For building a brand that broke through the male-dominated booze industry.
Alix Peabody got into entrepreneurship after she started throwing ticketed pool parties at her family’s house in Sonoma to raise funds for medical debt. (She brought in guests by the busload, literally, on a borrowed, Google-branded commuter transport.) She discovered that she wanted to start a socially conscious business, but events didn’t seem like the ticket. “I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to have a company that actually has something to say, they probably had to, like, sell something,” she says. That’s when Peabody created an alcohol brand centered on women, now called Bev, a purveyor of canned wine. The mission was obvious, she says, because of trauma she’d experienced years earlier—she was sexually assaulted in college and sexually harassed at her first job, and both incidents involved alcohol. She sees Bev as something of a Trojan horse for changing drinking culture by creating a brand focused on empowering women. “When you walk into a bar, look at the back. What does that say about whose space that is?” she says. “Jack Daniels. Johnny Walker. Budweiser.” Her customers got it: DTC demand for Bev skyrocketed in 2020, and the company saw 1,700 percent year-over-year revenue growth. Brick-and-mortar was a tougher sell because, she found, alcohol distribution is controlled mostly by older white men. But, with the DTC success, Peabody finally broke through and partnered with E&J Gallo for nationwide distribution in 2021. “DTC was originally intended to show people that people really wanted a product like this and a brand like this that spoke to them,” she says. “And 2021 is when that story—that fairytale—is starting to come true, which is really exciting.”--Gabrielle Bienasz
For turning a make-or-break moment into a new mission.
Sarah Rundle-McKinney created Truffle Shuffle with two chefs from the French Laundry (one is her husband) in 2018 to bring transparency to what they saw as a shady trade. Then, in March 2020, she found herself sitting on $20,000 worth of very perishable truffles after Whole Foods paused a launch and restaurants canceled their orders because of the lockdown. “It was a very make-or-break situation,” she says. But that’s when Zoom took off, and since she had two chefs from a Michelin-star restaurant as co-founders, they started online cooking classes and sent the unused product to customers to use as ingredients. So began a massive DTC and Zoom cooking-class operation that touched 150,000 people in 2020, with recipes and on-demand video classes using the company’s truffle products. Truffle Shuffle grew from three employees to 50, and was on The Kelly Clarkson Show, not to mention Shark Tank, where they scored a deal with Mark Cuban for more than $500,000 to grow the company, which has now pivoted fully to online cooking experiences.--Gabrielle Bienasz
For meeting the massive demand to bring hair color inside women's homes.
Amy Errett passed on Dollar Shave Club as a venture capitalist. After seeing it explode, she thought, ‘What is the equivalent gap in at-home beauty for women?’--something they already wanted to do but that wasn’t that hard to learn. Errett settled on hair color, and created a hair dye without things like ammonia and parabens. She named the product Madison Reed after her daughter and launched the company in 2013. It makes its hair color in Lombardy, Italy—one of the hardest-hit regions of the pandemic. At the same time, demand skyrocketed. Without hair salons, people were forced to take their hair color into their own hands--or leave their screen off on Zoom. In May 2020, she says, “We were selling a box of hair color every five seconds.” They had to make free hand sanitizer for the Italian government to get permission to continue to export product. “And so it was just four o'clock in the morning calls, every single morning for six, seven months,” she says. While meeting demand, Errett took care of her people, retraining 100 employees in physical stores in the U.S. for customer service rather than letting them go. The company added mental health benefit TalkSpace and telehealth services and offered online teachers for employees' kids in September 2020 to try to mitigate challenges presented by the pandemic, from post traumatic stress to losing daycare. “Those were easy decisions to make," Errett says. "You can't decide that when things get tough, it's not expedient to help people.”--Gabrielle Bienasz
Dying your hair is either a big expense at a salon or a gamble at home, and Amy Errett is tackling this problem head on. After starting her career in investment banking, she saw her entrepreneurial opportunity when her wife asked her to pick up a box of hair dye. Errett was shocked at the ingredients that would be going onto her loved one’s head. In 2014, her Madison Reed began direct-to-consumer sales of hair dye made without ammonia and parabens, and she helped users match their color with online augmented reality tools. Two years ago, the San Francisco-based company branched out from online sales to a network of color bars where customers can pay a stylist about $60 to help with the application, half the cost of a typical salon. (The dye costs $26.50 a bottle.) Madison Reed products are also for sale in all of beauty retailer Ulta’s stores. The company has raised $121 million in fundraising to date from investors including Norwest Venture Partners and Danny Meyer of Shake Shack and will have a dozen color bars in New York, California, and Texas by the end of the year. Next up: color bar franchises. Errett expects at least 500 to open within four years. She says: “I’m hell bent on changing this industry, not just having the best product.” --Anna Meyer
For doing whatever it takes to keep her products in stock.
Ashley Harris knew there was something wrong with her baby. She and her son both got eczema, a condition she’d never had, a few weeks after he was born. Despite her pediatrician’s insistence it was normal, she had a feeling, and got a range of expansive diagnostic tests. One revealed she and her son had a severe imbalance in their gut microbiomes that led to eczema. Her experience led her to found LoveBug Probiotics in 2014 to deliver prenatal and early childhood probiotics for parents and educate them about the importance of gut health. When a baby is born vaginally, the mother passes on her gut microbiome--the foundation of the immune system and other aspects of health. When Harris had her baby, she was on a powerful line of antibiotics to fight the group B strep, a common condition in pregnant women. It killed the strep--along with the healthy bacteria in her gut, and thus in her son’s. The doctors told her to take a probiotic and give one to her son, “and I had a new baby,” she says. He slept and ate better (and Harris finally got some sleep too). During Covid-19, with the drive to support the immune system and health in general (especially, as Harris says, when people have less money to see doctors or lose their health care), demand for DTC health probiotics like hers has soared. To get it done, Harris has done it all—from hand-packing products in her warehouses to making last-minute changes to products. “Our biggest challenge has been staying in stock,” says Harris.--Gabrielle Bienasz
Ciara Imani May
For redesigning braiding hair with only natural plant-based ingredients.
Braids itch. That’s what drove consumers to buy out Rebundle’s banana fiber-based braiding hair in less than a month in January 2021. Founder and CEO Ciara Imani May had struggled with itchiness while wearing her own braids and looked for a more sustainable—and less painful—solution. After a year and a half in development and about $136,000 in funding, the St. Louis-based company made a cleaner product available to customers. Rebundle’s braids are biodegradable and plant-based and have fewer than 10 ingredients, which are listed in the product’s description. By contrast, May says she had to get a lab analysis to figure out what was in regular, plastic-based braids. It doesn’t help that the leading ingredient in popular braiding hair brands is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), “potentially toxic” when in plastic used in children’s baby bottles or teething rings, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “PVC does not belong on our heads,” May says. Overall, she says, her company has started something new in an old industry, and she’s proud to be part of the natural hair movement--where Black women use products that are less toxic for their hair. “There would be no demand without us,” May says. “Why don't we have any ownership, and why is there not an experience created around us in our products?” Good questions, which May is tackling with Rebundle.--Gabrielle Bienasz