Erika Geraerts, Founder, Fluff
Makeup With a Mission
How Erika Geraerts is working with teens to revolutionize the beauty industry with her cosmetics startup Fluff.
Erika Geraerts isn’t quite what you’d expect from a woman making her name in the cosmetics industry.
Her outfit of choice tends to be something like a beanie and a cozy, oversized flannel. And instead of some cutthroat, always-on-the-go CEO, she seems like the pal you’d want to grab for a hike or a coffee. Her voice has that earnest quality that instantly makes you want to spill every detail of your lousy day, knowing without a doubt she can make it alright again.
In other words, she’s real. And that’s exactly the point.
Geraerts isn’t your typical cosmetics company CEO, because Fluff isn’t your typical beauty brand. Fluff is a brand on a mission. With an empowering message targeted at, and drawing inspiration from teenage girls, Geraerts is building a new kind of makeup company with a new way of looking at makeup.
But this isn’t her first foray into the world of beauty products—while under 30, Geraerts has already made significant achievements, and has had to make great sacrifices for Fluff to become a reality.
Let’s Be Frank
In 2013, Geraerts and four other women founders launched Australian beauty brand Frank Body, which sold their homemade coffee scrubs and launched a skin care craze, thanks to a great product and some brilliant marketing.
Even as she launched a company with two dear friends and rocketed to success, she soon felt that something was absent in her professional life.
“After being at Frank Body for about three years, I felt like there was something missing,” she says. “One day I woke up and I didn’t want to go to work…and I thought that that was pretty crazy, so I knew that I had to make a pretty hard choice.”
Just as Frank Body was preparing to enter into an investment deal with an American company, meaning she and the other co-founders would need to sign on for five years, she knew the time had come for her to make her exit.
She still recalls with sadness the phone call that would change her relationship with her two close friends, but she doesn’t regret the move away from Frank Body to her current path. She’d been closely watching the state of the beauty industry, and when the time came to strike out on her own, she already had a glimmer of an idea.
And it was big.
About three years ago, Geraerts says, she came to notice that there weren’t enough brands—maybe even zero—taking enough responsibility for the impact the beauty industry’s messaging was having on young girls and their self-worth. Citing research on the rising rates of depression among teens, as well as their increased internet use, she came to believe the “more, more, more” mentality when it comes to makeup is harmful, especially for youth.
So she took most of the money she had made during her time at Frank Body and poured it into a new endeavor that would work contrary to the mainstream.
“For a lot of brands that are driven by profit, they’re just pushing out product after product, and telling girls to wear more, whereas we really want to tell girls…that makeup can be fun. It’s great, but not necessary. It’s just an addition,” she says.
“That’s why we called it Fluff.”
Wiping Away the Made Up of Makeup
“I really want to change the face of the beauty industry,” she says, “without changing the face of our audience or our customers.”
First, Geraerts knew she had to get to know her customers’ hearts. So began an 18-month journey of getting very familiar with Fluff’s target demographic.
“One of the biggest things to me was being able to talk to girls face to face before we even opened this store,” she says.
So, she gathered three of her teenage cousins and asked each of them to introduce her to a friend. Then after getting to know them a bit, she asked those friends to introduce another friend. And before long, a web of friends-of-friends-of-friends-of-friends grew into the 100-strong customer research group behind Fluff.
Geraerts asked just about every question under the sun concerning the girls’ makeup habits. What products did they use most? How much would they pay for a product? Where were they buying? Who inspired their product choices? What was their relationship with the makeup they used?
“We basically just asked them to invite us into their world around beauty,” she says.
By bringing everything before this network, from marketing to product ideas, messaging to customer service, Geraerts believes she has honed in on a message that resonates.
“Our personality is a mirror, and we want to reflect what these girls are currently doing,” she says. “So instead of us telling them how they should be and what they should think, we let them tell us what they think and how they want to be.”
And if there is something Fluff is missing, you better believe the test crew will let Geraerts know.
“What’s great about the demographic that we’re working with is that they’re so honest,” she says. “They can really see through bullshit from a brand, so we get this incredible insight as to what they expect, and for us, that just becomes the standard.”
So what is the standard, anyway?
Geraerts says it all comes down to transparency, from the ingredients to the manufacturing, the sales pitches to the makeup itself. It’s no secret that Generation Z is a generation of activists and world changers. They care about using ethical products just about as much as they do about covering up a blemish, so Geraerts says it’s important to be as true to those values as she possibly can. Even, and most especially, when it’s most difficult.
When Fluff launched its product line, Geraerts says they intended to start with four products. However, they were only able to get one out the door: a bronzing powder.
This is because Fluff has a strict blacklist of ingredients that are not allowed anywhere near a product. Some of these products can have harmful interactions with the skin, while others are acquired in a way that conflicts with Fluff’s values.
