Craig Dubitsky is a serial entrepreneur. He built eos and later, Hello Products,
from the ground up. Here, Dubitsky shares some insights on what it takes to make great products and keep the flow of goods flowing.
• What’s your background? Did you know how to formulate products?
I started my career as a commodities and currency trader, a far cry from the world of design and transformational CPG, let alone product formulation. I was an arbitrageur, and I would focus on uncovering inefficiencies that could be leveraged for gain. I turned my attention to CPG because I had always been in love with brands, design, and “everyday” products. I became obsessed with the lack of innovation when it came to design, brand, culture, and the use of thoughtful ingredients. There was an arbitrage opportunity there—to bring something modern, effective, culturally relevant and more natural to a category with little to no excitement.
I was very lucky to meet the founders of Method
when they were mixing product in their bathtub, and that was a pivotal and defining moment for me. I fell in love with their vision and the larger problem, which was that household cleaning products were typically filled with some unfriendly ingredients, and the packaging was hard on the eyes. Bringing style and substance together in a more natural and more aesthetic offering was a big idea at the time; while I’m not a chemist, it was fairly easy to discern that there were opportunities all over the CPG landscape to create products that were efficacious, but with formulations that didn’t require harsh ingredients. I looked at the lip category and leaned that the average woman was ingesting several pounds of petrochemicals—not so good. And of course, the common twist-up stick and pots were far from inspired and inspiring form factors. That led to the development of eos
. Looking at formulations for toothpaste, I saw ingredients like triclosan—which the FDA banned from hand soap, and artificial sweeteners like saccharin along with nasty-looking crinkly tubes, and I knew there had to be a better way. So while I didn’t know how to formulate products, I knew how to identify categories where formulations could be made to create products more in line with the sensibilities of a more modern consumer.
• How did you develop your formulas? Did you hire a chemist? How did you find one?
The first person I started to work with was our formulator/head of R+D. I was lucky enough to have met her several years back, and we kept in touch. I was very insistent from the start of hello that we create and own proprietary formulations. There were many ingredients that we consciously wanted to keep clear of, and also several emerging, interesting ingredients that we thought could deliver the efficacy we, and the category, demanded, but with the natural profile we were aiming for. We also wanted to make sure we owned the IP (intellectual property) around these formulations, as we felt they would be material assets for us as we pushed things forward with our brand.
• What did you look for in a formulating partner as well as a manufacturing partner?
We wanted partners who were philosophically aligned with our vision and purpose. We wanted open, honest dialogue, we wanted a shared sense of values. When it comes to oral care, we’re talking about a true wellness category that cannot be disintermediated. Good oral hygiene is directly linked to whole-body health, and we wanted partners that shared our view that anything that goes into your mouth should be as efficacy, delicious, and natural as we can make it, especially as we are using these products every day, and giving them to our kids. We needed to all be on the same page, and we’re very fortunate to have partners who want to make the world a friendlier place with us!
• Did you have to kiss a lot of frogs before finding a prince?
Not really. As we had a very clear definition of our purpose and our principles right from the start, they helped guide us and act as a good filter in terms of partner selection. When you find folks who share your values, and who have the chops and experience to produce what you’re after, you can move swiftly and with shared conviction.
Each year we’ve been able to bring even more differentiated innovation, with each year’s innovation exceeding the last. Listening to what people want, and bringing the best ingredients, in a way people love.
• What made you choose your current contract manufacturing partner?
Honesty, humanity, quality. I remember visiting one of the plants that was manufacturing our very first toothpaste product. I sat with the shift managers, the line operators, and I told them that together, we were creating the future. And that they needed to think of themselves as artists, not as folks who were filling packaging. We were designing the future, and we were artists, not manufacturers.
• What would you do differently if you had to do it all over again?
When we got started, we moved at a ridiculously fast pace—we went from concept to commercialized product—including completely custom packaging, where we needed to build all of the tools—in a touch less than 6 months. While it’s easy to look back and see what you’d want to change, I don’t know that I’d change a thing. We learned how to move really fast, and now we’ve gotten our development time down to an even faster pace based on the learnings from our very early formulations.
• What advice would you give to someone who is starting out creating their own line?
Have a bold, differentiated vision, and don’t lose focus with respect to what makes you and your brand and product special! Some folks may try to talk you out of what you envision for your product, and if that’s the case, they aren’t the right partner. The right manufacturing partner won’t try to get you to work within their limitations, they’ll work with you to achieve new levels of awesomeness!
Manufacturing can be very messy—mistakes can be very costly, and you need to be able to handle the bumps--from unexpected delays, ingredient shortages, weather issues, management hiccups…they all have material timeline and financial impact. So be sure to bake in some time and money for the unexpected, and most importantly, make sure the vision and values you have for your company, manifested in your brand and product, are aligned with your manufacturing partners. If you’re just a number on a spreadsheet in someone’s production schedule, you might fall through the cracks. When you’re truly connecting and invested together in mutual success, than you’ve just dramatically increased the likelihood for long-term success.