Ep. 188 – Lori Bush, Former Rodan + Fields CEO & Solvasa Co-founder on Marketing Disruption

Ep. 188 – Lori Bush, Former Rodan + Fields CEO & Solvasa Co-founder on Marketing Disruption

Lori Bush is the co-founder and executive chairman of Solvasa. Prior to that, she was the president and CEO of Rodan + Fields, where she grew the company to over $1 billion in sales. She’s had experience with Nu Skin, Johnson & Johnson, Neutrogena and Avon. Brian Ardinger, Inside Outside Innovation Founder talks with Lori about her 30 years of experience in the beauty and skincare space, entrepreneurship and her move towards integrated beauty.

Interview Transcript with Lori Bush, Former Rodan + Fields CEO & Solvasa Co-founder

Lori Bush, Former Rodan + Fields CEO and Solvasa Co-founder Brian Ardinger: On this week’s episode of Inside Outside Innovation, we sit down with Lori Bush. Lori is the co-founder and executive chairman at Solvasa. Prior to that, she was the president and CEO of Rodan + Fields, where she grew the company to over $1 billion in sales. She’s had experience with Nu Skin, Johnson & Johnson, Neutrogena and Avon, and we talk about her 30 years of experience in the beauty and skincare space, entrepreneurship and the move towards integrated beauty, pulling together beauty, mindfulness, and wellness.

Inside Outside Innovation is the podcast that brings you the best and the brightest in the world of startups and innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, founder of Inside Outside.IO, a provider of research events and consulting services that help innovators and entrepreneurs build better products, launch new ideas, and compete in a world of change and disruption. Each week we’ll give you a front row seat to the latest thinking tools, tactics, and trends in collaborative innovation.

Welcome to another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. I’m your host Brian Ardinger, and as always, we have another amazing guest. With me today is Lori Bush.  Lori is the co-founder and executive chairman of Solvasa, an integrative beauty line, which really pulls together beauty, mind, and wellness.  Welcome to the show. 

Lori Bush: Thank you, Brian. Humbled, honored to be here. 

Rodan + Fields Launch

Brian Ardinger: I’m excited to have you on because while I gave your current title, your background is very impressive.  Thirty plus years in the beauty space, and you have quite an impressive resume.  Folks who are not as familiar, you were the president and CEO of Rodan + Fields then grew that company to over $1 billion in sales. You were the President of Nu Skin and have worked at Johnson & Johnson, Neutrogena, and as chair of the board at Avon.

You pretty much got it all covered. Startups, corporates, innovators. So I thought I’d start with the fact that you’ve had a career spanning a number of different years in an industry that’s changed. What’s happening over the last decade or so that’s really changed the beauty industry and what are the things that are most impressive.

Lori Bush: A great question because when we were launching Rodan + Fields March 1, 2008, I was standing on a stage in front of about a hundred people, which reflecting on that is funny, because today Rodan + Fields fills stadiums basically with people for meetings and events. So at this point, I stood in front of the stage and I boldly proclaimed that five years from now, both beauty skincare and direct selling, we’re going to look different than they look today, and the people in this room have an opportunity to watch it happen, wonder what happened, or be part of it. 

As I was standing there saying it, what was going through my head is we had lofty goals, but we were a brand new startup effectively, doing a complete pivot from pulling out of department stores where the brand had actually been owned by Estee Lauder for a period of time and relaunching. And as I was standing on stage saying that my website was melting down, we were one of the first companies, in direct selling to really launch as a purely digital eCommerce transaction model, which we did for a number of reasons.

What was really an unexpected outcome of the Rodan + Fields experience was, it wasn’t even just about taking significant market share, which we were able to do to become the leading Independent skincare brand, and then ultimately the company became the number one skincare brand in North America. We actually, and significantly grew the skincare market in the United States. Materially grew the skincare market. And a lot of that had to do with bringing the right channel strategy and being innovative in that channel strategy to the product value proposition and marrying the two and aligning them appropriately, in ways that were leveraging a lot of other things that were happening in the ecosystem around us at the time. Not the least of which, of course was social media. 

New Channel Strategy + Product Value Proposition

Brian Ardinger: Well, that’s a great point, and it’s probably one of the things that you see often startups like take that hyper growth, exponential growth in that, and a lot of that growth seems to focus on the fact that they really understood or were quickly able to find that direct relationship with a customer. So talk a bit about how direct selling in that particular model changes the game for you and for the industry.

Lori Bush: In whatever consumer business you’re in and marketing role you’re in. We always say you have the customer at the heart of the business, but when I think about it so often, even the titles we have within a company or corporation are related more to the product, their product managers, brand managers, category managers.

And in direct selling, it’s the one channel I learned, making the transition out of the more traditional consumer packaged goods marketing models into direct selling. It’s the one model where the customer is truly at the epicenter of every decision you make, and you start with the customer, and then recognize that the products themselves are tools of engagement to create the relationship, to acquire the customers and start a conversation, and emotionally connect.  And be able to really create a relationship, not just to the product, but to the seller. 

