It's a Matter Of... Proof
Creating a Collective Force of Wellbeing with Hillary PetersonJune 08, 2020 BeautyMatter
June 08, 2020
Sponsored By Berjé
Toxic ingredients in beauty products drove Hillary Peterson to found True Botanicals to transform the beauty industry. The backlash against traditional beauty brands may have been inevitable, but there was a time not that long ago when "natural" products were a fringe category. For Hillary and True Botanicals it’s a matter of PROOF. They are driven by a mission to transform beauty. One woman, one result, one moment at a time, creating a collective force of wellbeing. Hillary talks with BeautyMatter Founder Kelly Kovack about how the beauty industry needs change-makers willing to break the rules and have the commitment to establish new ones.
Hillary Peterson [00:00:20]: I am Hillary Peterson, and I’m the founder of True Botanicals, and for me, it’s a matter of proof, and what proof means to me, within the beauty industry, is that it’s not enough to say you’re authentic; it’s not enough to say that your products work or that these celebrities who are talking about your products really love them, but rather that all of those things are true.
Kelly Kovack [00:00:56]: Clean, green, and everything in between. There’s no going back, the beauty paradigm has shifted forever. I’m Kelly Kovack, founder of BeautyMatter. The backlash against traditional beauty brands may have been inevitable. There was a time, not too long ago, when natural products were a fringe category. Fast forward, clean, green, and natural claims are table stakes to compete in today’s beauty landscape, regardless of price point or channel of distribution. While the future of beauty might be radically clean, the origins of the movement lie in the countless stories of health scares. Thyroid cancer and the feeling of utter indignation at the discovery that all her beauty products had one thing in common: toxic ingredients. This was the driving force for Hillary Peterson to found True Botanicals and her commitment to transform the beauty industry.
Hillary, thank you so much for joining us. Like many clean beauty founders and consumers, you found your way to challenging the status quo of the industry and the products that were being developed because of a health crisis. Can you share a little bit about your path from marketing executive at Levi’s to founding True Botanicals, and a little bit of, I suppose, emotionally, sort of what drove you? Because I have to…people talk about that a lot, as sort of the tipping point, if you will, for making the change, but people rarely talk about how emotionally fueled it is, because your life like fundamentally changes in so many ways.
Hillary Peterson [00:02:47]: That’s such a great question because it was a very emotional decision, actually, for me. At the time that I was recovering from thyroid cancer, I had baby twins, and it’s a very vulnerable thing, to have cancer, and have children that, you know, you want to be around for as long as possible, and as I was recovering, I was looking at all of the different ways I could live the healthiest possible life, and of course I looked at diet and exercise and meditation, the things that were really already a part of my life, and I was thinking I needed to double down on, and one thing I was one hundred percent unaware of until that time is that there are toxins in many, many of our beauty products, and I discovered that, and once I discovered that, the emotion that I felt was indignation. I just thought, “Well, that is completely crazy, that there’s an industry selling me products, telling me I should use them to look and feel beautiful, and they’re made with toxins. What’s beautiful about toxins? Nothing.” And, so, coming from an entrepreneurial family and having a marketing background and having a very strong sense of passion, I decided that this was something I wanted to do.
Kelly Kovack [00:04:00]: And, was it really from – I mean, I think indignation is sort of…kind of sums it up, because it’s sort of anger and passion, you know, did you really feel compelled that you had to be part of a change, or that you could affect change? Was that the driving force?
Hillary Peterson [00:04:23]: Yes, I think, you know, when people ask me what makes me feel the happiest in life, I’ve always had the feeling that helping people is an incredible privilege – helping them in whatever way they need help, and so I think it was clear to me, professionally, that I would do something someday as an entrepreneur that helped people, and it just became clear to me that this was the way.
Kelly Kovack [00:04:49]: It’s interesting how sometimes, like everything in life happens for a purpose, even though I think sometimes it’s not immediately apparent to us.
Hillary Peterson [00:05:00]: Completely, completely. It was a gift. It was a gift in a lot of ways, because I feel like I raised my children very differently also, having had that experience. It’s impacted a lot of things.
Kelly Kovack [00:5:10]: Well, I also think that, you know, I mean, I’m thankful for entrepreneurs like you who have sort of the foundation and background in business, but the passion and sort of the willingness to sort of change the status quo, because it’s never an easy path.
Hillary Peterson [00:5:30]: It’s not.
Kelly Kovack [00:05:31]: It’s not. It’s not, and you know what, I think that there are, you know, the clean beauty conversation has become prevalent, which is fantastic, but I also feel like it is also – I’m not sure what it’s grounded in anymore. But, when you launched True Botanicals in 2014, it was still early days in clean beauty, and you were one of the first brands to create products that were Made Safe certified. Why was it important to you to have that certification, and why Made Safe as opposed to any number of other third parties?
