$60K/Month – Building a stylist focused Hair Color brand – Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling Color

INTERVIEW VIDEO (Length – 1:02:21)


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Ishan Dutta, Founder of Ugly Duckling Color shares how he transitioned from the corporate work at L’Oréal to finding an unmet need and niche in the Hair Color products category which inspired him to start his own business. Ishaan shares details about hair color industry, customer preferences, as well as insights on marketing.

Episode Summary

Ishan Dutta, the founder and CEO of Ugly Duckling, a hair color and products company, shares his eight-year entrepreneurial journey in this section of TrepTalks. Having worked in sales and marketing for over a decade, including a long tenure at L’Oreal, he was driven by his wife to start a business in the hair product industry. Ishan’s focus is on the internet to reach hairdressers instead of classical marketing methods, catering to niche, targeted markets like white ash blonde, which was not sufficiently met by competitors like L’Oreal. His business primarily serves hairdressers and colorists, with individuals also able to purchase products directly from the website. Ugly Duckling plans to expand beyond hair color into hair extensions, hair care products, and eventually other beauty categories like nails and skin. Differentiating from competitors, they offer sophisticated brand values, customer service, and unique formulations, such as liquid color with Bond protect built in. The success of the business depends on marketing, product quality, and customer service. Dutta shares his experience with the complexity and modest dynamism of the professional hair industry, the impact of AI on manufacturing in Africa, importance of organic growth and email marketing, the current state of e-commerce, and personal productivity. He recommends entrepreneurs focus on cash flow management and reads “Traction” for diverse marketing possibilities.

  • 00:00:00 In this section of TrepTalks, host Sushant interviews Ishan Dutta, the founder and CEO of Ugly Duckling, a company that sells hair color and hair products to hairdressers and colorists. Ishan discusses his eight-year entrepreneurial journey, having previously worked in sales and marketing for over a decade, including a long tenure at L’Oreal. He mentions that the older he got, the more he was driven to start something of his own in the hair product industry, which was suggested by his wife. Ishan considers himself a complement rather than a direct competitor to L’Oreal, focusing on using the internet to reach hairdressers rather than the expensive classical marketing methods he had experienced. He started the business with a regular range and quickly realized the need for more responsiveness to market demands due to the internet.
  • 00:05:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the entrepreneur explains how he identified a niche market for hair color products, specifically in the trend towards white ash blonde and a desire for products that match this trend. He notes that this shift was not being adequately met by existing companies, such as L’Oreal, and saw an opportunity to enter the market with niche, targeted products. He positions his company as catering primarily to hair colorists and stylists, but individuals can also purchase products directly from the website. The business model offers special pricing and access to licensed professionals, making it a popular choice for those seeking professional results, despite being more knowledgeable and proficient in at-home coloring. Approximately half of the customers are working in salons, while the rest have previously held licenses or are skilled in at-home coloring.
  • 00:10:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the entrepreneur discusses his plans to expand his hair product business beyond hair color. While hair extensions and hair care products are current areas of growth for the business, he intends to explore other beauty products like nails and skin in the future. Having launched hair extensions and targeted hair care lines, Dutta reveals that Europe has been a valuable source for manufacturers, and the brand has taken about a year to source and test products. Differentiation in the market comes from the brand values and specific formulations, such as liquid color with Bond protect built in. The success of the business is not only about product quality and innovation but also about marketing and customer service.
  • 00:15:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker discusses the differentiation of his beauty brand, Ishan Dutta, from others in the market. He mentions their sophisticated brand values and customer service as key components of their strategy. Ishan Dutta is known for its responsive customer service, with customer queries answered promptly and specific usage instructions provided. According to reviews, this exceptional customer service sets them apart from competitors. While not all their products are unique, they focus on finding and creating “star products” that significantly outperform others in the market. A good example is their Intense PE Blonde Toner, which lifts and tones hair at the same time, providing a unique Pearl blonde color result. Despite the challenge of competitors copying their successful formulations, the speaker believes the relatively stable nature of the hair color industry allows them to maintain their competitive advantage through their internet-based business model, enabling quick formula changes and adaptability.
  • 00:20:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker discusses the complexity and relatively modest dynamism of the professional hair industry, noting its resistance to being “disrupted” by new players despite the boom in e-commerce and direct-to-consumer brands. He explains that while it may be relatively straightforward for new brands to enter the market, finding success depends on factors like identifying a competitive advantage and securing influences. The speaker also points out that the industry has been fragmented and resistant to the dominance of big players due to the increasing independence of hairstylists and their buying habits. He cites some examples of successful new and niche brands that have entered the market, but emphasizes that finding that breakthrough opportunity remains challenging.
  • 00:25:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker discusses his experience with influencer marketing and how it has evolved over the years. He shares an incident where his stock disappeared during a flight, and how he believes viewers have become desensitized to influencer-promoted products due to the perception of being paid for endorsements. He also mentions how Europe is the hub for cosmetic product formulation, with expertise in creating new products, and how China, while offering better pricing, does not have the same level of expertise in formulation and small-scale production that Europe has. The speaker’s company relies on Chinese manufacturers for some materials, but their packaging and smaller products are made in Europe to maintain a consistent supply chain. Despite China’s growing development, the speaker assumes that labor costs may continue to increase, making other countries like India or Africa more competitive in manufacturing industries.
  • 00:30:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the topic shifts to the impact of artificial intelligence on manufacturing, specifically in the context of the continent of Africa. The speaker ponders whether there will be a need for human labor in the future with the advent of new technologies like 3D printing and near sourcing. Nike is cited as an example of branded designs being sold while consumers create their own products using the supplied materials. The top market for the seller is currently the United States, making up 95% of their sales, while they’ve started testing the European market due to cultural similarities but still face challenges. Orders are filled primarily through their website with a warehouse in Los Angeles, California, despite prior experiences with problematic fulfillment centers.
  • 00:35:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker discusses their experience with different warehouses and their impact on their business. Initially, they faced issues with late deliveries and poor packaging from a warehouse that prioritized Amazon customers. They then moved to another warehouse that was expensive and had minimum requirements they couldn’t meet, causing a slowdown in their growth. The speaker then found a warehouse that provided good quality packing and worked well for their needs, though it wasn’t the cheapest option. The speaker also touched on their marketing evolution, mentioning that social media, particularly Facebook, was effective for their brand in 2016 but its effectiveness has decreased, and they now focus more on organic traffic which accounts for 85% of their website visits and around 50-60% of their purchases.
  • 00:40:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker discusses the importance of organic growth, word-of-mouth marketing, and email marketing for his business, which revolves around selling hair color. He explains that they have created content on their website and believe in the power of word-of-mouth, as people who are satisfied with their product will speak about it to their friends. The speaker emphasizes the significance of retaining customers and bringing them back with effective email marketing, which now contributes to 20% of their sales. Despite not being a fan of subscription-based services, they acknowledge the importance of giving customers choice, such as through a beauty box. The speaker has been focusing on improving their email marketing strategy to reactivate old customers and increase sales efficiency.
  • 00:45:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker discusses their email marketing strategy and the importance of focusing on problem-solution rather than discounts or branding. They explain how they have embraced plain text emails with a personal touch and often send a large volume of emails. The speaker also acknowledges that for some categories, particularly fashion and clothing, consumers may be more price-sensitive and it could be disadvantageous for brands not to offer discounts, but they argue that pricing should not be the sole factor in a buyer’s decision-making process. Instead, they advocate for effective communication of the value and benefits of the product, which can lead to sales regardless of the price point.
  • 00:50:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the entrepreneur discusses maintaining product quality and pricing in his business to avoid undercutting competitors. He shares an observation on Apple’s recent marketing efforts due to smaller product improvements and asserts the importance of having a good product for long-term success. Ishan then opens up about a past mistake from his entrepreneurial journey – overspending his own savings in a gung-ho approach to build his business – and warns the importance of cash flow management. Lastly, he recommends the book “Traction” for entrepreneurs as it covers various marketing possibilities effectively.
  • 00:55:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the speaker shares his thoughts on the current state of e-commerce and the industry’s future. He reflects on the challenges faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic shifts. Despite the instability, the speaker remains optimistic about e-commerce and believes it will continue to grow substantially over the next decade. He encourages entrepreneurs to stay resilient and adapt to the changing landscape. The speaker also shares a personal productivity tip, recommending entrepreneurs to disconnect from their work devices at night to improve sleep quality and overall well-being. Finally, he expresses his inspiration from Elon Musk’s diverse ventures and his gut feeling approach to business decisions. The speaker emphasizes the importance of staying on top of cash flow as the best business advice for entrepreneurs.
  • 01:00:00 In this section of the YouTube video titled “Ishan Dutta,” the entrepreneur speaks about the importance of having sufficient cash flow while starting a business, particularly for those with family expenses. He shares that many entrepreneurs he knows have needed financial support from family members. This cash flow issue is commonly faced by entrepreneurs, especially during the startup phase. While having a spouse working can help, it may not be the preferred solution. Ishan encourages entrepreneurs to save enough money before starting a business to cover their living expenses for at least eight to ten years. To check out Ishan’s products, viewers can visit his website www.uglyducklingcolor.com.

