Work and Life is a radio program hosted by Stew Friedman, director of the Wharton Work/Life Integration Project, on Sirius XM’s Channel 111, Business Radio Powered by Wharton. Every Tuesday at 7 pm EST, Stew speaks with everyday people and the world’s leading experts about creating harmony among work, home, community, and the private self (mind, body, and spirit).
On Work and Life, Stew Friedman spoke with Nova Covington, CEO and Founder of Goddess Garden Organics. She joins me today to share her unconventional journey from her rural upbringing to leading one of the fastest growing and most innovative natural skin care companies.
The following are edited excerpts of their conversation.
Stew Friedman: Nova Covington is the Founder of Goddess Garden Organics. She joins me today to tell us about her unconventional journey from a rural upbringing to leading one of the fastest growing and most innovative natural skin care companies and how her mission driven company is profiting by embodying its values. Nova, could you give us the capsule summary of where you came from and how you got to be the founder of Goddess Garden?
Nova Covington: I grew up in the Canadian wilderness and the Oregon rainforest. My family was always inspired by natural healing. My great grandmother was an herbalist so she passed down to the family love of things like echinacea and goldenseal. I was brought up thinking natural products were all the rage everywhere. It wasn’t until I became a mom in my 30’s that I had an experience with my own daughter that inspired the real impetus for starting the company. My daughter, Paige, was born and was allergic to synthetic chemicals. Even with the products that I was finding in natural grocery stores, she was still breaking out in hives. That first year we started with sunscreen and I was like “wow! there’s up to 35% toxic chemicals in this bottle.” And no wonder she’s having a reaction.
SF: Even in those that were labeled “organic?”
NC: The organic movement hadn’t quite started yet. Even natural products had parabens and known carcinogens and a lot of synthetics were still being used — especially bubbles and surfactants.
NC: Yes. That’s the stuff that makes soap foam. Any foaming is usually a synthetic. There are a few natural sources, but that was the inspiration for starting the company and we really have bootstrapped this brand. We started as a small farmer’s market brand in Boulder, Colorado. Like other great brands, we grew up in Boulder, like Justin’s and Celestial Seasonings, starting at farmer’s markets learning our market. I was my target market so that helped a lot. I understood what I was looking for and solving a problem really created a business.
SF: How did your growth happen so rapidly or is it only recently that you’ve experienced a surge in interest in your products?
NC: The first event we ever did was back in 2005. We sold out of sunscreen at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. Hindsight being 20/20 I would have ditched all our products and just gone right for sunscreen. But in 2009 that’s really when we launched in the natural channel. We launched in Whole Foods and that first year we had about 100 stores. Since 2009 we’ve more than doubled each year. This year we’re on track for more than 170% growth. So we’ve consistently—I jokingly say we’ve — organically grown. Word of mouth has been huge for us. Folks love our sunscreen. It’s a little more elegant. If you’ve ever tried a mineral sunscreen, a lot of competitors have very greasy and white formulas. Ours goes on sheer and it’s nice to use. It even comes in a spray bottle, the container you’re used to with sunscreen. We did some really good innovative things as well. We put testers on the shelf on the first day so folks could try the product before they purchased it.
SF: So sunscreen was the big mover?
NC: That’s right. Sunscreen was the big mover and we’re still only focused on sunscreen. This year we’re launching multiple other categories. But for that you’ll have to wait till the end of the year. It’s going to be exciting. You’ll be able to find our new products in the fall in Whole Foods. We’re innovating some really cool concepts between multiple categories in skin care that haven’t been done before. Innovation has really been the name of the game for us. We had the first “testers”, the first family-sized tube in natural and it’s still our top seller. Nobody copied us. And we wonder “why not?” People are always scared of the price point because it is an organic product which has been great for us! It’s made in America. It is more expensive. And we buy from organic farmers in the U.S. So we totally support organic farming businesses here in the U.S.
SF: So you did this out of the need to help your daughter, Paige, deal with the hives she was getting from these synthetic products? How did that morph into a company with a mission to make a difference?
NC: I think the mission to make a difference came even before the company started. I started at Hewlett-Packard, had a great corporate career, got a Master’s degree, and did all these different things but the whole time I was thinking, “I’m not using my skills. I really should be doing something good for the earth.” I was training leaders to be better leaders but in the long run is this good for the earth? That was always in the back of my mind so I knew I needed to do something and my path was going to be to do something influential — developing products like ours. We’re alternative products is really how I see it, for folks who either have allergies or want a better product for their families. Two, it’s totally safe and effective. We’re only using pure minerals. There’s no side effects. There’s no allergies and in the long run that affects the planet. What’s happening is the sunscreen chemicals are so small that they’re going through our water treatment plants and making it all the way to the ocean — even from the middle of the country like where I am in Colorado. There’s bleaching happening in the coral reef and they have tied it to sunscreen. If you go to a snorkeling tour in Mexico, if your bottle doesn’t say “reef safe” on it, it will be taken away by the Mexican government in the protected areas.
NC: The Mexican government is all over it. And of course you don’t want to be in and out on a snorkeling trip without sunscreen.
SF: Of course, but you have to have sunscreen that’s not going to kill the reefs.
NC: It’s the same environmental issues. We can’t process it out in the water treatment plants. That’s actually why it’s a hormone disruptor for us as humans, especially for kids, and there’s infinite websites that I have used throughout my career. The entire website was created as a breast cancer research database to help determine what the healthy product is and what’s safe.
SF: So what would you say are the core values of Goddess Garden?