Hillary Peterson [00:06:21]: So, what became apparent, even at that time when there were fewer brands in the marketplace, was that there was so much information. Some brands would say, “100% organic, 100% natural, strictest standards in the industry,” and yet there was no way to measure the authenticity of the claims, and I think consumers were very confused, and frankly, I was confused, and so I stood back and I thought, “What do I really care about relative to these products that I want to create? I want them to be very effective, and I want to make sure that they are absolutely safe for people and the planet,” and in that goal, there really isn’t a need for 100% natural, because Vitamin C is an incredible ingredient and non-toxic, so is hyaluronic acid, and so ultimately, I realized I think there are a lot of people like me that want results and to know that the products are safe, and Made Safe is, without a doubt, the most rigorous certification in that way, because so many toxins are hidden in sub-ingredients in products, and Made Safe looks at every single ingredient and sub-ingredient to ensure that they’re safe for people and the planet, that they don’t bio-accumulate on the planet or in people, and the rigor of that certification most closely matched my goals. So, that’s why I chose it, and I found Made Safe through our science advisor who is the head of green chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University, and we were one of their first brands, actually.
Kelly Kovack [00:07:56]: I have to say, I think Made Safe has, of all sort of the third-party, I think for the same reasons that I think you chose it, I think that they are finally providing guidelines that actually have some teeth in them.
Hillary Peterson [00:08:12]: Yes, and they’re really looking at these ingredients.
Kelly Kovack [00:08:15]: You know, because I think so many of the other certifications, it’s about writing a check at the end of the day, and that’s not doing anyone a service.
Hillary Peterson [00:08:22]: It is, and it’s self-reporting, you know, you fill in the information, whereas with Made Safe, they’re looking at it all themselves.
Kelly Kovack [00:08:31]: You know, I mean, I’m hoping that Made Safe becomes sort of the sort of certification that sort of qualifies brands, because I think that there’s – you have sort of third-party certifications, but then you have retailer certifications, which…talk about self-reporting. Self-reporting, and you know, I think the intention is correct, but I think it’s creating more confusion because there’s not consistency between any of them.
Hillary Peterson [00:09:03]: Well, and the great thing is, I mean, I do have to say, I’m thrilled all of these certifications exist, I really am, because we just keep elevating what’s possible, and I think if all of the standards were as strict as Made Safe, then there wouldn’t be that many products available. So, there is something to be said for evolution, but I’m thrilled that you appreciate the integrity of Made Safe, because I really do too, and I’m grateful they’re doing the hard work.
Kelly Kovack [00:09:29]: They’re a fantastic organization, they really are. I mean, at least they have raised the bar for what’s possible, because I think for so long, there was a lot of questions in consumers’ minds, but even kind of on the formulation side of what was possible, and I really think it’s the indie brands that push these sort of contract manufacturers and formulators to think differently.
Hillary Peterson [00:09:57]: Yes, 100%, and we’re having that experience now, and it’s been very rewarding to see how we’ve been able to help evolve the industry.
Kelly Kovack [00:10:07]: Yeah, I mean, I think the formulation of clean beauty and even organic and natural has come so far, but I feel like the packaging side of the equation hasn’t moved as fast, unfortunately.
Hillary Peterson [00:10:24]: No, it hasn’t. I really – it’s so funny, because people will say to me, “What is the greatest challenge in creating your products?” and I say, “The packaging, 100%.” And, there are a lot of issues. I mean, for instance, brands are interested in doing things that you think would be very positive, for instance, using recycled plastic, and actually, recycled plastic loses its integrity, and so the toxins are more likely to leech into products. So, there’s a lot of complexity as we push this industry to evolve and packaging to evolve that’s just not really being addressed yet, and I hunger for packaging that would be more thoughtful, and we’re doing our best. So far, glass is the answer, 100%, from our perspective.
Kelly Kovack [00:11:05]: You know, I think it was – I think last year was the moment where I was just sort of like, “Okay. The packaging side of our industry finally gets it,” and there’s – you see innovation happening, but I think it’s just starting, and I see so many really amazing and totally out there solutions coming from sort of Master’s programs and PhD programs from design and science, mostly in Europe, where I’m like, oh my god, the creativity. The commercialization isn’t there yet, so if only we could get those capable of the commercialization to connect with these really young, beautiful minds, I think we’re going to get there.
Hillary Peterson [00:11:57]: Absolutely, because I know the consumer really cares. We hear from our customers that they really care, and they know we’re doing the best we can. You know, we still have the droppers with the rubber on top, because that’s how we can get the product out of the bottle.
Kelly Kovack [00:12:10]: There’s no other solution.
Hillary Peterson [00:12:11]: Yes. But, it’s exciting, I agree, and 20 years from now, I’m guessing we’ll see a very different picture.