Although it is found in virtually every product on the market, Geraerts says, Fluff won’t use palm oil because of the unsustainable way it’s harvested. There’s nothing wrong with how the ingredient reacts to the skin, but the Fluff audience cares just as much about the surface of the earth as they do for the surface of their skin.
And although it meant a smaller launch and greater struggles on the horizon as they searched for a new base ingredient, this was an area where they were unwilling to budge.
Geraerts also says that, once they build stable working relationships, they plan to make visits to the factories where Fluff products are produced to ensure that not only are the products made of ingredients they approve of, but also in ways that the company supports.
“A big thing for me, as well, is making sure we are happy with how they work, their processes, their factories, how they treat their staff,” she says.
But Fluff is still in its infancy, and there is much to do and a long road ahead.
Building Trust on a Deadline
Because she’s chosen to build a brand with authenticity at its core, Geraerts accepts the only thing that can bring trust is time.
“This demographic needs to trust us and feel like we get them,” she says. “If we cut corners, they’ll see through it, and they’ll just move on to another brand really quickly.”
But at the same time, they have to make sure they’ve got the cash flow to keep the lights on and the website live.
“I just know that it’s a longer play for us,” she says, “and potentially why we need to make sure that we’re making decisions that conserve our cash to, I guess, buy us that time.”
So far, Fluff has raised $710,000 in capital, leaps and bounds beyond the $7,000 she and her co-founders used to build Frank Body. But money slips away quickly if unchecked, especially when it comes to makeup.
The cosmetics industry is an expensive one. There are research phases, testing phases and minimum order quantities in the tens of thousands to juggle. The development of a single product, particularly one worth the money, is a cash-intensive pursuit.
“We wanted to make a product that had value to it,” she says. “There’s a lot of shit cosmetics out there, to be honest.”
And so, to make room in the budget for creating products of value, they’ve had to learn how to prioritize spending.
“Especially for a brand like us, where we want to do a lot of cool things, and cool things cost money, you have to rein it in and decide what is the strongest play for us,” she says.
But even when money is tight, Geraerts doesn’t get discouraged.
“I never expected this to get handed to me on a silver platter,” she says. “I knew it would be a lot of work and a lot of time, and I enjoy that. I really enjoy that this is something hard.”
And while they continue to hone their product line, finding new, ethical ingredients to use, they are going full tilt in marketing—just maybe not the way you’d expect from the influencer-savvy co-founder of Frank Body.
A New Kind of Influencer
You wouldn’t know the influencers tasked with promoting Fluff. But not because they are so cutting-edge hip you couldn’t possibly be aware of them yet. It’s because they are entirely outside of that sphere altogether. So if it’s not Brittany with 50,000 Instagram followers, who is a Fluff influencer?
“It’s Sarah from that high school around the corner who has maybe 200 followers who are her friends,” Geraerts says, “but she has an incredible influence over them.”
When Frank Body first arrived on the scene, the social media influencers of today were an entirely new phenomenon, and Frank Body was on the leading edge.
“Influencer marketing was a new concept, and it was very much genuine referrals,” she says. “Influencers were reviewing products and telling people what they thought, because they genuinely wanted to share that with the world.”
It paid off like crazy at the time, but Geraerts has decided not to pursue the same strategy for Fluff. This is mostly because of the way the scene has evolved since those early days. While she has no desire to knock influencers—pointing out that they deserve respect and to be paid what they are worth—she sees cracks forming in the business model.
“I think that the amount of influencers that are online now, and the amount of probably not credible ones, has actually tarnished the space as a whole,” she says.
Frank Body was the first coffee scrub of its kind, she explains. But now with so many on the market, and with more than a few poor ones in the mix, it begins to reflect poorly on the concept as a whole. This is what she fears is the future of influencer marketing.
Geraerts has also noticed, in the five years since Frank Body launched, a change in the way influencers respond to brands. Initially, potential partners were very curious about the brand in question and about the minds behind it. Today, most influencers just present a rate.
“I don’t even know if they care about our product,” she says, “and I honestly don’t want people to post about our product if they don’t care, because we are so much more than our product.”
Because of this breakdown in trust, Geraerts is pursuing a new kind of influencer with Fluff.
“I still believe in influential people, 100 percent,” she says, “but I think it’s a lot closer in terms of networks and groups. I think an influential person is my best friend referring a product to me or me sitting down with a girl and noticing that her eyelashes look amazing and asking where mascara is from and wanting to try it, as opposed to seeing an ad on Instagram, which I know more often than not is purely transactional.”
While Geraerts acknowledges that not every brand needs to run the way she’s chosen to operate Fluff, because of the brand’s core values, finding influencers who genuinely believe in the products is essential. Even if that’s just Melanie from 11th-grade history class.
Running such a forward-thinking business, even one that strives for authentic community, can start to feel isolating.
“Some days it can feel really lonely and stressful, and we maybe feel like we’re too ahead,” she confesses.
