Gregg Renfrew, the founder and CEO of Beautycounter, a pioneering business in "clean beauty," lives in Santa Monica, California--not far from Hollywood. So it's no surprise she would be inspired by a movie. And she was, though not by a traditional Hollywood blockbuster. She was motivated to start Beautycounter by An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 documentary that details former vice president Al Gore's efforts to warn people of the rising threats of environmental destruction and climate change. "I realized that a lot of what I was doing in my life was detrimental to the earth," Renfrew says. "At the same time, people I knew were being diagnosed with different types of cancer. I just put two and two together: Some of the things that were causing challenges to the earth might be causing health problems for people as well."
Renfrew's environmental throwdown to the beauty industry was a compilation of a long list of ingredients--1,400 of them initially--that were potentially harmful. After extensive research on these substances, Renfrew knew both their chemical properties and where they were sourced. And when Beautycounter launched in 2013, it pledged that its products would never contain questionable or harmful ingredients.
Renfrew says she started the business with money from friends and family. But rapid early growth--sales reportedly shot up 325 percent from 2014 to 2015--and the demands of running a business and delivering a message called for significant investment. "We were a tweener," Renfrew says. "We'd outgrown our seed funding and needed growth capital."
Enter TPG Growth, the part of San Francisco-based private equity giant TPG with a yen for disruptive businesses. To understand why Beautycounter and TPG Growth were a good match, consider that in 2013--the year Renfrew's company showed up on the investment firm's radar--TPG was poised to pour significant money into Airbnb and Uber, while also establishing TPG ART, a fund for alternative and renewable energies.
TPG Growth helped Beautycounter map its growth, creating an organizational chart of new divisions and positions, and then actively recruited talent to fill out the chart. At the same time, it helped Beautycounter scale production, focusing on supply chain and fulfillment.
Renfrew had a vision for omnichannel distribution, utilizing brick- and-mortar superstores like Sephora, online sales, pop-up shops, and a riff on the classic Avon model, with independent consultants evangelizing and selling the brand in the field. Their ranks now number more than 50,000, up from 44,000 in 2019, a year that yielded $120 million in commissions, according to Beautycounter.com. Since the company's marriage to TPG, Beautycounter's staff has grown from 50 to 230. Annual revenue has risen 80 percent since 2015.
Renfrew recalls that TPG Growth operating partner Bill Schwartz and co-managing partner Mike Stone bought into her vision for the company and her potential as a leader, but not without a critical eye. They wanted to ensure that Beautycounter's message of sustainability was also a sustainable business proposition. In time, they divested Renfrew of the idea that she needed to tend to the intricacies of the business while also serving as its standard-bearer.
"They were clinical, but made me better," Renfrew says. "Mike Stone said to me not long ago, 'I look at you no longer as a founder and CEO, but solely as a CEO who can stand up to the best in the business.' "
What this means is that Renfrew gained the freedom she needed to push hard on the advocacy front. In 2019, she was the only CEO from the beauty industry to testify before Congress in the first hearing on cosmetics reform in more than 40 years.
Beautycounter is pushing for passage of the Cosmetic Safety Enhancement Act, which would require cosmetics companies to certify the safety of their ingredients with the FDA. Renfrew says the company is currently working on 12 pieces of legislation related to personal health and environmental protection.
Renfrew sees Beautycounter as positioned well for growth in the post-pandemic era. "When you look at what people care most about at this time, it's protecting the health and welfare of themselves and their families, and living in a way that acknowledges the importance of making choices that are good for the earth," she says.
People may not be empowered or inclined to spend money on travel and fine dining, "but they're still taking care of their skin," Renfrew says. "Our message hasn't changed, but it is more relevant than ever. Without the investment in our growth, we couldn't have stayed on that track."
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Mike Stone's title. He is the co-managing partner of TPG Growth. The article also mischaracterized Beautycounter's growth. The company's annual revenue has risen 80 percent since 2015.