Stay up to date with the latest news, insights, and analysis from the QEC team.
Mar 19, 2017   |   The QEC
Along with many other aspects of their lives, today’s consumers are increasingly turning to natural beauty products in pursuit of a more authentic and memorable experience. With disruptors like S.W. Basics and Herbivore Botanicals stealing the scene from major industry players like L’Oréal, it’s no surprise that organic beauty claims more than one-third of the $9.6 billion natural and organic personal care industry.
Connie Lo and Laura Burget are the latest duo taking advantage of this increasingly lucrative market. Growing up, Lo has always had an entrepreneurial spark, running her own student business in high school and helping the QEC’s competitors make their ideas happen during her time at Queen’s University. In 2014, Lo was one of the QEC’s co-chairs, and since then, has gone on to a career in marketing, and now, an exciting venture in the health and beauty space with her partner, Burget.
NIU, which means coconut in Hawaiian, is a cruelty-free coconut-oil based makeup remover, free of any synthetic ingredients and made to suit a range of skin types. Targeted at conscious consumers with a passion for beauty, NIU’s brand philosophies are reminiscent of those of other well-loved companies like LUSH and philosophy.
We sat down with Connie and Laura to chat about their unique approach to natural beauty and their experience so far as entrepreneurs. Below are excerpts from our interview.
Did organizing the QEC inform how you view entrepreneurship, or help connect you to successful entrepreneurs?
Connie Lo: I definitely learned a lot of from QEC competitors throughout those three years. I remember the judges would always [focus] on the finances, so something I learned from the QEC was that it’s great if you have an idea that you think will sell really well, but if it’s not financially sound, it’s just going to be an idea at the end of the day. Since I helped out a little bit with sponsorship through the different positions I held, I also learned how to approach a potential sponsor with a package and appeal to them. Hearing competitors pitch their ideas, as well, helped me prepare how to sell my idea to potential backers.
What was the inspiration behind NIU?
Laura Burget: I’ve ran a couple of businesses in the past, but in one case it was a retail location, and in the other case it was a franchise, so I kind of always wanted to start up my own thing. I love anything that’s natural when it comes to beauty. I really try to avoid using chemicals and harsh ingredients on my skin, especially on my face. I was using a popular beauty trick of coconut oil as a makeup remover for when I was wearing waterproof makeup and things like liquid lipstick, and the problem that I was experiencing that I noticed some of my other friends had as well, was that its current format was not very convenient. Having a huge jar of coconut oil on your vanity does not look very nice, it’s not easy to travel with, it gets your hands all greasy, and you have you use a hand towel every single time in order to get it off your face, so that’s where our initial idea, of coconut oil as a base for makeup wipes, was born. We added essential oils, as well, because of all the benefits they have for your skin from the health standpoint.
We’re starting out with a single product line just so we can really focus on it and get our footing in production, procurement, and the areas of business that require a lot of learning initially. Our eventual hope would be to launch other related product lines, like NIU Hair and Nails. We’d love to do a cosmetics line as well. The sky’s really the limit with something like this.
How did you meet?
LB: We actually met through a mutual friend!
CL: One of our friends that I knew since grade 6 ended up going to university with Laura, and one day, he told me that his friend had this really great makeup remover idea, but he didn’t explain it very well so we decided to meet, and the rest is history!
LB: I told my friend what I was working on, and that I wanted a partner, especially someone with a passion and an eye for the design side. I’m from an engineering background, so I don’t have as much of the marketing finesse as Connie does. She’s definitely more of the visual type than I am, so we balance each other out super well. I tend to see things from more of a procedural standpoint, so very linear, whereas Connie sees how things fit within the larger market as a whole, and is very conscious about who our customer is and how we fit in the space given what’s currently out there.
What is it like to enter a new era of marketing, using social media influencers to reach a wider audience?
CL: When we first started thinking about marketing, we thought, “let’s look at stuff we can pay for, like Facebook ads or paid Instagram ads,” but then one of our friends who started his own company said, “when you’re starting off, try to do everything you can with what revenues you have available, as opposed to spending money you don’t necessarily have at the moment.” He recommended reaching out to friends. We separated our influencers into people who are bloggers, who usually have Instagram accounts at the same time, and also YouTubers, and realized there was a whole community there. With Instagram, you can easily see which accounts are similar, and that’s where I think social media marketing differs from traditional marketing. You get to comb through and see if someone fits your brand, as opposed to blindly paying people to advertise your products, because if their followers aren’t your target market, you’re wasting your time.
Where do you see the business in a few years’ time?
CL: One of our more immediate goals is trying to outsource manufacturing, so that we can think more about offering great customer service and ensure that our marketing is great. In the long term, going into bigger box stores, as well as niche retailers, such as the Detox Market in Toronto, where our target audience is already going for skincare, would be really cool.
LB: Long, long-term, it would be great if we had our own chain of stores with our own space. That would be our stretch goal.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received about running your own business?
LB: Asking for help is something that’s really important, I think, and something that we’ve really taken to heart. You can’t possibly know everything, or even 10% of what you really should know when you’re first starting a business. You kind of just have to go in blind, so asking people who have already been where you want to be has really helped us a lot. Our friends have been able to connect us with a number of different bloggers and influencers within the industry, so that’s been huge for us.
CL: I think, when you’re starting off, you don’t really realize how all your friends, or friends of friends have really unique skills, and if you don’t ask them, you’ll never really know. For example, we’re doing a photoshoot on Sunday, and we found one of our friends who was actually a former Miss Universe contestant, so she’s going to model for us for free because she knows we’re entrepreneurs. We wouldn’t have known that unless we asked. Nothing’s going to go exactly the way you plan it, so be flexible with your timeline, your launch space, your supplier, your platform, everything! You’re going to have to be flexible, but that’s the rewarding part, as well, because you learn so much along the way.
In your opinion, what’s one quality you think all entrepreneurs share?
CL: A strong sense of curiosity! They constantly question everything and ask why things are done in their pre-established ways.
LB: I think the hunger! Just a general dissatisfaction with the 9-to-5 [lifestyle]. You do have to be somewhat crazy in order to go against what society, your parents, and what your friends, and everyone around you has done, and I think a lot of that is driven by that hunger. You just want something more than what other people seem to see in the world.