Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses for an audience of real entrepreneurs who are building their businesses often while they listen to these interviews.
So get this. You guys know I’ve got now two kids, a four-year-old and a two-year-old, and it feels like every six months or so, I get a letter or an email from their daycare saying that there is an outbreak of lice, we should watch out for lice. And every time I see it I go, “Oh, I got plans for today and tomorrow. If the kids have to stay home, what am I going to do?” This is such a pain, but I figured, all right, it’s a kind of pain you have to live with as a dad and so, fine. Okay, I’ll go with it.
Today’s guest is an entrepreneur who said, “Well, if there’s pain in the world, we don’t have to live with it. I think I could find a solution to it.” And the solution that she found is preventative care. It started out as preventative care for lice, for parents like me who have a lot of anxiety around it. So far, so good. We haven’t been hit with it, but I’m always anxious anyway, so I could relieve kind of anxiety. She created Fairy Tales Hair Care.
Now, this is a line that I’m sure we got from the company, from Risa Barash’s company, the number one professional line of hair care for children. Usually when I see that number one, or the best, the all-time, I just ignore that. But I’ve had a little bit of time to go on Amazon to see if there are people with negative reviews, to see if people hate her and don’t think their product is just a fraud. Turns out no, it actually is like the number one as far as I could tell on Amazon. And she’s got a new product. It’s called TBH, To Be Honest, hair and skin. Wait, what is it? Hair care and . . . How would you describe it, Risa?
Risa: Hair, skin, and body care for tweens.
Andrew: That’s the problem with me typing fast. I didn’t have a comma. I was like, “Hair skin?” Hair, skin and body care for tweens. We’re going to find out how she built this up, how big this company is thanks to two phenomenal sponsors. The first is so good that I actually had a conversation with one of their competitors and they said, “All right, we can take on anyone but not them.” It’s called ActiveCampaign for email marketing. I’ll tell you why I recommend them and the second will help you hire phenomenal developers, it’s called Toptal. I’ll tell you about both those later.
First, Risa, good to have you here.
Risa: Thank you for having me, Andrew. This is fun.
Andrew: What’s the revenue? How much are you guys up to?
Risa: Well, well over $10 million, $12 million. It’s a nice size business yeah, and growing by leaps and bounds.
Andrew: Profitable. No outside funding, right?
Risa: No, it’s privately owned, and we’ve never taken any money, so it’s pretty cool.
Andrew: When we say privately owned, who’s the owner?
Risa: My husband and I. I work with my husband every day.
Andrew: For 20 years.
Risa: For 20 years.
Andrew: This is the same husband that made you so happy that you had to leave comedy?
Risa: Yes, exactly.
Risa: Yeah. Nobody likes a happy comic. You know that.
Andrew: What happened when you got married as a comic?
Risa: So I made a lot of great jokes. The whole, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, I decided to stop and check out the audience and made everybody laugh because I stopped at the, you know, for poorer. And I also had a friend of mine who is a pretty well-known standup and a best friend. He did about 10 minutes of standup at our wedding, so it was a lot of fun.
Andrew: That’s really good. But you know what, what I hear when I go to comedy clubs is people basically bitch and moan about their lives. When you’re a happy comic, does that go over well?
Risa: Oh no. Oh, no, no, no. I went on stage one night. This is when I knew I was done. I got on stage. I said, “Hi, my name is Risa and I’m really happy. I’m in love.” And I literally heard the ice melting in the glasses.
Andrew: Because people just, all right, this is not what I came in for.
Risa: Yeah, exactly. So I went back to my act.
Andrew: Make me laugh. Make me feel better about my life. So you went back to your act, which was what? What type of act did you have?
Risa: So I’m sort of this misguided, sweet Jewish girl. Like my mom and dad, they’ve been together since they were 15 and 16. They’re so happy. They love each other, and I kind of never wanted to get married. I loved dating. I thought dating was so much fun, and I just didn’t want to settle down. I didn’t know what to do with my life. I had 1,000 jobs and so I was sort of like, you know, the Jewish girl gone bad. So I did most of my standup on that.
Andrew: The Jewish girl gone bad, meaning it just enjoying dating people.
Andrew: Did you date anyone famous?
Risa: And then making my dad take them out for dinner.
Andrew: Making your dad taking them out for dinner?
Risa: Yeah, all the time.
Andrew: And he was a good sport about it?
Risa: Yeah. After a few years he was like, “Enough already. I can’t do this anymore. You’re costing me a fortune.”
Andrew: And these are like flings.
Risa: Yeah. I’d go, “This is a really nice guy. You should meet him.” And then, he’d take out for dinner. And then he asked me about him two days later, I’d be like, “Who?”
Andrew: Why would you bring them over for dinner if you’re happy dating? I felt like bringing someone over to the house means that you’re serious.
Risa: I don’t know. It just kind of seemed fun to watch.
Andrew: You got famous friends in comedy?
Risa: Interesting comedy.
Andrew: Yeah. Right. And then you can just write down the notes and then bringing on stage. Do you have famous friends in comedy?
Risa: I did. I came up with Dave Chappelle and Dave Attell and Ray Romano, Darrell Hammond, all those guys. They were part of my little comedy crew.
Andrew: So I was reading up on you and it felt to me like you want it to be that kind of successful, but you are disillusioned about the process to do it. What do you mean?
Risa: Well, I’m a control freak. So it’s after a while you realize, especially back in the ’90s when there wasn’t Netflix or Amazon and you know, you really had just a few opportunities to really build your career. And I just, after a while, just being at the mercy of other people just didn’t sit well. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I had enough. I’m a fourth generation entrepreneur.