Technology Changes & Figital Experiences

Brian Ardinger: And I’d imagine the other core trend that really changed the game out there was technology itself, access to markets. In the past you had to have retail distribution, et cetera. So maybe talk about the technology changes you’ve seen over the years and how that has played into your growth and expansion. 

Lori Bush: Folks in the direct selling world. Love to say we were the original social network, but what’s really changed is that digital marketing has taken direct selling from what used to be one-to-one. You know, you think of a hundred years ago, the Avon lady calling door-to-door to what’s become many to many now to really amplify. And with digital technology, not only can we remove any sort of geographic constraints associated with how the business evolves and is developed, but more importantly we can create “Figital” experiences and really create a difference zero moment of truth, if you will. 

So when you think about it, back in the day, challenger brands had a difficult road to hoe working their way into retail distribution, dealing with category managers and large retailers being able to afford the mass media advertising to get into the general awareness. In the world of direct selling, you create these micro experiences where you effectively crowdsource your sales and marketing efforts and can amplify things using digital technology. And today, as I mentioned, these Figital experiences where digital technology in an offline personal experience enhances the experience in general, whether it’s through virtual reality or even just access information in the moment. 

Becoming a tech company

Brian Ardinger: On a personal note, what has helped you navigate these changes and disruptions that you’ve been able to be so effective at It?

Lori Bush: Well, one of the things is the opportunity to plug in. Fortunately, when we launched Rodan and Fields, we were located in San Francisco company still is located in San Francisco. My new company’s located in San Francisco. When we launched the company, I always thought I could do any job in that company because of my background and experience, except for what I called IT at the time or technology.

I was perfectly happy to delegate that to somebody else and I quickly learned that we really weren’t a a skincare or direct selling company. In this day and age to do what we wanted to do, we needed to think of ourselves more as a technology company and I needed to think of us as a technology company and I didn’t know the language and I was using different enterprise software suppliers that were outside of the Bay area and allowing them to more or less control my digital destiny, if you will.

I quickly learned that ignorance is not bliss and what I didn’t know was holding us back. So I found different ways to make myself part of the Silicon Valley community. Basically, and while I could never sit down and do any coding, I can at least speak the language and recognize where there are opportunities to really tap into trends, especially in the area of things like performance marketing that can really create a differentiated and compelling connection to your target customer.

Sponsor:  Husch Blackwell 

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Sponsor:  Nerdery

Hey listeners, I wanted to pause this episode with a word from our sponsor Nerdery.  Nerdery is a digital business consultancy partnering with Fortune 100 and 500 companies to create new digital products and modernize their current technology. One of their clients is Google Cloud. Google Cloud wanted to create a seamless and connected digital experience at its biggest event of the year, Google Next.  They turned to Nerdery to design and develop the event app that would power this Google experience for 35,000 event attendees. Bridging strategy to execution, Nerdery creates digital solutions that accelerate the ambitions of businesses. Learn more at Nerdery.com.  


Creating Solvasa & Breast Cancer

Brian Ardinger: As founder of Solvasa, talk a little bit about what it is and how you capitalize on some of these new trends that we’re seeing out there, wellness, things like that and how that has played into this new company that you’ve built.

Lori Bush: Well Solvasa was something that I never expected or imagined I would be doing. My plan was to retire and enjoy board work and advisory work on my home on of vineyard here in California wine country, which is exactly where I aspired to end up at some point in my life. Then I was caught off guard. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July of 2017 and interestingly, right around the time of my non-compete in terms of participating in a beauty, direct selling space lapsed, never had any expectation of doing anything in the space again.

And during the course of my breast cancer treatment, I was spending a lot of time with my Beverly Hills Plastic Surgeon, a leading plastic surgeon, Dr. Richard Chopra, and we chatted a lot about the skincare business, the skincare industry, where things were going. At that same time, I was starting to appreciate that as deep as I had been into this category for so long, there was a big part of it I was missing, which was this aspect of managing stress in my life.

And I always thought things like meditation was for people who had nothing better to do with their time, and that I ate stress for lunch. I even pride myself on being able to get by on very little sleep because I just didn’t have time to sleep. I was busy. Right. And ultimately came to realize that and appreciate that it’s possible that my breast cancer may have ultimately been the outcome of aspects of my lifestyle.

And then you start to realize that when you don’t have that foundation of health and wellbeing, that all the cosmeceuticals in the world aren’t going to keep you youthful and keep your skin looking the way you want it to look. Suddenly, I was finding myself personally in an uphill battle to maintain the presence and the physical appearance of my skin that was my career for so long. And so Chopra and I would have these discussions about the skincare industry and he would talk about some of his ideas and his real, his passion for doing some development work in consumer products level. Awkward conversations because these were usually happening during an examination of my breasts.  

