The founders of skin care startup Starface on normalizing uncomfortable conversations

August 31, 2020, 11:30 AM UTC

This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.

Launched in fall 2019 by former beauty director Julie Schott and Brian Bordainick, previously head of innovative ventures at Hudson’s Bay Co., Starface aims to change the conversation around skin and acne today by rejecting negative perceptions.

Fueled by the initial success of its Hydro-Stars (star-shaped hydrocolloid pimple patches), which immediately found a loyal customer base, Starface was able to jump into new categories (including face wash and moisturizer) and to expand internationally (so far, in the U.K. and Canada), all in the past five months.

Ahead of the brand’s first anniversary on Sept. 5, Fortune recently spoke with cofounders Schott and Bordainick to learn more about their business, the lessons learned, the hurdles overcome, and their plans for next year.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Starface co-founders Julie Schott & Brian Bordainick
Starface cofounders Brian Bordainick and Julie Schott.
Courtesy of Starface

Fortune: What inspired you to launch Starface? How does it stand apart in the skin care industry?

Schott: From day one, the impetus for Starface was to normalize acne and create connectivity around this really universal experience, bringing optimism to an otherwise bleak space.

How have you divided the workload between yourselves? How has your workforce grown since establishing the company?

Bordainick: We both have very different skill sets, which is what makes our relationship work so well. On the day to day, Julie works with the team on product development, branding, and voice, while I work more on the business side of the brand. Despite that dichotomy, every major decision must be agreed upon by both of us. 

Schott: Starface is powered by a small team, so we’re both able to touch every aspect of the business. Since half of our first year has been spent on lockdown, it’s been especially important to stay close, connected, and collaborative digitally. 

Starface launched on Sept. 5, 2019, with Hydro-Stars and a new perspective on acne and skin care.
Courtesy of Starface

Skin care is increasingly outselling cosmetics in the beauty business. Why do you think that is? How much of a role does social media play in your branding and marketing?

Schott: Skin care is self-care, whereas color cosmetics are often part of a look for the outside world.

Bordainick: Starface is extremely digital, and that means engaging with our customers wherever they are. A vast majority of them are on TikTok and Instagram. It’s been interesting to see how our Instagram followers [and] traffic have increased since engaging more on TikTok specifically. The talent and creativity on TikTok is unlike any other platform, and we see a lot of synergy between our values and the freedom of self-expression there. We’re just grateful to receive so much organic visibility since we’ve never worked with influencers in a paid capacity. 

Throughout 2020, Starface has dropped limited-edition versions of its Hydro-Stars, including Cyber-Stars (metallic) and Glow Stars (glow in the dark). In June, the brand launched a permanent addition to its core offering, Rainbow Hydro-Stars: 100% of its proceeds are donated to organizations that help protect and uplift Black lives and LGBTQ+ lives.
Courtesy of Starface

What has been your most successful or greatest “hero” product since launching? Have customers been asking for any new offerings in particular?

Schott: We launched with our yellow Hydro-Stars and followed with limited-edition iterations, each of which sold out within days. It’s easy to point to Hydro-Stars as a win, but it’s our two new skin care products, Space Wash and Moisture on Mars that generate unanimously positive reviews from customers. The goal has always been to create the absolute best-in-category for acne-prone skin using gentle, dermatologist-vetted ingredients.

Bordainick: We look to our customers to understand what they want to see from us as a brand, and over the last few months, we’ve launched a cleanser, Space Wash, and moisturizer, Moisture on Mars. We have significant plans to round out our assortment even more this year. 

In May, Starface introduced a gentle yet effective cleanser, Space Wash, the brand’s first product after Hydro-Stars.
Courtesy of Starface

How are you funded? And given the ongoing economic crisis, what has been raising funds been like during this time?

Bordainick: We raised a $1 million pre-seed with investors, followed by a $2 million seed round early this year. That was led by BBG with support from Able, Bobbi Brown, Brand Foundry, Amity Supply, NJ Falk, Brian Spaly, and Roth Martin.

Funding during the pandemic has been interesting. I feel like the funding ecosystem got very weary of [direct-to-consumer] brands and was looking for more diverse revenue streams. But as major retailers were shut down and more and more people have been spending more and more time online, the pendulum has swung back, and people are talking about investing in digital channels.

Instead of going to the whims of investors, we’ve tried to stay true to who we are and what we are building. Our goal has always been to be accessible to as many people as possible, and we’ve been fortunate that the pandemic hasn’t had a material impact on sales, but certainly has on supply chain.

Post-pandemic and five years down the road, where do you see Starface in the market?

Schott: Five years from now, I hope Starface will have encouraged a generation of young people to challenge mainstream beauty industry BS with radical self-acceptance. 

Bordainick: I echo what Julie said. We want to create a legacy company for today’s generation.