Starting A Natural Skin Cream Business From Israel

Published: March 6th, 2019
Dena Gottlieb
Founder, TerraCure
from Modi'in Illit, Judea and Samaria, Palestinian Territory
started June 2017
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi. My name is Dena Gottlieb. I am an American ex-pat living in Israel. My husband, Elazar is an Israeli. We founded TerraCure about a year and a half ago to bring quality, natural, Dead Sea based creams for pain relief to the international market.

TerraCure offers a set of uniquely formulated products for muscle, joint, back, knee and tendon pain, based on a powerful synergy between Dead Sea minerals and essential oils. TerraCure’s products treat and significantly reduce pain while helping the body to heal itself.

Our biggest selling product is the complete set of pain relief products called “All Natural Chronic Herniated Disc and Joint Pain Solution”. This is a set of 3 different natural creams which are used alternated throughout the day and which offer a complete solution for people suffering from debilitating, chronic pain, for which conventional medicine doesn’t have much to offer, save complicated, invasive procedures.

Our customers are people who are suffering. We have many customers with herniated discs. Folks like this have usually tried many other solutions, including chiropractic, acupuncture, epidurals, injections and other things. They are tired of spending a lot of money on solutions that either don’t work or that wear off quickly. Most of our customers are also tired of taking painkillers that can affect their health adversely. We deal with many people who are over 45 and are suffering from what most over 45’ers suffer from - from normal wear and tear on the back and joints, to major back problems that paralyze them.

We have been privileged to help thousands of people with their pain, both here in Israel through our brick and mortar business and overseas (mostly in the U.S.), via our website. Much of our business is made up of returning customers. This is very exciting and gratifying for us.


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

I attended college in the U.S. and then spent 25 years in the Israeli Hi-Tech industry.

I worked at leading Israeli software firms and did a lot of selling and customer support. Dealing with people is my passion. I ditched my Hi-Tech career when it became more about the numbers and less about the people. I got sick of my bosses breathing down my neck with their increasing quotas (my last one was over $1 million).

I wouldn’t recommend outsourcing your ad campaigns. You are better off doing it yourself with outside help, in my opinion.

At some point, after I left the last software company where I had spent 7 years, we were introduced to a new Israeli Multi-Level Marketing business whose flagship product was a vegetarian form of Omega 3.

We believed in the product and loved using it. BUT, the whole MLM atmosphere was a major turnoff. We hated how everyone around us (family and friends) became a potential person for our downline and we also couldn’t stand the “brainwashing” that took place at the various events that were designed to get the distributors all pumped up.

The MLM company went belly up because of bad management, after about 2 years, but we were hooked on providing quality health products to people who knew how to appreciate quality.

Also, my husband, Elazar, is a very caring and compassionate person, who although not outgoing like me - loves to help people (especially the elderly) with their physical ailments. He also came from a family that never took prescription drugs.

During this period and preceding it, Elazar had been busy with his furniture business. He owned a furniture chain and long days of physical labor left him with a painful back, muscles, knees, and joints…and eventually a herniated disc. There was no real solution – only surgery or pills that didn't deal with the underlying issues, providing modest relief (plus side effects), as the problem got worse every year. Elazar began experimenting with many natural creams. He tried just about every available solution on the local market, none of which offered lasting relief.

Eventually, he discovered that a particular blend of Dead Sea minerals with other natural elements solved his problems. We decided that it would be a brilliant idea to create a line of 3 different products for pain, instead of just one type of cream.

What started as a clever marketing idea turned into a brilliant concept because each one of our creams has different essential oils in it, which means that each cream brings a different kind of relief to the table.

The three creams complement each other and offer our customers a complete, all-encompassing treatment package for dealing with the most difficult complicated pains in a natural manner. Using our creams actually helps people avoid surgery!! There is also a big advantage in the combination of Dead Sea minerals with essential oils.

There is a synergistic effect and it appears to us to be the best set of pain relief products in the world. The creams seem to penetrate down to the root of the deepest problems and help the body recover.

