1. Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your background?
Igor: I was the SVP of E-commerce and Digital at ALEX AND ANI and my co-founder was the CMO. We grew the business from a single store and no digital media over a billion dollars in value in under 4 years. We ran a project around consumer response on packaging and claims. The first results enticed us to apply our findings and kick off a qualitative and quantitate research project in Consumer Packaged Goods, with emphasis on beauty. It was important to understand purchasing behavior and expectations especially among the millennial generation. Results from our findings showed consumers are frustrated with personal care products on the market today, specifically around the claims brands make versus what the product actually delivers. We saw a rise in the “natural”, non-toxic, “clean” claims on packaging which also increased confusion among consumers when products weren’t in fact what they were marketed to be. Consumers were also frustrated with how brands didn’t provide consistency across their product assortment.
Our studies also showed a rise in new marketing savvy startups that were creating campaigns and a mission around transparency. Surprisingly, just like their “natural” claims, these were deceptive tactics to be perceived “better” than competing products. We were surprised to find there’s not one brand today to really show where their product originated. What does “Made in the US” mean when applied to skincare? Is it the final product? Is it the bottle? Is it ingredients? There’s not one brand anywhere on the market that’s transparent in what they make. These findings inspired us to research the market and see if there is a need for a better product.
In the US, the term “organic” is regulated by the USDA in the food category, but in personal care the term “organic” is owned by the FDA. The FDA doesn’t have a definition or regulation for “organic” or natural. That means anyone can claim “natural” and sell it on their website and within their marketplace. These deceptive practices have triggered a wave of lawsuits that were recently spotlighted by the New York Times.We saw a need for a better and consistent organic product that’s also transparent in how it is manufactured.
We believe that the fundamental component of family health and wellness is dependent on the everyday products they use.We believe that effective everyday products should be made of organic and plant derived ingredients. We believe that mandatory transparency standards for sourcing, manufacturing, testing, handling and certification result in safer products.
It took almost 3 years of research and R&D but we built a foundation using consumer feedback as the core of what MADE OF is.
2. Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Igor: Once we knew what the ultimate product would be, our main focus shifted to the branding and design. The average consumer spends 3 seconds glancing at the label. After about 6 rebrand concepts, we settled on a design that we thought would resonate with customers. To test our hypothesis, we went to Whole foods with labels printed, cut out and glued to bottles. We set up the product in the baby aisles and observed who would pick up the product and how long they would look at it. Those findings allowed us to devise the next strategy in packaging and branding.
Igor: Getting consumers to test and try our samples was challenging. We sourced a list of younger parents and had them test our hand and dish soaps. We sent the parents KFC chicken using a made up agency looking for feedback on product.
3. What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Igor: We’re the first and only brand to commit the whole brand to the NSF organic standard. Meaning, we wont make the product unless its NSF organic certified. In addition, we’re the first and only brand to disclose the whole product development lifecycle to our customer. Meaning we disclose the certifications, origin of each ingredient and its safety sheets, actual test results by an independent lab and where the product is made in US. If they really want to know what their products are MADE OF – we show it to them. Exception is our Diaper: not organic (organic material doesn’t absorb) and made in Mexico. I the future we will launch certified diaper.
Igor: When buying MADE OF products, consumers are guaranteed consistent experience no matter what they buy. MADE OF is also certified with EWG, Gluten Free, Vegan and USDA BioPreferred.
4. Are you working on any new or exciting projects now?
Igor: MADE OF is the primary focus. We’re launching ecommerce, amazon and wholesale. We’re focused on building the brand awareness with expecting parents through the use of micro communities and groups.
5. What advice would you give to other Founders to help their businesses thrive?
Igor: Our mission is to be authentic and transparent, this also applied to our goals. We set reasonable expectations and make sure our team has the tools to be successful. Having a superior product our people can be proud of goes a long way.
6. None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Igor: My career began in IT where I managed banks’ datacenters. I went this route because of my parents. They drove me to get a degree in computer science and pursue a “safe” career. This might not have been the best choice for me, hence why I switched careers a decade later. No matter my role, I’ve always tried to partner with senior leadership for inspiration on growth and success. Its very challenging to get attention or recognition in big companies. This is a lesson I’ve learned and something I will bring to MADE OF as we grow- to stay close and inspire individuals in all levels of service.
Igor: I’ve generally relied on myself for inspiration and that entrepreneurial drive. My families push back on risk taking created a reverse affect triggering me to take more risk and seek business endeavors. At ALEX and ANI, I met individuals that helped shape my comfort in business and leadership. I had the opportunity to work with some of the best folks in the digital and retail industry.
7. How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Igor: One of the main reasons of joining ALEX AND ANI was their charity business. When I left we donated over $50MM to charity. I’m very excited for the future of MADE OF but it bothers me that unfortunately our product also leaves empty bottles and tubes in landfills. It is our goal to replace our plastics in the near future with PCR (post consumer recycled material) or sugar-cane. Furthermore, charity and sustainability is in our ethos. As we grow its one of the main priorities we’ll focus on. I came to US as an immigrant in 1990 and I’m grateful to this country for accepting me and my family- as a result we’ll ensure we return the favor and its citizens.
8. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder” and why?
Igor: I became a co-founder after having an existing success record in prior endeavors throughout my career. Building and launching a CPG company from ground up is new to me but I’ve built and grew existing businesses from $1MM to over $250MM in revenue and managed my own P&L. We’re still very new and as we grow we will focus on building out a bigger organizational structure. I’m looking forward to new challenges that will come with hiring and training.
9. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Igor: I think the food we eat in today’s age is not great. Unfortunately, living in the world’s greatest economy, it’s hard to supply real food without the use of pesticides. There are communities of farmers that grow great healthy crops which we just don’t have access to and they don’t have access to an average consumer. It’s also unfortunate that great organic food and personal care are a privilege and not a right. It’s my intent to built our brand to be accessible to all families irrelevant of income bracket. There’s a need for an online marketplace which bridges the gap between small farmers and average consumers.
10. Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Igor: “Don’t jump from one good thing to another” – Alex Bekker. My dad always said if you have something really good or you meet someone you really like, stick to it. I’ve always applied that reasoning in my career and personal life. I’ve met a kind, good woman and we’re now happily married with two boys who are MADE OF’s first clinical test subjects.
11. Is there a person in the world, or in the United States with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Igor: I’ve always been inspired by real people who take big risk to challenge the status quo. Someone who’s like me and doesn’t come from a financially strong family, someone who has real problems and real risk. Where investments or wrong moves can risk havoc. Sergey Brin has an inspiring story on my generation. We both share similar paths.