But Geraerts knows she’s creating something that can endure. She believes in her product, her brand and, most of all, in the girls she’s chosen to call customers.
“A lot of the stuff we are doing is going over people’s heads,” she says with a smile. “They don’t get it, and they don’t know how to respond to us. I actually like that because like I said, there’s enough ‘same same’ existing in the world, and I didn’t want to create another beauty brand that was millennial pink.”
Erika Geraerts’ Tips for Building an Effective Brand Voice
- Get to Know Your Customers
Geraerts says that the first and most essential step in developing a strong voice for your brand is to get to know your target demographic. Spend time with your customers. Get to know their lives, their needs, their dreams. She says that people avoid spending time in their customers’ worlds, and it can be fatal for the voice behind their brand. “If you don’t know who your customer is, you won’t know how to speak to them,” she says.
- Speak Like Your Customers
If you’re able to talk to your customers the way your customers speak to each other, you become part of the crew instead of remaining a suspicious outsider. Geraerts says that learning how to speak the language of your target audience, and use it authentically, is an invaluable inroad to bringing in new customers, especially in a world flooded with advertising. “They see through all the shit of brands,” Geraerts says of her own customers. “They would just know if we were trying to be anything other than us.
- Be Open to Feedback
You might be doing all the right things and still get it wrong. Geraerts says it’s crucial to seek out feedback and be open to what you learn. By making adjustments, you can fine-tune your brand voice into something that will bring astounding results. “You can do a lot of research into it, and think that you know how your customers are going to respond and then just get a different answer,” she says. “Then you’ve got to just be able to work with that and keep going.”
- How Geraerts chooses manufacturers to create her products
- The company’s unique customer development process for finding out what types of products solve her customers’ problems
- Why she won’t be focusing on traditional influencer marketing to promote her products
- Fluff’s unique website launch strategy and how they work with their customers and freelancers to curate all of their content
Full Transcript of Podcast with Erica Geraerts
Nathan: Hey guys, today we’re speaking to Erika Geraerts. I hope I pronounced her name correctly.
Erika: That’s a good start.
Nathan: And she’s the founder of a company called Fluff. I actually interviewed her three years ago when I first started Foundr in the early days. She co-founded another company called Frank Body, which she has since exited, and now she’s building this incredible brand called Fluff, where we’re going to really find out and hear how it’s all starting on the ground level, because when did you launch?
Erika: We launched officially about two months ago in terms of really pushing our website out there.
Nathan: Yes. Okay, there you go. I guess the first question In ask everyone is how’d you get your job?
Erika: This job?
Erika: I save people a lot of money. I think Fluff came about because after being at Frank Body for about three years I felt like there was something missing. Frank was an incredible place to work. I started with my two best friends and two others, and we learned a lot in that time, but I was super young. So I’d like to think that I’ve changed a lot as a business person. And one day I woke up and I didn’t want to go to work, and that was my own job. And I thought that, that was pretty crazy. So I knew that I had to make a pretty hard choice. We were actually seeking investment from an American company at the time. So that was a catalyst for change for me, because we were all asked to sign on for five years as co-founders.
And so, I had to really look down the barrel at my future, and in a lot of ways it was a really successful one, but I thought it would be an unhappy one. So I made that call, and it was super hard to have that conversation with the two girls that I started Frank with, but I had to do it. And I did it, and I’d been thinking about what I would do next already, and had spent so much time in the beauty industry, and I really felt like there was this gap that was what Fluff fulfil.
Nathan: What’s the vision for Fluff? Can you tell us like … Yes.
Erika: I really want to change the face of the beauty industry, that’s what we like to say, without changing the face of our audience or our customer. So what I felt like about two and half/three years ago, was that there were no brands in the beauty industry being responsible for the message that they were putting out there about consumption of makeup, and how it was affecting especially young girls, and how they saw themselves.
And there’s a lot of research out there about rising rates of depression, especially amongst teenagers. And they’re spending so much time online, and it’s really easy to connect the dots. And for a lot of brands who were driven by profit, they’re just pushing out product after product, and telling girls to wear more. Whereas we really want to tell girls to feel more comfortable with themselves, and that makeup can be fun. It’s great, but it’s not necessary. It’s just an addition. That’s why we called it Fluff.
Nathan: You launched with one product, was that strategic? Can you tell us a little bit about the product and why you chose to launch with that particular product?
Erika: I could definitely tell you it was strategic, but we intended to launch with four products. So another big thing for me in the beauty industry is about transparency of ingredients in products, and we have a pretty strict blacklist in terms of what we don’t want in our formulations. And one of those things is palm oil, just because it’s harvested incredibly unsustainably. And so, our biggest problem however is that most manufacturers use palm oil in beauty products. It’s a base ingredient. There’s nothing wrong with the ingredient in itself, in how it performs, or whether it’s not bad for your skin, but just in terms of how it’s harvested.
