Interviewed by Raghu Tantry, Principal Consultant & Global Program Manager—Chemicals, Materials & Nutrition, Frost & Sullivan
How would you describe your role and the business model of Formula Botanica?
I am a chartered environmentalist, biologist and the CEO at Formula Botanica. Formula Botanica was founded in 2012 with a mission of teaching the world to formulate cosmetics naturally. Anyone can formulate, but this empowering skill has historically been confined to chemistry degrees and not been accessible to the millions of women around the world who want to be able to make their own beauty products. Driven by the desire to take control of what we put on our skin and embrace a more natural way of life, our award-winning and accredited online school has been instrumental in the rise of thousands of independent beauty brands globally.
The school’s online courses teach people how to formulate professional cosmetics using natural and organic ingredients. The students who enrol with us dream of quitting their job, making and selling their own skincare or haircare formulations and being part of the global green beauty movement. Formula Botanica changes people’s lives by teaching them how to start their own organic beauty brand.
I took over the school in 2014, having been one of its first-ever students. When I realised how straightforward it was to become a professional organic formulator, I became passionate to help as many people as I could do the same. In fact, it became such a big deal for me to help the organic skincare entrepreneurs of tomorrow that I even bought the school I trained with because I want to show the world that anyone can formulate.
Indie beauty brands are leading the movement to conscious consumerism. When you speak to a large multinational beauty brand, you have no chance of ever getting your message through to the R&D team. When you speak to an indie beauty brand, you are probably speaking directly to the founder and formulator. Because they are small and nimble, they have the opportunity to move quickly and occupy niches that are out of reach for the big players. There’s a good reason that many beauty multinationals are currently buying up indie brands!
We’ve had close to 9,000 students go through our courses in 161 countries to date. We know hundreds, if not thousands, of beauty brand founders who have gone through our courses and are extremely proud of them all.
Deeply entrenched in the natural ingredients and natural sustainable personal care and cosmetics industries, Formula Botanica is positioned as an online school, offering courses globally to all those interested in formulation of organic skincare and haircare products. The school provides its students with vocational skills and knowledge on formulating cosmetics. Formula Botanica is, today, a company with £ 2.2 million revenues (2019) and has grown an average of 91% per year since 2014. It is on the way to achieve £ 2.7 million in 2020. We currently have 20 staff members.
Formula Botanica has students enrolled from 161 countries, totaling 8,800, and expects to reach student numbers of 10,000 by end of the year 2020. Students are located around the world, but the primary markets for the school are the USA, UK, India, Australia and Canada. Being a truly global company has helped us become immune to geopolitical issues that have caused economic downturns in various regions. For instance, last year, because of the planned Brexit, I had expected to see a dip in sales. However, we actually experienced increased revenue related to higher sales from other regions.
Can you give us some examples of how Formula Botanica’s training led to interesting indie brands?
Examples of our graduates who have started indie beauty brands include:
- BYBI Beauty started by our graduates Elsie and Dominika in the UK. Before they studied with Formula Botanica, they were working a day job and had a dream of starting their own natural skincare business. They completed our courses and have since raised over seven figures in investment funding, including receiving a start-up loan each from Richard Branson. Their amazing balms, cleansers and boosters are now stocked in Sephora, Feel Unique and ASOS all across the world.
- Lhamour Skincare, founded by our graduate Khulan Davaadorj in Mongolia, the first Mongolian organic skincare entrepreneur. Khulan came to us with a big dream back in 2014, finished our courses and now sells her gorgeous Mongolian-inspired formulations around the world, employing over 40 staff and running three flagship stores.
- Jalue Skincare, started by our graduate Jale, who comes from Azerbaijan. Before Jale enrolled with us, all of her DIY experiments were based on trial and error. In her own words, there was no technique, which is why most of her creams used to have the wrong texture. When she discovered Formula Botanica, it took her less than five minutes to decide to enrol. She now sells her gorgeous natural skincare globally. She also launched her products onto QVC, the British shopping channel, back in 2018.
How would you define the challenges faced by Formula Botanica positioned as a cosmetic formulation school?
There are some unique challenges that we face, though, I would say that many of them are opportunities. The challenges the school faces are more intrinsic to the organization. As Formula Botanica is the leader in its space, our challenges related to external factors are limited.
Initially, the organization was a brand which resonated more with indie beauty brands. However, the reach has been broadened by strong networks that have been developed over the years with industry stalwarts, as well as the diversity of topics being explored. Thus, currently, Formula Botanica is becoming more well-known and relevant to both indie and traditional beauty brands.
