Courtney Somer: Founder & CEO of Lake & Skye

Episode 322

Courtney Somer, Founder & CEO of an amazing brand called Lake & Skye, started her company to help others discover the wonder of fragrance through products consisting of handcrafted therapeutic-grade essential oil blends, fragrances, and floral waters. The creation is a company you want to pay attention to, products you must have and a story that you won’t want to miss. Hear all about her journey plus so much more! Her wisdom and lessons growing the company are incredible. This is one, inspiring episode that you won’t want to miss. On this episode of #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 so excited to have my next guest here. I’m fangirling over here, as I’m looking at beautiful Courtney and the screen, but we have Courtney Somer, who is our founder and CEO of Lake and sky. And like I said, I’m so thrilled to have her here. She has an amazing, amazing brand, which consists of handcrafted therapeutic grade essential oil blends fragrances and floral waters, and the idea for her products. And ultimately, the beginnings of her company came about when she discovered the power of fragrance while she was pregnant. And that is just so so cool. And I can totally relate in many, many ways to that story, having a very strong sense of smell, especially when I was pregnant. But that’s when she decided to translate her newfound passion into products that could connect and help others too. So I love love, love that she did that. And super happy that we’re all able to purchase her products now and have a lot better fragrances in the world as well. But the omni channel brand is sold in major retailers, and over 150, boutiques and lifestyle stores all over North America. And of course, it’s also online. And I love the fact that they plant a tree with every online order through the organization, one tree planted. So we’ll chat a little bit more about that. But I’m super, super thrilled to welcome Courtney. Hello.

Courtney Somer 2:17
Hello, Kara. Thank you so much. I’m excited to be here.

Kara Goldin 2:19
Very, very excited. So would you share? How would you describe your company? I’ve gotten your bio and but I’d love to hear if somebody walks up to you and says Courtney. So what is Lake and Skye?

Courtney Somer 2:33
Yes, so I consider us a modern unconscious beauty brand. So what that means, essentially, is that we put a lot of thought and a lot of effort into all the products that we make. So essentially, I have a wellness background that came about through a wellness crisis in my early 20s, pre social media and all of that, and that I went on to study various forms of healing techniques, which we can get into. But essentially, I set out to infuse kind of all of the knowledge that I’ve gathered over the years into products and bring them out into the world. So I think about them as like a gift that you give to yourself that you can use throughout your day. And that’s the way we look at our packaging, the way we look at our formulas. And I also think that fragrance has the ability to be a force for wellness, I think not only with aromatherapy but with fragrance with candles with scenting our lives, it can help to change your emotions to make you feel better change the energy in your space. So I think it has a lot of ability to kind of heal, because we’re all under a lot of stress these days. So that’s how I think about our brand.

Kara Goldin 3:31
I love it. So you were an editor at Domino. And you also had various other stents, including at Vogue. And then as you just mentioned, you studied natural healing techniques. Did you always know that eventually, with all of that amazing experience, you would go and start your own company?

Courtney Somer 3:51
I did. It’s a funny thing. I always had this dream of mine to do something on my own. My father is an entrepreneur. My husband is an entrepreneur, and I did a few different companies. Before that, I started a production company with a friend of mine, I had a small jewelry business in my early 20s always kind of something on the side. And this was something you know, when I think about our company was not VC backed whitespace business plan. This was something that was created out of my kitchen with a baby at home. And

Kara Goldin 4:21
wow, that’s amazing. So talk to me a little bit about the founding story. I’d love to hear a little bit more about that.

