Elyse Dickerson: Co-Founder & CEO Eosera

Episode 277

Thrilled for you to hear from my next guest. I am speaking with Elyse Dickerson today, Co-founder & CEO of Eosera – a company that develops terrific products that address the health of ears. One of their products is THE go-to for that nasty earwax problem that no one of course wants a problem with. That’s right, earwax. The company’s main purpose is to disrupt the ear care space by creating products that remove earwax, relieve itch and pain in the ears, and assist with routine cleanings to improve overall ear health. This niche company is proof that by solving a problem, you CAN create a company that consumers want and sell products and gain nationwide availability. Lots of lessons were shared by Elyse, as well as Elyse’s comeback story moving careers. Listen and learn. This episode will surely leave you inspired and wanting to have clean ears and more. 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’m so thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Elyse Dickerson, who is the co founder and CEO of iOS, Sarah, we are thrilled to be speaking with her. Today. She is this incredible, incredible entrepreneur, who had launched a product in 2015. She is going to share a little bit more about that story and sort of how that all came about. But they focus on something that maybe you don’t actually talk to a lot of people about. It’s ear wax. And so if you’ve got ear wax and maybe an enormous amount of earwax piling up in your ear, and maybe you even have a reoccurring issue where you don’t want to constantly be going to the doctor, maybe you can’t hear anymore, because your ears are clogged with earwax, maybe you’re getting itching or pain or whatever it is. Elise is here to help so or EO Sarah, I should say is here to help. So it’s available in Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, Amazon, but we’re going to hear all about the build and why she started the company and all of that. So we’re super, super excited to have you here at least. So welcome.

Elyse Dickerson 2:03
Thank you. I love that introduction.

Kara Goldin 2:06
So let’s start at the beginning. So talk to me about Elyse. You were once a kid. And did you think you were going to be an entrepreneur? Were you the person that was the creative one that was coming up with ideas on ways to actually make something better?

Elyse Dickerson 2:25
So no, I was a typical, I would call myself a tomboy, you know, was always into sports and playing with the neighborhood kids. I was however, sort of the instigator of weekly lemonade stands in the neighborhood. And so I would corral the other kids to come, you know, work for me, essentially. And we would divvy out the money at the end of the day. But I lived on this corner with pretty high traffic. And so, you know, we would make a killing, like 20 bucks, you know, back in the day,

Kara Goldin 2:57
I didn’t do lemonade stands, but I ran my own kids camp. So I completely, you know, relate to that I wanted to make money, and I wanted to go to the mall. That was my whole purpose. So I completely relate to that. So did you think you were going to be an entrepreneur?

Elyse Dickerson 3:14
So you know, I don’t think I had real visions of what I would be. I had a mom that started a business when I was in middle school. So I got to see, you know, a mom turn from full time mom to business woman. So that was really inspiring. But I’m not sure at a young age, I really had a vision of who I would be.

Kara Goldin 3:35
Was there anybody who sort of guided you along the way that you thought, oh, wow, I want to be them when they grow up, either someone you knew or somebody that you thought was inspirational out there.

Elyse Dickerson 3:48
So I would say the some of the people that had the biggest impact on me that I think made me who I am today, obviously my parents, but I had some really amazing coaches growing up, that put me in what I’d call leadership positions, maybe before I was ready for them. I think that prepared me for what I’m dealing with today. And just as an adult, you know, trying to lead people and inspire people and understanding that everybody has a part on the team. But these coaches really were the ones that made me believe in myself at a young age.

Kara Goldin 4:22
So your first job out of college,

Elyse Dickerson 4:25
first job out of college was I was an intern for Saks Fifth Avenue in their fashion office because I thought out of college, I wanted to be in the world of fashion. And so I worked for Saks and then I worked for Neiman Marcus, and then I quickly realized that you really don’t make a whole lot of money in retail. So it kind of squashed my dream.

Kara Goldin 4:47
Absolutely. But I bet that was a lot of fun. Being able to experience retail and learn a lot.

Elyse Dickerson 4:54
Absolutely. And I tell my kids all the time, you know, one of my first responsibilities was taking price tags on and off of these, you know, 1000 $2,000 garments that were going to go down the runway for the fashion show, and then when they’d come back and have to put the price tags back on, and even that was a real menial task, you know, the people I was getting exposed to. And what I was getting to see orchestrated from behind the scenes was inspiring, you know, even though I was the grunt worker,

Kara Goldin 5:23
so great. So you left Saks, and you went on to do what?