Andrew: Was it in your bones and did you feel like I got to rebel against this father, grandfather, great grandfather.
Risa: Well, I think I didn’t really feel I needed to rebel. It wasn’t my time. I just knew that I needed to try the standup thing and see what happens and I auditioned for every TV show that was never made in the ’90s.
Andrew: Okay. And that’s the part that just is not at all in your hands. It’s them liking you or not. You can’t sit down and say, okay, let’s brainstorm ways to make this work. No, you’re stuck. Meanwhile, like you said, you come from a family of entrepreneurs. I don’t know if you’ve ever read Jeffrey Archer novels. I used to read them as a kid.
Andrew: You did?
Risa: I did. I like them.
Andrew: Which one do you remember?
Risa: The British guy?
Risa: Didn’t he do like, “Kane and Abel.” Is that him?
Andrew: Yeah, that was one of his famous ones. Kane, I forget which one was the rich guy. The other one was a poor guy, but often they start off with pushcarts competing in someone who’s like aristocracy and they end up somehow in the middle of appreciating each other, but battling each other along the way. I feel like your grand, what is it? Your great, great grandfather had that kind of a start.
Risa: He did and then, he literally made batteries in his basement and the grand concourse in the Bronx and he would get it, put them on his pushcart and sell them. And then so he did that for years and he had a pretty sizable business after a while and then my grandfather took it over and he built it up into this huge business and we had the government contracts during the wars. He invented a floating flashlight. So that was huge. That’s how we really got to the government contracts. And he had a brother-in-law who was probably one of the original playboys and he would fly to Cuba every weekend and have such a good time and he wanted my grandfather to support his lifestyle. And after a while my grandfather sort of started cutting him off and then he decided that he was going to sue my grandfather and the business and it just turned into, for lack of a better word, a shit show and . . . I’m I allowed to say that?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Risa: There was actually a legal precedent set at the time that the judge finally threw them all out of court and said, “Just get out of here and sell the business.”
Andrew: Get out of here, sell the business to make sure that your uncle can have the money that he needs to continue . . .
Risa: To go to Cuba.
Andrew: Wow, so he won.
Risa: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Andrew: That’s a pretty good lifestyle though. You know what? I’ve been thinking about this, that now that I’ve got kids, I think how do I make sure that I still live it up? And so this past weekend I went and I did this 50-mile bike ride and at the end of the 50-mile bike ride with friends, I said, there’s a 25-mile bike ride too, I’m going to go do that. So I did that too. I want to take trips like that, but I feel like I’m not doing enough. You feel like to me, I’m sensing from you someone who just enjoys life. Do you get to travel? Do you get to live life? Do you get to have fun?
Risa: I do. I have teenagers now. So that’s a little challenging. I work too probably. I’m a little obsessed with my business and its growth and what to do and how to do it but I’m trying. I host a story slam in my town. So I live in this really nice town called Montclair and we have a film festival and so we have a film building and a once a month they do these stories slams when they come up with the topic, sort of like the Mont [SP] kind of thing and I host them. So that’s really fun.
Andrew: That’s your adventure, Montclair’s like story slam.
Andrew: You’re not flying around in the Fairy Tales Hair Care jet? Nothing?
Risa: No, Not yet.
Andrew: No? You’re not going out to see Target in every country, every city, just so I see how your stuff is doing.
Risa: I see plenty of them. I fix shelves wherever I go. I’m like the queen of like, I literally, it takes me an hour to get down to main street because I like stop into the Targets, the Walmarts, the HEBs wherever I am. I go in, I check the shelves, I talk to people, I wait for people to walk over and look at the product.
Andrew: You literally will be the person standing at the Target.
Andrew: So if you and I were going to have lunch or coffee somewhere . . .
Risa: Oh, you’d go in there with us.
Andrew: On our way over, we would have to walk into a target. It’s true?
Risa: Yeah. 100%
Andrew: Oh, I would love that. And then you’d walk through Target, you’d be fixing the shelves.
Risa: Yes. Oh, I like taking bottles of shelves and clean them. I straighten them.
Andrew: An extra sale isn’t going to make that big of a difference. First of all, Target is pretty clean. They’re not dirty.
Risa: I know. It just makes me happy. I just love doing it.
Andrew: That’s what it is.
Risa: Yeah. It makes me happy. It’s just that.
Andrew: And this whole thing started because. All right. You said comedy is not for me. Your husband’s cousin owned a salon in Long Island doing what?
Risa: Yes. He cut kids hair and he used to see kids coming in with lice. And so he found this article in Israel, they made the shampoo with rosemary and tea tree in it, so he had a shampoo made and he was selling it. And one day my husband was in the salon and there must have been a lice outbreak in the Five Towns. I don’t know if you know anything about the Five Towns but . . .
Andrew: A little bit.
Risa: But kind of a fancy place on Long Island. So every mom within a 40-mile radius was running in freaking out and grabbing this product off the shelf. And my husband came home and said, “Okay, I found it. This is what we’re going to do.”
Andrew: What is your husband’s background?
Risa: My husband was in the beauty distribution business.
Andrew: So he was distributing . . .
Risa: Yeah. He was distributing pro hair care. So I was like, all right. I go, but, lice, you know, it’s a little weird, right? But I thought it was a challenge and I think that’s where the genetics kicked in because I was like, “Oh, I’m in business, I could do this.” So I came up with the conditioner, I got the formulas from him and we got his permission and we decided to go into business together.
