Episode 173: Kayla Bertagna and Lisa Ballstaedt, Co-Founders of Soon Skincare

It was friends at first sight for besties and business partners Kayla Bertagna and Lisa Ballstaedt. The Co-Founders of Soon Skincare named the brand for Lisa’s Korean Grandmother, keeping in mind the meaning of the word in Korean — smooth and pure. The pair aims to bring the world the excitement and innovation of Korean skincare with an unsurpassed user experience, and do it with a lot of laughs along the way.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey, everybody. It's Jodi Katz, your host of Where Brains Meet Beauty® podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in today. This week's episode features the founders of Soon Skincare, that's Kayla Bertagna and Lisa Ballstaedt. If you missed last week's episode, it featured Anisa Telwar Kaicker. She's the founder and CEO of Anisa International. Hope you enjoy the shows.

Hey everybody. I'm excited to be here with Kayla Bertagna and Lisa Ballstaedt. They are the co-founders of Soon Skincare. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty®.
Kayla BertagnaThank you.
Lisa BallstaedtWe are excited to do this with you, Jodi.
Jodi KatzYay, and I got your names pronounced right, I think.
Lisa BallstaedtYes, you nailed it there.
Kayla BertagnaThey're tricky.
Jodi KatzPeople can't see you right now, but you're doing this amazing salt and pepper thing, because Kayla has blonde hair and she's wearing white, and Lisa has dark hair and she's wearing black.
Kayla BertagnaOh, I didn't even notice our outfits. We do that a lot. I seem to wear white a lot and she seems to black.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, yin and yang over here.
Jodi KatzYeah, it works. Okay. We're going to start this conversation with my favorite question, because during COVID times where the days are difficult with kids at home, now it's virtual school for many of us, and I'd like for us to think back in time to a simpler, simpler, more relaxing moment in our lives when we were little kids, and we were like, "When I grow up, I want to be something." I wanted to be an archeologist. We'll start with Lisa. When you were a little kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Lisa BallstaedtWhen I was a little kid, for a long time I wanted to be a news anchor or a news reporter. Even when I went to college, that's what I was thinking, and then I realized really quickly, that was not for me. I actually do not like public speaking. I don't know what I was thinking, but when I was younger, I was like, "You'd be on TV and have a microphone." Yeah.
Jodi KatzWhat about you, Kayla?
Kayla BertagnaWhen I was really little, I think I really just wanted to be a mom. Then when I was about 14, 15, I realized that I really wanted to go into business, and I really liked accounting and finance and economics. That was kind of my passion.
Jodi KatzHow'd you figure that out at 14, that you love economics?
Kayla BertagnaI took a economics marketing class in, I think it was my freshman year, and I loved it. I loved it. I've always liked math. That's kind of my thing. Anyway, it was great.
Jodi KatzI want to talk about Soon, but I want to talk about it through the lens of your friendship. Let's just first, tell me why the brand is called Soon. What does that mean?
Kayla BertagnaThat's a great story.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, so we wanted a name that would make sense in Korean and in English, and Soon is my middle name and it's my Korean grandmother's name. I mean, I always have thought it's just a beautiful name, but then I asked my grandpa what Soon means in Korean, and he said, "It means smooth and pure." Then we were like, "Oh, that's meant to be for a skincare company."
Jodi KatzPerfect name, yes.
Lisa BallstaedtKayla is so gracious, and she was totally on board with it when I told her that.
Jodi KatzAbsolutely, yeah.
Lisa BallstaedtI'm like, "Well, what if we do Soon Skincare? I know it's my middle name, but anyway.
Kayla BertagnaI was like, as long as we can trademark it, we do it.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, exactly.
Kayla BertagnaWe got the trademark, and so it was that.
Jodi KatzIsn't that amazing that the trademark was available?
Kayla BertagnaOh, yes. Amazing, because-
Lisa BallstaedtActually, that's a good story. We're really lucky we got it, but anyway, that's probably for another time.
