Balanced Hustler: Meet Jaime Schmidt, Co-Founder of Schmidt’s Naturals
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
In the naturals game, deodorant is known as one of the trickiest things to swap—but Jaime Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt’s Naturals, changed that perception with her award-winning formula. She launched the deodorant in 2010, and sold the company (which now also boasts bodycare as part of its product line, sold in Costco and Target) to Unilever in 2017. I’ve always been impressed with how she built the business from her kitchen, so chatting with her about how she made it all happen—from offering to wash grumpy customers’ deodorant-stained t-shirts to creating a company that values empathy—was a treat. Here’s her story, in our latest Balanced Hustler.
Fast Facts: Jaime Schmidt
When did you launch Schmidt’s?
I launched Schmidt’s Deodorant in 2010. The company changed its name to Schmidt’s Naturals in 2017 when we expanded our product lines.
In one sentence, tell us why you started Schmidt’s Naturals.
I began making natural personal care products in my kitchen in 2010 when I was looking for a natural deodorant that performed effectively. I soon realized there was a huge, untapped opportunity to bring naturals into the mainstream with effective formulas and contemporary branding.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
Nearly nothing! I started Schmidt’s as a hobby, making small batches for local farmers’ markets and retailers around town. The up-front investment was in researching and testing formulas, raw materials for my products and packaging. While it didn’t cost an exceptional amount, it did have a substantial impact on my finances as a new mom. Our family was just getting by, but we were overjoyed to be participating in Portland’s creative community and surrounded by new support networks.
How did you get capital to start?
In the early days of the business, I had several side hustles that were providing resources needed to sustain it. For example, I was formulating and producing private-label massage lotion and other products for a local spa, and developing DIY lifestyle kits for an online retailer. Schmidt’s retail business quickly took hold, however, and I was able to leave those side hustles behind after a year. Shortly thereafter, in 2013 and 2014, our direct to consumer website sales skyrocketed, providing quick access to capital that could be immediately fed back into the business.
How long did it take for the business to get profitable?
Schmidt’s was profitable less than a year into the business. We were extremely lucky and I attribute this largely to running the company out of our family bank account. Going in the red wasn’t an option, but the product sales took off so quickly that we were able to sustain a healthy balance sheet.
Once our online sales took off, we freed up cash flow that we invested in our manufacturing and retail strategy to grow the business. There were times later on that we had to budget for massive upcoming orders, like when we launched with Target and Costco. It meant huge up-front investments, ones that we strategically planned for and made sacrifices to accomplish.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
As founder, I’m still the heart and soul of Schmidt’s Naturals, but I am now able to dedicate more of my time and resources to supporting other entrepreneurs. Through my own experience, I learned about many of the hurdles that new business owners face, and I want to share my knowledge with others while helping them achieve their goals with real, hands-on resources.
Most recently, my business partner and husband Chris Cantino and I founded Color., an investment portfolio supporting inspiring and underrepresented founders. Through my experiences growing Schmidt’s and talking with other entrepreneurs, we’ve recognized a need for greater equitability in the investment space. Color. focuses on fostering growth in that system. We’ll also be launching a new project later this spring that will support emerging entrepreneurs, and start conversations that promote better workplaces and businesses. It’s an exciting year!
How Jaime Balances the Hustle
How did you grow Schmidt’s Naturals?
About a year into selling my products at the farmers’ market, retailers began approaching me to talk about carrying my product in their stores and setting up a wholesale business. With strong business intuition (and a healthy amount of belief in my product!), I created a retail operations strategy to grow my business. The Portland community was invaluable in its support of Schmidt’s initial growth by referring me to retail buyers and sales representatives, which helped me land big accounts like Whole Foods and other grocery chains.
I prioritized close contact with my customers both online and offline, and used their feedback to fuel product development while our manufacturing scaled up production from 50 units to 50,000 units. I recruited my husband Chris to take on our marketing initiatives, and Schmidt’s consumer engagement strategy proved wildly successful, cultivating a loyal fanbase of 800,000 digital followers, generating $10 million in online sales. Later in the business, I brought on a business partner who offered strategic connections to support the company’s growth.
Schmidt’s also maintained a goal of making our products available to as many customers as possible, which helped the business grow further. I priced my products reasonably and moved products into traditional retailers along with natural food stores. We saw our competition not just as other natural brands, but conventional heritage deodorants like Secret and Old Spice.
This strategy gained the attention of private equity, venture capital and the world’s biggest CPG companies who were interested in acquiring or investing in Schmidt’s. We ultimately chose to partner with Unilever in 2017.
Cash flow is always an issue for consumer goods products. What’s your advice for managing it?
