, and I think that that partnership got Sephora’s attention. We got the call shortly afterwards. It takes a long time to launch in Sephora, or at least it did for us, when you’re a small business, so we finally launched in March in Sephora, which is hugely exciting. But honestly, the moment where I was like oh wow, was when we got the email from Sephora. For sure.

Kelly Kovack [00:23:33]: Yeah, I’m sure. I mean, that’s, you know, for most indie beauty brands, that’s kind of the holy grail, right?

Remi Brixton [00:23:38]: Oh yeah, it’s Valhalla. I remember in the beginning I was like, I remember thinking, I was on a walk, I was like, wouldn’t this just be the craziest thing if this little hunch made its way to Sephora? It’ll never happen, but it’d be crazy, right? And then flash forward however many years later, it’s just – it’s insane.

Kelly Kovack [00:23:58]: Well, you’ve got to put stuff out into the universe, right, to manifest, right? But kind of from a nuts and bolts, what does it take? You said it takes a year, or it did for you. The easiest part is getting the meeting and getting the yes. The harder part is getting the sell-through and staying on the shelves. So from your experience, they reached out to you, so you had sort of the upper hand from that perspective, but once you got the yes, what did it look like to sort of set yourself up for success?

Remi Brixton [00:24:30]: It’s so funny because I think that like you were talking about manifestation, we really wrote down our goals for 2021 in preparation for our Sephora launch and they were not sexy. It was like, get into a best-in-class 3PL, which is third party logistics. So we were literally shipping orders out of our office, which we moved into our office right before COVID, before that it was my garage in Echo Park. So we were still shipping orders one-by-one, hand-by-hand, you know what I mean? So that was one huge thing that we had to do in the year, figuring out, like we did some size adjustments to just be the correct size, like we had a face moisturizer that was like six ounces, which you can’t do that.

Kelly Kovack [00:25:12]: That would last for like, five years.

Remi Brixton [00:25:14]: It would last – like it would literally go unstable shelf life before you could use it all. That’s not a sustainable business model. So a lot of that kind of stuff. And operationally and Stage 1 Financial, who is one of our VCs now, has been so instrumental in just getting us to that next level operationally and organizationally that we didn’t even know what we didn’t know when we got the first meeting with Sephora, so that was huge.

Kelly Kovack [00:25:38]: I think that’s a big thing. You can’t be successful in sort of a competitive environment like that unless you have someone by your side that actually knows what they’re doing. Because to your point, you don’t know what you don’t know.

Remi Brixton [00:25:53]: Absolutely. And it’s not your fault, if you’re a first-time business owner, you need people in your corner to help you with this stuff, otherwise you make huge mistakes. Like we – oh my god. There have been so many mistakes as everyone knows, you know what I mean? And we’ve avoided a lot of them in this last year, so super thankful for that partnership. 

Kelly Kovack [00:26:10]: The clean beauty space is so crowded and there’s a cacophony of claims, of marketing, advertising. You’ve managed to break through the noise with a really unique brand, and you’ve done it without sort of a massive amount of venture funding. And I really think sort of – I mean, just this conversation, it clearly kind of comes from you, but the attitude of the brand I think is one of its biggest differentiators. Can you share a little bit about your creative process in your own words, like what differentiates you from the crowd? Take the freckles aside, I think it goes beyond that hero product, it’s really kind of the DNA of the brand that I think is so – it’s kind of refreshing in a category that’s become a lot of the same.

Remi Brixton [00:27:00]: Oh my gosh. First off, thank you so much. I am so flattered to hear that, especially the part about taking freckles aside, because yes, I love freckles, but I’m also like, we’ve got a lot more here than just freckles, you know what I mean? But yeah, it’s funny that you say attitude because our brand statement is that Freck Beauty is an attitude. We’re the bold clean beauty brand for anyone who care about ingredients, respects the process, and doesn’t care about the rules. So you hit the nail on the head as far as our own self-identity. But what sets us apart, I mean, I think – and in my creative process, and I have an amazing creative team, so I don’t want to take all the credit, my team is incredible. But I think from everything, from product development to copywriting to even just an Instagram post, like something that seems so simple, we try to be really honest with ourselves and, like, are we making products, messaging, visuals, anything that deserves to be in the world? Especially when you talk about product design and product development. Because I don’t want to put out another moisturizer just to have another moisturizer. And I don’t want to have a negative impact on the earth if I don’t think that this is the best moisturizer that we can make for our price point and our audience and what they’re asking for and it deserves to be here. And I try to frame that essence into email marketing design and our playlist, like everything. Sometimes people think I’m crazy because they’re like ugh, you know, it’s an Instagram post, calm down about it. But I’m like if I don’t think it deserves to have a place in the world, why would I expect anyone else to? So I think we just really try to stay true to that mission and be honest about it when we’re creating assets and creating products and creating the brand.

