Faces of Entrepreneurship: Katie Raeburn, BIOMILK Skincare

2023-02-02T15:18:42-08:00 February 2nd, 2023|Developing a Product/Service|

Katie Raeburn is Co-Founder and Head of Digital & E-commerce of BIOMILK Skincare, a 100% clean microbiome skincare company selling D2C and in traditional brick & mortar retail (Whole Foods, Plum Market). She has extensive experience in Digital Marketing & E-Commerce, Marketing Analytics, Brand Management and New Product Development. She has an MBA from Columbia Business School and a BA from Bennington College.

What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Katie Raeburn: For me, “entrepreneurship” means making your own way – however you define that. It’s certainly possible to be entrepreneurial within a big company. For me personally, it was the transition I made from a big company to working for my first startup, becoming an independent marketing consultant, and ultimately co-founding my company, BIOMILK.

Tell us about your first experience with entrepreneurship.
KR: Seven years ago I left my brand management job at a big company job to lead marketing at a NYC-based tech startup. It was a platform designed to connect new parents with functional experts across a variety of different verticals, allowing them to book services with a curated group of professionals (think lactation consultants, educational experts, family law experts). What strikes me in retrospect was that I learned a ton about projects only tangentially related to marketing; web platform UX / UI design, business development, all kinds of things. That’s also what entrepreneurship is to me; making space for new challenges and skills all the time, according to the current and future needs of the business.

What is your company’s origin story? What is the biggest reason you started your business? What did those early days look like and teach you?
KR: Our company, BIOMILK Microbime Skincare, is truly my business partner, Valerie’s, brain child. She had many years experience in beauty and personal care on big brands (e.g. Aveeno, Neutrogena), and she identified the huge potential for a probiotics / microbiome care solution in beauty, and the fact that this set of ingredients (our proprietary probiotic complex) could deliver on a key consumer beauty need (visibly healthy skin) in a clean, healthy, cost-effective way. Valerie and I have known each other for 10 years at this point and I trust her 110%. When she came to me with this idea and a beta product essentially ready to launch, I thought, she’s the right person and this is the right brand, so let’s go!

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
KR: I’m not very past-focused, but I do wish I had realized earlier how beneficial it is to find community with other like-minded entrepreneurs. Could be in the same sector or different. I love to work alone most of the time, but especially during the pandemic it became way too much alone time and ultimately it was too lonely being an entrepreneur. When I found community amongst my accelerator cohort with the StartOut organization (supporting LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs), a lot of things started to fall into place with me. I found a lot of renewed energy thanks to this community, at a time I really needed It.

What does “success” look like for you? We’d love to hear your biggest, boldest dream? What do you think will help you achieve it?
KR: For me, success is totally linked to happiness. Am I more happy than not with what I’m doing professionally? Is there a lot of variety to keep me engaged and not bored? Am I also, critically, able to make ends meet? Because lack of means is a source of stress and ultimately a drag on happiness. It is a very simple dream, but I would say just continuing to be happy and challenged by what I do and ultimately being able to make ends meet, plus generate a positive return on my investment in BIOMILK.

What is your superpower as an entrepreneur? What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
KR: My entrepreneurial superpower is that I truly love being by myself much of the time, so despite what I mentioned above (getting a little too cloistered during the pandemic), I don’t get too discouraged by the isolation factor of working mostly solo. It is a balance, but on the whole, work is “me time” for me, which is a source of strength.

My proudest moment so far is when our brand finally launched into our dream retailer, Whole Foods Market, in March 2022. It was the culmination of so much anticipation and heavy lifting to meet all their requirements as a small, independent, women-owned brand. Seeing our products in stores is exciting for me literally every time (which is almost daily sometimes, as I do a lot of store visits).

The darkest moments I’ve experienced are each time we’ve experienced cash flow shortages. We are a bootstrapped start-up – years into our journey. It can be immensely stressful, for example, to figure out how our next production round is going to be funded, but so far we have always worked together and found solutions.

