GUY RAZ, HOST:
Hey - really quick before we start the show - you may have heard of this, but if not, I want to tell you about this amazing, exciting event we're planning. It's our first ever HOW I BUILT THIS Summit. It's an all-day gathering for innovators and entreprenuers sponsored by American Express. And we're hosting it this October 16 in San Francisco. Throughout the day, I'll be doing live interviews with incredible entrepreneurs like Airbnb's Joe Gebbia, Lisa Price of Carol's Daughter, Jen Hyman of Rent the Runway, John Zimmer of Lyft and Katrina Lake of Stitch Fix. We're also going to have workshops with experts and guides there to provide you with lots of advice. Plus, you're going to meet hundreds of people just like you - builders who are taking their ideas to the next level. So if you want to find out how to get your tickets, go to npr.org/summit. Oh, and this episode - we originally ran it back in the fall of 2016. Hope you enjoy it.
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JANE WURWAND: We went to a contract manufacturer in Los Angeles, literally sort of fell on our swords and told him our dream, gave him the pitch and said, we need you to do, like, a test run for us. He said, look. I have absolutely no reason to do this because 99 percent of everyone that sits opposite me telling me this story does not succeed. But for some crazy reason, I think you've got something interesting, and I want to be in for the ride.
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RAZ: From NPR, it's HOW I BUILT THIS, a show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements they built. I'm Guy Raz. And on today's show, how Jane Wurwand went from doing facials for women at a beauty parlor to building one of the leading skin care companies in the world - Dermalogica.
So the story about Jane Wurwand really begins about a month before she turned 3 because that month, her father passed away. Now, Jane barely remembers him. But what she does remember is that all of a sudden, her mom had to get a job. There were four girls in the family to feed. And she now had to do it all on her own. This was Scotland in the 1950s. And Jane's mom happened to have a skill. She was a qualified nurse. So even though she hadn't worked for many, many years, she was able to find a job and also pass along an important lesson.
WURWAND: The five words that changed my life were my mom saying to my sisters and myself, learn how to do something. Learn how to do something. She was absolutely adamant that we - each of us had to get a skill set training. That no matter what happened, if we were somewhere - anywhere in the world, we would have a skill set in our hands that we could go to work immediately and earn money and keep food on the table.
RAZ: So when she was old enough, Jane Wurwand decided on her skill. She'd become what was called at the time a beautician. And right after she got her qualification at age 19, she started looking for work.
WURWAND: I decided - quite honestly, it sounds so flippant now, but it was freezing cold. It was the winter of 1977. I think it's one of the coldest on record. And I'm reading the Sunday paper. And I want to see where is the hottest place on Earth...
WURWAND: ...Because I have to feel better about this freezing cold flat that I'm living in. So I look at the weather in the Sunday paper, and it said Johannesburg, South Africa. It was like 107 degrees. I'm like, oh, my God, I wish I was in Johannesburg, South Africa. And as I turned the page, it's like the universe sending me a sign. There's a quarter-page advertisement from the South African government saying, if you meet our prerequisite kind of qualifications, we will pay an assisted passage for you to emigrate to South Africa as long as you agree to live there for two years.
And I thought good grief, I could be in Johannesburg in a month. And they had a list of 10 careers that they wanted to recruit to South Africa. And they were all vocational training. The number one was butchers. The number two was patisseries. Third was a hairstylist. And the fourth was a beauty therapist. And there I am. Six weeks later, I was on a flight to Johannesburg.
RAZ: And so when you got there, were you actually able to find a job?
WURWAND: Yeah. And when I got to Cape Town, I sat in this immigration hotel. And I picked up the Yellow Pages. And I literally started calling salons in the Yellow Pages to see if they would hire me. And by 5:30 that evening, I had a job.
RAZ: Was it weird to live there at the time? I mean, what was it like to be there?
WURWAND: It was completely different to anything I'd ever experienced. You know, I remember my first day going to work. I was taking a bus. And the buses kept coming. I kept putting up my arm and they weren't stopping. And I couldn't figure out what was going on because on the front of the bus it said Sea Point, and that's where I was going to work.
