66 - Chelsea Riggs, Amika

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This is a podcast episode titled, 66 - Chelsea Riggs, Amika. The summary for this episode is: <p>In Ep. 66 of Earned, Conor sits down with Chelsea Riggs, Global President of top-ranking professional haircare brand Amika. To start the episode, we learn what attracted Chelsea, who joined the founding team of Amika out of college, to the then-small startup, and how she worked her way up in six years from being a business development manager to Global Brand President. We then dive into Amika’s standout success on social in recent years, and hear how building a more sophisticated influencer marketing engine—and a dedicated “A-team” creator community—helped propel this growth. Next, Chelsea explains why the sales team is so important to a beauty brand, as they are the “eyes and ears to the customer,” before sharing how Amika leverages its community of professional hair stylists for product feedback. Finally, we learn why Amika, which earned Sephora’s “Clean at Sephora” seal last year, has evolved its product line to include clean, responsibly sourced ingredients—plus, Chelsea reveals that the brand is on its way to receiving a B Corp certification.</p>

Conor Begley: I had a fabulous time with Chelsea today. This is one of those interviews that's like a really long time coming and she is both one of the most impressive individuals we've interviewed as well as I think her brand has been just unbelievable from her performance perspective since she's joined to today. Remember, if you enjoyed the show today, guys, be a friend, tell a friend and hit subscribe. All right guys, enjoy the show.

Intro: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the creator economy with earned by Creator IQ. Here's Connor Begley.

Conor Begley: Hi everyone. Welcome to Earned. Today I have Chelsea Riggs, the global president of amika, an absolutely phenomenal hair care brand and formerly one of the largest independent hair care brands in the US but has recently been acquired by Bansk Group. Welcome to the show Chelsea.

Chelsea Riggs: Connor. We've been trying to do this for a while, so I'm really excited about it.

Conor Begley: I am pumped. And you guys weren't here for the pre- show prep, but we did a short episode on parenting. What's it like to be two working executives with young kids? Maybe we'll release that for fun afterwards.

Chelsea Riggs: Yeah, well we also met in Miami when I was almost nine months pregnant so very fitting for still working trajectory.

Conor Begley: So Chelsea, I think there is a bunch of stuff that's fascinating about both your career and about kind of amika over the last decade plus. I think I'm going to start with your career at the beginning and just for those that don't know, I think your progression from the time that you started at amika today is just fascinating. So I think number one, you've been at the brand for 13 years, super uncommon. I think number two, you started a year out of school as part of the founding team, as just a business development manager, which I would assume is a pretty kind of introductory role. And then within four years you're president, global president, and that's 2016. Then you go on to get acquired for what I assume is a great sum of money and you were one of the largest independent hair care brands at that time. And you went from a brand at the time that you became president that was in the'60s in terms of MV ranking all the way up to now you fluctuate in and out of the top five alongside an Olaplex and a Redkin and some of these other brands. So I think that that progression in such a what is a relatively short period of time is what I want to spend most of my time on.

Chelsea Riggs: Well, I'm going to try and dig deep into the archive of I'm memory. I think sometimes you black out a little bit because you're just going through the motions and getting it done. But I'm excited to dive into it.

Conor Begley: It's funny, I have the same feeling because people bring up stories from the past because we've been doing tribe for 11 years now, so just a little bit shorter than you. And at the same time it's like we just did a holiday party with a bunch of our old team members and brought in a bunch of legacy folks and it was being right back. It was some of the stuff it doesn't feel like-

Chelsea Riggs: It never leaves your memory. Some of it because it's so, especially those moments that are just, I don't know, they're either really high highs or really low lows. You'll never forget those, right? It's like your memory.

Conor Begley: Yeah, the close death moments were the ones I don't forget. But let's go real far back, just to go to the very beginning, because I think this says something about your personality and your approach to life. Coming out of school, you went to Florida State, coming out of school, you went to a startup and you were there, or you were at one company that went to a startup and you're there for a little while. And then obviously you joined amika what was assumed presumably essentially a startup. Tell me what one, why did you choose to join Amica and two, what was it that attracted you to that startup environment versus saying go to a larger brand or a larger institution?

