How I Started A Paleo-Certified $40K/Month Natural Skincare Brand

FATCO
About The Company
Coming Up With The Idea
Building The Product
Launching The Business
Growing The Business
Revenue + Financials
Lessons Learned
Recommended Tools
Books & Resources
Advice For Founders
$40,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
product
FATCO
from Chico, California, USA
started April 2014
$40,000
revenue/mo
1
Founders
2
Employees
720K
alexa rank
1K
followers
13
subs
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Listen to the audio version of this story!

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Cassy Burnvoth, and I am the Founder & CEO of FATCO, at FATCO, we specialize in making Natural & Organic personal care products using tallow (aka rendered beef fat) from grass-fed, pasture-raised, happy & healthy cows!

Tallow is extremely nourishing & nutrient-dense and is healing for skin conditions like eczema & psoriasis. We also carry a full line of Cleansing Oils and Deodorants, thus offering products for everyone in your family! Our flagship product is our Stank Stop Natural Deodorant! It is available in a cream and a stick and is available in 4 different scents.

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I want to make a note here that when I originally launched the brand in 2014, we were called “FATFACE Skincare.” Around the middle of 2015, we had a trademark dispute and were contacted by another company of the same name. We tried to fight it for a while, but In the end, they were much bigger than us, and we decided to rebrand. We re-launched in 2015 as our new brand, FATCO! Typically, I always refer to the brand as FATCO, but it was in fact called something different for the first year and a half.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

I grew up on the East Coast and graduated from college with a degree in Mechanical Engineering in 2005. Soon after I graduated, I moved out to San Diego, where I quickly got a job in Automotive Manufacturing (at a company called Autosplice).

I worked there for 10 years. I enjoyed my job and was making really good money (maybe about $90K when I left) but I never felt like I was recognized or used to my full potential. I was a female engineer who worked at a company where all of the executives were men. I recognized that there wasn’t much potential for upward growth, so I started contemplating my next move.

I first read It Starts With Food back in 2012 and did my first "Whole30" that year. Eating Paleo Changed My Life! I felt better and had a ton more energy! As I started paying more attention to the foods that I was putting into my body, I also started paying a lot more attention to the products that I was using ON my skin. I started taking a deeper dive into the products I was using on a daily basis (shampoo, body wash, makeup, etc) and realized that many of these products were full of toxic chemicals and dangerous ingredients. So, I started making many of my own personal care products.

I started researching and learning a lot about the topical benefits of tallow from grass-fed cows. Through the Weston A Price Foundation website, I learned that Tallow from grass-fed, pasture-raised animals is very high in vitamins A, D, K, and E, all of which are very important for skin health.

Tallow is also incredibly nutrient-dense and healing for skin conditions like Eczema, Psoriasis, Keratosis Pilaris and Dermatitis. So, I slowly started integrating more animal fats into my recipes, and the products I was making were amazing!

For a long time, Fats and Oils have gotten a REALLY bad rap. But more recently, many people in the medical community are beginning to recognize the health benefits of integrating healthy fats into your diet. Things like coconut oil, avocados, and grass-fed butter are becoming more and more acceptable, and are even being touted as "good for you"!

We use similar vegetable-based fats (shea butter, coconut oil, cocoa butter) in our products, but we also integrate healthy animal fats into our formulations, too! Fats and Oils are so incredibly healing for your skin, and can actually aid your skin in its own ability to balance itself! Fats and oils are truly remarkable for your skin!

Surround yourself with people who believe in you and believe in what you are doing. If the people in your life don't believe in what you're doing as much as you do, it will eventually become toxic and stifling to your success.

I am not an esthetician. I do not have a deep-rooted background in cosmetics or the skincare industry. All I knew was that I was making some really amazing skincare products in my kitchen and that other people would benefit from them! And I also knew that no one else was touting their use of animal fats as a key ingredient. But I did know that those in the paleo community would be very receptive to these types of products!

So, I started to do some research into the rules & regulations within the personal care category. Lucky for me (at the time), there were very limited regulations around what was required to legally start producing skincare products, or around what ingredients were allowed and which were not. While this was beneficial for me, in the end, I believe that it’s extremely disappointing for the general consumer. This means that big businesses can use whatever ingredients they want (good or bad) and never have to run it by a governing body. Personally, this scares the crap out of me, as a consumer.

