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Like many women, Irena Todd and Jean Sim started taking extra note of the products they bought for their children once they became moms — namely, the toxins and chemicals found in so many personal-care items. But this duo had a unique edge.
Sim, a global brand manager, and Todd, a brand manager, met while launching Axe Hair years earlier. Between them both, there's 15 years' experience in the personal-care industry at Unilever, one of the world's largest health and well-being companies.
"What was out there wasn't meeting our needs. We spent a lot of time researching ingredients and ultimately found [safer] products were expensive — more expensive than most families could afford," Sim said.
They knew how to create and sell successful product and decided it was time to make their own, developing the idea for Fresh Monster, a toxin-free line of kid's hair products made with plant-derived ingredients that are also GMO-, gluten- and allergen-free, with an attainable price tag. Items retail for under $8 for an 8-oz. bottle and focus on kids ages 3 to 9, a "sweet spot" Sim claims was missing in the market, while competitors like the Honest Company are pricier and focus more on families and babies.
They pitched the idea to the Telluride Venture Accelerator in Colorado and was accepted in February 2014. So they packed up their families and hit the road to Telluride — five kids in total, including Sim's 10-day-old baby and Todd's four-month-old.
"We went from an idea on paper to a full-grown brand," Todd recalled. "We had a product formulation, a supply chain — we walked away with a product in hand and were truly ready to take on the market."
At Demo Day, where start-ups pitch to investors, they were oversubscribed. To date they've raised $700,000 in funding, including capital from Telluride Venture Accelerator. Next up was getting products into stores — Todd and Sim called on their former contacts from past campaigns and business schools.
"Many of the natural-care products you find don't perform up to Main Street standards — they don't lather or foam or feel slimy. Since we had experience in formulating shampoos, we said this will have to work the same way as all the stuff we are used to — just without the toxins," Sim said.
Products are third-party tested to ensure quality. Today the five products Fresh Monster sells — three shampoos and conditioners, a shampoo and body wash all-in-one, and a detangler — are found in 1,000 stores, from Toys R Us to Target, as well as smaller, regional natural health stores.
They also hold focus groups with kids — including their own — to make sure the flavors, smells and monsters they're making jive with the customer.
"Having our kids be a part of this will always be part of the brand — they inspired us. It makes us feel so proud that we are setting a standard and model for our kids in working hard and making it happen," Todd said.
And while the two are no stranger to seeing hard work pay off, having launched big branding campaigns in the past, the payoff is different this time around.
"We used to work at a larger company, so you could see your own innovation on the shelf, but there isn't as much a sense of ownership and pride. When it's something we have worked on with our bare hands, sweat and tears, it's incredible," Sim said.
"It's the thing you dream for," Todd added.