Kelly Kovack [00:28:47]: I mean, the only way that I know to kind of operationalize or scale that level of detail is to build a culture that kind of ingrains what’s right and what’s wrong for the brand in absolutely everyone who touches it. So what is your culture like? How do you create a culture that allows people the freedom to do their job, but still sort of inherently know what the north star is for the brand?

Remi Brixton [00:29:18]: Yeah, it’s such a good question, and honestly, it’s something that we still we’re trying to relinquish me out of all of this. It’s hard.

Kelly Kovack [00:29:26]: Right, because you’re not scalable, you’re only one person.

Remi Brixton [00:29:29]: Exactly, exactly. So I think that, you know, the training process is me trying to clone. I wish I could download my brain and stick it into somebody else, but I can’t, obviously. My graphic design team and also my art director is such a good example, like she just has such an attention to detail that is – that’s really what I’m looking for when I’m hiring in the first place, attention to detail and you can look at two photos that are almost identical, and you just need to be able to see the difference. Like Gordon Ramsey says, and this is so cheesy, but you can’t teach someone to taste. You can teach them to cook, you can teach them all of the processes in the kitchen, but at the end of the day, they have to put the spoon to their mouth and be able to taste what they’ve created. And so that’s really what I’m looking for when I’m hiring. But I have a lot of trust in the team and there always comes a point – and it’s been happening more recently, which is great, where I take each employee aside and I’m like, you’re here because you’re great and you have amazing taste and you deserve to be able to make these kinds of decisions on your own. And obviously I’m still here and creative director for the company, but I think it’s honestly just time. It’s not like we’re at Glossier level yet where anyone can speak Glossier. I hope to be there, but right now we’re still honing and identifying everything that makes the brand special and being able to scale that. But yeah, it’s hard. It’s super hard.

Kelly Kovack [00:30:59]: Yeah. Well, you know, I also think that the other thing that sort of struck me was, you know, there’s a lot of talk about community. It’s one of those ubitquitous boxes everyone checks, and I don’t think people actually even sometimes understand what building a community is or takes. But you have built a really highly engaged, loyal community. Can you describe sort of who they are and why this community is important? And how you did it?

Remi Brixton [00:31:28]: Yeah. They are super creative. They are extremely independent thinkers. They are extremely self-expressive. And makeup and beauty, to them, is all about self-expression. It’s not like – and I think that’s why our audience leans very heavily Gen Z. It’s not about here are the tools to make you beautiful, it’s like here are the tools to help you express yourself creatively. And if that’s I just want a moisturizer and to go this morning, that’s awesome. If it’s like I want orange eyebrows and flame eyeliner, or like, you know, thumbprints of eye shadow all over my face and I’m going to go to the grocery store like that, that’s also awesome. And I would love to take credit for the community, but I think a lot of it was just like early on connecting – this was back when I was running the Instagram solely and just getting in DMs with people and really actually having conversations with people and trying to learn as much about the community that immediately identified itself and being able to double down on that and being able to speak to that artistic, creative community as opposed to let me build it and see if they come. Let me listen to you and understand you and what you want in a creative beauty space, and let me try to facilitate that for you guys.

Kelly Kovack [00:32:56]: You can’t shortcut community. It takes time. It takes conversation. I don’t think you can outsource community. You know, you just kind of have to connect with people one by one by one and then eventually it hits kind of an inflection point. But yeah, you know, I think everyone who has built a community always has the same response. I’m in the DMs, I answer the customer service.

Remi Brixton [00:33:22]: I know. I mean, you want it to be something else, you really do. But it’s just about understanding and listening and like honestly, not like being a therapist, but being a sounding board, and I think that’s what makes beautiful brands and the brands that I look up to, like You To The People I think does an amazing job at being just a sponge from their community and understanding what they want and what they need and what their values are and then facilitating that for them.

Kelly Kovack [00:33:53]: Well, I also think it’s a key differentiator in sort of creating a culture. Because if you have a founder that has been in the weeds on customer services and in DMs, they understand the consumer and also set up the expectation that the consumer matters and every touchpoint matters, which is a really solid foundation for a brand. But, you know, there’s another side of trying to community build where you try and do it at scale and you do it with digital ads and agencies and it never really works the same.

Remi Brixton [00:34:31]: Well, yeah, it’s funny that you say scale because I was just about to say, going off of the earlier conversation, that when your founder is in the weeds in the beginning for a long time, that never leaves and that is scalable. Because now when I train our customer service team or when I am working with the social team, you always have that. It’s like so valuable and it also then drives product innovation and photoshoots and everything going forward is having that connection. And then obviously communicating to customer service and social that our community is so important, we wouldn’t be there without them, so treat this like the most precious thing in the company, because without this, this all falls away. So them understanding that, they’re always bringing me back ideas from – now I’m in the DMs every once in a while, but not as much as I’d like to be. But yeah, they know to bring that back; this is the most precious part of the entire company.

