Laney Crowell – Founder & CEO of Saie Beauty

Episode 158

Say hello to the amazing Laney Crowell, Founder and CEO of Saie, a simple, clean beauty brand that I absolutely love! Laney shares how growing up in Paris and Northern California led her to want to create her own clean beauty line. We also talk about her career – from Lucky Magazine to the biggest beauty brand in the world, Estee Lauder! In search of a clean ethical makeup, she finally arrived at the conclusion that she needed to start her own brand. Sound familiar? Don’t miss out on this inspiring conversation 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 just sort of make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked out knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show. So 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, its Kara golden. And we’re here at this morning with the karat gold and show and I’m so excited for my next guest. She is the founder and CEO of an incredible product that if you haven’t been hiding under a rock, you’ve seen this product out there and hopefully tried this product. If you have not tried this product after you hear Lainey talk a little bit more about the story. I’m sure that’s going to entice you to go out and give it a try. But Laney crowl is the founder and CEO of a company called se it’s you may have seen it and not known how to pronounce it. But it’s Sai E and she is the founder and CEO of say a clean beauty brand that uses biodegradable ingredients prior to starting say she worked for Estee Lauder. And that’s when she really came to understand kind of the the interest and the value around clean beauty and just by kind of being around it throughout those years. And the liquid lip balm one ELS Innovation Award for lip and her mascara is absolutely fabulous as well. And yeah, I mean, we’re just going to jump in and hear a lot more about her journey and her adventure and about the company and welcome to the show. Lainey

Laney Crowell 2:12
thank you I’m, I’m so excited to be here. I have so much to say, you know, where should we start?

Kara Goldin 2:20
Well, I think the first step is who was Laney as a little kid? Like Did you always know that you were going to be in fashion, beauty and entrepreneur. All that tell me kind of the backstory? Sure.

Laney Crowell 2:34
So I my mom was a diplomat. We grew up abroad, I was in China. We eventually landed in Paris. And Paris was incredible. I went to a French school, I drove to the bus every day to school. And there were, you know, all of the big fashion houses that I would drive by every day or look in the windows of Dior. And I think also just the French women, they were so inspiring to me, the pharmacies on every corner with the you know, French skincare. And so I was a beauty junkie really early. I even remember the first time I bought a lor with Amber Valletta on the cover. And I even did a lot of sketching a fashion. So I love fashion and beauty from really, really early. I didn’t even know what the word entrepreneur was. My dad was a lawyer. As I mentioned, my mom worked for the Foreign Service. So I went to school for math and economics. at Pomona College.

Kara Goldin 3:41
You’re growing up, you’re definitely living in Paris and being exposed to fashion and beauty led you to have this interest. And you were definitely looking at finance and economics. You were talking about it as maybe your career or were you How were you thinking about that?

Laney Crowell 4:02
I think I was just good at math. And you know, you’re so young when you go to college, you don’t know how anyone could expect you to have any clue what you want to do. I don’t know. But I was math. And so I naturally started doing that. I think the other thing was that I, my family moved to California when my mom retired. And when we moved to Northern California, all of a sudden I was exposed to this whole world of holistic living, and it’s just part of life there. You’re outdoors, you’re eating fresh foods. There’s a totally different way of approaching your health.

Kara Goldin 4:37
So where were you at Northern Cal?

Laney Crowell 4:39
My family has been in San Rafael, which is in Marin,

Kara Goldin 4:43
it’s the town right next door to me.

Laney Crowell 4:45
Yeah. And they go visit my grandma in a couple weeks. She’s 98 and I haven’t seen her since the pandemic started. So I’ll have to come by and wave to you.

Kara Goldin 4:55
Yeah, for sure.

Laney Crowell 4:56
So you know, you know, it’s just you’re you’re living In a really clean life, and it’s just normal, that’s what everyone’s doing. And so I think it really was that marriage of being in Europe and then being in California where that I now look at say, and I’m like, Oh my gosh, this is exactly what se is all about, you know, we want things to be beautiful and luxurious and still be good for us and not have to compromise on anything.