People & Resources Mentioned in the Episode

Book: Traction By Gino Wickman

What You’ll Learn

Interview with Ishan Duta of Ugly Duckling

Rapid Fire

In this segment, the guest will answer a few questions quickly in one or two sentences.

Ishan Duta of Ugly Duckling

  1. Book recommendation that you would make to entrepreneurs or business professionals (Response: Traction By Gino Wickman)
  2. An innovative product or idea in the current e-commerce retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about (Response:)
  3. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend/Productivity Tip. (Response: In order to improve his sleep and overall well-being, Ishan enhances his productivity by turning off his phone, placing it in a different room, and delaying access to business-related data until after waking up and having his first cup of tea.)
  4. A startup or business (in ecommerce, retail, or tech) that you think is currently doing great things. (Response: Elon Musk)
  5. A peer entrepreneur or businessperson whom you look up to or someone who inspires you (Response: Elon Musk)
  6. One networking tip or building and sustaining valuable professional relationships.
  7. Best business advice you ever received (Response: Stay on top of your cash)

Interview Transcript

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Hey there entrepreneurs. My name is Sushant and welcome to Treptalks. This is a show where I interview successful e commerce entrepreneurs, business executives, and thought leaders and ask them questions about their business story and also dive deep into some of the strategies and tactics that they have used to start and grow their businesses.

And today I’m really excited to welcome Ishan Dutta to the show. Ishan is the founder and CEO of Ugly Duckling. Ugly Duckling sells hair color and hair products to hairdressers and colorists. And today I’m going to ask Ishan a few questions about his entrepreneur journey. And some of the strategies and tech that he has used to start and grow his business So Ishan, thank you so much for joining me today at Treptalks really really appreciate your time.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Thank you. Sushant. It’s a great honor.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So, uh, very interesting business, uh, maybe Before we talk about the business, maybe we can talk a little [00:01:00] bit about yourself um, how long have you been an entrepreneur and What were you doing before and what kind of really got you interested into entrepreneurship and specifically starting this?

You know, hair products, business.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Sure. Well, um, so I’ve been an entrepreneur for about eight years now. I started in 2016. Um, I, I’m not super young, so I’ve been around for a while. I’ve had a fairly long corporate career. in sales and marketing. Um, and prior to that, I had an MBA. So very typical corporate, corporate background.

Um, I, I was lucky enough to join, uh, the company L’Oreal out of business school and I stayed with them for 10 years. And that’s where I learned a lot of marketing and sales and business. And of course, hair products, cause I was involved. very closely in hair products, uh, both [00:02:00] selling on the commercial side and also for a while, also in product formulation and marketing.

Um, so that is really where I’m coming from. After that, after L’Oreal, I worked for various other multinationals. Uh, I moved around the world. I ended up in Singapore where I was for many years, but I was always looking to start something on my own. And, uh, the, I should say the older I got, the more I was keen.

I enjoyed it, but the more I got older, the more I was keen to do something on my own. So this is a kind of very, I would say fundamental, uh, urge I had in my, in my, in my body and mind. Um, and that’s why I was looking around and then, you know, I thought it would be the best thing. And in fact, that was what my wife suggested.

She said, why don’t you, why don’t you stick to what you know? Um, why don’t you do something in the hair product line? So that’s what I did. That’s, that’s how I started this.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I [00:03:00] mean, entrepreneurship is definitely a noble urge, noble, noble, uh, cause to get into. I think it, it benefits everybody. I mean, entrepreneurs usually do it because they want the freedom and, you know, flexibility to do what they want, what they find, you know, they’re passionate about and so forth.

And also, of course, you know, if the business is successful and grows, it helps build the economy, employ other people and so forth. So definitely a great. Uh, great endeavor. So now do you, uh, do you consider your, I mean, it seems like you are kind of a direct competitor for L’Oreal . Yes. How, um. Um, uh, so, so you are, but you are selling mostly hair color products, right?

Can you talk a little bit about your products? Yeah, look,

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: so, so I’m not really a direct competitor to be honest. It’s, and L’Oreal is a huge company. It’ll be ridiculous for me to, to, um, to, uh, uh, compare myself to them. Nevertheless. Um, yeah, we are competing for the same space, but, um. [00:04:00] I, the way it worked out is, um, firstly, I was quite early in, um, trying, I am, one of my ideas was trying to use the internet to find it because I’ve, I’ve been involved in very classical marketing teams.

I ran Salesforce to cover hairdressers, teams of like a hundred salespeople and. And I did that for many years and I know how to do that, but I got a gut feeling that the internet was going to change that particular business model and that it was a very expensive way of contacting hairdressers and educating them and developing the market.

That was my gut feel after all the years I’ve been in L’Oreal. So that in a way, I said, look, let me try and do something a bit different. Let me try and use the internet. Uh, and then when I got into the business, I started with a regular range. I particularly, because I was on the internet, I could be very responsive to bits of the market, which were not being covered.

sufficiently well. Uh, and I was lucky. I, I reached out to hairdressers online and I, [00:05:00] some hairdressers were very, very helpful and I quickly realized, um, you know, I didn’t have to be a genius. It was literally told to me, uh, that blonding market was the, was a place where there was really, I would say, dissatisfaction with the products.

And that includes L’Oreal products. Um, I don’t want to go too technically. You’re not necessarily a fashion person, not necessarily all your. Your audience are at that level of detail. But to give you an idea, there’s been a big move from warm colors to cold colors. People want to go very white, ash blonde.

