Balanced Hustler: Meet Sarah Villafranco, Founder of Osmia Organics
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.
Dr. Sarah Villafranco has a fascinating story that I never get tired of hearing: She gave up a fast-paced, highly respected, stable career as an emergency-room doctor to start her own skincare and healthstyle line, Osmia Organics. The line, which is now in its seventh year of production, is a cult favorite and makes waves across the green beauty industry for its crazy clean and reliably sourced ingredients, and efficacious formulas (if you have reactive skin, you have to try the line). She tells us more about what motivated her, what challenges she faces now and how she balances it all.
Fast Facts: Sarah Villafranco
When did you launch Osmia Organics?
In one sentence, tell us why you started Osmia Organics.
I started Osmia because I had created a line of skin care products that felt both deeply luxurious and completely wholesome, and I wanted to share it with the world.
How much did you invest to get Osmia started?
That’s a fairly impossible question. I began with a soap-making class in late 2009, and spent the next two years teaching myself how to make soap and skincare products. I don’t think there’s a way to quantify the investment of countless hours spent doing research and development, not to mention the energy and emotion it takes to start a company. When we launched, we had a brick and mortar location where we made all the products (we still do), as well as packed and shipped all orders. I’d say we had invested about $200,000 when we finally opened our doors in 2012.
How did you get capital to start?
My husband and I have been the only investors in the brand thus far. He was able (and graciously willing) to support our family and dedicate some of our combined resources to Osmia in order to get it off the ground.
How long did it take for Osmia to get profitable?
We were profitable in year two, and have been since.
Are you growing Osmia to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
Well, I left a hard-earned career in emergency medicine to start Osmia, so this better be my dream job! I love what I do more than I could ever have hoped, and I’m not building the business for the purpose of acquisition. But, if I found a partner who shared our mission, our vision and our ethics, I’d sit down for coffee and talk through the options.
How many hours a week do you work when you started vs. now?
As most entrepreneurs will tell you, it’s hard to quantify the number of hours I “work” at this point. Osmia is a constant hum in my brain, and I’m forever mulling over ideas and issues related to the business. I have chosen to share a lot of my personal life with our customers via our Instagram feed, so even when I’m having fun or not in the office, I’m often working.
Luckily, I stopped counting work hours during my medical residency (it was too depressing), so even if I’m working 50-60 hours a week, it feels comfortable for me.
How many employees do you have?
17, not including the boss. And they’re all awesome.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
We hope to maintain our steady rate of organic growth this year, as we continue to refine our line and introduce some new products. We have been largely a direct-to-consumer company thus far, but we will be expanding our retail partnerships in the next few years. We will continue to grow our incredible team, adding talented people whose values align with ours. And we’ll continue our partnership with One Tree Planted to make sure we plant thousands and thousands of trees again this year.
How Sarah Balances the Hustle
You’re a human Mom, a dog Mom, a wife, your company has two different production locations and you’re a fitness fanatic. How do you balance it all? If something needs to be sacrificed what do you turn down?
I will usually turn down a social engagement if something needs to fall off my plate. In fact, I’ll often pick a solo hike or a run over coffee with a friend most times, and I’m sure I’ve hurt a few feelings that way. But exercise is both my meditation and my medication, and those who know me well support and understand how I’m wired.
How did you grow Osmia?
Year -2: Just me, in a friend’s storage room, wearing massive goggles and exploding things.
Year -1: Still just me, still in a friend’s storage room, same goggles but exploding fewer things.
Year 1: I hired our production manager Monika, and we moved into our new space in town. We thought the internet would break when the website went live, and, um, it didn’t. It took about six months to have multiple daily orders on the website.
Year 2: We were starting to see increasing online orders, and eventually brought on a director of operations.
Year 3: We added some customer service team members, and started working on a more serious approach to marketing, including email marketing and SEO optimization.
Year 4: We brought in a “real” COO—someone with brand and [customer packaged goods] experience—and expanded our marketing and production teams, as well. We increased our wholesale efforts. I started doing more events for the brand, writing for larger outlets about skincare and keeping our blog current with articles and information. We continued to upgrade and refine our packaging and brand identity.
Years 5+6: We got serious about digital marketing, including more calculated social media strategy and a big, crazy marketing calendar. We have really loved using Instagram as a platform for inspiring people to take better care of themselves. We are not just a skincare brand. We’re more of a healthstyle brand, working to incorporate diet, fitness, green living and larger conversations that we hope might shift the (often superficial) focus in the beauty industry over time.
Year 7: That’s this year! So, ask me in a few months!
You’re a super self-care advocate (your IG is a great example of how you encourage people to take time for themselves, even as they’re chasing the hustle). Why do you make that a priority?
I have seen too many people take their health for granted, or lose sight of their own power to be well. Watching my mom die so young of pancreatic cancer made me want to cherish this one body and one life more deeply. As a physician, I feel that my greatest duty is to inspire others to make health a priority, so they can enjoy life on earth for as long as possible. I’ve found that the best way to inspire people is to lead by example, so I share my life as proof that I’m out there walking the walk (or hiking the hike) with you.
Osmia occupies a unique niche in green beauty. Did you know it would be successful? What made you take the leap from ER doc to personal care/product creator?
Again, it was related to losing my mom. She was just 64 when she died, and it really compressed time for me. I wanted to inspire people to care for themselves in the most basic ways: choosing nourishing foods, getting out and moving their bodies, spending more time with family and friends and trees, managing stress, and using healthier products on their skin. The emergency room was a hard place to make those connections with people—I spent all my time putting out fires and left work wondering if I’d helped create meaningful change.
When I exited medicine to start Osmia, I had to put my ego in a padded room and let it bash around for a few months. It was hard to let go of a career that I’d worked so hard to pursue, especially when it came with status and a decent paycheck. Seven years later, I don’t know whether Osmia is considered “successful,” but it’s certainly been a success for me. I feel like I’m finally practicing my brand of medicine, and it smells a whole lot better than my old job.
Sarah’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
What is something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had?
Never operate from a place of fear. You started your business because you were passionate about something, and you knew you had the grit and hustle to make it happen. So, when your right-hand woman walks out on you the day before Christmas, or your sales numbers dip unexpectedly, take a breath, remember why you started the business and do what needs to be done.
What is your #1 piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Trust your instinct—about partners, about employees, about the direction of growth for your business.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
I think it means knowing when you need to be in hustle mode and when you can take a breath. Sometimes you need to be in control, steering the ship and leading the crew. Other times, you can step back and let your awesome team take the helm while you observe or take a moment for yourself.
More than anything, I think the truly Balanced Hustlers of the world have perspective: If you have a successful business, but you’re a total basket case with frayed nerve endings and a short temper, you haven’t succeeded. If you’re not finding time to play games with your kids or throw the stick for your dog or take a long, hot bath, then you’re probably not in an ideal position to evolve your own consciousness or make the world a better place.
Want more inspiro from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series.