Episode 194: Jeremy Soine, CEO of Face Reality

CEO of Face Reality, Jeremy Soine and I discuss working in places that recognize your humanity and what this means when developing a company culture that emphasizes collaboration over competition. When you do what you love, you’re not really working. You’ll want to listen to this inspirational leader and what he had to say!

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 for tuning in. This week's episode features Jeremy Soine. He's the CEO of Face Reality. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured Christine Chang and Sara Lee. They're the co-founders and co-CEOs of Glow Recipe. Hope you enjoy the shows. Hi Carey.
Carey ChanningWhat's up Jodi.
Jodi KatzThanks for joining me today.
Carey ChanningAbsolutely. Who do we have on the roster today?
Jodi KatzThis is the CEO of Face Reality, his name is Jeremy. And full disclosure, they are a client of Base Beauty's and I adore Jeremy. He's such an inspiring CEO.
Carey ChanningSo, how did you guys connect originally?
Jodi KatzGreat question. A investment banker that I adore connected us together, and he's an incredible referral partner, I guess, is what we call it, but I just admire him quite a bit. So he connected us. And Face Reality is really interesting. Have you ever had moderate or severe acne?
Carey ChanningWell, I was the girl that washed her face only in the shower with a bar of dove soap until I was, honestly, like 21 and now I work for a beauty agency, so I've definitely up to my beauty game, but I am very fortunate to say that I've never suffered from any type of acne.
Jodi KatzWell, it's amazing for people who have moderate to severe acne what they're up against, so Jeremy's goal, over time, is to make sure that that person who's suffering comes to Face Reality first and not as a last resort because they do have this 99% acne clearing rate, but you have to work with an esthetician and not everybody even knows what an esthetician is, but they're miracle workers for skin. So yeah, I really admire everything they're doing there. A lot of people choose to go on oral medication when their acne is super severe and what's amazing about Face Reality is it's an alternative to that. And there really haven't been very good alternatives until now.
Carey ChanningThat is amazing. I just remember watching so many friends on really intense drugs and all the side effects and it's definitely a hard journey. So, that's amazing to get the word out about Face Reality and what they're doing as well. So something that we talk about in this episode quite a bit is Jeremy as a leader. And I loved hearing you two going back and forth because I view you as an amazing leader and a head of the team and from this episode, Jeremy too, just seems incredible. And a quote you say is you encourage your team to be collaborators, not competitors and I think that it goes back to your early jobs in toxic work environments. And I feel so lucky that I haven't really had to work in a super toxic environment. So you've spoiled me, Jodi.
Jodi KatzWell, I'm really proud that so many people on our team, the people that are younger than me, for the most part, have been able to avoid all that torture that I went through. And the people on my team who are my age or older, they've lived through what I lived through and probably even worse in many organizations and it's so nice to hear you say that you didn't have to go through any of that. It's completely unnecessary. It's ego-driven BS that most of the companies I worked for just accepted from their employees and it's not a healthy way to work. So, thanks for that because that's a nice boost to hear from a team member, Carey.
Carey ChanningWell, you're welcome, and it's true. And I almost make the analogy of in this day and age with products, people want to see the ingredients, they want that transparency. It's something that is almost becoming a requirement and it's almost the same with the workplace, people want the new age of a work environment. They don't want the old stuffy dictator-type workplace. And workplace culture is super hot right now and you have to create an environment that is not just about the job. And I feel like Jeremy, from this episode, it seems like he puts a huge emphasis on workplace environment as well with his team.
Jodi KatzYeah. Well, I'm excited for everybody to listen because they'll learn a lot from him.
Carey ChanningAll right. Enough about us. Let's hit this episode, episode 194 with Jeremy. Enjoy.
Jodi KatzHey everybody. I am so excited to be here with Jeremy Soine. He is the CEO of Face Reality. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.
Jeremy SoineJodi, I'm excited to be here. Thanks for having me.
Jodi KatzSo, full disclosure to our listeners, Jeremy is a client of ours and we love, love, love this brand. Well, I guess I'll just do a commercial while we're at it, Jeremy. So if you have moderate to severe acne this is the brand for you, you'll meet it through an esthetician and it's life changing. So, it's so rewarding to work on this business.
Jeremy SoineWell, thank you for that. You guys have been an awesome partner. We are a proud Base Beauty clients and you guys have certainly only made us better. And we so look forward to chatting with you more about how we are different because we really are different than any other acne brand that's out there.
Jodi KatzGreat. So, this is not actually intended to be a commercial, but I do have one other thing to say, that people with severe acne think that Accutane is the only option for them. And I just want them to know it's really not. There is Face Reality, which with work it takes time and you have to change your lifestyle and use the products diligently and see your esthetician, but you absolutely can heal your skin without having to take drugs. So that's my spiel for now, although I might break it into it in a little bit. Okay. So let's go back in time because we're a career journey podcast and this is my favorite question. When you were a kid, let's say 11, 12 years old, if someone asks you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" what is your response?
Jeremy SoineI would say being a Star Wars guy in the very beginning. Why don't we go way out there, Luke Skywalker. He was the hero that stepped in. And maybe if there was a backup, I grew up as a backyard football guy so I always wanted to be a wide receiver in the NFL. But I've got to tell you, since that time when I was 11 or 12 years old, that question has always given me a tremendous amount of anxiety. The "What do you want to be when you grew up?" question.