And it’s a big concern for our audience as well. But that’s something that we’ve had to compete with, with our manufacturers in terms of making them understand why we don’t want to have it in our products, and getting them onboard. So we’ve been able to take it out of our first product, our bronzing powder. And then we’re still working through formulations for mascara and a lip product. But that’s the biggest thing. Once you take out palm oil, you need to reformulate, and you need to find substitute ingredients. And then you still need the product to perform. So you have to make a compromise at some point.
Nathan: So to actually manufacture this product, or this user product that you’re envisioning, is going to be quite expensive, right? Are you manufacturing locally, or overseas, or …
Erika: When I first started working on Fluff, I really wanted to work with Australian manufacturers. And with Frank Body we had an incredible manufacturer here in Australia, but cosmetics is a little bit trickier. And the best cosmetic manufacturers are actually overseas, in Europe. So we work with manufacturers in Italy and with Germany. Basically once you put a brief out for a product you get sent a lot of base formulas to work from. And if it’s a mascara, we might find that the best ones come from Italy, or say, our line of products come from Germany, and we work from there. So we make tweaks. We either add specific care ingredients, or we take out ingredients that we don’t like, and then we do a load of testing.
Nathan: And then, when you talk about the testing and the formulation, are you doing … You’re not doing it here, you’re just going up and back, and saying, “Hey, try this,” and they send you a sample.” And, “Hey, try this,” they send you a sample, right?
Erika: Yes, we talk to them just online. At the moment we’ve gone Hong Kong for packing expos, which is really interesting. And once, I think, we develop a really great relationship with the different manufactures that we’re working with, we’ll go over to see them, and I think a big thing for me is, well, is making sure that we’re happy with how they work their processes, their factories, how they treat their staff. That’s something we want to get to. But again, these sort of things cost a lot of money, and take a lot of time. This is where we’re starting, and we’ll keep going from there.
Nathan: I see. You raised … Are you able to share how much you raised? No? Yes?
Erika: It’s fine. We’ve raised, to date, about $710 000. I put a fair amount of my own money in after leaving Frank Body. And then I always knew that I wanted to raise, because I had really big ambitions for what I wanted this brand to be, and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to dot hat without money. With Frank Body we started that brand with maybe seven grand, because we were making that product by hand out the back of Steve’s cafe kitchen. If we got one order and we would make that one scrub, but it’s not the same with cosmetics.
You have minimum order quantities of anywhere between 10 000 and 20 000 units. So straight off the bat you have a lot of costs going into your product development. And then we wanted to make a product that had value to it. There’s a lot of shit cosmetics out there, to be honest. And I don’t really think the world needs more makeup, but I think the world needs better makeup, and better brands.
Nathan: And why do you care about this problem so much?
Erika: It’s funny, a lot of people have asked me that. And I think as we have developed the brand, and the more we looked into it, and the more we’ve researched, because we were just … We were talking to our customers for about 18 months, trying to figure out what their issues with the beauty industry were. And the more girls I spoke to, the more I could relate in terms of what they had gone through growing up, because I’d been through it at the same age, yet they have so much more noise in terms of the media that they consume. When I was a teenager I just essentially had Facebook. And I’m 29, I’ve still got my issues, but I can’t imagine how hard it would be for a 16 to 18-year-old now with all of the noise that they have.
Nathan: The Kardashian culture. You know, all the Kardashians.
Erika: Yes, it’s pretty crazy, and I think that we can laugh about it, right, and brush it off. But I don’t think we yet even realise the impact that it’s having on consumers, or on the mindset of everyone. So that’s what I care about, is changing this awareness of everyone about makeup, and consumption of brands as well.
Nathan: Yes, well, so you’ve raised the capital, you’ve got your MOQ, launched two months ago, took around 18 months to get that product ready, yes?
Nathan: Talk to us around the customer development standpoint. Because, I think, one thing I’ve found from my journey and experience is, really, the most successful companies are the ones that have the most superior product. And so often people want to create a product or a service where they think it’s great, and they don’t do the time to actually find out if it’s a problem that people want solved.
So you’ve spent a lot of time speaking to people, you’ve got this showroom strategically to be able to speak to people and have that customer facing brand. For somebody that’s looking to start their own physical product brand, or any kind of product, talk to us around what kind of questions are you asking people. How did you go about and say, “Okay,” and find out, “This is the problem I want to solve”? How many did you speak to, just on volume, can you talk to us around that customer development phase, and you’ve worked out this is something that needs to be out there?
Erika: Yes, there’s so many things that I can answer off the back of that. We spoke to, or had about a 100 girls that we speak to regularly across everything from our marketing to our product development, to our message, to our customer service. Any customer touch point, we talk to these girls across. So, one of the biggest things for me was being able to talk to girls face-to-face, even before we opened this store, which is why started with my three cousins. Actually, who are very much a part of our initial brand development. Because they were of this age group that we were looking to speak to. And I just asked them to introduce me to a friend. And then again and again, which is great.
