Molly Beane is the founder/CEO of clean beauty startup From Molly With Love. Molly started the company as a kitchen-table startup in 2016. Less than three years later, her products are sold in hundreds of retailers with international distribution. Molly and FMWL have been featured in Good Morning America, Well + Good, Pop Sugar, Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, BuzzFeed, Forbes, and other publications. frommollywithlove.com
Can you tell our readers about your background?
I am a first-generation college graduate who was determined to succeed and break the cycle of poverty that I was born into. I began my career in PR, communications, and marketing - working for PR Firms and in communications positions with the U.S. EPA and U.S. DOE.
Although I liked my jobs, I was always searching for more. I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur 10 years before I ever started my first business.
What inspired you to start your business?
After experiencing early childhood trauma, I began to self-medicate by “working hard and playing hard.” In 2016, I realized that I was “playing too hard” and entered myself into rehab to quit drinking. During that time, I lost my job in PR.
I’d always wanted to have the courage to branch out on my own and now I was being forced into it.
Years before that, I became obsessed with all things “clean” skincare and started crafting my own concoctions and reading up on ingredients and formulations. I took a trip to Seoul in 2015 that really inspired me because I was so enthralled by Korea’s innovations in skin care.
Although my friends urged me to turn my hobby into a business but I didn’t think I could. Until I was fired from that job.
I had a full product line already created, just no labels, website, or money. So with $300 and without proper labeling, I put From Molly With Love on Etsy.
I started getting good reviews and invested in labeling, proper branding, and developing an eCommerce website. We also starting pitching our products to small retail stores like boutiques and gift shops.
Less than 3 years later, we are sold in hundreds of stores in 4 countries, including major retailers like Urban Outfitters and Francesca’s! We’ve even won local small business awards!
Our baby business has grown from my kitchen to selling around the world.
Where is your business based?
We are based on the beach in Sunny San Diego, California. But we have distribution centers and labs based in Texas and Florida, respectively.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
My motto is “don’t let the perfect get in the way of the good.” I started before I was ready.
I knew I could put my oils, sprays, and creams in jars, take some photos on my iPhone, and put them up on Etsy and social media just to get them out in the world. I was able to gather proof of concept while making revenue so I could iterate and improve as I went. We were also using customer feedback to fine tune our products and selection.
I started selling at craft fairs - anywhere that would let me put up a table, really. I could see the buyers’ reactions to help refine my line, and I also noticed what kind of branding they were drawn to. I began collecting email addresses.
This helped me when, 3-months in, we hired Loki Loki (another woman-owned business) and it was time to “really” create the brand. I had a clear idea already of what was going to sell, who our target customer was, what look & feel would work best with that audience, etc. We also developed a clear brand narrative, which is part of our USP.
Before we even had our e-commerce website launched, we had labels, so I knew I could pitch our line to stores. So we started pitching 25 stores a day, 5 days a week. And we did land wholesale accounts before that site was ever launched!
And to be honest, we’re still iterating and improving. But if I had waited to start until it was perfect, we wouldn’t exist today.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
Our business is both B2B and B2C. I asked myself, “what is the least expensive way of marketing FMWL to those audiences?”
● For B2B, it was researching stores, sending emails and providing samples. It cost me almost nothing to acquire long-term retail customers.
● For B2C, our magic bullet was using subscription boxes to grow. There is a myriad of subscription box companies, and they’re all looking for new products to include. We would provide the product heavily discounted (always with just a sliver of a margin), but it exposed our company to tens of thousands of new customers we wouldn’t have had without it. This was not only “no-cost marketing,” but it also helped us get sizable revenue on our books.
We used Facebook funnels/ads when we launched our website and we’re just beginning to work on new Facebook campaigns, but this requires significant resources, so we couldn’t truly dive in right away.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
Hands down, cash flow.
You can literally grow yourself out of business - and we’ve almost done it. For product-based businesses, if you want to retain more of the earnings, growing slower is actually a better approach. But I am ambitious, so I wanted to sprint. That means times have been hard.
We invest nearly every penny of our profits back into the company and have also used debt financing. Most of the time, this means I don’t pay myself.
Last year, a retailer ordered 14,000 units for a nearly $100,000 deal. I couldn’t say no! But I’d need to fund the production and not get paid until net-45 after the shipping date. In these situations, seeking out gap lenders or invoice factoring companies can be helpful.