Unfortunately, many commercially available personal-care products on the market today are full of toxins and chemicals! This makes it very difficult for the consumer to know what's "good" and what's "bad". Many products contain ingredients that can affect our fertility, can disrupt our hormones, and that can cause cancer!

Many companies claim that these chemicals and toxins are found in such small quantities that they will never really "cause consumer harm." But considering that the average woman uses 12 skincare products per day and that these products are used repeatedly every single day, this can result in our bodies being bombarded by chemicals! And this is from products that we believe are going to be helping us!

So for a long time, I wanted to start a business, but couldn't think of anything that I was passionate enough about to make it into a business. But as I began to learn more about the dangers of conventional skincare products, along with the recent popularity of “healthy fats”, I thought that I might be onto something.

Eventually, a friend of mine gave me the push I needed to start FATCO! She convinced me that these products I was making were unlike anything she had used and that there really was nothing else like it on the market! And she was right...these products are truly one of a kind, even 6 years later!!

The "Nose to Tail" philosophy is one that I personally believe in deeply, and it has become a key pillar in our brand ethos! You can even see our dedication to this philosophy in our logo! “Nose to Tail” is the idea of using every single piece of the animal, and not letting any of it go to waste. This means using the bones for making broth, eating the nutrient-dense organ meats, and using the fat to create some pretty kick-a$$ skincare products!

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The meat industry is one which is NOT going away anytime soon (almost everyone I know personally eats meat) so we believe in supporting the ranchers who are doing it right and not supporting the ranchers who are doing it wrong. This is why we're so picky about who we source our tallow from. We only use the highest quality tallow that comes from grass-fed, pasture-raised, happy cows! Our current primary source for tallow is based out of Colorado, and they source their fat from 25 US-based, family-owned farms.

how-i-started-a-paleo-certified-40k-month-natural-skincare-brand

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

As previously mentioned, FATCO is a business that was born from my hobby. But, there’s a huge difference between making one small jar of deodorant using a Pinterest recipe on your stovetop, and beginning to mass produce that product! Since I had been making the products for a long time, I had finalized the recipes, but the hardest work was understanding how to increase the recipe to make much larger quantities of that product.

Luckily, I had a very solid background in costing. At the time, I was a Costing Engineer for my company, so I had a very solid understanding of how to create BOM’s (bills of material) using Excel. I actually created my first detailed cost sheets in excel, along with BOM’s for each product. This allowed me to be able to understand how much of each raw ingredient I needed to purchase. This was key, considering I launched the brand with about 10 different products, each having different size options, which all used about 40 different ingredients!

I had a friend from high school design my product labels. I designed my website using Squarespace. I worked with an attorney to apply for a trademark, for the brand name, as well as a few product names. Unfortunately, the attorney that we worked with didn’t do much research around international companies, because a few months later we received a cease & desist letter from another company (called FATFACE, as that’s what our brand was called at the time). We tried to fight it for a while, but In the end, they were much bigger than us, and we decided to rebrand. We re-launched in 2015 as our new brand, FATCO!

Launching the brand in 2014, I did everything myself. I was making all of the products in my kitchen. This included manufacturing, sealing, & labeling. I would then fulfill my online orders each day, and drive them down to my local post office. I maintained all of our social media pages. Let’s just say that first year, I learned a LOT! I joke now that you can learn how to do almost anything with a little help from Google and YouTube!

One of our first trade shows:

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Shipping orders via 2015:

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Hand Labeling via 2015:

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Recipe Development: how-i-started-a-paleo-certified-40k-month-natural-skincare-brand how-i-started-a-paleo-certified-40k-month-natural-skincare-brand how-i-started-a-paleo-certified-40k-month-natural-skincare-brand

Manufacturing, The Early Days:

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Describe the process of launching the business.

In 2014 when I decided to launch the brand I was actually still working at my full-time engineering in the job. I had about $10,000 in my savings account, and after some quick calculations, I figured I could probably start this company with that amount of money (considering I had zero overhead because I was doing everything myself). I was dating someone at the time whose job was moving him to Lake Tahoe, and he had asked me if I wanted to move with him. For many entrepreneurs, making the decision of when to leave your full-time job is a very difficult one...but I feel lucky because, for me, the move to Lake Tahoe was kind of my “forced start date.” So I quit my job at Autosplice and decided that I was going to make the move to run FATCO full-time in June of 2014.

