This week’s interview is with Patti Pao – founder and CEO of Restorsea, and superwoman extraordinaire. I felt honored to have the opportunity to interview Patti, who is a fountain of knowledge on not just skincare, but also starting your own business, and finding happiness in one’s career. I truly enjoyed learning about Patti’s journey and learnings along the way, and I hope you do as well. Enjoy meeting Patti!
Who are you? What do you do, and where do you live?
My name is Patti Pao. I am the founder and CEO of Restorsea, a prestige skincare brand, and I live in New York City.
Can you share a bit about how your career evolved to where it is today? How did you decide to take the leap from working at a large company to founder and CEO?
When I graduated from Harvard Business School all I wanted to do is work in the beauty business. My poor dad asked me, “Why can’t you be an investment banker or consultant like everyone else?”. My first job in the beauty business was with Avon Products. It was there that I learned that I was really good at finding new technologies/ingredients and turning them into blockbuster brands. I discovered the potential of glycolic acid as an anti-aging active ingredient and helped to create the billion dollar Avon ANEW franchise.
In August 2010, I was touring a salmon hatchery and saw that the workers’ hands, which were constantly submerged in the baby salmon post-hatching fluid, looked like they were twenty years old while their faces looked much older than their actual ages. The reason why is because of an enzyme that baby salmon release at birth. Unlike a chicken who can physically peck its way out of its eggshell, a baby salmon can’t get out of its eggshell unassisted. Therefore, when it is ready to be born, it releases an enzyme. This enzyme is designed to only dissolve the eggshell so that the baby salmon can swim safely out of the opening carved by the enzyme. When this enzyme is applied to human skin, it only dissolves the dead skin cells leaving the living skin cells untouched and able to thrive. Plus, we believe that the amniotic fluid from the eggshell has anti-aging properties and the eggshell fragments have skin strengthening properties. The workers’ hands, submerged in the post-hatching waters, were constantly exposed to this enzyme. This is why their hands looked so much younger than their actual ages.
I spent a year formulating a day cream and an eye cream and in August 2011, I sent lab samples to Pat Saxby, VP and Divisional Merchandising Manager of Beauty at Bergdorf Goodman. A month later she called and said that she would take the brand. And that was the beginning of Restorsea.
What were some of the proudest moments with Restorsea?
1. Finding Aquabeautine XL® which is the greatest ingredient I have seen in the 25 years I have been in the beauty business
2. Securing distribution at Bergdorf Goodman based on lab samples of the Day Cream and Eye Cream which I carried around in a Ziploc® bag
3. Raising my first round of financing in six weeks (I never thought I would raise a dime)
4. Securing the 20 year global rights to Aquabeautine XL®
5. Raising over $55 million dollars; it’s very expensive to build awareness and trial. Things never turn out the way you think they will (both good and bad) and they take much longer than you think they will. This is why it is important to have a long runway.
There are so many skincare brands out there, which each seem to tout something special. How do you distinguish between the “good” ones, and the ones that are just hype? What should we look for?
You need to look for:
1. Transparent, easily understandable technology
2. Unique and differentiated technology
3. Strong clinical results
4. Ingredient composition. Are the formulas natural and free of toxic/harmful ingredients?
That being said, there are a lot of products out there that smell good and feel great and they are making lots of money. And that’s cool too…If the user loves them, that is what is the most important.
What are the most important factors to consider for having great skin?
The six parameters to having great skin are as follows:
1. Low amount of fine lines and wrinkles
2. Low level of hyperpigmentation
3. High evenness of skin tone
4. Lots of skin clarity
5. High level of skin firmness. You should be able to pinch your skin and have it spring back immediately.
6. High level of skin smoothness.
What are the most important factors for taking care of your skin?
Tips and tricks for keeping up with your skincare regimen
1. When traveling, purchase travel sizes of your regular skincare products. It’s never a good idea to switch products because it confuses your skin. Believe it or not, skin has a memory. And the hotel amenity products are generally a lesser quality product because the amenity manufacturers need to sell to the hotels at a fixed price.