Kara Goldin 5:25
I love it. So you ended up starting out your career at Estee Lauder? Well, my career actually started in magazines. So interesting. Okay, I

Laney Crowell 5:35
moved to New York, wanting to be in magazines. And when I look back on how it all happened, it was I ran to the editor in chief Kim Krantz of lucky magazine at Banana Republic one day on Fifth Avenue. And I introduced myself to her. I have landed an internship at Elle, and just couldn’t get my foot in the door. You know, I think I tell people this now all the time. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and I was fully experiencing that I could not get my first job. Because I didn’t know anybody. I’d moved to New York not knowing a soul. And then I introduced myself to cam and all of a sudden I knew her. And she got me my first job. Lucky magazine. And I absolutely loved it. I loved the storytelling. I loved the creation process. I loved building something every month, which is what you’re doing when you’re making a magazine. But right at the same time, print was slowly going away. And digital was starting. And I saw that I’ve always been really good at, you know, seeing where things are going early on. And I saw that and went to an online startup, which was my boot camp. I mean, I remember when Twitter launched, you know, it was very early days. And quickly Estee Lauder called and they actually sent me a list of digital jobs inside, you can pick what you’re looking for. And I ended up at Estee Lauder, the brand that was there for five years. I started all their social media channels, they created their online, all their online content, their influencer marketing department really got to build it from scratch from nothing. And so that was incredible. And I learned from the best of the best, you know, it’s the biggest beauty brand in the world. There’s such incredible talent there. But there was things that fundamentally just didn’t make sense to me when you know, when you get to Estee Lauder, they give you her biography, it is incredible. If you have not read it, you have to pick it up it is you get chills. I mean, you’re reading about this female entrepreneur, who started so long ago, and was fighting against so many things. And she she was a badass, and then all of a sudden, you’re in this company that’s run by men. And you’re like, Well, wait a minute, you know, that doesn’t make sense. And the products aren’t good for you. And you know, none of this is really clicking in my mind. No one’s talking about sustainability. And so I left and I had this vision of beauty being better. I had no idea how that was going to materialize. But I started a blog, which I started consulting. First off, I’ll go there, I started just kind of working with all these different brands that had been reaching out to me. And I would say six months after I started consulting, I was like, Okay, I want to get back to creating, it’s what I naturally want to be doing. And so I started a blog about this journey of you know, everything from meditation to nutrition to clean skincare and makeup. And from the day I launched the blog brands started sending me products to review. And I had to create a beauty closet in my little apartment with all these bins that have labels on them of where everything should go. But one night, I went looking for some makeup. And I think I had noticed it but it wasn’t until that moment where it was so visual and the makeup bin was empty. There was nothing in there. And every other bin was overflowing. And so I went on Instagram that night and I started asking my community What’s up? You know, why is there no good clean makeup? What? What do you like, What don’t you like? What would you create if you could create something and I got into this beautiful conversation that went to like two o’clock in the morning with my community saying extremely clearly what they wanted. And that’s where the name of the brand comes from, from our community saying what they want. We go back to that all the time. We call it the feel good five. And it’s you know, these pillars that I think all go back to that idea of not having to come from have, you know the products being high performance, that’s where our big beauty expertise comes in the textures and ingredients being incredible. There always been a, you know, pro Earth approach to everything where we think about sustainability from start to finish. And then the products being fun, you know, we makeup is fun. And you should, you should have a smile on your face when you’re picking something out and applying it and enjoying it. And you should love looking at it on your in your medicine cabinet or your makeup bag. But all of that was given to me by the community. They were the ones that said that. So we’re just bringing that to life.

Kara Goldin 10:42
I love it. That’s so great. So what what you’re to say actually start the end of 2019. Okay, wow. I know, for some reason, I thought it’s been around longer than that. So it’s, uh, yeah, so cuz you’ve gotten amazing traction. And obviously, launching, you know, just before the world changed in so many ways, I’m sure that was challenging in many ways. But on the other hand, I really believe that, especially now that we’re living in a zoom world, and people are more concerned about what they’re looking like, right on the on the pictures, I would imagine that that would really be helpful to you as well.

