I had the pleasure of interviewing Josh Wadinski, founder and CEO of Plantioxidants, a luxury skincare line that’s fully certified USDA organic and committed to sustainability. Josh is a lifelong environmentalist and clean living advocate whose non-traditional beauty background and global experience working at Fortune 100 companies helped him create a disruptive approach to skincare. When he first learned about the lack of transparency, regulation and environmentalism in the beauty industry, he was inspired to leave his career behind and develop a healthy, reliable solution that consumers can trust. Plantioxidants launched in fall 2017 with a line of skincare that bridges the gap between luxury, health, and sustainability.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us about your journey to becoming CEO?
Since my teenage years, I’ve wanted to express creativity, change lives for the better and do so without harming the planet. Prior to Plantioxidants, I was pursuing an academic career and working towards my PhD, but shifted gears to work for several Fortune 100 companies. Despite my success, I knew I wasn’t creating something beneficial to others nor something that I wanted to outlive me. In my youth, I naively viewed companies and CEOs in an extremely negative light, so starting one or becoming one was never a goal. If anything, it appalled me; however, as I started using skincare/beauty products and learning more about the industry, I realized that there wasn’t a truly healthy and sustainable option in the market. It dawned on me that living in the world I envision and want to be a part of may actually mean starting a company. In turn, I was forced to reconsider my stance. Launching a brand that created exceptional products ended up being the perfect way to make the positive change I want to see in the world; hence, Plantioxidants was born.
What is your definition of success?
We can all live longer, healthier lives, but no single set of products, activities, dietary choices, etc. will get us there. As a species, we need options and having the right variants of these in our daily lives will promote longevity. Success to me is creating those options for as many people as soon as possible so they can help themselves and others live longer, better lives.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
As a founder and CEO, an insatiable appetite for learning and finding the positives in inevitable failures are musts. One of the funniest things I experienced happened during the formulation of our Exfoliating & Brightening Treatment Mask. Being new to formulating skincare, I was quickly learning about ingredient proportions and some lessons came from trial and error. For the first three rounds of product testing, I miscalculated the amount of organic turmeric needed and added too much. For those that don’t know, turmeric has an immense staining power, which meant three long days in the office of me donning a bright orange face. Side note: the mask is perfected now!
What failures have you had along the way? How have they led you to success?
Failures are simply lapses in learning and and I quickly realized you will have them with breakfast, lunch, and dinner when starting a company. The biggest hiccup we faced when launching the brand and later fixed was at the end of the customer experience. The “Lifecycle of Beauty,” which we coined at Plantioxidants, focuses on where products come from, what is actually in them, and where they should go when they are done. We did an amazing job using entirely post-consumer recycled materials for our packaging, creating effective USDA organic formulas, and even measuring how rich each formula is in antioxidants; however, we didn’t create enough incentive for customers to recycle the products after they were done using them.
This was a failure because at the end of the day our customers will have great skin from our products, but if that empty bottle is thrown away instead of recycled, then we are the cause of creating more waste. It means we were not sustainable and we didn’t take care of the planet and others. As soon as I realized this was a problem, I fixed it by starting our mail-back program, which allows customers to receive a discount on their next purchase when they mail back their empty bottles (note: we even pay for return shipping!). With only about 15% of plastic actually recycled in the world, this program helps complete the loop and ensure empty products are recycled back into future ones (closed loop) or other products (recycled/downcycled). And for those carbon footprint junkies out there, yes, the math worked out. It is a lower footprint to mail them back to us and ensure they are recycled than the footprint and environmental impacts of empty products turning up in landfills or our oceans, which happens 85% of the time.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The beauty industry is extremely unregulated, which means any brand can claim to be “natural” when they are not. Because of this, I made sure our products were strictly self-regulated using USDA organic certification to help customers understand that our products are truly healthy and safe. Along the same vein, we carefully selected the most antioxidant-rich plants to use in our formulations. Antioxidants are important for your general health, including what you put on your skin, but I didn’t want to just say Plantioxidants products are filled with them. As such, the minimum amount of antioxidants in each formula is measured and listed on the boxes for customers. Lastly, we at Plantioxidants take sustainability extremely seriously and are working diligently to have all products be completely recyclable into future products — we are nearly there!
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Yes! A lot of this is still in the works, but from a product perspective, our initial formulas took 13 months of R&D, so we are extremely confident and happy with them and don’t plan to change them out. We are, however, looking into expanding the line. We can’t give away too many secrets, but I can promise you more certified organic formulas and sustainability are the main hurdles we are working out. The upcoming products will be first-to-market, so we can’t share too much just yet. In terms of technology, we want to create 3D printed caps using empty Plantioxidants bottles and are considering facial recognition integration for cosmetics, but that is longer-term. Overall, we are always working on being more and more sustainable. Any company taking this seriously knows that there is no threshold for “sustainable” and it’s an ongoing process.
