SmartLess - Listen Now: How I Built…Drunk Elephant

Episode Date: April 4, 2024

Have you ever wondered how some of the biggest companies were built? On the podcast How I Built This, host Guy Raz talks to the founders behind the world’s biggest companies and brands... to learn the real stories of how they built them. How I Built This with Guy Raz is a master-class on innovation, creativity, leadership and how to navigate challenges of all kinds.Follow How I Built This on the Wondery App or wherever you get your podcasts. You can listen to How I Built This early and ad-free right now on Wondery plus. more deep dive and daily business content listen to Wondery– the destination for business podcasts. With shows like How I Built This, Business Wars, The Best One Yet, Business Movers and many more, Wondery Means Business.See Privacy Policy at and California Privacy Notice at

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Starting point is 00:00:00 Hey guys, it's me Sean Hayes. I come here to you today, not with Smartless' typical celebrity interview, but rather to tell you about another podcast interview series I'm just really excited about. It's called How I Built This with Guy Raz. Every week, Guy speaks to an innovator,
Starting point is 00:00:12 an entrepreneur, or an idealist and breaks down their road to success. One of the interesting interviews was with Tiffany Masterson, the founder of Drunk Elephant. It's a skincare brand. I found it really interesting. Here's a little bit of that story.
Starting point is 00:00:23 Tiffany Masterson was a stay-at-home mom of four in her 40s when a passion for skincare drove her to research every ingredient out there and its proven effect on the skin. With no formal training and very little business experience, she worked tirelessly to develop her first line of products and launched Drunk Elephant in 2013. Just six years later, Drunk Elephant was the top selling brand in Sephora's across the country. If this conversation doesn't inspire you, I don't know what will. I'm about to play a clip from this episode
Starting point is 00:00:47 of How I Built This. To hear the rest of the episode and much more of how I built this, follow the show on the Wondery app or wherever you get your podcasts. Wondery app. So what would you do? You would just buy a bunch of skincare products
Starting point is 00:01:03 or you would buy individual ingredients, oils? Never ingredients. I never was the one, I'm not the one who made products in my kitchen. I wanted to read and understand like toxicity levels of ingredients. And yeah, I remember buying like this avocado oil and I got it, I used it, I broke out exactly like 10 days later. And I looked at the ingredient deck and sure enough, there's essential oils in there. But I didn't recognize that to be essential oils because they came under different names. So that would force me to then learn all the names of essential oils. Things go by different names.
Starting point is 00:01:38 And I couldn't understand why everybody was using them. So this is like a research phase, right? Basically. Were you thinking, I want to come up with basically a new bar, or I'm eventually going to come up with like a cream cleanser or did you not quite know yet at that point? I wanted a line that was formulated with ingredients that I chose and that I could be in control of and that I would know what was in the product and then I also wanted a solution like I could say, look, you don't have to go out and buy a serum or a sunscreen or this or that. This is the whole thing right here. And you don't have to worry about ingredients affecting your skin from another product because I'm not going to use the ingredients that could potentially trigger a breakout in your skin.
Starting point is 00:02:17 But then Charles, my brother-in-law, wanted me to make a bar because he happened to love the bar. So that'll be the cleanser portion of the line. And then I'll make a vitamin C and I'll make a sunscreen and I'll make an acid and I'll make, you know, so I would go read dermatologists articles and I just read so much and tried to teach myself about what this line would need. And then a lot of what I would want as a consumer. Jared Sussman How would you keep track of all these things? Like, did you have like a journal that you would write things by hand, or did you have a like a spreadsheet?
Starting point is 00:02:50 I had a spreadsheet on a computer. Were you intuitively, naturally, like a spreadsheet, PNL kind of numbers, organizational person or? I'm not. I hate it. I'll tell you, I don't I don't think I have those skills so much even today. When you show it me a spreadsheet, my brain kind of goes numb. But I'll tell you, when you're passionate about something and when it's all you think and care about
Starting point is 00:03:12 at the time, in the moment. Yeah, I mean, I opened up an Excel spreadsheet. I may not have really known totally how to use it completely, but I knew how to fill in four squares. And I was excited to see this kind of come to life. Hmm. You know, you'd mentioned to me on the phone that you wouldn't have been able to do this in your 20s, that you actually had to do this in your 40s. And that makes a lot of sense to me because as a mother or father, you know, to raise children requires a lot of organizational skills. Right.
Starting point is 00:03:43 It requires a lot of like making sure the calendar, like the school events and the sports and getting this kid there and that kid there. And so, I was thinking about your sort of methodical approach to ingredients, spreadsheets and writing things down and like, but I have to imagine that just raising four kids also gave you skills that enabled you to kind of think very methodically like spreadsheets, calendars, like lists. Is that right? You don't have a choice. You don't have a choice and I'm not like that. I was never like that. In fact, I didn't think of myself as anybody that would be able to raise or handle kids. I
Starting point is 00:04:18 remember thinking I could probably could handle two, but I ended up just you do it. You just do it. You do what you got to do. Yeah. And what would you put on the spreadsheet? Like the name of the ingredient and? So I would take a product just to write and I look at the ingredient deck and then I would list out all the ingredients. And then I would had three categories, you know, it's like the way I understood it as a consumer. Here's three categories. These these ingredients are there for skin. It's a this is a humectant or an oil or a cell communicating ingredient. The second category were ingredients that were there for the formulation itself, that you have to have a preservative, a stabilizer,