And a woman at the bus stop finally said to me, you're not - they're not going to stop for you because on the bus at the front, it said ni blanc, and it means nonwhite. And I said, what? And she said, well, you have to wait for a bus for white people. (Laughter) And I'm like, what? Anyway, so that was one of my first introductions. I had never seen it, obviously. I had never seen anything like that.
RAZ: Yeah, it must have been strange. When you were there in South Africa, were you more or less doing the same thing that you'd been doing in London?
WURWAND: Yeah. Skin care, manicures, pedicures, everything that I've been doing and trained to do and in love with the industry and feeling so happy that I had this training because literally, as odd as it sounds, I know I could walk out of the studio today. I'll have a job by tomorrow because there is such a demand for the work we do. And if you're skilled at it, and you're good at it, and you love it, you're going to get work.
RAZ: So how long did you end up living there?
WURWAND: I lived in South Africa for four years.
RAZ: And is that where you met your husband?
WURWAND: Yeah. I met him in South Africa. He's from Cape Town. And he was already in process for a green card for the United States. And while we were dating, his green card came through. And, I mean, I can't even explain how exciting it is. It's like getting the golden ticket in a Willy Wonka Chocolate Bar. It's so hard to emigrate legally and do it properly. And he did, and off he went. And I was so excited for him.
And at the same time, I had a job with an American company. And they were based in Los Angeles. And within a few months, I actually got offered a training trip to Los Angeles. And so I met him when I came on that business trip. And together we just said, we've got to do something here. This is such an amazing country and such an amazing opportunity. I went back, gave in my notice. I'd hired an immigration attorney in LA. And four months later, I was on a flight to Los Angeles.
RAZ: Wow. So you get to LA. And this is like early '80s?
WURWAND: Yeah. It was January 1983. I was 24 and never been so excited in my life, landed in Los Angeles with a suitcase in one hand and my beauty school diploma rolled up and tucked inside. And I had no idea that there was an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent in California at that point.
WURWAND: It's always good not to know these things, you know, because otherwise, you'll put yourself off.
RAZ: Yeah. Right, right.
WURWAND: And so my boyfriend - he'd been looking for a job for six months, couldn't find anything, was living in a one-bedroom apartment in Marina Del Rey, ready to take anything. And I landed, and I said, all right, well, I'm going to get a job in a salon. So I'm going to start calling my trusty, you know, Yellow Pages. And the first thing that struck me was there were hardly any advertisements for skin care salons.
RAZ: They were mostly just, like, hair and...
WURWAND: Yeah. And I'm like, this is kind of weird. Anyway, then I quickly realized the ones I could find - and there was literally a handful - were all in Beverly Hills and a very sort of elitist, expensive sort of offering. So I went and interviewed at one. I called, got a job interview, went to interview. And when I got there, the people at the front desk were all American. And yet, the people I was seeing in the white uniforms who were offering the skin care treatments were all European. I could, you know, hear their accents. So when I had my interview they said, do you have any questions? And I said, yeah, I do have a question. Why - I just noticed all the people are American on the front desk, and all the people in the treatment rooms are European. And the woman who owned it, who was French said to me, well, it's really simple. The Americans have horrible training. They don't know how to give a skin treatment. And the Europeans can't sell.
WURWAND: So I - that's how I do it. So I walked away from that interview thinking - repeating what she'd just said to me in my head. And I thought, I think we've just spotted the greatest opportunity in this industry. And that is train Americans how to do better skin treatments. And combining with that, retailing and selling.
RAZ: I'm surprised that, like, skin care wasn't a big thing in the U.S. at the time. So what was a normal skin care regimen?
WURWAND: Very limited because it was all big hair, big shoulder pads, "Dallas." It was all makeup. I mean, you could pick up magazines then - Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, fashion magazines. There were always articles on makeup. There was nothing on skin care. The dermatologists were all saying, oh, you can use anything. You can use soap and water.
WURWAND: And I knew that not only did the correct products work, and you got a result on the skin. More importantly, when you receive a treatment in a salon, it's about human connection and human touch. And there's something much bigger happening in every salon than just the service you're receiving. So I was absolutely convinced there was a waiting audience for the next era in skin care.
RAZ: So at that point, did you - like, what did you do?
WURWAND: I went back, sat with Raymond, my partner. And he was...
RAZ: Now your husband?