Jodi KatzOkay. As I mentioned, I want to talk about Soon through the lens of friendship, because I've gotten to know you a little bit, both a little bit, and the inspiration for the brand comes from being friends and the friendship that you have, and potting together during COVID and all this stuff to sort of reinforce it. I mentioned to you that I think that the fragrances of your skincare products are really friendly, and I think they almost, even though it's not a fragrance brand, they help tell the story of friendship. We'll start with you, Kayla. When did you meet Lisa? Tell me about the first time you met. It's almost like this is like a romance story.
Kayla BertagnaOkay, yeah, no. I had one of my very closest friends came to visit, and it's funny because it's my friend that set me up with my husband. She text some friends in the area and said, "I'm in town. Let's all meet at Sprinkles, whoever can." Lisa was one of the people that came and met us, and we hit it off right away. Our daughters, because I brought my oldest, and she brought her oldest, and they were playing and having a great time. I was pregnant with my youngest and Lisa, right away, was so welcoming. I just moved to the area, so right away, we started hanging out and doing stuff the next week. It was awesome.
Jodi KatzWait, so the matchmaker friend who connected you with your husband, actually connected you with your future business partner?
Kayla BertagnaYes, yes, she did.
Lisa BallstaedtIsn't that amazing?
Kayla BertagnaI owe her a lot. She's one of my very closest friends. She's just wonderful.
Jodi KatzOkay. I's really hard to make friends as an adult. I've noticed that having kids definitely helped, like the pushing the strollers when they were babies. You'd be like, start to notice the other strollers, but it's really, really difficult, I think, and takes a lot of time to find real friendships. It's easy to make acquaintances and meet new people, but to actually find someone that you feel at ease with and truly connected with is challenging as an adult. Did you have this instant chemistry? Were you like, "Oh my god, here's my new friend," Lisa?
Lisa BallstaedtYeah. It was really fun, because we have really good conversation, our kids got along. What I love, I don't know if I've even told you this actually, but what I love about Kayla is, she's not the kind of person to be like, "Oh yeah, let's meet up sometime," leave it really ambiguous. It was like, "Yeah, let's meet up. Let's hang out." Then it was like, "What should we do?"
Kayla BertagnaLike time, we got it down on the calendar. Otherwise it's not going to happen.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah. Yeah. Then I would say like, "Oh, I want to go try this place, and she'd be like, "Okay, well, what day are we doing it?" I'm like, "Yes, this is my kind of girl. This is who I want to be friends with." It was great.
Kayla BertagnaYeah. Yeah, because a lot of people do that. Right?
Lisa BallstaedtYeah.
Kayla BertagnaThey're like, "Oh yeah, let's go to dinner sometime," and then it never happens. Yeah. I'm definitely not like that. If I say something, I'm going to do it. Yeah.
Jodi KatzWell, that's the markings of a great future partner, someone who's actually definitive and going to get the job done, not that you knew that at the time.
Kayla BertagnaOne hundred percent.
Jodi KatzWhen you were both adults and you already had kids and sounded like there's a second on the way for Kayla, were you finding it challenging to like-
Kayla BertagnaThat was my fifth, that was my fifth on the way.
Jodi KatzYour fifth child? Oh, pardon me. Is it a total of five in your house?
Kayla BertagnaYeah. I have five kids.
Jodi KatzThat's amazing. Okay. Did you ever find it hard to make friendships like you did with each other, new friendships?
Kayla BertagnaOoh, that's a good question. I feel like certain people when you meet them, right away-
Lisa BallstaedtYou just click.
Kayla BertagnaYeah, and then other people it's like, oh, you kind of see, that'll be a fun person to run into.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, and then maybe the friendship grows over like a couple of years, but yeah, we were definitely a friendship that happened right away. It was there.
