Christin Powell: Co-Founder & CEO of Kinship

Episode 523

Christin Powell, Co-Founder and CEO of Kinship, shares her journey in the beauty industry and the inspiration behind founding Kinship, a science-backed skincare brand for sensitive skin. What does it take to build a new beauty brand and one focused on helping the consumer looking for sensitive skincare? Why is it important to understand the science of skin in formulating beauty products? We discuss all of this plus we hear her thoughts on the value of letting consumers tell the brand’s story. Go-to-market strategies, staying focused amidst changing industry trends and challenges any new Founder should keep in mind – Christin’s thoughts will leave you loving this episode and I can’t wait for you to hear it. Now on the #TheKaraGoldinShow. 

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so excited to have my next guest here. We have a serial entrepreneur here, serial founder, Christin Powell, who is the co founder and CEO of a fairly new brand called Kinship. And if you have not tried Kinship, yet, you absolutely must. And you’re going to be so excited to hear everything that Christin has to say, not only as a serial founder, but also as a creator and somebody who really, really understands the beauty industry. So Kinship is a science backed skincare brand specifically designed for sensitive skin. So Christian has spent nearly two decades studying skin chemistry ingredients, plant medicine, holistic health, the skin microbiome, as well as starting and growing companies. So prior to Kinship, Christin co founded a brand that you may be aware of called juice, beauty, and led the development of award winning skincare companies, including for a handful of companies, but you might recognize para cone MD, so she really knows what she’s doing and is really terrific. And I can’t wait to chat more with Christin about everything Beauty and her building and creating this incredible company. So welcome, Christin.

Christin Powell 2:15
Thank you, Kara. It’s so great to be here and to see you after these many years that we’ve haven’t been in touch. And I’m so excited for your podcast. Well,

Kara Goldin 2:23
thank you for joining me, I’m so excited. And I love your your new gig, your new company is just absolutely incredible. So I’m very, very excited to have you on to chat a little bit more about it. And if again, if anybody hasn’t tried the products, they’re absolutely terrific. I was just mentioning to Christin that not only is the eye, the eye cream, but also the vitamin C is just like amazing and smells amazing too. Not like a lot of vitamin C products don’t smell that great. But this is absolutely terrific. And I for one have very sensitive skin. So it’s something that I really, really appreciate in a product. So talk to me about Kinship. And maybe you can even before we talk about Kinship, what were you doing before Kinship?

Christin Powell 3:18
Yeah, so I’d always had a fascination with skin ever since I was a little child, maybe because I had really sensitive skin as a child and a teen. I had everything from acne to rosacea to. And then I got skin cancer in my mid 20s. So I got super interested in health really fast as I saw my skin changing, and I was just obsessed with finding a solution for my own skin. So I started finding solutions by formulating my own products that were organic and free of harmful pesticides and chemicals. And later that became Juice Beauty, which was the first clean, clean premium brand on the market. And then I just kept going i be i ended up being really really good at the science and the art of product development. And I just kept going with it. It was creative, but nerdy at the same time of kind of a science nerd. So I kept going I ended up being pulled into Paragon MD as Head of Product Development, which really kind of I cut my teeth on how to formulate really hard hitting efficacious products. And then I went over to ever skincare with These big brands I was formulating for and just loving it loving this intersection of science and health and skin and beauty and really how to make great skin for people who were having skin issues whether it was sensitivity or wanting to just have healthy quality skin and when you’re a skincare formula you really have to understand the science of skin. You have to know the biology of skin in addition to ingredients How was ingredients work together to create a formulation. So I just kept going with it. And Kinship was a natural progression for me to start because I realized all these years had sensitive skin. And there wasn’t really anything out there that was for sensitive skin. But that also had beautiful textures and amazing aromas and color from plant based ingredients. And we really saw this opportunity to bring joy to sensitive skin to like, give them all the sexy ingredients and the potency, but have all the good stuff in it, and show people that you can have all that good stuff, even if you have sensitivity. So

Kara Goldin 5:44
you had co founded a company, and then you went and supported founders and their efforts to build out this beauty that they wanted inside of their company. And then you decided to go back to co founding. So what was the moment when you had said, I’m gonna go do this, because obviously you could have taken your ideas for sensitive skin too, within somebody else’s dream, right, but you decided, and you know, I think founders are a glutton for punishment. And it’s like, being a founder is really hard. And it wasn’t like you were walking in not knowing what you were getting into, because you’ve done this before. But was there a moment when you just said, I’ve either got to go do this or like, I, I think there’s a there’s a moment when so many founders don’t believe anyone else is going to do it. And so you just are like, I need to go do this.