WURWAND: No, we weren't married then. We were just dating and living together.
WURWAND: So he was having the same experience because oddly enough, the only job he'd managed to secure was selling skin care equipment for a Japanese company - commission only. And we'd both come from the industry, both been in cosmetics. So he couldn't sell one piece of this Japanese equipment, which was amazingly sophisticated.
RAZ: It was, like, equipment to do what?
WURWAND: To do skin care, to do steaming and exfoliation. And it was brand-new, cutting-edge. And he wasn't selling a piece because no...
RAZ: He was going, like, door-to-door to salon-to-salon trying to sell it?
WURWAND: Yeah. And so they were saying, well, we don't even understand what it is you're selling. So we were having this epiphany sort of together because he was like, how come they don't understand what I'm selling when this is absolutely standard in Europe and the rest of the world? And we sat down and said the opportunity is huge. We can teach how to do correct skin care treatments. And we can sell this equipment to the people that we're teaching.
RAZ: So right then and there, you decided to start building a plan to create a business?
WURWAND: Yeah. We actually cooked it up together on a drive back from San Diego, took us two-and-a-quarter hours. And in that drive, we had completely talked through our business plan. Ray got back, and we wrote it out on the kitchen table on five pages of yellow legal paper (laughter).
RAZ: And the plan was?
WURWAND: The plan was to train the professional skin therapist - then called an aesthetician. And we were going to take everyone who was licensed. And we were going to bridge it to the two-year training that we felt would bring them up to a level of proficiency where they could be successful. So the goal was really simple. We're going to make skin therapists more successful and able to run their own business and be financially independent.
RAZ: So the idea was that you guys would open up a school and you would...
RAZ: ...Train them, both you and Ray?
WURWAND: Yeah. So Ray was going to still sell equipment. He was going to stay on the road. I was going to teach. I was going to use the equipment he was selling in the classes I was teaching, sell the equipment after the class. And we called it the International Dermal Institute.
RAZ: How did you even have cash to start a - to open up a, like, a...
WURWAND: No cash.
WURWAND: It was a - hell of a difficult to get a lease because remember, we were immigrants. We had no credit rating. We had no bank references. We had nothing. So the only space we could find was an empty space - it had been empty for years - next to the Social Security office in Marina Del Rey. And they'd found it very difficult to lease.
RAZ: Because there's, like, long lines of people waiting for their checks every day? Yeah.
WURWAND: Yeah, exactly - fantastic. We had sitting, you know, people waiting to receive skin treatments.
WURWAND: So we rented it. And then we got the equipment from the Japanese manufacturer, put that in. And we were off to the races. And now the challenge was, who were we going to train? Because we didn't know anybody.
RAZ: Right. I mean, you just - you hung a shingle out, but, like, people had to know, like, who you were.
WURWAND: Well, so we knew that our target market were licensed aestheticians. So in other words, they had to already be licensed to work in the industry. So I called the State Board of Cosmetology in Sacramento, Calif. And I called them. And I said, do you have a list of everyone licensed in the state of California to perform skin care treatments? And it was a very short list. It was like 2,300 names. And they said, yes, we do. And I said, is that list available? Is it public record? And they said, yes. And I said, can you sell me the list? And they said, yes, we can sell you the list. It's $25. And would you like us to print on Avery labels? And so I said, yes, please.
WURWAND: And they did.
WURWAND: And so it got in the mail.
RAZ: Just, like, the label of every person who's licensed?
WURWAND: Yeah. So that was it. And we sat in the library. We got a phone book out. Thank goodness for the phone book in those days. And we plotted the zip codes within a 50-mile radius of Marina Del Rey. And we peeled off all the labels that fit those zip codes. And we sent out a postcard saying, this is who I am. This is my qualification. I'm teaching a free, one-day class. We mailed it out. And we were hoping we'd get, I don't know, like, a dozen responses. We had 70 responses...
WURWAND: ...Within 24 hours.
RAZ: So you were offering a free, one-day class to bring people in to get them - so people would know what you're doing?
WURWAND: Yeah. So we took 70 people - rented chairs, took 70 people. And after a couple of weeks of doing the free class, we charged $10 a person. So now we had $700 in that one day, which is huge.