If you live in Toronto, you’ve probably seen that trend there. People don’t want, you know, 20 years ago, it used to be very golden blonde, you know. And the products have really matched. And then the people want to go lift. They want to lift the product, lift the hair color. So these kinds of things without getting too technical on the one hand, there was the internet.

And on the other hand, there was products which were, which could [00:06:00] target this niche, which I felt had a lot of potential. Um, so that was a kind of the two things I’ve kind of moved into. It was not all the internet thing was, was there from the beginning. But the product space was something that I felt my way into hearing response from the market as I arrived.

And so I launched more and more products in that area, tried to bring niche products and, and develop that bit of the market. So that’s kind of, um, how I position myself against L’Oreal. Um, uh, you know, as I said, once again, it’s a bit of a ridiculous question because L’Oreal is not ridiculous. It’s a ridiculous concept because L’Oreal is a very big company, a lot of respect, and we are very small, but.

There’s plenty of space for both of us. I’m sure. For

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: sure. For sure. And I think, you know, um, every successful on, uh, endeavor starts small, right? So you can, of course you’re smaller today. I mean, uh, there’s, there’s never a limit. Maybe, maybe in the future, you will be a direct [00:07:00] competitor, but I think a lot of the times the challenges.

From a bigger brand would only come when you start growing, right? When they start seeing you as a threat, as long as you are a niche player, as long as you’re small, you’re not like you’re not on their radar, but once you start going big, I think that’s when like the bigger brands, if they want to give you some.

Challenge or, you know,

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: absolutely a child. We have to be fast enough to get traction before that, uh, by the way, it’s fun being small. It’s plenty of fun being small. I’ve never had a problem with that. Um, yeah,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yeah, for sure. So you’re, um, In terms of your audience, you said, you know, you’re catering primarily to the stylists.

Um, but you are online. So if, if a person, you know, wants to buy their own product, they can go and, um, and purchase it directly on the website as well. Um, in terms of your sales model, like [00:08:00] You market to stylists and then the stylists go on your website and purchase the products or is it a different model where you’re kind of working directly with a one to one sales model and then you’re

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: selling them?

No, no, no, no. We market directly off our website. So, so we do expect our customers to be hair colorists. Uh, we and. We, if, if people give us sufficient proof that they are a stylist, they have a license, et cetera, uh, we give them very good pricing and special access, uh, so they, they, they see price and deals, which, uh, a non qualified cosmetology would not necessarily see, um, so.

In the U. S. as many people, Canada as well, who, um, the area between being a professional stylist, uh, and then having, having a cosmetology license but not practicing anymore, a lot of people come in and out of the, out [00:09:00] of the, the, the trade, uh, and then, Also being very proficient at with at home coloring using professional products.

It’s kind of a, it’s more fluid than you might think. Um, so yeah, that’s a market is, is people who are fairly knowledgeable, fairly good with their hands, fairly wanting a very good professional result. Uh, it’s not kind of out of the bottle, you know, you know, retail pack type of coloring. So as long as people are comfortable with that kind of product, uh, which gives slightly more Fashionable or precise results, um, we are happy to, to talk to them.

So probably, probably, um, as far as we can see from the stats, about 50 percent are indeed working in a salon and the rest have some relationship with, they’ve probably been a stylist, they’ve got a license, uh, but they’re probably doing more home, home based work. Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So [00:10:00] from a business point of view, of course, you know, you found this sweet spot right now.

Um, in the future, like is your plan to continuing to continue to just stay with the hair color product items, or are you slowly kind of expanding your business to have other hair products? Like I know in, you know, recently I spoke with another entrepreneur who has a huge Hair extensions business in, in the U S are you thinking about other products as well?

Or this is kind of your, uh, this is where you want to specialize. It’s funny.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: It’s funny. You should mention that because hair extensions is specifically an issue which I, which I realize is growing like crazy because one of the big trends is women want to have long hair. Um, and, um, It’s an issue. We’ve actually launched products there.

We’re still pretty young in that area. So it’s something that I intend to return to and attack in a much bigger way in next year itself. So [00:11:00] that’s one area. I think hair color will always be very, hair color, particularly blonding hair color and fashion hair color. It’s great to sell on the internet because you can show the before and after really, really well.

So it’s very easy to market that. So we’ve also launched hair care products. Um, again, linked to not general hair care, like we’ve got two lines at the moment. One is purple toner for blonde women who want to keep their hair white. And then we’ve launched a product to with bond protect to strengthen hair, which has been bleached.

So again, quite targeted. So we would like to launch. hair extensions. We would like to launch more hair care products, but they will always be quite targeted hair care products, at least for now, maybe a scalp line, um, maybe a therapy line. Um, that would be one thing, uh, eventually we would like to get into other beauty products.

There’s, there’s nails, there’s skin, but we have to think of the right way of [00:12:00] attacking that market. But I do think we will get there eventually.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: So from an entrepreneurship perspective, um, When you got into it, can you talk a little bit about your process of launching the business? You know, um, what kind of investment did go into, I’m assuming when you were working at L’Oreal, you kind of had learned around, you know, who the suppliers are, who the, you know, what the right products are and so forth.

Or is that something that you had to figure out when you kind

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: of started? I was, I was in general management, I was not necessarily in, so I knew a lot about trends and products, but I had to, I had to re look around. I had to look around for suppliers. Um, so I had an idea of a brand. I found a brand name. I registered that brand name.

Um, and then I started looking around for suppliers, um, who could, who could produce, um, the products I was looking for. Um, and we found, uh, in the end, uh, [00:13:00] Europe was a good place. We found, uh, some quite good manufacturers. The ecosystem in Europe, in the cosmetic industry is quite, I think it’s quite well, well developed.

Um, and that’s how we, so we sourced, we tested, it took about a year, uh, tested the products live, um, tweaked some of them. And the beginning we launched a fairly, as I said, a reasonably standard to meet your range, but progressively. Um, we’ve been requesting our suppliers to formulate specifically for us specific formulations with, you know, liquid.

Now we’re going to liquid color, which we think is a big trend, um, with bond protect built in, you know, different color types. So they’re now very specific colors, but we had to go down the road of just looking from scratch. So

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: in terms of different, yeah, go ahead. In terms of like differentiation in the product itself, um, of course, I’m sure, you know, [00:14:00] there’s, there are bigger brands.

I’m sure there are other brands as well that are, you know, known to the stylists. Um, how do you differentiate your products? What is different about your Colors that people don’t find, uh, in other brand products or other, uh, niche products, is it really about the shade of, I mean, I, I know you mentioned that the shade has is a, is a component.

Um, is it about, you know, The quality or how durable these colors are in terms of longevity, is it, or is it some sort of a business, uh, aspect like, you know, customer service or, you know, the way you’re conducting business there. So how are you differentiating your business from everything else in the market?

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So, so that’s really great question. I mean, we thought. very carefully about the brand, about what the brand would represent, the brand values. So that was the first point. And we’ve, I think we’ve stayed fairly true. We’ve articulated that brand, [00:15:00] those brand values more clearly over time. Um, so that’s very important.

We, we try to be fashion, but we’re not, uh, when we’re not a grand, we’re not a funk, funky. Product we have sophisticated beauty. Um, so there’s, we are, we are, we are, there’s a kind of brand values, which by now customers recognize, um, that’s one part of this, the starting point of the differentiation. Um, you mentioned customer service.