Our biggest organizational challenge is currently finding sufficient highly trained staff to keep pace with the growth we’ve been experiencing for the last six years. Our organization currently is lean and finds it challenging to employ trainers who fully understand the beauty industry and also understand digital consumer needs. Such employees must be able to work efficiently and flexibly from home, as my entire team is home-based in order to be able to cater to our global student audience. Developing a team of individuals with both hard (technical – natural/synthetic ingredients, formulations) and soft skills (communicating, convincing) can be challenging. My role thus is critical in “training the trainers”.
What are the Mega Trends that you think are impacting Formula Botanica’s growth?
The key Mega Trend we are riding is the organic Mega Trend. We have seen that there are many beauty trends that are sweeping the internet, such as natural beauty and green beauty. These concepts are, however, not well-defined and each organization has their interpretation of these terms. Organic, on the other hand, is a well-defined term used by certification bodies, which helps us to deliver specific and well-defined courses based on organic principles. This one concept and product label (organic) is a Mega Trend that also resonates well with both indie and traditional beauty brands. In one of the studies conducted by Formula Botanica, the results showed that the key factor driving consumers towards organic beauty is mistrust of synthetic ingredients in formulations. Since Formula Botanica is focused only on organic ingredients that are perceived to be safe, it helps us to alleviate the consumer fear.
How do you differentiate your organization, and how would you rate the intensity of your competition?
We work with natural organic ingredients, with close coaching of students to comply with the strictest of the standards for cosmetics (for instance, EU standards), which makes them safe when used correctly. We believe and teach students cosmetic good manufacturing practice, which can help them formulate safe products, which they can use for themselves or sell commercially in the market. Importantly, after they have completed their courses, students also work closely with registered safety assessors to ensure that the products they have made are safe to use.
For Formula Botanica, constant innovation and connecting with consumers, students, suppliers, and cosmetic manufacturers led us into a prominent position. We teach our students how to make safe, stable and sellable cosmetics that would be compliant with regulations across the world.
Do you have any key comments on your marketing and branding strategies?
Digital marketing plays a key role in promoting our brand, where we use sophisticated launch funnels, conduct large digital marketing campaigns and connect with people by creating a community. Our community also leads to a lot of word-of-mouth publicity, which helps us to further connect with prospective students.
Formula Botanica promotes its courses and reaches out to prospective students and influencers through social media/digital marketing. We are known for our high-quality content, well-designed and in-depth webinars, and podcasts. I am personally involved in our digital marketing strategy and established our extensive content marketing strategy, which drives a large part of our success. In the last year alone, we received almost 1 million visitors on our website, which demonstrates the effectiveness of this content marketing strategy. Social media also plays a large role in reaching prospective and current students, as we host large-scale networking groups and classrooms on Facebook while disseminating further educational content through Instagram and YouTube.
Formula Botanica has changed the whole narrative of natural beauty formulation and, for that reason, we are able to attract a large audience, leading to a global student base of nearly 10,000 students and a monthly readership of 150,000 on our blog/podcast. Students join our global community of thousands and become part of something bigger than themselves. They make friends for life, become formulation study buddies and even form partnerships for their future business.
We position ourselves between indie brands and the mainstream beauty industry; this gives us leverage in both camps since these two areas are quite disconnected in the market. We believe in bringing natural ingredients to the forefront but always want to communicate about the science behind these ingredients while ensuring that we do not teach or promote pseudo-science.
In its award-winning online courses, Formula Botanica does not expect its students to follow recipes but instead provides students with frame formulations that give them the freedom to develop their own formulations to make and sell. This empowers students to create their own professional formulations with locally available natural and botanical ingredients. Also, trainers or tutors who understand these differences in culture and ingredients evaluate and grade these formulations. We see diversity as strength and not a challenge. The school further offers their students the ultimate flexibility of home study so that they can follow their online courses at their own pace and their own time.
How would you place Formula Botanica within the Blue Ocean Strategy scenario?
We do not see much competition as we are the market leaders in our field. Formula Botanica stands for quality and excellence in online teaching, which is why we were awarded the prestigious “Excellence in the Design of Learning Content” award in the 2016 international Learning Technologies Awards. Our strategy to lead includes maintaining high-quality material and creating a strong global community through our digital channels. We are viewed as innovative and disruptive, as we believe that anyone with the right attitude and training can formulate, similar to the original pioneers in today’s beauty industry. For instance, the Estée Lauder brand was created when Estée Lauder, a non-chemist, made lotions in her kitchen. Avon’s founder was not a chemist. Madam C. J. Walker, who was a pioneer in making haircare products, is a subject of the Netflix series “Self Made” and was also not a chemist.
Actually, three or four words that define Formula Botanica: Organic Formulation School or Award-Winning Organic Formulation School!