Having a clear understanding of priorities is key. In a fast-growing company, you’re not going to have everything you want and will need to determine where you can most easily cut corners without impacting speed of growth. Consider a line of credit to fund significant transitions in the business, for example landing an account with a large retailer like Costco. Also, maintaining strong direct to consumer sales provides immediate income that can be quickly recycled back into the business.
When you started Schmidt’s, you had an infant who you brought with you to the farmers’ market where you would sell product. What other ways did you balance being a new mom and a new business owner? What things did you have to let go of, or do differently to accommodate everything?
As all other first-time moms would likely agree, you make up balance as you go along. I was incredibly fortunate to have my husband by my side for both of these new experiences and we found ways to make it work together. While my son napped as a newborn, I would set off to work in the kitchen, which became my lab, my office and my manufacturing facility. Later in the business, my husband and I would be simultaneously discussing the most recent VC pitch we had received while taking our son Oliver to soccer practice or deciding what to Postmates for dinner that night. It’s a tough balance to strike, but we made it work.
As Schmidt’s transformed into a global empire, it was important to me that I maintained an empathetic leadership style. Time became my biggest commodity, but my door was always open to my employees who wanted to talk or problem solve on a regular basis. I created an environment of inspiration and collaboration that rallied my employees around the brand’s mission: To spark a movement and become the new face of natural. I was eager to listen—to my employees, my customers and my family—and consider that my key to success.
You recently sold Schmidt’s to Unilever, and then launched your own investment firm. What was that process like, letting go of your first business (in some ways) and starting something new? Why investment?
As Schmidt’s started to become a household name in the United States and cultivated popularity in international markets, we were approached by private equity, venture capital and some of the world’s biggest CPG companies. I was drawn to Unilever’s approach to Schmidt’s, which focused on staying true to my original mission of bringing the best natural personal care products to the greatest number of people. I knew that Schmidt’s had the power to break into an even larger global market and wanted to work with a company whose network could take it there. It was clear that they did not want to mess with our formula for success. They were focused on helping us tap into their world-class research and development, testing, supply chain and global marketing teams.
With Schmidt’s in good hands, I decided to step away from day-to-day operations to focus on new projects where I could make an impact on the business community. Color. was, for my husband Chris Cantino and I, a reaction to our experience growing and funding a business with limited resources and cash. It was hard, but even then, we recognized we were coming from a place of privilege. There are many others with dreams like ours that are not in the position to take entrepreneurial risks.
We started Color. to champion progressive ideals related to starting businesses, and to invest in underrepresented founders who don’t have the same access to capital—especially women, people of color and non-binary individuals. It’s all about contributing to a better, more equitable future in our own small way.
Among other projects, Chris and I are also proud members of the Oregon Venture Fund, the largest Oregon-based venture capital firm, which invests exclusively in companies founded in NW Oregon and SW Washington.
Jaime’s Advice to Entrepreneurs
What is something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had?
What’s the one thing you believe is crucial to success in getting a new business off the ground? My answer is passion. Without it, you’re less willing to make the sacrifices necessary in those early days. After a long (and quite adventurous!) search for fulfillment in my career, I finally found it with formulating Schmidt’s products and building the business into the beautiful brand it has become today. From day one, I genuinely believed that every person should try my products, as I was that confident in and excited about what I was offering. Without the passion for the product and what I was doing, I could never have put myself out there like I did and Schmidt’s wouldn’t be here today.
What failure have you learned most from? How did you overcome it?
I would always take it personally when a customer was unhappy. In the early days of the business, I would go to extreme measures for customers who were less than 100 percent satisfied. For example, shirt stains are a common frustration with deodorants no matter the brand, and when customers had issues with this I used to offer to personally clean their clothing—I took pride in my ability to eliminate stubborn stains!
While this may have been extreme and unsustainable, I’ve always taken pride in Schmidt’s efforts to go above and beyond with our customer service. Our team works with the goal of ensuring each and every customer finds the best product match for them. This means supportive, one-on-one phone conversations, timely email exchanges and a return/exchange policy that is generous. Still feeling personally connected to customer satisfaction today, I make the time to chat with customers who reach out on social media, helping out how I can.
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
My biggest piece of advice is “say yes now, then figure out how.” If you have an idea and you’re passionate about building a business, dive in head first and learn how to make it happen along the way. There’s power in short-term, intuitive thinking.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
It means really allowing others in. Not just listening, but actively inviting and encouraging people to challenge me or share new ideas. Whether it’s my family, my co-workers or my customers. That’s how you become a part of something bigger, a movement. And that’s what motivates me—acting with purpose, having confidence that I’m making an impact, and being inspired by my teams. Balance is a healthy side effect of opening yourself up to outside perspectives and jumping into new ideas.
Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.