Courtney Somer 4:28
Sure. So as I mentioned in my early 20s, like, you know, before wellness was an industry, let alone a term and you think about pre social media, how there’s so much information out there on wellness on how to make yourself feel better through what you eat, how your energy is meditation, all of these kinds of things that we can do. We just didn’t have that, you know, 20 plus years ago and I had a health crisis. I had multiple surgeries. When from doctor to doctor, I had one doctor at one point kind of open a book with my diagnosis and show me that there was no solution. So on a last resort, in a whim, I went to go see a healer and intuitive and first time in there, he was able to kind of give me all this information that I had been seeking for a very long time. And I’ve sparked a passion within me. I wanted to learn everything that he did. So I went on over 10 plus years to study various forms of healing techniques, including Kundalini Yoga, prenatal yoga, aromatherapy, Reiki, meditation and nutrition. And I’m certified in about half of those things. Kundalini Yoga really became my go to, I still do it every day as much as I can. It’s kind of my favorite thing. I went and took one class and I signed up for the teacher training right after. And the people there thought I was completely crazy. But when I done that, I really liked studying all this, I wanted to figure out how I could not only make this my career, but how I could help people through all this knowledge that I have, like, what could I do, I never took the teacher training, thinking that I would sit in front of a class and teach. I always knew it would be through a business aspect. And I just kind of had to figure out what that was. So when I first launched the business, I had always loved fragrance. I started with aromatherapy blends and fragrance oils. And that was the rollerball format that we still have in some of our products now. And the idea was that it was literally something you throw in your bag, take it out if you needed it for boosted confidence right before a meeting to like feel better. It was just kind of this thing I wanted you to be able to have throughout the day. And that’s how we launched and we launched in 2015. Lake and Skye are my girls middle names. We launched in a few stores in New York and LA just through kind of contacts and people I knew through the industry and very quickly realized that 1111 was kind of this runaway bestseller. So I had people emailing me I did a little bit of PR, not much marketing. My background background was in branding and fashion. So I kind of had to figure out what marketing was as I went. But I started to quickly get these emails and these phone calls saying I smelled your perfume on someone in a taxi, literally at target at that my doctor was wearing it like it just kind of had this groundswell about it from this fragrance. And that’s kind of how the company was born.

Kara Goldin 7:06
So you mentioned the scent 1111 It’s one of your kind of flagship scents still to this day. So why is it that why do you think people are so attracted to it?

Courtney Somer 7:17
It’s a great question. I think this one the way I think about it is it’s really like a crowd pleaser. One. I think our scents are, you know, I love the term skin scents that has become such a popular term within fragrance and Unperfumed talk as we see there in the sense that it’s we aren’t scents that kind of come or fragrance that comes in a room and overpowers if you smell it from you know, 15 feet away. It’s more intimate, it’s more subtle, it’s essential wear for yourself, which I think was a trend. We also saw during COVID. The initial trends were that people thought that fragrance was really going to tank right like lipstick, like we’re all wearing masks. No one’s gonna want it like fragrance itself, people were at the idea that people were fragrance for when they go out of their house. They weren’t for other people. But instead we saw the opposite ourselves did amazingly well. Not only with candles, but with fragrance because people were wearing them for themselves. And also because it made them feel better. Like that’s when we saw you know this whole trend behind what’s the science of what scent can do for you how it can change your mood and make you feel better. So

Kara Goldin 8:19
that’s the base of what is the base of the 1111. So like, what what is the smell that people are smelling that they’re

Courtney Somer 8:25
so attracted to? It’s a blend of white, Amber’s and musk. So it’s a very simple scent. I think people just love it. It’s very ethereal, very light. People that tend to go towards a musk fragrance tend to kind of stick in that genre and really love it. It’s unisex, light, subtle, and it’s really great for layering too. So for instance, if people go for our body oil, they’ll wear that as kind of the main thing and then they’ll layer it with another product of one of ours or another

Kara Goldin 8:50
rule when you’re creating a fragrance. What is the process of that? I mean, where do you get inspired? Do you look around other brands for ideas? Or do you just kind of get out in nature and start to really pay attention a little bit more?

Courtney Somer 9:06
Yeah, so they come from different places. I would say for instance, like some tall gray is a fragrance we just launched in September. This was our seventh scent. It’s an allure best of beauty winner at one the same week that it launched. And it was this was because I always love sandalwood. And I wanted to make something with that scent. So it was it was more that one was built around one note that I was like how can we do this as a wearable everyday sent and do something different with it. So that’s how that one came about. Others ones will be inspired by an event or a time for instance code to parody that one is our beach day in a bottle. It’s warm, it’s sunny, it’s sweet and that one we developed during COVID Because it was the idea of kind of being able to get out or go to the beach when you know I live in a place where the beaches and nearby so it kind of inspiration comes from different places.

Kara Goldin 9:55
I love that. So what were some of the biggest challenges when you were first just getting going, you mentioned that you went into some stores. Did you just start in one market to? Did you actually get it into some stores on both coasts? And what was kind of the process? And what was probably the most challenging thing?