Elyse Dickerson 5:27
So pretty quickly out of undergrad, I worked for a couple years in retail, and then I realized I needed an MBA, because my undergrad degree was in graphic design. So I was really creative. And I sort of fueled that side of myself, but then realized I need some just business skills, if I was going to support myself the way I wanted to support myself. And so went back to business school, and focused in entrepreneurship.

Kara Goldin 5:55
So I don’t know if you had roles in between but out of business school, or maybe right before launching yo, Sarah, what were you doing?

Elyse Dickerson 6:04
So I worked for 13 years for in big pharmaceutical company out of business school. So I that’s where I would say I really learned about healthcare and over the counter products and prescription products and meeting consumer needs. And so I spent 13 years, the last five years I spent traveling around the world, launching brands in different countries, and getting to understand how, you know, the health care system in Thailand is completely different than the health care system in the United States. And pretty much every country is different. And so how products are regulated and priced and sold, it was an amazing experience to be at a company that long, and get to learn from really the best in the industry.

Kara Goldin 6:50
And then I heard an interview that you did, where in 2015, you lost your job. And that’s when you started to really rethink what you were going to do next.

Elyse Dickerson 7:02
Yeah, I received a FedEx on my doorstep on January 2, that said, please do not come back. And what I love to share it because they don’t teach you this in business school, you know, there’s a lot of shame around getting fired, I was destroyed, you know, completely distraught. My whole being was wrapped up in, you know, being this executive at this company and you know, successful. And then all of a sudden, it makes you realize, you got to redefine yourself, and only you have the power to start over. But you have to just get up and start over. But there were, you know, there was definitely a couple of weeks in there where you know, didn’t want to get out of bed. So I think sometimes those biggest failure moments, or they feel like failures are actually the biggest gift that you can be given in your life. So yes, I was terminated. And luckily, a coworker of mine who had spent 15 years at the same company in r&d, he was let go about two months later. And he and I put our heads together and said, You know what, I think we can start our own business. And I think we know a category that is not been paid attention to. And that was ear care.

Kara Goldin 8:23
That is so interesting. So I always think about things happen for a reason. And you think about you two were working together, and you got to know each other. And then you came together to start a company together, right? I mean, so it wasn’t all bad. Being in in the place. Maybe you guys wouldn’t have met each other if it was if you wouldn’t have been there. So Well, thank you so much for sharing that story. Because the majority of people on my podcast have had some kind of situation and yet, we don’t always hear about them until they’re asked, I think more than anything. So it’s great to be vulnerable and share a lot of the stories. So I’ve read a little bit about the origins of vO Sarah, the product that you co founded, and are running, but what made you decide to really start a company in the ear wax space? Did you have a lot of ear wax? I mean, what was it that you were thinking? Okay, this is it for me?

Elyse Dickerson 9:25
No, I really had never had an ear wax problem, and neither had my business partner. But we knew enough from our previous training that we needed to let the market tell us where the gaps were and where the opportunities were. So we spent the first couple months just talking to health care professionals. So we would talk to pediatricians geriatricians, regular GPS, anybody that would take breakfast, lunch, coffee dinner, we were there and we had essentially a series of questions. And one of them was, you know what is a common condition that you see in your office? that you think patients should be able to solve at home, rather than having to come to your office. And oddly enough earwax impaction was this condition that millions of people are going to the doctor every year, have their ears cleaned out, because there was not a product over the counter that work. And so that is really how we decided to jump in. And we spent the next nine months in a lab, just Joe and I, and we hired one other scientists to work with us. And we were formulating, and it reminds me of your book, when you talk about trying different flavors and how you’re going to make it stable and same exact process for us, you know, we had to have a safe product that you could put in on the skin that was going to dissolve wax, that would be stable in a bottle. And so we came out of the lab about nine months later with a product that worked over and over again, on all types of ear wax,

Kara Goldin 11:00
our ear wax products FDA regulated.

Elyse Dickerson 11:03
Yeah, so just like your Tylenol, anything that’s over the counter, essentially, FDA has sort of a recipe of safe ingredients that you can use. And as long as you follow those guidelines, then you can launch over the counter.