Nathan: And what do you ask? What kind of questions? So you meet your cousin’s younger friend, what kind of questions are you asking them?
Erika: Our biggest thing, we’ve just said that we wanted to discuss beauty with them. So we would ask them about their current consumption of beauty products. We really wanted to know what products they were using the most. And it’s, I guess, a common thread that most girls and women will use, mascara, some kind of lip gloss or lip balm, and a foundation product. Then we wanted to know how often they were replenishing those products. So then you start to get, I guess, an idea of your business model, and I guess your retention, and when your customers are going to be returning.
We wanted to know how much they were paying for products, and we wanted to know how much they were earning. We wanted to know who was buying the products. Was it them? Was it their parents? Were they using credit cards? Were they buying from a store? Were they buying online? Did they buy from indie brands they couldn’t find in Australia? Were they still happy to buy pharmacy products?
We basically just asked them to invite us into their world around beauty. I guess where they were inspired in terms of beauty, whether they looked to social media, whether they looked to their friends, what their relationship with makeup was, which is really important. Whether they felt like they needed it, whether it was driven by any kind of insecurity, or whether it was just a fun additional thing for them. We had so many questions, and we still do. Every time we’re developing a new product we get them to come in and try it. And what’s great about the demographic that we’re working with, is that they’re so honest. They can really see through bullshit from a brand, so we get this incredible insight as to what they expect. And for us that just becomes the standard.
Nathan: So you’re looking for the trend-setters before it’s a trend?
Erika: Yes. I guess you could say the first follower.
Nathan: Yes, Yes. Because they say when it comes to building … Starting a movement, you have those indie people that are people that is not cool yet, but they’re doing it, or they’re using it. And then eventually there’s a tipping point where it becomes mainstream.
Erika: Yes, definitely.
Erika: And a lot of people ask if we’re working with influencers, or who’s the celebrity that we want to represent the brand, but we’re just not there yet. And I’m not being a jerk when I say to you, “You won’t know anyone that we’re working with,” but you wouldn’t. Because it’s Sarah from that high school around the corner who has maybe 200 followers who are her friends, but she has an incredible influence over them. So we’re really, really working with small groups to get as much feedback about the product, get as much feedback about the brand. So that we know when we do push out, or if it does hit critical mass, that we have a really strong foundation to go from.
Nathan: Yes, I think that’s really smart, I think, like you said, it comes back to having the most superior product out there. And you guys are just going really, really deep on that customer development, really knowing your target market, and who you’re speaking, and entailing everything around that. And so, just coming back to those questions you were asking. Is that where you had the idea for the four staple products that you wanted to launch, because those were the key things that this target market of girls were using?
Erika: Yes. In terms of our product SKUs, we like to call it a foundation without a foundation. So in terms of it’s the base of what you might use if you’re going to go out. But we are quite against foundation products for now, just because they more have also the purpose of covering up as opposed to just showing who you are, so yes.
Nathan: Okay, interesting. Talk to me about this influencer piece, because it’s something you’re quite passionate about. Like at Frank, you guys work with Jen Selter, you spend a lot of money investing in influencer marketing. You guys were on the forefront of that trend, especially here in Australia. Like in Melbourne you guys were known, and it sounds like you were probably leading a lot of charge, known for utilising influencer marketing, especially through social media. To amplify the reach and word of mouth of a brand, right? Now you’ve actually done a full 360, and you’re not that interested. Why? Because you said you think it’s a sinking ship, just before we hit record. Tell us about that. What’s your thoughts?
Because most people that want to launch a physical product based business, yes, I believe personally there’s a couple of different channels you want to use, right? There’s, you know, if you go to the B to C play you’d want to use Instagram, and you want to use influencer marketing. But then also, you’d probably want to use Facebook ads. You look at a brand like HiSmile for example, another really successful-
Nathan: … Australian company. Apparently they’re on track to do a 100 million this year after five years, or four years or something, which is incredible, right. And their two key channels is influencer marketing and Facebook ads. So that’s what most people think. I’ve got a physical product brand out of Foundr that’s doing quite well, all through influencer marketing. It’s doing exceptionally well, and doesn’t really take much work. So talk to me, why so anti … Why do you think it’s a sinking ship. Why wasn’t part of your launch strategy so much. Yes, you’re getting the content, but yes …
Erika: I think there’s a few things in that, when we launched Frank Body, that was five years ago now, and we really were, I think, at the forefront of influence marketing, and it was incredible for us. And influencer marketing was a new concept, and it was very much genuine referrals. Influencers were reviewing products, and telling people what they thought because they generally wanted to share that with the world. And it has become a business in itself, and I think that it’s one that should be credited. It’s a business for them, and they should make money, and they should be respected, and they should be paid what they’re worth. But I think that the amount of influencers that are online now, and the amount of probably not credible ones has actually tarnished the space as a whole.