Chelsea Riggs: So I did spend the very few months, about six months of my early career in corporate. And I hated it so much that I think I went to the opposite end of the spectrum and I think about why did I hate it so much? How did I end up in this whole kind of startup world? I think an interesting fact that not a lot of people who aren't in my close circle is I kind of grow, hacked my education also. So I graduated from university two and a half years early. So I did my four year degree in two years because in high school we had a program, which I'm not sure it even exists anymore, but you could take college courses your last two years of high school. So when I graduated high school, I had a level of associates degree, so I could just kind of start my major when I went to Florida State. So I'm like, oh, I kind of grove hacked that and then got the quintessential, it was a recession, it was 2008. I had a degree in fashion merchandising so clearly not many people were going to be hiring in fashion merchandising or retail in 2008. And because I was offered a job right out of school that paid well, was going to move me, pay for my relocation, all of that, it was kind of my course your parents were like, you're stupid if you don't take that. I mean, yeah, you really want to move to New York City with no job. I'm not sure about that, and student loans. So I did that. I didn't like it, called it my friend who was in New York, barely getting by. We got into on an apartment together really. I got into startups because I don't know, a friend of a friend, they needed help with something and so I would help them with that. And I didn't know what a startup was. I didn't know this entrepreneur word, what it was meant. And I kind of got hooked on it because it was a little bit, you have this sense of autonomy, but a lot of responsibility, but known at the same time because it's not like there's really that big of a business at that moment in time and a lot of pressure to make it successful. A lot of pressure you put on yourself. Creativity, it kind of blends all these things that I loved as opposed to the corporate lifestyle, which I felt was very limiting and it's like, oh, well your only first year so you need to sit in the back of the room and not speak up and you need to come at 6: 00 AM and leave at 9: 00 PM and put in the, it's very high school. You have to spend your four years before you're allowed to be a senior and beat up on the freshman. I just had that very corporate ladder aspect that I was not excited about. I wanted to growth hack. So that's how I ended up in startups. And I ended up in amika through a Craigslist ad as crazy and hilarious as that is. I mean, I couldn't afford to post jobs on Monster. I think it was at the time where we used to look for jobs. I was on Craigslist, shockingly, it was in the middle of Brooklyn, which we're still there. The area was not nice. I called my mom saying, if you don't hear from me in an hour, call the police and it all works out. But in the end, I joined because I loved beauty. I did not know you could have a career in beauty. And I loved sales, I've always loved sales since I was a kid. Looking back all the times that I was selling donuts and coffee at the local in our city to selling a Yvonne with my grandma. I just had this connection to sales and to beauty and this was the opportunity. I thought it would be a one year stint and 13 years later, I'm still here.

Conor Begley: Yeah, I had a similar story. I graduated 2009. I also, I took a bunch of AP tests going in, so I started as essentially a sophomore now I stretched it out, I did the opposite. I was like, I don't want this to end. So I found a way I doubled, I added a concentration or a minor. I was like, how can I make this at least four years? So I did the opposite. I wasn't trying to hustle into the work environment. And then when I was coming out of school, I had a few different job offers and one of them was from Wells Fargo and I committed. I was like, I'm going to do it kind of like you corporate, I'm going to do that. And it wasn't in a branch, it was a corporate job or whatever. And then I had an interview. So I was supposed to start in a month and I had an interview on a Friday with this startup company and I show up and it's in not a very good area. I go in, I get greeted by the woman at the front who was the head of, turned out to be the head of HR and she was in a velure sweatsuit and looked very hungover. And then they open up the conference room and that door handle falls off the conference room. And then my future boss, who's now been a good friend and was a mentor for a long time, goes in, puts his feet up, he's got sandals on, backwards hat and puts his feet up on the table during the interview and get to the end of it and I'm like, man, that was weird. I was into it weird. They call me, hey we like you can start Monday? And I was like, oh.

Chelsea Riggs: Oh my God. Same thing.

Conor Begley: Yeah. I was like, I've got a month to kill until my other job starts, whatever. And so I started working there and it turns out, I mean the company was growing super fast, it was really exciting, they'd raised a bunch of money and so I felt really bad, I called Wells Fargo the week before I was supposed to start and was like, hey, I don't even be able to do this. And similarly, my mom was not real happy about, or not upset, but she was like, are you sure? Are you sure this is... But it changed my whole life. And like you said, you learn so much and there aren't the same boundaries of age, you can progress very quickly if you're doing a good job because you get sucked into these management roles when the company's growing, you can get sucked into leadership roles because they'd rather promote from within than higher from outside if they could.

Chelsea Riggs: And you're also more invested I feel in the success of something that's so small and that you're so kind of attached to versus when you're in a big corporate environment, it's like okay, you want to do a good job because for personal success and that's how you progress in life. But yeah, okay, you like the brand or you fashion or you beauty or whatever it is, but it's not like yours, uniquely yours. And I think if you get in a small company, you have that aspect as well that allows you to be a little bit more married to the work.

Conor Begley: Yeah. Okay, so let's take the next step. So now you're like 19 or 20 and then somehow in the next four years you become global president. So how did that happen? How did that happen over such a short period of time because four years is pretty fast?

Chelsea Riggs: I think was six years because I started in 2010 and then I started as president-

Conor Begley: I thought it was'12 to'16, okay so six years.