RAZ: And you were, like, teaching what? Like...
WURWAND: Cleansing, double cleansing, steaming, exfoliation, massage and then toning and moisturizing. It was very simple. And so by December of 1983, I was offering eight different classes.
RAZ: And you were teaching all of those classes?
WURWAND: Everything, yeah, taught every class, did all the laundry, took the laundry home at night...
WURWAND: ...To our one-bedroom apartment, sat in the garage laundromat...
RAZ: And never slept?
WURWAND: ...Never slept. Worked, I don't know, 16 hours a day, seven days a week for years, for years. Didn't take a salary.
RAZ: Because, I mean, presumably, you don't become rich by teaching classes?
WURWAND: No, no, no. We were actually earning enough to pay the rent for the school and cover $300 a month for me. I was taking $300 a month out of the business to just sort of buy underwear and pantyhose.
WURWAND: Ray kept his job as a sales rep. And he was making enough money to pay our rent on our apartment. And a big night out was a burger on a Friday night. That was huge. I mean, we saved everything. And for three years, it was just us, a guy who immigrated was a friend of ours who joined us and slept on our floor in a futon. And he was out pushing the classes. He was out sort of as a sales rep.
RAZ: He'd go to salons and say, hey, there's these classes...
WURWAND: Here's these classes. Come and take the free one first, and then we'll sign you up. And that's what they did.
RAZ: And were they full classes?
WURWAND: Yeah, I had full classes with waitlists. Yeah, people were flying from San Francisco. They were flying from Phoenix. They were coming from Nevada. They were meeting each other. They were rooming together. They were forming friendships. The class would finish at 5, and we'd order, you know, pizza and boxed wine by 7:30.
RAZ: I love that you're, like, doing all the skin care, and then you're eating burgers and pizzas, too. That's very...
WURWAND: Yeah, I mean, you know...
RAZ: That's very heartening to hear. You weren't eating, like, kale salads and, like, lemon water.
WURWAND: No, we were not. We were eating, you know, Twix and Kit-Kats.
RAZ: So at that time - like, you know, '83 - and this was sort of the first few years of it. I mean, did you see yourself as an entrepreneur? Did you have visions of making this a huge thing, or was this just something that you loved doing that you were...
WURWAND: No. It wasn't - well, first of all, I didn't use the word entrepreneur. I'm not sure I even knew that word. Maybe I did. It wasn't the hot, sexy word like it is now. I just thought, I'm going to lead a tribe. We're going to change this industry. And so for three years, the International Dermal Institute was our only business. But very quickly I realized - and Raymond and I both together said, what product are they using when they go back to their salons?
And when I would ask them this - they would say they were all European products - French, German and Italian. And I said, why are you not using American products? And they said, well, which ones? And I realized there were no American-made products in the salon industry.
There were tons in the department store and in the drugstore. There was nothing in the salon industry. And that was like a light bulb went off in both Raymond and myself. We both said, OK, the big opportunity is product. And Ray said to me, if you had to write down the kind of products you want to use, do you believe you could write down the briefs for a line? And I said, absolutely. And he said, write down the briefs, and let's set about making a product line.
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RAZ: When we come back in a moment, we'll hear how Jane and Raymond invented that new line of skin products and how they almost lost it before it even got off the ground. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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RAZ: It's HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So it's about 1985, and Jane and Ray have decided to create a whole new line of skin care products, and they want it to be different than anything else in the market.
WURWAND: I wanted cleansers that would completely rinse off with water. I wanted to develop an exfoliant that would be really, really efficient and not cause irritation to the skin. I have an allergy to lanolin, so I didn't want any lanolin in the product. I wanted no mineral oil, no fragrance, no drying alcohol, no artificial color. Ray named the line Dermalogica. We had the International Dermal Institute, so it was kind of fitting with that. And we wanted to launch a line that was a bridge between a pharmaceutical product and a skin care product to cosmetic.
RAZ: Yeah, it sounds like it's, like, made in a lab, sort of clean.
WURWAND: Yeah. We stepped forward with no jars - only bottles and tubes. And we didn't have sort of pink jars with gold tops and pink boxes. We had gray and white packaging. Out packaging looked pharmaceutical. Many times, people criticized it in the early days that it was ugly. We felt it was utilitarian, and that was the image we wanted. That was who we were.
