Kelley Thornton: Founder & CEO of Tiege Hanley

Episode 408

Kelley Thornton, Co-Founder and CEO of the men’s skincare company Tiege Hanley, shares all about his journey in building this incredible company. He shares the backstory of why he left a 20+ year successful career in Corporate America to start Tiege Hanley, how the e-commerce company is scaling and competing and how it has evolved since its inception. I can’t wait for you to hear our discussion including all of the lessons and tips from this exciting entrepreneur. This episode is gonna have you motivated and you don’t want to miss it! 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 super super excited to have my next guest on here to share with us all about his journey. We have Kelly Thornton, who is the founder and CEO of an amazing brand that if you’ve not heard about it, either for yourself or as an incredible gift, teach Hanley is the name of the brand. So it’s also known by some as Tiege but we’re gonna call it the real name Tiege Hanley today. So Kelly is the founder and CEO. It’s a men’s skincare brand, and it is just over six year old brand that is a direct to consumer ecommerce company with the mission of helping men look and feel amazing. I had actually heard about it a few years ago. I’m remembering now Kelly that I think my son actually reached out to me and told me about this brand. And I think he was following somebody on. I don’t know YouTube or Tik Tok or someplace. So that was the first time that I had heard about it. But the business has evolved from selling three distinct skincare systems to boasting a wide variety of products. And the products are awesome, super easy to use. As I mentioned, I have guys in my house, all of them love the product so much. I even sold some of them too. So even though you’re focused on the men’s market, you know, I can I can use them as well. So, but I love, love, love the founding story and the products and the company. So I’m really excited to have Kelly here. So welcome.

Kelley Thornton 2:23
Thank you very much for having me. Totally.

Kara Goldin 2:26
So before we get into hearing about T’s Hanley and your journey as an entrepreneur, I’d love for you to share more about what you were doing before you decided to make the leap and start Tiege Hanley.

Kelley Thornton 2:42
Yeah, I mean, I was I had a business through college. So I had like a painting business, I was I was grown up, I was one of those type of guys that one of those type of children that were very motivated to do things and my parents, you know, while I grew up in a nice suburban household, I was required to do a lot of work and pay for my fair share of my education. So, you know, I spent time painting houses in New England, and, and really trying to start a little painting company there, which I was very fortunate about put me through college. But then I went into the corporate world and I spent 19 years working for big corporations, yours that I am very grateful for, but were very different. And I that whole time all 19 years, I really wanted to get back to being my own boss and controlling my own destiny, and really trying to do something that I felt was more rewarding. So took me a long time to start my second company, which was called purchase point. I did that in 2009. And I think that was the warm up for what I’m doing now at Tiege Hanley

Kara Goldin 3:53
so how did the idea for a men’s skincare company and you being an entrepreneur and starting that company come about very different than what you were doing before?

Kelley Thornton 4:04
You know, at the time, I’m really thinking about this in 2015 I really felt that the way men were being educated and communicated with about men’s about skincare was not the right way like I didn’t feel like you know I was interested in understanding the men’s skincare industry and like understanding what products to use and I was concerned about anti aging and you know, I was being spoken to like the way I think women are spoken to which is with a much more in depth knowledge base of how to take care of your skin. And so I felt like that combined with the fact that with purchase point the company I mentioned before we were doing a lot of work internationally on understanding how men were shopping that you know that guys just don’t go out to shop for skincare number one and two, they just don’t understand it. So I felt like there was a really underserved need to, like help make it simple for guys to get into skincare and be given some information education about it in a way that, you know, guys like to consume information.

Kara Goldin 5:13
So you have co founders, how did you find them?

