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Female Founders: Julia Faller of Benedetta On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Having conviction and vision for what you are about to accomplish is really key. I can only speak for myself and the drive I felt in creating something of benefit. I had 3 small children and virtually no money. The need to accomplish what I set out to do was overwhelming. I ran into many obstacles in creating a new paradigm in an industry set in its ways. I ran into obstacle after obstacle and was laughed at and told it could not be done. I persisted. If you are a visionary and have the determination to see it through, nothing will stop your momentum. Ask for support, and seek, and find the tribe that will let you have wings. We truly are the company we keep.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Julia Faller.

Julia Faller is the Founder and President of Benedetta, the first and only skincare line formulated with 100% botanical, Certified Organic & Biodynamic ingredients. As a licensed esthetician and clinician in the 80’s and 90’s, Julia found herself questioning the cosmetic and skincare industries ethical approach in caring for the skin. The acceptance of a botanical here and there in a preponderance of chemical and plastic laden ingredients still considered ‘all natural’, was illogical and unhealthy.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I created Benedetta with a clear intention to serve a need that hadn’t yet been met in the skin care industry, one riddled with petrochemicals and false, harmful ingredients.

My insistence on Farm-Sourced® ingredients, with attention to synergistic formulas, is key to delivering function and purpose through our system of use. It took time and persistence to acquire raw materials that were not only clean and free from toxins, but Certified Organic and eventually Biodynamic, this has become the cornerstone of excellence that would grow. Finding solutions for my formulas to allow for 98–100% botanical efficacy without conventional binders, additives and so on, was challenging and took years. I had virtually no support in my thinking and it required great presence of mind to persevere.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I think it’s interesting when anyone changes the mind of another through conviction and honesty that’s mutually beneficial. We get so much marketing and inauthentic information from those with self-interests, whether it be advertising a product that may not work, or digital media companies selling you an invisible marketing approach.

Almost 20 years ago, I was invited to go into a store within the San Francisco Ferry Building’s new Marketplace. It was comprised of food vendors with a focus on local and sustainable agriculture with a farm-to table concept. I saw a perfect fit for Benedetta, but the founders did not, referring to me as cosmetic. I love the building and saw the beauty of it draw the community and tourists coming into our city. I kept hearing, “We are a food marketplace and you are not food.”

I am not a pushy sales representative and really cannot stand that approach, in fact we do not sell our line like that ever. We care for people and assess what they are looking for and what their needs are before introducing the line.

After some emails, I was able to have a meeting with one of the founders, which would turn out to be essentially a 5 minute elevator speech on what makes me a good fit in a sustainable farm to food marketplace. In a nutshell my answer was, “I produce farm sourced, 100% botanical, Organic & Biodynamic products that are produced locally. Furthermore, they are food for skin and work in the same way clean alive nutrients work for your body, much like the food we ingest.”

We talked for several more years before having a Benedetta location in the building. That was 18 years ago.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I don’t think it was funny at the time, but looking back, I have laugh at it now.

Just before launching the Benedetta line in February 1996, I had intended to create a blemish preparation that I wasn’t going to launch until later for various reasons. However, weeks before the launch I decided to include it. In a rush to add it in to a full day of production, I mixed the wrong phases together and did not emulsify a raw material correctly, resulting in tiny specks in the product that did not dissolve. It was the end of our production and this was the last one, exhausted to think we would have to start over, others tried to encourage me not to worry, that it would be ok. I ran over to the sink and threw the whole thing in, much to the screams of, “don’t throw it away, it still works”.

In that moment, it set the tone to always micro-batch and focus on quality control, and above all — be conscious, and aware. To this day, we do not produce more than one product a day, and all preparations are done in silence and reverence for the intended user. Zen in the art of formulation if you will.

The end user is my biggest concern and the reason I do what I do.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are two people that come to mind but there are really so many.

1.My mentor and inspiration is Marcel Lavabre, founder of the Aroma Vera company and Author of the Aromatherapy Workbook. If not for Marcel, I would not have continued to formulate more. He encouraged the production and distribution of my first product the Crystal Radiance Hydrating Elixirs Neroli and Ylang Ylang– distributed by the Aroma Vera company from 1987–1991. In addition to, his certification courses in medical aromatherapy, aromatherapy conferences, and medical courses with noted speakers and teachers in the field of essential oil efficacy and sciences.

2.The lead up to founding Benedetta, I had 3 small children at home and a husband that worked construction from 6am to 5pm. We had relocated when I was 6 months pregnant with twins and a 6 year old. On our own, with no support.

To acquire the first packaging and afford raw materials, I delivered Chinese food at night and weekends and worked in our local health food store as a nutritional consultant. My husband was in charge of taking care of the kids so I could work, as dead-tired as he was from pouring concrete all day.

He has been my support for almost 40 years and is an integral part of Benedetta as our production manager, among other things.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think some women are torn between being a parent and creating their passion.

I have been running Benedetta for more than 3 decades. This was an era where we spoke about women “having it all”, meaning- motherhood and career.

