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In The Mix

What does it take to make a personal care and health dotcom from scratch? Let's ask the voice of experience, ingredients.com's Katherine Legatos.

How do you go from having an idea for a Web site to having millions of people find out about it in Glamour, Self, Family Circle, McCall's and W? Katherine Legatos knows firsthand how it's done--she's scored loads of media exposure since successfully launching ingredients.com, a specialty personal care and health Internet company, with partner Amy Ryberg, 29, in November 1999.

Since ingredients.com first opened for business, the New York City-based Web site has received not only attention from the media, but, more important, attention from customers. We asked Legatos, 29, to give us the ABCs on taming the wild, wild Web, as she appeared to be doing when we spoke with her on February 9th--an eternity after start-up in "Internet time."

So what does it take in the way of background and talent to make this sort of thing happen? Before she formed ingredients.com, Legatos served as director of consumer public relations and development for the largest women's online network, iVillage.com. Prior to that, she did PR for 1-800-FLOWERS and its Web site. Her skills were complemented by partner Ryberg, iVillage's first employee and head of production, whose technical expertise helped the site to become the 35th most visited on the Web, receiving 90 million hits per month.

But, Legatos insists, you don't have to have such high-level credentials to start a successful Web site. So, what is it that you do you need? She was kind enough to provide all of the answers in our close-up look at this real-life e-tailing rollout.

Scott S. Smith:You've been getting an enormous amount of media attention for a small start-up. How did you manage to accomplish that?

Katherine Legatos: We couldn't afford to hire a PR firm, so we did guerrilla marketing. I knew people in the media, and we had something newsworthy and talked about it constantly to everyone we could get to. We launched just before the holiday season, when everyone is stressed out and could use [our] products to calm and energize, so our promotion was good timing. We focused on business media to build our profile for potential suppliers and investors, and online media were especially receptive, [as were] columns on Web sites in women's magazines.

Smith:Let's start back before you had experience with any Web site. What started you on the path to where you are now?

Legatos: I started selling Estée Lauder and Cosmair at beauty counters in high school and college, so I had a chance to study usage patterns and purchasing habits for five years. A customer recruited me to work in the communications department at KPMG Peat Marwick, and later I got a marketing degree at Long Island University. I joined the marketing department at 1-800-FLOWERS and had a chance to work alongside CEO Jim McCann, whose entrepreneurial determination made it such a success. While there, back in 1994 before I'd encountered the Web, I was part of a team that worked on selling through 14 interactive platforms, including AOL and Bloomberg. A year and a half after I arrived, one of the executives went to iVillage and took me with her. Back then, it consisted of 10 people, so we all did a bit of everything, which is the ideal sort of training with an Internet company.

Smith:Does one need the level of experience you had and a marketing degree to make the odds of succeeding online realistic?

Legatos: The best way to learn about new media is to roll up your sleeves and work at a company that will give you hands-on experience, preferably in more than one area-and there are a lot of opportunities for that. What we all have in common is an ability to be flexible, a willingness to change fast and strong stomachs for the roller-coaster ride. Everyone wants to be part of the Internet revolution. But many people don't realize that you have to work in a somewhat chaotic environment, which doesn't mean the company's not stable or sound. Being able to manage the reaction in employees is very important to success in the Net world. One month we had 10 employees and moved into a temporary office, and a month later we had 10 more and had to move again and we had to get all of them working together. Not everyone can adapt that fast. Right now, we have 50 employees and we're growing fast. We use a lot of our own calming and energizing products!

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This article was originally published in the May 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: In The Mix.

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