Kelly Kovack [00:35:29]: So you know, let’s talk a little bit about the product. So you know you can’t build a sustainable business without product that delivers, there’s just too much competition. You started with freckles, but now you’ve expanded into skincare, you’ve come back to color. But at its core, what is your formulation philosophy? What does your development process look like? I guess both for product and packaging in terms of what you’re trying to achieve and any guardrails that you’ve set.

Remi Brixton [00:36:00]: So for product innovation, it definitely – ah, this is another one where I’m like I wish it was a more interesting answer, but it’s real. Des and I, my business partner, will be sitting and we’ll just be like, you know what I wish existed? Or, wouldn’t it be cool if? Or what about…if somebody…? You know, that’s always how it starts, the good ones at least, you know, the ones that make it through. Yeah, we just make products that we wish existed. It’s really that simple. And then as far as guardrails, I think that when we’re listening to our community, like in May we did our entire theme for the month was vacation skin – called Vacation Skin and it was all about skin where you look like you just got back from vacation. Obviously we’re still easing up on quarantine here in LA, things are definitely opening but it’s like how do you look like you just got back from vacation, like glow-y, dew-y, blush-y freckles, without having been on vacation? And our products do that, but the concept of vacation skin came from our community and then we did this whole monthly theme around it. And then as far as the packaging, as I said, I’m an interior designer by trade. So I think the product design, which we get a lot of compliments on, and I think it’s one of the things that differentiates us, is that it’s pretty simple and we really – N’Sara, my art director, really likes to lean into like type and spacing and negative space is a huge thing with Freck. We don’t make that many rules for us, but one of the things is, like I said, we make products that we wish existed. When we design products, I mentally put them into all the different bathrooms that I’ve designed over my career. The ones from the most beautiful ones to the fugliest ones that I will never admit I designed, and make sure that the products are a reflection of the products who are using them and their space and their life and we want our products to be their vanity brag, as opposed to us forcing our branding down somebody’s throat with really over-the-top eye-catching. I always say that Freck Beauty is as much what we say as what we don’t say, and I think that also translates to product design too.

Kelly Kovack [00:38:13]: Yeah. No, you know, I don’t think it’s boring at all. I mean, I actually love that you trust your gut and it’s sort of on intuition. Because I think there’s this whole trend happening now where data is informing product development. And I – I guess just being old, I’m just like, yeah, I love data too, but data is just numbers. And if someone’s searching for it, it means like…is it really a trend? Because somebody’s already looking for it. It’s very hard for me in those conversations because people look at me like I’m old.

Remi Brixton [00:38:50]: You’re not old; that’s crazy.

Kelly Kovack [00:38:52]: I’m just like, you know, data is fantastic, but it’s only a tool. And if that’s what you’re using to lead your creative process, well, guess what? Everyone else is looking at the same data too. So…

Remi Brixton [00:39:06]: Yeah. I think that approach, while it’s probably a little bit safer in respects and like maybe better for a more established brand, I think it kind of really is lacking innovation because if I had data on how many people were looking for freckles, I would have never started this company. You know what I mean?

Kelly Kovack [00:39:24]: Exactly, exactly.

Remi Brixton [00:39:26]: I get it, and now we for sure trust our gut, but also I try to run it by more ears now like from finance and marketing, people who know more than me, just to gut check, but we do go with our gut. Do go with your gut, but gut check a little bit.

Kelly Kovack [00:39:41]: Yeah, I think data is really powerful, but I think that if you approach it from sort of that gut instinct and then go search the data, sometimes you’re like, okay, there’s enough people looking for it that maybe this could be something. So I do think there’s a lot of insights that you can get from data, but I always approach it from can I validate the crazy stuff that floats around in my head?

Remi Brixton [00:40:06]: Yeah, totally. Actually, one of the other things that – sorry if this is kind of an off-topic tangent, but one of the other things I did when I was first, first starting Freck, even pre-Kickstarter, I did Google consumer surveys as just a regular person, I didn’t have a business account or anything. My questions, if anyone in marketing were to look at the questions, they’d be like, this is so not actually useable data because they are of course, “Do you like freckles?” You know what I mean? But I spent I think like $50 and got surveys from like 1,500 people and I was like oh, people would like freckles, and the way that I phrased it was like malarkey, but that was another thing I did to kind of test. There was no data, there were no freckle products, and gut checking with data is totally a thing. Go with your gut, gut check with data. I like that.

