Natural Skincare Brand, Herbivore, Raises $15 Million In Series A Funding. Here’s How You Can Do It Too.

Aggie Burnett
6 min readAug 18, 2019

Maybe you’ve heard the word around the street? Herbivore, the Seattle-born natural skincare line started by Julia Wills and her husband, Alex Kummerow in 2011, raised their first round of funding, a cool $15 Mill, natch. Not bad for an indie beauty brand that got its start on Etsy. What’s even more impressive is that they’ve been retailing at Anthropologie, Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Sephora over the last few years and have done so without any outside funding…until now.

Below are the 6 key reasons why they’ve been able to grow steadily year over year, build a tribe of brand evangelists, and ultimately raise more capital than the majority of beauty brands get in their Series A.

I’m sharing this in hopes that you may find a nugget of wisdom you can apply to your brand. And to remind you that you got this. Your hard work will pay off. Stay committed, have a clear purpose, and know your audience inside out. You’re not alone in this, every beauty brand founder went through the same issues you may be going through right now. You will come out on the other side.

1. AUTHENTICITY

Now before you dismiss the word authenticity as overused and cliche, here me out. In interviews, Kummerow and Wills have stated that they believe their differentiation factor is that they’ve always stayed true to their vision and made it a point to not mimic what other brands were doing, no matter how much more successful other brands seemed to be. Julia said in an interview with P.F. Candle Co., “It’s hard with so many images flooding Instagram and so much competition in the beauty industry, but our most successful products are always the ones that come from a very personal place.”

I call that “personal place” your values, vision, beliefs, and purpose. You need to start with these first to build the foundation for a successful beauty business. Otherwise, you’ll get bored or burn out. Either way, it won’t end well. I say this to my clients every day, stop playing “samesies” and just do you. Authenticity flows from having a clear vision and purpose. The money needs to be secondary to the impact you’re looking to make for your customers. You don’t have to be doing this to change the world per se, but even making a small difference for your customers is a big difference over 8 years.

Take Action: Are you clear on the purpose of your business? Your vision? If not, take a couple of hours and write out the answers to the following questions:

What are my 5 highest personal values (not enforced by society, parents or friends)?

How can I apply those values in my business right now to create a more authentic customer experience?

Why do I exist as an organization?

What do I hope to achieve with your brand in 5, 10 years?

Where am I fed up with the status quo and want to shake things up?

What was the trigger that prompted you to start this business in the first place?

How does your customer perceive you in comparison to other beauty brands? And why do they choose you?

These are just a few questions to get you started on gaining more clarity on your authentic differentiation factor.

2. CREDIBILITY FACTORS

Julia’s mother was an esthetician and would blend natural ingredients to create treatments at home and for her clients. Inspired, Julia took it a step further and attended Bastyr University Naturopathic Medicine School, where she learned about the benefits of herbs, aromatherapy, and Chinese medicine. This is where her interest in natural beauty blossomed.

In Herbivore’s case, Julia’s training, as well as her upbringing, give credibility to launching and growing a natural skincare brand. As a result of these two credibility factors, the customer trusts that Herbivore’s formulations have been skillfully crafted, will work and won’t cause them harm.

What are credibility factors? They are the achievements, credentials, and experiences that build authority and legitimacy in the eyes of your customers, press, buyers, and vendors.

Now you may be thinking, but I didn’t grow up with an esthetician mom or I didn’t get qualifications from a naturopathic school. How can I be credible?

That’s the beauty of credibility factors. Everyone has them and I’m certain you have a couple that fit perfectly into your beauty brand story, you just need to uncover them and pick the two that work best.

Take Action:

Make a big list of achievements and experiences in your life — these can include awards, past work experience, press placements, overcoming extreme obstacles, degrees and certifications.

Next, review your list and pick the two credibility factors that best support your authority in your brand story.

3. VISUAL BRAND IDENTITY

Herbivore nailed this one out of the gate. Their visual brand identity has stayed pretty much the same since their Etsy days. Julia said to Cosmopolitan, “We wanted to show the natural ingredients in the product. They are so beautiful, so we packaged them in clear glass so everyone can see the colors. We also wanted to keep the label pretty minimal, again so we could focus on the product. That was the idea behind it.”

The pastel colors and minimalistic design made their products ultra-Instagrammable and drew in millennial types.

Given that most beauty brands these days make DTC (direct-to-consumer) a major part of their sales strategy, the product has to stand out visually. Customers can’t smell it or feel it, so they have to build a desire for it visually.

We’re living in a time where visuals matter. Your primary and secondary packaging choices are how your brand stands out in the crowded beauty space and tells your customers what you’re all about.

Here’s the biggest mistake I see brands make time and time again: they copy trends and do what other brands they deem “successful” do, not knowing the reasoning and purpose behind why those other brands chose the colors, fonts, and design that they did.

For you to uncover your visual brand identity, we go back to point #1: Authenticity. You need to know what you stand for, your why, your purpose, your values, and your vision (see how this keeps coming up, it’s the most important aspect of creating a cult-status brand) and then translate those elements into a visual guidebook.

Take Action: Put some thought into this. If you don’t have a background in design or visual marketing, hire someone who’s done packaging and label design who’s work you like. Don’t just go for the cheapest option. Ask around, get referrals. Most importantly, create a visual guidebook with intention so that you aren’t reinventing the wheel with each new product launch.

Already launched but don’t have a visual guidebook? It’s not too late, the earlier you can create this the better. You’ll have standards for all your visual needs for the longevity of your business.

4. FUN FACTOR

Herbivore brought its brand to life by sprinkling joy in their products and delighting their customers. Instead of creating the same-old, generic products of yesterday with basic names like moisturizer or eye cream they tapped into their creativity and created products like a Pink Cloud Rosewater Moisture Creme (inspired by a sunset) or the Moon Fruit Superfruit Night Treatment. I don’t know about you, but if I see names like that, I want to try whatever’s in that bottle.

Think about it, don’t you want to wake up and put on something called Pink Cloud, with a side benefit of putting a spring in your step just from saying it, than a product that’s just called, “anti-aging moisturizer?”

The spunky names and colors make the line of skincare fun to shop and fun to share. We’ve seen the element of joy skyrocket other cult-status brands like Glossier and Benefit, each one doing it their way.

Take Action: How can you sprinkle an element of joy in your brand?

Remember, you don’t have to be targeting millennials to be joyful. The joy your target customer appreciates may be different than the joy the Hervibore customer appreciates. Maybe your brand’s version of joy is adding an element of discovery and exploration. Find your joy and add a splash of it.

To read about the remaining two key brand elements — Marketing and Polarizing Effect, hop on over to our ABC blog here. You won’t want to miss these strategies.

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Aggie Burnett

Marketing and PR strategist for wellness and beauty brands.