50% of small businesses fail in their first five years. I’ve seen a lot of storefronts in my neighborhood go up and quickly come back down. Cash flow challenges are real, but if you have the resourcefulness and iron stomach to stick it out even when times are rough, you will make it through.
A lot of the time it just comes down to not quitting. Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
We now have a professional bookkeeper and accountant to help us. We’ve asked our network for help. I’ve googled until my eyes bled to get find solutions to cash flow issues. If you have proof of concept, are growing, and have devoted customers, then every problem is solvable.
How do you stay focused?
This is a pertinent question for me. I fell down a flight of stairs in August 2018, knocked myself unconscious, fractured my skull, damaged my frontal lobe, and caused my brain to bleed. I was in the ICU for 4 days with that traumatic brain injury and am lucky to be alive.
I couldn’t earn disability benefits or fully take time off work. So thankfully, my two employees were well-trained and could handle the bulk of the work for a few months. I am forever grateful to them.
Today, I am back to working mostly full days, but my focus and cognitive ability have taken a hit.
What helps for me is to have a master calendar & use it for goal setting and scheduling, I have posted it on the wall in our office and even includes when certain employees will be away. But I can look at that calendar and think:
- What do I want to accomplish this month?
- How much bandwidth do we have?
- What is going to drive the most revenue?
- How do we need to plan out this month to achieve these goals?
- What time of year do we need to be pre-planning for, etc.?
I use Trello & Slack to help with the implementation and to communicate with my team members. And now, I am trying to only give myself 5-8 things to do each day. I work on them one-by-one without trying to multi-task. And that helps me work less and be more effective.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Cost: Clean beauty is expensive and it doesn’t have to be. With a proper pricing strategy, I am able to offer products that look, feel, and perform like luxury without the luxury price tag. Our line ranges from $8.99 - $46.99. I wanted to make these products accessible to anyone. And our retailers love it, too!
Brand narrative: Millennials and Gen Z are the most inclusive generations in history. Our models/marketing show EVERYONE as beautiful - from the obese woman to the trans woman to the 80-year old woman.
We don’t use terms like “anti-aging” to beauty shame our customers. We don’t prey upon your insecurities to make a buck. Instead of selling you something that you “need to fix about yourself,” we sell items that can be used for self-love/self-care. Our product descriptions, emails, social media content, and blog posts are empowering and encourage our customers to question the toxic beauty standards that we’ve all absorbed. Everyone deserves to feel beautiful.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
Early in my career, a very smart person told me, “If your competitors have more funding/resources/name ID than you do, you will never beat them by doing what they do. The only way you can win is by doing what they’re NOT doing. When they zig, you zag.”
So, I knew we’d need to get creative with our marketing strategy. As stated earlier, working with subscription boxes was key to our growth in the first year. We also got pull-through from our physical presence in retail shops. This way, we weren’t paying for marketing, but getting paid FOR it.
We also have had success running promotions/flash sales on random days. During Memorial Day, Mother’s Day, Labor Day, etc; you are competing with every other retailer on the planet and the average person has a zillion marketing emails to sift through (ignore).
When I have a 1:11 sale, or 34% off for Molly’s 34th birthday, we see MUCH better success because we’re competing with fewer retailers.
Those are just a few examples of how we “zag,” but this approach is working for us.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
● Start before you’re ready, yes, but make sure you have a solid business plan in place and know how to get proof-of-concept. We researched key trends, followed economic data, developed a strategic pricing strategy, and more before we launched our website. Passion and work ethic count for a lot, but you first have to make sure that people want to buy what you’re selling.
● Stick it out when times are hard and be resourceful when it comes to solving challenges.
● Take care of yourself first. Working 80 hours a week isn’t cute anymore. Burnout and stress can literally kill you. Set reasonable goals (even if they’re ambitious) and delegate what you can. You don’t want to end up resenting what you created. And I have become MORE productive by taking my time and doing less.
● Be decisive and go with your gut.
● Finally, tell a good story. People connect with people, not companies. I have shared very vulnerable information about myself on my website. This can feel scary but it provides a means for connection with people. My customers feel like they really know me, which gives them a deeper connection with the brand.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
APP: I use Insight Timer every day. I meditate twice a day, every day, no excuses. I think more clearly and it is a vital tool for keeping my mental health in check.
