Episode 205: Tera Peterson, Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer of NuFACE
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Tera Peterson’s a master collector. Starting in childhood, Tera began to pick up important skills from her mother, and then from her first job, which paved the way towards her entrepreneurial career. She saw an opportunity to introduce a new product into the world of skincare, and with her mother and sister by her side, co-founded their handheld microcurrent brand, NuFACE.

Dan Hodgdon
Molly D'AmatoHi, Esperanza.
Esperanza RosenbaumHi, Molly.
Molly D'AmatoHow are you doing?
Esperanza RosenbaumI'm doing all right.
Molly D'AmatoMe too.
Esperanza RosenbaumI'm okay.
Molly D'AmatoYeah, I feel like we've had so many calls today, but anyway, super excited for this week's episode. We got to hear from Tera Peterson who's just so cool, and I loved hearing from her.
Esperanza RosenbaumYeah. I really enjoyed hearing from Tera as well. I've always been really interested in microcurrent technology, so it was really cool having her on to talk about not only her journey and her career but also microcurrent.
Molly D'AmatoYeah, it was so awesome to hear, because I don't know if I mentioned, but she is the co-founder of NuFACE, and she comes from a family of estheticians. Her mother was an esthetician, and they developed this technology and built this empire, which is so awesome. It's so cool when a family builds something like this, and I think it's super sweet how she took so much inspiration from her mother.
Esperanza RosenbaumTotally. Yeah. It was really great hearing about the family story and just hearing about how it's like a family business. I really love that.
Molly D'AmatoYeah.
Esperanza RosenbaumI also felt like her and Jodi had such great chemistry.
Molly D'AmatoYeah. They're literally kindred spirits. It was so perfect.
Esperanza RosenbaumYeah, cut from the same cloth.
Molly D'AmatoFor real. For real. Well, anyway, I think we should just hop into it because there's so many good things to hear in this episode.
Esperanza RosenbaumAbsolutely.
Molly D'AmatoAll right, let's go.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, welcome back to Where Brains Meet Beauty podcast. I am very, very thrilled to introduce you to our guest today. This is going to be a very fun conversation because our theme here is technology, and I'm thrilled to introduce you to Tera Peterson. She's a microcurrent esthetician and the co-founder and chief creative officer at NuFACE. Welcome, Tera.
Tera PetersonThank you. I'm so excited to be here.
Jodi KatzFirst, I want to say that I'm very inspired by your bold lip, and it's making me want to get back into bold lips, which I haven't been in for a while.
Tera PetersonThis is a cheater for me. So when I don't want to put makeup on, I just put a bold lip on, and it just makes you look put together. So I don't really have any makeup on besides mascara and a little brow, and then no foundation, but I don't know, it makes you look a little bit more put together when you're running a million miles an hour in the morning.
Jodi KatzI had a theme of a magenta lip. I guess this is pre-COVID, so I think I'll get back into it. I'm going to jump back in starting tomorrow, so thank you for the inspo.
Tera PetersonOf course. Any time.
Jodi KatzSo this show is a career journey podcast, and we're going to start with my favorite question, Tera, when you were like 11 years old, 12 years old, what do you want to be when you grow up?
Tera PetersonI remember this. I remember talking to my dad, and I wanted to be a waitress or a teacher. And he was like, "Oh, maybe you want to be a teacher." I was like, "Okay" and that lasted, I don't know, a quick five seconds, but as I was growing up, I wanted to be a business woman. I wanted to work in a high rise. I wanted to wear a suit every day. I graduated from college in 2000, so it was still that era of wearing suits and corporate America was cool. And so, yeah, I did it for, I think, four months and I hated every second of it. So I left and haven't looked back.
Jodi KatzSo Tera, I, too, wanted to wear pantsuits and work in a big office building. And I'm wondering if there was a TV show or a movie that we watched that painted this picture of how exciting life would be in these corporations.
Tera PetersonWhen you said that, I just had this vision of Ally McBeal. Was that her name, the lawyer? I wonder if that was it.
Jodi KatzMaybe. The only thing I can think of definitively is that movie Melanie Griffith Working Girl, but that didn't make me want to work there. It was awful for her.
Tera Peterson[crosstalk 00:04:21]. Yeah. Totally.
Jodi KatzBut I was so jazzed to do this whole pantsuit thing, and I had an internship at a large global advertising agency during college, and all summer long, I wore lime green pantsuits, teal blue pantsuits. I mean, so ridiculous, but it was every thing that I wanted to be doing.
Tera PetersonI remember the movie. It was 'Don't Tell Mom, the Babysitter's Dead' where Christina Applegate tricks the corporate office. And she's the executive assistant and is taking the petty cash, but that was a big thing that she was a professional.
Jodi KatzWell, you have this ultimate entrepreneurial journey story. I mean, it's so incredible. I mean, you invented a product in your garage, right? That's the story. And you started this business when you were 24. So this has been, as you said, it's been your masters in business. When you look back all these years to that moment in your garage, what does this journey mean to you? What does it feel like to think about it?
Tera PetersonWell, NuFACE is founded by my mom, my sister and I. And so it really was, I always say start a company when you're young and dumb, no matter if you're... We're never going to be younger than today, so start today if you want to do it. But luckily I was in my early twenties and I had approached my mom and said, "Hey, let's do this together." My mom's been an esthetician for now almost 40 years. She's been specializing in microcurrent for that long. And so she was really the first one that was like, "I need an at home device that my clients could use in between my professional treatments." And as she was kind of thinking about doing this, I had approached her and I said, "Hey, let's do this together. I'm going to go to esthetician school. I want to learn the industry inside and out."

