Career Profiles

The Brains Behind the Beauty Brand, frank body

How three Melbourne based women built one of the fastest growing e-commerce businesses in the country on coffee and friendship.

The Brains Behind the Beauty Brand, frank body #theeverygirl
The Brains Behind the Beauty Brand, frank body #theeverygirl

While many of us could chalk our early twenties up to a blur of ramen noodles and an exorbitant amount of sangria, these three Melbourne based entrepreneurs certainly don't fall in that camp. After meeting during their time at University they instantly became friends and, eventually, business partners. "We’d all lived together at one stage, we had similar friends, and we’d probably even kissed the same guy or two—we were close. We’d seen each other at our worst, and we’d come out the other end. Most importantly, we loved what went on inside each other’s heads. There was something there that couldn’t be ignored; we knew we would do great things together." 

After launching their communications agency Willow & Blake shortly after graduating, they grew their business into what it is today: a well established and highly sought after team of seven with an international client roster. While frank body started out as a fun side project merely two years ago, it exceeded $20 million in revenue in 2015, making it one of the fastest growing e-commerce startups around. So how did these three women manage to sky rocket their self-funded businesses, juggle two full-time companies, and stay friends in the process? Yeah, we wanted the scoop, and thankfully they were happy to oblige. Keep reading for all that (and plenty more) today!

Name: Bree Johnson
Age: 28
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Current title: Director at frank body and Willow & Blake
Education: Bachelor of Journalism from Monash University

Name: Jess Hatzis
Age: 29
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Current title: Director at frank body and Willow & Blake
Education: B.A. from University of Melbourne

Name: Erika Geraerts
Age: 26
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Current title: Director at frank body and Willow & Blake
Education: Bachelor of Journalism from Monash University

Let's start from the beginning. How did the three of you meet?
We met working for Red Bull while we were all studying at University.

You launched your communications agency Willow & Blake shortly after graduating from University. What was the inspiration that led you to start frank body next?
For the last 4-5 years we have been developing content strategies for brands and rolling them out across various channels, most successfully on social media. We saw an opportunity to launch our own product – in a space that was pretty tired – the beauty industry.

The idea for the product itself came from our business partner in frank body, Steve Rowley – who owns a few cafes in Melbourne. He had two women come in and ask for the coffee grinds to use as a body exfoliator, specifically to treat cellulite and stretch marks. When he told us, and we did a bit of research, we read that coffee was a natural exfoliate, used for treating additional skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne.

We made a version of the “Original Coffee Scrub” ourselves—and our skin felt amazing, better than any other scrub we’d used before. We found out that coffee has the same PH as skin, so it won’t dry you out like other products; its high caffeine content means it stimulates blood flow and promotes collagen production, and it’s high in antioxidants which target free radicals.

Steve along with our other frank body business partner, Alex Boffa, began the production of our one scrub, which soon turned into four. Now, two and half years on we have 10 products in the frank body range—all with a caffeinated base—from scrubs for your body and face to cleansers, moisturizers, and balms. (First you scrub, then you rub.)

What were the differences between launching Willow & Blake as opposed to Frank Body? 
Willow & Blake was a huge risk for us girls because we each left stable positions at various communication roles. We had no savings, one client, and a whole lot of hope. We built the business to what it is today: a team of seven with Australian and international clients, and the knowledge and experience to start frank body. Because of this we weren’t relying on frank body to support us with an income – it really was a brand challenge, a fun side project. What it turned into was something else. We’re proud to say we’ve been entirely self-funded (with very small start up costs – the biggest initial expense was our time).

We had no savings, one client, and a whole lot of hope

Let's be honest, being friends is one thing—being business partners is another. How did you know that you had the right personalities and goals to partner up successfully?
We had been friends for about 3 or 4 years before starting Willow & Blake. We’d all lived together at one stage, we had similar friends, and we’d probably even kissed the same guy or two—we were close. We’d seen each other at our worst, and we’d come out the other end. Most importantly, we loved what went on inside each other’s heads. There was something there that couldn’t be ignored; we knew we would do great things together.

Each of you is under 30 years old, which means you were even younger when you first launched your business! Were there any doubts or insecurities when you launched your company at such a young age? Did it present any obstacles?
Mostly, will we ever make money? How will we pay rent or keep going out for fancy dinners? Perhaps it was naivety but we had a lot of confidence in our ability to get work for Willow & Blake – and produce good work – so we thought at such a young age we didn’t have much to lose. If it didn’t work out in a year then we would go back to the drawing board (or our previous employers).