Kelly Kovack [00:12:18]: Yeah, and you know, I think also, the beauty category, it’s a complicated category. There are a lot of moving parts to getting something in a bottle or a jar, and I think consumers, and even people in other industries don’t realize that, sort of the supply chain complexity, so I think a lot of these technologies are kind of blue sky and haven’t really been commercialized, and as sort of a start-up or an entrepreneurial business to be the first to go to bat on that, if something goes pear shaped, you have a whole big problem on your hands. So, you also have to, I think – I think about the financial risk attached to sort of being the first when it comes to packaging.
Hillary Peterson [00:13:07]: Very much. For instance, something that’s biodegradable, well, how quickly does it biodegrade?
Kelly Kovack [00:13:13]: Exactly, exactly. In talking a little bit about sort of the DNA and product side of True Botanicals, I think there’s another really important part and really interesting part to me, kind of what makes your business tick, and that’s your commitment to conscious entrepreneurism, and also talking about the business being an equitable endeavor, which is so refreshing in a highly transactional environment that we live in. Can you explain what this means exactly, kind of how it’s structured and why it was important?
Hillary Peterson [00:13:49]: You know, a lot of times people will say to me, “We’re just so proud of you and what you’ve done with your company,” and even at work sometimes, employees will say to me, “Well, it is your company,” and I’ll quickly correct them and say, “Well, no, it’s our company,” and when you look at our brand activists, Laura Dern, Olivia Wilde, and Zazie Beetz, they very much feel like they’re partners in collaborating with us to create change in an industry that’s so desperately in need of change, and a lot of that comes from an attitude. It also comes from the fact that our employees and our brand activists are all part owners of the company, and so together, we’re building something that will benefit all of us, most important, benefit our consumers and the planet, and it creates a whole different feeling. Olivia came to the office one day for the opening of our store, and she was spending time with the employees and talking to everybody, and really acting like somebody who is part of our company, because she is, and I think it makes a really big difference when you have a mission-driven business, when people can feel as much a part of it as our team does.
Kelly Kovack [00:15:08]: You know, I think that – I think a lot of companies pay lip service to that concept. I think what sort of struck a cord with me was that you have kind of actualized it in a very concrete way that seems to, sort of from an outsider, feel like it’s almost the foundation of intent and how you do business.
Hillary Peterson [00:15:35]: I think you’re right. I think you’re right, and it does make it feel very different to me. I know it’s the kind of place that I would want to work, and so just like these products are the kind of products I would like to use, and ironically, I haven’t actually told this story before, in an interview, I was working with one of our manufacturers, and we were talking through some decisions that we needed to make about one of our products – we formulate all of our products ourselves, and there were just a couple of cost-cutting opportunities that he pointed out, and I just said, “No, well, we couldn’t do that because this, and we couldn’t do that because this,” and at the end of the meeting, he said, “I just want to tell you, it’s so refreshing. You’re the first person I’ve met who is making the kinds of products they’d like to use themselves,” and this is a big manufacturer, and I was very shocked. I was very shocked. I know that’s not true, because I’ve met – I love so many fellow brands in the green beauty industry and I so respect the work that they’re doing, so that’s very refreshing, but it was surprising, and it just made me realize that owning in in the way that we are is something I’m excited to see more in the world, for sure.
Kelly Kovack [00:16:45]: Well, you know, I think that the beauty industry has been a really hot category from kind of an investor standpoint, and I think anytime – you know, I started my career kind of in the late ‘90s at Bliss, so I was sort of part of that first incarnation of kind of beauty brands that scaled, and so it’s kind of interesting to see it come full-circle, but I think any time that happens, you have people who enter the industry, or launch brands, thinking that it’s a quick in-and-out with easy money, and I think we both know that there are way easier ways to make money than launching a beauty brand, but I think it’s happened in clean beauty because the growth has been kind of meteoric, investors are looking at it, and so I think you have the people who are really committed to making the change, and then you have a lot of opportunistic brands, and I think that that’s where the confusion is coming from.
Hillary Peterson [00:17:57]: Yes, I think you’re right, and I think that’s where these certifications can make a huge difference, where I think clinical trials and before and after’s and genuine customer testimonials, so that the customers can make choices that are well-informed, because it’s hard. As it gets more crowded, I think it gets more confusing.
Kelly Kovack [00:18:19]: And, I think as it evolves and gets sort of on one end of the spectrum, you have brands that are pushing for validation and creating the proof behind, I mean, Cult Beauty is working with a block-chain company called Progonons to actually create substantiation in a completely different way, but then on the other side, you have the FDC suing people for claims that, you know, I mean, one of the brands, I remember looking at it, and I’m not a product developer, but I was like, “There’s no way. There’s no way that product is natural.” And so, but, it’s like, I don’t know, is that a cost of doing business, because there was this window of opportunity, and you can have these brands that can be a quick in and out because the barrier of entry has been so low.
