Entrepreneurs

Why two women left high-profile corporate jobs to launch a skincare line for men

Mia Saini spent five years on camera as a reporter. Consequently, she had access to many different types of skincare products.

"I would bring these products home and I found that my husband, who's very much your 'guy's guy,' was constantly putting his fingers into my eye cream or using up all of my moisturizers," Saini tells CNBC.

"That caused a couple of issues. First, I had to replenish my products faster, and women's products are up to five times as expensive as men's. Second, he would end up smelling like a girl. Third, I realized he wasn't doing himself any favors because men and women have very different types of skin and men need to be using products that are geared towards their type of skin."

After mentioning this dilemma to her girlfriends, Saini started hearing similar stories: Other women's husbands were relying on their wives' expensive creams and cleansers or using chemical-packed products that weren't suitable for their active lifestyles.

One of these friends happened to be Laura Lisowski Cox, who, at the time, was working in marketing at Facebook.

Oars + Alps co-founders, Laura Lisowski Cox (left) and Mia Saini
Courtesy of Oars + Alps
Oars + Alps co-founders, Laura Lisowski Cox (left) and Mia Saini

The opportunity to enter the men's grooming industry was too good to pass up, Saini tells CNBC: "It's such an exciting and growing category. It's a $6.3 billion industry. And after several years on camera, I really wanted a new challenge. I wanted to have the flexibility of running my own show."

Saini and Lisowski Cox left their high-profile jobs in the spring of 2015 to create Oars + Alps, a men's skincare line that offers affordable, all natural products. "We are not a women's brand treating men as an afterthought," the co-founders say.

"We're in the space of non-shaving products," Saini continues. "We are really focused on making sure the guys have healthy and hydrated skin. Current brands don't focus on that, so it's a huge white space in the market for an athleisure men's grooming brand."

In October 2016, the four-person Chicago-based team launched three products: A face and eye cream, a deodorant, and their most unique product, a face wash that comes in solid form.

"We're targeting active, on-the-go men," Saini explains. "With the face wash, we wanted to create something TSA friendly, something portable, and something that's not going to spill in your carry-on or gym bag."

The products are only available online and the company offers an auto-replenish program that allows you to choose what you need and how often you want it delivered.

Saini and Lisowski Cox, who met on a party boat in Thailand, make a compatible team. Lisowski Cox focuses on the marketing side of things, while Saini, who went to MIT as an undergrad, draws on her knowledge of science and engineering. They also both have strong business backgrounds: Saini received her MBA from Harvard Business School, while Lisowski Cox received an MA in international finance at Brandeis International Business School.

As for the transition from corporations to start-up life, they're logging more hours than ever. "We're working a lot more, but it doesn't feel like work. It's fun," Lisowski Cox says. "And you really see the output of your hard work."

"You don't sleep and you're constantly stressed, in a good way. Because it's your lifeblood. It's your livelihood," adds Saini. "Start-up life is unstructured, and there are highs and lows, but it's a very rewarding experience."