Nathan: Yes, I agree.
Erika: Just like you would say that the amount of brands, or copycat brands, which makes it hard, essentially. When Frank launched we were the first coffee scrub. Now, there’s so many. And ones you start getting some bad ones amongst the mix, it takes away from the group as a whole. I still believe in influential people 100%, but I think it’s a lot more closer in terms of networks and groups.
I think an influential person is my best friend referring a product to me. While me sitting down with a girl and noticing her eyelashes look amazing and asking where her mascara’s from, and wanting to try it. As opposed to seeing , which I know more often than not is purely transactional. And I saw the relationship and the conversations change with influencers over those five years. Where it went from them being very curious about the brand, and wanting to support, and wanting to get to know us. To now being very much, “Here is my rate.”
I don’t even know if they care about our product. And I honestly don’t want people posting about our product if they don’t care. Because we’re so much more than our product. And it’s not to say that a business like HiSmile can’t exist, but I would question what they really care about. And it’s not to say they can’t make money doing what they do. I think it’s great. But I think maybe past their product, there might not be a business with very strong values.
Nathan: Yes. I agree.
Erika: And again, not every business needs to have that. But we’re in it for much greater reasons than profit, with just our products existing in the world.
Nathan: Yes, you have a very, very strong purpose and why. What I find interesting is it sounds like you’ve learned some key things from Frank that you’re taking, that you want to bring to Fluff now.
Erika: Yes, totally.
Nathan: Talk to me around the launch strategy. So you’ve launched two months. First of all, how’s it all going, and what would have you changed? Because I find it interesting. I was looking … We caught up, let’s say three, four, five, six months ago. And you were talking about a magazine, you’ve got a little magazine there. You’ve these cool little merch. You’ve got your beanie, you’ve got … I think you said the jackets, or I don’t know. I don’t know that much about chick stuff.
But you’ve got all this really cool stuff. Talk to me around that strategy, and how’s it all going, and what do you. What do you wish you had have done differently, two months later?
Erika: While we launched our website two months ago, the brand has existed and had a social presence for a lot longer. Maybe almost a year, I would say. Our first move was really finding girls to talk to, and take them on this journey about the brand and the company’s development. So we were working on this magazine for maybe nine to 12 months, where we wanted our demographic to create the content for us. And the reason behind that is very much to do with Fluff’s brand strategy, and that our personality is a mirror, and we want to reflect what these girls are currently doing.
Instead of us telling them how they should be, and what they should think, we let them tell us what they think, and how they want to be. And that’s really important for me, because I think there are a lot of brands in the beauty space who will tell you that they’re a democratic, and that their customers decide what happens, but they’re still pushing out a certain view.
We wanted to work with girls who create all of our content. So that’s probably our biggest strategy in offering them a platform to write, to take photos, to show us how they want to use products, or what products they want. So we paid girls to create content for us, but it’s more … I guess you could look at it as a very early contract, or freelancing role. We want them to pursue whatever creative endeavours they’re into. And that’s part of our brand message as well. We want them to know that beauty is so much more than what they put on their face.
But it’s what they’re doing with themselves. And so often, I think at a young age, that creativity is squashed out of you. We want to tell them, that’s what they can be here for. And where they might typically be getting jobs during high school, or while they’re at uni, a retail store that had no connection to what they’re interested in, and they can come and work with us in a brand. Whether they’re interested in photography, or marketing, or advertising, or beauty specifically, and grow with the business.
Nathan: Yes. That’s was one part of your strategy. You’ve done a few different things. Talk to me about what do you think’s been the most effective, and what you would have changed? Because to be honest, shooting straight, some of the stuff you’re doing, like … You’re incredible at creating these amazing brands, and I think I could see a lot of what we’ve spoken about, what you’ve instilled into Frank and still is there now. And you’re doing this crazy stuff. And I’m not familiar, and I think most people listening wouldn’t think about things this way. So I really want to capture that and understand, and yes.
Erika: A lot of the stuff we’re doing is going over people’s heads. They don’t get it, and they don’t know how to respond to us. And I actually like that. Because like I said, there’s enough same-same existing in the world. I didn’t want to create another beauty brand that was millennial pink. I didn’t want to create a product that already existed in terms of shitty chick packaging. Our formula, while it’s natural, it comes from Italy. We worked really hard to make it a product that would suit various skin tones, and that girls would want to carry around and use every day. There are other bronzing products out there, but we really wanted girls to buy into the overall brand, and make a statement when they’re wearing Fluff.
I think that to do that, we have to get them to trust our brand, and that takes a lot of time, which is why our conversation started first on social. Getting them to contribute all the content. And so, it’s not what you would typically find, say, on a social feed. Whether that’s Instagram, or our Twitter feed is literally a stream of consciousness from girls. We pull content from all of their conversations. Whether it’s Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and repurpose it. Which is great for us, but it comes out as this scattered conversation. There are not many people who get that they relate to it, because it’s very much.
