Natural deodorant was long the domain of the granola set--until Jaime Schmidt came along. In 2010, the then-32-year-old living in Portland, Oregon, concocted an aromatic formula in her kitchen and started Schmidt's, which in 2017 was acquired by Unilever. Schmidt's opened the door for a slew of startups taking radically different approaches--in packaging, ingredients, and marketing--to elevate the utilitarian commodity into a new frontier of beauty brands.
Born in a Craft Market
Whole Foods first got a whiff of the product at a Portland holiday craft market in 2012. Two years later, its appearance on Fox News led to a surge of web traffic, and Schmidt's began investing in PR and social media. In 2015, the company took an undisclosed amount of capital from investor Michael Cammarata, who later became chief global strategy officer. In 2017, when batch sizes had grown to 200,000, and Schmidt's had distribution at Target, Walmart, and Costco, and in more than 30 countries, the company sold to Unilever for an undisclosed amount.
Initially, Schmidt sold her deodorant--which, unlike antiperspirant, controls odor, not sweat--in Mason jars. In 2012, she upgraded to a sleeker jar with a spatula, along with a new logo and label. Three years later, after extensive R&D, she unveiled a stick form. The one detail that's remained consistent? "A full ingredient listing was always nonnegotiable," says Schmidt, who discloses the common names of everything her products contain, from arrowroot and charcoal to baking soda.
Following the DTC Formula
Harvard Law grad Moiz Ali knew he wasn't the only Millennial who wanted more transparency from a product that "stays on my body for 23 hours and 45 minutes," he quips. So, in July 2015, he began whipping up recipes in his San Francisco apartment. His company, Native, secured $500,000 in capital from a handful of investors, but remained super frugal, hiring "only when our customer service needs exceeded my typing speed," says Ali. Pinching pennies, keeping user-acquisition costs low, and focusing on free marketing like press, email, and word of mouth helped the startup see "strong double-digit growth year over year," he says. In late 2017, P&G bought Native for $100 million in cash.
The first version of Native's unisex deodorant was too powdery and felt like sandpaper, recalls Ali, who hired a chemist, microbiologists, and bacteriologists to fine-tune his formulas. "By May 2016, I had 24 variations of the product, and then hundreds," he says. The "clean, minimalistic" packaging and cheeky ads--with its streamlined font and white background--are intended to appeal to young urban professionals. Novelty scents like Pumpkin Spice Latte, which was made just to create buzz, led to a spike in web traffic in 2017. "We're not trying to be a hippie-dippie deodorant," Ali says.
Product Design Rehab
Soon after launching last September, Myro--founded by Greg Laptevsky, a former marketing exec at food-delivery startup Plated--generated a 16,000-person waitlist. New York City-based Laptevsky, who's raised $2 million from investors including Method co-founder Eric Ryan, saw room for a chic-smelling, beautifully packaged deodorant with a minimal environmental footprint. "Giant companies never explored creating an interesting olfactory experience," says Laptevsky, who was inspired by confessions from people who hid their deodorants.
Laptevsky imagined a new delivery system, too: refill pods. He hired NYC industrial design studio Visibility to develop the new Instagram-friendly look and product design, which uses 50 percent less plastic than traditional deodorants. Its reusable case and pods sell in packs of three for $30. Only 1 percent of Myro's deodorant--which offers scents like "Pillow Talk" and "Solar Flare"--is synthetic; the remaining 99 percent is composed of plant-based ingredients like barley powder and a sugar-derived antimicrobial.