Chelsea Riggs: But I knew that role was kind of coming. We had kind of solidified what that would look like about six months before it. How did I do that? So I started in sales. I think my title really at the time was sales manager. And then as I was really in it, I'm doing more than just sales and I'm really business development at this point. It's the true sales, the cold calling, I picked up the phone and cold called our first retailer, which is this small beauty retailer in the Midwest called Beauty Brands, which is still classic, never forget, funny enough.

Conor Begley: You never forget it.

Chelsea Riggs: I can never forget that call. The guy he used to be the buyer ends up being the DMM, when he picks up the phone he's like, yeah, send us some samples. And I was like, all right, okay, Ricky's New York City and all the kind old classics. Getting in at the sales capacity was really interesting because yes it sales, but it blends so many other things together. In a way there's a lot of marketing attached to it, no, are you doing PR and influencer side of marketing? But you're thinking, okay, who's the customer group, whether it's Sephora, who's their customer, what are they looking for? And I did this globally. So the founders had a global vision and I could tell you it's really hard to build a brand, let alone doing it over and over again in every country so we've kind of paired back on that. But at the time it was very exciting, glamorous and ambitious. So I was probably on the road four out of five days every week for a couple of years. Shocking that I eventually got married, but I found somebody who could tolerate that lifestyle, worked really hard, was passionate about the work, and had a lot of success because of that and brought in all of our biggest clients. You learn a lot mean from handwriting orders and handing them to the warehouse person who's packing right? When you're super, super small to, as the company is growing and you put in infrastructure and you hire teens and you're in your early twenties, never managed anyone before, sometimes you hire people that are older than you. So many things that you learn and you have to learn really on the job, I'd say most of my job is figuring out what my job really was outside of just making the company successful by getting clients and getting sales out. And I had a lot of opinions about marketing, at the time we only had one person and marketing was very different I think back then, especially for startups. The only, we didn't really have a budget, so we spent money on social media of bloggers, vloggers, bloggers at the time and press. And we had a PR agency and one person who's still at the company, Lindsay, who you might have met, who oversees all of our influences today, she was our first marketing manager hire and she did all of our press at the time and I just had so many opinions. And our founder and my boss at the time, he is like, you do it, you do it. And we kind of built out this job description and at the time we had two brands we still do, wanted to start to separate the brands, have sales, marketing, education, et cetera for each brand and then have a shared service model. So that's how this kind of role came to be and a lot of it was really figuring out it out on the fly.

Conor Begley: That's cool. Well, which part do you want to hop into there? I want to talk about the marketing thing for a second. So let's go there. So you take over marketing so call this 2016 or so and in terms of the actual stats, so at the time you guys are the number 59th ranked brand in 2016 in our kind of EMB rankings, which is just how many influencers are talking about you. Next year number 44, next year number 23 year after that, number 11, year after that, number 10 year after that, number 7. And during that time you guys have passed brands like L'Oreal, Paul Mitchell, Matrix, Rock and Oil, big household brand names as well as roughly 50 other brands or 45 other brands. So what was it that you guys did specifically with regards to the influencer and kind of social piece that led to such an impressive and consistent kind of upward trajectory over these last five, six years?

Chelsea Riggs: So the first paid in, well, we probably did a couple of random paid things throughout the years because I think there was this false understanding that, oh, if you pay a YouTube creator who has a million followers, they will count, right? This is going to be our Oprah moment and then the sales are just going to really banging down our door so that was 2016. And then in 2017 was our first paid campaign, it was called Wash Your Way and it was we were rolling out a whole collection of shampoos and conditioners based on different hair benefits and needs. And we kind of looked at it as, oh, we're going to have a group of creators that had blonde hair for our Buster Brass collection and we had six different collections we were coming out with. And that as you saw, was kind of the first jump in rank that we had. And they were very campaign specific and outside of those campaigns we weren't really doing that much. So we had these moments in time, they were burst throughout the year. 2018, we relaunched our packaging and we launched into Sephora stores with our hair care because prior to that, we'd only been in smaller retailers and professional salons. And that was when we really started sinking our teeth more into influencer marketing as being our primary, really primary marketing expense period because we didn't have huge budgets to spend on any sort of bigger media, of course got out of home or even print, which was still sort of relevant at the time. And essentially from that moment on looked at influencer marketing as the long game and looking for people who embodied our brand and held the same values regardless of size and started to look at them in groupings. So we had kind of the macro limit here, micro and just curating and reaching out and bringing these people into our community and really building those relationships. We started allocating budget towards bringing everyone together and having these big events that were a way for us to connect on a deeper level and then in 2019 we started doing more on a contractual level. So before we were I guess committed on paper, we had this strategy, but then it was more formalizing those relationships with what we call our amika team, our A team. And we've just continued to play into that strategy, working with influencers of all levels and really valuing the relationship building. And you can see that, I mean the top performing content by EMB all comes from creators that are essentially organically posting about amika because we have that relationship that we've built, whether they were part of a couple of campaigns where they're most relevant and they're posting about us in between them because they just genuinely love the brand and love working with the team and that's really paid off for us. But a lot of those relationships go back six years or more.