Nathan: Yes, because you’re speaking to that market.
Erika: Yes. So I like where we’re at. It means that it’s going to take a longer time to reach critical mass, and I know that. So for me it’s having enough money to spend that time. And that’s always tricky. I the biggest learnings for me would have been somehow knowing how much trouble we would have developing our products, because it’s hard when you only have one product to offer customers. Because not everyone needs that, and a lip product or a mascara I think would be a much easier selling for customer to begin with.
But could we have predicted that after 18 months we’d still be battling with manufactures to remove palm oil? I don’t know, that’s kind of hard. So that’s a big thing for me. This space that we’re in was exactly what I wanted. It came up pretty early in the piece, so we’re just spending a lot of money on rent. Spending a lot of money on wages as well, but again, we thought we were going to launch in February. And then we thought we were going to launch in July. This is a year ago. So it takes time. And a lot of people have said to me, “Whatever day your launch is.
Nathan: Double it. Yes, double it.
Erika : Like crazy, but that’s what happened for us.
Nathan: So when it comes to, I guess, copy. That’s something I’ve always noticed you’re really good at.
Nathan: You’re welcome. If somebody wants to have a strong voice, or have a voice for their brand that gets cut through … So, what you’re doing, I think it’s moving towards more on the side of getting cut through because it’s different. And when we put out content with Foundr I always think about the design, and how can we create something cool that’s a little bit funky, that’s a little bit edgy. That if someone walked past, or saw it, or come across their screen, they’re going to take a second look, which is essentially what you’re trying to do, right?
Nathan: Yes, so when it comes to brand voice, and conceptualising, and coming up with a great brand, I think that’s something that a lot of people discount. They don’t put the time and effort into. And I think it’s something that you do really well. So what advice would you have? How would you recommend to somebody that’s looking to start a brand that could be recognised, and could have a strong voice, and … Yes.
Erika: I think the first thing that I would say is that it just … It does take time. And if you don’t know who your customer is, you won’t know how to speak to them. And people avoid spending that time talking to their customers, and looking at their whole world. Like what other brands are they looking at, and how do those brands speak? How do they talk to their friends? We really carefully studied for a long time how these girls were talking to each other. Because we knew that, that’s how they would want a brand to speak to them. Because they see through all the shit of brands, they would just know if we were trying to be anything other than us.
Nathan: One thing I’m always fascinated by as well is, because we’ve never raised any capital, so I don’t really know that world. But when do you plan to be Profitable, and how do you know when to focus on profitability, and when to just focus on growth? Because you weigh up, like let’s say you raise another half million dollars, right? Or a million dollars. Obviously you’re going to put those funds into stock, because you need to do the other three items so you have a nice foundation.
But then you’re probably going to want to hire some more staff, and put some more money into customer acquisition on the Facebook front. But then, yes, at what point do you know, or when do you plan to focus on profitability?
Erika: Yes. It’s so interesting, and what I’ve been learning the most about in the last year. And especially probably the last six months as we’ve had product delays, and had to spend more time without a product on the market to sell, and burning through more cash. You really have to start prioritising, and thinking about where that spend is going. And especially for a brand like us, where we want to do a lot of cool things, and cool things cost money. We have to reign it in and decide what is the strongest play for us.
I think that for me we know that our brands story has to come first. We have to get this message right. Because this demographic that they need to trust us and feel like we get them. And if we cut corners, they’ll see through it, and they’ll just move on to another brand really quickly. So we’ve mapped out, I guess, the timeline to know when we would have to sit down and be like, “Is this resonating or not, and what do we do next?” And there’s always going to be a lot of trial and error, I think. Or trying things with messaging. We’re doing a lot of paid spend at the moment to get people to consider the products, and the brand. And to, I guess, just raise general awareness about what we’re doing.
And that is always going to take a long time, because we have to tweak our messaging, tweak the visuals that we put out, just get feedback on what works and what doesn’t. And you can do a lot of research into it, and think that you know how your customers are going to respond, and then just get a different answer. And then you’ve got to just be able to work with that and keep going.
Nathan: Do you think you’ve got the brand messaging right?
Erika: I would say, with this small 100 girls that I really wanted to start with, and I feel like once you find those first 100 fans then you work from there. And it seems to really resonate with them. Because of my past experience, I have a lot of an older demographic looking at us, and it doesn’t sit right with them. And sometimes it’s hard to not let that affect you, especially when we’re talking to media who will focus on that older demographic, say millennial.
So if it doesn’t sync with them, they think they’re potentially not going to push it out. So that’s why I know that it’s just a longer play for us. And potentially why we need to make sure that we’re making decision that conserve our cash to buy us that time.
Nathan: Yes, yes. When you say, “How long,” one thing one of my mentors taught me is it take anywhere between seven to 10 years to build anything of true worth and significance. And that’s how I think about with what we’re building at Foundr. We’ve only been doing it for about four/five, right. So how long do you think it’s going to take to get that tipping point, or the scale that just blows up? How long do you think?