NC: We want people to enjoy the sun again. We want people to have peace of mind, as they are putting on their sunscreen, that they are not doing more damage to themselves and the planet and it’s the best possible product and that you’re well protected. I mean the sunscreen is serious. Those bad burns are the ones we know we don’t want. Parents take it very seriously. They really want to know the product works and so that peace of mind is being able to enjoy the sun again and we’re a family brand. Our employees are treated as a family as well. So, I think that family values, and not in the generic sense, but caring about people and flexibility in the workplace is always one of the benefits that I make sure my employees have.
SF: How does that play out? Can you give us an example of what a common practice might be in order to be ensure that people have flexibility and are being honored for who they are outside of work as well as at work?
NC: One of my marketing team members took three weeks to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. And I said “do it.” He used all his paid time off and took some unpaid time as well. We’re still a fairly small company. We’re still under 50 employees. I think being able to travel and do those once in a lifetime opportunities that come your way whether it’s travelling with your family, whatever it is that inspires people. And a lot of people volunteer. They spend their time in outside organizations so on certain days in the week they say, “okay see you later” and go and volunteer for whatever it is. I think having work-life balance is really critical for me as well as my entire company.
SF: How is it for you as the CEO? I’m sure it’s not easy to draw those boundary lines to enable you to be the mother you want to be, spouse, friend, et cetera. How do you do it personally?
NC: I think the first lesson is “you’re not perfect.” If I’m being an awesome CEO, I’m not being a perfect mom. If I’m a perfect mom, I’m not a great CEO. So, you can’t really be perfect all things at the same time.
SF: Bravo! It’s an important idea. You can’t do everything all at once.
NC: No. One little step at a time is how we got here. We always tell the team that each day to do what you can and chip away at the goals and head towards the vision. And all of a sudden you’re there. Wow! Yeah we made it!
SF: So what does that mean for you though personally as you try to accept “okay, I’m not perfect.” You have to make some adjustments in order to be the person and the leader you want to be. And not just work but in the other parts of your life. What are some of the most important principles that you try to follow to realize that ideal?
NC: I think one is not trying to micromanage and control every aspect of the business. I have fantastic people who I totally trust. I’ve collected these amazing people in our company that are from all over the place, from great brands, that have really done great things like Chipotle and Starbucks.
Having people that I really trust; and without my supportive husband who’s been the real reason why I could not have a salary for a few years in the beginning when starting the company, and all those things that you do, the sacrifices you make as an entrepreneur. He has been so supportive. He’s actually the formulator of the products; he has a nutritional science background. He’s really been the rock. And a year-and-a-half ago he left his upper level management job at IBM to join the company.
So, he’s my COO now. That is the key to me having more balance and having somebody great that I trust in that role. He does the CFO job as well. He has an MBA from CU Boulder with upper level management experience from IBM. He had about 400 employees under him and he helps me a lot. Without his help, I wouldn’t have as much work-life-balance as I do. We’re usually juggling.
SF: How do you find time for your personal life and your family time when you’ve got your COO next to you at home?
NC: Well, our kids start to bill us a dollar every time we mention Goddess Garden. They cut us off, “can you discuss this later at work? We don’t want to talk about Goddess Garden.” I have an 11 year old and a 4 year old and the 4 year old is happy to cut you off!
SF: The 11 year old?
NC: She’s pretty into it. She sees herself as a part of the brand. Up until this last year her picture was on the package with mine — another very unconventional move that we made.
SF: You mean to have your personal picture on there?
NC: Yeah that was an innovation as well and now I see a lot of brands putting a picture of someone on the front. But we did a big re-brand in the fall and launched in March with our brand new packaging with a great design firm from San Francisco
SF: So your kids cut you off but, how do the two you, your husband/COO/CFO, find time to devote to the things that are beyond your company when you’re together at home?
NC: There’s a few things we do. We have a lot of hobbies in common like road biking. He supports me while I’m doing yoga and I support him while he’s mountain biking. I think spending time to do the things that you need to regenerate yourself is important. And then we have date night once a week. Having time together without the kids, without the business. Especially when he joined the company full time that was when we said, “Ok, we need a night designated as our time.”
SF: And how does that effect the performance of your company – having the time that’s just for the two of you? In other words, how do investments in your family life, community and for yourself actually help you at work?
NC: By staying more connected, which is super important when you’re running a company together, you have to make sure you agree on things. Communication is really important. We do take time, when the kids are asleep, to talk about business issues. We have a 9 PM cut off rule; past 9 PM we can’t talk about business anymore. Those are some of our techniques that we’ve accumulated to help us stay balanced. And still, you struggle everyday. Balance is an ideal we all shoot for but you have your days when it gets a little out of control.
SF: I abhor the term “balance.” And I’ve been advocating for over 25 years now that we talk about harmony or integration among the different parts of life because balance is impossible. A better way to think about it is how to create a sense of integration or harmony over the course of our whole life not at any one minute.
NC: I love it! Not having a separate work self, I think being myself at work helps me. I totally agree with your point on balance. I don’t make any New Year’s resolutions but I choose a word for the year and a couple of years ago my word was balance. About half way through the year I said, you know balance is always a struggle. It’s like a knife edge you’re trying to stay on top of. I agree with you; it’s the wrong metaphor. And harmony was my word of the next year after that.
SF: What does the future hold?
NC: We’re going into 4000 CVS stores Memorial Day Weekend. We’re in REI and all the natural grocery stores.
To learn more about Nova Covington and Goddess Garden visit their web site www.goddessgarden.com