Conor Begley: And I think people underestimate kind of the lifetime value of some of these people. What is one of those creators going to be worth to the brand over the next 20 years, 30 years? It's unbelievable. And I think people tend to, and I think this is partially a result of the length of people's careers and the way that you report results, they tend to get very, very focused on the short term because oh, I'm only going to be here for another year I need to make the numbers pop before I leave, or we've got a big quarterly earnings call coming up, or we have to report on results this quarter, we need to make it pop. And it's like that kind of long- term relationship focused, consistent relationship is the pattern that we see work over and over and over again when people do it. But people are always, I think, either conditioned to or have or just not positioned to really take that approach. So that's really, really cool.

Chelsea Riggs: I mean the first, this is kind of a side note, I mean the first software that we paid for was related to influencer outside of course inventory and things that make your business rise.

Conor Begley: Payroll.

Chelsea Riggs: QuickBooks, I thinks probably the first thing we had, but a significant investment that we put into being able to have that transparency behind the results of our campaigns and also just making it easier to facilitate the relationship aspect, like a CRM tool essentially. And of course we've done more and more in that space since then, but we really have always seen the value in that. And I think looking at the larger companies they haven't been in that space as long as they have much bigger budgets for sure. So you can come in and pay your way in, but it's hard to pay your way to those true relationships that you have.

Conor Begley: Well, money doesn't create emotional connection, right? And I think that the other thing that's interesting that you mentioned there was like, oh, we started investing, well two things that are interesting, one, you said, oh well it was the bulk of our budget because blah, blah, blah, blah. It was like it wasn't that obvious in 2016, that should be the bulk of your budget.

Chelsea Riggs: Or 2018 even.

Conor Begley: Yeah, right. And it's still getting there for a lot of brands. So I think that's really interesting. Second, it seems like you personally have invested... So in this digital world, everybody always assumes digital, the great part is you can scale it up, you can whatever, but for you guys, the thing that I see it's like you are flying in the influencers to build these relationships. You are on the road meeting with all these retailers day after day after day. I know that you guys are really aggressive in your kind of industry event strategy as well, right? I know that that's something that you guys also invest in really heavily, it seems like for you personally and then I can tell you just from the way that we've interacted, I can tell that you're somebody that invests in relationships outside of even just influencers. Is that something that you think a lot about? Is that something that you've observed? Is that really intentional or am I seeing something wrong here?

Chelsea Riggs: I think it's definitely intentional and maybe we didn't realize it for the first few years that was unique about the way we operated the business in the industry. And once you figure out that, oh, that's how we're different and that's what people like about us, well what does that mean? How do we communicate that to potential customers? We did this whole exploration of the brand DNA versus how we talk about ourselves and the brand messaging aspect, which has become more important over the last, I'd say three, four years, what's your purpose, your values, your story, that whole founder led branding. And when we dive into it, I mean at its essence, amika means friend, and we really do look at everybody who either works on the brand or is a stylist that carries the brand or is an educator for us, or who we meet at a trade show, these industry trade shows, it's just this big community that has an impact on the future of the brand. So if you look at where we started and who we are today, you would see many iterations of amika. We're constantly reinventing ourselves, evolving, and that has to do a lot with the people we surround ourselves with who are just making the brand better and better. Of course, you have to have those core pieces that never change. It's like as cheesy as it sounds, it's like, you and I are evolving as people at our core. We're still the same people, but you have different things that stretch your horizons. You become a parent, that obviously changes your whole view. And I'd say the brand is quite similar in that way. And that's very unique and different for especially professional hair care because professional brands at their essence are usually started by a singular big name person and everything is built around them and their ideas and philosophies. And it's also been kind of exclusive. So there's a lot of brands in the space who, for a salon to carry them, they have to spend 15,000 or 20, 000 on an opening order, which in and of itself excludes certain types of salons from buying into it. And we've never had that. So because we have this universality around the brand, we welcome everybody in. It does exude that community aspect that you're probably kind of feeling or observing.

Conor Begley: Yeah, I mean, I can tell you, I think I've talked about this in another episode at some point, but I never really understood the concept of community until I'd say the last three years or so for me, three or four years where it's like it's, oh shit, there's a growing community of people that we have built relationships with over time that took a decade and it manifests itself in all these weird ways, the podcast is one of them, and I particularly saw it when we sold the company. You had all these people like, oh, I knew, or I could tell from the beginning or I had whatever. And regardless of whatever their opinions were, it was like they had that connection to both the people and to the brand. So it's a fascinating.