Erika: It’s interesting, because your business is quite different to ours. They’re different industries.
Nathan: Yes, yes, of course.
Erika: But this is it for me in terms of what I’m doing and focused on. And I’m the same, I’ve always felt that a five-year-old business is still an infant.
Nathan: It takes a long time. Yes, I agree.
Erika: It’s tiny, and I’ve never felt like I could stand and say that I’m an expert, or know what I’m doing until maybe that 10 year mark. Where you can be like, “Well, maybe we’ve gained some trust.” Or, “We’re going to be here for a little while.” But I do think that technology has accelerated obviously the growth of businesses in terms of, they can experience so much more in short period of time that might have taken other companies how ever many years ago, 10/20 years to develop.
And see in the U.S. as well, companies experiencing crazy growth in two/three/five years. I think that we expect for our message to resonate within a year definitely, from launch. But I would say it wouldn’t until maybe three/four years that I would sit down and be like, “Are we really onto something?” Like, “Does this have potential to scale?” We, with our investors have conversations of that five and seven year mark, really discussing what’s the next big move for our company.
And we need to see how we’re perceived in other markets as well. But I would love for Fluff to be around for 20 years. If I’m and I’m getting grey, that would be great. But also, if I’m no longer relevant at that time, and someone younger can step into my place, I would consider that.
Nathan: Of course. I think what you’re building now is something that is like a legacy based business, and I really respect that. Because that’s, I think, where we vibe because I have that same vision as well with what we’re building with Foundr. I guess the reason for my question before is because I remember … I’m trying to think back of when I first started Foundr, and I also think the people that are watching this that probably may have just launched something. And I remember that feeling, that thought of like, “I can’t wait. I can’t wait until it takes off. And I can’t wait, we’re getting closer, just step-by-step.” And we’re at a point now where I still excited and I can’t wait. But it’s like, “Yes, we’re getting … We’re on to something.” Do you feel that, like, “I can’t wait,” and that hope anticipation. It’s like a good frustration, yes, yes.
Erika: Totally. I like the term use stress. Where it’s stress that motivates you and drives you. So we definitely have moments where we know we’re on to something, that our message resonates, and that we are in some ways ahead of everyone else. So we know that it’s going to catch up. Some days it can feel really lonely and stressful, and we maybe feel like we’re too ahead, and that it’s just going to go over people’s heads in a way.
But I think that for me I knew that this was going to be longer play. And I want to know who is going to be the next L’Oréal. Who is going to be the next Maybelline, or Estée Lauder. There has to be a brand that takes hold like they did, or is around for 20/30 years. And we see a future for Fluff in that regard, definitely. There are some big brands in the U.S. that are making plays similar to how we want to progress. I think that’s great, we just have to see.
Nathan: Yes, look, we’ll work towards wrapping up. Couple last questions. First question is, what have you had to sacrifice to get where you are today? What have you had to give up? Because I think you’ve had an incredible amount of success in your journey as a founder, and you’re on your next stage of your journey, which I think is really exciting. And then lastly, where’s the best place people can find out more about yourself and your work?
Erika: What have I had to sacrifice. I most significantly is two really important friendships that I had made over a long period of time, and making the decision to leave Frank Body affected that, which was hard for everyone. And very much a sacrifice on everyone’s part. But that happens in life sometimes, and we grow up, and we get older, we do new things. And everything’s good now, but it’s not the same, but change is the one thing we know about life, right. So you get used to that.
Salary is something I’ve had to sacrifice in putting everything into Fluff, but that’s okay. And I was really fortunate enough to have a successful few years at Frank. I feel like I have most of the things I want in my life right now. And when I did have a great salary, I wasn’t fulfilled in other ways. So money can only do so much. And now I am really fulfilled. I love getting up and coming to work ever day. I think that says something. And I don’t really feel like I’ve sacrificed that much. Otherwise, I still … I’m maybe not travelling as much, but I get to go. And some days are stressful, but it’s part of it. I never expected this to get handed to me on a silver platter. I knew it would be a lot of work, and a lot of time, and I enjoy that.
I really enjoy that this is something hard. I think if I wanted to create something that’s going to be around for a long time, it will literally take a long time. So it’s great in that way. And then people can find out about Fluff through our website. It’s allfluff.com, and I write emails about the process about building this company too. So everything from the brand strategy to investment, to hiring people, to our products, to PR. So people can sign up to my newsletter, and then our social is, it’s all.fluff. That’s the main one that I think people should look at. Or they can come see our shop, which is in Fitzroy in Melbourne. But everything’s on our website that they can find out.
Nathan: Amazing. Look, thank you so much for your time.
Erika: Thanks for having me again.
Nathan: You’re welcome. And yes, it’s an absolute pleasure.