RAZ: You'd been working with, you know, these products for most of your career at that point, and you were still really young. You were in your - your early 20s or mid 20s. How did you know how to make this stuff?
WURWAND: I had no idea.
WURWAND: So I spoke to a chemist who we knew. And he said, look. If you're looking for a chemist that can make the product, you want to use a lot of botanicals and plant extracts. Speak to the raw material suppliers for the plant extracts, and ask them who in Los Angeles is formulating product, if anyone, using a lot of plant extracts, because you need to work with someone that knows these materials. And that was what we did. We contacted the raw material supplier in New Jersey, asked them, do you have any chemists in LA that are using your materials? And they gave us a list, and we started calling the list. And out of the 70 names we had, five would take our call. And of the five, there was one that, number one, was willing to work with us and, number two, we felt could do it.
RAZ: And this chemist was in LA?
WURWAND: Yeah, he was in LA. He's since passed away, but he was in Los Angeles. And we couldn't pay him. That was the other thing. So we figured out - Raymond figured out this amazing kind of way of paying him based on the first two years of manufactured products, so a percentage of the product that we manufactured, not a percentage of sales because we wanted to make sure he was tied into the fact that, if we weren't actually able to ever make this product, he wasn't going to get paid.
WURWAND: And he agreed.
RAZ: And what did you decide to make? What - was it one product or two products or five?
WURWAND: Twenty-seven products.
RAZ: Right off the bat?
WURWAND: Right off the bat.
RAZ: Twenty-seven products?
RAZ: Why so many?
WURWAND: Well, because we needed to go in with a full footprint. If we went in with one or two products, we couldn't capture a skin therapist's attention and say, you need to use this exclusively in your room, and you need to sell this to your clients. It wouldn't have been enough.
RAZ: So it was, like, creams and...
WURWAND: So it was three cleansers, two moisturizers, three boosters, two masks, an eye makeup remover. And then we had, I think, eight or nine products that were professional-only peals and professional masks and things that would only be used in the treatment room.
RAZ: And this chemist, he was making all these products in a lab?
WURWAND: Yeah, he was like Rumpelstiltskin.
RAZ: He was formulating them all, and you...
RAZ: ...Were going and testing them out and saying, well, adjust this a little bit or...
WURWAND: Yeah, I briefed him. He came back two days later with a little cardboard box with samples. And I said, well, you can't possibly have made these that quickly, and they can't be right. I mean, he must have gone to Avon and bought them or something. But they were great. I mean - and in nine months, we had developed 27 formulas. And we named them in one afternoon.
RAZ: How are you, like, even funding that product - because you think about that today - like, that process - you just think it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars just to test it and just to, like, get it into the tubes.
WURWAND: Well, it probably should.
RAZ: How did - yeah. How did you - how were you able to do it?
WURWAND: We were buying tubes that nobody wanted. We were buying 500 at a time that they were selling to us for, you know...
RAZ: And filling them yourselves?
WURWAND: No, but we went to a contract manufacturer in Los Angeles, literally sort of fell on our swords and told him our dream, gave him the pitch and said, we need you to do, like, a test run for us. And we can pay you, like, $500, or whatever it was. And his minimum ones were thousands, you know?
And without him, we really wouldn't have the company because he looked at us, after we'd been sort of, like, pitching crazily for an hour - he said, look. I have absolutely no reason to do this because 99 percent of everyone that sits opposite me telling me this story does not succeed. But for some crazy reason, I think you've got something interesting, and I want to be in for the ride.
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RAZ: By the way, had you - how were you able to test the product?
WURWAND: I tested everything and approved everything.
RAZ: On yourself?
RAZ: You just test it on your skin, and you were, like, your own guinea pig.
WURWAND: I was my own guinea pig. And then I took it to class. And I - the students, I'd ask them what they thought. And they loved it, and they were using it in the classroom.
RAZ: Just out of curiosity, does that have to go through, like, any kind of regulatory commission or anything?
WURWAND: Well, we weren't - first of all, you know, we were a very young and new company. And a lot of the rules, I suppose, we weren't even aware of probably. But at the time - and still - we weren't using any ingredients that were controversial. We had eliminated a lot of the irritating ingredients. And so in the nine months that we were testing the product as we were developing it, we hadn't had any incidents of reactions or allergies, et cetera.