Courtney Somer 10:12
Yeah, I mean, it’s funny, as an entrepreneur, as I’m sure you know, there’s challenges every day big and small. I had one pretty big challenge. When I first launched the business, I launched it on a under a different name. And I launched it and very quickly had a trademark issue. So and this came about through someone I actually knew, sent me a cease and desist, they’d seen what I was doing. And again, like I said, this was something at home, I never expected that I would grow it to kind of what it is now. But that being said, he was basically a fumble out of the gates, right. And I just spent all this time all this money on developing the product, the website, everything. But the good thing was that it happened, right as I launched almost immediately. So I very quickly had to pull back, if it had happened six months or a year later, that would have been a lot more difficult. And the good thing is that I see it as a course correction from the universe. Reason being, I got to do it, it’s almost like if you were going to do construction or renovation on your house, and then you got to do it again, right. And then you kind of know all these things that you never would have known before. So when I did it, again, renamed the business Lake and Skye after my girls names, and that was all trademarked and all buttoned up legally. But then I also went back and I added 1111, I changed the formulas, I changed the product line, I changed the design, the branding, everything started from scratch again, it was not a fun process. I mean, let’s be honest, I had to go back and get another job. It took over a year to redo it. And many times I was like, am I going to actually do this? This is crazy. Why am I doing this? Again? How do I even know if it’s going to be successful? I have, there’s no indication that any of this is going to ever work. But there was something within me that I knew I had to do it. I had already done it once. I was like I could do it again. And why not? This was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. So that was a real challenge. But when I look back on it now, it’s much easier to see it as like, Oh, well. I would have had to fix things anyway. Right? It wasn’t set up in a way that I think it was scalable. The name wasn’t what it should have been the branding, I don’t think was as good as when it was when we launched so I got to redo it. So did

Kara Goldin 12:18
you actually have the trademark or you had filed for it? But you hadn’t gotten it? Yeah, I

Courtney Somer 12:22
had just started. Yeah, yeah. So I just started, the process started to put the product, you know, and again, I only thought this was going to be something small I do outside, you know, and it made me in a sense, once I trademarked it and had business in the LLC and kind of done all of that. It made me think about it and consider it in a much more serious light, like, Okay, I’m gonna put this investment into into the second time, like now I’m going to this is not just something I’m going to do at home, I’m going to put my full force and my full intention behind it. Yeah, and I think that’s mostly through the products. And through the branding, and the website and the design, I think that really came across.

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Kara Goldin 13:43
We’ve talked to a few people and we’ve certainly had trademark issues along the way too. And actually we’ve you know, fought it internationally at hint. ver en we take as I have said many times we take our trademarks very, very seriously. So but it’s something that I think a lot of entrepreneurs and founders just think oh, eventually I’ll do it. Let me just see what happens first with the company. But the last thing you want to do is sort of slow down or rebrand, if you don’t have to write it’s, it’s something that is that’s a must. So find your trademark attorney and have a good one is the big message there. So funding a company, especially for female entrepreneurs, and especially these days is very, very tricky, but not impossible. I’d love to hear Have you taken outside funding or have you self funded the company

Courtney Somer 14:35
so we’ve done it in a different way. So I still funded it for the first two years while working other jobs and freelancing and then we were actually profitable in the first year. So granted that reason, very small profit, but it was still profitable. So I’ll take that. And then I wound up meeting this company through someone that worked there on the side had a blog and they were doing a beauty blog and they called me in you know said let’s I’d love to do a piece on you. So I went in and met with her And she said, Oh, and we also do warehousing and distribution. So at that time, I was like, Oh, I don’t have to do this on my kitchen table, labels on myself, great, let’s talk. So that company over the years actually became a partner. So instead of happening that way, we’re first we had a contract, and I essentially paid them for their services for about 18 months. And then when they saw the kind of business and the movement that I was doing on my products, they said, Okay, let’s take this to the next level. So now what we do is we actually are in a profit share agreement, where essentially I am able to use leverage their back end of their organization for certain aspects. So essentially, they helped me with product design, product development, warehousing, you know, claims, legal, registering products, all of that testing, QA, QC, like that aspect of the business, I’m still the CEO, and I manage to have my hands and everything, all PDS, you know, approved and done by me and all that. But I do help I do work with their organization in that way. And they’re fantastic.

Kara Goldin 16:00
Oh, that’s great. I love all these creative ways that people have been able to figure it out. Right. And I think that there’s no one way to do things.