We involved professional formulators, scientists and manufacturers to come up with the perfect blend of minerals and essential oils. We outsourced production of the creams to local cosmetic cream manufacturers in various parts of Israel.

We found an inexpensive graphic artist and designed our logo and labels, while the products were being made. Once we had our finished products we decided to run a “pilot” here in Israel and began selling the products via our brick and mortar “store” to the local population. We did (and still do) street advertising and advertising in local circulars. People would call and we would talk to them about how the products could help them. Many of the people who spoke with us purchased the products for their pain. The feedback was amazing. Some people saw immediate relief and for some, it took longer. But there was no doubt that we were onto something big.

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

My genius husband is the brain behind our operation.

The set of three products was his idea (the manufacturers laughed at his ideas). He also sat with the formulators and discussed all the ideas. Together they decided on the ingredients and they created a basic prototype.

The prototype looked pretty good and afterward, they used this prototype to create the three final creams. Elazar also got a great eye for aesthetics so I always took him along to the graphic artist who designed our logo and labels. We did not hire a company to do “branding”.

What we did do is hire a marketing writer, who we met while waiting to do an MRI at a local hospital. He was there for an MRI of his torn rotator cuff and I was there for a hip issue! We met and talked and a few weeks later we called him and brought him on board! Of course, he tried our creams and enjoyed them. In parallel, he wrote our “Branding Bible” while hashing it out with us and understanding our vision, goals, target market etc. Part of what he wrote later became content for our website.

Regarding the manufacturing process - We found that it’s not a simple thing. The manufacturers took advantage of us, to a certain extent. The quality of the products was even better than we expected but there were other challenges regarding the packaging and quality control. I don’t want to go too much into detail but suffice it to say that when outsourcing production you really have to have your hand on the pulse of what is going on. We had to be involved in every step of the process.

One example is that when outsourcing a cosmetic cream it’s important to choose a plant that has vats that are of the appropriate size, in order for it to be cost effective for them. We had to do different processes in different places (one place makes the cream, another puts it into the containers etc.) Because we are small and work with smaller manufacturers, each one doesn’t have the ability to get through the entire process.

Something we learned here is that in the next line of products that we are planning, we plan on adding a cream that does contain some kind of anesthetic so that people can actually stop taking their painkillers completely.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I don’t think we did a proper and formal “launch”. We just kind of started to advertise and sell our products to the local market, once we had our labeling done and our products ready.

We hired a local company to build our website. Forgive me if I admit that both my husband and I were total jerks and neglected to ask them for references.

They seemed so knowledgeable and nice. Well, we learned our lesson.

We paid for half the job (about $2,000) and at that point, we cut our losses and fired them. We then found another local guy to finish the job and he did some work that was ok but he wasn’t a Shopify expert.

Eventually, we hired an Indian company/guy to help us out and get the site up and running. It seemed that all was going well, but he insisted on throwing out the $150 theme we had purchased and redesigned the site using a free theme, into which inserted his own code. So, now I have a home page which I cannot play around with or modify at all. We are no longer working with him and now we’re stuck, until we decide to shell out $300 for a new, flexible theme and also a redesign. We are not happy campers.

We spent tens of thousands of dollars building and promoting our website. We put an emphasis on good and compelling content (we must have done a half decent job because we get a very nice amount of organic traffic these days).

We poured over $150,000 into our business to date, including manufacturing costs, salaries, website costs and it was necessary to go through our savings + take out loans to do this.

We still have products in our brains that we want to produce as soon as possible, including special creams for skin treatment, based on the Dead Sea. We don’t have the resources to do this right now and we are actively seeking an investor to infuse much-needed funds to enable us to grow.

Lessons learned

First of all - make sure you have a high-quality product. We were very careful to choose the finest ingredients and make our products as natural as possible. A product that does what it says it will do is numero uno.

Always ask for references. Don’t rely on your gut feeling because sometimes it’s wrong! It’s good to have capital to start with, although in our case it wasn’t an option.

Proofread. Really. I printed up a gazillion business cards with a major mistake.