I built my first website using Squarespace. It was great because it was cheap, and had extremely easy-to-use tools. Over the course of about a month, I built my website (using photos taken with my iPhone). When it was done, I called up my mom and asked her to place an order! Mostly, because I wanted to make sure the checkout page worked! So my mom is insanely proud to tell everyone that she knows that she was “customer #1” for FATCO!

One pivotal day for the company was when I randomly met Steph Gaudreau in a grocery store! When I first started FATCO, I was living in San Diego. One day, while shopping at my local Sprouts market, I saw Steph of StupidEasyPaleo grocery shopping! I had followed her on IG for a long time, so I knew who she was, but didn't want to seem like a creepy-stalker. But I had a "you must seize the moment" feeling, and I knew that if I didn't go up and talk to her that I would regret it for the rest of my life!

So I approached her, and as she was amazing! She is one of the sweetest and genuine bloggers I have ever met! She immediately loved the idea and said she wanted to do a giveaway with her followers. That was the first giveaway that we ever did, and there were 10,000 people who registered for that giveaway! From there, our social media pages began to blow up!

This was huge for us because, in the beginning, ALL of our marketing was done via social media. I basically would make these tiny sample jars of our products, and send messages out to bloggers and “influencers” in the Paleo space and ask them if I could send them free products for them to try out. Many were extremely open to it, and we grew very quickly via word of mouth in the first year. We actually did $200,000 in revenue in our first 9 months!

In 2016 we did our first large trade show (Natural Products Expo East) and began to make more connections with retailers. In 2017, we were approached by the buyer for Natural Beauty at Target, and later that year I flew out to meet them. We participated in the Target Takeoff incubator program in May 2017, during which time they told us that they wanted to launch us in a small subset of stores in January 2018! This was beyond exciting! Target was a retailer that I had dreamed of working with, due to the fact that they are pioneers in bringing more green/clean beauty brands to the masses! We launched into about 600 Target stores in January 2018.

While having our products carried by a major retailer was incredible, our placement in the “natural beauty” aisle was always a bit challenging. Our best seller during our time at Target was our Stank Stop Natural Deodorant, but I always thought that most consumers shopped the deodorant aisle when looking for this product. Also, to someone who’s never heard of FATCO, our brand requires a lot of education. We found this to be extremely difficult to communicate on a store shelf. In the end, our sales velocities just weren’t meeting the buyer’s expectations, so after 2 ½ years, they decided to pull us (in July 2020).

I wish I had asked for more help early on. I learned a lot of things on my own, and it stunted my growth in the beginning. There are TONS of people out there who want to help you and see you be successful...take advantage of that!

Our FIRST website (built using Squarespace):

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Our NEW Website (Built using Bigcommerce in April 2015):

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I feel like we’ve done it all, and for us, the most effective marketing has been 1) growing our email list, and continuously marketing to them, 2) FB and IG ads, and 3) being active on our own social media pages, and 4) partnering with other like-minded brands for giveaways.

We just started working with an agency on our FB ads, and our retargeting ads are performing insanely well, with a 3.59 ROAS. Running FB ads is something that I tried to do myself for a long time, but have recently decided that it’s something best left to the professionals.

Right now I’m organizing a “sample swap” with a few other brands...basically, we will send sample packets and coupon code cards to another company, and they will include those samples in their online orders, and we will do the same with their samples. Since we do our own fulfillment in-house, this is a really easy project for us to take on. I love having our fulfillment in the house because it allows us to be creative with marketing opportunities like this!

We’ve worked with a few PR firms over the years, and honestly, we never had much luck with them. They were extremely expensive, and in retrospect, it probably would have been better if we had spent that money elsewhere.

Re. Amazon...we work with an agency to help manage our Amazon listings as well as Amazon Ads. While we always try to focus heavily on our D2C sales, we decided about 2 years ago to jump into the amazon arena, because you simply cannot deny the power of the platform. We have seen tremendous results through our amazon channel, and are trying all the time to grow that side of the business. However, we do not offer ALL of our products on Amazon, but rather focus on our top-selling items, as well as 2-packs of our most popular products.

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

As of today, the future's looking bright! We’re on track to finish the year around $500K, maybe more if our business keeps growing like we’ve seen it grow in the past 2 months.