If you have a vision and talent to create something that is of service or need, do not let self-limiting beliefs stand in your way. If you are truly doing something that serves the greater good you will find the support to follow through. It takes drive, ambition, courage, incentive and above all, honesty.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Having conviction and vision for what you are about to accomplish is really key. I can only speak for myself and the drive I felt in creating something of benefit. I had 3 small children and virtually no money. The need to accomplish what I set out to do was overwhelming. I ran into many obstacles in creating a new paradigm in an industry set in its ways. I ran into obstacle after obstacle and was laughed at and told it could not be done. I persisted. If you are a visionary and have the determination to see it through, nothing will stop your momentum. Ask for support, and seek, and find the tribe that will let you have wings. We truly are the company we keep.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Generally speaking, women lead with their hearts. We feel and intuit culturally at a broader level than our male counterparts. That heart intelligence is one that can be creative and motivate from a place of empathy. We need more love and sense of community in business and government. Kindness and sharing in a selfless way will enhance who we are as a species. This speaks to greater need not just for women but for all of us.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

That we are all the same. That creating something that is brought to the market is easy. I never received funding and truly have worked harder each year than the previous to get Benedetta product into the hands of the consumer. It is not easy, but it is life-changing. I believe I will leave the world a little better for those lives I have enhanced with Benedetta products. I am very proud and grateful to have been of service in this capacity.

But not every founder is a creator of something, but one that can lead another company’s growth. That takes talent and drive too, something I now welcome into to my company as I get older and need to pass the torch.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No, not everyone is cut out to be a “founder”.

Since you are asking me, I can only speak to what I know. I designed and created something on my own without help. First came the formulas, some taking years to make. The process for me took incredible determination and conviction in the botanical world and science behind it.

To me, the best founders actually have an original and authentic idea, and put it into action. It takes courage.

All this being said, those that follow are as important as those that lead. There is no shame in that and complete the company’s ethos and mission. The unity of the company culture is key and necessary.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. That marketing is what makes a company successful, not the products. I launched Benedetta in 1996 and really knew nothing about business. I have watched dozens of companies succeed by first focusing on marketing and distribution, not product, and sell for millions. They have a marketing and exist strategy before they even know what the product would look like, or more importantly, how it would perform for the consumer. They see success and money first. I never followed trends, but focused on what the consumer actually needed, there is a difference. I would not have changed the product first, but I would have put much more time and effort into marketing.
  2. That direct to consumer is key. I spent 15 years on shelves in retailers collecting dust. The amount of time and energy to get the staff to support our SKU’s over the hundreds of others is time wasted.Direct to consumer in retail is the way for our customers to be cared for.
  3. To hire wisely. A business is only as good as the company it keeps and those that support it. Business comes first and those that you hire must enhance the company culture and be supportive and above all, kind. Pay well and honor of course, but I have spent years learning this lesson. Bad hiring can delay and actually halter company growth, when the opposite is needed. This has never been more evident since the pandemic.
  4. Have financial meetings regularly. The number one reason businesses go under is irregular finances, by not having a budget and ignoring the bottom line. In order to have financial goals, a company needs to see where they are at and where they are going. I think all the principles in the company should understand this and be aware of monthly and quarterly growth or decline in revenue.
  5. Not all business is honest and reputable. When dealing with a vast supply chain, you are dependent on others. When trust erodes, stress follows. As a manufacturer, I deal with many different characters, from raw materials to packaging, equipment and more.
    For example, taking almost a year to locate a producer of a particular algae for my Seaweed Mask, finally it arrived from France and it only half the order arrived and was soaked. It took months to get the shipper to make good, but moreover the company I worked with would take no responsibility at all. Business will be a chase and there are those that will do everything to not be accountable, even when you can prove a mistake. It isn’t easy, and takes fortitude and support. In spite of those that will run a business unscrupulously, it is important to run yours honestly. You either become the same as them to get ahead, or, you develop empathy and always lead (in our case) with quality and effectiveness for our customers.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Working to enhance peoples’ self-image through product creation has been extremely rewarding. But I think the community of certified organic and biodynamic farmers and suppliers I support has extended my global impact to be a counted voice for sustainability on our planet. Especially in a time of climate crisis.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I have dedicated myself to health and wellness on how it relates to your skin. I would love to start a movement that speaks to our energetic consciousness and how that coincides to our overall wellbeing, health, beauty, and longevity. I have come to understand that a healthy lifestyle enhances equitable energy and allows for our greatest peace of mind. The future of medicine is beyond pharmaceuticals and even recognizable plant nutrients, but, in the way we are able to bring our body and spirit into a cohesive balance. Creating a place and a movement that is truly inclusive and stimulates all aspects of energetic medicine, food, and lifestyle with no judgement. This would generate the peace and well-being we all strive to attain.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

There are so many visionaries and people that selflessly make the world a better place through their work, for people and planet. Since this is about women founders, I would like to be consistent.

I want to give mention to a woman that is no longer with us but blazed a trail and had the courage to stand up to giants in the chemical industry and change the way we looked at better living through chemistry.

Rachel Carson wrote the now-famous Silent Spring, an expose on the misinformation spread by the chemical industry and the use of synthetic pesticides, specifically DDT. This book spurred the environmental revolution. The overall theme of the book is the commanding- and overwhelmingly negative- effect that humans have on the natural world. Carson’s lasting legacy led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States under the Nixon administration and started the conversation regarding the human impact on the environment.

For one that I can sit down and have a conversation with, Dr. Holly Lucille. I have been practicing functional medicine and alternative approaches to health and wellness my entire adult life for myself and my family. Although I have many in my life that have made an impact on thousands, Dr. Lucille has been able to get her message of health and wellness across to millions with her media appearances, podcast and books.

Dr. Holly Lucille, ND, RN, is a nationally recognized and licensed naturopathic doctor, educator, natural product consultant, and television and radio host. She is also the author of several books including Creating and Maintaining Balance: A Women’s Guide to Safe, Natural, Hormone Health and The Healing Power of Trauma Comfrey. An acclaimed expert in the field of integrative medicine, Dr. Lucille lectures throughout the nation on a variety of natural health topics. Her appearances include national media programs and networks such as ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX, Dr. Oz, The Doctors, Lifetime and the Discovery Health Channel.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

Female Founders: Julia Faller of Benedetta On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.