As of writing, Rooki is now two and a half months old, practically a newborn baby by any standards. I’ve spent more 2 years conceiving Rooki and seeing it carried to term has been one of my life’s greatest joy. It was only yesterday when friends and family welcomed Rooki with orders, and I dreamt of being the next media darling. After all, I had a compelling story (who doesn’t love superfoods in skincare?) and products that worked. Early reviews were overwhelmingly positive and my optimism was an an all time high.
But the reality is that the clean beauty space is an extremely crowded one. Over the last few years, clean beauty brands have been sprouting out like tiny sunflowers - a bright, cheery spot in an industry once dominated by large and largely out-of-touch incumbents. And while I am grateful to the universe for this chance to even start my own skincare line (before Instagram, this would have been impossible), the truth is that unless you’ve got a deep pockets and media contacts, you’re going to have to slug it out. The vast majority of modern beauty brands launch with the full works - a cleanser, toner, moisturiser, makeup remover, eye cream, and targeted options like serums and boosters. They come in fully armed with digital marketing agencies and design directors, who spin straw into proverbial gold.
Rooki started with just three products - a brightening cleanser, antioxidant moisturiser, and chlorophyll rich treatment masque. We wanted to ensure that these products were hits before moving on to bigger and more challenging products, like sunscreens and eye creams. We invested in finding a suitable lab in Japan, and poured our savings into creating quality products that really worked. The hardest part so far has been really getting our name out. Having a small marketing budget meant that we had to be a lot more resourceful with whatever we did have.
Sure, I’ve had my fair share of ‘what ifs’ and ‘things I would have done differently if I could go back in time’. But I’ve learnt to take a step back and count my blessings too. Self-reflection and introspection are some of the most important traits a brand founder can have. Here’s what I’ve learnt so far:
HOW DO YOU BUILD A HOUSE? ONE BRICK AT A TIME
If you asked me what is one sin that should be added to the Seven Deadly Sins, it’d have to be impatience. Patience is a virtue that isn’t valued in today’s world. Current thinking suggests that in order to be successful, you need to hustle, move fast and break things. When I first started, I thought that it was all about speed. Cosmetic manufacturers in Korea and Taiwan could create products twice as fast as Japanese manufacturers, so I went with them, despite knowing that Japanese labs tended to be more detail-orientated and established. Sure enough, when the lab samples came back - they weren’t as good as I had hoped. Eventually, I took my time developing products in Japan. There were countless revisions, not because the products weren’t good - but because I simply wanted them to be great.
Impatience for results can be poisonous. It clouds judgement, destroys credibility and damages relationships. It causes you to rush into bad partnerships and bad practices - just because they fit your timeline. I’ve learnt that taking it slow doesn’t automatically equal complacency. Now, when people ask me how I intend to build Rooki, I answer: “The same way you build a house - one brick at a time.”
PEOPLE WANT TO WATCH YOU SUCCEED
When I was sixteen, my literature teacher introduced me to a cool new word: schadenfreude. All I remember was that she said it was a German word that meant ‘to experience joy in other people’s failure’ and that she loved the way it sounded. I thought it sounded pretty cool, and reasoned that since there’s a word for it, it must be true. But starting Rooki has proven me wrong. Save for a few sour grapes, the majority of people want to watch you succeed, not fail. For example, I once sent a product that ended up leaking during delivery. Instead of leaving a bad review and demanding for a refund, my customer gently messaged me and told me about it. She gave me a chance to replace the product, and make things right. We kept in contact for awhile, and eventually I asked her why she was so nice - despite the fact that it wasn’t a 100% positive experience. She told me it was because even though the product leaked, she was still able to try some of it and loved it - and that she really wanted to watch Rooki succeed. Time after time, I’ve found that the majority of people don’t just want their skincare to work, they also want a brand that works to succeed.
FIND YOUR AUTHENTIC VOICE
One of the greatest challenge for any skincare brand is finding your authentic voice in a sea of noise. With Rooki, I opted for a more youthful and conversational style - something that came naturally to me. I wanted my voice to be simple but not boring, empathetic but not excessive, sometimes humorous and somewhat quirky. In short, imperfectly human. In the past, all a skincare brand had to do was find an authoritative voice. Today, building a brand is a two-way street. Customers today want to know that they’re talking to a real human being, not some faceless corporate drone - especially when they’re trusting you with something as important as their skin! Finding your authentic voice is one of the most effective ways to communicate your brand values, philosophy, and find your ideal audience. I’ve learnt to think of my authentic voice as the look and feel of Rooki, but in writing.