Courtney Somer 16:10
Yeah. And I think what’s interesting about that, as we see so much of people being celebrated for going out and raising all this money, right, when they launch or at certain parts, and they’re giving up, they have to give up a majority of their company, or, you know, the control becomes such a big question. I think it’s almost like when we talk to people, they’re very surprised at the idea of how we’re doing this. And this event, this is a different way to do it. But it’s what has always felt right for me, you know, when we went out and we had talked to investors about money and the ideas that they were going to control or have certain it just wasn’t right at the time, maybe down the line. I’m never not gonna say never. But I know for the growth stage that we’re at this was the right decision. It’s interesting that the industry doesn’t seem as open in many respects to kind of more creative ways that people are running businesses, because I think in this climate, you have to be yeah, there’s not only one way. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 17:03
absolutely. I mean, I’ll never forget I met early on when I was starting when I met Laura from Laura bar, and she had done kind of the first ever sort of similar arrangement to what you’re talking about with her co Packer. And no one was doing that. And I think that, you know, again, leave it to the female entrepreneurs to sort of come up with these ideas. But again, sometimes you just have to get creative. And what’s the worst that can happen? They say, No, right? You or you back up, or you pivot away from that, or whatever. And I think that the more you can do that, as an entrepreneur, if you sort of have the goal in mind, I got to get this launched, I’ve got to do direct to consumer, I’ve got to get this funded, I’ve just got to figure out a way that’s probably the most important thing to focus on, then you got to figure out how, and I love your story so much. So what have you enjoyed most about being an entrepreneur, you came from a family of entrepreneurs, as you and I were talking about your husband has been in the hotel resort industry, you’ve been around it, but what have you enjoyed most about it?

Courtney Somer 18:12
I think what I still enjoy the most about it is when people tag us, when they’re using the product, the good feedback that we get the reviews, and I think being a part of it makes me so happy when I see customers showing what they’re using every day, and we’re on the shelf, or they’re like, this makes me so happy. This reminds me of my mom, this reminds me of a family member, I wear this on my wedding day. So to be able to create a product that lives out in the world and makes people feel elevated, feel happy. That was the whole intention behind the brand. So I think that like, you know, there’s in a day, there can be so many wins and losses and things and hurdles and all that. So when you see those kind of bright lights, you know, it kind of reminds you like, oh, that’s why that’s why I’m doing this. Right. So I’d love to hear that.

Kara Goldin 18:57
Yeah, I always tell people that my biggest motivation comes from consumers. But even during those most challenging days, I think back on the consumer comments, and before launching my own company, I just didn’t hear that that consumer feedback, like I do with a, you know, with a physical company, and I’m so curious, I mean, you had been an editor of dominant were people ever like writing saying, oh my gosh, you changed my life, right? Like you’re there’s something about physical goods, even though I think it’s hard, right? You’re, you know, you’re dealing with a lot of stuff that you just can’t even imagine dealing with and making sure that these consumers are listened to and satisfied and all of that. But I feel like the consumer really saves you and in many ways, you know, when they’re giving you this feedback, and would you say that as well?

Courtney Somer 19:51
Definitely. And I think what’s interesting about creating a product is like, there’s so much time and effort that goes into it. I almost think about it too, like when you think of Movie how much effort went into like movie and then people watch it more like that? I like it or hate it, right? Like, that’s the instant reaction and you think about a product. And scent is so subjective. So subjective, we both spend a year plus working on a cent. And when it comes out, we really don’t know how the consumer is going to react. Well, I’ve tested it with friends and family and our peers and people within the organization, but you really, you don’t know what the reaction is going to be. And sometimes it surprises you, you know, 1111, I loved that scent when we first made it and perfumer looked at me when we made it and said, This one is going to sell. That’s what she said. And we said, okay, let’s leave it. That’s it, we’re gonna go with it, but you really don’t know what the reaction is gonna be. So it’s very much a wildcard. I think it’s still exciting. But it is stressful as a business owner. Absolutely. Yeah, for sure.

Kara Goldin 20:46
How old are your kids now?

Courtney Somer 20:48
Nine and 11. Okay,

Kara Goldin 20:49
so they’re getting up there? What do you think your kids would say? About you? I mean, they’re probably seeing a lot of what you do every day. As I mentioned, I think earlier, I have I have kids now that are older than yours that are in their 20s, the last one almost in his 20s. But I think just actually seeing all of the components of you know, starting a business and thinking about the consumer, do you feel like your kids are definitely seeing a lot of what you do every day? I do.