Kara Goldin 11:19
Oh, that’s great. So you don’t have to wait an additional period of time or go through tests or anything.

Elyse Dickerson 11:25
Exactly. So we did, we ran human clinical trial because we wanted to. And because we felt like it would compel doctors to recommend our product, if we had, you know, true clinical data behind it. But it’s not required.

Kara Goldin 11:40
So what do you think has been kind of the biggest challenge and growing the business? So you had amazing executive experience. But I think it’s one thing to be an executive at a big company. It’s another thing to go start your company, you probably hadn’t written a business plan since business school. Right? And to jump in and actually take that first step. I mean, how did you know what to do?

Elyse Dickerson 12:05
I didn’t, you know, I think the the misnomer is that entrepreneurs have it all figured out before they start. And I think most of us don’t, we knew we had a product. We had both my business partner and I had built up a really great network of people that had different specialties. So we really called upon that network, we had friends that were in regulatory, and legal and manufacturing and finance. And the coolest thing was how many people came out to help us with no strings attached, they didn’t want to be paid for their time, they didn’t want to, you know, have shares in the company, they just wanted to see us succeed. And it’s really humbling. But we really relied on other people’s expertise to help us build, you know, one brick on top of the other. And so for an example, we started by outsourcing our manufacturing, we found a contract manufacturer, and they made the first 80,000 units. And it was a disaster, like, it didn’t meet the standards that I had for the brand. And the timing was all off. And so we had a mentor that said, you guys can build in house manufacturing, you know, let’s do this. And I had never run a manufacturing business. But we bought a manufacturing line, we hired some specialists and we said, Okay, we’re going to start manufacturing our product and fast forward through COVID and supply chain issues. You know, thank goodness, we had our own manufacturing, because we were never down.

Kara Goldin 13:40
How have you gotten the word out about your product? Because you’re still a fairly new product? I mean, you launched in 2015. But you know, you’ve been out there for a few years, you haven’t been out there as many years as Tylenol or something like that. So how do you get the word out about this product?

Elyse Dickerson 14:00
Yeah, so so a couple ways. So one is we started with one product. And now we have a line of 10 products in ear care. We have products for itching, yours for your pain for irrigation. When you go to the ear care category in a store, it has historically been very, very small, like maybe three to five products on the shelf. And so the beauty of us entering into that category was there was really no competition. And so if you are a shopper for something for your ears, you’re going to see our product. The second you walk into the store. So one of the biggest first focus was just getting on store shelves, which you know is it can be very difficult. So that’s been honestly one of the best marketing. Billboards is just being on the shelf and having a nice lineup of products. The other way is we really have focused on doctors and educating doctors on the availability of our product because they are seeing these patients day in and day out when a day doctor recommends a product. Usually a patient will go buy that exact product, they’re not going to buy the store brand or the knockoff brand, they’re going to go by what your doctor recommends. So, we’ve really used those two avenues to build rapid awareness, at least in the beginning.

Kara Goldin 15:18
Well, and I know many of these doctors have social media followings. And so they’ve actually talked about your product on YouTube and Tik Tok and some of the others. What is this fascination with earwax? And especially on social media? I mean, what? Why do you think that’s been such a good place for you to get the word out about? You know, Sarah?

Elyse Dickerson 15:44
Well, I think it’s people like kind of gross things that they can’t look away from, you know, they’re gross, but they’re not so gross. And so it’s like pimple popping, you know, sort of that whole craze. And there’s just something about pulling wax out of people’s ears, that, you know, maybe it’s the great equalizer? I don’t know. Because if you’ve ever pulled it into your ear, yeah, you’re just, exactly. But it’s bizarre.

Kara Goldin 16:12
Yeah, people then come to you, and they’re buying it. And as you mentioned, whether that’s in store on Amazon, I think it’s something that people don’t necessarily want to, you know, talk to their colleagues about, or maybe not their family about it, but they’re willing to go on social media and learn about it. So it’s a fascinating thing, for sure. So let’s get back to the beginning of starting, when you were starting. Yes, Sarah, what do you wish you knew when you started, that an entrepreneur could really benefit from and sort of understanding when you’re, when you’re starting a company? Here’s the real deal.