What are your personal driving principals, your top values?
KR: I am pretty obsessed with doing what I say I will do, when I say I will do it (follow-through). Of course I’m not totally rigid and sometimes priorities have to shift, but I really hate to overpromise / under deliver. It’s correspondingly something that really doesn’t agree with me when others over-promise me and don’t deliver. I also value authentic people and stories and clear, direct communication.

How have your personal principles and values shaped your company’s values and principles?
KR: Clear, direct communication is the norm within our company. For example, Valerie and I are completely honest with each other about our needs and goals – personally and professionally. We know where each other stands on an ongoing basis, and it’s super helpful as it allows us to make decisions as a team that consider each person’s unique needs and challenges.

What’s it like to work alone or with your partners?
KR: Working alone is me-time for me – generally speaking, it gives me energy. I also love connecting with Valerie, which we do on an almost-daily basis. It’s a great mix of alone and teamwork. I also reach out to fellow entrepreneur friends & mentors on a regular basis to get and provide feedback and support.

Do you have a mentor? Tell us about what makes them valuable to you and your business?
KR: I have two fantastic mentors who I met through the StartOut organization (mentioned above). One is a beauty industry expert who is so knowledgeable about the market, trends, and appropriate contacts to help us In many different projects. The second is a startup and investing savvy mentor, who I connect with so deeply on a personal level as well. He’s amazing at helping me define the metrics that will really move the needle with prospective partners and investors.

What role does mentorship play in your world (as a mentor or mentee)?
KR: Thanks to the benefits I have reaped from my own mentors, I volunteer my time as a mentor in the StartOut organization as well.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?
KR: On workdays, I get up very early, around 5:15am. I have a daily ritual of stretching, exercise, and 10-15 minutes of meditation using an app. The stretching and meditation are non-negotiable – the exercise I occasionally skip if I’m short on time. Weekends I get up slightly later, but the rituals are the same.

What are you reading or have read?
KR: Right now I’m reading and working through The 5 Year Plan by James Mills. It’s a methodology, like a workbook on why and how to make a personal and professional 5 Year Plan. I’ve always wanted to do this and a dear friend recommended this resource. I’m just at the beginning but I can see how useful it is already and how much it will benefit future me.

Where do you go for inspiration?
KR: I get inspiration (to keep going) from my kids (ages 8 & 10) and fellow entrepreneur friends, also from my Mom, who herself is an entrepreneur. Creatively, I get inspiration from music and time outdoors, especially near the water.

Do you have a favorite quote, mantra, or words of wisdom to get through the tough days?
KR: When I feel like I need a reset, like I’m overwhelmed or anxious, I practice self compassion by putting my hand over my heart and telling myself as many times as I need “It’s OK, I’m feeling X, and it’s temporary.” It really helps to calm down my nervous system.

Also, I like the quote “courage is not the absence of fear,” from Nelson Mandela and the associated story I read about this quote in the Mandela biography written by Richard Stengel. Basically true strength and bravery reveal themselves through our actions in spite of fear, plus we model bravery for others through these actions, which is a virtuous cycle.

What is a problem that keeps you up at night?
KR: It’s more of a question that keeps me up at night – how are we going to find time to raise the capital we will ultimately need to bring our business to the next level? It’s a real challenge considering all of our other critical tasks to keep the business running smoothly and acquire new customers and retail accounts.

How do you think about helping others through your work?
KR: We have a deep commitment at BIOMILK to human health and environmental health. For our customers (and ourselves!), we focus our product development on truly 100% clean products that improve people’s lives with no room for any ingredient with a questionable health impact. We also ensure our prices stay quite accessible relative to many of our competitors – clean, healthy microbiome beauty should be available to as many people as possible! For the planet, we plant one tree for every product sold through our partnership with the One Tree Planted Foundation.

What advice do you have for fellow (and aspiring) entrepreneurs building and leading teams?
KR: There is no such thing as over-defining objectives and evaluation / measurement of progress toward objectives. Of course any plan needs to be flexible enough to adapt to changes in the business environment, etc., but ambiguity in goals and measurement invariably leads to disappointment.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as – as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
KR: I’d like to be known as an entrepreneur who was high-integrity, creative, adaptable and fun to work with – it’s the fun that stays with me and with the people around me. Otherwise, it’s not worth doing.


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