Leisa: Hello, I’m Leisa Holland Nelson and welcome to another edition of Women Mean Business, where we’re going to take you up close and personal with extraordinary women doing extraordinary things. We’re coming to you today live from the Circular Summit, the first ever conference for women in investment, support, everything for women entrepreneurs. And I’m thrilled to be here with my guest Jane Wurwand, the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of Dermalogica; Jane, welcome to Women Mean Business.
Jane: Thank you Leisa, it’s a pleasure to be here. It’s my first time in Houston and I’m so happy to be able to contribute and be helpful in any way that I can.
Leisa: Well we are thrilled to have you here and I’m, as I said already, just totally star struck and will try to be intelligent in my questioning but first, tell us about Dermalogica.
Jane: Well Dermalogica is a skincare product that is sold through professional salons, medical offices and some larger stores like Ulta, Beauty Brands, Blue Mercury. We started in 1986, we’re 30 years old; Dermalogica is the #1 skincare product in the world. We manufacture every product in Southern California where we’re based and we ship to 107 countries. And we have seen our company through a grassroots startup, we started on $14,000.00 of self-funding. We bootstrapped it up with no outside funding, never gave away any equity, through to a very successful transition and acquisition last year. So a very exciting journey and an entrepreneurial journey because professional salons, 64% are owned by women as opposed to 32% in any other industry, so I’m pretty much all about women entrepreneurs and of course I’m one myself.
Leisa: Well tell us what the greatest challenge you think you’ve faced in starting and building this business.
Jane: I think the greatest challenge Leisa, that I faced – and it’s different in every instance, in every story I guess – was just that the hard work, the long hours of building your business properly. We decided that we were going to put everything into the business. For the first 3 years we did not take salaries; we tool $300.00 a month out of the business to live. My boyfriend – now my husband and my business partner – we had a job as a sales rep. We were paying our rent with that. We put everything back into the business; we didn’t take fancy offices, we didn’t buy fancy office furniture.
We would share hotel rooms with staff, we couldn’t offer medical benefits to our staff; those early startup years were challenging but also maybe the most exciting of the business because we believed that what we were doing and what we had to offer was ultimately going to be very successful. And we pursued that with a determination and a passion that we were undeterred by any obstacle. And maybe it was naiveté, but if we got a challenge we saw it as an opportunity to rethink and idea, clean up, edit it, be more purposeful and push through again. So I think the biggest challenge was just that stick-at-it-ness in the first few years because we were self-funding; we didn’t have a lot of money but we had a great deal of vision and determination.
Leisa: So the first year that you really had revenues that made a difference how did you change what you were doing?
Jane: So the first 3 years of our business we were focused on education and training. In 1986 we launched Dermalogica in January. We wanted to open 10 accounts in the first 3 days of an industry trade show; we opened 10 accounts in the first 3 hours. We did a million dollars in our first year.
Leisa: Wow, so that was awesome.
Jane: It was amazing.
Leisa: So your life really changed rapidly.
Jane: Well, our psychology changed. We knew that we something that was successful but we were not pulling a lot of money out of the business; we kept reinvesting. We kept making sure that we had the right people, that we had the right opportunities to distribute, that we were having the right conversations with our accounts and that we were supporting the accounts with business training and ideas. So our life didn’t change that much, we were still in our one bedroom apartment, but our psychology did because we realized this was a business that was scalable and we were off to the races.
Leisa: Yeah, scalability really does change our attitude.
Jane: Yes, and I think that’s the biggest thing. It’s like a validation; you suddenly think oh my gosh, this is going to work. If we don’t mess this up this is going to work because we’re getting traction with our consumers and you know the consumer leads; if the consumer wants it and the consumer’s embracing it and they get it – they understand your message and they understand why they want you – if you don’t mess it up you can drive that hard and just drive it more and that’s what we did.
Leisa: I know that you have a charming story about getting to Dermalogica, like from a very young age; will you share that with us?
Jane: I will. I’m the youngest of 4 girls, my mother was widowed at age 38, I was 2 years old when my dad died. She was a nurse and she drummed in to us that you need to be resilient. Life isn’t about balance, it’s about resilience, you better learn how to do something. And she knew how to do something and have a skill set in your hands. And so I came to the United States in 1983 to pursue the American dream. I got my first job on a Saturday working at the local hair salon; went in, in my school uniform, and asked if they would hire me every Saturday to do the laundry and clean up and get clients coffee and hand them our magazines and they did. And then I went to study skincare straight from high school. So I’ve never taken business training, I don’t have a business degree, I never went to college, I went to beauty school; but with that skill set in my hands I knew that I could start my own business and hopefully scale it.
And I truly believe Leisa, that in America – it’s not a perfect country, but more dreams come true here than anywhere else.
Leisa: So you really have lived the American dream.
Jane: I truly have.
Leisa: And I know that you’re giving back today, so tell us a little bit about how you’re doing that.
Leisa: It’s pretty formal in your company.
Jane: So my story is one of entrepreneurship and being a woman; the story of our industry, our Salon owners that are women entrepreneurs. So when it came time for us to really embed a social purchase in our brand we decided we wanted to focus on financial independence through entrepreneurship specifically for women. So in 2010 we launched our non-profit social impact piece which is called FITE – F – I – T – E – and it stands for Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship – and so far we have helped fund or grow the business of 73,000 new women entrepreneurs around the world.
We’ve also funded vocational training for women and now thought leadership and that’s how I see my role now, being a thought leader around entrepreneurship, scaling a business and speaking out about the importance of women entrepreneurs. We start businesses at 1 ½ times the rate of men but we do not scale them to the same degree; less than 3% of women-owned businesses get above a million and less than 1% above 10 million. So we’ve got to get women not just off the ground floor to the mezzanine, we’ve got to get them off the mezzanine to the top floor.
Leisa: Could not agree more. My last question for you you’ve given so much advice through our conversation, but if you had to get specific with someone moving up in their career who wanted to achieve the kind of success that you have what would you tell them?
Jane: I would tell them don’t shrink yourself. Do not shrink what you are capable of; don’t shrink your qualification, your background, your personality or your capacity to be successful. Really look at all that is within you and what you know you want to determine and do and follow it. Don’t let somebody tell you that the idea’s not good. Don’t let anybody tell you oh, you went to beauty school, oh, you grew up in a single-parent family; I did, lots of us do and we can still make it work. And so don’t shrink your capacity.
Leisa: Thank you very much.
Jane: Thank you Leisa, thank you.
Leisa: There you have it, another extraordinary woman doing extraordinary things. I’m Leisa Holland Nelson, President and Co-founder of ContentActive, Houston’s leading web and mobile technology company. You can find me at ContentActive.com or follow me on Twitter @LHNelson. We’ll be back again next week with another edition of Women Mean Business.
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