Kim Walls, Episencial, Woman Entrepreneur
There are different investors for different verticals. I really like being in a few different spaces because it gives me the opportunity to meet an entirely different group of investors and learn a different philosophy around investment models. Through the consumer products market I have met quite a handful of interesting people who have in turn introduced me to interesting entrepreneurs. That is how I got to meet Kim Walls. Since I am investor in Willa Skincare, I was intrigued by Kim’s business, Episencial, that is an all natural safe skin product line made for babies. I see these type of lines and I know that this is where the consumer product market is heading. What is not so surprising is that many of these new natural lines are being developed by women. Once again filling a void in their own lives that they build products for.
Kim grew up in two places because her parents were divorced. Her mother lives in Idaho thirty-eight miles from the Canadian border on a 38 acre horse ranch. Her Mom taught horse back riding and put on horse back riding events. Kim went through the public school system in Idaho. Her father lived in Hollywood, California. He was a biochemical engineer who developed specialty coatings. He had a construction company specializing in surfaces, so he worked on the Olympics, for Disneyland and other counties building out public pools. When Kim was five her father’s genetic skin disease, Vitiligo, inspired him to fund a new skincare company, Epicuren, with the money he made in construction. Both parents are entrepreneurs so not surprising that Kim is too.
Epicuren is quite a large consumer brand at this point. It took 20 years to get there and is totally self-funded. Kim grew up putting labels on the products, making up words about the products that made her think about branding and marketing. Essentially she grew up learning how to build a consumer product company from scratch.
After graduating high school Kim went to work at Club Med for a year teaching horse back riding. It gave her a gap year before starting college and the ability to put a fair amount of cash in her pocket. She began her secondary education in Eugene, Oregon. It was there that she was indoctrinated into the hippy culture. She was raised growing her own food and living an organic life, but it was in Eugene that she realized the life she led was a burgeoning lifestyle movement. Kim realized how important it was to be an advocate for that life.
After one year she transferred to UCSB (University California Santa Barbara) where she majored in cultural anthropology. Kim had always been interested in technology and it was just the beginning of the technology revolution. She wanted to understand how humans and technology integrate. Hence the anthropology of new media. During her time at UCSB she had always worked but it was a marketing job that really made her think about natural products. At school she took her Moms advice to education which is do what you want to do and if you don’t love it, don’t do it. Great advice. So Kim ended up taking all these random courses and by her junior year the school said you need to declare your major. They told her based on what she had taken she had only two options; anthropology or marketing. At this point she opted for marketing but had never worked in marketing before. Committed to figuring it out she got out the yellow pages and looked up market research. She called this company and said she would like to come in and talk to them about marketing. She interviewed the guy who owned and ran the company and when the interview ended he asked her “aren’t you going to ask for a job”? She said sure and started the next day.
What Kim did not realize is this particular firm was run by a man who had worked for years in big marketing companies and had semi-retired to the Santa Barbara area so through his connections he would do really interesting jobs for Fortune 100 companies. That is where she learned what she did not want to do in business. Figuring out how to pair up french fries with movies to manipulate people was not for her. She left Santa Barbara with a boy (I have heard this so many times) and they moved to San Francisco. She tried to get a job in marketing continuing with psychodermic profiling but realized that because the guy she worked for was semi-retired he not only cherry picked his jobs but Kim was doing way more than most people at her level. Instead she started a rep group to sell her fathers products. They needed to bring the product north so it made total sense.
Fast forward she broke up with the boy and decided to move back to Los Angeles. She sold the rep firm to the Southern California rep firm that was also selling Epicuren so they could expand. It was the perfect solution. In Los Angeles she went to work for Natural Healthlink a start-up company that was trying to move healthcare professionals into alternative healthcare. This was a time when patients would not tell their doctors about alternative treatments they were trying. Kim was there skin care guru and content manager. This is where her anthropology courses came in handy. She had to create and market medical content that was interesting to doctors. When Epicuren was founded by her father dermatologists did not understand that selling their clients the right skincare would increase their businesses. She understood how to bridge that landscape overseeing the writers to create content that was accessible and approachable. The job lasted about a year and a half before the business started to wane as they were competing with WebMd.
Kim got married, got pregnant and then everything changed. She went shopping for baby skincare
products and was horrified by what she saw. Every product had paraffin in it and she knew from her fathers business over the last 15 years that it was not ok. The healthcare bridge piece was that the industry at large did not acknowledge skincare as a healthcare and it should. We are told to avoid toxins but not how to optimize immunity through skincare. Even in India there were studies being done on massage therapy for preemie babies that was making huge inroads. Simply put what goes on the skin goes into the body. She called her Dad and said there is nothing on the skincare market for babies and we have to change that. He said ok and Episenical was off to the races.
The first limitations that Kim found is that the spa market which was the first marketplace that began to sell natural skincare products was not the place to sell baby skincare products. So Kims knowledge of how to sell and market skincare products made no sense. It took year and lots of money to get it right. Since her father had completely boot strapped her business Kim never thought of raising money until a woman VC sat her down and explained to her the virtues of raising money.
Kim started on this journey almost nine years ago. She launched her first product Q1 of 2010. She recently got into Whole Foods and finally figured out how to market the products. It just finally clicked. Of course as all businesses grow there is always a little tweaking to do but they are now moving forward at a good speed. She now has two boys who are 10 and 7, seven people working for her and they are starting to sell and distribute on line too. Kim is a big believer that the future is a hybrid of tech ecommerce and consumer products. You have to talk directly to your consumer and you can do that through your own site.
Talk about connecting the dots. Kim has been working on skin products since she was 5 years old. I love what she has created. Her passion is evident. I look at the Episencial products and there is not even a question that if I was having babies that these are the products that I would want to be using. There is a green revolution taking place with all consumer products and Episencial is leading that race for baby skin products.