Hillary Peterson [00:19:13]: Yeah, and we’ve seen that happen in the food industry, too. A lot of misinformation.
Kelly Kovack [00:19:20]: I suppose that goes to my next question. I kind of refer to the category as “clean, green, and kind of everything in between,” because it has kind of become that, but what do you think the future holds for this category? And, as one of the kind of pioneers in the category, you know, what sort of leadership role are you and the company taking to kind of make the future that you see happen?
Hillary Peterson [00:19:51]: I have such faith in future generations, and the fact that they are so discerning and thoughtful and committed to what things are versus what they look like, and so I’m very hopeful that – this is why I love being a direct brand – I’m very hopeful that this particular group coming up is going to be very careful to research the ingredients and to make sure that companies are what they say they are, and so I feel confident that the future holds a lot of benefit for brands that are truly authentic. I think that’s – and, truthful, you know, around the proof that they provide relative to the safety of the products, the efficacy of products, that their testimonials on their website are from real people and that they’re real testimonials. I do believe that this is a moment where those types of brands will be the most successful, and I’m grateful for the thoughtfulness of you know, Gen X-ers and Gen Z consumers who I think are going to hold companies to their word.
Kelly Kovack [00:21:08]: I agree with you. I think there is – I would even push it further, I think there’s a reckoning coming from sort of Gen Z consumers, and if these brands that kind of play free and easy with claims and what they stand for, if they don’t sort of like clean up their acts, I don’t think they’re going to be in business. I think there’s a point coming where it’s just simply not going to be tolerated anymore.
Hillary Peterson [00:21:35]: I agree. I think people want the truth, and the truth doesn’t have to be…
Kelly Kovack [00:21:40]: It doesn’t have to be scary.
Hillary Peterson [00:21:42]: Right, and it doesn’t have to be that a brand is 100% committed to one thing or another, just they are what they are. Be what you are.
Kelly Kovack [00:21:50]: Just be honest. I would agree, and I really – I hope that time comes, because I think it’s better for everyone. I think it’s better for the consumer. I think it’s better for the businesses themselves and the people who sort of work for those businesses.
Hillary Peterson [00:22:04]: And, it’s certainly better for this category. That’s where I feel like something like Made Safe is going to be essential – it’s going to be our protection during these times, I think.
Kelly Kovack [00:22:12]: And, you briefly touched on the fact that you’re a direct brand. So, you know, initially when you launched, you were sort of a direct brand, kind of, I guess maybe digitally native, but you also had sort of a more traditional path that many sort of luxury skincare brands take with a really curated group of retailers, Barney’s, which, you know, I guess, you know, you got saved there.
Hillary Peterson [00:22:45]: I’m still sad, I loved that store.
Kelly Kovack [00:22:47]: It is so sad. It’s a whole other – it’s heartbreaking. Follain, O’Bare, so it was really sort of high-end department stores, independent retail, and spa, but you did something kind of unconventional, you know, most people would not sort of pull out of retailers like that, but you clearly did an intentional pivot, and I was wondering if you could talk about that a bit.
Hillary Peterson [00:23:14]: Yeah, so, you know, we really value the retailers that we were in, and those relationships and I just really enjoyed everything that I learned from being in the retail environment, and got a lot from that. It was a great way to connect with new consumers. Our direct business was growing so quickly and was requiring so much attention and focus, that we realized it was a moment for us to really double down on direct and focus and bring to it everything that we could, and I really see going forward that there will likely be opportunities to go back into retail, we’ve done that, we’ve done a lot of foundational work on our direct business, and it’s very solid, and so I could definitely see a moment in which we look for ways to meet consumers where they are through select retailer partnerships again.
Kelly Kovack [00:24:10]: Would part of that decision be sort of the cost of acquisition online that is really making it kind of prohibitive to use it solely as the way of attracting new consumers? It’s just not sustainable anymore.
Hillary Peterson [00:24:27]: Yeah. I think, you know, to me, it’s a very complimentary opportunity to be online and then to be where people are looking for products like ours. So, I think a lot of it is around the complimentary aspects, because I don’t think we’ve yet fully tapped what’s possible as a direct business, so for us, it’s probably primarily focused on that opportunity and the fact that convenience, sometimes people just want to grab and touch and feel, and also experience the products, and I think what’s great about potentially tapping into retail again is the opportunity of partnering with retailers to create experiences that are compelling for consumers. It just adds another dimension, I think, to the possibility.
Kelly Kovack [00:25:20]: So, one of the retailers you didn’t exit was Goop. Can you tell us why? I think I know, but I’m not going to answer the question for you.
