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Can The Customers Control The Beauty World? With Patricia Santos, Founder and CEO of Volition Beauty

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The world of innovation is full of many unique challenges and conundrums, but perhaps none so painfully true as this: those who have access to the money don’t always have the ideas… and those who have the ideas often find themselves struggling to find the money. This problem is uniquely pronounced in one particular industry: beauty. 

“The brands can’t come up with true innovation and a lot of brands don’t take the consumer’s feedback early enough for it to really make a difference in the end product,” Patricia Santos says. “They would see consumer research reports that say like 90, 95% of women say this helped reduce fine lines and wrinkles and things like that. But by the time they’re doing those studies, that formula is done. They never asked anybody before that. That thing is on the manufacturing line and getting boxed up and sent. Millions of them are already millions of them and made so I thought, well, a real way to make a difference is to bring the customer in way before that. You wanna ask her what she thinks of a product before you actually make it, and if she hates it, hey, that’s a great way to prevent returns. And that’s a great way to prevent failed products and not invest so much money launching a product that people are actually going to not like.”

Santos is the Co-Founder of Volition Beauty. She saw this problem first-hand when she was a newly-minted business school graduate navigating the cut-throat world of venture capital – and it bothered her, because the more she encountered the problem, the more she realized that she might have an answer. 

“Okay, this is definitely a problem that should be solved,” Santos says. “And I want to solve it in some way, shape, or form.” 

Volition Beauty is on a mission to democratize beauty by putting the power back in the hands of those who use it. Seems simple, right? Santos will tell you that it was much harder than it sounds, but what she’s found in return has been greater than anything she could have expected. This is The Journey.

Main Takeaways:

  • If You See Something, Change Something: From where you sit in your office job, in your home, in your own business, or anywhere else, you may come across a problem or a situation that you think needs to be changed. Don’t assume someone else is working on changing things, put the onus on yourself to formulate a solution and then bring it to light, because that’s the only thing that actually makes change happen.
  • Ask The Audience: Your consumers are almost always your best resource. They can be a source of feedback, ideas, and even solutions to problems you have been struggling with — or didn’t even know exist. Tap into the customer base regularly and not only will your business do better, your customers will feel more empowered and connected to you as well.   
  • Stay Open, Stay Ready: Whether it’s adapting your initial business plan or adjusting on the fly to nail a big pitch, you have to keep your eyes and ears open to opportunities and be ready to jump on them when they arise.

Key Quotes:

“It was really, really difficult for female entrepreneurs, especially in beauty, to raise funding 15 years ago. Times have changed, which is great to see, but back then, I was just really frustrated because I knew that some of these entrepreneurs were onto something and that there was real innovation there. They really had an eye on cleaner ingredients and where the customer was focusing. And it was really hard for them to get their products to market. So my first aha moment was basically, I really wanted to, to change that. I became obsessed with changing it and allowing some of these entrepreneurs a different way basically to get their products in front of the consumer.”

“I work with a lot of chemists and a lot of chemists are super frustrated because the brands just come to them and say, ‘Hey, copy this. Here’s the comp.’ They call it the comp, they hand them a product from another company and just say, ‘Just tweak that a little bit.’ So it’s basically that same product, but I’m gonna slap my label on it… And a ton of chemists sit there and they’re on the hunt for new ingredients. It’s their passion to create these beautiful formulas. And they get nagged when they take them to the brands because brands just want to do the same old thing. So [my co-founder said], ‘I think we have another funnel of innovation if we open it up to some of these chemists.”

“We weren’t expecting it to be a full-on pitch. We thought it would be a 30 minute coffee with a buyer who was basically going to be like, ‘I don’t know about that idea,’ or, ‘Have you thought about this?’ You know, just give us feedback. It was, was positioned as like, ‘Hey, I know these two women, would you take 30 minutes and just kind of informational kind of thing.’ So we were like, ‘Great, this is awesome. She sees a ton of beauty brands. This would be a great place for feedback.’ We end up in the green room. This was like a live shopping [pitch]/ We end up in the green room and we show up there, we don’t even have bottles. We have little sample packs from the lab, we don’t have anything and I’m looking around and somebody’s demoing their curling iron. And somebody’s over there, with like, full face makeup on doing this contour. And I’m like, ‘What is happening? Like, why are we here? Why are we pitching? We have nothing to pitch.’ And it ended up maybe because of a misunderstanding or I don’t know what, basically being a pitch to the buying team. I was freaked out the whole time. And they were, of course, 15 minutes late for a 30 minutes meeting. They walk in, we start talking about the platform, blah, blah, blah, blah, we take innovation from the consumer and in like 20 minutes, they were like, ‘We love it. When can you ship?’”

“The creator economy is booming. So in our minds, we wanna be the beauty partner, the beauty platform for that economy. We’re always, I think excited by how entrepreneurial some of these creators can be, it’s really awesome to help them monetize their personal brands and expand them into beauty.”

Bio:

Patricia Santos is the CEO and co-founder of Volition Beauty. Born out of disappointment in the beauty industry while each working for different companies, co-founders Brandy + Patricia had grown frustrated with the traditional product development process: board meetings predominantly run by men, deciding product trends and launches and more. It was evident the consumer was brought in far too late to the process. The a-ha moment came when the duo realized that customer ideas should actually be put first and allow for them to be in the driver’s seat to be the voice telling brands exactly what they want. Volition was born when they decided to flip the product development process and bring in the consumer from the beginning, not just at checkout. At Volition, the consumer powers every step of the process. 

This groundbreaking restructuring of new product development and creation empowers the consumer in a way no other brand has done yet.

This season of the Journey is produced by Mission.org and brought to you by UPS. To learn how UPS can help your small business, go to UPS.com/pivot.

Episode 107