Took the formulas, called the manufacturer took out some ingredients because I, you know, this was before Google, this is really sad, but it’s before Google. So I literally went to the New York Public Library, took out, it’s like encyclopedias so I can look up all the ingredients, took out a lot of the stuff that scared me and that I couldn’t pronounce, put some more stuff in that sounded like good stuff for hair care. I literally would look at other bottles and see what kind of ingredients they had. Made the conditioner, made the spray, changed the packaging because it was kind of god awful. And we went to a beauty show out in Las Vegas and we picked up a distributor and that was the start of it.
Andrew: From a beauty event. Beauty . . . what was it? Beauty shop.
Risa: Yeah. For us it was like the PBA, Professional Beauty Association. So the theory was that the stylists would be able to help sell the products for us. They’d be able to talk about them because we really didn’t have any money. I mean, you know, we put like $10,000 into this to make some product and get some packaging and see what we could do. So after we picked up that distributor, I would walk up and down the streets of the city and go into salons and say, “Hey, I have this great product. Can I put it on your shelf? And if it doesn’t sell, I’ll come and take it back.” And I kept a notebook of where I was. And that’s literally how this started. I did this for almost two years.
Andrew: How were people reacting when you walked in with your new thing?
Risa: Some were nice, and some were like, okay, we don’t want children in here with bugs in their hair. And I’d be like, no, no, no, it’s prevention. And they’re like, no, but we don’t want children. I had a lot of people that said, “Oh, we don’t cut children’s hair.” And I’m like, okay, but you cut the mom’s hair and the moms are buying the products. So that was an argument I had many a time.
Andrew: And you’re going in there. You were convincing them to do it a one at a time.
Risa: Yes. Seriously. One at a time. It was exhausting.
Andrew: So you know, one of the problems with preventative anything is people don’t think it’s a problem until it’s a problem, right?
Andrew: And so I could understand that if the school sends a letter to the parents saying that there’s a lice outbreak, then they might go in to the store and look for it. But otherwise, did they even care? Do they see it as enough of an issue to get?
Risa: No, it was an uphill battle. So once I sort of realized that that was exactly the attitude that people had, I realized that I needed to sort of retweak my message and retweak our packaging to say that it’s an everyday shampoo that cleanses, detangles, conditions, and it also helps prevent head lice. So, you know, we did tweak the message and I hit it home every single opportunity I could, that it was just an amazing line of products for your kids that, you know, did what it needed to do and by the way, it helps prevent head lice and that’s really how it took years to really have people understand that, you know, that it’s an everyday line of products.
Andrew: Yeah. I’m looking at your website from 2005 and . . .
Risa: Oh, it’s so ugly.
Andrew: At the top of it. I don’t know, it’s not bad. One of the nice things about it is it’s centered. I think back in 2005, whenever I do research, all the websites go all the way to the left, but it does still at that point say Fairy Tales Lice Goodbye. Just like really big on how we’re going to get rid of lice. So even as far as 2005 and you founded 1999, right?
Andrew: Even as far as 2005, you hadn’t done that big messaging, right?
Risa: Lice Good-Bye is actually a new product that we came up with once the kids have to get rid of it. So but that was right about the time when we were really tweaking the message and realized that, you know, I always say sometimes we were, you know, you didn’t find out about it soon enough and you had lice. So we came up with a natural product to help get rid of it. So that was the first extension that we came up with.
Andrew: Okay. And then there was the repel product, Rosemary Repel.
Risa: Right, That’s [inaudible 00:15:47]
Andrew: And tangle free friendly detangler. That’s another one. So you started to say we’re going to look at the problems that parents have and that’s going to be our sweet spot.
Risa: Exactly. Problem, solution, right?
Andrew: Yeah, that makes sense. That makes sense. All right, let me take a moment here to talk about my second sponsor and then we’ll get into what you did next once you were on your way. Oh, by the way, you had mentioned tea tree. I told you, I went into Amazon to look at your reviews. There was just one woman that I’ve been putting so much tea tree oil in my hair . . . I guess that . . . in my kid’s hair. I guess that’s an anti-lice thing. You’re making a face. I’ve never smelled tea tree. She goes, “My kids cannot stand the smell of tea tree anymore and they hate it. And I finally switched over to Fairy Tales and now my kids are happy.”
Risa: I love that.
Andrew: I love those passionate. As a guy who’s preparing for an interview, I love the passionate people because that tells me where the problems and where the excitement is.
Risa: Oh, exactly. We have fans.
Andrew: You really do. You really do. Okay. I’ll talk about my first sponsor. It’s a company called ActiveCampaign. No kidding, Risa. I was at this event. This guy is competing with a new email marketing product and he goes, yeah, we take on these guys, we’re so much better than those guys. So what about ActiveCampaign? He goes, “Yeah, they are really good.” I’ve got a story about how really good they are. All right, there’s a company called TETON Sports. It provides high-quality equipment for all things outdoors. Now, these guys were killing it on social media, but they wanted a way to target their customers and reach them specifically.
So for example, a hiker would want to see a different product offering than a hunter, two totally different kinds of people. They wanted a way to target them with the right message at the right person, so TETON Sports CMO, chief marketing officer did a lot of research on all the other CRMs that are on the market and he found that ActiveCampaign provided more background information that would help them make meaningful email offers to his audience. So that allowed them to mine the data based on integrations with software like Shopify or Stripe and so many others, so suddenly he had a way of targeting the right person with the right message.