RAZ: I mean, so that was it? You just - like, you just launched?
WURWAND: Yeah. So we launched in January of 1986. And the crazy thing was the chemist who developed these formulas, who we were going to pay off over a two-year period, came to us in December of '85 - a month before we were due to launch - and said that he did not believe in the product. He didn't believe we could be successful in a new venture.
RAZ: Why did he say that to you?
WURWAND: Because he'd just seen so many startups fail.
RAZ: This is the chemist? This is not the factory owner. This is the guy that you, like...
WURWAND: No, this is Rumpelstiltskin.
RAZ: He just said, I don't this is going to work?
WURWAND: Yeah, I don't think it's going to work. I'd like you to pay me out for the formulas now. And we didn't have any money to buy the formulas.
RAZ: What did it - what was it going to cost you?
WURWAND: Well, I mean, he wanted something extraordinary, and we whittled him down. And it came down to, you know, sort of $14,000.
RAZ: Which probably was a lot of money for you in 1985.
WURWAND: Huge. It was like telling us he wanted $10 million.
RAZ: Why did the chemist not think it would work?
WURWAND: I think he didn't believe in us. He believed in the formula. I think he thought, these are two immigrants. These crazy immigrants - what do they know about starting a company? What do they know about funding a company? You can't just start a skin care company.
RAZ: Were you freaking out?
WURWAND: Yes, we were freaking out. But we had to figure this out - scramble, put it together. So we borrowed money from family. We put together everything we could from the school. We put it together, and we paid him.
RAZ: But weren't you so nervous? Like, if this is the guy saying to you, this is not going to work, and you're like, we better come up with the $14,000, but we're going to be kind of screwed because this guy's saying it's not going to work.
WURWAND: We were worried that the formulas he was giving us - literally, we, you know, kind of exchanged on the table of a Coco's Diner (ph). He passed the manila envelope of formulas over, and we passed the money. And we were worried that the formulas he'd given us were not the formulas that we'd approved. But we actually had the guy who was going to manufacture the product look at the formulas for us. And he said, no, this is it. They're right. It's the real deal.
RAZ: I'm just thinking about that - that moment where a guy who is a total expert is saying to you, who's never manufactured skin care products, that this isn't going to work. And yet you have to come up with $14,000 to pay him. Did you have any doubt?
RAZ: You didn't think, maybe he's right?
WURWAND: No, he couldn't be right. It wasn't possible because, if he was right, we (laughter) were about to launch into the biggest disaster of our lives.
RAZ: But that may have been the case.
WURWAND: Yeah, but we turned each other on with self-repeated enthusiasm.
RAZ: You and Ray?
WURWAND: Yeah (laughter). We just kept saying...
RAZ: Like, you and Ray were like, this is going to work.
WURWAND: Yes, it's going to work, isn't it? And if one of us was having a modicum of doubt, guaranteed the other one was having a good day. So on the days when I might be saying, we're not crazy, right? Ray would be saying, no, of course we're not crazy. The students love it. This is going to be great. And on the days when he was saying, I think it's a house of cards. Maybe it's all going to collapse. I'd be saying, no, no, no, we just had the greatest class. It was so fantastic. Everybody's excited. This is going to work.
And you know what? If it doesn't work, we'll do something else. It's not the greatest disaster in the world. We have nothing to lose, basically. And it was exciting. And what if it works? And we did the classic immigrant thing where you look at the population. It only takes 1 percent of the population to buy one product, and it's already enormous - bigger than it could ever be in the U.K. So let's go for it.
RAZ: OK, so you had no investors, and you basically figured, we'll sell the product, and that will fund the manufacture of more of the product.
WURWAND: Yeah, exactly.
RAZ: And most of your customers were who?
WURWAND: My students. The first account we opened was in Bakersfield, Calif., and...
RAZ: This was one of your students who had a salon there or...
WURWAND: Yeah, Becky Sinclair (ph) was her name. She walked up with a check, and I said, Becky, I haven't even shown you the product. And she said, Jane, if you and Raymond are in, I'm in, too. And I said, you're our first account in the world. And that was it. My students came up. They came up. They said, we want in. We want to be part of it. This was a California-made skin care product, and we were going to take on the world.
