Over the course of my nearly decade-long blogging career–which includes a venture into the e-comm world–I have met and worked with my fair share of small business owners, especially in the skin care and beauty space. Growing a small and local brand, whether you’re making beauty products or not, is no easy feat and, unfortunately, it’s common to discover a brand has stopped producing before it ever had the chance to “go big”. I was immediately intrigued to learn more about Jamie Schmidt‘s story when I discovered that she grew her brand of natural deodorants and bar soaps from something she made in her kitchen and sold at farmer’s markets, to a company that she was able to sell to consumer goods heavyweight, Unilever, in 2017. Now a seasoned entrepreneur and investor, we had the chance to connect with Jaime to find out more about her story, and advice for other small business owners looking to grow their business.
Keep reading to meet Jaime Schmidt, the Co-Founder of Schmidt’s Naturals:
Business Name: Schmidt’s Naturals
Name & Title: Jaime Schmidt, Co-Founder
Location: Portland, Oregon
Education: Bachelor of Arts in Business, Master of Arts in Sociology
Edit Seven: Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Jaime Schmidt: I’m Jaime Schmidt, entrepreneur, investor, and Co-Founder of the brand Schmidt’s Naturals. I started the company in Portland, Oregon, in 2010, and grew it to acquisition by Unilever in 2017.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
JS: In 2010, I found my place in Portland’s burgeoning DIY culture by making personal products as a hobby, and quickly became inspired to take my products to farmers markets and festivals around the city any chance I could get–even organizing my own events to celebrate local makers. I incorporated feedback from my local community into my product development, and it didn’t take long before local retailers expressed interest and my products found their way onto store shelves. Once I realized that my deodorant countered a common customer perception—that natural deodorants don’t work—I decided to go all in and strategize turning Schmidt’s into a legitimate business.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
JS: Since starting Schmidt’s, nothing has brought me greater fulfilment than to hear from customers who say my products have changed their lives. My mission has always been to bring healthy, effective options to people everywhere. Through my success in doing so, Schmidt’s has been at the forefront of transforming the industry, taking naturals from niche to mainstream.
E7: What makes your business special?
JS: After a long (and quite adventurous!) search for fulfillment in my career, I finally found it with formulating Schmidt’s products and building the business into the beautiful brand it has become today. From day one, I genuinely believed that every person should try my products, as I was that confident in and excited about what I was offering. Without the passion for the product and what I was doing, I could never have put myself out there like I did and Schmidt’s wouldn’t be here today.
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business so far?
JS: My personal motto has been “Say yes now. Then figure out how.” While it’s helped me and the business stay ahead, I’ve definitely had to check myself with this. I’ve gotten a little ahead of myself with overpromises to retailers with aggressive timelines. No major misses, just a few episodes of cutting it too close for comfort. The key is to make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to “Figure out how.”
E7: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner?
JS: Having to keep up with the incredible growth of the brand and strong demand for my product was no easy feat, scaling batch sizes from my stove top to mass production and building out operational teams. Maintaining brand integrity and staying true to my founding values was always at the forefront as I led the company through this growth and to an eventual acquisition by Unilever.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
JS: Understand the problem you are trying to solve and the value you are wanting to add with your products. Be inspired by other brands but define a new path that is yours alone. Move quickly!
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own skin care based business?
JS: In the early years, I’d fill my calendar with any farmers market and street festival that I could, and that community became my own personal focus group. From these interactions I could gauge not only the wants of my customers but also come to understand my own true passion around what I was doing. It’s important to know that your plan might change as you begin to learn more about your customers and about yourself. “Stay committed to your decisions but flexible in your approach” is one of my favorite sayings and serves as a reminder to remain true to my values and vision but leave space to shift and grow.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
JS: Each day brings constant unpredictability. Expect exhilarating highs and turbulent lows.
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the beauty and skin care business to prepare for?
JS: It’s easy to be sidetracked or influenced by competitors. Be careful not to be distracted from your own intuitive sense of what is best for your product and business.
E7: What advice would you give to small business owners in the beauty and skin care space to help them take their brand and business to the next level?
JS: Take pride in your customer service. At Schmidt’s, our team works with the goal of ensuring each and every customer finds the best product match for them. This means supportive one-on-one phone conversations, timely email exchanges, and a return/exchange policy that is generous. Still feeling personally connected to customer satisfaction today, I make the time to chat with customers who reach out on social media, helping out how I can.
E7: What advice would you give to small business owners who are looking to raise money or sell their business for the first time?
JS: Having a clear understanding of priorities is key. In a fast-growing company, you’re not going to have everything you want and will need to determine where you can most easily cut corners without impacting speed of growth. Consider a line of credit to fund significant transitions in the business, for example landing an account with a large retailer. Also, maintaining strong direct to consumer sales provides immediate income that can be quickly recycled back into the business.
E7: Tell us more about what you learned from your experience selling Schmidt’s Naturals to Unilever?
JS: As Schmidt’s started to become a household name in the US and cultivated popularity in international markets, we were approached by private equity, venture capital, and some of the world’s biggest CPG companies. I was drawn to Unilever’s approach to Schmidt’s, which focused on staying true to my original mission of bringing the best natural personal care products to the greatest number of people. I knew that Schmidt’s had the power to break into an even larger global market and wanted to work with a company whose network could take it there. It was clear that they did not want to mess with our formula for success. They were focused on helping us tap into their world-class research and development, testing, supply chain, and global marketing teams.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
JS: There’s so much emotion to be managed as an entrepreneur, and experiencing all of that has helped me get to know myself in an intimate way. I’ve gained confidence and now feel well-equipped to present my best self in any setting. Also, with a busy schedule, I am not able to say yes to everything and have therefore grown to better understand what’s most important to me outside of my work.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
JS: What drives me more than anything, is knowing that I am in a position to inspire other women who are carving out their own paths in pursuit of their dreams. These women are my greatest inspiration as I aspire to my own goals and purpose. I’m also motivated by everyday people in my life and find that the most casual encounters can be enlightening.
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
JS: With the weather getting nicer, my favorite way to get movement early in the day is by walking my son to school. I also love our nighttime routine of eating snacks while watching Garfield together in his bed.
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
JS: Fashion. Color. Fragrance. Customer feedback. Encountering someone with a positive energy can quickly impact my mood and reframe my thinking. I find a lot of inspiration in weather and environment, too.
E7: Who is the Schmidt’s Naturals customer and why should they try your products?
JS: Schmidt’s products are for everyone. Who would say no to healthy, affordable options that work?
E7: Now that your business has sold, do you have any plans in place for what’s next?
JS: As Co-Founder, I’m still the heart and soul of Schmidt’s Naturals, but I am now able to dedicate more of my time and resources to supporting other entrepreneurs. Through my own experience, I learned about many of the hurdles that new business owners face, and I want to share my knowledge with others while helping them achieve their goals with real, hands-on resources. Most recently, my business partner and husband Chris Cantino and I founded Color., an investment portfolio supporting inspiring and underrepresented founders. Through my experiences growing Schmidt’s and talking with other entrepreneurs, we’ve recognized a need for greater equitability in the investment space. We’ll also be launching a new project later this spring that will support emerging entrepreneurs and start conversations that promote better workplaces and businesses.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)