Kelley Thornton 5:17
Yeah, I mean, one of my co founders. So I mentioned, my previous company purchase point, one of my co founders, Rob Hoxie, out of Connecticut was a technology kind of guy, a tech guy, and I had the idea for Tiege Hanley. And I said, I call them up and he said, Hey, you know, Rob, have you ever thought about skincare? It’s like, I never have, like, I think there’s a Manam phenomenal opportunity here. And, you know, here’s a thesis, I’ve written this down, can you help me build build out my, you know, business plan a little bit. So that’s what happened, we launched actually, in 2015, it was complete failure. We were putting other people’s products in a box focusing on a routine and an education. And, you know, it just wasn’t good for a lot of reasons now, primarily because we didn’t have a voice. And secondly, because while we had highly curated products, people could buy them, you know, anywhere on the internet if they searched enough, so it wasn’t, there wasn’t enough uniqueness. And it was the right concept, just wrong execution. And that led us to contact a grooming influencer on YouTube is somewhat getting started within a few years in his name’s Aaron Marino, and he is kind of the number one men’s grooming YouTuber. And that really kind of cemented the plans that Rob and I have been working on to help educate guys about skincare, and simplify it and speak to guys, you know, in a way that is relatable to kind of where the man is thinking, you know, how men think about taking care of themselves.

Kara Goldin 7:00
So the three of you all get together. And and you’ve got this idea, you’re sort of driving it sounds like you’re adding different skills, different concepts into this, you’ve had a failed initial launch, and then you’ve regrouped. What was kind of the next thing that you did in order to launch again, I mean, that must have taken a lot of courage.

Kelley Thornton 7:29
Yeah, I mean, what what happened was, Aaron, he was very, very interested in, in, in the men’s skincare space, he was like really relating to my thesis that, you know, men should be taking care of themselves. And he was really focused on this kind of overarching, kind of like men’s grooming, fitness, how to act as a man how to get the job, he was focused on all that. At purchase point, I’ve been spending a lot of time on the concept of self care. So we were helping big OTC pharma companies like Pfizer and Bear think about like the journey that people take in taking care of themselves and their health. So what Aaron was talking about, and what I had been working on with purchase point with some of my customers was really about this kind of like journey for for men and and, you know, journey for people but it matriculated into journey for men. And I think like, Aaron was really interested in this concept. So I actually reworked my business plan. Aaron is in Georgia and I ran down the Georgia, Atlanta, Georgia, and met with him and we really gelled on the idea. Aaron was very bullish about being able to communicate to his his guys that even speaking to about why it’s important to take care of your skin, and how easy it is, if you if you think about it in the right way. So we took another year to prepare for relaunch and we spent a lot of time formulating our own products and really coming up with the right business plan built around a subscription model. So we relaunched in 16 and from there when it went straight up.

Kara Goldin 9:19
So how would you describe Tiege Hanley to anyone who isn’t familiar with it today? And how would you describe like what I guess what makes the brand really unique?

Kelley Thornton 9:30
Yeah, I mean, I we are an uncomplicated skincare system for men. So we make very specific skincare systems no matter where you are in your skincare journey. And we’re going to put them in a box and send them to you roughly every 35 days. We’re going to be really easy will provide you with explicit instructions and then we’ll help you develop a healthy skincare routine along the way. And we’ll help you like figure out what’s right for you and not Not all products are going to be right for all people, you may be using like an another product that you really like. There’s a lot of great products out there like keels as an example. And so we’ll help you like figure out how to integrate our products into your skincare routine if all of our products aren’t right for you. So that’s, that’s what we really do, we really focus on the customer and really focus on helping him in his skincare journey. And everybody’s at a different place. So we have young people, you know, young men like that are 1817 that are starting with us for acne, to help them control like their acne. And then we have, you know, we have men in their 60s and 70s, that are really engaging in skincare for the first time. So it’s really, you know, very unique and very, very rewarding to, like, help guys think about taking care of themselves and the benefits that they get from it, which is they feel better about themselves.

Kara Goldin 10:52
So what is the number one thing when consumers are coming to the site, you talked about the different demographics, but the number one thing that kind of gets them to buy? Is it? Is it a problem that they’ve got with their skin? Or? I mean, I would guess that it’s not really maintaining as much. I mean, they will maintain it once they build trust with you. But is there? Is there a problem initially that they’re trying to solve?