Hillary Peterson [00:25:28]: Yeah, no problem. I’m so curious what you think. Yeah, the reason we did not pull our products from Goop was because they too are online, direct, but really, it was about their editorial platform, and the fact that they’re so content-driven, it just felt like we wanted to continue to be part of what they’re doing.
Kelly Kovack [00:25:51]: I know one of the interesting things that you’ve done, and I’m waiting for my next trip to San Francisco to see your store, because it is stunning, from what I’ve seen.
Hillary Peterson [00:26:00]: Please come and get a facial, we would love it.
Kelly Kovack [00:26:03]: I would love for you to talk about – I would imagine that that offline sort of articulation of your brand on your own terms will probably inform how you enter retail, again I’m guessing, but what does the purpose of that store mean for you, kind of from a business standpoint, community brand? It’s more than just selling products, clearly.
Hillary Peterson [00:26:29]: Yes, definitely. Well, for one thing, the store is downstairs and our offices are upstairs, which is such a fun, sort of traditional European model, I love it. I love to be able to go downstairs and listen to customers’ interactions and questions, and we have a clinic in the store, so it serves several purposes. One is the clinic allows us to go deeper with customers in our problem-solving efforts: we can have a trio of facials, support someone who is struggling with adult acne or who is trying to soothe rosacea, so we can really be consultative and have that very direct experience with them, so that’s one thing, and then the other is we’re really seeing it as an event incubator, where we can figure out what are the most compelling ways for people to come in and interact with us? What’s most interesting to them? How can we meet them where they are and provide the kind of information and event that interests them most? So, we’re learning a lot, and yes, we’ll definitely apply that learning to future retail endeavors, definitely.
Kelly Kovack [00:27:43]: And, will we see more of your brand in stores?
Hillary Peterson [00:27:45]: I would think so, yes.
Kelly Kovack [00:27:47]: In New York?
Hillary Peterson [00:27:49]: Well, it’s so interesting, because I really think New York would be a perfect place for us to go, for sure.
Kelly Kovack You know, I think so many of the decisions that you’ve made, you’ve been sort of either a little bit ahead of the curve, or kind of zigging when people are zagging, and I think one of those things that was interesting to me is that you’ve really engaged sort of celebrity influencers in a very different way, but tapping into celebrity when sort of most of the industry was going a very different direction. Was it intentional? I’m sure you have sort of a sort of influencer marketing program in support of it, which I think that whole thing is a whole other can of worms.
Hillary Peterson [00:31:16]: Yes, it is.
Kelly Kovack [00:31:17]: And, probably a completely separate podcast, but you know, can you talk about sort of the celebrity strategy?
Hillary Peterson [00:31:27]: Yes. So, what became clear to me as we were building True Botanicals is that a lot of celebrities were using and loving our products, but they couldn’t talk about them, because they had beauty contracts, and I thought, “Well, that’s interesting,” because clearly, celebrity culture has helped to build a multi-billion dollar beauty industry, and if they were using our products and loving them, and at the same time, I was seeing that so many celebrities really care about sustainability and the planet and how can we best support pushing things in the right direction, and I just saw that there was an opportunity to seek out some relationships where we could partner and do something very beneficial for the planet, and all of us collectively, grow something really meaningful. So, you know, to me, reaching out to celebrities at that time was an opportunity to expand reach – their reach is unparalleled – expand reach and do something really positive, and I’m not seeing it exclusively as something we want to build with celebrities, our partnerships, I’m seeing this band of activists as a group that includes celebrities, makeup artists, influencers, more traditional influencers, our customers. It’s all of us coming together and saying as a community, “We deserve better, and here’s a brand that’s doing that,” and so we’re calling it our Band of Activists, and I think it will include a lot more than – it will include a lot more than our celebrity partners, they’re very excited for that as well.
Kelly Kovack [00:33:05]: But, that was sort of the starting point.
Hillary Peterson [00:33:07]: And that was the starting point. It was sort of starting, I guess, with this group of people that had the most significant influence and who have the broadest reach.
Kelly Kovack [00:33:14]: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, because at a time where the brand was sort of chasing these online influencers, which definitely play a role, and were kind of eschewing the traditional celebrity endorsement. I think it’s very interesting that you sort of approached it kind of from a different way. It wasn’t about a transaction; it was about a deep partnership.
Hillary Peterson [00:33:38]: I think what we were able to do that’s hard for most brands to do is to work with celebrities who so genuinely believed in what we’re doing. It was just a moment where I think celebrity endorsements themselves were shifting, to your point.
Kelly Kovack [00:33:53]: Yes, yes, and I think you saw – did you see an opportunity?
Hillary Peterson [00:33:56]: Yes. Yeah, and they did too, which was very exciting. It was a very mutual observation.
