Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Kellie Yavalar and I started the beauty brand, keauty, which means “to create beauty.” Through our skincare line, we aim to deliver a fun, interactive beauty experience to your home. Our DIY face mask kits feature coffee or tea pods for a single-serve brewing system. The fresh antioxidants from the hot brew, activate our specialized powder mix, and create a warm, fresh clay mask.
Despite incorporating keauty in late 2018, I just launched the business this fall. I spent over two years working on product development to get very natural raw materials from the earth, into mass production. It's been a long journey with lots of life changes and working a full-time job but I am so proud and excited to share the collection, bringing self-care into people’s homes.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I grew up in a household with two sisters full of sleepovers, makeovers, and hallway fashion shows. In addition to my interest in beauty, I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart by doing chores, creating lemonade stands, even bringing smoothies to my mom’s hair appointments to sell directly to stylists and clients.
At the age of 15, I embraced my first real job as a shampoo technician at a hair salon while pursuing a cosmetology license during high school. Leveraging what I learned, I launched my first real venture as an independent hair salon out of my dorm while attending college. Facebook was in its infancy and only available to college students. At the time, businesses were not marketing through Facebook but I had the foresight to launch a group page called “Kellie Cut My Hair” where I kept testimonials, reviews, and client appointments.
Eventually, I graduated college from York College of Pennsylvania while the country was in the midst of a financial crisis.
To leverage my experience in cosmetology, a close friend of mine introduced me to her uncle who worked at a cosmetic packaging company where I began my career in beauty packaging.
Today, I still serve a variety of prestige beauty brands around the world. I specialize in providing brands with packaging and product development services. Naturally, I feel a special connection with clients who are starting new businesses. I’ve been inspired by many of my clients and share a very strong passion for improving the overall consumer experience.
The idea for keauty came to me during a sales meeting when we were discussing innovative packaging ideas and my colleague suggested how to think about food packaging as inspiration for beauty. There was an image on his presentation of a single-serve coffee machine with pods, and I instantly thought, how cool would it be to create a DIY face mask with fresh ingredients brewed from a staple kitchen appliance.
I sat with the concept for a while, spoke to some friends about it, and for months, the idea kept tapping me on the shoulder. I kept seeing signs that this would trend with the market and ultimately, a trip to Turkey exploring the hot natural mud baths was my tipping point. The experience of a warm, natural product, directly from the earth, using simple ingredients with big effects had a big impact on me. I was determined to bring this into people’s homes.
When I decided to move forward, I would spend nights and weekends researching product formulas and developing the overall brand. A large portion of this startup process was learning. I taught myself how to use the Shopify platform and watched countless youtube videos. At times, I felt like I wasn't accomplishing anything, spending countless hours just researching and learning to formulate a strategy. Ultimately, I had to teach myself what to do, and what was next.
Throughout the entire process of starting and launching keauty, my life has been evolving on a personal and professional level. From a professional standpoint, I feel that keauty allows me to leverage everything I’ve ever learned and applied it in a way that utilizes my skills but also creates space for me to learn something completely new. On a personal level, I experienced some major life changes including a puppy, pregnancy, morning sickness, a baby, a new home, and all while working a regular full-time job. The journey has been very long and labor-intensive, but the belief in the product has kept me going.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The very first step I took was to create a concept board in the form of a PowerPoint presentation. I knew that I needed to put the concept on paper with images, colors, and the overall vibe that I was envisioning. Later, I detailed those pages with more marketing language and started to share the concept with family and friends. Collecting feedback enabled me to fine-tune the concept and the more I spoke to others, the more I would find recurring advice.
I began making a concerted effort talking to others about their skin challenges as I transitioned to developing a prototype. When I first came up with the concept, I knew that I wanted the ingredients to be pure, simple, and effective. After hours of researching and conducting diligence calls, I began to realize that my original concept of leveraging a single-serve brewing machine for coffee and tea would actually be really effective in addressing these specific skin challenges. At that juncture, I knew these powerful, fresh antioxidants would be the main ingredient activating the formula behind keauty's first product launch.
Official product development of the 2 SKUs began after I laid the groundwork for the effects I wanted to achieve with the ingredients in question. For our refining and restoring mask, I wanted: detoxifying, exfoliating, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, reducing dark circles, energizing, smoothing. For the cleansing and purifying mask, I wanted an acne friendly product; oil-absorbing, detoxifying, anti-inflammatory, reduced redness, and irritation.
