by Alexandre Wedmore, Kellogg ’20 + Co-founder of DOHM Skincare
This is a story about how student entrepreneurs have adapted or shifted their business in the face of a global pandemic.
DOHM is a low waste personal care products company that believes skincare can be infinitely good for you and the earth. Their products strive to flow from the earth, to your body and back to the earth again.
In March 2020 DOHM had a breakthrough. After 3 months of hustling in Rick Desai’s New Venture Development Course, our products were about to be displayed at 3 different skincare boutiques on Brooklyn’s Fifth Ave equivalent. My co-founder, Dominique, was living in New York City at the time, and I was thrilled about the growth we were seeing as a start-up. We had just gotten our 200th purchase and it felt like we were addressing skincare in a way that resonated with our early customers. And then, coronavirus restrictions took over and everything about our model shifted.
I had been planning to visit New York to meet with a few retailers alongside Dominique – the trip was cancelled and instead we spent that time (online) strategizing around how we could become a purely digital brand. We had already been accepted to New Venture Launch, the next phase of Kellogg’s start-up classes, and we knew that we could use the funding and counsel provided by the class’s professors, Troy Henikoff and Gregg Lattermann, to do something special.
While we constantly strive for a closed loop production cycle at DOHM and wanted to focus on our product sourcing and emissions…our professor’s pulled no punches in letting us know we needed to add plenty of polish to our aesthetic if we wanted to build our customer base digitally.
We came up with some big goals: re-brand the product packaging and brand aesthetic while grounding our efforts in a few truly environmentally conscious decisions that would reflect our commitment to a low waste lifestyle.
We wanted to use compostable labels (thank you Elevate Packaging!) and to eliminate single use plastic from our product line. To adequately communicate this, we needed to launch a new website that conveyed the amount of effort and resources DOHM was pouring into being low waste. And, to make all of this more easily accessible, and to buttress our customer base, we wanted to provide them with the opportunity to subscribe to our products so that DOHM would be delivered to them just as they needed it.
It was inspiring to dream this big, but how could we pull it off?
At Kellogg I learned that brilliant teams, not individuals, are what make the difference. Recognizing that many companies and undergrads were going to have a hard time creating/finding meaningful internship experiences due to COVID – we set out to recruit undergraduate students using our networks.
Our hope was that we could entice bright students to help build critical pieces of the new-look DOHM, thereby gaining hands on entrepreneurial experience. Taking it a step further, I saw an opportunity to leverage the new coaching skillsets I acquired at Kellogg to help them land full time jobs during/after the internship. I worked with each intern on their resumes, elevator pitches, etc. (shoutout Joseph Patton at the CMC) and communication/meeting best practices (shoutout Craig Wortmann). As their manager, I had the privilege of not only seeing their development through their DOHM work, but also seeing how they could frame their new experiences moving forward in their careers.
We never met any of our interns in person – but we knew that familiarity was required to feel like a team. So, we put the time in. We met with interns three times a week and made sure they got facetime whenever they felt they needed it.
As leaders, we feigned absolute confidence but were honest about how new all of this was to us. Neither Dominique or I had ever managed more than a few people at a time, and we had certainly never done so via Zoom, so early in the internship we made feedback a priority. At the end of EVERY meeting, we did feedback using the did-well, do-differently framework. This gave us an opportunity to provide advice to interns in real time as to how they could better meet our expectations. It also allowed the interns to tell us what was, and what was not, working.
I can’t emphasize enough how important this feedback cycle was to our growth over the Summer. By the end of the internship, I was stunned at how efficient, high quality and engaging the interns work was from their weekly deliverables to their intern-led meetings (each intern led their own small group project to acquire leadership experience). Furthermore, they showed an incredible level of self-awareness when it came to evaluating their own performances and what they could be doing better. My biggest takeaway here was that guided introspection is an underutilized resource. I will make sure DOHM is always a place where employees are allowed the requisite time and space for self-reflection.
The results were beyond both of our expectations.
Dominique built strategic objectives for all 7 interns and I penciled in what tactics and deliverables each intern would be responsible for each week. I made a point of starting each one-on-one by explaining to interns how their work was directly contributing towards DOHM hitting its KPI targets. They took this to heart, and I was thrilled to see each intern reporting metrics on their ‘impact’ (think website visits, email clicks, sales, etc.) by the 3rd or 4th week.
By the end of the Summer, I am happy to report we hit most of our targets (new website coming soon!). There is something to be said for hiring talent, giving them a big picture target, a little guidance, frequent check-ins – and letting them crush it!
When COVID first hit we thought that that might be it for our small start-up, but it turns out that COVID provided us with a unique opportunity to build a mega talented, global internship team. When life gives you lemons…
In case you are wondering, 2 of the 3 graduating interns have secured full time opportunities already! The other 4 are returning to their undergraduate studies. We are certain that all 7 have brilliant careers ahead of them and we are forever grateful for the work they did at DOHM this Summer.