The online aspect has been very useful. We found that, um, We are very reactive to, to, um, customers and we encourage that people want to know, Hey, I bought this product. How do I use it? I want to get my hands looking like this. And they send us a picture. Um, and, and we reply back. So, and we say, use this, this, this.

So that customer service component is actually, it’s become very important. Um, if you look at reviews of our brand, people do mention customer, they say, wow, the customer service is just amazing. Um, So nobody is [00:16:00] actually doing what we’re doing. It sounds very simple, but nobody’s actually doing what we’re doing.

So we, we, we give a lot of customers how to, we don’t treat the customer like idiots. We give them quite specific. Um, again, I don’t think many people are doing that because, uh, in America, such market people just sort of one size fits all marketing. So that’s, that’s component part two. And then comes the products.

As I said, not every product is necessarily unique. But progressively, our key star, you know, cosmetics is about star products. It’s a bit like, um, you know, you know, you and me are Indians, so we can talk about cricket, you know, it’s like you hit and you keep hitting and then suddenly you hit that six, you know, you get that spot, you suddenly hit cosmetics business like that, you’ve got to find those star products, which suddenly start giving you those runs.

Um, and then you’ve got to like, really figure out when something is doing well in marketing, you could figure out what’s so great about it. Sometimes you even yourself don’t know. So we ask, speak a lot to hairdressers. That’s again, the beauty of being [00:17:00] online. We have a network of hairdressers who produce content for us.

We’ve created that network over time and we’re always in touch with them. And we’re talking to either myself or the customer service, uh, manager. Uh, we’re talking to them and say, what did you like about it? Hey, how did you use this product? And then we are trying to learn. And then we try and we try and create more products like that.

So it’s quite a few of our, if you take in value, not in units, but if you take in value, um, most of the sales now comes from our. Star products in the products, which really are quite unique. So it’d be difficult for me to describe in general. They all like this rather than that. No, but if I take product by product, um, like for example, I’ll give you a, one of our, it’s called intense pearl blonde toner.

It’s the only tone on the market, which lifts and tones at the same time. And it’s a very pure blonde color result, which really is unique. So when a woman sees that result, gets a result on her own hair, they [00:18:00] won’t go somewhere else. They have to come back to us. They want to come back for that specific.

So that’s an example. So yeah, there are, we’ve now moved towards. Fairly unique products.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Is there any, um, I mean, once you find that hero product or the star product that you mentioned, um, I mean, these are really chemicals, right? Like these are chemical formulations. Can they be copied? So, you know, if a competitor knows that, yes, this is the trend in the market.

Now, this is what the consumer wants in terms of colors. And can they, how easy is it to replicate it? And is that a threat? To your competitive advantage, or do you, or is there a way to kind of. No,

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: in, in, in the cosmetics business, there’s very little patenting going on because people, people move too fast that the whole goes too fast.

And there is a fair amount of copying, but lucky, luckily for me in the hair color business, [00:19:00] you’d be surprised how, um, it’s not the most dynamic industry in, in certain way. You’ve got again to take L’Oreal or well, uh, some of the big, big players, their formulations have not changed in 30 years. They don’t do, they could do that, but they haven’t done that.

So they launch new stuff, but then they don’t really go out there and, and they’re not very aggressive, I would say. And there’s reasons for that because they have a different business model, uh, having the stability of the, of the, This product produces this result. That’s important for them because that’s how they get that mass, mass effect.

So they’re not really keen on changing their formulations too much. So there is a kind of a certain inherent stability in the market. And we kind of Fight that because we have a different model, which is, um, which is internet based. And don’t forget, there’s things like because we’re internet based, we’ve got one, um, warehouse, so our stock is in [00:20:00] one place.

So for us to change a formula launch is very easy. Um, whereas a big player, they will have, they’ll have stock all over the place, um, to even replace of shade is quite complicated. Um, and quite expensive and then you get distributors saying, Oh, you, you’ve replaced the shade. I want you to buy back my old shade.

So it gets quite complicated. So the whole thing makes the industry fairly, um, not old fashioned, but not the most dynamic in terms of, so I don’t, so far, nobody has jumped on and copied us in that way. Okay. I mean, I mean, one thing

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: that I find. Um, as e commerce has boomed and as the whole trend of, you know, direct to consumer and, um, you know, people creating their own brands, uh, has boomed over the last, I would say, What 10, 15 years now, um, it’s, it has definitely [00:21:00] become easier for, you know, uh, people to come up with a brand or a product that, you know, somehow they have identified, or, you know, they’ve, they’ve found some sort of a competitive advantage, uh, and, and kind of sell that directly to the consumer.

Um, what do you know about fashion industry or this hair care, uh, Uh, hairstyling industry, is it relatively easy to kind of break into now, you know, if, if there is an influencer, let’s say, you know, they, they started their YouTube channel, they have, um, uh, you know, a million people following them, you know, and they decide that, you know, they want to launch, uh, uh, uh, hair color brand or even one product, right.

Um, in terms of, you know, getting the product itself, I think it would be relatively straightforward. Um, Is there, is there, uh, is there, uh, opportunity for a lot of these kinds of small brands in the market or [00:22:00] what, what else do you know about, uh, the hairstyling industry that can make one brand successful versus another?

Or is it that, you know, if you are an old player, big player like L’Oreal, like you have that competitive edge that, you know, no new brand can

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: take away. Those are really, really great questions. Um, so there are brands coming up the whole time. There are brands coming a whole time. I don’t think the like the hair industry, the professional hair industry, I don’t think it’s been the easiest.

market for established players over the last 20 years because there has been fragmentation. Uh, there has been fragmentation. The market has not exactly gone in the way of the big players. Um, and there are certain reasons for that, um, in the industry, um, stylists increasingly in the U. S. They buy their own products, they, [00:23:00] it’s not like the salon buys the products and employs stylists to use, uh, in America, in Canada, increasingly, each stylist is a, is a, a booth renter, rents a chair, and she or he decides what products they want to, they want to use, they’re quite open to trying out new things, so there’ll be a lot of new products coming on, a lot to be quite honest, so I would say, Um, Um, Um, Yes, it is quite easy to enter this market.

Um, it is one market to enter. Um, it’s not, it’s not easy to find that crack, that opportunity, but I see entrepreneurs doing it the whole time. Um, I can name a couple of, a couple of products, uh, which have come out. There’s one which is on, on social media quite a lot, called It’s a 10. Um, you know, started with one product, and stuck to Amazon, and it just blew out.

Um, And I remember my niece telling me, have you, you know, you’re an actor.[00:24:00]

I said it didn’t have to be different. Um, influencers. Um, I don’t think it’s as simple as finding influencers these days as it was. I think the market has changed a lot. Um, when I, when I started 2016, Facebook was huge then. And the, the behavior of people with regards to influencers was very, I won’t say naive, but very fresh and spontaneous.

And I was lucky enough at that time to, as you say, to, to meet, uh, an influencer. Her name’s Ilona Takishis, a hairdresser, a very, very talented hairdresser. She befriended me and, and, um, made [00:25:00] videos and content, uh, for our product. And it was amazing at that time because It was like she would make a video and I said, I said to my wife, Oh, Elena’s just made a video and I’m going to sleep and I would know this would happen next morning.

