How This Former Investment Banker Tapped into 5,000-Year-Old Skincare Traditions to Start His Own Brand As Neel Patel builds his skincare brand Après Pacific, here are three lessons he has learned along the way.
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I suffered from acne on and off for most of my adolescent life. It was painful not only physically but also emotionally. My peers regularly hurled names like "crater face" and "pizza face" at me. "Go wash your face" was another favorite phrase one of the boys in my class would shout. I was embarrassed. I felt ugly. I stopped looking in the mirror. My self esteem was in the toilet.
"So many of us go through having acne, and the impact on your self confidence can be devastating," says Neel Patel, founder of Après Pacific. "I started Après Pacific to provide access to Indian skincare secrets and Ayurvedic remedies so we all can feel confident in clear, comfortable skin."
According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, acne is the most common skin condition in the U.S. It usually starts during puberty, and it can occur at any life stage. It affects up to 50 million Americans annually. Acne can take a significant toll on our emotional health. Study after study shows the damage acne can have, including increased anxiety, depression and the feeling of being isolated and alone. And particularly for teenage girls, acne can cause severe stress, making them feel less attractive and causing low self-esteem. For me, once the acne cleared, the dark spots left behind served as a constant reminder of the pain acne continued to cause.
Enter Après Pacific. Its hero product, the Pacific Glow Clay Mask, is supercharged with turmeric, alma berry, aloe vera and lemon peel extract. It only uses 100% natural, vegan ingredients that are safe even for sensitive skin. Not only does this amazing mask fight acne, but it also tackles the stubborn dark spots and hyperpigmentation that so many Brown and Black consumers suffer from.
Patel picked the name Après Pacific as a nod to the Pacific regions of the world where Ayurvedic remedies have existed for more than 5,000 years. He wanted to develop a modern brand with a fun, fresh and calming vibe. "And most importantly, I wanted the brand to be inspired by and incorporate all of the Indian skincare remedies my mother made from scratch in our kitchen when I suffered from acne."
As Patel builds his skincare brand, here are three lessons he has learned along the way:
Take the risk
From as long as he can remember, Patel has always been willing to take the risk. When he was 9 years old, he and his mother left India to start a new life in Canada. Although he didn't speak any English, he supported his mother in making the move for better opportunities. After settling down in their small Canadian town, his mom started her own Indian food catering service. "I knew my mother's talents and what she was capable of," he says "I pushed her to take the risk and start the service. It gave me first-hand insights into running a business."
After starting a career in investment banking, Patel risked it all and walked away. "People thought I was crazy walking away from this lucrative career," Patel says. "But I wasn't willing to put in 12-15 hour days for a big paycheck in exchange for my happiness. Doing research and moving company logos from one part of the deck to the other wasn't how I wanted to live my life. I know many who have enjoyed being in the industry, and I wanted to build something of my own."
The idea of building Après Pacific came to him in September 2020. Inspired by his own battle with acne and what he saw adult friends experiencing with their skin, he started looking for manufacturers. He worked closely with a chemist to finalize the hero product and ultimately launched in April 2021. "Now some of my former colleagues who thought I was crazy for taking this risk see how the brand has quickly evolved and gained great traction," Patel says. "They want to know how I did it."
Be open about your mistakes and adapt quickly
Although Patel had a strong finance background, he had never started an e-commerce brand before. He did his best to talk to as many founders as possible to try to avoid their mistakes. "You can't avoid mistakes, they will always happen," says Patel. "The important thing is to be open about your mistakes, learn quickly and adapt."
Patel shares that one of his biggest mistakes was hiring an established, well-known marketing agency to help run paid ads for the brand. He discovered that the agency wasn't devoting as much time as it should to his brand, because it didn't earn as much commission from smaller brands that didn't spend as much. "I learned that lesson the hard way after spending significant money with the agency and not seeing any results," Patel says. "We finally parted ways with the agency and hired two media buyers who fully devoted their time to Après Pacific. As soon as we changed directions, we saw incredible results."
Remember that every dollar counts
As a self-funded, bootstrapped founder, Patel is always focused on ensuring that every dollar counts. "We are figuring out unique ways to stand out and succeed in the marketplace, and at the same we have a limited budget," he explains. "Every single dollar should have a return on investment. It can be scary and hurts when you make mistakes, and having limited funds keeps you on your toes."
With limited funds comes a strong sense of focus for Patel, and he is smart about where he's investing. Although Après Pacific could be in a number of retailers and broaden distribution, he wants to focus on continuing to build brand awareness before spreading the brand too thin. As he looks to connect with investors and begin the fundraising journey, he is committed to building a skincare brand that continues to honor and embrace his South Asian roots.
Recently, Patel has started to see brands pop up similar to Après Pacific's vision. "They may have the money. But what's more important is to have a community that loves your product and naturally becomes advocates of the brand — that's not something you can easily replicate," Patel says. "This isn't a two-year plan for us; we are in this for the long haul. Slow and steady wins the race."