Meet the 22-year-old Who Raised $11,000 and Launched a Skincare Line in Less Than a Year
If it’s not already evident from your Instagram and Pinterest feeds, natural skincare is having a moment. Actually, not just a moment. It’s booming, growing faster than the overall market, with the global skincare industry estimated to reach $121 billion by the end of 2016.
Which is good news for Micaela Hoo, the 22-year-old founder of Drifter Organics, an organic, gluten-free, vegan, and cruelty-free skincare line. Micaela didn’t get her skin in the game (see what I did there?) to turn a profit, however. She co-founded the company out of a personal need. As a longtime sufferer of autoimmune diseases including celiac disease, eczema, and dysbiosis, her entire body was sensitive to ingredient irritation.
So, in early 2016, Micaela came up with the Drifter Organics idea, created a plan, and raised more than $11,000 in a Kickstarter campaign to create her products on a grander scale. Read on to see how Micaela came up with the idea, conceived a business plan, and raised the money to make it happen.
Name: Micaela Hoo
Location: San Francisco, CA
Current job/company: Graphic Design student at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD), blogger at Oh My Drifter, co-founder, Drifter Organics
Education: BFA Graphic Design candidate at SCAD
Let’s start from the beginning. What was your first job following school? Or did you immediately dive into starting a business?
I’m still working towards my BFA in Graphic Design at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) via their eLearning program. If I were following the typical four-year bachelor program, I would have graduated in June of 2016. However, I’m a part-time student, which enables me more time to work on my blog as well as my new natural skincare line, Drifter Organics, which I co-launched with my mom.
What prompted you to start Drifter Organics? Drifter Organics was born out of my lifelong autoimmune diseases. I've had eczema all my life—as in I remember coming home from preschool with bloody hands because the skin on my hands was so irritated, I would literally rub them on the rug in the classroom to relieve the itchiness. Sometimes I’d wear gloves at night to prevent myself from scratching. My mom would take me to the pediatrician, who’d prescribe me some steroid-laden ointment to use on my body. The pediatrician would advise me not to use the cream for any more than one week because it thins out your skin and isn’t good to overuse. Major red flags right there, right? My mom and I didn’t know any better, so I’d use the prescribed steroid cream. The ointment would literally feel like it was burning my flesh upon the first few days of use—probably because whatever chemicals in there were actually burning layers of skin! After a few days, like magic, my eczema would clear up. But it would always come back.
If I had difficulty finding skincare I could use, others must be in the same situation—so why not create a safe alternative for everyone?
Along with my eczema, I’ve always had digestive issues. My eczema disappeared shortly after my family moved us to California from Connecticut, so my family and I assumed my eczema was climate-related, since the humidity always seemed to aggravate it. However, I also had digestive issues that never went away. In 2014, when I was 20, I saw a nutritionist, who gave me a skin patch test. I was diagnosed with leaky gut caused by what was suspected to be Celiac disease, but ended up being dysbiosis—an imbalance between the good and bad bacteria in the gut. I had always been a healthy eater, but to heal my leaky gut, I had to temporarily eliminate a lot of foods from my diet, which meant revamping my entire skincare regimen. It was extremely difficult for me to find all natural skincare options because I had to abstain from so many wholesome, nutritious foods that are commonly found in natural skincare—citrus, black pepper, and spinach, to name a few—to heal my gut. With the amount of time my mom and I invested into finding suitable skincare options for me, we decided to make them ourselves. If I had difficulty finding skincare I could use, we figured others must be in the same situation—especially with food allergies being on the rise—so why not create a safe alternative for everyone?
Planning and successfully running a Kickstarter campaign is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
Tell us about the initial stages of your company. How did you get funding to get it up and running? Why did you decide to go this route?
Drifter Organics started very organically (no pun intended). After seeing my frustrations with finding suitable skincare, my mom started making me body butters. The beauty of these butters is that you can use them on your face and body, day and night, making them the perfect all-in-one cream. My mom became a bit of an alchemist, tinkering away in the kitchen with essential oils, carrier oils, and butters. She started following natural beauty blogs and bought a bunch of books about making your own skincare. She has always loved baking and making skincare is a lot like baking—precision, accuracy, and measurements are paramount. Before long, my entire family—mom, dad, and I—were using my mom’s body butters. After a while, I started helping her experiment with the scents and consistency. It was all trial and error—some of our butters came out extremely soft and soupy, others were grainy, and some were so hard you’d break a finger trying to get any out. After about nine months, we came up with a decent formula. It was when my dad said, “Hey, this stuff is pretty good,” that we considered selling our skincare.