RAZ: And you were not selling this in stores, right? It was only...
WURWAND: No, no, no, only salons. You had to have a skin therapist.
RAZ: You had to have a therapist who sold this to you?
RAZ: And why was that? Why wouldn't you just, like, sell it in Walgreens or something?
WURWAND: No, no - because I'm a skin therapist. We knew that this was an educated sell. It had to be people that understood the skin. And also, these were the people that brought us to the party. And my mom, another piece of advice she gave me was, you leave the party with the person you went with. So we were committed to skin therapists.
RAZ: How did Dermalogica do in that first year?
WURWAND: We did a million dollars in our first year.
RAZ: That's insane.
WURWAND: It was so insane, yeah.
RAZ: I mean, it must - you must have, at that point, like, had all these buyers who wanted to, like, buy you out.
WURWAND: Yeah, and lots of people wanted to lend us money (laughter).
RAZ: And you didn't take any of it?
WURWAND: No, nothing. We wouldn't even...
RAZ: Because the sales were - was just funding the business?
WURWAND: Yeah, and it was so exciting. It was great. I mean, that first year, we were plowing everything back into the business - you know, more staff. We hired a direct sales force. We wanted people walking in that were Dermalogica. And so we were putting everything back into building the business.
RAZ: But how were you, like, teaching classes and hiring a staff and, like, building an organization?
WURWAND: We were working our tails off is what we were doing. I didn't hire another teacher until 1987, so I was writing the classes, teaching the classes and still doing the laundry. And Raymond and a couple of other people were handling the product. When the classes finished at 5 o'clock, we were doing the UPS orders. I was packing the boxes, sealing the boxes, writing the labels. There were five of us in the company. We did everything. We finished at 10 o'clock at night, 11 o'clock at night. Everyone came back to my house - our flat - for spaghetti. And then we were back at work at 7:30 the next morning.
RAZ: When did you and Ray sort of sit back and say, (laughter) we might actually get really rich from doing this thing that we never knew we could get rich from?
WURWAND: Last year.
WURWAND: Well, I mean, no. I mean, we knew we had a tiger by the tail that first year.
WURWAND: And we knew that we had to spread ourselves internationally. We needed eggs in all the baskets so that if there was a recession in one place, it wasn't going to take our business down. And the International Dermal Institute is now the No. 1 provider of advanced education in the industry worldwide. We train 100,000 skin therapists every single year.
WURWAND: And last year, our wholesale turnover was a little north of $250 million.
RAZ: That's incredible. So you guys were - you basically ran the company for almost 30 years...
WURWAND: Yeah. We ran the company.
RAZ: ...And decided to sell it last year. You sold it to Unilever.
RAZ: Why did you decide to do that?
WURWAND: Well, you know, we'd run the company as what I sort of say was, you know, a beneficial dictatorship. We've always had a great team. We still have a great team. But the decisions ultimately came down to Raymond and myself - product approval, advertising - or everything, the brand ID. And, you know, we realized, much that we hate to think about it, the death rate is holding steady at 100 percent.
WURWAND: So ultimately, we were going to have to make a plan of what we wanted to do with the company.
WURWAND: We have two daughters. They're 17 and 22. And neither of them wanted to come into the business. And we didn't want them to. We told them - even kind of before they were born - we decided if we ever have children, they're not coming into Dermalogica. It's our dream. And we believe it's a burden to kind of shoulder your children with that responsibility.
And so we had decided we'll hire a CEO. And we'd gone through a couple of CEOs in the eight years before we decided to sell. And we - it just wasn't working. And we realized the problem probably wasn't the CEO's. The problem was probably us because we are the founders. You know, we have this sort of passion about the ownership. And it's very hard to run a company when the founders are in place and kind of want to have the last word.
WURWAND: And so we decided we should at least explore the idea of an acquisition. We'd never taken a phone call from anyone that was interested in buying, never even taken a call because we said we don't even to have the conversation. It's a distraction. And so we kind of lined up who we thought would be the right partners for us. And then we set about deciding which ones we wanted to court.