Elyse Dickerson 16:50
I think what I wish I had known is that it’s okay to ask for help. And that you don’t have to do it alone. Because I think there’s this notion that especially solo entrepreneurs, I was lucky to have a co founder. But there’s this notion that the entrepreneur does it all themselves. And for me, I really quickly learned that I was only capable of a small part, you know, I could be the vision and the strategy, but it was going to take a lot of other smart people to help me make this a reality. And so whether those were employees or advisors or mentors, just being open to their feedback and their ideas, and just knowing you don’t have to do it alone.

Kara Goldin 17:38
Yeah, no, that’s super, super valuable advice, because I think so often, too, you know, there’s this, fake it till you make it mentality of like, Oh, we’re doing great. And then you’re sort of quietly suffering from these challenges that you have. So I think asking is such an important piece? Did you raise money in the beginning pre product? Or were you did you bootstrap it? How did you actually get it financed?

Elyse Dickerson 18:07
Yeah, so we bootstrapped for the first nine months. So my business partner and I just self funded the development of it, and we rented lab space and that kind of thing. And then I entered a business pitch competition for a $50,000 prize. And that was our first outside funding. I won the competition. And it gave us some press. After we got in the press, I started having people call asking if I was raising money. So angel investor type people, and it was a panic moment, because I didn’t have a term sheet I didn’t, I knew I was gonna have to raise money, but I wasn’t ready right at that exact moment. So it was another example where I didn’t know how to do it. But I knew somebody who knew. And so I called friends that I had grown up with that, you know, live in the private equity world now. They taught me how to build a term sheet, they coached me on how to go out and raise money. And so we raised 1.2 million before we launched. And so that was really the money that we use to scale up manufacturing and take it to market. And then I went back to that same group of investors and raised another 800,000, about a year later. And then we’ve been profitable after the first 12 months, we were profitable. And we have self funded all development and growth

Kara Goldin 19:28
on our own since then. That’s amazing how many people in the company 40 employees now?

Elyse Dickerson 19:33
We were only 20 last year. So 180 22 has been a huge year for us. We’ve quadrupled in sales this year. And obviously in manufacturing volume, pretty much the same quadrupled. So it’s been a really big year for us. We still got a long way to go. But we’ve made it this far.

Kara Goldin 19:56
Now it’s super, super great. So I always say ask guests about one of their challenging moments and building their company where you felt like, Okay, we’re done. I mean, you’ve had many successful moments, it sounds like along the way, but when you really just thought, Okay, I don’t know how to get through. I don’t know how to get over this wall. I don’t know how to break through in some way. And maybe you had a failure along the way, or whatever it is. But I’d love to hear that story.

Elyse Dickerson 20:26
Yeah, so I’ve got lots of them. But the biggest one, where we almost went out of business was in 2020. And it had nothing to do with COVID. So while everybody else was reeling from, you know, supply chain issues and COVID issues, we realized a product that we had launched seven months earlier, was not stable. And so what I mean, we put an expiration date on the box, and expiration date was wrong. So we had all this product in the market, it was on shelf, and it wasn’t going to harm anyone. But it was the right thing to do to recall the product. And so it was a moment as a business leader, when you have to make that really hard decision of do I keep the product out there? Because financially, that’s the right thing to do? Or do I recall the product voluntarily recall the product, because morally, it’s the right thing to do. And it only took me about 30 seconds to answer that question. I had to ask the question to myself. And so we recalled, one of our products cost us a million dollars, which in 2020, and million dollars was a huge amount of money to us. And it was devastating on me and my business partner. You know, it was kind of like your business partners like a marriage. Right? And it was a moment we had to look at each other and say, Are we going to make it through this? You know, we both screwed up. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. I mean, that’s really the reality of it was none of it was intentional. The hardest part for me during all that was really wasn’t losing the money. That was sort of easy. It was having to go to my investors. And, and my retailers, I get teary just thinking about it. Like and say, I screwed up, you know, but what happened was amazing, because I thought they were going to be upset with me or look down on me or say, Well, we’re done with you. And the exact opposite happened. So the retailer’s were like, No problem. Thank you for being honest with us, you know, we appreciate the prompt, you know, notice, we’ll do whatever we can to help you, we’ll bring the product back when you have, you know, when it’s ready to relaunch, and my investors who are, you know, terrified to let them down. I started getting emails and text messages from them saying, We believe in you, you’ve got this, you know, you can get through this. And it was just this really cool. Like, again, really humbling, but supportive environment?