ActiveCampaign is going to give you the option to do that in such an easy way based on what people clicked on your email based on what they’ve done on your website, based on even if they watch a video on hunting on your website all the way to the end, you know they’re probably hunters.
If they watch one about hiking and biking and hiking, you know they’re probably hiking and now you can start to send out messages based on that. ActiveCampaign helped TETON Sports scale their email marketing efforts without a hefty price tag. That’s the other thing. These guys are not super expensive, plus it allowed them to 7X, their email database because ActiveCampaign makes it easy for you to grow your database by targeting people and getting the stuff that they want.
If you’re out there and you’re looking to sign up, don’t just go to ActiveCampaign. That’s for everyone else. activecampaign.com is for everyone else, activecampaign.com/mixergy is where they’re going to let you try their software for free. See if it’s great. If you sign up, they’re going to, give you your second month for free. They’re also going to give you two free consultations with experts to make sure you use all their features. First one, you learn about it, the second one, you go out and try it and then come back and give them feedback. They’ll do all that and they even have free migration. That’s activecampaign.com/mixergy, activecampaign.com/mixergy.
Risa, I’m really proud of that. What do you think about your hair today?
Risa: I’m like, it looks a little funny. Stick it up.
Andrew: I think it’s fine.
Risa: I had conferences this morning at the kids’ school. So it’s been a long day already.
Andrew: Yeah, we’re recording it on East Coast time. So what is it? 2:00 your time?
Risa: Yeah, it’s all good. ActiveCampaign sounds great. I wrote it down.
Andrew: You know what I was noticing that. I’d been on a campaign to improve my ad reads, so I hired a writer just for that. Usually, I’d riff and I said, I’m done riffing. Can you get me someone who could? And the model I follow is the same one you follow to come up with your business. What’s the problem then what’s the solution these guys tried and then what we’re selling here that works.
Risa: And then hire somebody to do it.
Andrew: Yes. Oh yeah. How many people are in your company?
Risa: With our warehouse guys, we have 16.
Andrew: That’s pretty small considering how big you are.
Risa: I know. I outsource my PR, social, but yeah, we run a tight ship. We have it down. We do. We have it down.
Andrew: All right. In the beginning, you were walking from salon to salon in New York City. Then you said it’s time to grow up, I guess, and you went and you got a website. How early did you get a website?
Risa: 2001. Very early on.
Andrew: So I went back to the internet Wayback Machine. All I could find was 2004. And my sense is, that maybe the URL was different from Fairy Tales Hair Care.
Risa: I don’t think it was.
Andrew: No. Maybe the Internet Archive is not going back far enough. What were you trying to do?
Risa: We were literally one of the first . . . Well, let’s see. My son Jack was born in 2002, and we already had the website because I remember literally having him in the car seat on the floor of my home office and I was fascinated by the web and what was going on, and we would get an order online. I would fax it to my husband in the warehouse. I’d call him and be like, “We got an order. We got an order.” I’m like, “Go pack it right now,” and I’d be so excited. I’d wake the baby up the whole there’s a whole crazy thing.
Andrew: You mean, got an order on the website.
Risa: Yeah. Oh, it was so exciting.
Andrew: How do you get people to come to the website? What was it that you did?
Risa: I started researching this whole Google thing and we were probably one of the first people to ever spend money on Google ads. Which was really interesting because we owned, you know, some huge words that, you know, you can’t really get it anymore, right? Like you type in lice and we would come up, you know, for years, there was nobody else. So it was really, it was sweet. It’s really how we grew the business.
Andrew: So we’re talking about pennies per hit on your site?
Risa: Oh, yeah.
Andrew: Somebody literally typing in the word “lice,” they are a great candidate. Your thing comes up for like five cents, maybe even less at the time because who was bidding up lice. Then they come to your site, they buy. Did you do anything to get repeat orders from people?
Risa: Oh yeah.
Andrew: What did you do?
Risa: We had them sign up for our newsletter, and it was always moms. So, and you know, I was a mom or I am a mom, so I would write this newsletter and you know, using my humor, I’d write about moms and what it was like and the good, the bad, the ugly. And then I would talk about, you know, lice and put a coupon code in and then send it to your friends. And we had a forward button. Anything I can do, you know, we always said that if you just put the product in a mom’s hands, she’s going to like it and she’s going to tell all her friends.
Andrew: What kind of setup do you have over there?
Risa: That’s really what happened.
Andrew: Do you have like a webcam on top of your computer that just dropped off?
Risa: Yeah. Yeah. So weird, right?
Risa: I know. I don’t know what’s going on with it. So our IT guy here, he’s this brilliant person that we have working for us. He lives in Texas actually. He comes up once a month.
Andrew: To do what? What kind of IT do you guys need today?
Risa: Oh, today we’re working with a system called Activate, which connects our warehouse to the product to shipping, to inventory control. It’s very efficient, but it needs tweaking every now and then. So we’re working on that.
Andrew: Look at this. So you guys are running your whole website on WordPress.
Andrew: Not Shopify or anything? Just like straight up simple WordPress after all these years?
Risa: No. After all these years.
Andrew: What percentage of your business comes from that?
Risa: Yeah. We do seven figures online.
Andrew: You do?
Risa: Yeah. It’s pretty cool.
Andrew: Wow. I get it. All right. So the Google AdWords, we’re starting to do well for you. Let’s talk about Amazon. How did this come about? How did you start getting into Amazon?
Risa: Well, we got into Amazon because we were noticing people were selling our products on Amazon. So being in the professional beauty business has pros and cons, and the pros is that the stylists are awesome and they love your brand and they really help support. You know, the cons are, Amazon, right? They buy it for distributor cost, and then they can still sell it online for a discount and you know, we really started, you know, for lack of a better word, getting screwed.