Jodi KatzI totally envy the story because for me, it's always been really hard for me to, in most of my life, I think I'm getting much better at it, but so much insecurity takes over when I start to meet new people, and I hold back. I kind of close up and it's always been challenging for me to navigate groups of people. You said a group of people met for cupcakes. You know, finding a way in when there's so many people is I think hard for a lot of people, but I would freeze. I really admire the fact that you're able to find each other and then just meeting people that I think I have the potential for a long-term friendship with versus just, I know a lot of people. That's the thing. That's really challenging.
Kayla BertagnaWell, what's so great about Lisa, is she made it really easy. She makes it really easy and she knew that I had Evie and then my triplets, and then I was pregnant and she is very thoughtful. She made hanging out super easy, because it's not always easy when you have five kids, I mean, four kids at the time, then pregnant. It scares some people. Some people are like, "Ooh, that's too many kids. It stresses me out." Anyway, Lisa was very patient.
Lisa BallstaedtThank you.
Jodi KatzAs we're talking about this, one of my kids just showed up in my office, during my podcast recording.
Lisa BallstaedtLove it.
Kayla BertagnaThat's funny.
Lisa BallstaedtShe just had her first day of virtual school today.
Kayla BertagnaOoh. We feel you.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah.
Jodi KatzYeah. Well, it's a half day today, so school is over. That was easy.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah.
Kayla BertagnaGood, yeah.
Jodi KatzEasy for me. Okay, so let's move on to how friendship plays a role in the brand. The inspiration for the brand actually happened through friendship stories. Lisa, you want to start us off on that one?
Lisa BallstaedtActually, this one is a better question for Kayla, for how the inspiration started, because-
Kayla BertagnaOh, okay. For how Soon start. Okay. Yeah. This good friend who introduced me to Lisa-
Lisa BallstaedtShe's very pivotal in our story.
Kayla BertagnaYeah, so she and I put together this girl's trip, and Lisa was on the girl's trip and we gave everyone a gift with little goodies in it. We decided to do a masking night, Korea masking nights, so we had bought some Korean face masks. I've been into skincare a very long time. I care a lot, and I like to see the effects of what it can do for your skin, different products. When we were using them, I mean, these masks would not even stay on our faces. There was just a lot of questions about them. We were laughing at each other, because we all looked super scary, and the scents were horrible.

Anyway, after that trip, I came home and I couldn't stop thinking about them. I just thought they were not very good. I knew how great Korean skincare was, or I'd heard a lot about it. I didn't know a tremendous amount about them, about it actually. Anyway, so after all that thought, Lisa and I had taken our kids to Kids Bop, and we were driving back from LA, and we were stuck in traffic, tons of traffic. I was telling her all these thoughts I had. I was like, "I can't even believe it. Korean skincare is supposed to be so great and so innovative, and these masks were so disappointing." I was like, "I would change this and I would change that, and what do you think?" Then I was like, after we were discussing everything, I was like, "We could totally make this better. What do you think?" Then I don't know, it went from there.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, so it's important to note too, in this story, that this was years ago. Now sheet masking is a lot more popular, but then it was like, "Wait, do we wash this off?" and all the instructions are in Korean. There's just so many questions.
Kayla BertagnaThis brand too, this brand is around. It's in the US. Anyway, I like our masks better.
Lisa BallstaedtAgreed.
Jodi KatzOkay. A lot of people have ideas. Oh, I want to start a company doing this. I want to start that. Why did this car ride become an actual business? What took it from just an idea to becoming a business?
Kayla BertagnaWell, I think in the car, I said, I think I'm very touchy, so I think I grabbed Lisa and I was like, "Do you want to do this with me? She was like, "Oh, let me think about it. Let me think about it." I was like, because I've been in the world of finance and accounting for a long time, and I could do it in my sleep. I was kind of bored of it. It wasn't challenging. Anyway, I needed something new, and I knew that. I'd been looking for a while and been thinking about things. Do you want to take it from here?
