How Hilary Quartner, Nina Mullen and Lily Galef of Hilma Aim To Shake Up Our Medicine Cabinets

Team is everything: We’ve heard this so many times and it consistently proves to be true. Starting a business is much harder than you imagine, and having a strong team that you trust and can lean on is absolutely critical. We are so fortunate to have a support system of three co-founders and we believe […]

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Team is everything: We’ve heard this so many times and it consistently proves to be true. Starting a business is much harder than you imagine, and having a strong team that you trust and can lean on is absolutely critical. We are so fortunate to have a support system of three co-founders and we believe that this team is our greatest asset.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing the founders of Hilma, Hilary Quartner, Nina Mullen and Lily Galef.

Hilary Quartner, Co-Founder & Co-CEO. Combining the childhood lessons from a mother who embraced integrative health methods with her Harvard MBA, Hilary has a personal obsession with consumer products and an impressive professional history of launching new brands. Driven by a passion for delivering better choices and experiences to consumers, Hilary is focused on ensuring the customer experience is executed flawlessly — from the first click to product delivery. Prior to Hilma Hilary was the first hire + chief of staff to Jenny Fleiss at Jetblack. Previous roles include Brand Manager at FIJI water.

Nina Mullen, Co-Founder & Co-CEO. Leveraging her expertise launching innovative products in the DTC and retail space, her Harvard MBA and her personal experiences of being raised by two doctors, Nina leads our unique research and product development process with the help of our scientific advisory board; ensuring that we develop, manufacture, and research our best-in-class product offering. Prior to Hilma Nina led business development at Dia&Co. Previous roles include business development at Harry’s and consultant at Bain.

Lily Galef, Co-Founder & Chief Brand Officer. Aligning a childhood passion for mixing her own DIY organic beauty products with a professional career leading marketing and content strategy at some of the most influential media properties make Lily an expert in brand strategy, believer in the power of partnerships to engage modern consumers, and the driving force in shaping the Hilma brand and lifestyle. Prior to Hilma Lily led retail & fashion partnerships at Refinery29. Previous roles include brand marketing at Vogue and Vox Media.

A bit on Hilma: Hilma is helping people look at their medicine cabinet with fresh eyes. We make natural remedies that are scientifically backed and accessible.

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

Lily Galef:

Our ‘aha’ moment for Hilma came when I was coming down with a cold, and Nina gave me some Emergen-C. We looked at the product — bright pink, full of sugars and dyes, branding that was completely outdated — and realized that it was so incongruous with the other clean label products we used in our food, skincare, and cleaning products.

We took the realization to Hilary, who has deep experience in the natural products and consumer space, and the three of us became obsessed with this gap in the market and how we could help fill it for consumers. When we dug in, we realized the reason for this gap was because there were a lot of things standing in the way of easily accessing, understanding, and trusting natural options in the medicine cabinet. That realization was fundamental in terms of shaping the brand that we’ve created.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Hilary Quartner:

At Hilma we take a rigorous scientific approach to product formulation. Today, people are seeking more natural approaches to their health, but they are not willing to sacrifice substance and evidence. Hilma is stepping into that wide-open space by providing natural, clean label options that consumers can trust because of Hilma is grounded in scientific research.

We are different from both legacy OTC products and traditional herbal products because we place an equal focus on clean labels and scientific research. Our products are free of the dyes, sugars, and fillers that you can still find in the products in many homes today. But, we also formulate with research at the fore in order to promote efficacy.

Check out our white paper here for more on our commitment to science.

We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Nina Mullen:

We have been fortunate enough to be advised by some fantastic business mentors throughout our careers including some of our earliest investors and advocates. In addition to those, we will never forget the day our final member of our Scientific Advisory Board signed on to be a part of this journey, Dr. Aviva Romm. She had been such a role model for us throughout our process of developing Hilma and we always joked that one day we would convince her to be a part of Hilma. After a few cold emails we got on a call with her and pitched. She has been so supportive of us and helpful to us as we build our formulas and our brand.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Nina Mullen:

  1. Team is everything: we’ve heard this so many times and it consistently proves to be true. Starting a business is much harder than you imagine, and having a strong team that you trust and can lean on is absolutely critical. We are so fortunate to have a support system of three co-founders and believe that our team is our greatest asset.
  2. Do your research: our earliest advisors encouraged us to take our time and do our research, and we really took their advice to heart. We spent a full year researching and diligencing our concept for Hilma before deciding to pursue it full time, and then spent another year and a half developing our products and building our brand. In a time when startups are being encouraged to move incredibly quickly, we have always come back to this point as a differentiator for us that has resulted in incredibly high product quality.
  3. Talk to people who don’t agree with you: this is a great piece of advice in both business and everyday life. It only strengthens your business to understand criticism and use it to improve.

How are you going to shake things up next?

Hilary Quartner:

We will continue to be a thought-leader in the natural space by holding ourselves to a high standard of scientific rigor and hope to continue to contribute to the body of scientific research in the natural products space.

We hope to become a brand that extends across categories and addresses any everyday need you might have with a high level of trust from our consumers. We have plans for expansion this year in both deepening within the categories where we are currently serving needs, as well as expanding into new categories.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Hilary Quartner:

How I Built This — Sarah Blakeley — we listened to this podcast about the earliest days of Spanx during our own very early debates of whether Hilma was an idea that would resonate with enough people that it could really “work”. We were inspired by Sarah’s refrain around her own early idea for Spanx that, “this just should exist.” It felt so simple to boil the risk down to that clear perspective. As we talked to more customers that sentiment was echoed in the way they talked about their desire for more options for their health, and we developed confidence that lots of people had imagined products like Hilma’s, but they hadn’t been brought into existence in the way most people could relate to and trust. But the customers were looking for it, and they were ready. As others warned us how hard the journey would be, and how risky all of the unknowns were, the phrase “it should exist” was a simple, guiding light that we drew inspiration from.

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.

Lily Galef:

Personally, I would love to live in a world where all children have access to quality education. I am so grateful for the education I received, and the doors it has opened for me in my life. It’s a core belief of mine that improving both access to and quality of education would bring us closer to solving the biggest global problems we face today.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Nina Mullen:

“The harder I work, the luckier I am”

This is a quote that we consistently come back to at Hilma — it’s something that my mom (and I think Hilary’s mom too) always told me, and has resonated with all of us as we’ve been hustling to build our business over the past two years. We’ve found that it rings true time and time again.

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