I brought the product concept to a lab in New Jersey and I had an approved clay formula after a few short months. The next step involved finding a manufacturer who could mass-produce the product and I eventually found a facility that was happy to take it on. Unfortunately, I hit a major roadblock as the production batch was not yielding the results I approved from my lab sample. The formula was the same, but the production mask was clumping and falling off of my face. I tried to find the root cause of the problem after spending 8 hours in an onsite visit at the manufacturer’s facility but it just wasn't matching what I originally approved at the lab.
The manufacturer’s in-house chemists and operations managers advised me that the variances from natural earth-based products would never guarantee the consistent results I was seeking to achieve in scale-up. They concluded that I needed to restart the R&D process from square one and use less natural ingredients. At this point, since I was a startup with no funding and low order quantities, they decided it wasn't worth their time to continue to work with keauty. Reluctantly, I was forced to scrap the whole production batch and start over with a new lab and new manufacturer.
I remember being in a rush to launch in the beginning, I felt that every day the website wasn’t active I was losing money. Although that would have been ideal, the most important thing is actually to put a product out that’s right.
Thankfully, a good friend of mine in the industry with years of clay experience believed in the concept and helped me through it. He kept the integrity of the formula with the same natural ingredients and made sure that it was possible to scale up. It took a long time, but the product worked and I am forever grateful.
While the product development phase was in the works, I had begun designing the packaging with the help of my employer Jansy. I knew that between a team of talented designers and the network of their manufacturers, I was in good hands. The Jansy design team was instrumental in creating my overall style guide. They even took my packaging concept sketches and brought them to a life well beyond my expectations.
I also worked with Jansy to help develop and execute my custom ceramic cup and brush concept. The sampling process was easy and the quality came out exactly as I hoped. The biggest challenge was to develop everything at the same time while also making everything fit into the keauty kit as I envisioned. The cup had to be tall enough to catch the splatter of the powder and brew during the mixing process but it also had to be proportionate to the size of the product mixture.
Another challenge was establishing the fill weight of the powder mix together with the ratio of brewed coffee or tea. So, for every time I got to an approved lab formula and production batch, the # of spoonfuls of brew to powder needed to stay consistent. This all had to be validated before the boxes went into print.
Describe the process of launching the business.
I started with a soft launch just to get the website live. I needed to test to make sure everything on the back end of the website was working properly, including promo codes and shipping labels. I loaded my parent’s basement with boxes of products and taught my Mom how to manage fulfillment.
Once that was up and running, I started to post on Instagram to begin revealing the collection and start to build an aesthetic that goes with the brand. I try to post a few times a week and eventually posted my branding video on my Facebook business page which I boosted with Facebook advertising.
In the meantime, I am giving samples to family and friends, asking them to like and share my business page, and hoping for some organic growth. I am in the launching phase right now and so far, the feedback on the product is really great and most people who get the kits are coming back for the refills.
My expertise is really in the development and operations portion of the business, so launching and putting the marketing out there has been a little more of a learning process for me. I am constantly working to improve my marketing strategy and overall sales. The most reassuring thing is hearing positive feedback from customers about the product and seeing recurring orders as well as reviews.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
The best success I've seen thus far is the sales conversion from the keauty launch video. The video created a lot of awareness exceeding any of my expectations as I could see the number of views every day (including the number of shares along with overall engagement). I was fortunate to have family and friends share my keauty post but with the added exposure generated from Facebook's marketing boost feature (costing $15), I was able to hit 13k views in the first week alone.
I’ve also noticed free samples and promo codes go a long way because once a customer interacts with your product, they are very likely to come back for more which has proven to be true. To help spread awareness, I’ve made a list of influencers that fit our overall brand (beauty, skincare, wellness, kindness) and I dedicate a few hours per week to finding them and reaching out offering free samples. When they post and tag us, I can re-share their posts which helps me to create more content.
Over the next few weeks, I hope to get the product on amazon mainly because I think some consumers are searching on Amazon for gifts and products similar to how they search on google. In other words, when they are brainstorming and searching for products in a specific category as they are logged into their Amazon account, I would only be visible to them if I decide to add this as a sales channel.
Since my product lends itself to being a great gift for the holidays, I’ve had a lot of interest from small boutiques or salons who want to retail the product for gift giving. The few weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I’ve been calling on a few small businesses to see if they are interested in purchasing wholesale. I also plan to do some marketing around the holidays which would encourage people to purchase some keauty kits for gift giving including black Friday and Cyber Monday.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Today, the business is off to a strong start. We are really fortunate that our products fit in with today’s lifestyle with everyone staying at home. People are also really into self-care and wellness along with clean beauty. Naturally, we are a good fit for what people are looking for today. We sell direct-to-consumer through our website and thanks to Shopify, we can easily connect to Facebook, Instagram, and plan to expand to Amazon. We also sell the products wholesale to gift shops, beauty salons, and boutiques.