Kelly Kovack [00:40:59]: Yeah. So just in sort of wrapping it up, you’ve had one of those sort of true kind of indie beauty real experiences where I think so many founders – and not everyone wants to tell the story, but most success stories have kind of this founders hit a bottom where they’re like, I have no money, why am I even doing this? They think about throwing in the towel. And then they keep going. And let’s face it, luck also plays a huge part in entrepreneurial businesses. No matter how much money you raise, you still need a little bit of luck. But you kept going, so I think from an indie beauty founder story, it’s truly kind of an inspiration. And I love the fact that you’re willing to share all the nitty gritty because I don’t think a lot of founders do that. And I agree, I think it’s important to share the truth. But what’s next for Freck? What does success look like for you?

Remi Brixton [00:42:06]: Thank you so much for saying that, first off. That’s so kind. I mean, gosh, Kelly, your experience is like – I mean, it’s just really so nice to hear that, thank you. What’s next for Freck, we’re just going to keep trying and killing it at Sephora. We’ve been doing really well at Sephora, and so kind of really pushing and doubling down on that partnership and hopefully expanding into new territories with Sephora and continuing to drive badass products. I mean, at the end of the day, that’s really what makes me happy and connecting with the community, all of the things. My favorite thing day-to-day is going to Instagram and seeing the looks that people tag us in. Like, that’s…it’s been that since the first day and it’s still that today. It’s not all of the other stuff. Still my favorite moment is going on Instagram and seeing what everyone’s up to. So continuing that. And then for me personally, I am about to turn 30 in a couple months and I have – this is going to sound like a brag, but it’s not. I just launched at Sephora, which I was like that would be so crazy if that ever happened, and I also just bought my first house.

Kelly Kovack [00:43:17]: Congratulations, that’s amazing!

Remi Brixton [00:43:19]: Thank you!! It’s so exciting! So I’m kind of in a place where I’m really analyzing what is going to make me tick for the next five years. What short-term, long-term goals do I want to set up for myself? Because I’ve accomplished a lot of things and I don’t want to get into a stagnant place where I’m like, what do I do next? I don’t think that’s a fun way to live ever. So to be honest, I’m kind of in that space right now, figuring that out for myself, but also it is hard running a business. It is hard. So I really would like to sell Freck in five years, somewhere give or take around there, so I’m kind of focusing on that. And it’s not about the money, it’s about I will need to take a nap at that point. So just kind of being real with myself and how much grinding I can do, and as long as it’s fun. So I’m working on that for myself.

Kelly Kovack [00:44:15]: Well, I think it will be fun to watch.

Remi Brixton [00:44:18]: Thank you.

Kelly Kovack [00:44:19]: I love – you know, I am a total branding geek, and when you see a brand that has so much soul and is really, I mean, really, really well-designed, it’s all the little pieces that come together to make it kind of a dynamic experience. So what you’ve built is really just fun to watch. I really do think you’re just getting started. So we will definitely be watching and please stay in touch and let us know how things go. And seriously, congratulations on the house. That is – I didn’t buy, well, I live in New York, so we’re sort of late starters when it comes to real estate, most of us. I don’t think I bought my apartment until I was 45, so you are way ahead of me. 

Remi Brixton [00:45:07]: Oh my gosh, thank you. Yeah, it’s super surreal. I just – I like figured out how to pay my first mortgage payment this week, and I was like I don’t think I should be allowed to own a house because I can’t even…there’s a lot of stuff. But I don’t know. I always joke that I’m a very high-functioning, dysfunctional person, so maybe one day I’ll figure out how to pay my bills and shower in a timely manner. But thank you so much for having me. This was so fun. And I will definitely be staying in touch. And thank you guys for having me.

Kelly Kovack [00:45:35]: Yeah, absolutely.

For Remi, it’s a matter of honesty. Freck Beauty doesn’t simply check boxes; they walk the walk led by a fearless founder that leads by example and is the embodiment of the brand she’s launched. Building a team to support a business that is in growth mode has been grounded in creating a culture that reflects the DNA of the brand and the community that loves them. She has been brutally transparent about the early struggles, from creating a product that was not commercially viable, to taking money from the wrong investor, and becoming the unfortunate butt of a Jimmy Kimmel Live joke which went viral and lead to nasty bullying. And yet, looking back, she wouldn’t change a thing. She believes failures force you to rethink what you’re doing and create something better. Freck Beauty is an unvarnished founding story with lessons to be learned and plenty of inspiration to keep you going when things get tough. So in the end, it’s a matter of honesty, and that’s what matters. I’m Kelly Kovac, see you next time.

Remi Brixton [00:46:45]: Hey, I’m Remi, and to me what matters is honesty. Be honest with yourself and be honest with your mission.

Kelly Kovack [00:46:54]: It’s A Matter Of is a production of BeautyMatter LLC. You can find more content and insights on www.BeautyMatter.com and follow us on social media @BeautyMatterOfficial.

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