Christin Powell 6:46
That was it. I have a co founder Alison halogen. And she and I met in a coffee shop, talking about who was creating that line that was modern for sensitive skin that really, like brought all these modern sensibilities in it was genderless. And that was sustainably minded, excessively priced, but really like fun to use. And she said to me, we’d gotten to know each other over a period of months. And she said, Christin, like who else is going to do this, you have the formulation experience, you can fill this need. I have a background in marketing and sales. And we could do this. And I think it was just that, like, I got one more in me. There was like that that moment where I realized, I have a lot of energy and a lot of ideas and a lot of creativity that’s I thrive on. And I want a vehicle for that. And I don’t know, I was raised by single mom, there was a lot of change in my life growing up, I think I thrive on that change, which is why starting startups are somewhat, like familiar to me. And I just felt like if not now, like, when this is it?

Kara Goldin 8:05
Yeah, definitely. So how would you describe Kinship? The first product that you launched with? What did you want to accomplish there that you didn’t see out there? Because I always feel like that is probably the most defining right in in a lie and that it sort of sets the tone for the purpose of of what you’re doing. So what was that first product and how have you expanded since then? So

Christin Powell 8:33
believe it or not, we started with the idea of four products, very simple regimen, a cleanser, exfoliating pads, a gel cream moisturizer, a pimple potion, because we wanted a simple line. That wasn’t a lot of complicated steps. Multitasking products, people are short on time. So we wanted products that did a lot of things in each step. And then about a year into formulating, we realized how can we launch a skincare line without a sunscreen because sunscreen is probably the most important product to use in a skincare regimen. Whether you’re 18 or 48 You need that sun protection is the number one cause of skin damage. And so I started working on a sunscreen immediately and launched it with the initial collection. It was really hard it took like a year and a half to get the sunscreen right and tested on all the different skin tones that we wanted it to include and have the scent be phenomenal and have the texture be disruptive. We wanted this skincare product that happened to have sunscreen in it. And so most zinc oxide sunscreens are really drying this sunscreen is actually a moisturizer so it’s good for anyone with dehydrated skin, who’s in their 20 These up until someone who has aging skin. And the hydration is also incredibly important with sunscreen because you need to hold in moisture when you’re outside. And that product self reflect ended up being our best seller and won a Best of beauty award from a lawyer. So it was just an example of how don’t overlook these opportunities that could be heroes don’t don’t assume what’s going to be here. Let your audience decide what’s going to be your hero product. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 10:29
definitely. So what what is the moisturizer there that sort of makes that happen.

Christin Powell 10:36
So a lot of sunscreens use silicones, which are these petroleum based ingredients that give it a nice slip, it gives it that velvety slip that goes on there, and a lot of primers and sunscreen products just because they feel good going on. But silicones are not moisturizing, they may provide a little bit of a barrier, but they’re not actually nourishing. So we are using a coconut based, they’re called coconut alkanes. And they’re silicone alternatives that are incredibly moisturizing. They’re nourishing, they have fatty acids in them that actually help the skin cells hold together using red raspberry seed oil tumeric, a host of superfood natural oils that are really deeply nourishing, not just covering the skin, but actually going in and rebuilding skin.

Kara Goldin 11:26
So when you were looking at creating the products, you’ve touched on this a little bit, but when you were working with your co founder to kind of think about what was out there and and I guess, how did you What was your go to market strategy? Who is your perfect consumer? How did you think about this?

Christin Powell 11:49
Yeah, well, we felt the the most underserved customer at the time, and this is back in 2019 was Gen Z was this 16 to 25 year old that was just coming of age wanted a skincare product that worked but that was clean, wanted it to be modern, and excessively priced sustainably minded. As it turns out, our customer ends up being a millennial and older. So just an example of how if I did a brand again, or advise on a brand, don’t formulate a brand for an age formulate it for a mindset or a condition. Because you don’t know who’s going to be attracted to it, you just don’t know. And so try to be flexible with that age range. But we thought that that age range was really underserved. But what we ended up doing was forming this thing we called the kin circle. And it was this group of people from 16 to 35, who were friends and family believed that we said we need to try these products on people before we launch them. We want real people to try them not just to moms in their kitchen trying them but we want real people all ages, all skin tones, demographics, geography to try them. So is about 100 people. And that can circle ended up being the way we went to market. They helped us f with everything from social strategy to how we built community to how we chose our packaging colors to coming to some of our events being our first brand ambassadors, it was just that involving our customer with our launch and with our marketing focus that got us a lot of attention. And it got us organic reach and NFS company award within two years.