Chelsea Riggs: It's a buzzword. The community has become one of those marketing buzzwords that I think people, Glossier I think made people go, whoa, what are they doing? And community, okay, we need that thing. How do we go and get that thing? And you can't just growth hack that.

Conor Begley: No, that's a problem is those things take time, time and effort, not just money or sophistication digitally

Chelsea Riggs: And having values and things that connect on an emotional level with people. I think everyone wants to believe that they buy something for a rational reason, but at the end of the day you have more of an emotional connection behind why you choose to buy something over something else. And if you're very good at speaking your truth as a brand, you attract the people who think the same way as you and they just are going to have a stronger bond with what you're doing and they're going to evangelize for your brand more. And so you have to build it that way as well.

Conor Begley: 100%. So let's talk about this kind of, we're talking I feel like a lot of long time periods and I think that's the other area that's really interesting about you from a career perspective is you essentially start at amika out of school and then you've been there ever since. In I think that particularly since we've graduated, I think there's been a narrative around, oh, you're supposed to do these two to four year stints and then you know, jump a level and you jump a level and you jump a level and that's kind of how you do it. What made you decide to buck that trend and stick with a company for 13 years? And I can tell you that for me, I look for it every time we recruit, I'm looking for 6, 7, 8, 10 year stints, if I can find one of those, I'm like, oh shit, I got to bring them in, right?

Chelsea Riggs: It's unique now.

Conor Begley: I know, but every time I find one of those people and they seem like a good fit, this is somebody I can build something with, build something meaningful. Anyways, talk to me about that a little bit.

Chelsea Riggs: I love this question because I think I'm always thinking that, and it's definitely crossed my mind many times over the last 13 years, definitely not recently, but I'd say that my partner gets a lot of credit for keeping me in one place because as anyone in a startup or growth company knows, it's challenging. There are really hard days where you're just questioning yourself, should I leave and go to a bigger company where I'd be learning from people who have more classic training versus really learning on the go. And when you're learning on the go, there's some really painful, I think with anything anyway, you got to learn from your mistakes. But some things are definitely more painful that you probably could have avoided had you knew or had somebody in your world who knew what to do. I agree. I think there's so much to be said for committing, and I think if I think about this question, it's a little bit addictive now because most of the things that I'm working on and a lot of the team are working on are at least six months out, sometimes two years. I see I'm a part of the team that's doing the idea and also the execution, and so I feel like I am more attached to it, and so I reap the fruits of that. So that piece of it is addicting and so I don't know, I like to win, I'm a competitive person and-

Conor Begley: We have too many similarities.

Chelsea Riggs: So that's where, yeah, you might question yourself or think, oh, I could go over here the grass always, the grass is not always greener and I have a lot of friends who have done the two year to four year sense of different companies. So I've kind of gotten to witness and see, and some have panned out really well and some others not as much. And I think it depends too what industry you're in, what part of your career, especially what area of how to get there. I mean finance, I can tell you yes, that is the way to growth hack your career to, we even go to different banks every three, four years because that's just kind of the nature of how they do their promotion in higher and that's how you make more money essentially in that industry, but not every industry is necessarily like that.

Conor Begley: I just think you build these really meaningful connections with people, with the brand, with the job, with what you're doing. I saw there's somebody who I respect a lot in the software industry that's basically if your company's growing and you like your job and you like your boss, it's not going to get a lot better than that, right? If you've got that going for you, don't just go for the money grab, right? Don't go for the short term.

Chelsea Riggs: Well, I think you have to assess the situation. So first it's your environment, right? You often can't see the forest through the trees or whatever that saying is, right? You have to be flexible and trust that if everything works out, it will pan out for you as well. So if you're in a positive, a high potential environment, you feel like you're learning, you're growing, you're challenged, you have the ability to drive trick change regardless of the title that you have. If you have an idea, people will listen. You're in a psychologically safe environment where you can speak up and speak out, and the company is growing it'll come, right? You're very empowered in that environment and then the rest is up to you, what's in your control to be curious, it's in to constantly learn obviously to be passionate about the work, to be dedicated. I think when you combine those two things, then success comes from that and you can't say, I know it's quite common, it's like, oh, well if my boss is in that job, then I can't have that job and so therefore there's no growth opportunity and so I'm going to go to a different place because that's the only way I'm going to grow. And that's not necessarily true, especially in a growing company because you can't see what that org chart may look like in two years time, this was definitely not on my plans. I thought I was going to make stay at this company for a year and hightail into something else and I didn't see, oh, president, yeah, I want that job. Let me work really hard and eventually maybe they'll let me interview for that role, it's really prove yourself and hopefully it'll pay off.