Bottom line: Everyone needs to go through their own process. It’s really hard to learn from others’ mistakes!

Through using a website, you can reach the entire world. But you have to take into account that it takes a lot of time and resources to do it properly. Today we feel that we are only in the beginning as new challenges are constantly coming up. We won’t be relaxing any time soon.

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

Our marketing is made up of direct marketing to the customer here in Israel, direct marketing to customers in the U.S., ecommerce via our site and distributors.

Our products are not sold in stores at all. This is complicated. We do not have employees and it is just my husband and myself. Till this point, we have been most successful in our direct marketing and this is where we received our best feedback. Recently, we began concentrating more efforts on our online business and have raised it from hundreds of dollars a month to over a thousand in recent months.

Forget about perfect. Don’t wait until your website is perfect to go live and start generating income.

We will soon begin building up our network of distributors here and in the U.S.

Regarding our online growth, my husband consulted with an expert once upon a time and told him that we had invested a lot in our site and were not selling. The expert asked if we had never made a sale and my husband answered: “We sold one”. The expert replied that if we made one sale we can make many sales. This is our motto.

We have invested and are continuing to invest a lot of our resources in improving our site, our SEO and our traffic. I can practically write a book about this! Where do I begin?

First of all, do not make the mistake we did of paying someone a retainer to “do SEO”. We paid and he didn’t. We did pay a private consultant who helped us with keyword research and taught me how to set up all the important tags on the site.

We also invested in quality content for the site. I wrote some of the content myself and I outsourced some of it. Some were outsourced to a pricey writer who is local. Eventually, we had to move over to FIVERR where I actually found a really good writer from India who provided some quality material.

She was good about putting internal and external links into the text and focusing on the keywords we provided. This is so important. A lot of the writers on FIVERR are not native English speakers and in the beginning, I had to wade through some trashy material till I found someone who turns out good work.

We must have done and we must be doing something right. Because this week I checked a few phrases that we are targeting with our SEO and we are (I can’t believe I’m writing this) NUMBER 1 on Google for these phrases. We get a nice chunk of traffic to our site from organic searches. This month 25% of our traffic came from Google and over a third of our sales came from organic searches!

In the beginning of our online journey, we hired someone to do Google Adwords advertising for us. We had been told that if we drive paid traffic that the money would come in fast. So, we paid a monthly retainer (about $375 or so) + Adwords budget (don’t remember how much) and our guy did the research and set up campaigns for us.

What can I tell you - in three months we still hadn’t broken even, in terms of covering our advertising costs. That was very disappointing, but normal for the beginning.

Then, I found a mastermind group (Inner Circle of Social Sales Girls) which I am part of till today. In this group there is a classroom where I can learn all about FB advertising, driving traffic and conversions. There is also a closed group on FB where we all ask questions, share our successes and failures and give and receive a lot of support. I used to be petrified and confused by the whole Facebook ad center and I thought I would have to outsource all of this. BUT one thing we learned from our Google Adwords experience is that it’s not good to put all the work into someone else’s hands if he’s not going to share exactly how he did it!

So, I jumped in and learned how to set up the ads on Facebook and how to measure success. Without measuring you can’t really know how campaigns and ads are doing. Unfortunately, our advertising efforts on Facebook are also not bringing in much return! My mentor (Susan Bradley) says that it’s important to focus on this cold market, get people to the site and once they’re there - BAM! I’ve got them in my Facebook pixel and can re-target them. This is true. But, the fact remains that we are not seeing enough income directly from our FB advertising.

We recently started some one on one consulting sessions with a local consultant and these sessions have helped us produce FB ads that are converting!

We have set up a mailing list using MailChimp, but I am definitely remiss about using it properly. I had an email capture popup but I couldn’t seem to get it right. I offered a 15% discount to people who signed up but the popup appeared to soon, so that didn’t work well.

Later, I changed it to show up after 30 seconds but recently I took the popup down. I was also told by my consultant that popups are not good for the mobile crowd. To be honest, I need to put it back because now the only people who sign up to my list are the ones who buy products! I do have a welcome series of emails set up, in order to get people back to the site a few times within a week of their first visit. But, I do not send out a weekly email and this is a mistake. Maybe this is the reason I make very few sales via the newsletter. This is an area that we MUST work on. I suspect we are leaving money on the table here.