Kelly Kovack [00:34:04]: You know, I think for me, the brands that are really getting the most traction are those that have unlocked the community component. I mean, Glossier is built on community, you know, so I think – and, people throw the word “community” around a lot, but I think it requires a lot of work to build, and a commitment to build a community, because it’s not transactional; you can’t hire an agency to do it. You have to like – it has to be part of your DNA and everyone on the team has to sort of buy into it, I would imagine.
Hillary Peterson [00:34:46]: Completely, and I think it needs to be built on genuine passion, and so I feel like we’d just be done. I think this is going to be a big year for us around community building, which I’m very excited about.
Kelly Kovack [00:34:56]: Another – I think you sort of have, there are, in my mind, when I build brands, you check off all those boxes that I have when I work with clients where I have built brands in the past, which is always very exciting for me, but I think one of the things where I was like, “Oh my god, of course they did,” was when you upped your content game recently, and evolved your blog into a full-on wellness editorial platform called “The Ritual,” and I feel like sometimes, people get tired of me saying the same thing over and over again, but for the past five years, I’ve been telling people, “You have to think of your brand as if you were a publisher,” because I really think that in today’s sort of really noisy environment, you have to show up with something other than product to create value for consumers, so it made – to me, I was like, “Of course they’re one of the first ones to do it.”
Hillary Peterson [00:36:00]: That’s such a nice compliment.
Kelly Kovack [00:36:03]: I live feeding the content beast, so I know what it takes to actually do it. You know, what was the thought around, A, the need to do it, B, how to resource it, and sort of keep it going, and where do you sort of see it evolving to?
Hillary Peterson [00:36:24]: So, you’re absolutely right. It is a significant undertaking, and we felt that it was the time to do it, because when we thought about beauty and our products and the interactions that we were having with our customers, so much of the conversation was around information, and this allows us more space to deliver information, whether it’s about the efficacy of the products and sharing people’s stories, or whether it’s commonly asked questions or aspects of wellness that can impact how you look and feel, sleep, having a really great, relaxing bath, the things that can really support us best in this increasingly busy life and world that we live in. So, you know, I think that doing this has allowed us, actually, to tap into the power of information from several different aspects of the company, whether it’s the customer service team, or whether it’s the product team wanting to get more deeply into our products and how they work. It’s been very positive, relative to not only telling our story as a brand, but also relative to acquisition and search and the ways that this increasingly discerning consumer is researching and looking for products, it’s a great place for us to connect with them too, relative to search.
Kelly Kovack [00:37:54]: So, from the editorial standpoint, I know that it’s not, you know, I think the difference between – for me at least, an editorial platform and sort of a blog is it’s not just about you. So, how do you sort of strike that balance between sort of editorial and contextual selling, if you will?
Hillary Peterson [00:38:16]: I think the important thing is that we’re just very careful to mix it up, and make sure that there’s a little bit of everything closely enough related to who we are as a brand that it makes sense. I think that’s one thing that is really important, is, you know, not to expand too far outside of beauty and really focus on wellness as it relates to beauty. It seems to have worked well, and you know, the response that we’ve gotten indicates that we’re striking that balance right now. If anything, I think we’ve learned that we don’t want to be too shy about – if we have a story all about how to get perfect glow, make sure that people can shop the products from that story. At first, we were even kind of hesitant to that, and we’ve learned, no, it’s really important to make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for.
Kelly Kovack [00:39:06]: From kind of a brand and content, it’s still very new, but I think the expectation is you have to make – you don’t want to put up blockers for consumers, because at the end of the day, it is about your business.
Hillary Peterson [00:39:23]: Yes, completely, and it can also be about other brands, which I really enjoy, because there are incredible clean brands out there, and we love to share discoveries and what we’re using and why, so I love that aspect. We’ve really enjoyed building it, and it’s definitely – we’ve found that it’s been very supportive of our overall business objectives, which has been very exciting.
Kelly Kovack [00:39:46]: I have to imagine it kind of surfaces interesting collaborations.
Hillary Peterson [00:39:51]: Yes, no question, and not only collaborations with likeminded brands, which is exciting, also being able to connect more deeply with our customers and share their stories. That’s also been very positive, and you realize how much other customers enjoy seeing that and learning from other people’s experiences.
Kelly Kovack [00:08:31]: I mean, at the end of the day, I think consumers are the most powerful influencers, beyond celebrities, the Instagram influencers, at the end of the day, that kind of old school word of mouth, like friend-to-friend, is so powerful.
Hillary Peterson [00:40:28]: I couldn’t agree more. So powerful.