Conor Begley: Yeah, I think the growing company element is a big one. And I think about it a lot. I really liked the way you articulated it, but it's like if the company's growing 50% a year jobs will be created at roughly 50% a year, new jobs, new opportunities. And that may not necessarily always be up, it could be lateral, it could be something that's like, oh hey, we're now growing. It's like Taylor helps me with the podcast, leads a podcast with me. You shouldn't start out at our company thinking she would be leading podcasts, but it was like that opened up, she's super passionate about it and it's like, oh, that's awesome. I'd love to learn and do that. And now we're top five, we just got the stats top 5% most shared podcasts in the world, right?

Chelsea Riggs: Wow. That's really cool.

Conor Begley: On Spotify. So it's like-

Chelsea Riggs: Well, but we actually have a lot of people on our... I'm not unique in this, so we have definitely a group of, we call them like amika OGs who have been there, like Linsay, I think she just celebrated eight years. Another person I actually went to college with, she started as my intern when I think my first year she's celebrated 10 years, so I'm not the only one. And they've all moved around and had lots of other growth opportunity and so the commitment has paid off for them as well.

Conor Begley: Yeah, for sure. All right, let's talk about sales just a little bit and then I do one more question after that and then we're going to do a fun kind of end of show question. So one of the interesting things about sales, that was my background, that's what I grew up in and I think most people don't know, but the most common path to becoming CEO is sales. That's the most common kind of category that leads. So you didn't know that. There you go. So tell me about the role, and I think part of the... Well, I don't want to say my opinions afterwards, but for you, you've mentioned that you've always really liked sales and that it was something that obviously you cut your teeth in professionally. Talk to me about kind of sales, why it was important, what role it plays within a beauty company, because we haven't interviewed a lot of sales leaders on here, how that interacts and collaborates with the marketing and social teams, talk to me about that a little bit.

Chelsea Riggs: Sales is, those are your ears, your eyes and ears to the customer. And they're the ones living and breathing every day why someone's buying something or not. And that is gold to a marketer. People pay lots of money to find out what people want and what they don't want in your products and in your company. And if you don't listen to those people, then what are you doing? I definitely didn't see it that way starting out. I mean, I was looking at, okay, how do I help make this company successful, distribution? What is that distribution strategy? That in and of itself is very rooted in marketing, people, pricing, whatever the four P's and it's always evolved so we've kind of lost track.

Conor Begley: People, pricing, product, promotion.

Chelsea Riggs: But now it's like fives P's or S's or something I don't know, there's different opinions on that. But yeah, I was looking at the landscape. I want to be in Sephora, so if I want to be in Sephora, I can't also be in target, although who can argue that today? Now everyone's mish mashing everywhere. I want to be in professional. What does that look like? So outlining the sales strategy, the distribution strategy, what customers shop at Sephora, okay, what products are they looking for? Got into product development because we had a lot of people as a salesperson asking me for things that we didn't have. Let's go make those things. Which product often sits with marketing, so they're very, very much intertwined. I think when you're running a bigger organization, people have to be very focused on their channel or what they're doing. I think that's something as you grow, people specialize, but the overarching idea doesn't really change. The salespeople are the closest to the customer, talk to them, marketing needs to have a great relationship for that reason, and then you also have marketing who's thinking through that future, what does that future look like? What ingredients are coming down? What are customers looking for on a quantitative basis where we can look at, okay, they're really looking for hydration. Sales might say people are looking for masks whereas marketing is pulling that whole story together and giving them the storytelling aspect of, okay, you said they want this, we've got this, let's marry them together and this is how we romance it. And then the rest is up to the sales team. But they're very much intertwined. I think they're focused on different aspects of the marketing funnel.

Conor Begley: Yeah. That makes sense. And I love the kind of sales is the eyes and ears. I also I feel like we've heard that a lot from the influencers as well, or about the influencers, I should say, that they can be the eyes and ears as well because they're looking at all the products in the category. They know what they like, they know what they don't like particularly, I would imagine, actually, let's go into that. So one of the things I'm most curious about when it comes to the influencer space and the influencer space within the professional hair care industry is the role that these kind of hybrid influencers, professional hairstylists, play in the industry. So you see this, we see this with K18, we see this with you guys, we see this with Olaplex, where those people end up being incredibly influential because they may only have, call it 50,000 fans, but those 50, 000 fans are other hairstylists. So when they're listening to them, it's really impactful. How do you think about the role of the kind of influencer hairstylist combo? Are those a lot of the people that you've built relationships with over time?

