How This ASB Entrepreneur is Building a D2C Beauty Brand Out of Asia
Ryan Lim | Content Writer | Careers, Alumni, Entrepreneurship
As part of ASB’s MBA Action Learning Curriculum and Entrepreneurship Trek, successful entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are invited as guest speakers to give students an insightful lesson on their journey and struggles to get to where they are today.
In this guest talk session, Prof. Loredana Padurean, Associate Dean and Faculty Director for Action Learning speaks to ASB 19’ alumnus, Jack Farrell, to discuss how he came to launch a fully vegan, cruelty-free D2C beauty brand after his MBA, the venture building support he receives, and why he thinks Asia is a great place for building businesses.
Loredana: One of the reasons why we invited you today is to talk a little bit about your LAVLAVLUV journey, but before we go into that, I want to talk about the beginning of your journey at ASB. Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Jack: So, when I graduated undergrad I joined Venture for America where even throughout college, I was always entrepreneurial. I bought and sold textbooks on Amazon back in 2012-2013, just hustling textbooks and I have always loved that. Even as a kid, I would put lemonade stands out in front of my parent’s house so I could buy baseball cards. I was even on eBay back then. So, I’ve always loved the game of buying and selling.
My parents told me “Jack, can you get a real job?!” I thought I’ll do consulting, or go do investment banking. When I joined ASB and completed Action Learning projects that were centered around that, I realized I really don’t want to [go into consulting or IB]. I didn’t lie in bed at night and think about doing consulting or working at Google. I would lie in bed and think about cool products that I could sell online, how I can build them, and how I can make them unique.
In ASB, I kind of went through that full spectrum. I thought to myself, I’m coming here, I’m going to grow up, I’m going to do something that is, you know, considered legit.
Doing my own thing matters more than anything else because I love it. You know, I love the game, I love figuring it all out and I’m just fortunate that ASB put me in Malaysia in Southeast Asia, which, I believe is genuinely the best place you can build a business for many, many reasons. So, I’m just very fortunate that ASB gave me the opportunity to be exposed to all this.
“I didn’t lie in bed at night and think about doing consulting or working at Google. I would lie in bed and think about cool products that I could sell online, how I can build them, and how I can make them unique.”
Just to take you back in time. Do you remember what projects you worked on for your last semester in trek five (the entrepreneurship trek)? And do you remember what product, problem, and solution you worked on?
When I was at ASB, I produced a lot of video content on LinkedIn. The process of making a professional video and putting it up on LinkedIn was difficult. So we created Thought Leaders Labs, a service software deal that was going to help people easily make videos to put up on social media, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn. It was an idea that came about from what I was doing at the time, making these videos. I said, dang, this is kind of hard. There’s got to be a better way to do it.
Jack, I have a hard time looking at such a beautiful feminine product (LAVLAVLUV) and looking at you and thinking this product came out of your mind. What compelled you to create this bedtime face mask made with lavender lava?
The thought for Direct-to-Consumer brands is the idea that we build e-commerce brands around products that are small in size, light in weight, have a high-end value and really focus on today’s social media driven world.
We’re early in our process of building these brands but everything that we’ve done has justification and rationale behind it, which is really important. Nike’s ‘Just do it’ or Apple’s ‘think differently’ really showcases what makes them unique and why you should believe in it. Cosmetics is phenomenal, especially since we’re trying to build decisive business. You can truly get differentiation without the need to invest huge amounts of money.
So, you started working with the advertising agency, TBWA, and this is how you got here. Can you take us back to that journey of how you actually got on this partnership?
I remember I was first introduced to TBWA by you, Loredana, probably 6 months into my ASB journey. I met Tim and I liked him as a partner and investor in the stuff that we’re doing. Long story short, we met up again sometime later by chance. I told him I had this idea and this is what I want to do. And he’s said, ‘Well, why don’t you try and we’ll invest in you, we’ll help support you.’ From that day on, I thought to myself, ‘Okay this is what I’m going to do.’
Share with us more about the deal you have with TBWA, because I think a lot of people are interested in knowing. What’s that partnership like?
Jack: TBWA is an advertising agency under Omnicom, which is one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. The group that I operate inside of TBWA is called START, and we’re a venture builder of startups that just creates businesses. The way you win market share is with brand, and that’s what START does. It’s a venture builder, which really builds businesses from the ground up inside of the world’s largest advertising agency. In exchange for investment and shared resources, they own equity in the stuff that we’re doing. I’m just genuinely grateful for that relationship and I’m very grateful for Tim, and I’m very grateful that Loredana introduced me to him and TBWA.
10,000 followers on Instagram. How many jars of LAVLAVLUV have you sold? Can I ask you that approximately?
It arrived in the US around middle of April 2020. We started ramping up some content, you know, for socials and building out ads. Since June or July, we’re averaging about 25 to 30 sales a week, which is still relatively small. Everything is directly correlated to ad spend, the whole game we play is literally what we call return-on-ad-spend (ROAS).
Listening to you, I’m realizing that you have an amazing combination of smart and sharp skills in the sense that your decisions are actually very quantitatively driven. How did you learn to be so good in digital commerce and understand the game?
Being part of an advertising agency is a huge advantage. Getting a brand built, you know your brand architecture and you’re creative with all that stuff. Luckily, because of the relationship and the way that we structured our deal with TBWA, that’s all included. So, we know they’re able to help us with creative work, design our Instagram feed and do our web design.
Another reason why I love Malaysia is because the quality of work is the same, but you’re paying in Ringgit as compared to USD. We spent about RM5,000 to take a flat artwork and turn that into a Shopify website. Cost does not equal quality; It’s about value. And if you hustle around enough and you talk to enough people, you can get anything you want done for a very good price.
“The way you win market share is with brand.”
Are there any plans for extending the product range? Are you going to make a product for beards?
Many of these things I can give you an answer to, but they are hypotheses and we can debate that. The way my model is built is once we hit 10,000 sales for LAVLAVLUV, we will then layer on a second product. We’re already going to have those 10,000 customers that we can dump this new product on top of that love what we do.
When you choose a name, it’s extremely important to be sure that the name communicates what it needs, and that it’s also translatable across countries. When I was trying your LAVLAVLUV product, I was like, ‘Ooh, I love, love, love this.’ It matters so much and sometimes being simple is important.
I think that naming and branding is so important in 2020. It’s not like 1980 when you’re walking down store shelves and you had like 20 options. Now you have tens of thousands of options online, and so what do you do to give yourself a chance to win?
One thing I’ll add: I think it is very important to know what you are trying to build. In the sense of, are you trying to build a brand like L’Oreal that wants to be global and mass, or are you trying to build a brand that can do $2 million a year? It is because the resources that are required to build both of those are vastly different.
If you know what you’re trying to build, like a direct-to-consumer brand with relatively minimal resources, I wouldn’t want to raise tons and tons of money.
“I think startup media nowadays does such a disservice when they only glamorize the metric that uses money raised. What’s wrong with the dude that’s down the road and just opened a coffee shop that has a line out the door and is profitable the day he opens?”
Not to mention that a lot of these business models that are so hyper-glamorized are never going to be financially profitable – billions of dollars behind them and they still don’t break even 10 years later.
What you’re really trying to build and being honest with that – is so important. I think startup media nowadays does such a disservice when they only glamorize the metric that uses money raised. And I think to myself, ‘What’s wrong with the dude that’s down the road and just opened a coffee shop that has a line out the door and is profitable the day he opens?’
To me, that’s what I love. I just wish that there was more focus on people trying to build profitably. You know, not everything is about Facebook or Google, you know, even though that seems to be the only thing people want to talk about.