And eventually he cut to the chase and said, look, I think we could do something really interesting together. What do you think? And I said, hell no. I’ve just come through a really rewarding career, but I’m winding down and now here I am into it with both feet and loving every minute of it because I think we’ve got something that’s really different, bringing together the skin, mind, body connection, but the mind component of it and mindfulness is at the epicenter of cellular health in really scientifically meaningful ways that I’ve come to appreciate and I really think we can do something incredibly, meaningful in people’s lives with the product line and the business itself. 

Seed Fund and Investing

Brian Ardinger: One of the other things I want to talk about is you wrote the Lori Bush seed fund. I would imagine you’re out there on occasion looking for startups or investing in new things, new ideas that you see coming out. What are you seeing out there in the startup space segment. 

Lori Bush: The seed fund is actually an endowment that I’ve made to my graduate school, the Fox School of Business at Temple University. It was my way of giving back. So the seed fund is an award that goes to students of the entrepreneurship programs at various levels in the school. They compete with business ideas, and it’s not an investment that returns anything to me other than the rewards of knowing that I’ve helped young female entrepreneurs launch a business in conjunction with their education. 

However, I do do some private investing and I usually invest in businesses where I have a strong affinity and, in many cases, mentoring the founder or the CEO. I’ve invested in several areas. One of them, I’ve already started to see a few returns, which is nice, but it’s in a broad area. I’ve invested in a company that uses blockchain technology for identity verification, which is of course a very big thing in terms of both security, as well as different aspects of FinTech. 

I invested in a clothing company, and I know very little about the fashion industry and I actually would otherwise not invest in a fashion company. I don’t think fashion itself is necessarily a great investment these days, but what I like about this particular fashion company that’s called the Reset, is that that the founder has a very innovative bricks to clicks model and how she’s building her customer constituency and really creating great return on very manageable and relatively low customer acquisition costs.

I’ve invested in a robotics company that’s in the beauty space. That’s about applying eyelash extensions, using robotics, and taking what is currently a very manual specialized procedure that takes about an hour and a half. To something that doesn’t require a trained aesthetician and can be done in 15 minutes at obviously much lower costs, and that technology actually arose out of a medical initiative in some other areas. So I’m smattered in a number of different categories. 

Advice for Entrepreneurs and Innovators

Brian Ardinger: I like that diversity. I like the fact that you’re looking out beyond your own industry for changes and things that you’re seeing out there. What advice would you have for entrepreneurs or innovators trying to start and keeping going. 

Lori Bush: First of all, really understanding what it means to be an entrepreneur, and I was fortunate, most of my career involved a lot of intrepreneurial experiences right out of the blocks. I’d say the biggest advice I have for somebody entering into an entrepreneurial venture is get the right team in place, and I’m sure people say it on your podcast a million times. I hear it on your podcast! 

At the beginning, it’s really all about the people and you need a special kind of person, somebody who is bold, confident, and not necessarily afraid to fail, but people who are working with purpose, at the risk of sounding a little cliché, starting with the why, people who are not looking to build a resume, but to make a difference in whatever vertical they’re working in, it’s about the people. And I would say that’s really the advantage that we have at Solvasa and what allows us to raise the money that we’ve been able to bring in to get the business going.

My other advice is and I debate this oftentimes with my CEO think-tank group, is how much money to bring in. And this is largely based on my Rodan + Fields experience, but also on what I see on a number of the boards that I’m on. On one hand, you’re always at risk of starving your startup without having enough working capital to, to keep going. But on the other hand, having the sense that you have lots of working capital, spending every dollar like it’s your last, is probably the best advice I can give to an entrepreneur. Starting a business 

For More Information on Solvasa

Brian Ardinger: That’s great advice and it applies even to corporate innovation. A lot of times they overspent and think they have this long runway when a lot of times they don’t.  So great advice. So Laurie, if people want to find out more about yourself or about Solvasa, what’s the best way to do that? 

Lori Bush: Well, you can find Solvasa now, we’re launching Solvasa in the next few weeks from a product perspective, but we’ve already launched some of our online messaging and content. You can find us at Solvasalife.com that’s our blog, and we’ve also just launched a podcast called the beauty construct. And so if you have interest in learning more about integrative beauty in general, or just stories of wellness, beauty, empowerment, The Beauty Construct, it’s on all of the podcast channels. 

Brian Ardinger: Lori, thank you again for being on Inside Outside Innovation. It was a real pleasure to talk to you and I look forward to seeing what’s next.

Lori Bush: Thank you Brian. 

Brian Ardinger: That’s it for another episode of Inside Outside Innovation. If you want to learn more about our team, our content, our services, check out InsideOutside.io or follow us on Twitter @theIOpodcast or @Ardinger. Until next time, go out and innovate.



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Episode 188

Ep. 188 – Lori Bush, For...