Laney Crowell 11:22
Yeah, we know I had a I had a baby during COVID. And I also had a business during COVID. And it’s wild, you know, I haven’t met most of the people that work at say in person, we’ve just exploded. And I think a huge part of that is because of our ethos and our products being good for you. And, you know, truly being your skincare, your lash care and your brow care, and your lip care and all these things that are so nourishing and wonderful. So whether you’re in front of zoom or in front of people, or just wanting to do something nice for yourself, they all it applies to everything.

Kara Goldin 11:58
So true. So how did you fund the company when you know, this is your first startup? And how did you get going?

Laney Crowell 12:06
I mean, we could have a whole conversation about just that, right? So I knew from the minute I started thinking about this that I wanted to be approaching this in the same way, I approached things at Estee Lauder. So this was a big vision from day one. And I knew I needed capital to do that. I sold my Estee Lauder stock, which gave me a tiny bit of start working capital. With that I hired our head of product development. And someone who worked in finance, also from Estee Lauder. So we were this trio of the beauty experts. And then we started, you know, figuring out the fundraising thing, which is wild, if you’ve never done it before, it’s like learning a whole new language and, you know, creating a whole new set of contacts and networks. And I did, I talked about this a lot about starting a list of people that you know, because I still do that. Now, if I need to figure something out, you know, I have this vision for our packaging, being the most sustainable packaging. And I’m kind of back at square one, again, of making a list of you know, who’s anybody I know, who has talked about this mentioned it might have a contact, and you know, starting to reach out and asking for a coffee or a call or anything, and then ask them to be connected to somebody they know. And I would say that list was ended up being about 100 people long before I actually raised that first round of capital.

Kara Goldin 13:45
That’s great. So you did you’re just the angel round, or did you do series A or what was that considered?

Laney Crowell 13:51
Okay, so we did a pre seed because we hadn’t launched yet. So we raised with our lead investor being Unilever ventures, which was my dream partner, they are really at the forefront of mission led businesses. And my investor there Rachel Harris is such an incredible partner. She’s who the standard I hold every one to now because she really is just like a senior advisor on my team. And so I think we also speak the same language like I noticed it from the first call me having come from Estee Lauder, her being that Unilever we spoke the same language of you know, that level of beauty. And so that was an early 2019 that I closed that round. We launched the end of the year. It was like November ended November, and we just took off. And we with our announcement that we were going to be launching in women’s wear daily. I got a call from Sephora the next day.

Kara Goldin 15:01
That’s amazing.

Laney Crowell 15:02
So we started those conversations before we even launched the brand.

Kara Goldin 15:07
That’s so great. And so just by kind of making that list and figuring out who do you know, and just start connecting, right, I think that So, so often people will think about, you know, just the idea of fundraising, right, and they almost, don’t even move forward because they get frozen right on this concept. Instead, what I always share with people is figure out what you can do, right, you can make a list, you can start to make a couple of phone calls and start to see, how does that, you know, continue to go down the line. And I think that that’s really critical.

Laney Crowell 15:44
My motto to my mantra really is what it became was just, you just have to pick yourself up more times than the next person, because it was really hard. I had never started a business before, I had never fundraise before, I was having to pitch the, you know, say, Ben, this vision and this dream, and really this baby of mine over and over and over again. And it can be so disheartening and demoralizing. But I truly believe that if you can get up more times than the next person, or just get up one more time, you’ll get there. And that was what I had to tell myself because it was definitely not easy. It was not, you know, now, I just closed our second seed. And we did it in one week. It was, it was really cool and exciting, fun and not stressful at all. And that first round is always the hardest.

