By Florence Robson
fter years of being sidelined, women are starting to gain ground in the entrepreneurial landscape. More than 140,000 companies were set up by all-female teams in 2021, according to the Alison Rose Review Progress Report 2022, representing year-on-year growth of over a third. The beauty industry is at the forefront of this wave of momentum, with an influx of female founders leading the charge as the sector bounces back from the pandemic. Amongst them is world-renowned skincare expert, Dr Sam Bunting.
Having built her Harley Street clinic into the ultimate destination for skin, Bunting founded her eponymous award-winning skincare brand, Dr Sam’s Skincare, in 2018. Profitable after just one month of trading, she has built the business into one of the UK’s leading direct-to-consumer skincare brands.
Starting with just one product – a cleanser – the range is now 12-strong, with sales in 147 countries and 73% growth since the start of the pandemic. If that wasn’t enough, Bunting balances her founder and clinic responsibilities with creating content for her YouTube audience of 195,000 people.
At an IRL event at The Stack World HQ in February, Bunting joined Beauty Director Rhea Cartwright for an honest chat about product innovation, being transparent with customers and learning to stay present.
If you missed the live event, read on for a round-up of Bunting’s top tips for her fellow founders, or become a member to access our previous event recordings.
“Be forensic about people’s drivers and what makes them tick.”
RULES ON VISION
‘There’s nowhere to hide when you launch one product at a time’
If you’re launching a product, make sure there’s a genuine need for it. I wanted to build a brand where every single product could stand on its own two feet but where you also get this magic when you bring everything together. I felt it was best to start with a cleanser because if you get cleansing wrong it’s hard to get the rest of your skincare right. When you launch slowly, if something doesn’t work you simply go back to the drawing board, iterate and improve.
RULES ON HIRING
‘It comes down to the right person in the right role’
When you start out with a small team, everyone finds themselves doing things outside of their job description. As you grow, you want people to take ownership of their space, so we’ve got better at making our job descriptions clearly defined. It’s also important to develop relationships with recruiters because when you’re looking to hire a lot of people it becomes very time consuming. Find recruiters who understand your business, your personality type and the kind of people you would like to hire.
‘Hire people who share your company values’
We’ve had some turnover in the last year and when people haven’t fitted in, it tends to be because of a mismatch in terms of values. I’ve had to learn to interview well, to understand people’s psychology, why they have made certain decisions and their reasons for leaving their previous role. We’ve even invited candidates for an informal lunch as part of the hiring process to see their chemistry with the rest of the team. Be forensic about people’s drivers and what makes them tick.
Sometimes when you need to fill a position quickly, it’s tempting to rush things and then you end up making mistakes. The premise of hiring slowly and firing quickly is definitely true – or if not the latter then definitely the former!
“I try not to worry too much about what competitors are doing.”
RULES ON MONEY
‘Once you take someone else’s money, you have to consider their opinions’
Being self-funded has allowed me to be lean with my approach and build up a brand that’s really trusted, with loyal customers. After starting with one product, we now have a substantial offering now that’s well thought-out and we’re ready to move a bit more quickly. But I always want to launch products that people are waiting for, rather than over-launch because of numbers or other people’s expectations.
‘Finding the right manufacturing partner affects profitability’
We were profitable so quickly because we found a manufacturing partner that didn’t charge for the formulation process. Most companies will charge you a certain sum per three iterations, say, and we reformulated our first product about 39 times! That relationship has been really fortunate for us because it allowed me to focus on getting the formulation right.
RULES ON COMMUNICATION
‘When things go wrong, have an honest conversation with your customer’
I’m a Type A, high-achieving kind of person and I can get very anxious so I meditate twice a day to calm my nervous system. That means that when things do go wrong, I can settle the fight, flight or freeze response and go into logical thinking mode to make a plan for repairing the damage. I’ve learned that if you have an honest conversation with your customer, they are not only forgiving but they also appreciate the transparency. That’s why integrity is a core value for our brand – we don’t make ridiculous claims we can’t substantiate. We let the products do the talking.
RULES ON SELF
‘Don’t clutter your brain with what other people are doing’
I try not to worry too much about what competitors are doing with formulas. Instead I keep an eye on what people need based on interactions at my clinic and with our community, as well as my own prior experience working with brands. I’m inspired by other people’s content and Instagram accounts, for example, but as far as the products go I tend not to concern myself with anyone else’s opinion.
‘Learn to enjoy the day-to-day’
I love being able to access different facets of myself through my work – the content creator, the physician, the communicator. I have a genuine interest in which ingredients will work best together for maximum results and have also always been interested in fashion and design, so I knew I wanted to create a brand which was clean but not sterile, friendly but chic. I’m a very results-driven person but at the moment I’m focusing on enjoying the day-to-day process rather than getting too caught up in KPIs. I don’t want to look back in the future and wish I’d taken a moment at this early stage to breathe.
In the second instalment of The Founders Rules, Dr Sam Bunting shares how she built her eponymous skincare brand, from hiring slowly to being honest with customers.
By Florence Robson