Lisa BallstaedtIn that car and I was thinking like, "Oh yeah, this is a good idea. My Korean grandmother was super into skincare, and so I was like, "Yeah, I know that Korean skincare is amazing, but we should really delve into that." I have to think through things and think, before I commit to it I have to be like, "Okay, what are the possible outcomes." I was like, "Yeah, yeah, that could be great." Then like a couple of days later, I was like, "No, this is going to be awesome. Let's do it."
Kayla BertagnaYeah, so she came back and she was like, "No, I'm in." I was like, "Really? You're in? You're going to do this with me?" Yeah, well, we started research here. We went to-
Lisa BallstaedtNew York and LA.
Kayla BertagnaLA first, then New York. Then we flew to Korea and did a lot of research.
Jodi KatzKayla, did you quit your job at that point that Lisa said, "Let's do it," or were you holding onto your job at the same time?
Kayla BertagnaNo, I was still doing it. I slowly let my clients go. I let like three go by the end of 2017, and then I let the rest go a couple months before we launched our products.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah. At the time, I was doing PR and social media for a model management company. It was a pretty good setup for the ages my kids were. That was another thing that weighed into my decision making process too, but it just ended up working out really, really well.
Jodi KatzOkay. Let's talk about, and we talked about this on our intake call, this idea that the friendship has infused in the products and the goop and the fragrance. I know it sounds so bizarre, but then we talked about the movie Waitress and the show Waitress.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, yeah.
Jodi Katz[crosstalk 00:14:36] her emotions are literally baked into her pies. How do you think this is happening? Because I feel it. I'm not a fragrance expert, so I can't talk about the notes and why it makes me think of friendship, but there's like a juiciness and a fruitiness to it, but it's a sophisticated, juicy, and fruity. Why is this screaming to me, friendship?
Kayla BertagnaYou know what? It delights my heart that you-
Lisa BallstaedtNoticed that.
Kayla Bertagna-noticed that and told us that, because we researched a ton, so we've masked together a ton. I mean, to save money in different things, Lisa and I always share a room when we're traveling, and so we are together laughing and experiencing all these research experiences and pretty much every single experience while we're traveling together. I think a lot of humor comes in that and a lot of fun and I don't know. We really have a great time. We really have so much fun together.
Lisa BallstaedtI mean, I feel like we joke about even when, I'm just going to put it out there, even when we're super successful and can have our own rooms,-
Kayla BertagnaI know, we're like-
Lisa BallstaedtWe'll still share a room, right? Because we just have so much fun. It's like a girls trip/work trip.
Kayla BertagnaYeah, and we kind of get in a routine when we're there. Yeah, so anyway, even when we were picking fragrances, we have photos of us laughing. We just laugh at -
Lisa BallstaedtLofting.
Kayla BertagnaYeah, yeah, we make a lot of jokes, because there's a lot of miscommunication too, because we don't speak Korean.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, although I feel like by the end of each trip, we're like, "Yeah, I get what you're saying."
Kayla BertagnaWell, you pick up words really well. I do not. I can't even pronounce things very well. I'll be honest.
Jodi KatzYeah. I feel this vibe of friendship through the fragrances, through the substance, the material that the masks are made out of, this kind of jellyfish, like ... What is it?
Kayla BertagnaWhen we're making our mask shape, I traced Lisa's face several times to try to-
Lisa BallstaedtIt's true. We were cutting them out of paper.
Kayla Bertagna-yeah, get like a really great shape that would fit everyone's face. I had my face, and her face and other. It was humorous. It was fun.
Lisa BallstaedtWell, our big goal was we wanted the user experience on these masks just to be amazing. As we were trying and doing our research, we were thinking, "Okay, fragrance is a big thing." We're thinking obviously we want them to have like noticeable results. You want your skin to have a glow after, and then what we're going to make it out of, the shape. All these things and all the details were very important, because that's what was lacking when we had our experience. It wasn't a great experience, so we wanted every woman and man to have a great experience when using our products.
