JESS EDELSTEIN, 26, of Society Hill, and Sarah Ribner, 26, of Manhattan, are co-founders - and president and CEO, and vice president and CFO, respectively - of PiperWai, a natural charcoal deodorant. They launched the brand in March 2014. The two have been besties since they sold lemonade the summer after fourth grade at a park in West Mount Airy. I spoke to Edelstein.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea?
A: I wanted to stop using anti-perspirant, but couldn't find a natural deodorant that lasted all day and didn't irritate my skin. After months of experimenting in my kitchen, I devised a formula that worked for me and gave some to Sarah. She took it on a trip to South America, said it lasted all day and we should sell it because it would change people's lives.
Q: The startup money?
A: My parents gave us $2,000 to make our first jars, and we paid that back and since reinvested in the business. We won $7,000 in a pitch competition at Columbia University's School of Business where Sarah is an MBA student. In June we had a crowdfunding campaign and raised $25,000.
Q: How's the biz model work?
A: We sell direct to consumers via our website. We also wholesale to about 30 independent brick-and-mortar stores and large retailers. We have pending contracts with Whole Foods Market and a distribution contract with a third-party retailer in Canada. We also contract with online retailer the Grommet.
Q: The value prop?
A: We're providing a healthy, natural alternative to conventional deodorants. Our customers say they've tried every natural deodorant brand and nothing has worked better than PiperWai. It's also the only charcoal cream product, which is absorbent, neutralizes odor and keeps you dry. It lasts two to three months with daily use and you apply it once a day.
Q: Your customers?
A: People who want a healthier lifestyle. We initially targeted millennial and Gen-X women and soon found a lot of men were keen on giving up their Old Spice for something more natural and effective. Other customers include cancer survivors and nursing or pregnant mothers.
Q: How much does PiperWai cost?
A: It retails for $11.99 plus shipping on our website for a 2-oz. jar.
Q: The biggest challenge?
A: For the first 16 months, we handcrafted the product ourselves in a community kitchen in Fishtown but couldn't keep up with demand. We recently did our first run of 5,000 jars, and most of those went to [crowdfunding] backers, but scaling and finding a manufacturer was challenging. Power Line Packaging in Conshohocken is a co-packer we contract with, and they've helped us ramp up production.
Q: How big a biz?
A: We've sold about 8,000 jars and will be doing a second production run later this month. We project about $150,000 in revenue this year and $500,000 next year, which are based on pending contracts.
Q: What's next?
A: We have some other major retailers who have expressed interest in PiperWai, and we're trying to get on their shelves. We are also developing a stick applicator and travel-size version for the holiday season.