I have thousands of people visiting my website and just lift out of it. Um, and, and once I remember she made an amazing video, I was traveling in the U S at the time I was going from LA to Detroit to visit her in fact. And. I just had some new stock in and I boarded a plane. So I wasn’t on the phone and I arrived in the evening.

I went to the bar, ordered a glass of wine, put on my phone and I’m getting this email saying, what have you done? The stock has disappeared. I thought, what? All the stock had disappeared in the course of the time I’ve been flying on a plane. I don’t think that so easily anymore. Well, I don’t think I don’t think it works in the same way because in the early days it worked without advertising even we didn’t even advertise on Facebook and then we went through stage.

Okay, let’s advertise on [00:26:00] Facebook with the videos with the influencer content and that worked very well, but I could see progressively 2018 2019 the rates went up and then gradually I saw the reaction of people became less and less and less. Um, so it works. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but you have to have very strong point of differentiation.

And it’s not so simple anymore with influences is my personal experience, but, uh, maybe

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: the reason for that, the reason for that is that the viewer has kind of become desensitized. The viewer kind of knows that. The li the li likely reason an influencer is pushing a product or promoting a product is because they’re getting paid.

And of course, you know, there’s probably more competition for influencers. Uh, yes. You know, .

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Yes. I mean, do, do you remember those days? 2016 when our friends says, how I got my friend is on Facebook and said, oh, hi, I haven’t seen you for a long time. It was a different era. It’s, that was only seven [00:27:00] years ago, but it w people don’t, who is on Facebook anymore, to be quite honest.

Mm-Hmm. Um. So it has changed. It is a different area. Socially, people behave differently with regards to social social media, I would say. Yeah, for sure.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Um, I believe you mentioned that your products are manufactured mostly in Europe. Um, and that’s because, you know, that’s, that’s where, uh, You have the most, I guess, expertise in terms of creating these kinds of colors and so forth.

Have you ever considered, you know, going to Asia, China, uh, because you can get better pricing and so forth, or, you know, the primary reason for that is that the quality is not

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: what you want. Yeah. So, so in our case, China is very good, but they’re not. One of the things about the European infrastructure is that they’re very good at formulating new stuff they’ve got it’s in the cosmetic industry.

It’s not necessarily the manufacturing. It’s [00:28:00] a formulation of the new product. So they have that skill set to formulate very quickly. And they also have small sizes in China, they can make it cheaply, but they want Very big runs. So that combination of formulation and small sizes. I found only Europe has but that’s in the cosmetic industry.

There’s yeah, obviously tons of things which are being made in China but that difference in cost is not as huge as it used to be 10 15 years ago because the the minimum wage of a Worker in in in Shenzhen or Guangzhou. I mean I used to live in Singapore. It’s almost 600 euros a month. Hmm Minimum wage in Portugal is about there, you know, so it’s, um, uh, in a textile industry, people now, you know, you’ve heard about this close near sourcing, uh, people have moved a little bit away from China in that sense.

So, um, anyway, the prices were quite okay. And, and it was that [00:29:00] savoir faire that that knowledge I needed. So yeah, China was not, we, we use China Some of the kind of plastic materials, like color accessories, bowls, things like that, but not for any, any, any products. Um, and even, even then, you know, we’re a small company, so we have to look at the supply chain.

If we are buying from a European manufacturer, we also don’t want bottles being made in China. Then we have to ship the bottles, empty bottles by ship. So we get, we get the made also in Europe. So our packaging is also made in Europe.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. I’m assuming China. At least from like a human labor point of view will only become less competitive as we go because, you know, of course, China is becoming more of a, um, a developed nation slowly and people’s quality of life is improving, which is a great thing.

And I think maybe, maybe those, some of these manufacturing industries will start moving at some [00:30:00] of the other countries like India, or, you know, maybe even Africa, because Africa is kind of the continent where, which still requires a lot of growth, but That also makes me think now with the advent of all this artificial intelligence, like will there be a need for people, uh, in the future? Yeah, I

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: mean, I heard, yeah, I mean, there’s 3D printing, there’s a lot of near sourcing stuff happening. Um, you know, you can go, apparently, I don’t know if actually they’re doing this, you would know better than me, but Nike, apparently, you can go into a shop and request in certain shops, concept shops, and you can request a certain type of sneaker with a certain colour.

And apparently they’ll make it for you. Is that a concept? I’m not sure, but so manufacturing is also changing, you know, but yeah, I think China, it will change. It will not just be China. Yeah. Yeah. I

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: mean, that, that will, that will be. That will be an interesting time where, you know, the consumer can buy [00:31:00] the, I guess, the, the plastic or the material that, that is used to create these products.

And then basically what the companies are selling is the design and you take the design and you basically create your own shoe in your own, so yeah, very interesting. So you’re, what are your markets right now? So you’re selling, are you selling in North America, which is, what is your biggest

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: market right now?

My main market is the U. S. That’s what we focused on and it’s still like 95 percent of our sales. Wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We, we, we started selling a little bit in Europe, but, um, more, more as a testing, testing ground, um, U S is our biggest market.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Why not, why not Europe? I mean, I would assume that, you know, as an, uh, as a Western market, like the whole UK and Europe would be, uh, Would have a big uptick.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So, so I think the U. S. still works very well for us. Uh, I don’t think, um, there is the same [00:32:00] appetite for, the stylist market is a bit different. It’s more traditional. It’s people who are employed and it’s more locked up. Uh, I don’t think you get same number of home stylists. Um, as you do, uh, uh, in the U. S.,

uh, fashion, the kind of blonde fashion that we’re going for is still more developed in the U. S., um, which you can see on your TV screens, um, than, than in Europe. So there’s certain things, and then our particular All our content, everything we’ve done is English, so it’s very interesting. We, we obviously look at where we could go and the markets which are interested and who, you know, Google tells you where you’re, where the viewer is coming from.

They’re all English speaking, actually. It’s England. Uh, Ireland, Australia, uh, even a bit South Africa. So, um, I, I think in Europe, the UK would be the, the, the best potential market. Um, I think also socially in English, people are quite similar. [00:33:00] Um, you know, they have the same, they have the same trends, the same desires.

They read the same stuff. So I think, I think the UK would be, would be probably the, the most optimal thing. I mean, definitely we would be interested in other places in Europe. I think US will still be very important for us. Um,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: How do you fulfill your order? So, you know, if you’re selling mostly to the U S, um, is the biggest sales channel, your website, or are you selling like on Amazon as well?

And, and how are you fulfilling? Are you shipping from, uh, UK or do you have like warehouse, uh, In the U. S.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Yeah. So, so we have a couple of channels. Uh, website is our biggest channel. Um, we like to keep it that way, but we also sell on Amazon and Walmart. com. Okay. Um, uh, we have a warehouse in, um, uh, it’s a third party warehouse who we’ve been working with.

We’ve had a number of warehouses, but they’re all based, most of them have [00:34:00] been based in the LA area. So our warehouse is, is in LA. Um, and, and, uh, we ship everything to the warehouse, stock it there, and then we, um, we, we fulfill from, from there. No, you do it.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay, cool. Have you, have you had good experiences with them?

Sometimes I hear horror stories.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Well, it was, it’s funny. We’ve been through in, in eight years, we’ve been through one, two, three, this is our fourth fulfillment center. Okay. Um, not that they were all bad. There was one horror, horror story because we shifted just when COVID was breaking out. And then we, we, there, there was one very poor choice we made.