Kara Goldin 13:42
That’s amazing. So that’s, that’s so inspiring to hear that how you went through that process. So So there’s many beauty products in the market. Also for sensitive skin there, you definitely see things that are labeled for sensitive skin. You know, I’m, I probably am not going to tell you anything that you don’t know that that doesn’t necessarily mean much. We really have to start to understand ingredients as a consumer, not only for in the cosmetics industry, but also in the beverage industry and food industry. It’s like it’s so crazy. So how do you differentiate this brand? to the consumer? Like how do you let the consumer know what you’re all about other than, you know, knowing that there’s some bad actors, I guess out there who maybe are gonna say exactly what you’re gonna say, how do you get people to really know what you’re doing?

Christin Powell 14:39
Yeah, I think you’re right that that the industry is saturated skincare has definitely reached a saturation point. There’s a lot of brands out there there’s a lot of products I think the customers overwhelmed and confused they’re looking to Tiktok wisdom which can be a little bit dangerous. Because the people who are promoting the products on tick tock don’t necessarily have a skincare background or a science background to know what to recommend. So there’s been a bit of like overdoing it, I think too many ingredients, too many products, I think the best way to what we’ve found is successful is to find an emotional connection with your customer by sharing your authentic story, ours is bringing joy into the sensitive skin category, proving that you can have products that have the lovely scents and the beautiful textures and luxurious colors. And have it be appropriate for sensitive skin, build that emotional connection with your customers, and let them tell the story because it’s much more authentic when other people are telling telling the story of how great these products are, versus the brand telling it. I think consumers are overwhelmed with brands telling them, You need this and you need that you should do this. It’s starting to become kind of noise. And people just want to be talked to on in a real way. They just want a conversation just like you and I are talking where we could be talking about a clothing brand. And I could say I love this dress. Have you tried this brand? Kara? That’s the way I think the new modern commerce will go is authentic people telling authentic stories of how this brand changed their life.

Kara Goldin 16:26
I totally agree. I think you know, word of mouth is is so key. And I think even influencers I think at times it’s it’s, it’s it’s a tough strategy, because it’s like, Who do you believe? And I think most people believe that a lot of these influencers, the more famous you are, you know, the more likely you’re getting some money from it. And therefore, you know, you’re you’re gonna say whatever. And I think that consumer has gotten really smart about that. I, they definitely, it makes a difference. If if you’ve got a certain, you know, certain celebrities in there that are talking about your product, but I also feel like there’s there’s no comparison to word of mouth. And when people really start chatting about your product, I think it makes such a huge difference. So when you were launching your company Kinship, did you feel like you had a strategy or go to market in terms of we’re going to be mostly online? Or we’re going to go into stores? Or we’re going to do both? Did you have an idea where you were going to be we’ve had some people on who have said, I’m not touching retail? Because why would I you know, I’m going to grow just online. And maybe, you know, that’s that’s one strategy we’ve had other people say, I totally thought that it was all about being in stores. And then I realized during the pandemic that my consumer needed me to be online, and I got busy and and got going but I’m just curious, how did you think about that? Yeah,

Christin Powell 18:04
we Alison and I really launched this as a digital first brand. We did not think about retail when we first started Kinship because our audience, our target audience was young, we knew they were on their phones, 24/7 we knew that they were buying things online. We were excited about building that with our audience online. And the problem with that strategy is just like you don’t know what age range is going to be attracted to your product line, you don’t really know where that person is going to want to find you. Because the retail and the distribution, and sales channels are constantly evolving. So we launched online in November 2019. And we we had a good couple of months, but it wasn’t anywhere near what we had expected it to be. So about three months in we realized, well this is going to take longer and take more money to build something from scratch online. The cost of acquisition was also rising at the time. And it was just harder and harder to build something strictly online, especially with the $25 average price point. Your your unit economics are not as great with that lower price point. So we started talking with retailers and realized there was a huge opportunity to include retail in this conversation because this was in the middle of COVID So it was an awkward time to launch and retail but we realized that building a brand you still need that in person. experience especially with skincare because it’s such a tactile product. It’s such a personal type of consumer product that you want to people want to smell it and feel it they want to feel the packaging, it’s personal. And so we realized that retail needed to be a part of the equation and that’s when we got into Ulta Beauty, which we were very happy about because Ulta was a good choice for Kinship at that time, they had that Gen Z customer. And there, they had a spark program. They’re rolling out conscious beauty. And so Ulta was the right choice for us.