Kara Goldin 23:16
Well, I think there’s a lesson learned there too, around owning it, you know, you show up and own it before other people are figuring it out. And you get a lot of credit for that. And I think that there are people who maybe would wait for the FDA to figure it out. I don’t think that’s the right answer. Because then you’re constantly on the radar of the FDA. And that’s not good. Having really the ability to do what you did mentally, I think is it was a risk. And it was scary, I’m sure but you did it. And I think owning it is always the answer. Even though it might take a lot for you to be able to actually commit to that.

Elyse Dickerson 24:02
Yeah, and I, you know, there were scenarios that play through your head, like you could make you could try to make excuses. You could, you know, you know, try to craft a story around it. But at the end of the day, just being honest, transparent, was going to be the fastest way through the crisis, you know, and it was the right, it’s the right way through the crisis. And that is not to say that I was not sitting in the corner of my office on the floor crying, you know, there’s a lot of emotional pain that you go through. But you got it you got to move through it. You get your, you know, pity party for one day, and then it’s game on.

Kara Goldin 24:38
Last question, what kind of entrepreneur do you want to be known as? It’s a legacy question, but what do you want to be known for being I mean, I, as I always say to people, being an entrepreneur is not easy, and there’s way easier ways to make money. You know, you’re a glutton for punishment when you show up and say that you want to be an entrepreneur. Nora, because there’s a lot of things that you have to get through and deal with that maybe the buck stops with you all of those kinds of things. But what do you really want to be known for?

Elyse Dickerson 25:12
So for me, it is I want to be remembered and known for helping other women. And so I’m like we are, we’re like 90% women in our company, which is unheard of in a manufacturing or pharmaceutical business. I’m constantly mentoring women and trying to just give back and share my vulnerable stories, because I feel like it can empower them to step through their fear. Because I think as women, we, we don’t try things because we’re scared, we’re scared of failure. Or at least for me, scared of failure scared of being judged. And so by me, being able to share those things with other women and coach and mentor, I feel like that would be the most amazing legacy to leave. And so one thing we’re doing right now, as a company we’re having, we’re hosting a business pitch competition. So the way we got our start was winning a business pitch competition. So we are hosting one, the, it’s a $10,000 prize, it’s not as big as I’d like it to be. But in the future, it’ll be bigger. But it’s just, you know, in one more example of how we’re trying to showcase other women doing amazing things, and give them you know, that helping hand that so many people gave me,

Kara Goldin 26:26
that is super cool. And thank you for doing that. Because I think it is really, really important. And you’re also helping, not just women, but other people actually deal with problems right around earwax, and so much more I can imagine in the future. But I think you’re doing really, really great things by helping lots of people. So thank you for doing that. So it was such a pleasure to talk to you, Elise. And what is the best way for people to purchase EO Sera, but also hear more about you and from you and all of that.

Elyse Dickerson 27:02
So, absolutely, you know, go to our website, it’s EOS era.com. So usa.com can learn all about all of our products. And, you know, follow us on social media. And then our products are available. Now. We’re pretty much in every major retailer, which this is the first time in 2022. I can say that. But Walmart and Walgreens and CVS and Rite Aid and so they can walk to the ear care aisle and check us out.

Kara Goldin 27:28
I love it. Such a great story and a great product. So thank you for sharing your journey with us for sure. And thank you everyone for listening to this incredible episode. We hope you enjoyed it. And definitely do us a favor and give Elise and Sara’s episode five star rating and please download the Kara Goldin show so that you are sure not to miss incredible stories from founders and leaders like Elise. And just a reminder that I can be found on all social platforms at Kara Goldin. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of my book that shares a lot of my journey. It’s called undaunted, and it’s available in bookstores and Amazon and also on Audible. And we are here every Monday, Wednesday, and we just recently added Friday as well. So three times a week. Lots and lots of stories. And I’m super, super excited that you are listening and drop me a line and say hello, for sure. And let me know what you think of the podcast. So thanks, everyone for listening and have a great rest of the week. And thanks again, Elise. Thank you. 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 book.com 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