Apart from that, the other, we were, we were quite careful. Um, we used one in the beginning, uh, uh, who are very good, but then we decided in the end, um, they were quite, they were very good, but they were a little bit one size fits all. We wanted, uh, uh, [00:35:00] yeah, I won’t go into the details, but they sometimes delayed our website orders.

They gave priority to Amazon customers. To Amazon across all their customer range. So sometimes the orders are getting a bit late. We were not very happy with the packaging because they had their own packaging. It was very cheap, nothing, but it was very flimsy and our stuff arrived in not a very good condition and we wanted it.

We’re not a luxury brand, but we wanted everything to be very, you know, stand out. So we wanted our own boxing. So we moved to another warehouse. They were good as well, but they turned out a bit too expensive for our, our personal needs. Um, they had some, um, minimums, which we didn’t hit. We thought we were.

We’ve been growing very fast up till then. Then suddenly our growth, just as we moved warehouse, our growth kind of slowed down and we were not able to make those minimums were just really costing us a lot. So then we moved from, they’re very good warehouse. Um, they had, they used a FedEx and they had superb [00:36:00] FedEx.

Um, but, but, um, We moved so then we went through one disaster during code and then we settled down with that. So I think we’ve got a good warehouse. Um, they do. They’re in there. They’re very, they’re in line with what we want. Um, so we want. We’re not Looking to lower have the lowest lowest lowest lowest cost.

We want someone who be quite quality in terms of packing You know make sure things go out. We have a lot of liquids they go out in a plastic bag So we want a warehouse so they it’s good for us that they have we have Picking people who only do ugly duckling every day, uh, inside that warehouse. So it’s kind of, you know, you can get everything in the warehouse world.

You can get someone who will just be cost down, uh, and then, and then you get us, the warehouse we’ve got, they, they divide. customer by customer and they can customize a little bit in terms of [00:37:00] packing way the things are going this if something is poorly packed and someone complains we can go back and say this order was looking like this can you please make have a chat with the person who’s picking to make sure this happens that kind of thing so yeah we found someone who’s i think the right balance of cost and quality yeah

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Okay, that’s really great.

Um, I know you mentioned in terms of your marketing, you mentioned a couple of things, you know, you mentioned Facebook and you mentioned influencers and of course, you know, with any marketing channel, I think there’s, uh, because things are moving so fast, you know, there’s kind of like a. Uh an expiration date to it.

So, you know things when they’re new they’re work they work really well and then over time the effectiveness decreases The big thing right now is tick tock um, but i’m sure slowly tick tock is going to be so um, you know, so Competitive as well, that, you know, the effectiveness will [00:38:00] decrease, but of course, now the, you know, there’ll be new technologies, of course, a lot of things coming up with AI and Apple is coming up with, you know, new glasses and so forth.

So can you talk a little bit about your marketing? What, how has it evolved since you started and what is, uh, working now to really drive, uh, customer acquisition for you?

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Yeah. So as you mentioned, things continuously change on the, on the internet. Um, so as I said, in the beginning, 2016, Facebook and social media in general was really huge.

And Influencer or hairdressers who we partnered with, we still partner with them. Um, that’s, that’s how we work. We like to have hairdressers who use our stuff and, and, and show the techniques, the before and after. So it’s not just like Influencer saying, this is a great product. It’s actually. You know, working with a product and, and showing techniques and educating people on techniques.

So that’s, that hasn’t changed at all. Um, the channels are not as [00:39:00] good as they, as they were. Um, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram and we’re on all of them. Um, some of them have never just worked for us. Twitter or, uh, TikTok has never been very huge for us. Um, so we do everything, but we can see from Google analytics that the.

In 2016, literally 80% of purchases came off social media. At the moment, I think it’s 5%. So that’s not to say they don’t go there and look at our brand and, and so on and so forth, but we don’t find it works. So we still do it. I think you have to do it. Um, that’s how people are one of the ways. And people, uh, uh, you know, learn about brands discovery.

Um, but we moved on gradually. We found that for us, uh, organic. Um, you know, from 2018, 2019, we’ve been working on organic and it’s now I think 85 percent of our traffic [00:40:00] and 50 or 60 percent of our purchases comes off organic traffic. So discovery of our brand through people putting in problems into their search.

You know, so that is, um, that is what we’ve been working with, and we’ve created blogs. All the videos which I had to make are now available on our own website as well. So that, that’s the kind of the, the kind of destination. Um, so that’s, that’s what’s. That’s been the main, the main, uh, and I think there’s, there’s people underestimate the kind of power of word of mouth.

If you’ve got a good product and, uh, you know, someone is very happy with the hair color, they will talk about it to their friends, whether it’s through social, whether, I don’t know how they’re doing it, but they do talk to their friends. So that’s, that’s probably there in the background. Um, so organic is really very important for us.

Um, that’s our principal, uh, method of acquiring new customers. Um, [00:41:00] but lately we’ve been, you know, thinking again now we’ve been around for eight years and you get to the stage and you see on, on, you know, like Y Combinator, there’s a lot of very good material, as you know, on, on the internet, advising people how to do growth marketing.

And one of the things I’ve been learning is that, um, retention is really, really important for growth. It’s not just acquiring new customers, it’s about retaining, you get to the stage, you know, if you look, take all the customers who’ve bought from us in the last eight years, it’s far larger than any number of customers are going to acquire in the next year.

So, and our products are good. We know that they’re very well rated. We take care about that. So the game is to reactivate. Nothing changes. They liked our product. They bought it in 2016. Um, and then maybe they bought it again, 2017 and 2018. There’s a kind of decay. We’ve, we’ve, we’ve analyzed all that. So now we’re trying to see how we can, [00:42:00] we call it resurrection, you know, bring back from the, um, so obviously the key thing in that is email.

So I’m a great, great, great believer in email marketing, um, done properly. It’s. Huge. It’s really huge. It’s now 20 percent of our sales comes off email marketing. That’s what Google says. What that means is coming off our existing customers, essentially, retention, retention customers. So that’s so list management.

And we find that, you know. Um, if the email is good, like lately we started to say, okay, let’s resurrect, you know, this resurrection project. Let’s take the customers who bought off. We have various lists and the numbers are very big. Let’s send them, you know, we can see from our email, which are the best email subjects, which are the best, most performing emails.

Let’s send them our best email. And suddenly this customer hasn’t been contacted for years, they suddenly receive an email, which is rather good. [00:43:00] And now, even if the percentage conversion of these customers is very low, that number is so huge of the number of customers who that block of customers, that list is so huge that even if the effectiveness is half of when you’re, you know, To the current customer, it makes a huge impact on on this resurrection product, huge impact on on email efficiency.

So that’s the kind of thing we’ve been doing. Um, we’re not, we’re not really, we’re not a Netflix, we’re not a subscription based. Um, I don’t really believe in that because the whole point about hair color is choice and variety. And the woman says, okay, last time I did this, you know what, I’d like to try this.

It’s now fall. I’d like to go a bit darker. I’d like to do it. And we are a friend of that. That’s what we believe in. So I’ve never gone for this, um, you know, um, dollar shave club, you know, just lock up the customer. I don’t, I just don’t believe in it. Um, of course it’d be good for me financially, but [00:44:00] I don’t believe that’s what the brand stands for.