Jodi KatzWhy is that?
Jeremy SoineI've just never looked at the career as a destination. It's always made me nervous. Teachers in junior high and in high school start asking you, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" and you feel this pressure to say, it's this one thing. And I've just never thought of a career as just one thing, I guess I would equate it to... If somebody were to ask you when you're 15 years old, what's the one place that you want to travel in your lifetime, none of us would say that there's one place that you'd want to go to. You'd want to go and see the world. And I've looked at a career the same way, that I'm trying to enjoy that journey and to be curious and to learn as much as I can. But I've really enjoyed my career but I don't think that I'll look back on my career and say, "What defined me was that moment or moments when I was a CEO." And so, I've never looked at it that way. That question still makes me nervous.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting that you say that because it's a very progressive view of what work is, to think about it as not defining who you are, it's part of your life but it's not all of you. And it feels very young millennial, Gen Z as an attitude, and I'm smiling inside because I feel like I'm really Gen X, I'm 45, but I'm really, emotionally, a young millennial. So I think that you might emotionally have been Gen Z before you even knew that it existed.
Jeremy SoineI think you're right. And it has changed a lot over time. My grandfather worked for Boeing on their manufacturing line for something like 45 years. I had another grandfather that owned a shoe store and he worked there for like 45 years. My dad owned a shoe store and he did the same thing for his entire career. And maybe we're fortunate that... Maybe it's a luxury that we don't have to look at it that way and that we are able to continue learning. What's really driven me over the years isn't to try to get some place but it's that curiosity and the learning along the way.
Jodi KatzThis is really... I don't know if it's a luxury or just gratitude to be able to steer my work, have choices and make choices. Most people go to their jobs and then resent it and it's painful for the time to pass by and I don't have that experience but I'd love to be able to help other people find an experience where they can work and make a living but also have it not define them as much, whether it's a good experience or not.
Jeremy SoineYeah. And at a certain point it's like asking that work question. It's almost like there's an implied negative that "What do you do for work?" And people work towards retirement. But I recently my mom retired and I was talking with her and I said, "I don't know that I ever will retire. I may not work as many hours at some point as I do today but..." And I was thinking about what drove me to say that, and maybe I just don't view work that way. I don't view it as something I have to go do. I do this today because I really love it and I want that to continue, even at some point as I get older. Like I said, I may not work as many hours but I don't know that I'll actually ever retire in the true sense of retire. And it's interesting even just talking with my kids who were teenagers at this point, how do I want to guide them to think about work? And I'm very much trying to instill that love of work or however we end up describing it.
Jodi KatzWell, let's transition into learning more about what a day-to-day looks like for someone who's a CEO of a professional skincare brand. And now that we're working from home and still working from home, what is a typical day like?
Jeremy SoineWell, we've been shut down now for 14 months and we still haven't gone back into the office. Part of that is due to the stricter regulations with California. Part of is that we're in the process right now of opening up a bigger expanded office because our company is growing but for me today it is still getting up and taking Zoom meetings every single day and communicating through Slack and email and text. And it's going on month 14 now of trying to motivate a team and engage with a team and inspire a team when we don't see each other on a day-to-day basis. In fact our company is about 50% larger from an employee standpoint than when the pandemic started. And it's fascinating that many of those people have never met each other in person before.
Jodi KatzWe've been having the same experience at Base Beauty. So I just started this peer-to-peer program where we match someone who's new to the company with someone who's been around for a while so that the people who wouldn't typically work together to just make sure that we're keeping this sort of hallway chit-chat things alive and also to create opportunity, because I feel like opportunity comes from knowing those random facts about someone's background or a passion they have, or a talent. And that usually happens in this fostered face-to-face. So we're really trying to create the mechanism for that as we grow.
Jeremy SoineDo you feel like that's helped?
Jodi KatzOh yeah. Because we had everyone fill out, "Now that you've had your meetings, tell us one fun fact about the person you met with." And we learned about people side hustles, we learned about skills that they had. And of course if we can put all these skills to work, we're going to take advantage of the talent that we have in-house. And most of the time we don't have time to have these conversations about life and dreams, we're just rushing into the status meeting or moving into the work or whatever it is so to make time for these small motions that can have huge impact is really important to us and it is working.
Jeremy SoineYeah. So we've done something similar and I don't know that we have all of the answers either. And we've tried to be nimble and get better at this and put ourselves in the shoes of somebody who's starting at a new company where it's intimidating when you haven't met people and you're not quite sure where you fit in and you don't know what those cultural norms are of the company, you haven't had a chance to live the values yet to see what the company's all about, but we've tried a few experimental things as well. We start off every day at 9:00 AM. We actually have an all-company huddle and we try to find a mix between some business updates so that people are just informed and they can see each other, at least on Zoom, talking about what projects are a priority for them, but we always end these huddles with some sort of a fun question of the day.

