January 15, 2020
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Savannah Sachs, CEO at TULA. In this episode, Savannah discusses creating customized digital experiences, when and why direct-to-consumer beauty brands need to expand into third-party retailers, and the value of influencers in driving revenue in 2020. In describing her path to CEO, Savannah also shares her top tips for aspiring business and brand leaders.
Jeff Ragovin: You spent many years at Birchbox in an operations role and now you’re the CEO at TULA. What made you make that move and is being a CEO always something you wanted to do?
Savannah Sachs: From a very early age, I saw both of my parents as entrepreneurs. I think I got that itch to help build and scale something early on having seen both of my parents go on that adventure. With the highs and lows that come with it, you have to have a strong stomach. Out of college, I went into management consulting - so a very traditional start and loved it. It entailed working with really smart people, seeing lots of types of organizations, building strategy, and really seeing the inner workings of different companies and business models.
After business school, I decided to try out this start-up thing. I joined Birchbox and just fell in love with being in the beauty category. It’s a space where you really have the ability to combine right brain and left brain, that deeply personal and emotional opportunity to build a brand and a community of customers alongside great economics and a real appreciation for data, especially in the direct-to-consumer beauty space. I also fell in love with having an impact and just getting shit done. I think that’s where I really found my sweet spot. Most of my time at Birchbox I was in London running the UK market as the General Manager. That was almost a mini-CEO role in the sense that I got to build the team, manage the P&L, and really think about the business end-to-end, which was an unbelievable opportunity to learn so much. The more I thought about “what is my sweet spot?”, the more I really wanted to get back to that earlier, building growth stage and that is when I decided to join TULA.
Jeff Ragovin: What do you think defines success as a CEO?
Savannah Sachs: I actually have a leadership purpose statement that is on the top of my to-do list so I look at it multiple times a day...and for me it’s “to build a happy, high performing team to drive rapid growth.” That really sums up how I think about my role. The fact that is it starts with a happy, high performing team and the business results follow. That’s very core to how I operate and that is something I try to improve upon as well.
Jeff Ragovin: Any top tips from you to an aspiring CEO?
Savannah Sachs: One value that we talk a lot about TULA is strong opinions, loosely held. It’s the idea that as a leader you want to have some great experience and expertise and have a vision and conviction around that. At the same time, be curious and open to learn and know good ideas can come from anywhere in the organization in any team at any level. Be open to changing your mind and getting a better idea from someone else. I think that is core to becoming and growing into a strong CEO.
Jeff Ragovin: TULA is in Ulta, Nordstroms, Neiman Marcus, QVC, and Amazon. You are a digitally native brand, so when did you decide to start distributing in third party retailers?
Savannah Sachs: As you’ve mentioned, we’re clean and effective skin care so 100% of our products are powered by probiotics and superfoods. We have a well-rounded skincare range and also an ingestible probiotic supplement. At the end of the day it’s about inspiring confidence and making it easy for our community to achieve a healthy balance inside and out. When you have that big, bold vision that’s what gets us up in the morning. We want it to be really easy and convenient for customers to discover and shop for TULA.
We want to be where the customer is. In beauty, 90% is still sold offline. It's inherently a category that you want to touch and feel and try. We knew from day one that we wanted both a digital and direct-to-consumer strategy as well as brick and mortar presence. In terms of where we are today, the majority of our revenue is generated on our website and we’re in crazy growth mode there. Last year we grew 184% a year-over-year so close to tripled. This year we’re going to more than double again, at over 150% year-over-year growth. That’s the core focus for sure. You can have that direct relationship with the customer. But as I said, so much of beauty is still in brick & mortar.
We knew from day one, we would work with some great retail partners. That’s maybe where we’ve gone a different route than some of the digitally native brands that you’ve seen that opened their own single-brand brick & mortar locations. We believe that in beauty the consumer wants to shop multi-brand. They want to pick up her favorite mascara at the same time as she wants to discover a new cleanser and maybe grab a new hair brush. We really wanted to be with great retail partners, like Ulta. We launched in all of their 1,100 stores in the middle of last year. Since that initial launch, we’ve tripled the number of products on shelf and are doubling our shelf space in March. It’s an exciting trajectory there. That really goes to show that we want to be where the customer is and make it convenient and easy to discover our products.
Jeff Ragovin: How has being in Ulta impacted your brand awareness as well as revenue growth?
Savannah Sachs: Being in 1,100 Ulta stores is like almost having 1,100 out of home advertising moments. We try to make the most of that. This year, we have done close to 200 events in Ulta stores. We’re getting an opportunity to connect with the customer in real life and create a mini experiential moment through our retail partnerships. I will say that one of the challenges of working through wholesale and with retail partners is the data and attribution. If we instinctively know and believe and are investing in the fact that being at retail will grow our direct-to-consumer business and vice versa, but it’s very hard to track and measure.
Jeff Ragovin: How are you ensuring that you are maintaining brand consistency across your third-party retailers?
Savannah Sachs: It’s about having a strong brand vision and a very clear sense of the look and feel of the brand, and the tone of voice. It’s definitely a journey. There’s certainly more we can be doing on that front. We’re actually building out the team and we’re in hiring mode at the moment across a few key roles that will help us do that even more consistently. To your point, it’s definitely a priority and ultimately it comes back to do you have a very clear vision for the brand and how do you really help the team deeply understand that so they can deliver that consistently across channels.
Jeff Ragovin: How are you helping customers decide which products are best for them online if they’ve never been exposed to them before?
Savannah Sachs: Great question! We have about 25 products and we know it can be a bit overwhelming to figure out your skin type or your skin routine, so we have a skin quiz on our site. You can go to our website and answer a few simple questions about your skin type, concerns and what you’re looking for. We then suggest a personalized TULA routine that makes sense for you to take some of the guesswork out of it. What’s great is not only that helping the customer navigate our product offering but we also get over 300,000 data points every single month from that skin quiz that we can then use to inform our product innovation strategy on what we should develop next. That is how we discovered that 48% of our customers struggle with acne and blemishes, so we launched an entire range of products for that customer. It’s a great example of how being a digitally native, social first brand, can provide customer data that can really help inform you on how you build your brand and product portfolio for your consumers in the future.
Jeff Ragovin: Any more plans in 2020 to build more customized experiences?
Savannah Sachs: Specifically in eventing, we’ll be close to doubling our events at retail in Ulta. We are also leaning in our eventing strategy with influencers. The way we work with influencers is quite unique and a key growth driver for us. In terms of last click, direct attribution, we see about 50% of revenue on our website driven through influencers. It’s at a more efficient ROAS than our Facebook spend. So, it’s a really efficient, powerful growth engine and we run it entirely in house with the team that is managing those relationships directly. We run it like a performance channel. One of the things we’ve tested recently and has gone so well that we’re going to ramp up are these unbelievable events and experiential moments for our influencers since they help unite such a powerful community.
Jeff Ragovin: Are there any marketing trends that people should keep their eye on?
Savannah Sachs: We are in the clean beauty space. We’re excited to be a leader in that movement and we know it’s here to stay. It’s not about natural anymore. Customers in beauty want results and they also want to know that what they’re putting on their skin is safe. We’ll continue to see new brands in the clean category enter and legacy brands really trying to figure out how they can address that growing customer demand. I would also say that the other big thing we’re seeing and working to be the leader in the conversation around is skin and body positivity. I mentioned our vision is to inspire confidence. How can we embrace, support, and champion the growing dialogue around skin positivity, body positivity, inclusivity and being a leader in helping push forward the industry on that front? That’s something I think we will be honing in on this year.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes