…To succeed in the modern beauty industry, you also need to be able to cut through the noise. There are countless beauty brands nowadays, and new ones popping up every day. What makes you different? At Three Ships, we really lean into our “no-BS” philosophy, meaning that we’ll always tell it to our customers straight. We never use fluffy language, we never photoshop model images or remove negative reviews, and we never price our products above $40. Leaning into this messaging has allowed us to succeed and compete even against the large conglomerate brands.
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 Connie Lo.
Connie Lo is the co-founder of Three Ships, an all-natural, vegan skincare brand on a mission to make transparent, efficacious and results-driven beauty accessible for all women by providing 100% plant-derived, certified cruelty-free skincare products all under $40. At Three Ships, Connie spearheads strategic partnerships, vendor + retailer management, brand strategy, sales, and marketing.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into our discussion, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
My interest in natural skincare began at a young age. I would whip up DIY face masks and concoctions for my skin after coming home from school. My mom always stressed the importance of eating well and taking care of your skin, rather than covering skin blemishes up with makeup. Along with my love of natural beauty, I also grew up with a strong passion for entrepreneurship. Throughout high school, I ran my own businesses and was actually selected to ring the opening bell at the Toronto Stock Exchange due to my natural entrepreneurial spirit. My thirst for business continued throughout my time at Queen’s University, where I joined and co-chaired an international entrepreneurs’ competition. After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce, I wanted to combine my passion for wellness with female empowerment. In 2017, a mutual friend introduced me to Laura. We were frustrated about the lack of affordable, natural skincare on the market, so we took our $4,000 CAD and began creating our own formulations in our apartment kitchens with the goal to one day be the most transparent natural beauty brand in the world. In 2017, Three Ships was officially born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Just last week, I was walking my dog while wearing a Three Ships sweater. A stranger approached me and asked if I worked at Three Ships, because she loved the skincare products! It was so sweet and surreal to see the genuine passion she had for Three Ships, especially not knowing that I was the founder.
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?
I definitely noticed a “tipping point” after I went full-time with Three Ships. My co-founder and I were working other 9–5 jobs to save up before diving into Three Ships. We made the decision that once we had saved enough for 6-months’ runway (aka not paying ourselves a salary for 6 months), we would quit our stable 9–5’s and dedicate all our time to our side-hustle.
As soon as we went full-time, everything changed. We made our first $200,000 purchase order just two weeks after pursuing Three Ships full-time! I attribute it to having not only the extra hours to work on our business, but also the mental capacity to focus on Three Ships. My recommendation is for those who are working part-time on their passion projects to have a plan for what will trigger them going full-time (i.e. save up 6-months’ runway), as well as create a 30–60–90 day work plan. This will give you structure and also reduce anxiety for what you will be working on once you take the leap.
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?
My parents. They immigrated to Canada with two thousand dollars, and built a beautiful family together. Hearing stories of how they struggled to make ends meet, and seeing how much dedication they put into raising my sister and me is truly inspiring. When I visualize my future, I always picture taking care of my parents, giving them new experiences, and showering them with love.
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?
At Three Ships, we create natural beauty products without the bullsh*t. Every product is 100% plant-derived, cruelty-free, and safe from toxic chemicals and doesn’t make any of the fake claims, contain unnecessary chemicals, or come at a crazy price point like other products on the market. Our mission is to be the most transparent beauty brand in the world and all of our recent innovations allow our consumers to obtain quality skincare products without any fillers or additives.
I think people nowadays are tired of being lied to and ripped off by overpriced and greenwashed products. How we innovate is by bringing science-backed ingredients to the masses, at accessible prices that people can afford.
Can you share 3 things that most excite you about the modern beauty industry?
I’ve been an avid natural beauty enthusiast since high school, and it’s been incredible to see how much the beauty industry has changed even in just the past few years. The biggest shift has been consumers’ demand for more transparency, not only in product ingredients, but also marketing, pricing, and even the makeup of the founding team. At Three Ships, our mission is to be the most transparent natural beauty brand in the world, and we’re thrilled to see how many brands are also focused on this!
Another thing that excites me about the modern beauty industry is that it’s becoming more inclusive. Being an Asian-Canadian woman, growing up I rarely saw representation in model photography in magazines, let alone in beauty brand packaging and marketing. Now, not only am I seeing more diversity in ethnic backgrounds, but also in who is able to start beauty brands. Trust me, my co-founder and I had no background, connections, or financial backing, and we were able to make it work! With Google, anything can happen.