And I think that's the part where people really, like you said, are getting a chance to know each other. And it's everything from, "What song do you want to listen to when this pandemic is over?" to, "We had the funniest one the other day." Our head of operations threw a question out there around if you were a dictator on a remote island, what rules would you put into place? And so we just have fun with it and you get a chance to see everybody's personalities. And I actually think that's really, really helped.
Jodi KatzAre you doing it once a week or every day?
Jeremy SoineWe do it every day. We actually start every single day at 9:00 AM. And it's actually a nice point of stability, I think, when we haven't had that stability with the pandemic. And so I think people look forward to it, just being able to start the day off and see each other's faces. And it's not all smiles and butterflies, and unicorns. There's been a lot of tears on some of these huddles with what we've gone through and it has been a place where we can reach out and not just share those positive emotions with each other but also just to help each other make it through. It's been a rough 14 months.
Jodi KatzYeah. So I'm curious, how long do you keep the huddle going for? Is it like an hour long meeting?
Jeremy SoineNo, it's pretty brief. Generally speaking, they're 10 minutes, 15 minutes. If people really want to get into some funny answers, maybe goes for 20 minutes, but it's pretty brief. And that way, it doesn't become a burden where people feel like it's stealing time away from everything else that you need to get done.
Jodi KatzI love that idea. I hope some of our listeners borrow that. I think that's really cool. Okay, so let's talk about how you go from the wine industry, to the jerky industry, to the skincare industry. Take us back in time to your first part of the career in the booze business.
Jeremy SoineYeah. At one point along the way, my mom said... It hasn't exactly been obvious going from wine to jerky to skincare but I think for me, it demonstrates that curiosity and over time there have been a few consistent points. I'm really a passionate brand and product person. And specifically, I really get into those brands that differentiate themselves. I think I learned that passion working on the barefoot wine brand years ago when I was at Gallo and really recognized the importance of a brand standing out in a way that meets those consumer needs.