Courtney Somer 21:21
And it’s funny, I was talking to them about this last night, like just thinking that, you know, it kind of makes you when you have these types of conversation makes you reflect on what you’re doing, versus being kind of in the weeds every day. And I think my husband and I have been both entrepreneurs, they see so much of it. And I’ll bring them in on kind of the winds and the ups and downs, I’ll say, Mommy has a big meeting today with this person, or this store, or you know, this publication, and they kind of know, but they love to see, they love to smell everything. I bring home all the testers, they love to give me feedback on design, I love packaging and design, that’s always been a passion of mine. So they see that and they see what my husband’s doing when he’s designing something, they love to give us their feedback. And I’m always curious, because, you know, they’re the next generation, right, coming up there, this tick tock coming Gen Z generation, and I’m very curious about what they like and what they’re interested in. And you, they they’re exposed to so much, much more than any of us at that age in terms of beauty products, brands, right. It’s just like a different exposure. So I like to kind of get their feedback and see what they’re into on that level, too.

Kara Goldin 22:27
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, one of the key things and you know, Gen Z, I’ve got sort of the lower end of millennial too, but then, you know, the Gen Z, they’ve been encouraged, forced, however, you want to look at it, too, they have to engage in classroom time, right. And so this idea of separating what you do from your kids, I mean, that just would not work with any of my children. I mean, it’s just they want to know what’s going on. They want to voice their opinion, they, you know, want to be a part of it, they want to be heard, you know, people have asked me for many years, like, Oh, do you do focus groups around flavors? And I’m like, No, I just have my kids here and tell them to invite the most critical friends that they have, because they will tell me exactly what is going on. And they’ve taught me so much. So I love that you’re seeing and feeling this as well with with your kids. So a lot of people have ideas for products, not as many actually go and start companies also do it when they’re when they have young kids necessarily, what would you say to people who are sort of like, on the fence daunted by this idea of like, I don’t know if I should go started or not. My advice has always been like, you have to be confident in your product that you’re like, there’s a market for this product. It’s really different. And it’s something that I really want to do every day. because entrepreneurship is really tough. No matter what industry, it’s really hard. It has not waves, it has spikes of really good things, really bad things. And along the way. So what would you say that?

Courtney Somer 24:12
I think I’m with you. And I also think that there’s never a great time. Yeah, like there’s never this time that like, oh, well everything’s settled now in my life. So now’s the time to start it right, that peaceful time is probably never going to come. So even when I had little babies at home. I was like, You know what nap it just kind of was coming together and it was going to be better now or never. And I took advantage of that time. But I think when starting a business agree you have to have kind of belief in what you’re doing. I think a part of you has to be in it. Like you have to have an authenticity of you as the founder and the story and the mission that is being driven through what you’re doing because people see that whether you’re on social media or not every day, I think there’s an energy that’s in products that’s in podcasts that’s in website. It’s like a lot of people refer to as authenticity. I just think to fit his energy, but even if I’m going to post on social media, I tend to only kind of do it when I’m in a space that I’m like, feeling good. Like, I feel like if I’m not, or my energy is off, or I’m cranky, or whatever, I stay away, I’m not gonna put anything out into the world unless I kind of have a clear energy space. And I think that just relates to, when we’re launching a product, when we’re starting a business, it’s like, really got to consider what you’re putting into it, your intention, your energy, all of that has to be kind of coming from an authentic place, because I think consumers can read it.

Kara Goldin 25:29
Yeah, no, I absolutely agree. So last question, What’s the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Courtney Somer 25:35
So I was thinking about this recently, um, one of the things I’ve heard in yoga was that if your presence doesn’t work, nothing well. So I always think of it as the way I go into a meeting or talking to an employee, or speaking to higher ups, whoever it is, whoever, whether I bring that to home, to social media, to my products, whatever, I kind of tried to bring my best self to it, it kind of goes back to the idea with starting the business too. But I think it’s, it’s all about kind of your presence and your energy and kind of having that as strong and as clear and intention as possible.

Kara Goldin 26:07
I love that so much. So it was such a pleasure to talk to you, Courtney. And I’m so inspired by all of what you’ve created, obviously amazing products, but also your journey and, and your courage to go and do something that you were really interested in doing and really passionate about it and the quality and everything about it is just beautiful. So thank you so much for sharing all of this with us. We’ll have everything in the show notes, not only connections to Lake and Skye, but also to you and sharing the website, etc. So thank you so much.

Courtney Somer 26:41
Thank you so much.

Kara Goldin 26:42
Thanks all for listening to this episode. We hope you enjoyed it. And I want to thank all of our guests and our sponsors. And finally, our listeners, keep the great comments coming in. And one final plug. If you have not read or listened to my book undaunted, please do so you will hear all about my journey, including founding, scaling and building the company that I founded. Hint we are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks everyone for listening, and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening