Starting a new brand is no easy task. It takes discipline, dedication and a lot of trial and error.
Sarah Moret, the founder of clean body care company Curie, knows a thing or two about the hard work required to build a successful brand.
She spoke with me about her experience with Curie, including how her journey as a founder began, how important customer feedback has been to Curie’s ongoing growth and her advice on perfectionism for founders ready to launch their own brands.
While Sarah had countless nuggets of wisdom to share with me, four stood out in particular. We’ll dive into each one.
1. Build something people want
When starting a brand, building something people want might sound obvious, but Sarah said you’d be surprised how often it’s overlooked.
In the excitement of brand-building and product-making, it’s easy for founders to get attached to how they originally conceived of their product. In doing so they lose the ability to be flexible in their approach.
“At the end of the day, the only way to survive as a company is to build something people actually want to buy.”
– Sarah Moret
Curie sprang straight from Sarah’s personal need to find a safe, natural and effective deodorant (sans aluminum). She couldn’t find one, so she made it herself, starting Curie as a side hustle while she worked in venture capital.
Now, Curie is Sarah’s full-time gig, and their roster has expanded to a total of four body care products: a solid deodorant, a spray deodorant, a moisturizing hand sanitizer and a clay detox mask.
But the very first Curie product was a simple deodorant stick that Sarah shipped right out of her living room.
Want to hear more from Sarah Moret on building Curie? We had the opportunity to talk about moving your brand from online into retail, and we have all her tips as part of a full DTC strategy bundle! Get the full bundle for free.
2. It’s not about perfection
Along with shipping out the first year’s worth of Curie product orders from her house, Sarah also watched YouTube tutorials about Adobe illustrator so she could design Curie’s packaging and website.
Sarah calls Curie’s first iteration Curie 1.0 because the original branding she came up with is completely different from what you see today.
Once she’d settled on a deodorant formula with her chemists, Sarah needed to see if there was a market for her product. Rather than spend a lot of time and energy on branding that would probably change anyway, she focused on getting the deodorant out in the world as fast as possible.
Pushing the deodorant out quickly without spending a ton of money meant Sarah was going to have to do pretty much everything herself. It also meant her product wasn’t going to be perfect right off the bat, and that was okay.
“My biggest piece of advice to you if you’re trying to bootstrap a brand or build it on a budget is to treat the first six to twelve months as a test...because you’re going to want to change everything.”
– Sarah Moret
The first six-to-twelve months of a brand’s existence, Sarah said, should be used as a time to test product-market fit. It’s wise to hold off on committing a lot of money to the packaging, design, branding or paid advertising immediately upon launching.
Rather than spending a boatload of money on custom packaging that she’d be required to order in bulk, Sarah made every decision in the first year of Curie knowing she was likely going to eventually change it.
Because of this, Sarah was able to keep her budget small, which in turn allowed her to be flexible during Curie’s initial growth period.
Throughout their first year, she collected ideas from customers (who, as it turns out, did love the deodorant) and used them to tweak nearly everything about her product for Curie’s second iteration—from the packaging and design to the amount of fragrance in the deodorant formula and even the size of the bottle.
3. Centering customer conversations
For Curie 2.0, which is the Curie you see today, Sarah hired a graphic designer to take the brand to the next level—inspired by Curie’s customers.
Sarah and the designer took all the customer feedback Sarah had collected over the first year and used it to inspire the current Curie branding, making sure it reflected the input Sarah’s loyal customers had given.
As for the conversations Sarah was having with her customers, they weren’t by accident. To this day, Sarah takes every opportunity she has to talk with her customers, even going so far as to create a series called Coffee with Customers where she speaks to them to foster connection and to discover what they like about the brand, what they think could improve and what they hope to see next.
“The common thread throughout everything is to listen to your customers…that information should really be driving a lot of your decisions.”
– Sarah Moret
Beyond being crucial for Curie’s very beginning, customer feedback has also inspired new product creations.