And, as I've gone from some of those amazing wine brands at Gallo to working on the Krave Jerky business, that was a highly differentiated brand within that category. It transformed things from a gas station snack food to something that could be more chef-inspired, more upscale. And even at Face Reality today, I don't know of another brand or another company that's out there that does things the way that Face Reality does things and has the level of success that it does. And so for me, that one consistent point is I love working in and finding those differentiating points on these brands.
Jodi KatzSo, what are your teenagers think is cool about your job right now?
Jeremy SoineI think they see the passion. I think they see me helping other people. My teenagers have both suffered from moderate to even severe acne and so, they too have benefited from the Face Reality products and working with our estheticians. But I think that really enjoy seeing me loving what I'm doing, helping other people, not just those end clients, but all of the amazing estheticians that we partner with and also the employees.
Jodi KatzSo, let's talk a little bit about leadership because you have this way of speaking, Jeremy, which is so calming and reassuring and I would imagine that everybody really appreciates, especially during this time that sense of serenity that comes with speaking with you. But the flip side of that is, not every day is an easy day for ourselves and our team. And I'm curious about how you approach giving feedback and giving constructive criticism to your team as you help guide them in their roles.
Jeremy SoineYeah. That's a hard one. And I don't know that there's any one answer to that because every situation is a little bit different. The way that I approach things in general, though, is I really try to help our employees see the bigger cause that they're a part of, so that it's not just a job, it's not clocking in, it's really helping them to understand all of the good that we're doing for so many people. So, I would say that's number one. Once they see that, the number two for me is, do they feel empowered? And one of the key questions that I ask our employees regularly is, "Do you feel like you have the flexibility to make mistakes?" And I think it's really telling when you can get an open and honest answer from them because if they can, it means that they've got the leeway, they've got the latitude to actually do their jobs, to perform at their very best.

I've worked at companies in the past where you don't have the flexibility to actually even make a mistake and there's not a worst feeling in the world than not feeling like you are able to do what you were hired to do. And so, I don't want to make mistakes but I want people to know that they can and that if they're empowered to go do their jobs they.... Sometimes you do make mistakes and that's okay.

The third thing for me is not just thinking in the moment, "Are they empowered?" But, "Do they see a bigger future for themselves?" And I've always found that when employees see a bigger future for themselves to personally develop, maybe it's taking a different position, maybe it's working towards a promotion, maybe it's working to get some different professional skills built in for them to just become better, if they feel like they have that future, that's really motivating for them. And we could go on and talk about culture and values and diversity and things like that but I think that there's so many things that support those three things as well.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting that you mentioned making mistakes because we're all human, mistakes get made. I can't think of a mistake that has happened in my whole career that couldn't be fixed or adjusted or whatever. None of these are truly crisis, even though it feels like a crisis at the time, but the thing that gets me is if I see a lack of teamwork, that's a no-no for me. I don't have patience for that. I have patience for errors because they're infrequent but they happen but when I see people not respecting each other and not working collaboratively together, that to me is a real challenge.
Jeremy SoineDo you feel like you've been able to do things to help motivate your team so that they are working together and not feeling like they're competing with each other?
Jodi KatzYes. I think that's the whole part of our culture. So, when I see that happening, it drives me crazy because the whole entire company is built on the fact that we are collaborators, not competitors. At other agencies, you are competing with your peers. The system they build is the total opposite here. So, maybe once every four years this happens and someone lands in a role here and starts not being a collaborator and I have to put an end to that, but it really gets under my skin because all I want is for people to be able to have the career that they want, whether it's as a full-time career or a part-time career or whatever it is. Build the career you want, do great work and it only can happen if we all work together. There's no other way to do it.
Jeremy SoineYeah. I totally agree with you. And I wish it was just as easy as saying that. It's certainly something that I tried to model, that type of behavior and to make it really clear that that's not acceptable. One of the things I like to talk about is, I've worked in other companies, in other cultures, where it's almost the loudest person is the decision that gets made and I've got to tell you, it drives me batty. That drives me absolutely crazy.