Finally, I’m excited by the innovation that we’re seeing, particularly within the natural beauty industry. Gone are the days where the only ingredients you could tinker with were coconut oil and essential oils. Nowadays, we are able to use 100% plant-derived ingredients like tremella mushroom, squalane, and grape stem cells, which have powerful scientifically proven results, at a fraction of the cost.
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?
Although the beauty industry can bring so much joy and inspire confidence in many, it also has its darker side. In particular, I’m not a fan of brands that utilize fear-mongering as a marketing tactic, constantly launch formulas based on the latest trendy ingredient without doing proper research, and also make unproven claims for the purpose of a quick sale.
If I could wave a magic wand and change the beauty industry, all brands that make lofty claims would be required to back them up with research. The same goes for brands that try to scare consumers into using their products. And, finally, it would be amazing if brands could have a limit on the number of products they release each year, to not only be more sustainable but also make them more carefully consider which ingredients and products are most important to their success and to their customers.
You are an expert about beauty. Can you share a few ideas that anyone can use “to feel beautiful”?
I’m a big believer in the magic of self-confidence and gratitude to feel beautiful. I’ve noticed that on the mornings I wake up and immediately go on social media, I tend to be harder on myself and get caught up in the comparison cycle. On the other hand, waking up, journaling, and reflecting on what I love about myself and why I’m a great friend/partner/manager/etc. always makes me feel more beautiful. Once you learn to love yourself and all your quirks, you’ll be able to tune into that self-confidence and instantly feel more beautiful. On the days where it’s hard, never downplay the importance of some mascara and blush!
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.
My first tip for succeeding in the modern beauty industry is to have a very clear understanding of cash flow management. We started Three Ships with just $3,300 USD in savings and didn’t raise our seed round of $1.4MM until three years later. During that time of bootstrapping, we were extremely meticulous with where we spent our hard-earned money. This resulted in us making decisions like incorporating our business ourselves (as opposed to hiring a lawyer), hand-making our skincare products in my kitchen for the first two years (instead of outsourcing to a manufacturer), and only making our first hire after three years in the business. The benefit of having a solid financial foundation is that we didn’t dilute ourselves too early in our business, and still own the majority of our company.
It’s also important to practice negotiating. Working in beauty means that you’re constantly negotiating with buyers, suppliers, manufacturers, and even future employees and investors. I recommend reading the book Never Split The Difference by Chris Voss. The art of negotiating has allowed us to make wins not only in better profitability but also better shelf placement in-store and faster shipping terms and rates.
To succeed in the modern beauty industry, you also need to be able to cut through the noise. There are countless beauty brands nowadays, and new ones popping up every day. What makes you different? At Three Ships, we really lean into our “no-BS” philosophy, meaning that we’ll always tell it to our customers straight. We never use fluffy language, we never photoshop model images or remove negative reviews, and we never price our products above $40. Leaning into this messaging has allowed us to succeed and compete even against the large conglomerate brands.
My fourth tip is to understand what people’s decision factors are. For example, when introducing your brand to a potential retail buyer, many founders make the mistake of calling out an existing brand in that retailer’s assortment and highlighting why their brand is better than their competition. If you think about it from the buyer’s perspective, why would they want to bring in your brand and reduce their sales? A much better approach is to explain how you fill white space and bring in new customers, thus increasing their basket size. Always try to put yourself in the shoes of your customers to determine what benefits to push.
Finally, as is the case in any industry, resilience is key. Nothing happens overnight, and it’s really about what you do when you get the hard “no’s” that determines if you will be successful. While managing our retail partners, I can recall countless buyers that turned down product samples and partnerships. Instead of being discouraged, I asked them for their reasoning for their “no,” which gave me answers on how I could improve. For example, I learned to refine my pitch to explain our founding story more clearly, and I realized which products buyers tended to gravitate towards. There have been times where I’ve followed up with a buyer for over two years before ultimately turning things around and landing a long-term partnership! Don’t be afraid to get “no’s” — it’s so much better than getting a meaningless “yes.”
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. 🙂
At the end of each day, look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself at least three things that you did great that day. End by looking yourself in the eye, and saying “I love you.” It’s so hard at first, but trust me, it’s transformational. Not only will you begin to register all the incredible things you do every day, but you also will build confidence and self-love, which are two traits that everyone can use more of.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes is, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” As a young girl, I remember constantly measuring myself against my peers and the severe anxiety this caused. I felt inadequate and unintelligent because I didn’t enjoy quantitative number-crunching classes in business school as much as my classmates did, and this lowered my self-confidence drastically. Eventually, I refocused my attention on the subject matters I loved, like marketing, negotiation and sales. It’s safe to say that I carved my own path and could not imagine a more enjoyable career, now leading marketing and sales at Three Ships!
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Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!