Andrew: What do you mean?
Risa: If we sell our products for $12.95 and we sell it to a distributor or whatever, you know, at their cost, then we would find it online for $9 and it just became a problem, right? You know, the customer is, they start to expect to find that product at that cost. So at this point we were already in some retailers and you know, they can’t price match. So we really had a hard time setting, you know, map and getting everybody on board. I get rid of distributors . . .
Andrew: How do you fix that?
Risa: I’m sorry?
Andrew: How do you fix that?
Risa: I ask nicely, I send an email, I have a contract, and if you don’t pay attention, we cut you off. It happens a lot, unfortunately.
Andrew: You know what? I had this thought. Would it make sense to create basically the same product but with a different name, one for Amazon and one for salons?
Risa: You know, we thought about it, but we have such amazing brand identity.
Andrew: No, I mean different brands. Like instead of Fairy Tales Hair Care, one name, have a different name, one for online, one for offline. So the salon gets more of a higher end or story gets more. Does that make sense or not?
Risa: Well we did, we actually talked about it. We talked about a lot of things to try to combat this and we really just decided that our brand is our brand. Follow the pricing or don’t sell it. That’s it, you know?
Andrew: And you can get Amazon to follow along?
Risa: Most of them do, but a lot of them don’t. And you know, we cut them off. They open up stores under different names. So, you know, you have to . . . I mean if I tell you some of the things. I actually have, I probably shouldn’t be admitting this, but I think we’re good now. I created a fake Gmail account and I would email some of these distributors that we couldn’t find out who they were and I would ask for, you know, a relatively large quantity of a product. Not our most popular ones, some of our more obscure ones and then we would see like, which distributor would ask for that product.
Andrew: Oh, you were asking the distributor then you wait to see who’s coming in with this big amount and that’s how you knew who to catch the person who was misusing your stuff. Oh, that’s great. And it worked out.
Risa: Isn’t that awesome?
Risa: Oh yeah, I got rid of three distributors that way.
Risa: I was really proud of myself.
Andrew: You should be. I love that kind of stuff.
Risa: I know.
Andrew: All right. I see that you’re still holding onto your webcam. Why don’t I give you a minute to adjust your webcam while I do the second ad. I usually wouldn’t do it [inaudible 00:26:16]
Risa: I don’t know. It’s never really on there. I’m not quite sure why.
Andrew: Make it work. I’ll do this. All right. Second sponsor is a company called Toptal. I talk about Toptal so much that even at dinner people interrupt the conversation and say, okay guys, we need to take a moment so Andrew can talk about Toptal. Yeah, it’s working. Yeah, I get that hair going. One of the people who signed up for Toptal is a guy named Shariq Minhas. He led an engineering team at Hotwire and at Expedia. He got together with his cofounders and he said, you know what, it’s time for us to build something brand new in the travel space. So one of the first things he did was he went online to online job marketplaces and he started looking for developers and started looking for people to work with and found people with high ratings and he said, great, these guys have high ratings. I think I could trust them. I’ll give them projects.
As he started to work with them he realized, wait a minute, these guys have high ratings because they worked on like these simple BS little projects where people who have WordPress and Joomla sites. They weren’t working on tough, complicated issues. So then Shariq had to start going in and saying, “I’ve got to start investigating who’s the right person, started going online and trying to look at how we can figure out who’s really good at this stuff and who’s not.” You know, that becomes a big drag on your business, especially when you’re getting started. So he heard about Toptal. He said, all right, it is time for me to check out this top Toptal thing. So he went to Toptal. Toptal already spent time vetting candidates before he even called.
He said, “Do you know what? They’ve got the best of the best. Let’s just try them out.” He hired four Toptal developers, had success with every one of them and one of the developers has continued to work for him now for over a year. Toptal saved him time and as a result and time, by the way, if you’re starting up, is super important. As a result of that, he was able to focus on strategy and getting his new venture off the ground.
If you want to sign up for Toptal, go to toptal.com/mixergy. As you know by now, you’re going to get 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours in addition to a no-risk trial period. Read all about it on top as in top of your head, tal as in talent, toptal.com/mixergy. And by the way, Risa for developers, for everyone, I don’t know if you’re thinking about it, but I’m noticing a lot of entrepreneurs are saying we’re going to get, like, the recession coming up. They’re all starting to prepare for it. Are you?
Risa: No, we survived the last one, so you know, I said Rosemary Repel, we actually, our business grew back during the last recession.
Risa: It’s something that parents need, right? Well, you just, you said yourself, right? The fear of head lice. So, you know, maybe you’ll sacrifice a pizza one night to buy Rosemary Repel spray because there’s a lice outbreak.
Andrew: But if the economy’s bad, they’re not going to go online and look at this tea tree, whatever in combination and put that in their kid’s hair?
Risa: No. I think our reputation sort of says to people, I know this works. I’m not going to take a chance. It’s like, it’s not like buying a pair of pants or like, all right, you know, it’ll be okay. Like, it’s like, no, no, no. There’s a lice outbreak. Everyone in the world, you know, uses Fairy Tales. I’m not buying anything else.
Andrew: Right. If it’s that important, I’m just going to go through. Why didn’t you start out by going after schools. I feel like the schools are so desperate to get rid of this that they would have. They don’t like promoting stuff, but they would have promoted it.
Risa: No, they didn’t actually.
Andrew: You tried. What happened?