Kelley Thornton 11:21
Yeah, I mean, it’s, it’s interesting, right? So the answer is what I kind of described, but I’ll go into a bit more debt, it is about that simplification, that just making it really easy for a guy to engage in the skincare category. So I think that that is something that we’re very, very good at. So it really helps get a guy over the hump to get him to engage with with our products. You know, on a larger scale, it’s the same reason why you’d want to go to the gym regularly. Or you know, that you find a particular shoe brand or clothing brand that you really like, you know, you feel it makes you feel good. And you know, and actually when, and I’m sure you have a lot of very sophisticated female listeners that understand the market. So I don’t, you know, mean to be condescending, but guys, we don’t really understand that. If you do do something to your skin, your skin will look better. If you actually look better. And you you’ll get capital, and people will say to you like what are you doing differently? And so when that happens, and guys engage with us, you know, or in the skincare journey, and they see these results, then they they are really interested in trying to understand how to get it right.

Kara Goldin 12:41
So you talked about educating, and obviously, that’s it’s really challenging to educate the consumer, because they I think getting there getting their ear getting them to pay attention is is very difficult. How do you get the story out?

Kelley Thornton 12:57
Yeah, we we’ve done, you know, because of Aaron in this was a secondary thing that I didn’t realize we were getting with, you know, having a business partner that was in the influencer world. But we really, we really, very, very, very early on, understood how influencer marketing worked. And I think that really helped us develop a whole marketing strategy around working with people that are in a space that men are listening to, and really trying to communicate through their story and their own personal experience with skincare, how you use it, and why you use it. And that, that really, that mechanism has been very positive for us. And we’ve, it’s difficult. And if you talk to people, they’ll tell you how difficult influencer marketing is. But I think we we kind of had a little inside baseball on it early on. And we honed it as a very good craft a very important craft here in our marketing team.

Kara Goldin 13:52
Yeah, and I think other people have seen it work for sure. You’ve just got to have the right influencer, who totally believes in the product. And and it is believable, right? That they’re that they’re using it and they believe in it. So I think you You did really nail it for sure. So you’re 100% online, your D to C brand, also on Amazon, too. How did you make that decision? And and I know, you’ve talked about doing stores, or thought about it for sure. But I’d love to kind of hear your thinking on that.

Kelley Thornton 14:29
Yeah, I mean, you and I were talking about that a couple of years ago, you reminded me before this conversation, you know, I thought that we needed to be in bricks by the way. I think this is kind of counterculture right now I’ve just from what I what I see and read every day in the in the DTC space that you have to be omni channel. And I think my belief right and I felt that way a couple years ago. We were considering raising, we didn’t and, you know, we heard a lot of feedback from From capital part a potential capital partners that we need to be omni channel, we needed to do this and we needed to do that. So I was really focusing on trying to, you know, follow other people in DTC and follow their path and get into retail. It wasn’t we, it didn’t matriculate for us, materialize for us. And so And another very lucky thing for Tiege Hanley is that we didn’t get into retail because I think, Ark a lot of our competitors, and a lot of DTC companies, it could either be the best thing that ever happened to him, or it could be, you know, kind of, you know, the worst thing that ever happened to them. So we, we just didn’t get in when we tried. And now that we’re not in a see us still having the opportunity to grow, you know, more than double, just in the marketplaces that we’re in internationally and like just being better at what we’re doing. So I’m not I’m not 100% Convinced that mass market, retail is the right, the right play for us. So I think, you know, right now, I think if anybody that’s out there that’s listening that feels like they have to go into retail, I’d say like, I’m not sure, you know, Ubu, you figure out what’s best for you. I was told we had to do it. But I’m glad we did. I’m glad it didn’t happen for us. We’re very happy with what we’re where we’re at right now.

Kara Goldin 16:27
Yeah. Well, I also think it depends on on your investment structure, too. Because if you have the type of investors who need to see a return at within a short period of time, but if that’s a very, very different situation than somebody who’s not raising or hasn’t raised capital, and wants to look at what’s best for their consumer, so I think it’s, it’s a very different situation. And you guys have have really shown why that can work.

Kelley Thornton 17:04
Yeah, I mean, I, we’ve been, since the beginning, we’ve been focused on being profitable. And, you know, when you when you have a lot of money in the bank, I think You think differently about how the decisions you make and why you make them, we’ve always been self funded. So we’ve always been capital constrained. And we’ve always, you know, been able to make money to, to grow our business. And so, you know, taking a big swing, like that is not like retail. If it doesn’t work, it can be, it can be incredibly detrimental to our business.