Chelsea Riggs: I think the hair stylist influencer, it's stronger in numbers because you have thousands of hairdressers and how they build their business is through social media and really being able to cultivate a strong relationship with them, we're very dependent on our sales teams to do that. They have to really believe in the brand that to love the product and stylists are the most discerning customer group that we have. And so where we say, yeah, amika's cute, but it really works and stylists are the proof. I mean, majority of our business still goes through the professional channel. I'd say on the other side of things, you've got the bigger name stylists that you can work. I think to me that's really no different than how we work with consumer influencers, from a innovation, from a product perspective in our world, it's a little bit different. I think in makeup innovation can happen through influencers a lot easier just from the time to market because you're creating shades, you're not usually innovating on the format or the texture. We're on a two year plus innovation pipeline so how that ends up playing out from an influencer perspective is a little bit more challenged. But where we do get a lot is through messaging and testing the product and our influencers that we work with, whether they're consumer or stylist base, are both very much involved in that. We have different community groups that we manage where we do a lot of this testing and focus group work with them. And the name of the product, how we talk about it, the vibe when it launches, the texture, how it performs, it's all based on the groups that we work with. Whether it's we have consumer groups that we do focus tests on as well as creators who are part of our community. And that's typically how we incorporate them in our innovation as opposed to X product by such and such content creator.

Conor Begley: That makes a lot of sense. It's interesting you mentioned the hairstylists build their businesses via social media. I had never made that connection. I mean it's obvious now if I'm deciding which hairstylist to go to, I can go on their Instagram and look at all the cool stuff that they've done and go, oh, okay, I'm validated. They know what they're doing right? Oh, I want my hair to look like that, right? Or whatever. And I just never made that connection. And what's interesting is we were looking at our data and I feel like we have a hole here, we hear it from professional hair care brands. So you get a lot of them as clients. And it's like, we're not monitoring, I've got a thousand fans, I'm a local hairstylist in Oklahoma or whatever on Instagram. We're not monitoring that right now. And I feel like that was... Anyways, it was really useful for me. Okay, last question. So I think this whole kind of clean at Sephora thing obviously has become a very big deal. And you can think about it from a consumer perspective. If you've got an aisle that's labeled clean, it's like, well what's the other aisle, dirty?

Chelsea Riggs: Right. It's dirty.

Conor Begley: Uh- oh like I don't want to be in that one. So it's like you can see why as a consumer it would be such a big deal. And I can imagine being fairly contentious within the industry as well. So you guys obviously attained that seal I think this year and you're only the third hair care brand to get that. So would love to know what was involved in achieving that status and then secondarily, now that you've had it for a little bit, how have you seen it affect things either in terms of sell through, in terms of reputation, in terms of interaction with third parties? Talk to me about that process a little bit.

Chelsea Riggs: So my answer, I'm going to invert your question. So I'd say in terms of how it's performing very early days. So we announced it in September, that's when everything started to bear the clean it Sephora seal and we're the second professional brand after Olaplex received the seal. And there's other haircare brands that Sephora has that either started clean up in Sephora, I think almost all of them, or eventually got it later like amika. Professional brands have different performance requirements because of what I was saying before, you have hair stylists who have all types of clients with all types of hair and needs, and you need to be able to meet that first and foremost. So you can't do that with three products or five products. Most professional brands, if you look, we have probably 20, you look at brands like Redkin, I don't even know, 80 maybe. And there's usually a reason for that. And from an ingredient profile perspective, there's different types of ingredients that are whatever, they're synthetic or they're petroleum based. And they've been tried and true for a long time, why change them? But there has been innovation in ingredients. Yes, they are more expensive. Yes, they're harder to source and sometimes it has just never been done before and you really have to push for that change. And if you've been, I mean, I don't work with these other brands, but if you have a product that's working really well, why change it? Why risk trying to clean it up and have a clean ingredient profile? Well, the consumer, that's what they want. They're looking for better for you. Products that still caveat still have the same performance of the product that they already love for the current product they use. And that's really was the biggest challenge for a couple of products to move them over to a clean profile. We also, at the same time made everything vegan. We changed a lot of the sourcing of ingredients, so making sure things were responsibly sourced, which when you're a small company, which we're not really that small anymore, but medium sized, a lot of work going through every single ingredient and every single product, figuring out what went wrong, who's supplying our supplier of that ingredient, right? And making sure it was responsibly sourced. So there's a lot of legwork on that end. And there's another seal that we're going after for Sephora so they have their next level, which is their clean plus planet positive, which I think came out earlier this year or maybe last year because we want to be the first professional brand to receive that seal. And that goes to the next level of also responsibility, not only from a packaging perspective, that your packaging is sustainable, you're not using secondary, you're not adding boxes to a plastic bottle-

Conor Begley: Is it carbon neutral? Is that the term?

Chelsea Riggs: So we're climate neutral certified, but they have all these different attributes. So there's different buckets and you have to meet at least three out of the five within that. And then it's kind of a scoring similar to B Corp, which we're also going after by the way, very close to the end of that. It's in terms of clean versus dirty, to go back to that piece, I wouldn't say necessarily the brands who aren't clean are dirty because up until September we wern't-

Conor Begley: From a consumer perspective. I'm not saying like they are. I'm just saying as a consumer, you read that and it's like, well, if you're not that, then this is probably what you are, right? I mean it's a very... Yeah.