Kara Goldin 16:39
Yeah, well, and, you know, what I think about a lot is that if you can measure yourself backwards, you can actually figure out the progress that you’ve made, right? It’s, you know, people have always said to me over the years, and I’ve kind of scratched my head like forget about, you know, forget about that bad meeting, forget about those challenging times. And I’ve always been kind of, you know, incubating inside like, I don’t know, like, you can always learn a little bit right along the way that maybe, maybe you had a bad fundraising meeting along the way. And then you think back on, you know, why didn’t that happen? Maybe I had too many slides in my deck, maybe they’ve never invested in a beauty brand ever. Right? And so that they don’t really understand what maybe they don’t wear makeup. Right? Right, all these things that you know, you sit there and kind of pull out of there. If you look at things backwards. Oftentimes you can, you can in you really shouldn’t celebrate your progress. Because I mean, this you’ve come a long way, in addition to starting your family to I mean, all of that. I mean, it’s it’s incredible. So you should be really, really proud.

Laney Crowell 17:50
Yeah, for that seed round, which I raised. Right after, it was like, you know, we launched in November, I think I raised it like right before COVID hits, that would have been like February, I was pregnant. And I was just wearing like baggy gear and back here sweaters. Hoping that people wouldn’t notice when I was fundraising. So you never know what they’re gonna think about that.

Kara Goldin 18:13
Yeah, definitely. And it’s, uh, yeah, it’s, it’s, it’s, I can only imagine what a complicated time it was for you, for sure. So the ethical nature of the company is as super deep and obviously ingrained in the products and packaging, and how do you? How do you keep this to the heart as you are scaling the company? And and, you know, as you bring in people, obviously, from lots of different cultures, as well, as, you know, maybe product ideas, how do you stay? Stay, like focusing on that and making sure that your innovations are really, you know, stay true to the brand?

Laney Crowell 18:54
Wow, that’s such a good question. It’s something I think about all the time. And we talk as a team about this all the time as well. I think one thing that’s really working for us is how much fun we’re having. The team is really just having a blast. And, and I really encourage that I want everyone to be having a really great time and bringing that positive energy to say and to their own lives. And, you know, especially around sustainability, and creating clean, clean formulas for heart for sure, like we are taking the hard route and everything that we’re doing. But we everybody that comes to say, really, I think in their heart is the line in wanting to make the industry like move the industry forward. But I think even beyond that they are focused on sustainability in their own lives. So it really is personal to everyone. And we talk about that in our interviews, for sure. You know, it’s something that I talked about When I’m interviewing someone, so that they know what they’re getting into. Because if you don’t care about sustainability, you’re not going to want to work at it, it is really hard to figure out how to make a product out of ocean fowl found plastic, and it’s really hard to calculate your carbon impact. Like, it’s an extra layer that you don’t have to do someplace else. So you don’t care about it, I would think it would be really annoying. You wouldn’t be doing

Kara Goldin 20:29
it? Well, and I think it’s, it’s coming from somebody who started her brand. 16 years ago, what I always share with people is, I’m very involved in innovation. And I’ve stayed involved in innovation and product development, because, unfortunately, if you don’t, and we’ve seen some examples of this over the years, it’s, you know, you’re the one that’s you’re on the front lines, right, and it’ll, it’ll be found out along the way. And I think it’s just something that you’ve just have to really stay close, it’s always easier to have outsource things and have somebody else do it. But I think, you know, you’re the one who’s, whose name and and it’s your, I don’t know, if it was your first baby or your second baby, right? Do you and your baby, that it’s just, you know, you really care about it. And I think it’s just something that you have to stay true to. And then also, I think just putting stakes in the ground. I mean, the number of times my listeners all know, I had a book come out in October that really shares the journey of building can’t and one of the things that I talked about in there is that no, you have to be the one as the founder, putting stakes in the ground around, you know, what this product is, and what the promises to the consumer. And while I think you can change along the way, even dramatically, you have to be honest with the consumer and actually tell the consumer that you’re doing that. And if it’s too far astray, know that they may leave. And so I mean, I had investors early on saying to me, especially during the 2008 2009 financial crisis, maybe we should add stevia to the product, and we’re an unsweetened flavored water. And, you know, that for me was, you know, that just wasn’t what I was doing. And that I’ve always said, if you’re looking for a sweet product, hint is not your friend. I mean, it is an unsweetened flavored water. We’ve done caffeine, we’ve done carbonation, we’ve even done sunscreen and some other products outside. But we are not a product. Our core product is unsweetened flavored water and we will not under while I’m here, do it do a sweetened product. It’s just not what we do. So there’s plenty of other options out there.