The brand is all about playing around and beauty and trying, trying out this and that. So I never even tried that. Uh, which is very big a few years. It’s still very big. The kind of beauty box by lock up the customer and forget it. I never tried it because I don’t, I don’t believe in it. It doesn’t work with my brand.

So email is one thing I can do. So that’s, that’s what I’ve been, uh, working on. So those are a bit of things, Facebook, influencer, organic, um, and then now email. These are the nothing very fancy, but these are the things I’ve been working on. I mean,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: one, I know you’re not a big fan of subscription, but one to give your customers choice.

Like if you were to launch a beauty box or some sort of it, it could be not that, you know, they’re getting the same. Products every time they, they get the choice to select, you know, three products.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Very good point. You should come offline and do you do some consulting for me? Because I have been, it’s been back of the mind.

I’ve got to figure out this. [00:45:00] Uh, I need to figure it out. So do I say surprise, surprise, people surprise you. Give you a, I don’t know what it is. Um, but, uh, I, I, I get what you’re saying. I think it’s a very good thing and I think I should do it. Um, uh, I’ll make a note.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s always good to test new things, right?

I mean, something may work, something may not, but absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. But, but I’m, I’m curious to know, like when you were trying to resurrect those customers, like is the, is the string that you’re pulling really kind of, uh, you know, 30 percent off if you come back or, you know, or is it more around like the product feature or, you know, uh, the value of, you know, the color or, you know, the story behind it, like, what is, you know, you said you have like, uh, some best emails, what is, what are.

What are the strings you’re pulling?

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So, so, so what we follow, I’m not saying that, you know, it’s the only one, but I used a consult. I use various consultants, [00:46:00] um, and they advised me very well. And what they, what I was told was, uh, for emails, I’m, I’m, I’m, I’m very passionate about email. I should write some, some book of what my experience was.

So our emails have no brand in it. There’s no, there’s no, um, you know, I’m sure you receive a lot of emails from companies, you know, very beautiful branded thanks offer. We have no, we have no branding, it’s plain text emails written like a friend, um, always coming from one person who’s our color trainer, um, readers digest approach, you know, there’s always one person who they can relate to and, uh, they’re always related to problem solution.

Um, we never, we never give a price off in an email. We do, there are a couple of differences, but in general, that’s our email. It’s all about problem solution. So, and we send a lot of emails. So, um, so that’s, that’s our policy. That, [00:47:00] that, that’s, that’s what I found works. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I think that makes a lot

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: of sense.

Yeah. Yeah. Because

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: you’re talking to. Yeah. Yeah. I, you know, if someone sends you an email saying you’ve got price off, will that really convince you or will that make you even more careful? You know, it’s, it’s, it’s has to be a fantastic price off. I think, um, I think it’s better to stick with, uh, grabbing the person’s imagination in another way.

Yeah. Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. I think it depends on the target customer. I mean, the main, like. If you look at the, these clothing brands, right, or these, um, big box fashion, uh, stores, their main e commerce strategy is really related to pricing, right? So I don’t know, I think every consumer, most consumers, even myself, like I don’t buy anything, uh, you know, retail price, like list price, I would only buy a product [00:48:00] when it goes on sale, which, which happens.

Now, I find this very frequently, like it’s every other weekend, you know, they are sending out sale emails. So I think it, I almost feel like for, you know, certain categories, like especially for clothing or shoes or, you know, these kinds of categories, it’s, it’s almost foolish to pay full price because, you know, they’re discounting it so much at the full price is like you’re getting, uh,

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: No, no, but yeah, and I, I accept what you’re saying, but, um, careful.

What are you talking? Think about about it. If, um, how should I say this? Let’s say, um, yeah, we all look for the best deal, right? Let’s say you decided you want to buy a pair of Yeezy sneakers. You open your browser button. You’ll search you’ll find the fun and the first one and then you’ll open the next one and you’ll open the next one the next one and For those Yeezy sneakers, which you’ve already decided.

I’m giving a slightly simplistic example. [00:49:00] You will then go with the cheapest price Yeah. So if you want a pair of banana, banana, whatever it is, banana doesn’t exist anymore. If you want a Swatch watch, you will look for the Swatch watch. They control the distribution. Again, not a very good example, but you will try and find the cheapest price once you’ve decided the product and the brand.

So that’s. Products and brands which don’t control their distribution necessarily very well. And these days, brands are getting better and better. They don’t just bang it into wholesale. Um, you will get that, but you won’t get it that much. So if you take Apple or Nike and many, many brands, he says they control their distribution really, really well.

So I accept what you’re saying. Once you’ve given the product, I think before that, you, if you back out, it may not be the price. It takes you to the actual decision of the product to buy. Yeah.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah. If you’re, if somebody is in a specific brand, then I think [00:50:00] pricing decision is, is, uh, is a, is a lower factor.

Um, yes. But by the way,

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: In the same way. So we make sure that we never undercut on our website or on, we, It’s all parallel. You can’t, you can’t, um, and even the discounts we give, we make sure, you know, we would not sell to someone who undercuts us and, and all the rest of it. So, yeah, it’s pretty clean in that sense.

Yeah. By

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: the way, interesting thing. Uh, recently I saw for the first time, I think actually, uh, I saw an apple ad trying to promote selling apple products and you know, apple was notoriously known for not doing marketing, right? They were such, they’re such a strong brand. So I was thinking, are they in trouble now?

But, um, that they have to resort to marketing. Like, I mean, I, I do think that their value prop, like previously it used to be every product launch, they have like a new product or, you know, such a strong, [00:51:00] uh, set of features that they are coming out with that’s new, but now it’s, it’s a really small incremental improvement.

So I think that they have to know now go the route, the marketing route. Interesting. Yeah. Yeah. And, and that, that brings me to another point is like, you know, the thing that you were saying about product and, um, the, um, the quality of product. I think if the product is good, that’s, that’s really a, a big long term strategy.

Marketing can only take you so far, but if the, if people like the product, they will search you out and, and really. Uh, want to buy it in every entrepreneur’s journey. There’s always mistakes made lessons learned failures. Um, what has been, um, like a big failure or mistake or a lesson learned that you kind of learned throughout your entrepreneurial journey that looking back, you think, you know, [00:52:00] if, if that hadn’t happened, maybe, you know, that was best for the business.

What was the lesson learned and what can other entrepreneurs learn from your mistakes?

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So I’ve launched a few dud products, but I don’t count that as a mistake in the sense that if you’re launching products, one out of every five is going to be dud. So you can’t always get it right. So I will discount that one.

Um, I think the main. thing which I would have done differently would have been to be a little bit more because I’m a self funded entrepreneur. Um, and I kind of went to very gung ho optimistic way and flung a lot of money. As soon as things started to work, I’ve done a lot of money. It’s a lot of my own money, savings.

So, and in the process I sold my apartment and various other things. And, uh, that was quite stressful. Uh, it is still stressful. Um, so I, I had to. Um, [00:53:00] spend a lot of money because I was a very gung ho, I was just throwing, throwing money to go as fast as possible. I think you have to be careful what you’re trying to do.

If you’re trying to be, you know, put a presentation together and get traction and then try and get funding, then there may be some reason for just trying to get that traction so you can demonstrate to other people that you’ve got traction and then you want funding to go bigger. And that’s very, you know, valid way of doing it.