Chelsea Riggs: I think the word clean in the eyes of a consumer, depending on I guess the sophistication that you are in beauty, every retailer uses a different designation of clean. The reason why we chose CleanEx, Sephora is we really believed in how they were measuring it. They weren't just saying clean if you were free from these five ingredients, but they also weren't going to the nth degree and kind of making an enemy out of ingredients that really aren't necessarily bad for people or bad for the environment. So if maybe you're allergic to a certain ingredient, there's that aspect of it that it's probably low on the allergen list. Yeah, I mean, without getting into too nuance or too many details of it, the reason why we went off to the clean and Sephora seal is exactly that. To kind of clean up and have a third party verification that we are a brand that cares about high quality ingredients and we are pushing the envelope to look for things that are better for you or better for the environment also, it's not just about humans, but there's a lot of ingredients that are in beauty products that get into our waterways and have different detrimental effects on marine life, et cetera, et cetera. So mining Micah, there's just different ingredients that can also have an environmental impact that they were also considering, which is the clean plus planet that we're kind of going after.

Conor Begley: Very cool. Very impressive. Well, there's a lot to talk about there, and I think we're pushing the limits on this show timing. So let's do one last fun end of show question. So you are also now call it, I believe, about four years into having kids and I know that when I had kids, my wife and I are 30 minutes of TV max, if any per day. Now don't follow that. We watched a little Disney movie in the morning, little at night, I'd say it's about 40 minutes, 40 minutes. I'm sure my wife never planned on serving them Dino Nuggets, but those now happen every once in a while. They're the organic kind, but it's still a Dino nugget. So what was the thing that you went to kids and you're like never going to do that and now you do it?

Chelsea Riggs: That's the hardest question you've asked me today. Definitely the screen time for sure. I mean, by the time you have two kids, come on how are you supposed to do bath time with two kids? One's got to get the iPad. I mean, I have a six month old, so maybe one day they'll get into the same routine. I would say the negotiating and the prize aspect of if you do this, you get this. I was like, I will never be that mom who's like, you go to the patty, you get an M& M. I'm like, that's ridiculous. That's just a normal thing. Why does anyone need to get a treat for going to the bathroom? Which actually my daughter doesn't. She was really great in that. But everything else, it's like if you let me give you a COVID test, I'll give you a lollipop. It's just next level negotiation skills. At least my negotiation skills will stay nice and fresh because I have to do it with a little dictator.

Conor Begley: Oh my God. Yeah, it's a lot of things you go in and be like, well, I'll never do that. And then you're there. It's like, I don't know. Anyways. Well, I really appreciate you taking out the time today, Chelsea. This is a long time coming and it is so impressive to see what you guys have all accomplished and what you've personally accomplished. And so thank you for taking out the time today. I learned a lot. I know a lot of people will also learn a lot.

Chelsea Riggs: Thank you so much for having me. I'm glad you asked all the questions I think people probably always want to ask me, but they don't want to be rude. Right? But wait, how did you do that?

Conor Begley: Yeah, it's funny. I went through this whole back and forth when we first started the podcast I would just start blank sheet of paper, what are the most interesting things I want to know about this person? And in the middle I was like, oh, well I've created so many questions, I can just recycle these, right? It seems more efficient. And then I was like, this is so boring. And so I just start blank slate, just look at the person and go, what do I want to know? What is special about this person and that I can learn from, right? Because everybody has something that they're really good at that I'm not or that they're better at.

Chelsea Riggs: Well, I really appreciate it. That's very refreshing.

Conor Begley: Awesome. Well have a great weekend, and thank you again for taking the time.

Chelsea Riggs: Thank you.

Outro: Be a friend, tell a friend and subscribe. Earned by Creator IQ. Creator IQ is your all- in- one solution to grow, manage, scale, and measure your influencer marketing program. Ready to unlock the power of the creator economy? Get started with a demo today at creatoriq. com.


In Ep. 66 of Earned, Conor sits down with Chelsea Riggs, Global President of top-ranking professional haircare brand Amika. To start the episode, we learn what attracted Chelsea, who joined the founding team of Amika out of college, to the then-small startup, and how she worked her way up in six years from being a business development manager to Global Brand President. We then dive into Amika’s standout success on social in recent years, and hear how building a more sophisticated influencer marketing engine—and a dedicated “A-team” creator community—helped propel this growth. Next, Chelsea explains why the sales team is so important to a beauty brand, as they are the “eyes and ears to the customer,” before sharing how Amika leverages its community of professional hair stylists for product feedback. Finally, we learn why Amika, which earned Sephora’s “Clean at Sephora” seal last year, has evolved its product line to include clean, responsibly sourced ingredients—plus, Chelsea reveals that the brand is on its way to receiving a B Corp certification.