Risa: I did. I went to school nurses. I went to a trade show and I even took like my daughter who was about seven at the time and they weren’t even that nice to her sometimes.
Risa: Yeah. It was a real eye-opener.
Andrew: What do you think that hesitation is on their part?
Risa: I don’t think they wanted to endorse the product. I think natural at the time, I was a little too early with that whole natural concept, so it didn’t go. Listen, some were lovely and we still sell products to some schools and we have a brochure called “The Facts of Lice” and every year we get hundreds of requests from school nurses, if we could send them those, and we send samples out all day long. So, but it was not what I thought it should have been, if that makes sense.
Andrew: Yeah. They’re just not looking for this type of thing and they’re not willing to talk about it. I see “The Facts of Lice” there.
Risa: We’ll get there.
Andrew: I think by the way somebody stole the name, “The Facts of Lice,” and there’s a competing version of it online too. It’s such a good name.
Risa: It is, right?
Andrew: Yeah. I’m scrolling to the bottom.
Risa: It’s okay.
Andrew: It’s not okay for me. I get angry. All right.
Risa: There’s a company that has tried to copy us many a time and they do some version of our names. You know, I used to get so angry and so crazy. I’m very feisty and my husband’s very mellow, so, but over time I think I’ve just been like, you know what, I kind of own this space. I know it and to each his own.
Andrew: No, we’ve been talking about kids. I think when you did a pre-interview with our producer, one of your, your daughter walked in right?
Risa: Yeah. She did.
Andrew: To do what?
Risa: Just to live her life. She’s, you know, she’s 14. My daughter is, she’s an amazing kid. I actually just came from her conference in ninth grade, she’s a freshman, and she loves social media. She’s really good. I asked her to do some YouTube videos which are going to be up on our TBH kids’ site because that’s sort of her age and my kids were the impetus for creating this new line. And she did these videos that are so terrific. She’s really smart. She’s really cool kid.
Andrew: Isn’t it also a challenge, like I mentioned, if our kids get lice, oh, I’m in trouble. I got to stay home. It’s a pain in the butt. They’re not going to let me record interviews. That means I have to tell everyone that I can show up for the day. It just stinks.
Risa: There’s a whole stigma.
Andrew: Talk about the challenges of that. I feel like we don’t talk enough about that and I try not to because I don’t want to look like I’m weak for having to stay home but I think we should.
Risa: Well, you know what’s going on right now is that a lot of the schools, it’s no nits policy and if kids have nits, you know, they let them come into the schools now.
Andrew: Wait. What’s a nit?
Risa: A nit is a baby louse.
Andrew: So they let them come in because . . .
Risa: Yeah, because it’s the egg that’s stuck to the hair shaft and you really don’t know when it’s going to hatch, you know, it’s not like, you know, lunch. Come on everybody, let’s go. So, the theory was they used to send kids home right away when they had lice or nits. Lice, they still send kids home, but if they just have the eggs, they let them stay in school because it takes 7 to 10 days for those nits to hatch. And kids were missing way too much school. The stigma was huge. Everybody knew that Susie has lice and she’s been out of school for five days, you know. So the American Academy of Pediatrics, the school nurses all sort of got together and said, you know what, there’s a thousand things out there that are bad. Head lice is really not one of them. It’s more of a nuisance, doesn’t really have any medical issues, so let’s just let the kids in.
And, you know, they’ll send the parents, you know, a note, they’ll come in, they’ll comb their hair, they’ll do this, they’ll do that and they can come back to school the next day. A lot of parents really don’t like that concept.
Andrew: Because it spreads it more, but let’s take it back to you as a mom and an entrepreneur. Let’s get serious here. Honestly, what are some of the issues you’ve got to deal with? Obviously, our producer is going to be fine with your child coming in. And we actually like it. I wouldn’t mind if one of your kids came in on camera right now, I feel like adds to the personality, but you have a serious business meeting. You’ve got an issue. You can’t have your kid, right? What do you do?
Risa: No, I can. I’m a mom first.
Andrew: You can?
Risa: Yeah. I work really hard. I’m really good at what I do, but my kids come first and if they need me, I’m there. I mean it’s a balance and I don’t do it probably very well, but my kids have never really known me not working. So this is just life to them.
Andrew: So what would happen if like as we were talking, my kid would come in here with the iPad saying, you told me I could watch an iPad today. I can’t make the next movie come up. You are saying, just do it.
Risa: Yeah, just do it. Put it on and then plop them down on the corner.
Andrew: And just allow it to come through.
Andrew: They start to whine about it. I want more lunch. I’d want something different to eat.
Risa: Yeah. My kids know that they’re sort of, there’s a line, right? And that’s it.
Andrew: Got it. So you’re saying, look, accept the kids interrupting things because that’s life, but also be clear with them. There’s a certain line. At some point you can’t interrupt me because you want another snack.
Andrew: I’m not good at that.
Risa: I think my kids always just knew that. They always just maybe instinctually know or maybe it was me stomping my feet on the ground, go.
Andrew: Go, I have to work. You would do that?
Andrew: Are you the type of parent who checks iPhone while you’re with the kids or you have any restrictions on that?
Risa: Well no, iPhones a dinner that’s like a big no, no for us, you know, getting them to talk as teenagers is key. But no, I mean my kids know that I’m an entrepreneur and business is important and we go on vacations and my husband and I will take a morning, every morning for an hour and we answer emails or we, you know, troubleshoot, whatever we have to troubleshoot and you know, the kids will sit on the deck and listen to their music and then we go about our day and we’ve been doing that since they were really little. And it’s just our way of life. It just works for us.