Currently, keauty only sells within the USA and as the business grows, I plan to get registered in the EU. One of the challenges we face is that not everyone who wants to try the product has a single-serve brewing system. Some people don’t let that stop them and they make the brew using a traditional tea strainer. In the future, I would like to offer a single-serve pour over so our customer base isn’t limited. A perfect complement to our detoxifying clay masks would be a moisturizer.
Long term, I would like to continue to grow the business and expand our offerings to customers.
Talk to people and leverage all of the resources that you have access to. You don’t need to know all of the answers when you start the business.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Becoming familiar with Shopify in general and learning how to start a business is the most valuable aspect of my journey. Now I know whatever new idea that comes to mind can be brought to life. Part of the learning process is trying to determine what comes first as you start to build everything up. For example, when I approved my lab sample and decided to proceed with mass production, I went ahead and printed my boxes with the final ingredient list. After the boxes were already made and ready to assemble, I needed to adjust the formula which meant I needed to either re-print or over label my boxes. Lots of little mistakes came up just because so many tasks depended on each other and without experience, it’s hard to know what comes first.
I also remember being in a rush to launch in the beginning, and I was very anxious because I felt that every day the website wasn’t active, I was losing money. I put a lot of pressure on myself to bring it to market quickly, and although that would have been ideal, the most important thing is actually to put a product out that’s right. Things did not go according to plan for me and I needed to go through the product development phase three times, but at no point was I willing to compromise the integrity of the product.
As I got closer to launching the business, my life got busier. My full-time job had become more demanding and when I became pregnant, I had morning sickness every day for weeks on end. As a result, there were stretches of time that I could not dedicate to keauty in the way that I originally set out to. There were so many times I felt that I was failing. Looking back, I know I did the right thing by holding my commitment to my full-time job, keeping myself healthy, enjoying my marriage, and of course, being the best mother I could be. Now that my daughter sleeps through the night, I carve out specific hours to work on the business without guilt. It’s often at night, and it often involves take-out food and helps from my husband with keeping on top of our household duties.
Fortunately, I have the help of my mom on the fulfillment side so I can focus on sales and marketing. In summary, launching the business took a really long time, but I had to do it in a way that was right for me. I guess looking back I can say, there is time to do everything you want to do if you give yourself grace, have a lot of support, and believe in what you are doing.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
I can’t say enough wonderful things about the Shopify platform. The site is extremely intuitive and helps walk you through all the needed steps. There are countless tools, videos, tutorials, blogs, and even a 24/7 chat that helped me whenever I needed it (even teaching me to code!). Because of Shopify, I think anyone can start an online business.
I also utilize Fiverr photo editing. For social media planning, I like Preview and Canva. Facebook has been wonderful for advertising and great to get the word out there. Last and certainly not least, I am thankful to always have Google when I get stuck.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
How I built this is a very inspiring podcast, great for entrepreneurs. I’ve also listened to Shopify Masters. I read the book Storybrand which really helped me to create an overall marketing mission to help keep me focused.
On a personal note, I think it’s important to keep your mind in check when you decide to take a big financial risk along with putting yourself out there for criticism. I had to work hard to make sure the fear and worry didn’t stop me every time I hit a speedbump. I’ve been very moved by the Oprah Super Soul Sunday Podcast which has had a great impact on my mental and spiritual health. One of the best quotes featured on this podcast, and brought to light by Brene Brown was written by FDR. I think every entrepreneur should have this in their back pocket.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Anything that you can put your mind to is possible. If you decide “this is what I am going to do” there is nothing that Youtube and Google can’t help you through.
Talk to people and leverage all of the resources that you have access to. You don’t need to know all of the answers when you start the business, you just need to have a strong conviction and a solid plan, and everything will follow.
I’ve listened to so many podcasts where people started at point A, and throughout the development process ended up in a different, more successful space. At the end of the day, if the business fails, you make mistakes, or you lose money, you put yourself in the arena, you educated yourself, you set yourself up for the next thing.
I always ask myself, what would I regret more, doing it, or not doing it. The answer is always the latter. For every successful entrepreneur, there were other ventures prior. Dedication, hard work, and passion for the project are what carry you through. Keep going.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
I could really use some help with internet marketing in general. Creating content, reaching out to influencers, formulating, and planning a strategy, and helping to maximize sales. Ideally, this would be an internship for a self-driven student with some entrepreneurial spirit.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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