Conversion rate: about 5%,

Email subscribers: 22,000

FB AD Spend: $2,000-$3,000/mth

ROAS: 2.13

Social Media Followers: 30,000

CAC: about $10

We are an extremely small company, which I think surprises most people. I met my husband, Tim, in 2016, and he joined the FATCO team in 2017 as our Manager of Ops & Logistics. As of today, we are a 2-person company...Tim focuses on procurement & planning, and shipping & order fulfillment, while I focus on Sales & Marketing (and everything else). We had a baby a year ago, so this past year has been a bit of a transition period for us. Luckily, we live close by our 2 moms who help us with childcare a LOT!

We both work out of our main warehouse located in Chico, CA, where we warehouse all of our inventory and do our own fulfillment in-house. I love doing our own fulfillment as it allows us to get really creative and completely customize the unboxing experience, which I LOVE! We were using a 3PL for about a year in 2016, and it was a horrible experience...they lost inventory, they were awful to communicate with, and it was always extremely difficult to work with them. We are so much happier now that we manage our own fulfillment!

We outsourced our Manufacturing in 2015, after beginning to have conversations with retailers. Both of our manufacturers are small, and they are both located in Austin, TX.

Right now, we’re definitely going through a transitionary period as far as the business goes. The recent loss of a rather large retail account (Target) has caused us to re-evaluate our business a bit. While the loss of this type of retail partner could be devastating for most companies, we’re working our way through it, and re-prioritizing our D2C channels. We’re starting to increase our ad spend on social as well as Amazon, in an attempt to make-up that revenue elsewhere. It’s not easy, but I know that we’ll make our way through it!

I’m currently forecasting about a 45% D2C/45% Amazon/10% Wholesale split through the end of the year. However, the holidays are typically huge for us, so numbers in Nov and Dec can definitely skew from those percentages.

We’re always looking to grow our wholesale business but have found more success with small mom-and-pop type accounts than the big guys. We’ve done many trade shows (Expo West, Expo East, Paleo FX, Indie Beauty Expo, etc etc) and have met all of the pertinent buyers, but we have always struggled to gain more shelf space. I do attribute this to the fact that we’re using animal fats in our products. It feels crazy to me that while only about 4% of the population would identify as “vegan”, that the trend in skincare is “plant-based” and “vegan friendly”...why is this??

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

I feel lucky to have started the company when I did. In 2014, there were tons of tools available to help a first-time entrepreneur build a business. And social media marketing was in its infancy. Starting this business now would have been a much bigger challenge.

The ability to use EXCEL! I use excel every single day...for planning, for accounting, and for so much more! If you want to start a business (or already have a business) you should definitely have a solid understanding of how to use it!

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our website is hosted on Shopify, which we LOVE! There are thousands of apps you can install on your site, which makes it possible to do anything & everything! We use ReCharge (for subscriptions), Klaviyo (for email marketing), BOLD (for upsell), LoyaltyLion (for rewards program), stamped.io (for reviews), and ShippingEasy (for shipping & fulfillment).

I also use Canva all the time! I use it to design images for social media and for our newsletter, as well as FB ads, print collateral, and tons more! I might even go as far as to say that Canva is my most favorite tool!

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

I LOVE How I Built This! I was actually featured during the last 2 minutes of the Patagonia episode!

I'm also a huge fan of Gary Vaynerchuck, Start Something That Matters, Blue Ocean Strategy, and #Girlboss (for all you female entrepreneurs out there).

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

1) Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and believe in what you are doing. If the people in your life don't believe in what you're doing as much as you do, it will eventually become toxic and stifling to your success.

2) I wish I had asked for more help early on. I learned a lot of things on my own, and it stunted my growth in the beginning. There are TONS of people out there who want to help you and see you be successful...take advantage of that!

3) Check the Trademark availability of your business name before you get started! I did this 3 months after I started, and it has proven to be a bit of a problem. Work with an attorney that you like and trust, and can communicate the legal jargon to you effectively!

Finally, If you want it, Just GO FOR IT! Nothing worth having comes without risks or hard work! If you're willing to put in the time and energy, anyone can have a successful business. But I will not sugar coat it...it is HARD WORK. You will work harder and more hours than you ever did at your 9-5 job. But the reward and feeling that comes from working for yourself and creating something amazing are Priceless!

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Cassy Burnvoth,   Founder of FATCO

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