Karissa Bodnar, Thrive Causemetics, Woman Entrepreneur

karissa_shot_1000Karissa sent me an email.  It was short, to the point and explained exactly what Thrive Causemetics was and that she was raising money.  She wrote that We are beauty with a purpose; for every product purchased, one is donated to a woman going through cancer treatment. Our products are formulated without parabens, sulfates or petrochemicals but are high performance and are uniquely suited for those with skin sensitivities created by cancer (but work well for all).   I did a little research into why Karissa founded Thrive Causemetics and was inspired.  I wasn’t interested from an investment perspective but I thought her story was one that I wanted to write about.

Karissa grew up on in the small town of Camino Island in Washington State.  Their family lived on 5 acres with lots of animals.  Her father was the superintendent of the school district and her mom was a tennis pro who coached tennis.  She had two parents who were big supporters of education yet Karissa was always more interested in work.  She found herself doing anything from filing papers to selling her own products.  At ten years old she sold her own products knocking on neighbors doors.  She always had this entrepreneurial spirit and started to hone in on it at 16.  Karissa joined Future Business Leaders of America for high school kids.  She got involved in the public speaking part of the program.

The organization could only exist in her town if they raised money to support it.  Karissa made monopoly boards and broke them into separate pieces and sold them around town as art.  She’d go into a local business and ask them for $400 to sponsor Park Place and they would get a life time of advertising on that piece including that at media events she would acknowledge them as a sponsor.  What media events??  Karissa knew she was raising money for a struggling chapter but she felt strongly about participating in it and keeping it alive.  She ended up raising $25K.  That money had a big impact on the community.  The cash was able to sponsor kids to go to conferences, provide materials for the school and when the economy tanked the school had to cut out many after school chapters but because of the money she raised for the Future Business Leaders of America chapter remained in her home town.

Karissa graduated high school and went to University of Washington where she majored in marketing and communications.  Not surprising, she was more focused on her internships at Sephora and Nordstrums than her classes.  The best job she landed in college was for Clarisonic. It was was small start-up when she got there.  They were located in Bellevue Washington.  She started working full time there 6 months before she graduated.  She wrote persuasive letters to all her professors to work with her by letting her do the class work at night so she could work full time at Clarisonic. They all said yes and with that Karissa was able to follow her passion; work.

The job was an incredible opportunity, a dream job.  Clarisonic was acquired by L’Oreal about a year and a half after she got there.  The company moved to their offices to Redmond.  Karissa ended up working in the luxury division of L’Oreal on active skin brands that were also acquisitions such as Lancome and Yves St Laurent.  The company likes moving people around so they can experience different parts of the business and keep the products fresh.  Her boss knew that Karissa had a passion for formulations and gave Karissa the opportunity to work on that too.  She also traveled to Paris and NYC primarily and a few European countries to help launch new brands by presenting to their representatives to make sure that the message was consistent throughout the globe.

Then tragedy struck.  Karissa lost one of her best friends, Kristy who was 23 years old to cancer.  Her friend was incredibly strong and shared her story until the very end with others through her blog Wake Up and Live.  Kristy left a profound impact on Karissa.  After the funeral Karissa was on a plane to LA and wrote a business plan for Thrive Causemetics.  She wanted to create a company around products named after women who have had a deep-seated impact on others.  Part of the plan was that for every purchase made, one product is donated to a woman who has cancer.  She returned from her business trip and left L’Oreal.  She knew that it wasn’t that she should launch this business but that she must launch this business.  It became her purpose.

Thrive Causemetics ecommerce site launched this past February on NY Fashion week.  The products have been in the works for over a year and a half.  The products had to be safe and effective for people going through cancer treatment.  They had launched in high end stores and hospitals before the ecommerce site.  The first product was eyelashes.  When you lose your hair and eyelashes it is really difficult to get them to adhere to your lids.

Karissa realizes that the market is niche but that niche is a $1b market.  They are working on color products next.  All the revenue from the past products have gone right back into the business.  She has been boot strapping the company herself.  It has grown organically through word of mouth…and also Karissa’s scrappiness on the PR side.  She is starting to work with a celebrity beauty artist who happened to do a lot of work at Good Morning America.  She’d be invited to hang out on the set and then during clips around cancer awareness the crew started to talk to Karissa about showing her product on the show.  Robin Roberts, who is a cancer survivor and works on GMA loves the products.

As Karissa says, the products are named after thrivers who inspire women.  Surviving is one thing but thriving is totally different.  Watch out for Karissa…she is a woman with a mission and a really good one to boot.