Andrew: I think I’m okay with that. It’s the parents shaming that’s frustrating when someone sees you look at your phone for a minute, ah.
Risa: I know. I mean, we’re all guilty of it and we laugh about it. You know, my kids are old enough to sort of tease me now. So they’ll say like, “All right, mom, you know enough.” I think I was worse when they were little actually. Believe it or not, I think they need more attention now. They need more of me now because my son’s going to go to college soon, so, you know, I drive him bananas trying to get him to talk. So I’d rather put the phone down now as opposed to when they were little and they were in bed earlier. They were preoccupied, you know, after playing, you know, it was just sort of easier to, you know, sneak an email when they were little. Now I don’t do it as much.
Andrew: All right. I’m looking for something really like tough and painful just to humanize this story a little bit more. [inaudible 00:36:30] for you.
Risa: There are plenty of tough and painful.
Andrew: What’s one that was really painful?
Risa: I used to go to trade shows in the beauty business. I’d set up a table and we’d have all our Rosemary Repel there and people would literally be like, oh, because they’d see the castle and then they get closer and they would literally back away from me and be like, “That’s disgusting.” And I’d be like, but this is my life now. Like it still kills me. I can still see those people just like walking away, like cringing. You know, or be like, “That’s awful. That’s never going to work.”
Andrew: Because you were in the lice business.
Risa: Yeah. I mean I really was supposed to have my own sitcom and then I ended up being like the lice lady. It’s a little sad.
Andrew: You could really still have a sitcom being around the lice lady.
Risa: Yeah, that’s great.
Andrew: I’ll get a little heavier then. Twelve years ago you were diagnosed with . . .
Risa: I had colitis.
Andrew: Okay. What’s that?
Risa: I had colitis and I was ridiculously sick after my daughter was born. They couldn’t control it, and I was in and out of hospitals for years on all this medication. Oh my gosh, I was on Prednisone. I was probably on like 80 milligrams, and it messes with your head like you get a little cuckoo. And some lady called and was asking questions about the product and I must have been a little out of my mind on this medicine and I wasn’t yelling at her, but I was a little aggressive I guess. And she yelled at me and hung up.
Andrew: Because you were not being . . .
Risa: Because I was really not . . .
Andrew: And she was looking for the opposite. She was looking for warmth in this situation.
Risa: I shouldn’t been on the phone with the customer. I actually ended up calling her back and apologizing and telling her that I was on a ton of medicine and I apologized, and then I sent her free products.
Andrew: You sent her what?
Risa: I sent her free products.
Andrew: Oh. free products. All right, that’s nice. This was also a period where you had, what, 3 million to 4 million in sales. You were four employees. Some of them were part-time friends helping you out. The whole business was on you. How do you keep the business going when that happens?
Risa: I kind of didn’t. I let it sort of . . . it was big enough that I could let it coast a little. And that’s what I did. I had wonderful friends at the time who helped and they answered phones. They shipped. They, you know, did a lot of the processing, and I still did what I could. I mean, there was one time I was in the hospital and I had an IV in each arm and I had my BlackBerry, which I miss so very much like hidden in the bed at night, you know, with two IVs in my arms out. I’m still answering customers.
Andrew: Because you loved it that much or because you couldn’t help but worry about your business?
Risa: Well, both. Absolutely both. I mean, to this day, I answer most of the customer issues that we have. It’s my voice and I have my own voice. If you read my blogs, you can really hear me in them. Like everyone always says to me here, they’re like, I read your blog and I literally hear you in my head and I feel like that’s how I answer our customers. Like mom to mom, person to person, you know, it’s not a cut and paste. And I started that a long time ago and that’s going to stay true until we ride this off into the sunset.
Andrew: Rita’s Rants. That’s the name of the blog.
Risa: Yeah, Risa’s Rants.
Andrew: Oh, Risa’s Rants. Wow. You mentioned until you sail off into the sunset. I’m wondering if doing the interview here is part of this campaign to raise your awareness with the business community is a way of possibly getting a sale. Are you ready to move on?
Risa: I’ve been in that world for a long time, believe it or not. I have had meetings for many years with some of the top peeps in the business. There’s a couple that we were considering a while back when we were talking about how to scale the business and that was actually this crazy moment for me because this man who is a huge VC was like, “Well, I don’t see how you’re going to scale.” And that’s when we really started focusing on our other lines and building up brands and we came up with TBH. And I literally like a month ago, got an email from him. He’s like, “I’ve been checking out that data.” He’s like, “I think we need to have a talk.” And I was like, “You’re on the bottom of the list now.”
Andrew: You now are able to scale beyond because at some point you’ve reached the maximum number of people who are going to buy preventative lice care or lice care in general. Not reach the max, but growth is going to slow. And so you wanted to prove I can find other things to create.
Andrew: And it seems like they’re all, as I said earlier, about solving a problem. What’s the problem that you’re solving with TBH?
Risa: I’ll tell you how this all started, he is going to be really mad at me. So one day, about two years ago, my son Jack came downstairs and I said, “Jack, I told you to wash your hair last night.” And he said, “Mom, I did.” And I said, “Jack, it’s greasy.” And my husband looks at me and he goes, “Ssshhh.” And I’m like, “What?” And he goes, ” I think it’s puberty.” And I was like, “Oh my God.” After I got over that whole horror, I started researching like, what kind of shampoo could I make that would help combat this? And that’s really how TBH started.