Kara Goldin 17:40
So knowing what you know, today, you’ve been in business for a little over six years with this business, you’ve been in the business world for a while. What do you think is, is really one of the most important things that I guess, talking about regrets? Maybe you don’t have any regrets? But sort of knowing what you know, today? What would you do if you were starting again? Maybe create your own products from day one? Is there anything else that you do differently,

Kelley Thornton 18:10
you know, when you realize that you that, that a decision you made is a bad decision, and you know, could be anything from it can be anything, how you’re spending money to how you’re hiring people, like changing that quick more quickly, that, you know, they right, they say, hire, hire slow and fire fast, right? And it’s really hard to do, but you’re gonna make tons of mistakes, and that and that they’re good, like making mistakes, or, you know, failure, in my opinion, is what makes you great. You have to, you have to constantly fail. But realizing when things not going well, and making a change quickly, that’s a skill that, you know, takes a long time to really hone and I think, you know, had I made decisions faster, to correct things that weren’t going well, that that would have been very helpful along the way. Easier said than done, right? If I you know, but identifying it, you know, identifying bad decisions, it takes a lot of internal fortitude, and it takes a lot of internal you know, you have to be at peace with yourself and your, in your, in your humility to say that that really is not working, and I need to make a change. And it’s really hard for a lot of people, anybody that has, you know, us founders were really, you know, we’ve had to go through a lot. And so it’s, it’s, it’s really, really hard to admit that something’s not going well and then make a change.

Kara Goldin 19:49
Yeah. And I think it’s when you’re when you’re so when it’s your own money, right. And especially in the early days, I mean, you’re making decisions Maybe if you’ve been in the corporate world for 20 years, you know, you’re I don’t know, it’s just different. It’s different. And, you know, you also, I felt like those, those first few people were harder to actually let go of because you tried to also, you know, determine whether or not it was you, not them. And could you take some more time to spend time with them and manage and all these learnings along the way, too, but I think at the end of the day, you you kind of know whether or not somebody is going to be okay for the company for at least the stage.

Kelley Thornton 20:38
Yeah, and I think, you know, not being too hard on yourself in retrospect, right, because you make decisions at the time, based on the knowledge that you have the data that you have the information that you have, the hand that you’re holding, at that time, you make you make a decision, and you think you make the right decision, looking back a lot of times, you know, wasn’t necessarily the right decision, or that person didn’t work out, or that big risks that you took in marketing didn’t come to fruition. And we’ve had so many of those, but, you know, you’re making what you think is the best decision at the time. And so I think that’s okay, you know, it’s okay, to be honest with yourself. Problem is, is when it doesn’t work out, you have to realize that if the cut as fast as possible, and you know, come to come to grips with what you learned, and how you’re going to get better from it.

Kara Goldin 21:36
So being an entrepreneur is brutal, I’ve heard you speak about discipline and hustle, and and you’re speaking to your younger self and new entrepreneur, what would you warn yourself about?

Kelley Thornton 21:52
Throw all that ego in the closet immediately. I mean, you know, realize that there are a lot of better, smarter, faster, better looking ahead of you people in the market. You know, and you’re one of them, Kara, you’re a trailblazer in the market. And we all look up to you, and realize that there’s great people out there. And so you’re not the only one with a great idea or great team. Or being a great leader. Or being graded hiring. It’s there’s so put all that ego in the closet, young Kelly, and focus on the mission and the journey and what you’re really trying to accomplish, and who you’re trying to help and why you’re trying to help them. Focus on that.

Kara Goldin 22:43
Yeah, I love it. I think also, as you and I discussed, you had reached out to me and I think being able to, you know, just pick up the phone and reach out to people shoot him an email, like, what’s the worst that can happen? They don’t respond. They, you know, I think that’s what great entrepreneurs do.

Kelley Thornton 23:01
Yeah, you’re very gracious with taking my call or call early on. I think now that I’m thinking about it, I will go ahead and be fully transparent with you on I think the very first time we talked, which was in 2020, I think, I think you thought I might have been a woman in a woman’s skincare something I’ve thought of and you’re like, I’m like Karen, you’re like Kelly and like, yeah, you’re like, is this Kelly Thornton? And I’m like, oh, that’s Oh, yeah. And you’re like, oh, okay, you’re a man. I don’t know. I think I’m probably wrong with that. But you were very, very, very gracious. Early. Female.