But it’s not what I was doing. I was trying to create a business which would be profitable and cash positive. And at Fable, that was what I was doing. So, in that context, I could have been a bit more careful. And I regret that. It’s definitely money, quite a lot of money I wasted, which I couldn’t really afford to waste, to be quite honest.

Um, yeah. I would say that that’s a bit of corporate background. You know, it’s, you know, L’Oreal, You can just, you can just go for it. Nobody noticed that the dollars spent people just look at the results, but it’s a bit [00:54:00] different when it’s your own money and you’ve got to survive with your family.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, for sure.

And I think that’s, you know, that’s kind of one of the lessons that come up again and again is around, you know, cashflow management. It’s like, even if you have a working business, if the cashflow is not being managed properly, that can really. Uh, impact business. So now I’m going to move on to our rapid fire segment.

In this segment, I’m going to ask you a few quick questions. You have to answer them maybe in a couple of words or a sentence or so. Uh, the first one is one book that you would recommend to entrepreneurs, um, and why?

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So I’ve got it here. It’s cool. I’m not sure if you can see it. It’s called traction. Do you know this one?

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I have heard of it. Yeah, for sure.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: It’s a very well known book. It’s I think it’s a great book. It’s. No matter how much, you know, supposedly I’ve been in marketing for 20 years, but it really summarizes quickly and very clearly all the different marketing possibilities you [00:55:00] have and takes you through and allows you to kind of go for, go for the jugular in deciding how to do your marketing.

So a book I would recommend.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Awesome. An innovative product or idea in the current e commerce, retail or tech landscape that you feel excited about?

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So I had a bit of difficulty with it. I think in general, we’re in a very interesting space in e commerce because we went through the whole of COVID, uh, which is a boom for most e commerce people.

We went through a post COVID winter, nuclear fallout, when it went exactly the other way, when the world was opening up, we went through huge dislocation in fulfillment and freight. Uh, we’ve been through big inflation. Um, so we ourselves, we put up our prices and now we’re back to profitability again. So there’s huge changes along the way and along the way, I’m sure many e commerce people just didn’t [00:56:00] make it.

I actually think things are settling down now. This has not been a particularly spectacular year from what I see, what Stripe sells from e commerce. Values have gone up, volumes are fairly stable. You would probably know. Uh, better than that, but I actually think things are settling down now and the future is not going to go away.

I think e commerce will, will, will grow very substantially over the next 10 years. So it is a very, very good place to be provided you’re on top of, you’ve, you’ve, you’ve made it through all this. So it’s not a specific idea, but I just feel quite bullish about the whole industry in general.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Yeah, I, I feel the same.

I think the convenience that brings the e commerce brings to consumers is really, um, and it’s, it’s going to become more and more global, um, as we go. A business or productivity tool or software that you would recommend or a productivity tip.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So I did, uh, very recently is to turn off [00:57:00] my phone and have in a different room in my bedroom from my bed.

I just did wonders for my, I was having real issues with sleep. Uh, it’s not easy being an e commerce entrepreneur, I’m sure, or any kind of entrepreneur. Everything is there on your phone, right? How many sales, everything there. And I was just getting crazy, just, just, I was just getting sick of it and like waking up, checking my phone.

Um, I have an iPad and I’m not non, technology. I have an iPad so I can browse to my heart’s content, but this iPad is not connected with my Stripe and my Amazon and my Walmart. I just don’t know. And you know, it’s, it’s perfect. I don’t even want to wake up. I don’t even want to see that stuff until I wake up and had my first cup of tea.

So that’s my productivity. It makes me much better and in a better mood for the rest of the day.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: I mean, it’s interesting. I mean, Stripe is definitely, it gives you the, the dopamine hit, right? Like when, when you see the order come in, [00:58:00] it’s like chit chatting. So I’m not surprised. Um, a startup or business, um, that you think is currently doing great things.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Well, it’s not very original. I think the whole world is looking at Elon Musk, uh, and I think it’s inspiration. I noticed my, my Children, if you look at children, they don’t talk about Steve Jobs or Bill Gates and all that history, even Elon Musk. I think what’s amazing about him is the way he’s gone into successive fields.

There’s clearly something he’s doing right and whatever field he goes in in such a depth and makes a success out of it. So, um, Yeah, I find that very, um, very, very inspirational and I like that kind of engineering side of it because I think people are always making apps and things like that. But I like the fact that he actually makes it say, you know, SpaceX, he makes a car at a right at the right car, the right price.

I like that that kind of making things. [00:59:00] So there’s a couple of things. I like that. I also like the fact that, you know, people are always saying test and measure and he just took Twitter for 2 billion brand and he just changed the name without testing anything. So I like this kind of gut feel bravado and going in and doing things.

Um, I find it quite inspirational. Yeah. I mean,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Elon Musk, definitely. Um, he is very intelligent and very mission driven and yeah. Now, of course, he has so much business experience as well. So. Definitely on a different playing field. Last question. Um, what is the best business advice that you have ever received or you would give to

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: other entrepreneurs?

I think it would have to be, uh, Stay on top of your cash. Uh, be, be very, uh, be very aware of the cash. Um, uh, plan your cash. Um, it’s, it’s not a joke going to, going to business. It’s, there’s so much startup literature, which, which, you know, talks about [01:00:00] everything apart from survival. Uh, so I think very important to, to do that.

Um, I, in the end, uh, to be very honest with you, you know, I had a lot of fair, fairly, fairly distinct, you know, advantage of starting a business read too late in life. I had some savings and a couple of apartments. I had some money, but the disadvantages are expensive, very high because I’ve got kids who are in school and so forth.

So I can’t survive on 3, 000 a month. It’s not possible. Um, so, um, yeah, cash is really, really important. And, um, You’d be surprised the number of entrepreneurs I know, they keep very quiet about it, but the number of entrepreneurs who’ve had to be bailed out by their mother or by their parents in law, by somebody else, um, is really, really large.

So yeah, that would be my advice.

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: No, I mean, that’s, that’s a great advice. And surprisingly, a lot of the Entrepreneurs that I talk, talk to, like, this is probably one of the most, uh, frequently [01:01:00] repeated, uh, you know, advice.

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: So,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: yeah, especially like, uh, entrepreneurs who are doing it for the first time and, you know, they, they’re going through that startup phase.

I think, uh, many times, um, entrepreneurs kind of, um, get stuck with the cashflow issue. So that’s, yeah, I hear this so

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: many times. Yeah. The ideal thing is if your wife is working, if one of you is working, then it makes it much more comfortable. Then you can just say to your wife, look, I’m starting this. Give me eight to 10 years.

Let me figure this out. And, and, you know,

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: Probably not what the wife wants to hear. But, uh. Well, Ishan, thank you so much. Uh, those were all the questions that I had. Uh, thank you so much for sharing your story, for sharing a little bit about hair styling industry and also, uh, your business, uh, lessons. Um, if anybody wants to check out your products, what is the best way to do that?[01:02:00]

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: Yeah. Just go online www. uglyducklingcolor. com. Um, and then you can also look at social media and yeah, but just go online to our website. There’s a lot of stuff

Sushant Misra of TrepTalks: there. Perfect. Well, thank you so much again, Nishant. Really appreciate it. And I wish you all the very best in your

Ishan Dutta of Ugly Duckling: business journey. My total pleasure.

Okay. Nice speaking to you, Sushant. Likewise.


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