Starting point is 00:04:55 things that help the product do what it's supposed to do and it keeps it safe. And then the third bucket, I use the word suspicious, I'm a suspicious person,, why are these in there? Well, there's only one answer. They're in there to either make the product smell pretty, look pretty, feel pretty. There's dyes, there's fragrance, there's essential oils. There are silicones that create this silky feel. But a lot of ingredients can't get through silicone.
Starting point is 00:05:20 So why are they there? And drying alcohol, why is that there? It damages your skin straight up, damages your skin. Chemical screens, every time I used a chemical sunscreen, I broke out. So is physical better, like mineral? So that's what I was thinking like at the time, like these are ingredients that don't need to be there,
Starting point is 00:05:37 these are ingredients that do. I'd love to do something with ingredients, only ingredients that need to be there, and let the formulation come out like it will. You keep mentioning essential oils and I'm like, God, I thought essential oils were good. Like, or is olive in a problem or suspicious? Well, they do have some good things about them, but the cons outweigh the pros. And the good things about essential oils, you can say those same good things about non-fragrant
Starting point is 00:06:04 plant oils, right? Like marula good things about non-fragrant plant oils. Right. Like marula oil or apricot oil. Okay, so let's talk about one of those oils. Marula oil. Yes, made from the seed or the pimp of the marula fruit. What is, is that an edible fruit? Yes, it is.
Starting point is 00:06:17 And there's a liqueur called Amarula. It's from South Africa. Okay. And at the time, the kind of the it oil was argan oil. And I remember thinking like this could be a good moment to introduce a new oil out there. Not a lot of people had heard of marula. It was out there, but it wasn't like very well known and very popular. I remember the people around me had never heard of it. I felt I love the way it felt. It absorbs really easily into my hand. One of the things that was important to me for
Starting point is 00:06:43 whatever reason was absorbability and not sitting on top of the skin. So a lot of the products I used in the past sort of sat on top of my skin. So marula oil, you sort of land on this ingredient because you're looking for something that could kind of be the anchor for at least one, maybe all the products in the line. And this to you felt like it could be the one, maybe all the products in the line. And this to you felt like it could be the one, marula oil. Let's talk about the name because obviously marula oil is a key ingredient,
Starting point is 00:07:16 was going to be a key ingredient that comes from a tree that with fruits, I think they're a little bit like loquats, maybe. They grow in Africa. Right. And the name trunk elephant, where's that come from? So I'd been searching for a name and I'm pretty shy. I didn't really see myself calling it Tiffany Masterson. And at the time I looked around at brands. It's like doctors and French names and I just felt like what am I going to call this? So marula
Starting point is 00:07:44 oil was what I wanted to use as the moisturizer and So this oil felt great. I went home. I googled it and a video came up of animals in South Africa eating marula fruit off the ground fermented and They were like stumbling around. So the implication was they get they eat them fermented fruit. They get tipsy probably not true Probably impossible, but still it was They're getting drunk off fermented marula fruit, basically. Exactly. Drunk elephants.
Starting point is 00:08:11 Yes. And so I remember thinking, well, this is kind of my personality. Yeah. Should I call it drunk elephant? When you went to friends and you're like, drunk elephant, were most of them like, yeah, that's cute? Or were they like, hmm, that's a little weird? My best friend said, no way. She took me out to get pizza and she was like, yeah, that's cute? Or were they like, hmm, this is a little weird? My best friend said, no way. She took me out to get pizza, and she was like, I've got to tell you, I hate it. I don't like it.
Starting point is 00:08:30 She changed her mind quickly, though. My mom didn't like it. My grandmother said it was the most asinine thing she'd ever heard. Yeah. A lot of people said that sounds like a bar, a pub. Yeah, I mean, were there any, I don't know, people who were like, look, the result
Starting point is 00:08:44 is you're not going to sell this product. Like, any professionals or people in the industry that you consulted with? Yes, I hired a, so in 2013 when I launched the line on my own website in Houston, actually August 15th, 2013, I hired this big fancy publicist in New York and I was super excited to work with them and she actually asked me to put together a focus group. It was going to cost me $30,000 to talk about the name. Oh, shoot, they would convene a focus group, it would cost $30,000
Starting point is 00:09:14 and you would pay them to find out what people thought, okay? Right, right. And? I knew what they would tell me. So I got a new publicist. Oh, you decided not to spend the money because you knew people were going to say, I hate the name. I knew, I knew what they would say. Oh, and by the way, the consultant with Guthrie Rinker, I told her, I've chosen the name now. And she said, what is it? I said, drunk elephant. She said, I'm out. Wow. She's like, I'm not into that.
Starting point is 00:09:38 She's out. Never heard from her again. You can listen to how I built this early and ad free right now by joining Wondery Plus in the Wondery app or on Apple podcasts. For more deep dive and daily business content, listen to Wondery, the destination for business podcasts with shows like How I Built This, Business Wars, The Best One Yet, Business Movers and many, many more. Wondery means business.

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