On Creating An Oil Based Skin Care Brand

Published: September 21st, 2019
Joyce & Jenny Tse
Velvette Organics
from Alberta, Canada
started June 2017
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Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

Hello! We are Joyce and Jenny Tse from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Combining our backgrounds in Chemical Engineering and Accounting, we are the sister founder team behind Velvette Organics.

At Velvette Organics, we specialize in all natural, organic, facial, hair and body oils. Oils are a great alternative to traditional creams and lotions and are amazing at hydrating and restoring your skin’s moisture barrier. We’ve done extensive research into the many plant oils that exist in the world and formulated our own custom blends for each application. We’ve used high concentrations of luxurious oils that you rarely find in other products, and have cut out harmful fillers like silicones, and created a product that is 100% active ingredients. Because our oils are so concentrated, one tiny drop is equivalent to one pump of cream! Our oils are not greasy or sticky, and are extremely versatile and complements any beauty routine.

Since launch, we’ve been featured in publications like Hello Giggles and Organic Authority, and our Premium Hair Oil was nominated as one of the best hair styling products at Indie Beauty Expo in New York last year. We just shipped our largest order to date in June, and our revenues have increased by 450% from last year!


What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?

Ever since we were young, we’ve been interested in beauty! As kids, we grew increasingly curious about the ingredients in our beauty products. We were shocked and frustrated we were at the number of harmful and filler ingredients we found, so we created our own products in order to take full control of what we put on ourselves.

There are so many factors that can contribute to whether something works or doesn’t work for you, and the only way is to really try!

Not only were we interested in beauty as little kids, we were serial entrepreneurs. We ran garage sales with our family, sold trinkets on eBay, dabbled in dropshipping, and even got into the world of tech startups. Joyce became more curious about technology and explored topics like web design and programming, while Jenny learned to crunch numbers as an Accountant.

Our story began in 2016, when we were preparing for our 3 month long trip to South East Asia. Like many other women, we followed a multi-step skincare routine consisting of toners, serums, creams, and different products for every inch of our bodies. With only a few hours left to pack, we poured a few of our favourite plant oils into a travel sized container and that was all we brought! We created a simple all-in-one solution for our skincare needs, and our skin became even better than before!

Upon returning home, we realized there was an opportunity to take our oil blends to market, and we did extensive research within our own networks (no animals, only humans!) to ensure we had come up with the best possible products for our new company.

Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?

Despite our attempts as serial entrepreneurs prior to Velvette Organics, none of our companies ever fully took off. We were familiar with concepts like minimum viable product and had read lots on startups, but had we known how many challenges and work launching a beauty brand entails, perhaps we wouldn’t have gone down this path! It was raw passion, faith in our formulation, and a bit of naivety that led us to begin.

A few months before launch, we worked hard to build our website, correspond with numerous suppliers, and design each component of our product. We kept our development costs lean and mean by producing each product at home by hand (in our very clean lab space). We only produced as much product as we needed, and because Joyce did all the design work we were able to keep everything literally in-house.

When we launched on June 1st, 2017, we thought the internet was everything and that “if we build it, the [customers] will come”. We had built a beautiful website, took pretty pictures of our Premium Hair Oil (our first and only product that we launched initially - other products were introduced after we were able to verify our company’s viability), and ran a video ad campaign featuring how to use our hair oil. We couldn’t be more wrong! Aside from a few sales from friends who had supported us, all of our efforts were futile.

As a new brand, we realized we had to create a loyal base of fans and to truly understand what appealed to our customers. That meant attending markets, pop-ups, and shows in person to meet potential customers, to share our story and to let them sample our products! We then signed up for numerous shows and markets all over North America, which proved to be an invaluable experience! As a new brand it’s important to be able to understand your customers and meet with them to hear their feedback, comments and suggestions! We were excited to be able to meet our lovely customers, and also other brand owners at these shows who gave us helpful industry advice.

Now, we’ve been trying a variety of different channels to gain exposure, ranging from markets, social media, trade shows, to online ads. We are constantly trying new things and even still, we are far from having truly figured it out. You never really stop learning as an entrepreneur!

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are steadily growing and increasing our brand presence, and we are happy that our products continue to be well loved by customers both new and old. While it truly helps to have strong products, we’ve realized that marketing accounts for the majority of a beauty brand’s success!

As we’ve bootstrapped our entire business, we are limited in the amount of marketing budget we have, which makes it difficult for us to grow faster. We’ve heard that it takes on average 7-8 exposures for a customer to buy a beauty product, and the acquisition cost for a new customer is approximately $90 USD. These statistics we haven’t verified, but it certainly doesn’t feel far from the truth seeing our own performance! We’ve noticed many of the most successful beauty brands spend as much revenue as they generate, so they aren’t necessarily profiting despite having a large brand presence.

We are trying a variety of different channels to increase our revenue, and have a few potential new exciting leads, but we are still not profitable by our second year. Our revenue has grown significantly (450%) since last year, but so have our expenses! In the short term, we hope to continue to expand our brand footprint in the USA, which is where we believe most of our target customers are.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

We’ve learned how important it is to be able to be involved in as many facets of the business as possible, right from the start. Not only does it keep your operations and expenses lean, by dabbling in each aspect you learn quickly what needs to change, and what is working for you.

Each business is different, even if they are in the same industry. There are so many factors that can contribute to whether something works or doesn’t work for you, and the only way is to really try! We really believe in the minimum viable product model where you try something, see how the market reacts, and re-iterate until you get the right formula. We are constantly fine tuning our pitch at markets, testing out new revenue channels, advertising techniques, and so forth. We still haven’t gotten the “right formula”, and this “right formula” can often change as the market is fluid, but being adaptable is something we find to be crucial for entrepreneurs.

Talking to customers was also something we found to be extremely important for our business. We participate in numerous markets and sell each product ourselves, so we’ve been able to get good direct feedback from people who try our products. By seeing first hand how potential customers are interacting with your product, we’ve learned to identify the attributes that each different demographic resonate best with!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Shopify has been amazing for us and we love how simple it is to use. As entrepreneurs, we have limited time, so the easier a tool is the better. They have many useful extensions and their templates are beautiful, sleek and professional.

Joyce has recently discovered Boomerang for Gmail, which was life-changing for her. She’s a night owl and often works late at night (12-3 am)! By using Boomerang, she was able to schedule all her emails to send out early morning the next day, so no one has to receive emails at 3 am anymore.

Hubspothas also been a good one for notifying us if people have read our emails, and also for tracking deals. Later is also great for scheduling social media posts. Good old excel has still been our go-to for most things!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Hands down, Sam Altman (Y Combinator)’s How to Start a Startup! They have 20 lectures going through things all startups have to know, and it's one of our favorite resources to date.

Because we are in the beauty space, some of the practices in the How to Start a Startup lecture doesn’t really apply, but we just have to tweak accordingly. We often listen to different podcasts or interviews featuring other entrepreneurs, they are super inspirational, but nothing has come quite close to the impact of How to Start a Startup yet.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Our biggest advice is to stop hesitating, and try taking your idea to market!

So many people let an idea sit in their minds but are afraid or too lazy to act on it. The modern world has made it easier than ever to build a presence and many tasks that used to be costly and inefficient can all be done with a click of a mouse.

Build a minimum viable product (google this, it’s important) and get as many people to try it as possible. Don’t worry too much about perfecting it, because chances are your idea will change in the process. If it’s something the market wants, they’ll buy. Keep iterating until customers are willing to buy, then maybe you’ve got something promising! You won’t know without trying.

Where can we go to learn more?