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5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Founded my Company with Ian Lirenman and Phil Laboon

Balance, balance, balance, whatever that means for you. But time for the self to evolve outside of the corporate sphere, not being obsessed by money — money is necessary, but like anything that can become an obsession, can turn to vice — trying to give a moral/societal purpose to business instead of just “taking”. I had the pleasure of […]


Balance, balance, balance, whatever that means for you. But time for the self to evolve outside of the corporate sphere, not being obsessed by money — money is necessary, but like anything that can become an obsession, can turn to vice — trying to give a moral/societal purpose to business instead of just “taking”.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Ian Lirenman, CEO and Founder of emerginC. emerginC began in 1996 with one of the most stable and effective vitamin C serums available. With a limited budget, no formal marketing plan, and no office — just a Manhattan studio apartment — Ian worked to build his brand on buzz and word of mouth. Over time, more products emerged and today they have a wide variety of amazing products, facials, and body treatments for all skin types.


Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

To be honest, it was a total New York story! I actually studied literature and moved to New York at 23 with the fantasy that I would become an overnight famous writer. I was so deluded, I just came with my savings and didn’t even look for a job — but reality has a way of intervening. Next thing you know, I was waiting tables for a high-end catering company (at that time, there were many would-be artists and actors waiting tables as well — indeed, where I worked, Vin Diesel was doing slop and many others who were there went on to successful careers). Got tired of that and soon enough after, I was packing boxes for a cousin of a cousin who was distributing high end skin care products — not much of an upgrade, but it launched me on my path. Even though (to this day, for better and for worse, I have never read a single business or marketing book) I had no formal experience, I soon became the sales director, quit (got fired?), ran another skin care company (part-time; I was reading a writing a lot) partly owned by someone who became a legend in this industry), then eventually started my own company, with a single serum, out of my (rent controlled) Manhattan studio apartment. The rest is history, sort of.

First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Being deluded always helps, as then you can imagine anything is possible. But, indeed, I was a one man show, taking orders, packing boxes, paying bills (and paying more bills) all by myself. I remember the fax (google it: fax machine, circa 1996) going off at two in the morning with a beloved order coming in, or chasing down UPS at 10 at night down 2nd avenue (in my Birkenstocks, even in winter, with socks of course), or racing to the main post office in my trusty old Volvo 240 before midnight to overnight a package to a client who needed it (or else!) by the next day, otherwise some mega-pimple would explode! In other words, I was entirely at the service of my clients. They gave me their money, and I did whatever I could to get them their products as quickly as possible, quality to boot! Ultimately, that is a lesson I still remember — if our clients are giving us their money, we better do everything in our power and beyond to ensure that they are satisfied.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Umm, rent? Ok, I always — despite everything — felt that my focus and hard work and commitment to quality and our clients would prevail. I wasn’t looking for global domination, only for the satisfaction of knowing my clients were satisfied…and, well, a paycheck didn’t hurt either. This is New York, after all!

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

There is grit, there is inspiration, there is commitment, there is luck, there is quality, there is belief, there is delusion, there is hope, and there is — did I mention it already? — grit as well. Honestly, if I knew my clients were satisfied (and we had to deliver a quality product, as we had no money for marketing or advertising), not only would we retain our customers, but that our reputation would grow by word of mouth. It did. And I did whatever it took to ensure they were satisfied.

So, how are things going today? 🙂

Suffice it to say that I am not in jail nor, thankfully, living on the streets. We are still a niche brand (i am a big believer in a balanced life — money needs to work for you, not you for money), but we are in 13 countries, sold in many of THE top spas in the US (Mandarin Oriental New York, Miraval, Four Seasons, St Regis Aspen, and many, many others) and around the world, and have taken an industry-leading role in sustainability. We also own our own building on the Brooklyn waterfront, with a rooftop organic vegetable garden and hens that give us organic eggs all year round. What is true success for me today is the ability to drive and pick up my daughters from school, shuttle them to (and help pay for!) their various after-school activities, walk my dog, read a book, shop at the farmer’s market, open a good bottle of wine, sit at the beach, and a little travel here and there never hurts…and time to reflect on life.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

None of the mistakes were funny! I was always so stressed at the beginning, panicked at the idea of letting down any of my customers, so mistakes were always taken seriously and corrected as quickly as possible. What is funny now was just how stressed out I was at any mistakes, but mistakes are human, part of any business, and par for the course. The key is correcting them!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think the best illustration of what makes us stand out is the who’s who list of top spas that use our products. What I am most proud of, however, is our industry-leading sustainability initiatives — giving back — isn’t life a moral enterprise as well? — especially our industry-first “buy one, plant one” tree planting initiative.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Balance, balance, balance, whatever that means for you. But time for the self to evolve outside of the corporate sphere, not being obsessed by money — money is necessary, but like anything that can become an obsession, can turn to vice — trying to give a moral/societal purpose to business instead of just “taking”.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There is no one person. While I ran the business on my own for many years, I could never have achieved the level of success we have now without the incredible team, up and down the line, that helps execute our vision. Truly, our brand and business is only as good as the people that work to support it. We have made mistakes, but right now we are standing with the strongest team of people we have ever had…some of them have been with us for 10, even 20, years! We treat our people like people and, in return, we get the best that people can offer.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As I (and the company) grew, this became an unequivocal value of our company. I am not blind to what goes on in this world, and if we can’t take steps to improve what we see as wrong, who will? We plant a tree for every retail item sold (which not only provides trees, but also work and even food in developing countries), we give a pack of organic lettuce or arugula seeds (emerginCeeds) with every order, a pack of seed bombs to help create bee habitat (emerginBees) with ever order, stainless steel straws to reduce one-use plastic consumption with every order, and a host of other environmental initiatives…

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

1)Always remember a business is nothing without a satisfied customer.

2) Always remember a business is nothing without a satisfied customer.

3) Always remember a business is nothing without a satisfied customer.

4) Always remember a business is nothing without a satisfied customer.

5) And, most importantly, always remember a business is nothing without a satisfied customer.

Thank you for joining us!

About the Author:

Phil Laboon wants to live in a world where actions speak louder than words, people shout their stories from roof tops, and where following one’s passion is the norm. As a serial entrepreneur and investor, his personal and professional life has spotlighted in hundreds of publications such as People Magazine, Rueters, Forbes, Inc, HuffingtonPost, and CBS This Morning. Phil also writes a regular, nationally syndicated column on the subject of how great leaders build great companies. When he’s not building memorable brands or launching exciting startups, you can find him backpacking exotic countries looking for new inspiration and challenges. If you would like to book Phil for an entertaining speaking engagement about inbound marketing or growing a business, he can be contacted HERE.

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