And so, I've really tried to build a culture here where I've been able to influence that, is to say, "Listen first before you speak up. How can we build a culture where all opinions are heard?" And I think that begins to even touch on how I view diversity, which I think touches on so... It can mean so many different things beyond skin color or beyond ethnic background, which are all important too but if we can build a culture where a diverse group of opinions are heard and listened to, I know that we will get to a better decision every single time.
Jodi KatzYeah. I think what you were referring is like the squeaky wheel gets the grease, is that what they say? The loudest person ends up getting... But that's not always the best approach. The topic of having multiple voices or a lot of different divergent voices is so important. And what's interesting is I've noticed our industry really wanting to prove it, not just talk about it and just say it's happening but now people are proving it. And I've seen a lot of really big corporations reach out to us and actually in part of the process of getting to know us, they asked us these questions. They asked us what kind of statements have we made? What kind of actions have we taken?

And I find that really fascinating because for a long time we were voices for inclusion and we would be met by clients saying "No, that person doesn't belong in our advertising" and us having would be like, "Yes they do." Finally for people in our industry to be paying attention and making sure that voices are represented is really important because I am a Caucasian person, that's who I am. I can't be more than one person but I can surround myself with other voices. And it's so wonderful that people in our industry are really, finally, willing to do the work to make sure that their customer is represented and that her voice is heard.
Jeremy SoineI feel the same way. And we work for a company that is very diverse. We're absolutely not perfect and we're working harder to see how can we do better. But it's interesting being a white male leading a company who's, by nature of being the CEO, is in a position of power in a company for us where we have roughly 90% of our employees are female. It's something I think about a lot. How can I be sensitive in leading conversations internally and externally about everything around diversity?
Jodi KatzSpeaking of gender, I want to share advice that one of my other podcasts guests gave me during a show. She is a skin care marketer and she told me that she wants to make sure that the women on her team, the young women on her team know many, many years before they're even thinking about or considering having children that this is a place where they could be a mom and have a career. And I would think that would go for men as well. She was speaking specifically about women. And I thought that was so fascinating because when I was at Lexington and I wasn't even pregnant and my husband wasn't even entertaining the idea of having a child, I was thinking, this is not a place for me. There's no way I'm going to be able to be a parent here. And that was years before being pregnant.

So, to be able to even have these conversations with the people in your business of when you're ready or when things change in your life that were still a company you can be at and grow at, is so valuable. So, I love that you were thinking about how people feel and how they can create growth for themselves in their career and their business.
Jeremy SoineYeah, I think that's great. I wish more companies would have the courage to do the right thing, not make decisions based on what they have to do based on what the law says they have to do, but just doing the right thing. And I think that there's a massive amount of talented people that are out there that would flock to companies that made better decisions to support what their personal needs are and I think that moms are a wonderful example. I think there's other examples out there too but I think that's a perfect one. And so, we're trying our best to take that progressive approach and define that right balance and to show that right level of trust, I think is the key word. And what I have found is when you show that level of trust it pays back in spades.
Jodi KatzSo, let's pan out our conversation around, I guess, defining the difference between living to work or working to live, which I think is the language that you gave me around this topic. So, how do you define the difference?
Jeremy SoineI don't know anybody that lives to work these days. Maybe they're out there and maybe it's a decision that I made years ago to move into these types of brands and businesses, but I don't know anybody these days that that lives to work. I think there's so much more to life and I think the pandemic has probably really brought this into the forefront. And so one way that I think I can be better as a CEO is to recognize that even though we've got our quarterly goals that we need to hit and they're hard, we're not always hitting them and we've got so many things that we feel like we need to get done and we've got today's priority and this week's priority and that priority list never goes away.

