Build a community of people who love you (reviews, word of mouth). These are your supporters, and our customers have been our inspiration, our support, and our sales force. They appreciate great products, they love feeling connected to the brand, and they want their friends and family to have that same experience. We created The Botanist Workshop so that our customers have a say in new products, can ask questions, and feel more connected to the brand — we now have a space to co-create and do something unique with our community.
As a part of our series about “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Valeria Cole, Founder of TEADORA, an independent Clean Beauty start-up that crafts powerful, proprietary blends of Amazon rainforest superfoods while sharing ancient Brazilian beauty secrets. Prior to following her lifelong passion for naturopathic wellness & conservation, Cole held several marketing leadership positions for fortune 50 companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Palm and Computer Corporation. Cole is a 2018 Tory Burch Fellow. She holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and a certificate in International Business Leadership from Thunderbird, and is attending Stanford Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programs this fall. She is a mother of 3 and lives with her husband and co-founder Tom Moran in Portland, OR.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It was a long time coming! As a little girl in Brazil, my mother shared the Amazon with me every day — from our role as protectors to the amazing ingredients to the stories of the animals and plants that grew within. It was a time of my life I have always looked back on with fondness. My career, however, ended up taking me in a different direction at first, into technology with some of the most amazing consumer companies in the world! It wasn’t until I was 50, however, that I turned back to the lessons of my childhood, and the passion I have always had for conservation, that in turn led me to found a company in beauty and wellness. But I would have never been able to develop such an authentic brand as Teadora without that earlier experience. Regardless of what I do, I know what I like — talking to customers, telling stories, building great brands, creating and making a difference. And that is what I will do the rest of my career, regardless of where it takes me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I started my career in technology. For me, pivoting to something new brought me incredible energy and gratitude. It was difficult, moving from tech conferences, devices and marketing budgets to chemistry classes for skin and hair and a marketing budget that felt more like my childhood allowance! Through all of this, I was selected for the Built Oregon accelerator. You tend to hear about the major successes — so and so started a beauty brand with 80 dollars, no investment, and sold their company 2 years later for 500 million dollars. You tend not to hear about all the struggles that entrepreneurs go through. The accelerator was great — there were people like me there, trying to get their small businesses to scale, experiencing the same investment challenges, navigating retail, finding trusted experts, etc. Participating in these meetings and activities gave me a community, and that has made an incredible difference to me.
Are you able to identify a “tipping point” in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
As a small indie brand, you hear “no” an awful lot! That was very discouraging, and it is hard to set aside the feelings that come up in rejection over something that you care so deeply, so passionately about. However, retail is undergoing huge transformation, there are many reasons for retailers to say no, and often it can just be a matter of timing, or a different buyer, or simply more ‘proof’ that customers love your product or service. At a certain point, I decided I would focus 100% on the customers who love the products and what we stand for, and that really filled my life with much more positive energy. And that is also when we started to get noticed by retailers like Bergdorf Goodman and Nieman Marcus.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
That has to be my mother. I was born and raised in Brazil, adopted at only 1 day old by a mother who was a huge believer in naturopathic health and beauty and an avid rainforest conservationist. Growing up in Brazil, my mother believed strongly in using natural remedies, and instilled in me from early on that as Brazilians, we have a responsibility to protect the “heartbeat of the world.” This love for Brazil, and its beauty, is part of me every day, and motivates me to get up every day and make a difference.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. The global beauty industry today has grown to more than a half a trillion dollar business. Can you tell us about the innovations that you are bringing to the industry? How do you think that will help people?
As an activist brand, we are bringing a focus on sustainability and conservation, underpinned by a fierce commitment to justice and equity. We are using some of the most unique ingredients on the planet, thinking through unique combinations, such as our Wild Acai Canna Cream, or unique delivery and packaging, such as our “contactless sharing” Wild Superfood Lip Drops.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
The industry is undergoing a shift towards authenticity. People do actually care, and they want to know the brands they do business with care as well and share those same values. This is the reason we started out as a B Corp — our customers want more than a common “buy one give one” that any company can easily bolt on to their offerings. They want to know that every element of what we do is designed to reduce impact, enhance lives, and protect the planet.
Customers are becoming ingredient experts. With tools like EWG’s Skin Deep database and others, it is a trivial process to look at ingredients in detail, ask questions, and determine for yourself what you want to bring in for yourself and your family. This trend is accelerating, and we get a lot of comments on our formulas from customers who appreciate knowing more.
