LAST SUMMER, Lauren Hoffman, BS ’07, BROUGHT HER BUSINESS TRAINING TOGETHER WITH A PASSION FOR PREMIUM SKIN CARE INGREDIENTS TO LAUNCH ONOMIE, A THRIVING BEAUTY BUSINESS. HOFFMAN CREDITS THE QUANTITATIVE AND BUSINESS COMMUNICATION TRAINING FROM THE TEPPER SCHOOL FOR HER SUCCESS.

If you want to launch a business within a crowded space, how do you distinguish yourself? A particularly challenging space to disrupt is the prestige beauty industry, which the NPD trade group tracks. The industry grew by 7 percent in 2015, rising to $16 billion in sales.

Hoffman met the challenge last summer with her small venture, Onomie, with promising results. At launch the company won an award from SELF Magazine for one of its first two products, the A.C.E. Illuminating Eye Treatment, garnering Onomie exposure on the Today Show two days before the product launched. The New York Times, Allure, Town and Country, W and Vogue also covered the firm’s product pitch. Within a few months of the launch, the brand won two additional prestigious awards: the Allure Best of Beauty award for “Best Concealer” and Refinery29’s Beauty Innovator Award for the “Concealer Holy Grail.” Editors tried Onomie’s products and saw results.

Without training in these basic fundamentals of communication, you won’t persuade people or achieve results — and my business school training provided those skills for me.

“Some of this positive feedback happened before we even had products ready to sell,” said Hoffman, who worked in marketing, product development and operations for L’Oreal and Kiehl’s. “People pitch and pitch — yet, even the big brands can take several years to get that kind of response.”  

The New York-based direct-to-consumer business showcases its debut products on its website with ingredient spotlights, product demonstrations, clinical before-and-after results and a weekly blog (The Onomist) featuring accomplished women in various fields. The company also partners with She’s the First, a philanthropic organization championing girls’ equality. Onomie pledges 1 percent of annual profits and team resources to help sponsor primary and secondary girls’ education in developing nations.

THE SECRET SAUCE

For Hoffman, the answer was fusing skincare and makeup into one formulation in order to simplify products and maximize user benefits, blending botanicals with science at a competitive price and maintaining the purest ingredients. Carefully building strong relationships with East Coast vendors helped her monitor the quality of the ingredients and supplies, while partnerships, sampling programs, press and influencer marketing initiatives drove sales. “Our unique sampling program, allowing customers to try the products before making a full-size purchase, helps distinguish Onomie from its competition,” Hoffman said. 

HERE’S HOW HER BUSINESS MODEL UNFOLDED:

Hoffman was a driven, creative child who always knew she wanted to start her own venture. As the third of four girls growing up in small-town Pennsylvania, if Hoffman wasn’t practicing ballet, she was entertaining herself drawing plants, barns and the surrounding mountains. “I was inspired by nature and found art extremely meditative — Pennsylvania was a beautiful place to grow up,” she recalled.

When Hoffman failed to gain entry to the College of Fine Arts at Carnegie Mellon University, she matriculated in the undergraduate program at the Tepper School where her competitive training and creativity served her well. In 2003, most of Hoffman’s classmates pursued financial tracks, but marketing became her focus. 

She worked hard to secure a professional services purchasing internship with Proctor & Gamble, and upon graduation in 2007, she pursued brand marketing at L’Oreal where she worked on several of its portfolio companies. When she started to explore options outside of L’Oreal, she wasn’t inspired, so she decided to build her own company. 

“There was nowhere else I wanted to work. I realized I wanted to build my own skincare line, incorporating high-quality ingredients with makeup,” she said. 

EARLY STARTS

Multiple epiphanies surfaced as Hoffman began to put the business together. A friend introduced Hoffman to her business partner, serial entrepreneur Kal Vepuri, who provided the extra confidence to take that leap. Hoffman also knew women seek better-performing products, but that few deliver on their promise. “I wanted Onomie to become a place where nobody would question the integrity or value of the products. I wanted products with high-level ingredients to show people, it’s not just a beautiful product, it’s real science packaged in a beautiful way.” 

Creating something that broke through the clutter was a really rewarding feeling.

 

Even so, as the venture unfolded, Hoffman felt overwhelmed by the process. Having worked for the industry giants, she knew huge teams existed to launch products, and yet her team was small. Everything took much longer than she expected. Hoffman worried about sourcing with her suppliers, whether they’d deliver on time and whether they were the right fit. “It mostly comes down to relationships and takes trust and blind faith,” she realized, “and, ultimately, any challenges made me a stronger businesswoman.”

Her analytical business training from the Tepper School also became “a refined toolbox,” she said. “Solving business problems became the skill at the crux of everything.” Her communications classes proved invaluable. Her former professor and mentor, Claudia Kirkpatrick, played a large role in shaping Hoffman into a stronger communicator and presenter. Kirkpatrick also told her not to take no for an answer — go back and really get what you want. “That is something important to communicate to a young adult, and I took the advice to heart. Determination and strong communication skills were imperative for launching Onomie,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman’s team includes a full stack engineer and a strong digital and content marketer who both contribute greatly to creating a strong, well-functioning and intelligently presented online flagship store. She has also hired Carnegie Mellon graduates (two Tepper School graduates in operations and marketing, respectively, and two interns) who help improve supply chain and distribution, customer service and product development. “This collective training in quantitative analysis and creative problem-solving, along with my other team members, ensure we will get it done, no matter what.” 

STRIKING WHILE THE IRON IS HOT

Currently, Hoffman and her team are producing an expanded portfolio of complexion-based products. “We have a long way to go, but coming this far has been rewarding,” she said. Her advice for those pursuing their own venture:

  • Be passionate about the mission as it takes an incredible amount of work to build a business; this passion is critical to personal fulfillment.
  • Pursue things you love, not only things that make you money.
  • Invest in relationships because you will need support and help from everyone.
  • Have faith in the end goal and yourself — missteps will happen, but they are part of the journey. 

Lauren Hoffman, BS ’07, Co-Founder, Onomie