2. When crunched for time stick to a no-frills routine which consists of Cleanser, Day Cream, SPF 30 and Eye Cream.
3. Never go to bed without removing your makeup.
4. Never go outside bare faced.
5. And, you are never too young to start using an eye cream. This is the most delicate area of the body and first to show signs of wear and tear.
6. Don’t forget to meditate even if it for ten minutes a day. What’s your red-eye routine?
7. Don’t forget to take care of your neck. The biggest myth is that products for your face work on your neck. They don’t. The neck has a totally different physiology than the face. The face a) is full of sebaceous glands which promote healing, b) has a lot of skin and muscle tone. The neck area is a big expanse of skin with virtually no sebaceous glands and no muscle tone. As a result without a good foundation, as we age, the skin on the neck and décolletage area has nothing to prop it up and therefore starts to fold inwards causing the folds in the neck and crepe-like texture in the décolletage area.
When you’re just starting out in your career, sometimes it can feel frustrating that you’re just “climbing the rungs”. What are your thoughts on this? Any career advice that you can share?
Every woman under 30 is drop dead gorgeous. Unfortunately, in our 20’s we all are insecure and unformed that all we can look at are our flaws. I spent my entire 20’s (and 30’s) extremely self conscious about my body weight. I was looking at photos of myself in my 20’s and I am a toothpick.
Achievement is not success. I spent my 20’s obsessed with trying to get promoted to the next rung on the career ladder. When I finally got the big job running the sales and marketing team for a major cosmetics company, I spent every day for the three years that I was in this job telling myself, “Today will be better (which it wasn’t).”
You can’t run away from yourself. I tell everyone that they need to face their issues preferably sooner versus later. I avoided having the trials and tribulations most of us experience in our 20’s. That being said, they finally caught up with me in my mid-thirties and were much harder to go through because I was doing it alone; everyone else had their “moment” in their 20’s.
It just gets better. We are taught from birth to be afraid of aging. When I turned 40, I said to my best friend, “I wish I was 22 but know what I know now.” She matter of factly told me “Well then, you wouldn’t be 22!” At that moment, I was really glad to be 40.
Can you share a little bit about your style and closet? What are some of your daily wears? And what are some of your favorite items in your closet?
Maria Cornejo and her line Zero+Maria Cornejo are my go-to wardrobe staples. Maria makes the most flattering clothes and I always feel perfectly, comfortably and appropriately dressed whenever I wear her pieces.
In the winter, my go to pant are her Leather Curve Knee Leggings. They are expensive but I wear them literally almost every day so they are well worth it.
In the summer, my go to is her SIM cropped knee pants. I have them in black, green, and blue which are basically all of the colors she makes them in.
And my all time favorite is my Chanel Graffiti jacket.
What is some life advice that you can share?
1. When someone gives you your shot, you run as fast and as hard as possible. One of my original angel investors told me that if I obtained the exclusive rights to Aquabeautine XL®, he would back me. While it seemed to be impossible, I obtained the rights. He backed me, is my co-founder and more importantly, because the universe gave him the gift of making money, has been a huge guiding force in the success of Restorsea.
2. You need to help people and not expect anything in return. I found my co-founder as a result of this philosophy. One of my interns was looking to secure an interview for a summer job with a major consulting firm. I asked one of our investors to introduce her to a friend who was the head of a firm in Chicago. As an aside to her email, she mentioned her investment in my company. Her friend immediately wrote back and said he would help secure an interview for my intern, expressed interest in finding out more about my company and referred us to a fellow Harvard Business School classmate.
The email exchange was fast and furious and I met him for lunch that next day. During a two hour lunch, he asked me to fly to Chicago with him to meet his wife and daughters. I flew with him to Chicago, that same afternoon, met his daughters and had dinner with him and his wife. During dessert, they committed to funding the entire company.
Finally, please share something surprising about yourself!
I have two cats and a bird. The bird is in charge and bosses and chases the cats around the apartment.