Laney Crowell 22:51
Well, those are those we said we are going to meet all together as a team for the first time next month. We love it, Maxine’s. And one of the things I’m most excited to work on is these brand differentiators. And to dive into those even more, which is exactly what you’re talking about. And we’re so clear on it, like your brand is, is much older than say and so I think as you get older, you get clearer and clearer on it. And that’s one of the things I’m most excited to work with the team on is what are the exact words we’re using? And what are those, like really clear ways in which, you know, say a say that nobody else can say, no one else can say, X, Y, and Z. And I think that that’s one of the things I’m really excited to work on with the team as we continue to grow. And, you know, have it be so clear, obviously, from your experience at Estee Lauder, you

Kara Goldin 23:44
know a lot about social, you know a lot about the different platforms and influencers. In the beauty industry. Do you think that that both of those things are really critical to growing your brand? That was

Laney Crowell 23:58
a huge part of our marketing strategy, because we didn’t have the dollars to be doing the, you know, spending crazy amounts in customer acquisition. So I gave a lot of free product away and did it to people who I knew that was a big part of our strategy and that we had personal relationships with the people that we were sending the product to. And you know, that came from my background as being an influencer marketing at Estee Lauder. And then our creative director has incredible relationships as well. So it’s you know, it’s kind of funny, you go back to that conversation we’re having about fundraising and figuring out who, you know, that was the same thing we did with our marketing strategy. So when we launched really all we were focused on was getting the product into the hands of people who would talk about it

Unknown Speaker 24:49
on social

Kara Goldin 24:50
that was the first place that I saw it so and where people were talking about it and you know, I think it’s a it’s a way to win where you can seem like a much bigger brand, right. But yet also discovery brand. I talk a lot about that the consumer needs to feel like they’re discovering your product and at least in the beverage industry, and I think it’s very true in the beauty industry to that you want to be, the consumer may not tell you that they want to be the first but they actually they want to be that in the no person that is actually recommending it. Yeah. So I think it’s, it’s really, really critical. And plus, if it’s a great product as yours is, I mean, that help, that definitely helps as well. So, obviously, we’re hopefully on the tail end of this COVID thing over the last year, what, what kind of, what did you learn over the past year? And obviously, you’re, you know, you’re just gotten launched, but what do you what did you learn about just running a company and running a business? and just overall, I always say the challenging times are the times when you can really learn the most and about either your leadership or the or developing a product or your, your team, whatever it is?

Laney Crowell 26:08
Yeah, I think that, for me, what became really apparent was the importance of being soulful, as a founder, as a leader for my team, but then also for our community. You know, we immediately when COVID happened, we said, okay, what content are we going to be putting out there, and we started to keep glowing series that we do on Instagram, on igtv. And it’s just content for people to help them feel good, and keep glowing in this time where it’s hard to be glowing, and to be positive. And we really thought a lot about, you know, how can we be supportive, and be that friend, and it had nothing to do with selling product, we were in such a, we’re such babies at that point that we didn’t, we weren’t even that concerned about selling product, we were concerned about surviving, you know, where we would we make it and the way in which we made it was by being authentic and real. And having those conversations and, you know, really tapping into what people were going through in their own lives. I think one of the my favorite things we did was a launch for our sunglow. And every brand out there was doing a zoom for their product launches. And I sat there and I was like, No one wants to go on zoom. Everybody is zoomed out. That’s the last thing people need to feel good. And so we sent everybody a pizza from john and vinnies with the product. And we made this great playlist and we sent a bottle of wine and we said, Go outside, enjoy the sunshine, have a pizza party, put on some great music, and do not join us. And that was that was our launch. And, um, and I think that just really resonates with people where you’re like, oh, you’re not just pushing product on me, and you’re not focused on you over me, you’re focused on me as a consumer, and what means a lot to people in their hearts. And then they appreciate that. And then you get that brand loyalty as a result. Absolutely. It’s