And then he started getting like little pimples around his nose, like not big acne as like a teenager, but just his skin was dirty and you could sort of see his pores getting clogged. And then we came up with a face wash and some face wipes, and I researched ingredients to make a more gentle one and one with just a little salicylic acid. You know, like if a regular product for pimples has 1%, I took 0.5, so we took it down a notch for their more sensitive skin. So that’s what we did.
Andrew: How do your kids feel about being included? I’ve been so hesitant to post anything about my kids and then meanwhile they probably going to be angry that I didn’t post about them. Like, why aren’t you talking to enough about us? Don’t you love us? You love your business more than us? I feel like for you, you just can’t do it any other way. You’ve got to be personal just like you had to go on stage and say I’m madly in love as a comic. There was no laugh line in that, you have to do this. But are there issues with that? Have they been upset? Are they feeling like, “Hey, go sell your own stuff”?
Risa: Oh yeah. My, well, my son has never been . . . he’s more quiet. He’s like my husband, you know, and he has never really wanted to be out there. I was interviewed a few years ago on CBS News and they picked them up from school. I ran them into the city and my daughter literally sat so close next to me. She could not be on that camera enough and he was in the closet. He was like, please don’t make me do this, you know. So you just sort of feel them out as to how far they want to get involved.
Andrew: And you didn’t make him do it.
Risa: No, I would never make him do it. Never, never, never. I will tell the story about his dirty hair though.
Andrew: I feel like I should close out with this resource. What’s eShopportunity and what happened to you that led you to connect with them?
Risa: Oh, so . . . Amazon is a behemoth and it’s like Dickens, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times, and you need to learn how to manage it and that is for brands that have a presence like we do, that’s a full-time job. And eShopportunity has been really terrific on really just helping us grow the business on Amazon and control the business on Amazon.
Andrew: Like what kinds of things would they do? I guess at one point you guys were taken off of Amazon for some reason. You said I don’t even know who to call and talk to over there. They’re not responding to any of this, and so you have to go through that yourself. Now if this happened, you just would go to eShopportunity and they would make the call on your behalf.
Risa: Yeah. He calls, he sends in the tags, the call tags. He sends in all the problems. You know, the teams over there does that.
Andrew: Fahim Naim. That’s the guy.
Risa: We didn’t have our bundle. I’m sorry.
Andrew: Fahim Naim, that’s the guy. You didn’t have your bundle. What’s a bundle?
Risa: Like we were just selling our individual products. So Fahim came to us and said, let’s bundle some of your products. And our back to school, Rosemary, you know, sales were up like 67% from last year, which is amazing. So yeah. So Fahim has been great in really figuring out how to manage and control Amazon. It’s not easy.
Andrew: What’s a bundle? As you’re saying this, I’m searching through to see what it could mean. This is where if I buy something, Amazon says if you buy that and something else will give you a discount? No?
Risa: Like a large shampoo combined with like a conditioner. We weren’t even putting them together.
Andrew: Got it. Got it. Okay.
Risa: Yeah. Just sell.
Andrew: All right. I love how the whole business is based on problems, problems, problems. The benefit it seems to me. Tell me if I’m right, it’s people are searching for new solutions. If they have a problem, they’re more open to looking for a solution, right?
Risa: Exactly. Yeah. Absolutely. Listen, we made really good stuff that actually serves a purpose. I’m not trying to oversell. I’m not trying to undersell. Everyone’s hair gets crunchy, you know when they swim all the time. So our Sun & Swim, you know, uses natural ingredients to take out the chlorine. Tangle Tamer. I, you know, I don’t know what your daughter’s hair looks like, but you know, combing my kids when she was little was a nightmare. She used to get this knot in the back of her head that, you know, she was going to be like a Rastafarian and so I put keratin in my detangling products and you know, a few spritzes and you can finger comb those things out, you know, and I figured if I had these issues as a mom, then everyone else was, that’s what we did.
Andrew: All right. The website, which has been up now since, wow, since 2000.
Risa: I’m old.
Andrew: You don’t seem old.
Risa: I am.
Andrew: Are you? Do you feel it
Risa: Yeah. I’m in my 50s.
Andrew: You are?
Risa: Yeah. I have good genes. It’s my mom.
Andrew: fairytaleshaircare.com is a website for anyone who wants to check it out. And I also urge you guys to check out my two sponsors. The first will do your email marketing in a smart way. Go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. I was going to rip into their competitors and I said, let’s just not do it. activecampaign.com/mixergy. And then second one is a company that will help you hire phenomenal developers called Toptal. And I finally want to put in a good word for . . . wow wee. Are you okay?
Risa: I’m choking.
Andrew: DuckDuckGo has been just tearing it up as a search engine. They are now part of Safari. They’re now part of Mozilla’s browser. It’s like all over the place. And these guys just getting incredible growth. He was an early Mixergy listener, the founder, Gabriel Weinberg, and he just figured out a way to grow, get users and then build himself into other products. Anyway, he wrote a book about it called “Traction.” It’s a great book, and he also did a course for us on Mixergy about how to get traction.
If you want to learn from somebody who’s done it, who’s really gotten an audience, who’s really been able to grow, who’s really been able to get traction, go to mixergy.com/premium. Sign up. You’ll get a course with him teaching that and over 100 other entrepreneurs, all of them proven, teaching you what they do best to help you grow your business. And I’m grateful to them for doing it.
And Risa, I’m grateful to you for both being here and for not smacking me for calling your website Rita’s Rants.
Risa: That’s okay. Thank you so much for having me. This was great, Andrew.
Andrew: Thank you. Congratulations. Bye, everyone.