Is your company working to be more sustainable? If so, how?
Absolutely, every single day! In addition to our healthy, clean formulas, sustainability is core to who we are and everything we do at Plantioxidants. This was extremely important and continues to be since I founded the company. For starters, our bottles and boxes use 100% post-consumer recycled materials and are also completely recyclable. We avoid virgin and single-use materials. Even the shipping boxes use post-consumer recycled materials that are entirely biodegradable. The adhesive and inks for the labels are also vegetable-based!
Plantioxidants has also been a proud member of 1% For The Planet since inception, donating 1% of total annual sales to environmental groups dedicated to helping curb climate change. Separately, we donated all of our product sales from Earth Day to organizations focused on climate change awareness and actions.
Despite being less than a year old, our sustainability efforts are already being recognized by reputable organizations. Most recently, Plantioxidants was selected as a finalist for the Sustainability Excellence Award by one of the top trade organizations within the beauty industry: Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW). Our long-term goal is to create products that regenerate into others and eventually hire a chief sustainability officer to help us evolve these efforts. All in all, we are constantly thinking about how to be even more sustainable.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Being mission-centric is vital. You have to represent it with everything you do and hire people who share similar values. It is inevitable that employees will leave for other jobs, so treat them well by training them to be as successful as possible. Richard Branson has a great quote about fostering this culture: “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”
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 about that?
This is a great question because we all owe a portion of our success to those who have helped us along the way! I grew up very poor and started working when I was 10. My mother taught me to be practical and emotional, while my father taught me the importance of a strong work ethic and avenues for expressing my creativity. As hard as my childhood was, I would never be who I am today without it and without my parents. Also, starting a company is a big risk, and I cannot thank those enough who put their faith in me and helped my vision become a reality.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
The last part of the Plantioxidants mission that we hold true to our hearts is “take care of the planet and others.” We are very aware of our carbon footprint and measure it with every step we take. Separately, we do our best to educate and encourage consumers to be more eco-conscious and kind to the planet. We are also keeping metrics to measure the difference made by our donation of 1% of annual sales and Earth Day sales to teams helping curb climate change.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why?
I love this question. I’ve learned a ton since becoming CEO, but here are a few of the key things I now abide by:
- Set your mission! This is the most important thing you will do. You cannot build a ship, hire a team to help power it, nor reach wherever you are trying to go if you have no idea where you are headed. Even the most pioneering of companies need to have direction. Over time, this will get less and less attention because you will focus on execution. It is a MUST to think 10 years down the road and ask, “what does the future look like when I win and this company is a huge success?”
- Plan as if today is your last.This one sounds bad, but it is practical. Everything I create has process, order, and structure. Make sure your team, company, products, and you have a plan in case you are struck by a bus tomorrow. The only way to continue building your company is to free up work, and one of the most effective ways of doing this is creating structure that others can then execute.
- Spend beyond your means.This may sound counter-intuitive, but growing up in an environment with extremely limited resources, using capital in ways that may not immediately make sense was taboo; however, for those who are starting their first company, even though you will be bootstrapped, you will have to learn to spend large amounts of money in ways you never thought you would. By all means be conservative, but don’t be caught off guard when you spend thousands of dollars for a key marketing activation. While working at larger corporations, this kind of expense seems much less personal. Make sure you balance that impersonal, objective approach with a frugal mindset when it comes to capital raising and spending.
- Get used to filling in your own blanks.You have to reflect, you have to be critical, and you have to be strategic, all while executing. This means you must learn about yourself and figure out how you can best optimize your time. Create a few principles and your own “wish someone told me” list to help guide you.
- Go ahead. Fill in your own ________.
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.
Asking where things (i.e. products) come from and where they go when you are done using them is a great way we can all start to be more cognizant of our carbon footprint and impact on the world and others. As mentioned previously, this process, movement, and thinking is called the “Lifecycle of Beauty” at Plantioxidants. We use this to emphasize where everything a customer gets has come from and what to do with it when they are done (e.g. mail us back their empty products to get 10% off their next order). The “Lifecycle of Beauty” movement would be hugely beneficial for us all as consumers of any products. Doing the best you can to advance the planet and people, especially through your own “Lifecycle of” standards, is the movement I hope will grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are so many! I don’t rely on just one, but I would say “learn how you learn” is one that I came up with early on and continue to follow. You will learn new things every day when starting a company and being a CEO, so it is very helpful to understand the best way for you to learn as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
There are so many people! I’d love to have a long dinner with Alexander Wendt, Peter Thiel, and Hillary Clinton to discuss geopolitical advancements and theory. It would be great to have dinner with Walter Isaacson to talk about his approach to autobiographies. I’d love to go on a long bike ride or run with Prince Harry to speak with him about starting the Invictus Games and other future projects. The list goes on and on! I love interesting people who set out on their own, while respecting the general parameters we all must follow as a species.