Kara Goldin 23:38
That’s funny. That is That’s awesome. So with the success for Tiege Hanley, I guess how do you know that you’re successful? I think that that is something that entrepreneurs are constantly looking at, like, you know, you, I don’t know, you make your profitable you. You put a plan together, you’re making the plan every year, but at what point? Do you sit there and say, Yeah, we’re killing it. We’re successful. We’re not killing it. I mean, what what is it that that really makes the brand successful?

Kelley Thornton 24:18
We’re, there’s a one word answer. Never. We’re never we’ve we have not achieved success. I think the moment that you think you’ve that you’ve reached some something, is the moment that you’re gonna get knocked off your horse. So I you know, I just, I don’t think as I don’t think we’ve made it, you know, I think we’re, we’re holding our own. You know, I’ve read and listened to a lot of Warren Buffett, you know, and it’s like, his philosophy is almost like, just stay in the game. You know, like, the longer you stay in the game, you know, the better your chances are being successful. And, you know, so it’s just every day grinding, grinding, grinding, following that roadmap, doing staying focused, doing what you’re doing every day day in and day out. And, you know, slowly brick by brick, you know, brick by brick, brick by brick you, you build and, and hopefully, you know, one day you look back and you You’re amazed at what you’ve created.

Kara Goldin 25:27
Yeah, no, I think that’s great advice. And it’s, it’s definitely true. I always say to entrepreneurs, that, you know, eventually you’ll, you’ll get to those markers that you’re looking to get to whether it’s getting into Target, or, you know, getting to the first million in sales on DTC, whatever it is, but you just have to stay alive, right and keep working. Right. And that’s the key thing, more than anything I think for for great, successful entrepreneurs.

Kelley Thornton 26:00
Stay in the game. I mean, I remember looking, you know, at my phone, we were Shopify early on and seeing, you know, like, 20 orders for the day, and then, you know, 30 orders for the day, and I’m like, this is incredible. When we get to whatever, 100 orders for the day, it’ll be phenomenal. You know, and then, when I look at it, you know, and I’m not it, you know, 1000s of orders for the day, I’m disappointed. Yeah. Disappointed, like, so I don’t think we’ll, you know, we’re just doing the hard yards every day, and being grateful and thankful for what we have, and realizing that it’s fragile, and then the moment it can be over.

Kara Goldin 26:36
I love it. Well, last question, best advice that you’ve ever received on on building a company? I mean, the the Warren Buffett one was beautiful. But is there any, any other ones that come to mind?

Kelley Thornton 26:49
Yeah, I mean, I have a guy who’s been a mentor of mine for many years, he’s personal friend of mine, I really look up tones, had a phenomenal business career. And, you know, I told him my business plan for my second business. And, you know, bottom this big, expensive lunch, because I thought that’s the least I could do to get his advice. And, you know, I was really waiting for him to validate me and to validate my idea that it was the greatest idea he’s ever heard. Because to me, it was. And he said, You know, I don’t really know how good your idea is, it sounds pretty good to me. But it’s all about the execution. And so if you think it’s a great idea, just, you know, focus on really incredible execution. And, and I’ll help you along the way. So I think that’s my advice, you know, focus on executing, I guess, it’s that that thing that I just said a minute ago, brick by brick?

Kara Goldin 27:51
Definitely, yeah, I always say that ideas are a dime a dozen. And it’s really about the execution that will make or break the company and, you know, frankly, the the entrepreneur, so yeah, absolutely more than anything so great. Well, thank you so much, Kelly for coming on. And Tiege Hanley is the name we’ll have all the info for the company, and for Kelly as well in the show notes. But thank you again for sharing all of your wisdom and your company and your lessons and your journey and awesome awesome products and company and founder. So thanks again. Thanks

Kelley Thornton 28:31
for having me on.

Kara Goldin 28:32
Thanks 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. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my book on daunted which I share my journey, including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And thanks everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week, and 2023 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 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