We ran a Kickstarter campaign in April 2016 to help us raise the necessary funds to produce our skincare on a grander scale. Crowdfunding is a great way for entrepreneurs to test the waters and see if their product/service is well-received before even launching a website. Planning and successfully running a Kickstarter campaign is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life. There is so much work that goes on behind the scenes—video making, figuring out rewards, reward level pricing, copy editing, and promoting your campaign—that I don’t think people realize. In his Creative Live class on crowdfunding, Christopher Hawker said it takes about 350 hours to put together a solid crowdfunding campaign. I think Kickstarter—or crowdfunding in general—is a wonderful way to create a buzz around your idea that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise generate. Kickstarter campaigns are exciting for people because they’re seeing an idea come to fruition.
What steps did you take to prepare for the business launch, and how did you know you were ready?
My mom and I read a lot of books on how to launch a business. We also took a few Creative Live classes about marketing yourself, running a successful crowdfunding campaign, and how to use social media to find customers. Having started my own fashion and lifestyle blog in 2008, I am very familiar with the creative entrepreneurial industry and have gathered endless insight from seeing a lot of businesses launch and flourish. I’m also a huge podcast junkie. One of my favorite podcasts is Being Boss, which is for creative entrepreneurs and business owners. I’ve learned a lot from listening to other people’s experiences. Finally, I did what’s called “independent study” for one quarter at SCAD. Planning, launching, and running Drifter Organics’ Kickstarter counted as an “Entrepreneurialism” class. My independent study was facilitated by an instructor, who’d been in the industry for years, so she gave me very sound, invaluable advice.
I'm aware of not letting perfectionism become the enemy of my productivity.
I don’t think you’re ever truly ready to start a business. If you wait until you feel like you are ready, you’re never going to start! I’m a typical Type A perfectionist and don’t like to share something of mine I don’t deem to be 100 percent perfect. Not letting perfectionism be the enemy of my productivity is a huge one for me. Something doesn’t have to be perfect for it to launch. Look at how many iterations of the iPod and iPhone Apple has gone through! With Drifter Organics, we had a few solid products we worked hard at creating. At the very end of our recipe developing process, we consulted with a cosmetic chemist who gave us a few minor suggestions. After that, what else is there to do? Consult with someone else to get more advice? There comes a point where you just have to release your idea to the world and see what happens.
Were there any lifestyle changes you had to make in order to make the leap? Did you ever doubt your decision?
One huge thing I’ve had to sacrifice is my fashion and lifestyle blog, Oh My Drifter. I used to blog five days a week, Monday-Friday. Now I typically blog Tuesdays and Thursdays, but sometimes it’s only once a week. I could probably post more, but the quality would go down and I’m just not cool with that. I’m juggling a lot more balls than I used to and I think people understand that. I’ve seen a lot of other bloggers launch businesses. During the initial launch period, most bloggers post less or entirely take time off from their blog, but they usually return to a regular posting schedule afterward. I've never doubted my decision because I know once I get the business up and running, I will have more time to devote to it. Then I’ll be a blogger AND a business owner! There are a lot of things that are time consuming with starting a business—figuring out your business structure, designing your website, designing your branding, etc.—that you usually only do once or a handful of times. We're almost past this part! The nice part about social media outlets, such as Instagram, is it’s like microblogging. My readers are still connected with me even though I’m not posting as much on my blog.
I’m also busier than I’ve ever been in my life and have less down time. There’s always a period of hustle in the beginning of an entrepreneur’s life. They may have to sacrifice weekends, nights, and vacations to get their business off the ground, but years down the road, when the business stabilizes, they can enjoy the many fruits they’ve reaped. I’m in the hustle stage right now.
How did you initially market Drifter Organics when you were first launched? What platforms have been helpful in spreading the word?
Drifter Organics is the skincare solution for anyone who wouldn't want to put anything on their skin that they wouldn't trust eating. The Drifter Organics girl is mindful, modern, intelligent, quirky, and witty. As a graphic designer and photographer, I think a lot in terms of visual imagery, so our brand is very heavy on colors, hand lettering, and photographs. Instagram has been the most natural social media platform for us to use in our marketing. Having to take photos daily—or close to it—to use on Instagram has definitely sharpened my skills. On a more personal note, Facebook is also a great way of getting the word out there. My Facebook friends—whether real life or Internet friends—are always very supportive of my creative ventures. I also cross-promote Drifter Organics on my blog’s Instagram and on my blog. My readers have been wonderful about my starting Drifter Organics. I think it's because I've already created a solid online platform where people know me. They're more willing to trust a company run by someone they know—even if it is through the Internet.
I'm never going to have a job where I can close the door to the office and forget about it until the next day, but I still love this so much more.
What has been the most challenging part of running your own company?
