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Lessons Learned from Launching a Skincare Brand in a Pandemic Despite the difficulties, the pandemic has provided opportunities to develop new solutions for a new world.

By Joy Chen Edited by Russell Sicklick

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Vera Livchak | Getty Images

Launching a business is always difficult; but, before this year, launching a business during a global pandemic was unimaginable. If you told me one year ago that I'd be doing that very thing, I wouldn't have believed you. Except, in September, that's exactly what happened: My business partner, Victor Casale, and I launched our clean, gender-neutral skincare line Pure Culture Beauty. Our vision was to shake up the beauty industry – to offer skincare solutions that took a holistic approach to skin health and targeted the individual's skin microbiome. We had no idea that we'd be doing this at a time when the world itself would be shaken up.

In dreaming up this brand, I often found myself confused by advertisements that offered skincare products for "those with fine lines," "anyone looking to diminish the appearance of scarring," or "for people with oily skin." How was it that all of those people with fine lines, for example, no matter their age, where they lived, or their ethnicity, could use the same product? I knew there had to be a better way. So, in 2019, Victor and I forged a path to develop skincare that was targeted to address the bacteria and cultures on the individual user's skin with the plan to launch in fall 2020. While we went through with our plans, there were many bumps in the road and lessons learned that we hadn't even thought about when conceptualizing the launch, and that many business leaders and entrepreneurs should consider when launching their own businesses as the pandemic rages on.

Develop a winning concept despite the current climate

One of the most important things you can do is to be aware of the situation in which you're launching your brand – and to be sensitive to how the situation may affect your target consumer. In response to the pandemic, many have been forced to stay indoors either at home or in another part of the country. These moves to different locations with different climates, in combination with the immense stress of living during a pandemic, being inside for large parts of the day, and abiding by new mask mandates have all created new skin issues for many people. Knowing that consumers were stuck at home and forced to turn to online shopping – and that many purchased products without knowing whether they were right for their skin – was an opportunity for us. We knew our targeted solutions would provide consumers with certainty.

While the pandemic has created potential for entrepreneurs and leaders to notice shifting demands, understand where new opportunities lie, and launch products that meet those demands, it's important that your offering be a winning concept under all circumstances – pandemic or not. While we couldn't have foreseen launching in a pandemic, we knew our goal to deliver holistic and comprehensive solutions for various skin ailments right to consumers' homes was one that would last under all circumstances and for the long term, despite the current state of our world. It is for this reason that we moved ahead with our launch despite all the bumps in the road.

Related: Made for You: Is Customization the Future of Beauty?

Be flexible

If this year taught us anything, it is to be flexible and comfortable with the unknown. At the start of the pandemic, we began identifying our suppliers and developing our supply chain – picking manufacturers for our swabs, test kits, and packaging. Many of our manufacturers pivoted to produce essential goods and services, causing us to have to find other suppliers elsewhere. This move caused delays in product development, in addition to huge amounts of stress and anxiety. We also didn't realize that moving our supply chain elsewhere might mean higher case counts and other challenges for us to overcome. The manufacturing of our swabs proved to be the biggest challenge – we didn't think to consider a global pandemic would require swabs for COVID-19 testing and that there wouldn't be enough of them for our skin tests. The pandemic made the unthinkable, thinkable, but it also forced Victor and me to think outside the box.

In addition, we – just like many others – experienced massive mail delays; yet, unlike many other brands, the development of our products are doubly dependent on the mail: we send consumers our At-Home Skin Test, they take the test and send the results back to us, and then we ship them their curated Starter Kits. Since shipping companies no longer guarantee meeting the shipping window, we had no way of controlling when the tests would arrive or when we would receive consumers' results. This made us ultra-dependent on the tracking numbers and required that we be extra diligent on the back end, keeping close tabs on when consumers completed their lifestyle assessments so we could send products as soon as they were ready to be shipped. The massive mail delays slowed down our shipment and delivery by 25 percent. Thankfully, we were not the only company experiencing such delays and consumers were understanding. This didn't reduce our stress levels, but did help us acknowledge that success is possible even if it looks a little different than imagined.

Related: Expect Delays on Your Amazon Orders Due to the Coronavirus

Find a balance

Working from home during the pandemic has revealed a whole new meaning of remote work and work/life balance. We built our team remotely, launched our brand virtually, and Victor created a full product lab in his basement where he has been working tirelessly to develop new product formulas. This dynamic has made it much harder to separate our work life from our home life now that the two are in the same place. At times, I have fallen into the trap of getting too wrapped up in work without finding a "balance." I've learned, though, that balance means different things to different people, but striving to find it will ensure you're able to be productive and present in both your work and home environments.

The pandemic has revealed both personal and professional challenges, but it has also provided us with opportunities – to pivot, to collaborate, and to develop new solutions for a new world. These changes are hard and the world we're facing will continue to throw us curveballs, but if we can all continue to prioritize meeting consumers' demand in this new environment, adapting and adjusting to the changing landscape, and trying to find balance, success is possible.

Related: Impact of COVID-19 on Global Supply Chains and Opportunities

Joy Chen

Co-founder and CEO of Pure Culture Beauty

Joy is the co-founder and CEO of Pure Culture Beauty, which she developed in partnership with Victor Casale (former Chief Chemist at MAC Cosmetics and founder of CoverFX) to innovate the skincare industry and deliver a suite of products that meet consumers’ unique skin needs. Formerly, she was the Chairman and CEO of H2O+ Beauty and the CEO and Executive Board Director of Yes To. She has a strong record of driving sales and profit growth by scaling businesses, transforming retail and marketing landscapes to online and digital, and building innovative brands. She remains an active board member for nonprofit organizations and startup businesses. Joy received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Berkeley and a Masters of Business Administration from Harvard University.

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