Kara Goldin 20:17
Definitely. So you had co founded another company Juice Beauty, what do you think you learned from being a second time founder, that you would do differently in this company,

Christin Powell 20:33
I’m definitely more efficient with my time, I think when you’re a first time founder, you kind of get pulled in whatever direction of the moment is trying to pull you sort of looking at those urgencies, which can take up the entire day, versus looking at the three things that day that are going to really move the business forward. So I’ve learned to be incredibly stingy with my time, and understand that that 8020 rule, and that my time has to be spent on the 20% that is really going to move the needle and and then focusing my team on that 20%. And it’s hard because there’s, you know, this because you built a brand, it’s you get distracted every day. And there’s 15 different things that could pull you in different directions, but you have to be laser focused on your KPIs and your goals that you believe are going to really set you up for success. So I think I would just really impress upon entrepreneurs to be very focused with their, their time, and their energy. And I think I would make decisions quicker, too. I think it was Jack Welch, that said, you’re gonna have 10 decisions to make every day, seven of them are going to be wrong, but three of them that you’re going to make are going to really move the business forward. And knowing that you just accept it. Okay, some of these decisions are not going to work. But those three have to be right, and they’re going to really make an impact. Definitely.

Kara Goldin 22:09
So the beauty industry is constantly changing trends and new companies cropping up constantly. What have you learned about staying focused? I mean, you talked about, you know, spending, figuring out the 8020 rule there, but also, what have you learned about, you know, focusing on on your company versus looking at what others are doing? Or maybe also looking at trends? Like, how have you thought about that,

Christin Powell 22:41
I think it’s really important to keep an ear to social trends, because life is constantly changing. It’s the nature of, of the art world, you have to constantly be up on social trends and what’s happening in the environment and culture and politics and movements. But also, I really think it’s important not to get too distracted by what everyone else is doing, because otherwise the industry becomes copycat. And then we see that a little bit that’s happening in the beauty industry. Right now, you see a little bit of copycatting where it’s like the same strategies, the same go to market the same, even the same categories are being tapped, where if there’s already 30 brands that are focusing on that particular category, we don’t need another, this kind of brand. So I really think it’s important to set aside time to be incredibly resourceful or find whatever, whatever thing what stimulates your creative juices, and think differently, think think, where where has no one gone before in beauty, and pull in people like Leslie Blodgett, she’s like a B 12 shot for me when she comes over, I just, I get so many ideas, she’s so inspiring. She kind of pulls me out of my everyday thinking and helps me think laser focused on that customer. She always says, Love your customers aggressively. And I just love that sentiment that we’re here to serve our customers. And so if you’re ever at a loss for what, how to focus your time, just listen to your customers. They know what they want, they’ll tell you exactly what they need. And that’s that’s who we’re serving at the end of the day. I

Kara Goldin 24:27
totally agree. So Leslie Blodgett is the founder of bare essentials and mutual friend of ours too. She’s amazing. I love all of her words of wisdom as well. So she’s, she’s terrific, a great founder and also former CEO of that company before it was sold. So very, very cool. So we talked a bit about your different products. You talked about the sunscreen and moisturizing sunscreen and the difference between them. and maybe some others that are out there. But tell me about your favorite SKU or, or if it isn’t your favorite SKU, maybe the hardest one that you’re most proud of that maybe took longer ours for, by the way for hints when we were developing. There were, you know, so many stories along the way and building hint, but the lemon seemed like, why can’t you do a lemon? Because that’s, you know, what everybody does. And the problem is people weren’t using real lemon. And when you did, it often smelled like turpentine. Right? And it could turn in to turpentine as well. So it was that was our hardest flavor to actually create. And, but I’m so curious about sort of your path and and what was one of the more difficult ones that you’re really proud of?

Christin Powell 25:54
Yes, so we talked about the sunscreen, which is really hard to formulate, and I’m so proud of that product being a number one seller at Ulta, lower best of beauty. It really, it disrupted skincare, because it’s really a skincare product that happens to have sunscreen in it, it’s a moisturizer, but it happens to have that sunscreen element to it. But I think the product that I’m most proud of today is our our Brightway vitamin C Peptide Serum. And the reason why this product was so fun to work on was because I was really excited to really bring something new to the vitamin C category. Most vitamin C serums out there are runny, they turn brown, they smell like hot dogs, I have no idea why they smell like hot dogs, but they do. They’re unstable. Most vitamin C isn’t stable. It’s it’s a vitamin so it gets exposed to light and air and it turns brown. Also use it loses its efficacy really quickly. And it irritates so I wanted to create the ultimate Vitamin C serum for sensitive skin. So I set out to do that. And we figured out a way to encapsulate vitamin C so that it was in a fat soluble version. It’s called THD ascorbate. And we figured out how to pair that with a peptide. So when it went into the skin, it did not irritate because it had a way to get through the outside layer of the skin. And then it brought that peptide deeper in so it’s able to really restructure collagen and soothe and reduce potential melanin which is contributes to sun damage, and help with that sun damage and brighten all that same time without irritating because it had that ability to absorb with the fat into the skin. And we also added a apricot mango scent to it just a light botanical scent that is tested for any kind of potential irritation. And this kind of buttery, velvety texture, which wasn’t really done in in skincare and vitamin C’s before we really wanted to give it like this beautiful absorption and this smooth like just luxurious way of applying it. I felt that the vitamin C’s serums out there, why did they have to be so runny, I couldn’t be in this like really comforting base. So it was all about like comfort and looking forward to using this product. The scent is very uplifting, so I can’t wait to use in the morning I wake up, the first thing I do is I put that serum on and it just immediately lifts my mood.