By asking customers what they love most about Curie, Sarah found they especially enjoyed the three deodorant scents (orange neroli, white tea and grapefruit cassis).
Customers were begging for a perfume or body spray, and these requests eventually led to the development of Curie’s unique deodorant spray, which is now their most popular product.
Their most recent product, the detox mask, came into existence similarly. Sarah heard from customers about how brutal the transition period was from antiperspirant to aluminum-free deodorant, so she spoke with her chemist to see what they could do to ease that transition. Lo and behold, the clay detox mask was born (and has now sold out twice).
4. Start niche, then expand
When it comes to launching a new brand, Sarah said niche is the best way to go. At least, in the beginning, being niche allows your operations to be simple, focused and low cost. Expanding into more products is always an option as you grow, but it’s often better to do so gradually.
For the first two years, deodorant was the only thing Curie sold. From there, Sarah added the hand sanitizer and the detox mask, both very much in line with Curie’s clean body care branding.
When thinking about expanding your product lineup, Sarah said it’s important to stay true to your brand’s story. It’s vital to make sure the products you release fit into your customers’ overall understanding of who the brand is and what they represent.
“Start niche and make sure the products you choose are not just capitalizing on an opportunity but are also helping you tell your brand story,” she said.
Curious to find out if there might be interest in Curie products outside of the body care realm, Sarah decided to partner with an artisan candle maker in LA to make a small batch of candles using Curie scents.
The candle release was met with enthusiasm, which encouraged Sarah to start thinking of other merch for Curie. As of now, they have a hat and a cropped crew neck sweatshirt, and Sarah said the popular candles might make a comeback sometime this year too.
“Picking a niche, focusing on it and then expanding is the way I’ve seen most brands succeed.”
– Sarah Moret
Rather than just a functional body care brand with various products, Curie is a lifestyle. It’s for people who are living busy, active and engaged lives, and the merch Curie sells is a way for them to further connect with their customers, ensuring they feel like part of a community.
The lifestyle aspect of Curie is apparent not only in their merch but in the way they portray themselves on social media. Tiktok in particular is a platform where the niche is celebrated, and Curie makes most of their TikTok videos on armpit health, focusing on community and education rather than just their specific products.
Key tips to keep in mind when starting a new brand
While building a new brand (by herself no less) was a big undertaking, Sarah has proved that with patience, care, attentiveness, grace and integrity, it’s possible to do so successfully.
Sarah’s four key tips on starting a brand from scratch?
1. Build something people actually want.
Don’t get so hung up on how you initially envisioned your brand that you aren’t open to revising it. The whole point of creating a new product is so people will buy it, and they won’t buy it unless they want it.2. Treat the first six to twelve months of your brand’s existence as a product-market-fit test.
If you’re bootstrapping your brand and building it on a budget, don’t spend loads of money on packaging and branding until you get a feel for how your product is received by the people purchasing it. You’ll probably want to change a lot after the product launches based on customer feedback, and if you’ve already spent a ton on packaging and advertising then it’ll be much harder to change direction. Remember that perfection is not the goal, listening to customers is.3. Take every opportunity you can to be in conversation with your customers.
Customer feedback is critical to a brand, both during its infancy and beyond. During Curie’s first year, Sarah spoke with customers to figure out exactly what they liked about the product and what they thought could be better. As time went on, customer feedback became the inspiration for new Curie products that they may not have come up with on their own.4. Start niche and expand from there.
When building out a product line, always keep your brand’s story in mind to make sure the products coming out are complementary to the pre-existing ones. It’s essential to reflect your brand’s story both in how you portray the brand on social media and the kinds of products you’re releasing. Always think about how your content and releases will fit into the overarching story of your brand.
Interested in building a successful brand like Curie? Don't forget to download our free DTC strategy bundle, which features 15 experts, 6 videos and 8 guides!