Restorsea is a popular all-natural skin care company that counts actress Gwyneth Paltrow among its many fans. This entrepreneur success story begins with a hike in Norway. While walking among the fjords, Founder/CEO Patti Pao arrived at a salmon hatchery. During the tour, she noticed that the workers’ hands looked far younger and smoother than their faces, despite the fact that their hands spent much of their day in water.
Pao quickly realized that the secret to the workers’ supple skin was in the water itself. When salmon hatch, a natural enzyme allows them to emerge safely from their eggshells and is released into the water. That enzyme selectively exfoliates only dead skin cells, which, in turn, allows the living cells to flourish.
Pao, a Harvard Business School graduate who launched over 400 products for Avon, Guerlain and others, quickly realized the opportunity before her. Thinking like savvy female entrepreneurs do, Pao secured the exclusive global rights to use the enzyme, called Aquabeautine XL®, in all Restorsea products. Today, Restorsea’s patented products are available at Bergdorf Goodman and online.
We caught up with Pao via email to chat about her career, how she started her own company, top skin care tips and more.
Prime: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced starting your own company, and how did you overcome them?
Patti Pao: Our biggest challenge was finding our route to market. We started with retail distribution but realized that this was a money-losing proposition. Most brands sell via retail because they need to build their revenue base so that, even though they are not profitable, they can sell their company to a strategic or institutional investor. Restorsea was very fortunate that it was well-financed. We set out to raise $10 million and raised over $55 million.
Taking other people’s money is hard. And I didn’t want to knowingly lose their money. The good news is that our direct-to-consumer Internet business was doing well and we were fortunate to have Gwyneth Paltrow agree to be our brand ambassador. While this brought us great credibility, awareness and tripled our revenue, the spend required to support an A-list celebrity like Paltrow required our sales to increase twenty-fold.
Our celebrity strategy attracted the attention of well-known dermatologists who asked if we would develop and sell a professional medical-grade line specifically for their patients. Their interest was based on our 1) unique ingredient, 2) proven mechanism of action, 3) “impeccable” clinical studies and 4) naturally-derived/non-toxic formulations. They helped us peer-review and publish our clinical studies.
The first study was published in the November 2015 issue of the Journal of Drugs in Dermatology. This study compared our ingredient to glycolic acid and found that our ingredient was 1) better tolerated and 2) superior at reducing the appearance of brown spots. Importantly, these dermatologists presented our study findings at 18 medical conferences. So, by the time Restorsea PRO, our professional line, was launched at the end of July 2015, we were ready to start the selling process.
Prior to having a route to market, it was very scary. It was as if I was in a dark, foggy forest and the only light I had was from my iPhone flashlight. Three months after launching Restorsea PRO, I literally saw a light. I realized that what I was seeing was the light at the end of the tunnel. Going through the tunnel is VERY, VERY hard, but, honestly, neither I nor any of the Restorsea team have ever been afraid of hard work.
Prime: If you could give a woman starting her own company one piece of advice, what would it be?
Patti Pao: People will always tell you what you can’t do. Just listen politely and inside say, “I’ll show you…”
Prime: Is there any part of your career you would do differently now? If so, what is it and why?
Patti Pao: No. It took 25 years of my experience, successes and failures to enable me to start Restorsea. My business partner/co-founder always jokes that it took me 25 years to be an overnight success.
Prime: When you started Restorsea, what was your greatest fear and how did you overcome it?
Patti Pao: This is a difficult question to answer because I lack the fear gene. I know it sounds odd. I trace it back to my two years at Harvard Business School, which was the time when I was spectacularly UNSUCCESSFUL. The experience was a huge culture shock and very intimidating. I vowed that I would do everything possible to never feel like this again.
I live by the following:
Prime: What is your favorite part of your job and why?
Patti Pao: Restorsea is my life; it is my spouse and child. I like everyone who wants to hear about my company. It’s been kind of a great thing because I realize that people like people who like them. It’s been a great virtuous circle.
Prime: What is the one trait you think is critical for a woman to have to start her own business?
Patti Pao: You need to help people just because—and not expect anything in return. Women are not good at helping each other. I think it is because we are genetically programmed to fight for the best sperm to fertilize our one egg. As a result, we need to fight each other over the wrong thing (men) and lose sight of the big goal. I think women can and will run the world. And the challenges that women currently face make us great entrepreneurs.
Prime: What roles, if any, do you feel food, exercise and stress play in how a woman’s skin ages? Is there one of these three that is more detrimental than another? If so, why?
Patti Pao: Ninety percent of the way we age is due to environmental factors. If you look at the skin on your breast (which has been covered pretty much all of your life), it looks younger (e.g. firmer, smoother, softer, more even-toned) than the skin on your face, which has been pretty much constantly exposed to environmental factors.
This is why you need to:
Prime: What are your top three tips that every woman should do to help prevent premature aging?
Patti Pao: I am Chinese and I like to write in 8s. Eight means good luck and good fortune. Here are my 8 Tips to Great Skincare.
Patti Pao: I wish that I understood that if you find the right dermatologist in your 20s and carefully choreograph your non-surgical beauty plan, when you are in your 60s you will look better than you did when you were in your 20s. One example of this is Christie Brinkley, who, with the planning of her beauty routine (fillers, Botox, lasers, skincare regimen), looks better now at 62 than she did when she was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Prime: What do you wish you had started doing earlier in your life that would have affected your skin today?
Prime: If a woman in her 50s and 60s is just getting interested in serious skin care, what is the smartest step she can take to help improve her skin quickly?
Patti Pao: She needs to find a good dermatologist. By this, I mean that she needs to find a dermatologist who 1) is technically renowned but IMPORTANTLY, 2) can understand her idea of beauty and provide the results. I encourage a woman to find three dermatologists, book a half-hour consultation and pay for his or her time to ensure that the provider is 100% focused on YOU. This will enable you to select the right physician.
Prime: What is one skin care product you never leave the house without putting on and why?
Patti Pao: No matter, what age or gender, EVERYONE needs a good eye cream.
And, finally, we asked Patti a few fun personal details, by filling in the blanks:
Guilty pleasure? Eating Peanut M&Ms
Book you’re reading now or last read: I just finished Swans of Fifth Avenue, a fictionalized account of the relationship of Truman Capote and Babe Paley. I am now reading West with the Night, Beryl Markham’s memoir.
Favorite way to spend your free time: Sitting on my couch with my cats. It used to be with a pizza but I had to eliminate this when I changed my eating habits to a plant-based diet.
Top item on your bucket list: Getting Restorsea to break even and giving my investors a 10X return on their investment.
Favorite place to travel: My couch with my cats. I have traveled over 60,000 United Airline miles as of February 4, 2016. My favorite place to travel is my apartment.
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