Entrepreneurship is something that comes naturally to Connie Lo, the mind behind Three Ships Skincare. Three Ships, which was founded on the ethos that clean, natural skin care products should be affordable and accessible to everyone. The brand, which follows European guidelines (Europe has some of the strictest guidelines in the world when it comes to consumer personal care products), prides itself in using scientifically backed active ingredients and offering only clean, natural products. We spoke with Connie Lo on what inspired Three Ships, as well as what’s next.
Grit Daily: You had your own adventures before you co-founded Three Ships. Before we get to that, share those.
Connie Lo: I grew up in an entrepreneurial family, something that I’m very grateful for. My father is an entrepreneur, and I remember being exposed to startup life at a very young age. He would bring me on business trips to countries like Germany and Brazil, and I fell in love with the idea of learning new markets and what made people *tick*. This passion for entrepreneurship extended into my high school years, where I ran my own side businesses, as well as my university years, where I co-chaired an entrepreneurship competition. So it was only natural that after graduating, I would eventually start my own business!
Interestingly enough, I chose not to listen to my gut, and instead pursued a full-time career in… accounting. I know, right?! I fell into the trap of comparing myself to my peers, and tricked myself into thinking that I had to work in a number-heavy job to be ‘smart’. Not surprisingly, I did not feel fulfilled, and quit my job after just 8 months (to the shock and horror of my co-workers!). I reflected back on my time in university, and realized that all the courses I loved were in the entrepreneurship/marketing/sales field. With that, I pivoted completely and started a new career in marketing. It was during this time that I was introduced to Laura, and the rest was history!
Grit Daily: What differentiates Three Ships’ product from competitors?
Lo: To understand what really differentiates us, it’s helpful to rewind back to when we started the brand. Laura and I were recent university graduates, and tired of being lied to and ripped off by overpriced and greenwashed beauty brands. Clean skincare products were either extremely expensive (think $70+ for a cleanser!), or inexpensive but full of chemicals. With this problem in mind, we set out on a mission to make clean beauty that was accessible for all women. Here’s how we break it down:
First, our products are all truly natural, no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. We follow the EU guidelines for personal care formulations, meaning we avoid +1,400 potential toxins (the FDA in the US, in comparison, bans 30). We hold ourselves to the highest standards in natural skincare, and are Leaping Bunny certified cruelty-free and vegan.
Second, our products are actually affordable. Our products will forever be under $40, which is at least half of our direct competitors’. We really focus on making the highest-quality products that don’t break the bank!
Finally, our products are scientifically-backed and effective. There’s nothing more frustrating than using a natural skincare product that doesn’t work! For that reason, we focused on the science behind the ingredients we use in our products. We have a comprehensive Ingredient Glossary on our site, where we list every single ingredient we use, where it’s sourced from, the scientific studies backing that ingredient, and which product the ingredient can be found in. This level of transparency is truly unparalleled.
To sum it up, we are the most transparent natural skincare brand on the market, with products that actually work and are actually affordable.
Grit Daily: We’ve heard from Jill Lewis that you know how to make “lemons from lemonade.” Details, please.
Lo: Haha, great point! I mean, Laura and I started our business with just $3,300 USD in savings, so we really had to learn how to “make lemons from lemonade” pretty quickly. I think a big reason for our success is our resilience, and ability to make the most of any situation. Here are a few examples:
Two months after launching our business, while still working other full-time jobs, Laura and I landed our first ‘large’ subscription box order for 6,700 units of our makeup wipes. At the time, all products were made by hand in my apartment kitchen. We didn’t have the budget to outsource production, so instead we spent a period of three weeks meeting up in the evenings and on weekends to make these wipes on my kitchen counter! It was the most grueling time, and a real labour of love. That being said, we secured some great retail distribution after the box went live, as buyers tried our products in the box and loved it! Our motto of ‘say yes, figure it out later’ has definitely served us well over the years!
Another time that hits close to home is when Laura was diagnosed with a brain tumour last year. Working through the diagnosis, understanding her treatment options, and also developing a potential succession plan, was the toughest hurdle we’ve faced yet. Laura had a 10-hour brain operation surgery in March, and the time leading up to, and immediately after, her surgery was the most uncertain and terrifying time for us. That being said, we focused on making the most of the situation, as well as on focusing on the ‘silver lining’ – with covid-19 lockdown, we saw it as a chance for Laura to take all the time she needed to fully recover, as the world essentially ‘slowed down with her.’ Luckily, Laura recovered quickly, and now uses her experience as a young brain tumour survivor to inspire other women to continue to pursue their passions, even after a scary diagnosis.
Grit Daily: Inquiring minds want to know: How did you get invited on to Dragon’s Den?
Lo: Being on Dragons’ Den was on our bucket list for the longest time! Laura and I both grew up watching the show, so it was only a matter of time before we auditioned. We actually auditioned back in February, literally 5 days before Laura’s brain surgery. We were notified in July that we were one of 80 companies selected from +2,000 auditions to pitch in the Den. I remember getting the news, and being so scared but also ecstatic at the same time!
We practiced our pitch at least 200 times, and also brainstormed lists of potential questions we thought the Dragons would ask us. We walked into the Den in September feeling prepared, and knocked it out of the park, leaving with four offers from the Dragons! You can read more about our entire experience in this blog post.
Grit Daily: What’s the background on the latest distribution deal with Three Ships and Target?
Lo: Target has always been our dream retail partner, from the day we launched Three Ships. We tried all the traditional avenues to get in front of the buyer, including LinkedIn, email, Instagram, to no avail. It’s understandable, given how inundated the buyers must be with new brands reaching out all the time! With that in mind, I got creative. I discovered that a friend’s friend worked in the research department at Target. After getting introduced, I sent her some of our skincare products to try, and explained our brand ethos to her over a phone call. She was so convinced by the products that she sent a cold intro to the beauty buyer! From there, we realized we were attending the same tradeshow as this buyer. I emailed him our booth #, and actually waited by the men’s room to catch him on his way out. He was impressed with our courage, and agreed to an in-person meeting to discuss a partnership.
I remember growing up, thinking that I wasn’t ‘smart enough’ because I didn’t consider myself the most ‘book smart’. Now looking back, I realized my superpower wasn’t in textbooks or numbers, but really came down to my grit, determination and resourcefulness.