Kara Goldin 28:23
interesting. One of the things that I think about a lot at the beginning of the pandemic, I one of the stories that I talked about in the book, my book had already been turned in my manuscript had been turned in right before. Last March, when I I sort of view that as in the US, that’s when everything, everything became real. And, and so it was during that time when I realized, I looked back on 2008 2009, a really, really challenging time to be running a business, obviously, the financial markets crashing and so crazy. And we didn’t have enough money in the bank. And so one of the chapters I talked about in the book is during that time, it was really challenging, and we almost shut down. I mean, it was just we didn’t know what to do. We couldn’t raise money. We, I mean, we were almost too small. We were it was just it was really, really crazy. And so during the beginning of the pandemic, that’s when I went to my CFO, and I said we need to raise money and he said, You know, you’re crazy, everybody’s on zoom, all the offices are closed, we’re not going to be able to raise the money and I said, Look, we have a great business, we need growth equity, we have to see this happen. And we had about six months of capital in the bank, but we went out and weren’t sure whether or not we were going to be able to do it. And we went and raised a couple years worth of capital right after that. And so I never really understood why we went through that really challenging time as a business. I like you know, it was just one of those times that you sort of want it to go away right and and I kept looking back and thinking About 2008 2009, when the pandemic hit, while it was different, there were some similarities in the feeling of people getting really scared, and reacting. And that’s when now I look back. And I think that was why that was there, that that actually helped me to do the right thing during the pandemic, to be able to grow the way that we grew. And so anyway, it’s a it’s a, all these challenging times that you have along the way are really, you know, I really believe they’re part of your journey, and they’re just going to help you. You just don’t know why. Right, but they will help you to become a better leader or a better company, all of these things.

Laney Crowell 30:39
Yeah, I there is research done on this around businesses that go through a depression or recession or, I mean, I don’t use the word pandemic, but I think we now we can say pandemic. And what happens is that they end up being so much more resilient. And there is many other businesses launching during that time, and the ones that aren’t going to make it go away. And so you end up with these really strong companies at the at the end of it, like what happened with you?

Kara Goldin 31:10
Yeah, as long as they didn’t freeze, right. And they were set up. I mean, I, I think complacency will kill businesses, we’re now seeing kind of the result of that, where there were plenty of entrepreneurs that I know that just obviously, they were in categories that were super affected. But in addition to that, if you did nothing and so I think it’s a combination of figuring out what can you do, understanding that there are things that are beyond your control? But really getting creative? And figuring out how to not stay complacent is really kind of the answer to it all. So well. This is an amazing conversation. Lainey I’m so excited to really bring your journey and your story and your learnings to this audience for sure. So where can people find say hello, it say Correct.

Laney Crowell 32:06
So you can always go to say You can find us on Instagram at say beauty on tik tok. We’re also at say beauty. And we are in every single Sephora nationwide in North America and in Canada. And of course on support your comm by love

Kara Goldin 32:22
it. And are you obviously as well on Instagram to follow you and kind of hear more about your journey?

Laney Crowell 32:29
Yeah, my handle is really easy. It’s just at Laney. And I talk a lot about on my Instagram, what I’m going through as as a entrepreneur and a mom, and trying at the same time to feel good. And you know what those wellness hacks are with my big thing of lemon water always next to me.

Kara Goldin 32:52
I love it. I love it. It’s so great. Well, thank you so much. And thank you everyone for coming in and listening. And please give Lainey five stars and subscribe to the Kara golden show. Follow me on Kara golden with an eye on social channels. And finally, if you haven’t had a chance to pick up a copy of my book, or go on Audible, and download it, I read the book. And hopefully, you’ll learn a lot about founders and CEOs and their journeys and their challenges. And just overall Goodbye for now every Monday and Wednesday. Come back and see us. And thanks everyone. Thank you so much for having me. 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 calm 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 golden 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 golden thanks for listening