Time management! I love what I do so much; I can literally work day and night and forget to take care of myself. Sometimes at night, when I'm designing or copy editing or planning my Instagram feed after dinner, I have to ask myself, "Does this really need to be done today? Can this be done tomorrow?" I have to give myself strict limits on when to put my work down and rest. When you run your own company, you never feel like you can truly relax. You're always on guard, looking for opportunities to network, Instagram moments, etc., even when you're supposed to be "off." I’m the type of person who feels an incessant pull to work. I'm never going to have a job where I can close the door to the office and forget about it until the next day, but I still love this so much more.
What resources do you regularly seek or recommend to help stay inspired both creatively and in the marketing/business sense?
I love listening to podcasts—it's something I can do while photo editing, drawing, or doing anything else where I can still listen to something in the background. As I mentioned before, my favorite business podcast is "Being Boss." It's a podcast for creative entrepreneurs and business owners. The podcast covers topics ranging from how to prevent burnout, set up the legal structure of your business, and how to track your traffic. It's such an invaluable (and free!) resource. I keep a closely knit support team of creative individuals who I feel comfortable enough being transparent with and asking for feedback/advice. My professors at SCAD are included in this support team. They have so much experience and knowledge and are generously willing to offer assistance to their students. They want to see their students succeed. I keep in touch with my professors even after our classes end.
What accomplishment are you most proud of in the past year? Or, what has been a standout moment for you as a business owner?
I'm proud of launching and running a successful Kickstarter campaign where my mom and I raised 150 percent of our funding goal. I'm proud of The Everygirl deeming Drifter Organics worthy enough to do an interview with me as a career profile. I'm most proud of a 111 page e-book I wrote about natural beauty this past year. I haven't released it for sale online yet—it's still in the copy editing process and is coming soon. I’m actually debating on whether to self-publish or seek out a publisher, but that’s a whole other story. Aside from starting my own business, researching and writing the e-book is the most intricate, time-consuming project I've ever been a part of. However, what ultimately makes me the happiest is when customers tell us our products helped clear up their skin irritations. We're told to be confident in our own skin, but it's very hard to do so when our skin is irritated. I know how much irritated skin can get in the way of performing even the most rudimentary of everyday tasks, such as showering and driving. To know I had a hand in improving a person’s health brings me the utmost satisfaction.
Where do you see Drifter Organics in the next five years? What else is coming down the pipeline?
I see Drifter Organics being a staple in the natural skincare lover's skincare regimen. At this point, it's hard to say if we'll expand our skincare beyond body butters. I know a lot of very successful companies that only sell one product and do it well. I'm totally fine with keeping a super-specialized product line. We are selling accessories, like art prints and tote bags, so we're ready to become a lifestyle brand if that's what our customers would like. We just launched a lip balm called Smile Balm—because you can't smile when you have chapped lips. I suppose that’s technically not a “body butter,” but it still uses a lot of the same ingredients that are in them. On Nov. 1, we also came out with a winter look book and limited-edition warm and wintry-scented body butter.
Everyone stumbles and everyone falls, but those who don't get discouraged are the true success stories.
If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before launching your business, what would it be?
I would tell myself not to get caught up in the small stuff—the nitty gritty. Sure, that stuff matters, but the supreme importance rests on the overall picture and message of the brand. I remember going through painstaking efforts planning the on-camera portion of our Kickstarter video. The big question for me was whether or not to film it against a white backdrop (super minimal) or film it on a couch (more relaxed). In reality, I was wasting my energy worrying about such a minor detail in the grand scheme of things. This goes back to my mantra of not letting perfectionism become the enemy of my productivity. Also, I have to realize everyone is always learning. I tend to place people I admire on a pedestal and imagine they never fail. I beat myself up when something doesn't go exactly as I had planned or falls below my expectations. Everyone stumbles and everyone falls, but those who don't get discouraged are the true success stories. All we can do is keep moving forward and eventually, the kinks will work themselves out. This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes ever about the creative process: “The Gap” by Ira Glass. It’s very long, so if you haven’t read it, you should look it up. There’s a wonderful video someone made that goes along with the quote, too.
Micaela Hoo is The Everygirl…
Favorite way to spend a day off in San Fran?
Walking around the Alamo Square neighborhood. I absolutely adore this area of San Francisco. It has such a friendly vibe. Coupled with the classic San Francisco Victorian homes, it’s easily my favorite neighborhood in the city.
I don’t drink coffee but my favorite kind of tea is oolong.
I wish I knew how to…
People might be surprised that I…
I’ve never been camping.
If you could have lunch with one woman—living or dead—who would it be and what would you order?
Audrey Hepburn—she had such a lively, beautiful spirit, inside and out. I would take her to my favorite restaurant in San Francisco (and one of the few places I can eat!), Gracias Madre. I would order the enchiladas con mole.