Kelly Kovack [00:40:31]: We touched a little bit on sort of the very active financial MNA activity and environment behind the brand. You’re a venture-backed brand, which informs decisions, because you have people to answer to, but I think you have – you’ve clearly raised very smart money, which is always interesting to me, and an indication of future success, because that comes with insight and connections. Unilever Ventures was one of your first investors, and were also part of the Series A that you closed last year. Do you have any fundraising tips that you would share with other entrepreneurs? You know, I think that there is – and, I feel complicit in what has been created, but this idea that it’s easy to raise money, everybody does it, and that if you launch a beauty brand, that there’s like a billion dollar check at the other end of it, but you know, I think it’s a necessary evil. I think it’s hard to compete without financing. There used to be a time where you could self-fund yourself to success, but unless you have a very large trust fund, it’s just not possible anymore. So, I think a lot of entrepreneurs go into fundraising without really understanding what it entails. Could you just give some tips that were successful for you, or sort of flags – red flags – to watch out for?
Hillary Peterson [00:42:23]: Definitely. Everything you said resonates with me, and you know, you’re absolutely right, the decision to raise funds was 100% based on the fact that it was clear this industry was moving fast, and that if we wanted to compete amidst this growing number of clean beauty brands, then we need the funds to best tell our story and reach as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, and so that is ultimately what inspired the decision to raise funds, and I was lucky along the way to get some great advice from friends who have been in banking for a very long time, and was very careful about the partners that we brought on board, and it’s proving to me one of the most important decisions I will have made. I’m so lucky that all of our investors are aligned with our vision and our mission, so not once have I ever been, in any way, questioned about the very firm lines we’ve drawn in the sand relative to efficacy, product safety, sustainability, if anything, very much supported: “Well, how can we help you accomplish that?” So, I think, you know, finding an investor is like a marriage, a partnership, that you have to take that seriously, because these are people that you’ll be working with for a long time, and fortunately, we have partners who have been truly that, and that you can’t just assume you won’t be having a lot of interaction, because you absolutely will, and when things are going great, that’s one thing, but imagine a year - fortunately, this has not been the case for us, I just knocked on wood, but life isn’t always easy, and so who are the partners during more challenging times, who will be the most supportive?
Kelly Kovack [00:44:24]: It’s very easy to get people on board when things are going well.
Hillary Peterson [00:44:27]: Yes, and so I think having experienced investors makes a huge difference, who have really seen it all, because they can bring a lot of insight to conversations. I would say as few as possible makes a lot of sense, because you’re going to want to be in contact with all of them, and they’re going to want to be in contact with you, so I think that’s an important thing to consider, and a variety of experience, looking at who you’ve got around the table and what each investor brings to the conversation makes a really big difference. That variety, over time, has really been an important asset for us.
Kelly Kovack [00:45:08]: It’s very different than the first go-around of indie brands where a lot of those really were sort of self-financed. Bliss certainly was. But, I think it has really changed the dynamic, I think, of how beauty brands are launched and scaled and who is successful and who is not, which, you know, I think time has changed, things have moved much faster, shockingly.
Hillary Peterson [00:45:38]: I would have never foreseen that we would be where we are right now.
Kelly Kovack [00:45:41]: It is – you know, I think the power of technology is interesting, but you know, I think we both – you come from sort of a traditional, what we would call a “traditional” marketing background with Levi’s, mine is traditional only by the sense that I’ve done it for a long time, I think.
Hillary Peterson [00:46:07]: With some amazing brands.
Kelly Kovack [00:46:09]: Well, thank you. But, you know, I’m interested in your perception of…I know that I find myself, out of desire, but almost necessity, surrounding myself around young people who kind of speak like the language of memes that – I don’t get it, but I’m also sort of…I’ve sat at tables where you have sort of younger marketers, look at you like you have ten heads, but I’m increasingly thinking that – maybe I always have, but marketing hasn’t changed. The fundamentals of marketing are still the same, and I think brands that marry sort of that traditional experience, because we’re in an industry that kind of youth is everything, but I think that perhaps we’re coming to a time where there’s going to be this marriage of Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X and boomers, that like when everyone kind of comes together with their shared experience, like that’s powerful. I’m not sure how we get there.
Hillary Peterson [00:47:22]: Yeah, it’s so interesting that you bring that up, because it’s so much a part of my experience right now. I have a lot of young people working at my company, and I agree with you wholeheartedly that brand-building, in and of itself, has not changed. The tactics have evolved, and I would not be the person to be able to highlight the latest and most powerful tactics, it’s evolving on a weekly basis, but I do think that that discipline of how to build an authentic brand that has staying power is what it was 30 years ago, which is exciting to me, because I feel like, “Okay, well that’s what I can bring,” and I’m excited to surround myself with people who get all the rest of it, and I do agree with you. It’s so interesting, because when we talk about who our consumer is, we say it’s women of all ages with a millennial mindset. So, it is that coming together, because when you think about beauty and how women share stories about beauty and what’s working for them and what they need, it’s a multi-generational thing. People say all the time, “Oh well, I learned everything I know about beauty from my mom,” or moms will say, “I learned everything I know about beauty from my daughter.” It’s really this multi-generational, maybe more than a lot of other industries, so maybe beauty will be the first place where all of that comes together, which I would love.