Kayla BertagnaYeah.
Jodi KatzI'm thinking about growing and scaling the business and you're not alone in the masking world, there is millions of players here at this point, how do you tell future retail partners or influencers or editors that your products are different, because it's the same process? Maybe yours are more fun and they smell better, but the process is the same, peel it open, put it on. Why are yours so different?
Kayla BertagnaWell, we put slits here on our masks, and that was very intentional because in the US, a lot of women have their eyebrows microbladed. Sometimes if you get serum on it, it can change the color of that tattoo type, and so we wanted to give options to those women. You can put our masks either below your eyebrow or above your eyebrow. What's great too, is about by having that slit, when you put on the mask, you get a lifting effect. If you put it on correctly and you read the instructions, it will fully give you a lifting effect that lasts like three days. They're just really thought out masks, we think.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, I agree. I feel like we can tell people all day long, "No, these masks are like nothing you've tried before," but as soon as we send out the samples for a potential retail partner or for different people we work with or people that mask a lot, we're just kind of like, "You have to try it." As soon as people try it, they just get it.
Kayla BertagnaWell, they let us know right away, "Oh my gosh!"
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, like, "These are the best masks I've ever used."
Kayla BertagnaAnd the results, you will see visible results on your skin. Your skin will be glowing, and it won't just go away, one day. It'll last for a few days.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, definitely.
Jodi KatzWhen you think about the future of the business, is it only in masks or is there opportunity to go beyond masks?
Kayla BertagnaWay more. We have like 50 products in the works. We're coming out with a whole line. We have several different serums, we have cleansers, and more
Lisa BallstaedtWe have a lot of exciting ... yeah. Yeah, I mean, we have right now, so we have face mask, eye mask, lip mask, hand and foot mask, and then we have our mermaid collagen serum, which -
Kayla BertagnaIt's life changing. I don't know if you tried it, but it's amazing.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, we're so proud of it. Then we've recently launched a hand sanitizer too, because we always are thinking about what our customer is needing, what do they like. We take feedback very seriously. Then with everything happening right now, I think Kayla said, "I want a good hand sanitizer that doesn't smell bad, that also looks pretty on my purse." That's what we thought, "I bet you a lot of Soon customers would like that," and so that's what we worked on, and we did.
Kayla BertagnaPlus, a lot of hand sanitizers smell so bad.
Lisa BallstaedtSo bad.
Jodi KatzYeah. This is smart. Let's talk about how a small new brand makes a name for itself and pushes forward and builds revenue and fans. From the agency side of my business, I talk to a lot of entrepreneurs and it's like, well, what do I do first? Some brands decide, "I'm going to completely optimize my website and spend all my money there." Then some brands are like, "You know what, I'll make my website good enough, but I'm going to build an audience and a community on social." Some brands are like, "I need to do it all, but I can't afford to do all, so I do nothing." What is your strategy right now, because a lot of our listeners are entrepreneurs and early stages of their business? I'm sure all they want to know is like, how are you spending your money, what are you choosing to do, what are the priorities?
Kayla BertagnaWe started with social, for sure. There's so many ways to get a decent website. I mean, it's not going to be the best website, but it'll get you up and running. It'll still look nice, and you won't have to put a lot of money into it. I personally wouldn't put a lot of money into a website right away, because-
Lisa BallstaedtI agree.
Kayla Bertagna-it changes so much, and you don't really realize what you need until you're a little bit further along. Definitely social was where we put our focus, and we started with micro influencers. We just started getting those people and sending them product. Then it grows from there. Then you get the medium and then you can get some larger ones, but that's where we started our focus. Yeah.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah. I would say that for Kayla and I, the focus has always been on our product.
Kayla BertagnaBecause we spent a lot of time on our product.