Even in the best business relationships and friendships, disagreements are bound to arise. How do you deal with those when they pop up?
We talk. Whether it’s a friendship or a relationship it’s true what they say: Communication is so important. It might mean we have to write each other a letter (or a very long email) to get all our thoughts across, but once we remember that behind each business is a friendship, and that we’re all working towards the same cause, we can find a compromise. Life is just one big negotiation.

...once we remember that behind each business is a friendship, and that we’re all working towards the same cause, we can find a compromise.

How did your experience with Willow & Blake impact Frank Body? 
The best and worst part about working in social media every day is that you’re exposed to hundreds of brands every day. We knew our market, we knew our audience and their mindset, and we knew how they were using social media to inform their purchase decisions and ideas about themselves. This helped us develop both our name and content strategy.

Do you still have your Willow & Blake business or focus solely on Frank Body? How do you manage your tasks?
Willow & Blake will be in its fifth year of trading in 2016. As for juggling the two businesses: A lot of coffee is involved. Luckily we have a bit of it lying around.

Where do you sell your product? 
frank body is only sold online through our website. Product is shipped to customers around the world within 2-3 business days. We are however discussing the best direction for a retail presence next year. We’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of people approach us – so you’ll just have to keep your eyes open.

With sales set to exceed 15 million in revenue for 2015, and the majority of those sales coming from Instagram, can you tell us about your marketing tactics through social media? How do you utilize instagram personalities, bloggers, etc. to build your brand and your following? 
If it were as easy to answer in a few sentences we probably wouldn’t have a job - but we’ll try to give you the Twitter version. Digital marketing is much more than an Instagram account - it’s a connected approach to a brand’s comms: website, social, packaging, and printed collateral. This means having values, unique selling points, and a personality that your customers will connect with. We work with bloggers, influencers, and most importantly our customers to spread the word about frank body’s brand and products. Just search #thefrankeffect on Instagram or see our second account @frankfeedback for almost 100,000 images, both cheeky scrub pics as well as before and afters for the treatment of various skin conditions like cellulite and stretch marks, psoriasis, eczema and acn

Social media followers are amazing, but how do you transform followers into customers? Is that the ultimate goal? 
You’ve got to have a great product to start. Secondly, your website and online check-out process needs to be as simple as possible with no barriers to purchasing. Realistically not every one of your followers will be a customer, but they may still be an advocate of your brand, who helps generate awareness of your products or service - and that is equally as important. 

What does your team look like? Tell us a bit about the structure behind the brand.
frank body will be 15 team members strong in 2016. In addition to our business partners Steve and Alex, we have several staff who cover different elements of the brand, from customer service to public relations, SEO, design and development, social media, and more.

You’re worth whatever price you put on yourself.

What advice would you give women who want to pursue a career in this industry?
Get experience, get ready to work hard, and get a good attitude about doing so.

What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
- Keep being kind and curious.
- Travel.
- If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no.
- You’re worth whatever price you put on yourself.

Jess is The Everygirl…

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why? 
I recently saw Esther Perel talk at Summit at Sea. She had quite an interesting perspective on relationships and sex; I think she’d be a great lunch date.

Go-to work outfit? 
Usually a combination of leather, denim, and a tee. On the days I don’t have meetings, I’ll happily roll into the office in my gym gear.

Next vacation? 
I’d like to spend a month exploring Italy and Turkey. 

Coffee Order?  
Espresso. Always. Milk ruins coffee.

Happy hour or brunch? 
I’m less of a happy hour person and more of a great red wine on a comfy couch person. So in this case, I’d have to say brunch.

Bree is The Everygirl...

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Arianna Huffington

Coffee Order?
¾ Latte

Appetizers or Dessert? 
Dessert – peanut butter parfait

Favorite way to treat yourself? 
Indian takeaway, a chick flick, and a bath

Favorite App? 
Smiling Mind

Erika is The Everygirl...

If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
I’d have lunch with anyone if the coffee was good and the company was better.

Dogs or Cats?
Woof

Morning or Night? 
Early mornings, before you have to encounter ‘people’

Coffee Order? 
Long black

Favorite part of where you live? 
My apartment is one big studio filled with plants, books, and bits that remind me about all the things (and people) that I like in my life.

Credits

Caitlin Timson #theeverygirl

Caitlin Timson

Social Media Manager and Careers Editor