Packaging is starting to evolve. It has been slow, but packaging is finally starting to evolve. We have to be careful, however — not all things that are not plastic are good. Some have a higher impact than one might expect, or a higher cost to the environment. For example, we do not use aluminum packaging due to its impact on the Amazon — demand for electricity to process aluminum is a key factor in the extensive dam development you see in the Amazon, leading to flooding, habitat loss and species extinction.
Can you share 3 things that most concern you about the industry? If you had the ability to implement 3 ways to improve the industry, what would you suggest?
Recycling is still extremely difficult. Packaging has not yet advanced to where it needs to be, and mailing empty containers around for collection isn’t viable either — it is not only costly, but the transportation impacts and impact of the actual recycling tend to largely outweigh the expected benefits when you look at the big picture for a small brand.
There is incredible injustice out there. Even on farms that are certified by various agencies or non-profits, workers may be enslaved, or at the very least trapped. Recent investigations have exposed how much more widespread this is than previously thought, and how terrible and unsafe the conditions can be. Nothing beats visiting in person and getting to personally know suppliers and workers. This is what we do, but not everyone can do so, and especially now with COVID, the barriers are even higher. But if your suppliers will not allow you to visit, or in fact, don’t simply invite you and encourage you to see the operations for yourself, rethink that partnership.
Control of the industry is consolidated in a very small number of players. There are a few big brands that control distribution, and most do not have accelerators that help support a thriving community of beauty and wellness brands, something I miss about the tech space and how it acts within a broader, more vibrant entrepreneurship community.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
Growing up in Brazil, beauty was really about confidence. Friendly, confident, approachable — that is sexy, that is beautiful. You are beautiful. Once you realize that, the rest is easy — drink lots of water, always use a great sunscreen, and try some of our awesome ingredients from the Amazon! Teadora’s tag line captures this first element — “Love yourself, Find your joy, Share your passion” — to us, this is what beauty is about. I also find that routine helps — that evening skin care routine gives you time to recharge, focus on yourself, shift your mind and attention besides that busy day.
Here is the main question for our discussion. Based on your experience and success, Can you please share “Five Things You Need To Know To Succeed In The Modern Beauty Industry”. Please share a story or an example, for each.
- Less is more: start with a single stellar product. Having a “line” is really not that important. Focus efforts on that blockbuster product that you know fills whitespace. This is what customers want, and what retailers want. Having a line is old time wisdom, and brand affinity in that way simply is not how people buy anymore.
- Dig deep into the story: what is it that you represent and care about: don’t make it up, don’t “bolt on” a charitable program, just align it to your story, and make it meaningful. Learn how to tell the story in a variety of formats, to different audiences — from a 30 second- or 10-minute pitch to an investor or retailer, to the one liner or picture on the packaging. Everything should be aligned with the purpose of telling your story.
- Margins don’t matter, at least to start. Something we did not learn until later, it was awfully tempting to purchase 25,000 bottles instead of 500. In fact, it was so tempting, we did! But then it locked us into a path for a considerable amount of time and impacted our ability to test, to be agile. Focus on unit economics and how you could be profitable in the future if you achieve your targeted level of scale.
- Don’t underestimate the cost of scaling the business: have a path for how you get there. Start small so you can understand the consumer, change as necessary and have a proof of concept. I can’t say enough about thinking through a minimally viable product, or MVP, and testing, testing, testing.
- Build a community of people who love you (reviews, word of mouth). These are your supporters, and our customers have been our inspiration, our support, and our sales force. They appreciate great products, they love feeling connected to the brand, and they want their friends and family to have that same experience. We created The Botanist Workshop so that our customers have a say in new products, can ask questions, and feel more connected to the brand — we now have a space to co-create and do something unique with our community.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We have been called the “Patagonia of the Beauty Industry,” preserving and sustaining forest lands one product at a time. Given how incredibly important Climate Change is, whether viewed from a lens on race and social justice, health, or even animal cruelty, I would love to start a “Project Green” of sorts, that would raise money across industries for conservation causes that contribute to the fight against climate change. Think of this like the Project Red in the 90’s that raised so much money for AIDS research.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
A leader previously in my career at Apple often mentioned that “Everybody sweeps the floor.” This has been a part of my career, and something I have always fallen back on as an entrepreneur. I love all aspects of being part of a team, whether it is making big decisions, writing a personal note to a customer, or taking out the recycling, and in fact, have put that saying on a card I keep in my wallet.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow our Instagram at @teadorabeauty, my personal Instagram at @braziamerican_cleanbeauty, LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/valeriacole/ or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TeadoraBeauty/
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.