I try to challenge myself and our leadership team to really recognize that our employees aren't any different than us. The most important things in their life is not Face Reality, as it turns out. They have families, they have friends, they have kids, they have loved ones. One of the best pieces of advice that I got a few years ago from a career mentor is he said, "If you assume that half of the people that you meet are going through some sort of a personal crisis, you're probably not too far off." And I think it really changes how you approach, not just your employees, but people that you're talking with every single day. Most people aren't forthcoming to say, "Hey, nice to see you. Here's what I'm going through and it's really hard." But if you approach people with that level of empathy, there may be, very likely, something that that person is experiencing. I think people would approach conversations and support each other in a very different way.
Jodi KatzThat's such a cool thought. It applies to just being in traffic also or being in line in the food store, waiting for the line to move. Most everybody is dealing with something that is completely irrelevant to where they were standing at that moment or the topic they're talking about.
Jeremy SoineIt's really easy to be impatient with people and so if you think through that that person may very well be going through some sort of a really serious crisis, I bet you'd approach that conversation very differently.
Jodi KatzSo, it's also really interesting how you frame the thinking around your team and where their heart is, that very likely, Face Reality is not the most important thing in their life, in their worlds. I think that's a very new way of thinking, quite frankly. You don't hear that from CEOs of most companies where they're willing to admit that there's life beyond work. Have you met with resistance with that in the past?
Jeremy SoineWhat do you mean?
Jodi KatzLike when you weren't the CEO of a company but you were still thinking that way, we're there leadership people who were trying to squeeze that notion out of you?
Jeremy SoineYeah. And it's interesting to think as I define my leadership style, why is it that I'm making these decisions? And I think it's the combination of all of my experiences that I've had professionally, these last 25 years, of who are those people that I've loved the way that they manage the business.

And I've been so fortunate to have some really, really good mentors and people that I've really looked up to their leadership style over the years. And there's been some examples on the flip side too, where, I think, I've personally noted and said "You know what, when I have the ability to change things, I don't want to do that." And I think this is just one of those examples, is just to recognize that people don't need to bend over backwards every single day. And it's not that you can't ask a lot of people.

Every business goes through surges. Every business has its high seasons where it's okay to ask people to do more and to ask people to step up and I've generally found that people will do that, but there has to be a cycle. You have to give people that chance to decompress and go make sure that they're staying connected with those other things in their life, that again, is probably at the end of the day... Not probably, it is more important than whatever business or company that you're working for.
Jodi KatzI'm thinking back to my last full-time job and a lot of people in leadership positions in our U.S. came from another country and we're living in New York without their families. So, for them work was everything. There was no one to go home to, everyone was in a different country. So, it created an environment that was really demanding in a way that is not flexible to the fact that people had other hobbies or things to do or places to be. So, I'm sure your team really appreciates this thinking. And it makes me think of Justyna, on your team who leads marketing, she owns a diner with her husband.
Jeremy SoineThat's right.
Jodi KatzThey opened a pandemic diner.
Jeremy SoineThat's right. And she's got a four year old daughter, Mila and like any other four year old, someday they wake up with a fever. And I think you have to have that level of compassion to say that if you're a parent, wouldn't it be great if you had an employer that had some sensitivity? That if Justyna needs to run Mila to the doctor and you show that level of trust that it's going to work out just fine in the end because the flip side of that is that Justyna works weekends a lot of times, she works night. And so again, if you show that level of trust, I think that you get it back tenfold. And I think Justyna is a great example of that.
Jodi KatzYeah. So, shout out to Daughter's Diner on Instagram. And this idea of people being able to live their lives. I told my team, "I never ever want anyone on my team to have any level of anxiety, not even 0.1% of saying, 'I have a doctor's appointment. I'm going to be away from my desk tomorrow at two o'clock.' I've lived so many years of having anxiety about having to live my life through work and I don't want anybody to ever feel that way. You just do what you need to do. The work is going to get done because you are someone who's cognizant of quality. And never, please, have anxiety about that." That's so important to me. Well, Jeremy, this is so fun. I'm so grateful for your wisdom and I'm so grateful that finally we could make this recording happen.
Jeremy SoineAnd that was a really fast 20 or 30 minutes. I really enjoyed the conversation. Thanks, Jodi.
Jodi KatzAnd for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Jeremy. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @WhereBrainsMeetBeautyPodcast.
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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