Most of our return customers just come back because they love the products. We are big on good support. We answer emails immediately. Sometimes we call our customers with regard to their orders and we always send a freebie with our orders, including a personal note. One guy always makes a nice order when I run a sale. He waits for them and I advertise them in the newsletter.

We are currently not on Amazon and have never sold via Amazon. It’s not an option for us right now.

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

Look, to be very honest here - our business is doing very nicely.

Our biggest challenge is that we have a lot of debt from building the business. And for this reason, we are unable to introduce a new product line.

We are working on either finding an investor or obtaining a government guaranteed loan for the business that will enable us to really grow - add on to our product line and do more massive advertising.

At the moment, the business is maintaining itself but we cannot take decent salaries out of it. So, the products are great. The feedback from our customers is great. But we are progressing too slowly because issues not connected to our website or products.

We have a problem with our conversion rate. It’s way under what it should be and we haven’t been able to figure out why yet. Could be because of the fact that our site runs slowly on mobile.

At this point, we are always looking for manufacturers to manufacture products for us. But the manufacturers demand that we make a large amount of products. Only if we are able to sell huge amounts of our products to distributors, through our site etc., then we will have a good profit margin. Right now it’s hard to determine what our profit margin is. When we finish our inventory we’ll know.

Most of our sales happen directly through our brick and mortar store. The site is becoming more central to our business as we increase our traffic. The next step is to bring in distributors who will make a nice profit and contribute to the growth of the business.

We are always looking to expand and we hope to do this through our site. We have already begun to make sales in places like Australia, Malaysia and the UK and this is a good beginning.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Shopify is our e-commerce platform. We use the JudgeMe app for collecting customer reviews and we love their support, even for the free plan!

MailChimp is our platform for emails. Can’t say I’m thrilled with MailChimp. I find it awkward and hard to use.

We use Justuno’s free plan for collecting emails. What can I say? I think you need a PHD to use Justuno. Way too complicated for my taste.

Google Analytics - Slowly but surely, I’m learning how to use it. Very useful tool. It has way more information than the Shopify dashboard.

We use Fiverr for a lot for things like Shopify coding for small jobs, graphic design, content for our blog etc. You have to poke around and find quality people there but it’s possible to get some good results for a decent price.

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

I have no time for influential books and podcasts. I’m sorry. I am an active member of the Social Sales Girls Inner Circle and the owner of this, Susan Bradley, is a mentor.

She has been running a successful ecommerce store for years, so I learn from her what works and what doesn’t and I find her real, down to earth and inspirational. She runs a “Traffic Bootcamp” for free every few months. I highly recommend that everyone do it!!

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

Forget about perfect. Don’t wait until your website is perfect to go live and start generating income. BUT, make sure it’s a customizable website so that you can continuously make changes!! We made the mistake of having a highly customized home page and now we’re a bit stuck. Too costly to make changes.

Another thing - If you haven’t built your site yet, make sure you use a new Shopify theme that is very fast on a mobile phone! Most of our traffic comes from mobiles and currently, we have a theme which is too slow. Argh!

I wouldn’t recommend outsourcing your ad campaigns. You are better off doing it yourself with outside help, in my opinion. Either sign up for a mentor program like the one I mentioned (TSSG Inner Circle) or find yourself a consultant or two. Don’t let anyone do the work for you.

You must retain control and know what is happening. And please, please - should you hire someone to do your Facebook advertising - make sure YOU retain control over the pixel. Make sure they use YOUR pixel and not their own. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, find out fast. You need to control your assets.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for graphic designers to help us with creatives for our advertising. Our budget is limited though, so we usually go to Fiverr.

We used to pay someone for PPC but we but now I do it myself with the help of a paid consultant.

I am always open to hearing about consultants who are reasonably priced. Other than this, we don’t have a budget yet to hire anyone.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!