The Empowered Challenger

Amy Risley | Skinfix

Episode Summary

Amy Risley believes that everything happens for a reason. By that logic, it makes sense she ended up with a successful beauty company. Her family worked in the beauty industry for years and after meeting Estée Lauder at the age of five, Amy felt empowered seeing a woman in such a powerful business role. As the founder and CEO of Skinfix, a beauty company that creates daily moisturizers, eczema treatments and other skincare products, Amy is taking on household name beauty brands with products that are clean, effective and backed by scientific studies. Not to mention, products that have changed the lives of many customers! On this episode of The Empowered Challenger, listen firsthand as Amy discusses her brand's journey from $100,000 in annual revenue to being carried exclusively by Sephora. She talks about the spark that led her down the entrepreneurial path, how an early partnership with Target helped develop her indie brand and what it's like to truly run a clean, sustainable and life-changing company.

Episode Notes

Amy Risley feels that she has always been an entrepreneur at heart. 

Because her father worked in manufacturing for Estée Lauder, she became obsessed with all of the "lotions and potions" he brought home during her childhood. She also met Estée Lauder when she was five — and according to Amy, seeing a woman in such a powerful role left a lasting impression. 

After graduating from Princeton and spending years doing marketing for beauty companies like L'Oréal, Estée Lauder and Jo Malone, Amy became a stay-at-home mom — although she knew she’d eventually return to work one day. Serendipitously, she met the woman who owned the recipe for Skinfix balm, which ignited Amy's entrepreneurial spark. 

Amy read customer testimonials from people who tried tons of outlandish remedies for serious skin issues, from diabetic foot ulcers to psoriasis; they claimed this healing balm helped alleviate their symptoms and enhanced their quality of life. After seeing these reports, Amy was 100% in. 

The first order of business was to update the branding and create a highly targeted message. "When something does everything, it does nothing," Amy says. She took the brand from being an "everything balm" to focusing on eczema.

Amy knew Skinfix would be taking on major players like Aveeno and Cetaphil in the eczema category but she felt ready for it. This may have been a bit naive, but "I think you have to be naive and sort of a dreamer to really survive as an entrepreneur," Amy says. 

Landing an early partnership with Target was crucial for Skinfix's brand development and ultimate success. Target helped nurture the indie brand, providing guidance on what was important for its target market, such as being dermatologist-recommended and clinically proven. 

From $100,000 in annual revenue to being carried exclusively by Sephora, Amy built a company that challenges household name beauty brands. She'll never stop giving consumers "what they want and what they need at the right price, and delivering a solution that's actually going to help."

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Featured Challenger

👩 Name: Amy Risley

⚙️ How she challenges: As the founder and CEO of Skinfix, a beauty company that creates daily moisturizers, eczema treatments and other skincare products, Amy is taking on household name beauty brands with products that are clean, effective and backed by scientific studies. 

🧴 Company: Skinfix

💎 Noteworthy: Amy hosts the podcast Total Skin Nerds, which features conversations with top medical experts and skincare authorities about how to best care for skin.

🔍 Where to find Amy: LinkedIn

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Challenger Wisdom 

💡 Shifting brand positioning from everything to just one thing

"[The branding] was the part that I felt I knew how to do because of my experience at Lauder and L'Oréal and Coty [Prestige]. So I hired a design agency in New York and felt we really needed to upgrade the branding to make it a little more standout and also take the formula and really understand how we were going to position it. It was sort of positioned as an everything balm, and when something does everything, it does nothing. So we really thought we needed to figure out how we were going to focus and target the message, and we decided eczema was the category we wanted to play in."

💡 A little naivety is vital to surviving as an entrepreneur 

"We really felt that taking it to drug stores and mass merchandisers where we could compete directly with the CeraVe and the Aveenos and Cetaphils in that eczema category was where we wanted to go. I mean, you call this the challenger podcast, and we truly were bold and brazen enough to think we could go up against these big companies. Naive, maybe? … If I had known what it was going to be like, I probably wouldn't have done it. So I do think you have to be naive and be sort of a dreamer to really survive as an entrepreneur."

💡 How an early partnership with Target helped with early success 

"[Target] is very similar to Sephora in that they believe in indies, they help nurture and develop indies, and they give you a ton of guidance — they're like consultants. They were the ones who stepped in and said, 'Can you say [dermatologist] recommended because that's really important in this category? Can you say clinically proven because that's also really important in this category?' A lot of the things we still stand for today were because Target really led us there, so it was an incredible retailer to land." 

💡 Meeting the demands of highly informed consumers 

"I think millennials, and even Gen Z, are so informed — they're so much more informed than we were — and they're so much less wooed by price and luxury and all the trappings of a luxury brand. They really want something that's healthy for their skin, that's more sustainable, something where there's transparency of ingredients and the levels of ingredients."

💡 The (often immeasurable) value of influencers

"Over the course of the year, the thing we've learned about influencers is that there isn't necessarily a direct sales attribution. I mean, there are affiliate programs where obviously you have a direct factor attribution, but there's so much more value than just the sales. We had a conversation with the head of influencer for Sephora last week actually, where she said, ‘We certainly look at sales over a certain number of weeks after the post, but there's so much more value than just the sales and it's not always so immediate.'" 

💡 The long game of working to get dermatologist recommendations

"We worked really hard to do some pretty significant clinical studies and prove the efficacy of our eczema products, our rosacea products and our keratosis pilaris products, and started to really get them on board. We actually have five studies that have been published in our peer reviewed dermatology journals, and I don't know of any other skincare brand — certainly at Sephora — that has published studies. There aren't a lot of skincare brands, period, that have published studies. So the work with the dermatologists was sort of a long game because it didn't yield a direct sales channel initially in terms of their recommendation. It was a lot longer and harder to get them on board with the products, get them to prescribe our products and talk about the products to treat certain concerns, but it was a really important thing for us to do." 

💡 Staying on top of your game when fast followers start to rise up 

"We were, for a number of years, really the only brand doing what we were doing — creating products that were really problem-solution focused on skin issues, clinically proven — but there are people starting to trod on our territory. Sometimes it's easier to be a fast follower than it is to be the first, because you learn the lessons from the first. So we've got to constantly stay on our game and make sure we're delivering the best proposition for the consumer and giving him and her and them what they want and what they need at the right price, and delivering a solution that's going to actually help them.

💡 When being ‘clean’ and ‘sustainable’ isn't enough 

"Many brands are standing on top of being clean and being sustainable, and I don't think that's enough. For us, it's constantly educating the consumer about the importance of how we formulate and the fact that we truly are clinical in the sense that we consider every ingredient — not only what it's doing for the specific skin concern, but also what it's not doing, how it's not further exacerbating and trying to communicate and educate around the importance of clinical validity."

Top quotes from the episode:

Quote #1

"If I had known what it was going to be like, I probably wouldn't have done it. I think you have to be naive and sort of a dreamer to really survive as an entrepreneur."

Quote #2

"Sometimes it's easier to be a fast follower than it is to be the first, because you learn the lessons from the first. So we've got to constantly stay on our game and make sure we're delivering the best proposition for the consumer and giving [them] what they need at the right price, and delivering a solution that's going to actually help them."

Quote #3

"I think a lot of times beauty companies take a lot of liberties in using the term clinical, throwing that around — it's a hot, hot buzzword right now in skincare. Everybody wants clinical, or ‘cleanicle’ as they're calling it, clean clinical. … Lots of people like to use the language, but [don't] necessarily deliver the goods."