There's nothing like starting a company with the goal of setting a new standard (that of clean beauty in this case) that has never been achieved on a national level, but that's exactly what Gregg Renfrew, Founder and CEO of Beautycounter, did when she launched her brand 10 years ago. In fact, it might be safe to say that most of us now actively seek out and appreciate clean beauty because of Renfrew's drive to make it her company's top priority and to be as transparent as possible in the process. Here, she shares why good friends aren't always great hires, the importance of outsourcing and her "servant" style of leadership.
Beautycounter took a somewhat old-fashioned idea, having direct sales beauty consultants, and turned it on its head, while at the same time doing something very forward-thinking, creating one of the first clean beauty lines. Were these ideas driven by business considerations or more personal ideas? Did you think they would be successful early on or did it feel like a big risk?
From the start, Beautycounter wanted to be innovative - from the ways in which we created products, to the ways in which we distributed products. Looking at traditional retail, direct sales and e-commerce, combined with an antiquated industry, there was ample opportunity to take a risk to innovate in multiple ways though better, safer products and the way we distribute them.
How do you maintain brand control when outside “partners” are part of the experience? At Beautycounter we ensure that all partnerships start with a fundamental understanding of our mission and how we want our brand to show up in the marketplace. You can’t control everything, but you can certainly set parameters and boundaries at every interaction with the consumer.
Now that other beauty companies are turning clean, do you feel a need to stay ahead of the game? How do you make sure Beautycounter differentiates itself? Not all clean beauty is created equally. At Beautycounter, we go well beyond the industry’s definition of clean with a holistic approach that starts with a list of restricted ingredients, then focuses on supply chain transparency - sustainable, ethical and responsible sourcing, and more in our 12-step Blueprint for Clean. As the leaders in clean beauty, we set the highest standards and continue to hope that others will try to meet them.
Career highlight: Our recent Carlyle transaction. [Capital investment group Carlyle just acquired a majority stake in Beautycounter in a historic deal for a clean beauty brand that values the company at $1 billion.]
Describe your leadership style: I believe whole heartedly in servant leadership – that you are there to serve the people in your community or company at large. I’m direct, open, honest, and authentic.
What are the essentials to building a strong brand? Consistency, clarity of vision, emotional connection to consumers, and great product.
Favorite part of your job: Creating economic opportunities for women and men throughout North America.
When is it an advantage to be a woman in your business? Women are often the consumers of products, we control the purchasing decisions, globally. Therefore, we have an advantage in that we understand the consumer and what they need far better than men. Women also have a high level of emotional intelligence which allows us to connect to consumers and understand their needs. We’re good listeners – and we know to lead with authenticity and vulnerability, which is important in today’s marketplace.
What’s missing in your line of work or one thing you would change? Sleep!
A business mistake you made and what you learned from it: Not investing in technologies wholeheartedly in the beginning. Hiring personal friends – it can work, but it doesn’t always work. There are plenty of people with whom you can work, but don’t start with a personal friendship and put that in jeopardy.
A business culture priority for you now is: Listening, learning, and building community. Since the pandemic hit last year, I have embarked on a listening tour with our HQ associates and our community of independent sellers – listening to their concerns, their needs, and being there for them.
Your advice on how to give and receive feedback: Direct feedback with heart. You’re going to be super direct, and you’re doing it because you care – and in the moment.
Was there ever a time your career was at risk? If yes, how did you overcome it? I’m not sure anyone’s entire career is ever at risk, but certainly jobs are, and I was fired along the way. I’ve made some mistakes and the only thing you can do is learn from your mistakes. You get up the next morning, stay open to constructive criticism, take responsibility for your actions, and know that you can do better moving forward.
Women on your radar: Rachel Drori from Daily Harvest.
Productivity hack: Delegate and outsource – whether that is to business partners, or your own family.
What motivates you? Knowing that we are changing beauty forever – that our brand will have a lasting impact on this earth. Our movement for better beauty is only just getting started.
Find Gregg on LinkedIn.