When we first began our sponge reinvention journey, our early prototypes were solely based on improving the design aesthetics of the traditional sponge. As part of our research, we looked at the materials and examined what causes odor and why it quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. We had an “Aha” moment when we questioned why we would try to make something beautiful that is so inherently disgusting. This led us to identify new, innovative materials that would enable us to create a sponge that was superior by every efficacy measure.
Asa part of our series about strong women leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Sawyer and Alison Matz.
Best friends since second grade, Skura Style co-founders Linda Sawyer and Alison Matz have had high powered careers in advertising and media. Linda was the former long-time N.A. CEO and Chairman of Deutsch Advertising and was instrumental in its transformation as one of the leading, premier agencies in the industry. Alison spent the majority of her career as a media executive and served as Publisher of several high-profile consumer magazine brands at Conde Nast and Meredith.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
Weboth had exciting and successful careers in our respective fields and worked with some of the largest world-class consumer brands, yet, shared a desire to one day pursue an entrepreneurial venture together and build a business and consumer brand from the ground up. The inspiration for Skura Style came from a personal pain point and a mutually shared disgust with the kitchen sponge. From there, we went on a mission to create a sponge that you could actually love — one that wouldn’t smell and would look great. We applied our seasoned experience and knowledge of brand building to not only create a superior product, but to also reimagine the entire brand, with the sponge as the cornerstone product.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
The kitchen sponge category has experienced minimal innovation since the late 1940’s. Not only have traditional sponges not kept pace with the design advances prevalent in all other areas of the kitchen, but they are also made with materials (cellulose) that are a breeding ground for bacteria. We created a sponge made of a patented polyurethane foam that is treated with an antimicrobial agent that inhibits the growth of odor-causing bacteria, mold and mildew. Leading microbiologists recommend that you replace your kitchen sponge every one to two weeks, so we created our innovative Fade-to-Change™ technology, whereby our monogram fades with use as a visual indicator to let you know when it’s time to replace the sponge. We also elevated the entire consumer experience with packaging, high touch customer service and the unboxing experience. Additionally, we made subscription plans available so that consumers would always have fresh sponges at the ready.
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?
When we first began our sponge reinvention journey, our early prototypes were solely based on improving the design aesthetics of the traditional sponge. As part of our research, we looked at the materials and examined what causes odor and why it quickly becomes a breeding ground for bacteria. We had an “Aha” moment when we questioned why we would try to make something beautiful that is so inherently disgusting. This led us to identify new, innovative materials that would enable us to create a sponge that was superior by every efficacy measure. We learned that challenging convention can also lead to a better solution and that being an industry outsider was our secret weapon, as most insiders would not have had a unique take to reimagine the kitchen sponge.
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?
As business partners, we have tremendous history as we have been best friends since second grade and have led parallel personal and professional lives. In many ways we have the unique advantage of being mentors to one another. Linda is the go-to voice of reason and calm, which is critical when the going gets rough (which is quite frequent with a start-up company). Alison is a pitbull and doesn’t take no for an answer, which is invaluable when disrupting every aspect of an outdated industry.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Disruption is good when the outcome solves for a real pain point and offers a better solution. Sometimes, systems or structures withstand the test of time simply because there are no better alternatives presented and complacency exists. The definition of disruption can range from solving for something that is broken to tweaks that can improve a consumer experience. An example of meaningful disruption that is top-of-mind is Peloton: there was nothing broken about the boutique studio fitness industry however Peloton created an opportunity to replicate that experience in one’s own home.
Disrupting an industry is not so positive when it is not consumer-centric and not solving for a real need. For example, there are many companies that launched subscription-based business seemingly because of the attractiveness of the recurring revenue model vs. there being a real need for regular product replenishment. Does anyone really need a subscription for bras, socks, jewelry, etc.?
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
- Pick your business partner wisely. Entering into a business relationship with a friend can be a risky proposition. We “practiced” working together for many years developing the business plan. It served to be a great test drive of our working dynamic.
- There is a solution to every problem. With this philosophy, we are never deterred by challenges and obstacles that we encounter. During the onset of the pandemic, for instance, we experienced a surge in our business and some supply chain slowdowns in our packaging materials. We had to scramble to source a readily available make-shift bag and sent it to our recurring customers with a note apologizing for the temporary change in packaging. It seemed to ignite a bit of “FOMO” (fear of missing out) and our customers started ordering extra product as they seemed concerned that if we had run out of bags, we might also run out of sponges.
- Working remotely works and you can work from almost anywhere. We recently had to record a new radio commercial and because of the pandemic, could not go to a studio. We recorded our newest spot, literally from under the covers, as it was our best option for optimal soundproofing.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
We believe that we are in the business of kitchen well-being with the goal of improving consumers’ everyday life and enhancing the experience around the kitchen sink. To that end, we very recently launched three new innovative products that all have our signature look and iconic monogram and deliver performance enhancements addressing consumer pain points. In addition, we have a brand extension pipeline of six additional products that will roll out next year.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The biggest challenge women disruptors face is in the area of fundraising. Female-led businesses significantly trail in VC funding.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
There is a book, “The Method Method,” that was written by the founders of Method Home, an early disruptor in the cleaning industry. It resonated because it chronicled how they successfully infiltrated an industry dominated by giants, with products that were beautiful and efficacious.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Google’s Larry Page asks this one simple question to weigh acquisition prospects — “Does it pass the toothbrush test?” Is this something you will use once or twice per day, and does it make your life better? We knew that Skura Style sponges passed this test with flying colors.
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. 🙂
As disruptors, we believe that the best business ideas will be inspired from diversity of thinking. To that end, we have discussed that we would like to take our own business experience, past and present, to help other women and minority founders to take their ideas into action.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!