Kara Goldin 28:38
It smells so good. And it’s it works terrific. So I I think so much vitamin C isn’t moisturizing. It’s like it’s sort of I’ve questioned whether or not it actually is the right thing. And especially I’m constantly dry. So for me, I’ve always like wondered is, you know, is this actually drying out my skin versus actually giving it some kind of benefit? So I think it’s a I’m a new fan of your product and I such a bad product in particular is terrific. What’s the what is the most challenging aspect of building a company? I know you’ve you’ve seen this before. You’ve you know, you have to have great products, I think in order to get a company off the ground, but there’s so many other aspects that I think are super important. I’d love to hear your thoughts and maybe advice on that.

Christin Powell 29:39
Yeah, I think it’s the the psychology of your mindset that needs to be a certain way to be an entrepreneur for this long because there’s a lot of rejection that you face as a founder as an entrepreneur, whether it’s your fundraising and you talk to 10 VCs and eight of them reject you, or you want to get into particularly retailer and they’re passing on you for now. It’s just it’s constantly facing potential rejection. So I think you have to just, I learned how to understand that it’s not really rejection, it’s kind of leading you to the right place eventually, and building that resilience and forcing you to find the right partners. I mean, for us, I think we ultimately found the right investors. And I’m really happy with who ended up investing us they’re very hands on. They are very supportive. They know their stuff. They’re almost like operating partners with us in the game and just part of our family. And if we hadn’t gone through that rejection, we wouldn’t end up with the investors that we have. So I think it’s just picking yourself up, after all those rejections discover, okay, it next. It’s a statistics game, kind of like baseball, where half the time you’re gonna get up and hit and half you’re not? Or maybe it’s more like a quarter of the time you that 75% not.

Kara Goldin 31:11
That’s so true. So what has when, when you think about advice, and maybe even you touched on these, these dramatic kind of high and low points along the way, this rejection that comes that every founder has heard, maybe there’s some advice that people have given you along the way. Maybe now you give other people advice on how do you deal with that, as you’re growing your company as you’re growing your career? This is the last question. So I’d love to hear what you would say to that.

Christin Powell 31:52
Well, I think especially if you’re a first time founder, don’t get discouraged, my advice would be keep going put those words up on your board somewhere on your mirror, just keep going. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and your why why you’re doing it has to be really important. So dig deep on what that y is, and have it be incredibly meaningful. For me, it had to be more meaningful than raising children, because raising children is pretty meaningful. And so to start another weakness, it had to be really, really meaningful to me. So that says a lot about why I started Kinship, but have that why be in front of you all the time and driving you and pushing you forward. And also, I think a lot of founders are uncomfortable asking for help. They feel like I have to know it all or have to do it all I have to be an expert in these five different hats I’m wearing, just be vulnerable and understand you’re not going to know the answers to everything. And and I actually think that vulnerability is a strength to be able to say, I’m not good at running a p&l, I want this person to do it, who loves it, let me do what I’m good at. That will free you up a lot from feeling the pressure of feeling like you have to be an expert in everything.

Kara Goldin 33:13
Definitely. I think that takes a lot of confidence. But but also you learn over time that it’s okay to actually tell people you don’t know, right? I talk about that a lot. So because there’s a lot of things that you probably do know, and when you can kind of own it. I think people can also help you figure out how to create your balance so that everybody is going to be successful in the picture. So really, really super great advice. So Christin Powell, co founder and CEO of Kinship, thank you so much. We’ll have all the info in the show notes. Everyone needs to try this product, for sure. And definitely. Thank you again for all of your wisdom really, really terrific. So have a great rest of the week, Christin.

Christin Powell 34:04
Thank you so much, Kara. It’s wonderful to be here with you. Thanks

Kara Goldin 34:08
again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and good bye for now.