Kelly Kovack [00:48:52]: I think so too, because I – you know, I think I read a study just last week that…and, it was related to sort of this opportunity in the 50+ cohort, which I don’t know, having crossed that threshold, I feel like, “Yeah, I get it, no one talks to me.” We went through this period of millennial brands where there’s a real brilliance to them, but I think we’ve also gotten to a point where there’s almost a monotony and sameness, there’s a formula, and I think the opportunities are perhaps on the edges of that. I think Gen Z, and definitely the spending power of Gen X and boomers cannot be dismissed. But, it’s like, turning 50 is not like this ARP moment of like walking down the beach in chinos. That’s not it.
Hillary Peterson [00:49:54]: Thank goodness.
Kelly Kovack [00:49:56]: Right? But, the statistic was over 70%, regardless of generation, want brands to show diversity from an age perspective.
Hillary Peterson [00:50:09]: And to speak to me. Please speak to me. I read that article. So, yes, I read it, and it really resonated, and this sort of comes back to what we were talking about with our band of activists. I don’t want it to be just celebrities and just millennials. I mean, it feels like it needs to speak in a way that is fresh and young to that group, but it should be everybody. Don’t we all deserve to use products that deliver amazing results without toxins, and shouldn’t we all – not even shouldn’t, I feel like don’t we all, anybody I talk to is caring about health and the environment. I mean, that’s so timely for people across all generations, and so I do agree with you completely, and I do think figuring out ways to do that that still really support being fresh and young and relevant, I think that’s the next frontier. I think that’s where the secret sauce is going to be for a lot of brands.
Kelly Kovack [00:51:13]: I think that maybe you are right. Maybe beauty will be sort of the category to unlock this cross-generational collaboration in the workspace, perhaps. It would be certainly exciting, because I really do – I think that that’s going to be the way forward. There’s not going to be just Gen Z brands and millennial brands, these cohorts all age as well. So, Hillary, thank you so much for coming today and sharing. I have one last question, kind of a softball question, but if there was one piece of advice that you could give another start-up founder or entrepreneur that would fundamentally change their business, from your perspective, what would it be?
Hillary Peterson [00:52:03]: Never doubt that deep drive and instinct that moved you to do this in the first place. I think it’s really easy to get distracted by what’s happening in your category, what’s happening in the industry, and I do think it’s easy to question, because as a founder, I consider myself chief problem solver. There are issues that arise on a daily basis, and I think it’s just staying tapped into that essence of why you’re there, and knowing that you wouldn’t have done it if it didn’t make sense.
Kelly Kovack [00:52:46]: I 100% agree with you. I think it’s interesting, another conversation that we had recently was someone who comes from the tech incubator world, and I asked her the same question, and it’s interesting that she had – her advice to entrepreneurs was similar. So, it’s interesting that I think even on the finance side, what makes entrepreneurs and founders tick, like you have to stay true to that, because it’s what makes your business different.
Hillary Peterson [00:53:18]: It is. The data can’t give you that. The data can help you make a lot of really important decisions, but it just can’t tell you what that essence is. To me, what matters is proof, proof that we don’t need to risk unnecessary exposure to toxins in order to get results. Proof that products are safe, that ingredients have been vetted all the way through the supply chain, and that products work in the way that you hope they would, proven through clinical trial results and before and after photos, and real testimonials.
Kelly Kovack [00:53:52]: Thank you, Hillary.
Hillary Peterson [00:53:53]: Thank you so much for having me.
Kelly Kovack [00:54:01]: For Hillary Peterson and True Botanicals, it’s a matter of proof. They’re driven by a mission to transform beauty one woman, one result, one moment at a time. They’re creating a collective force of well-being. Greenwashing or fear mongering are the descriptors often used by marketers, depending which side of the green, clean, everything in between beauty continuum you find yourself on. While the beauty consumer is one of the most socially targeted, digitally educated and engaged in the world, they’re drowning in terms like clean, natural, organic, green, wild-crafted, biodegradable, vegan, cruelty-free, non-toxic, and the list goes on. Many brands play free and easy with these claims, taking advantage of the lack of regulation, while other, well-intentioned brands, make the claims without any substantiation. The beauty industry needs more change-makers like Hillary that are willing to not only break the rules, but have the commitment to establish new ones. So, in the end, it’s a matter of proof. I’m Kelly Kovack, see you next time.
It’s a Matter of is a production of BeautyMatter LLC, copyright 2020. You can find more content and insights on www.BeautyMatter.com, and follow us on social media @BeautyMatterOfficial.