BLOG: I am obsessed with astrologer Chani Nicholas. She writes the most brilliant, poignant, and moving horoscopes that go WAY beyond the norm. She also offers inexpensive courses that give insight on what’s going on in the sky right now and how it may impact you. And you don’t have to be an astrology expert to understand her teachings. Just to remember to read for your rising sign!
BOOK: A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson. This book changed my life and how I view and operate in the world. The ideas presented in this book have helped not only my personal life but also my business relationships.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
Bench.co is amazing for bookkeeping.
G-Suite has all this functionality that I just started taking advantage of recently. If you pay Google to have a @yourdomain.com email address, make full use of what you’re paying for. We use Drive to store our files, and Keep is amazing for taking and organizing notes.
Who is your business role model? Why?
Emily Weiss, founder of Glossier. She created not just a brand, but a cultural phenomenon in just a few years. She tells a cohesive story and their social channels are incredibly engaging. The customer experience is on-point. And her marketing and sales strategies are brilliant.
Being well-funded helps, but Emily and Glossier are aspirational to me.
What is your beauty routine? What are some of your favorite products?
AM: I should cleanse more thoroughly in the morning, but I am a human, so meh.
Of course, I swipe my face with our From Molly With Love Micellar Water on a cotton pad. I am also currently obsessed with Caudalie Cleansing Milk. The product is both a makeup remover/cleaner and has a moisture effect. I like how it multitasks. I am getting inspiration for how to get 2 or 3 steps into a single product.
Next, I tone with From Molly With Love Glow Juice Vitamin C AHA Toner. The AHAs in this toner gently exfoliates dead skin so it can better absorb the Vitamin C. Brilliant. It tingles just slightly, which is fun before I’ve had my caffeine.
I like to keep the morning simple, so I will finish without any other serums. I either use From Molly With Love Maracuja Oil or From Molly With Love Skin Magic Moisturizer, which is loaded with goodies like hyaluronic acid, squalene, peptides, and vitamins E, C & B.
I don’t use AHAs at night, so I skip the Glow Juice Vitamin C AHA Toner and instead use From Molly With Love Sea Kelp Bioferment Essence. This is a cross between a toner & a serum, but I like to use it with a cotton pad like a toner. You could also pat it into your face or squirt some into your moisturizer. My trip to Seoul inspired me to create this product, as essences are such an important step in the Korean skincare routine. It is as if K-Beauty and La Mer had a baby. This essence contains many of the same active naturals in Creme de la Mer. Oh la la.
I might massage or jade roller my face while the essence sinks in. Then I apply our new Pro-Repair Serum, which has HA & a shot of multivitamins. Finally, I’ll re-up on the Skin Magic Moisturizer. Four times a week, I also use retinol. An amazing, gentle, affordable version is French and it’s called A313.
How do you balance work and life?
This became very important to me after my accident. Especially because I was in full burnout-mode when it happened. My TBI literally forced me to slow down.
Today, I have a morning and evening routine with meditations, readings, gratitude, and journaling. I take breaks when I feel like I need one and rest my brain with Hulu or Netflix. I am a member of a support group, which I attend three times a week, and my husband and I make an effort to get out & about, whether for fun with friends or to participate in the community.
Usually, I feel the most creative or insightful when I am resting my brain, so I always carry a notebook with me to capture ideas just-in-case.
And frankly, once I learned how to properly delegate to my team, we started getting more done while working less.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
Hulu, reading, walking my 13-year old Pekingese, spending time with friends, meditating, reading, journaling, coloring, or going to yoga.
I have a list of these things written in my notebook as part of a tool-kit when I’m feeling stressed and need to unwind.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
Preparing for the holidays always starts in August! Woo hoo!
We are also in the process of negotiating on some big projects, so I have a loose framework for our next six months, but also need to have room for flexibility, as plans can often change in real time. For example, we’d been developing a new product but had to put that on hold because a large order took up all of our resources. But I know I can always launch it in 2020.
We’re also working on building up the e-commerce (B2C) side of our business since the majority of our revenue is currently B2B. This will help improve our margins and put us in a good place to attract our ideal investors/VCs.
How can our readers connect with you?