And Unilever were very aligned with us on their sustainable living plan. They're very aligned with us on a value system. And so we decided to go forward. And I have to say - we're one year in, and it's been a fantastic year, so much so that Raymond and I kept a small percentage of the company. And we're still involved.
RAZ: And that - the chemist, the one who, like, bailed a month before Dermalogica launched - did he ever come back to you guys and apologize?
WURWAND: No, never.
RAZ: (Laughter) He never did?
WURWAND: No. He was like Rumpelstiltskin - that flew out the window and never came back.
RAZ: You know, it's - I mean, it's amazing, like, looking back at your story because your mom was a widow with four girls and - that she had to raise on her own. And she must have been a little worried when you left England for South Africa and then to the U.S. with very little. What did she make of your success?
WURWAND: I know that she was really proud. She felt validated in the direction that she pushed us in. She passed away in 2001, but she saw our success. And the last months of my mom's life - she had Alzheimer's - I'm not sure she remembered anything about Dermalogica. She remembered me.
And I sat on her bed when she was in the hospital. And I was giving her a manicure. I was right back to filing her nails and painting them. And she was watching me. And she looked across at the woman who was in the chair next to her. And she said to her - with a huge look of pride, she said to her, my daughter's a qualified manicurist, you know? And I smiled as I was doing it because I thought that if she doesn't remember anything about the success we've had, she's really proud that I got that training, and I'm going to be OK. And I was.
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RAZ: Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica. She now spends most of her time on helping women around the world become entrepreneurs through her foundation. And, of course, we couldn't let Jane go without asking for her No. 1 skin care tip. So here it is.
WURWAND: Single best thing you can do for your skin is keep it out of the sun. So you wear a sunblock. You wear your hat. Stop lying out in the sun. Get busy. Start your business. And go out and change the world.
RAZ: And please do stick around because in just a moment, we're going to hear from you about the things you're building.
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RAZ: Hey. Thanks so much for sticking around because it's time now for How You Built That. And today, we're going to update a story we ran about a year ago. This one comes from Winfield, Pa.
NICHOLAS GILSON: My name is Nicholas Gilson, and I am one of the original founders of Gilson snowboards.
RAZ: Nick and his business partner sort of fell into the snowboard business. They were middle school teachers in Nashville and did a science project where they challenged their students to build a better snowboard.
GILSON: I brought in the original prototype for an idea I had when I was my students' age, when I was in middle school.
RAZ: And that idea was basically to design a board which, instead of being flat at the bottom, was curved. And Nick hoped that it would make for a faster ride. And even though their first design totally failed, they eventually came up with one they loved.
GILSON: With this board, you can actually ride close to flat and engage these surfy (ph), drifty maneuvers that allow you to get through the trees way easier with way more surfy motion.
RAZ: And so with barely any money, Nick and his partner quit their teaching jobs and set up a snowboard shop inside a stable in Pennsylvania.
GILSON: It was an active stable. It was an active stable. There were donkeys and horses next to our machines (laughter).
RAZ: And in that stable, Nick says, they were able to make their boards even better.
GILSON: And we then started to travel the country, starting a company much the way our grandparents would have. We need to tangibly and physically share something with people. And so we went out and immersed ourselves in the community, traveled 17,000 miles from coast to coast and started getting these people on the boards.
RAZ: Now, since we last spoke to Nick, his team has traveled 17,000 more miles to slopes and parks across the country, letting people sample Gilson snowboards for free. The company is now four years old. They've sold thousands of boards, and they've recently expanded to skis. You can find out more about Gilson snowboards on our Facebook page. And, of course, if you want to tell us your story, go to build.npr.org. We love hearing about things you're building.
And thanks so much for listening to our show this week. If you want to find out more or hear previous episodes, you can go to howibuiltthis.npr.org. Please also subscribe to our podcast at Apple Podcasts or however you get your podcasts. You can also write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can tweet us, too - @HowIBuiltThis. My Twitter address is @guyraz. Our show was produced this week by Rund Abdelfatah. Ramtin Arablouei composed the music. Thanks also to Neva Grant, Sanaz Meshkinpour, Thomas Lu and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Nour Coudsi. I'm Guy Raz, and you've been listening to HOW I BUILT THIS from NPR.
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