Lisa BallstaedtYes. We are involved in every single detail. I don't know. I just want to say that, because I think a lot of people think that sometimes beauty products just are white labeled or something. We don't do that. We work very closely with our chemists and we go through so many different rounds of yeah, different samples. We've put so much focus into our products that we want them to speak for themselves. We have been very fortunate in the fact that the press that we have gotten, we just would send out product. We sent our foot mask when we launched them to Oprah Magazine, and the beauty director there, Brian Underwood, he loved them. They ended up in the magazine and-
Kayla BertagnaWe didn't know until the day of.
Lisa Ballstaedt-we didn't know until he posted it on his Instagram, that it was up in the ...
Kayla BertagnaThat was huge.
Lisa BallstaedtIt was huge. Then influencers, we don't pay influencers for our product. We just say, "You can try it, and if you like, we'd love a post type thing," but we've been really, really fortunate that as people try our products, they're not disappointed by the hype or anything. It's like, "Oh, I love this."
Kayla BertagnaThey're just like, they want more, which is great.
Jodi KatzOkay. That takes me into my next question about the marketing mix for you right now. I'm on your email list and I get, I think an email like every other day. Is that true?
Kayla BertagnaProbably. Just about, yes.
Jodi KatzOkay. Tell me how that's working, because people are so confused. They're like, "Should I send fewer emails? Should I send them an email every day?" It's like the Wild West, when entrepreneurs are just, they are scared to do it too much, they're scared to do it too little. How did you guys find the pace that works for you?
Kayla BertagnaWell, we can't take credit for this, that part, because we were fortunate enough to be able to hire a very well experienced VP of marketing. Her name's Lisa.
Lisa BallstaedtAlso.
Kayla BertagnaShe has a lot of experience with emails, and she oversees that and has been really great in helping us with the emails, because I don't have a lot of experience with email. Lisa, you were overseeing our emails before.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, yeah. A lot of it comes down to just testing as well. With our emails, we do a lot of different subject line testing and colors and design and when we're sending it. Then it's great, because you can see the results and then we can adjust there. I mean, I don't know if there's a specific formula that works for everyone.
Kayla BertagnaI would think every industry's a little bit different. Right?
Lisa BallstaedtYeah. I agree.
Jodi KatzRight. You're at the point, which is an enviable point for I think a lot entrepreneurs, where you're able to hire in the talent that you need. That's a big deal. Right?
Kayla BertagnaIt's been life changing.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, it has been.
Kayla BertagnaLife changing.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah. I mean, we built Soon from the ground up basically. Even still, last week we had a shipment come in and we-
Kayla BertagnaWe moved all the boxes.
Lisa Ballstaedt14 pallets worth.
Kayla BertagnaAll of them, 700 boxes.
Lisa BallstaedtWe were the ones, because there's a lot of, like I said, everything, going back into the product, and so it's like, "Okay, well, if we can save this much money here, we'd rather just dig up our heels, roll up our sleeves," I mean, and we'll just do it.
Kayla BertagnaYep, and we do it ourselves.
Lisa BallstaedtBecause then that's extra money that we could put into getting this or getting that done.
Jodi KatzYeah. Well, congratulations for making it to that phase, because I know every entrepreneur is like, "When do I get to hire people to help me?" so that's super exciting.
Kayla BertagnaI know, I know.
Lisa BallstaedtSavannah was one of our first hires. It was, oh, so great to have help with social media and different things, because it's very time consuming.
Jodi KatzRight. You can't be everything at some point, you have to delegate and find talent. That's super exciting. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story and your wisdom with our listeners today. It's so fun to hear the friendship story and the product story.
Kayla BertagnaThank you. Well, thanks for having us.
Lisa BallstaedtYeah, thanks for having us.
Kayla BertagnaJinx.
Jodi KatzFor our listeners. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Kayla and Lisa. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram at Where Brains Meet Beauty® podcast.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty® with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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