And so it was just very natural in kind of a very organic evolution. It wasn't like we were going to do, conquer the world overnight like that. It was really meant to create a device that could benefit our clients. And if you're not familiar with microcurrent, I'm sure we're going to go into it. But think about microcurrent, which is the professional treatments that both my mom and I did in the professional treatment room. It truly is fitness for your face. So it stimulated the facial muscles. And what we found is our clients needed more frequent microcurrent as they were getting older. Just think about, as we get older, we need to exercise our body muscles to keep them toned and tight. And the same concept goes for delicate facial muscles. So as we get older, we need more microcurrent. But the cool thing is it benefits clients in their twenties as well as it benefits clients in their eighties. So I always say everyone's included, everyone's invited to NuFACE.
Jodi KatzWhen your mom was an esthy, I guess you were like a teenager and she was an esthe. Did your friends even know what an esthetician was?
Tera PetersonNo. I mean, this was... She was a pioneer. I mean, I remember her, like I would say to my friends' parents, "Oh my mom's clients." And for whatever reason, she was like, "Oh no, don't say that." And I'm not sure if she wasn't proud of what she was doing. It's not highlighted and as glamorous as it is now. And I never asked her about that. So I need to ask her about that. Why she didn't want me to say clients to my friends, but truly it just is what it was. My mom was an esthetician. She was always working. She worked mostly out of our home, after she was working at the Golden Door besides going up to LA. So she would, for 15 years, she went up to LA and treated the most beautiful faces in Hollywood.

And so when she was home, she had a studio outside of our home. So she was always there. And it was just kind of part of a lifestyle that I didn't know any different. So, I mean, from her telling me to put my SPF on to having clients come over, and they knew my whole entire life, and they just kind of did their things in the room or the studio. And I don't know, it was just part of my life. I mean, when I was in elementary school, she would take me with her to the Paramount studios or the Hollywood Hills. And we would go up to of these big homes and I would sit and watch her lift her clients' faces. And to me that was like, oh my gosh, I'm going to work with my mom. This is so boring.

But I always say it planted so many seed that I would've never even dreamt about, going back to my childhood. So I just feel so blessed that it has been part of my life. And I never aimed to get into the beauty industry. It was just like this aha moment that I had and I called my mom up and it just she's like, "Yeah, okay, let's do it." And we've never looked back and I couldn't even imagine what I would be doing today if we wouldn't have started NuFACE. So it truly is such a blessing, and my sister's involved in the company too. So it's fun that we all get to be part of this and we're creating something really beautiful.
Jodi KatzWell, you gave me this natural segue. After seeing your mom in business and watching her practice, why did you take a job selling insurance?
Tera PetersonRight. I mean, and who wants to buy life insurance from a 21 year old? On top of it. So Northwestern Mutual went to my college, and they were recruiting college students, recent graduates. And my mom always told me like work off commission because that's where you have no cap. You can make as much money as you want to. The more you put into it, the more you're going to get out of it. So I always kind of was this, I don't know, natural born sales person, even as I put myself through college, I was waiting tables and I was always the top waitress, in regards to sales. And so, I don't know. I mean, definitely don't take a hundred percent commission job right out of college everybody, probably a big mistake. You need... And don't sell life insurance when you're 21, because what do you know about life insurance?
Jodi KatzOkay, Tera, I really want to unravel this. This is so fascinating. So you got a job where you only got commission selling a product that's probably, you're not the most relevant sales person for the time. My guess is you probably didn't know that much about insurance either. Were you able to make any sales?
Tera PetersonYeah. I mean, they teach you to go to your kind of peers, right. And again, all my peers were in their twenties. A lot of them were still waiting tables, still in college. And again, none of them wanted life insurance. And so that was awkward, but I was like, who cares? So I literally tapped all of my friends. None of them bought life insurance. And then what we did learn is ask for referrals. So Jodi, if I came to you, you were my friend, and I was like, "Okay, well, who do you know could benefit from a service like this?" And they would give you a whole script. And it was great training. And I actually use some of the techniques today.

And then you would tell me three friends that would potentially like my services and then I would call them up. And so, I mean, it is truly like you... I learned so many life lessons during that four months. And again, three months of it was actually training. So I would never take it back. And it just goes to show you every stepping stone is such a learning experience along the way. And you can always apply those as you move forward. But yeah, I mean, I think I made... And I sold my mom some insurance, so I probably made like three sales.

However, I was also during this time I was helping out one of the senior partner agents. And he was like, "Tera," he's like, "I don't know what you do, but everyone that you call makes an appointment with me." And he's like, "I don't know what you're doing over the phone, but I've never seen this success rate." And so, I don't know. I think it was just kind of in me to be a little bit fearless. My mom always taught me, I can accomplish whatever I set my mind to. So, there wasn't a fear of failing ever in my mind and especially in the early ages. So, yeah, that really helped with building NuFACE.
Jodi KatzWell, you just gave me another segue, so thank you for doing my job for me because-
Tera PetersonOf course.
Jodi KatzOkay. So you've had this job. Three months of it are training. One month of it is selling to your mom. And then you hear your mom saying, "I need a device that my clients can use at home," and you say, "Okay, I'll make it." How did you build a device? What was that process?
Tera PetersonShe was making it, so she was working with an engineer. So she had already kind of gone down that path. And two years prior, I remember going over to her house and she had this black box. It literally was a black box. It had two balls on top of it. And it had sandpaper as the grip around it. And she was lifting half of her face and she was like, "Which side did I lift?" And I was like, "Oh my gosh, look at that lift. That is insane." And so that's what started all of this journey for us. And so she was working with an engineer who was, by the way, working out of his home, and the max amount of devices that he could make per month, Jodi, per month was 75 units. So needless to say, I was like, "Well, what am I going to do with this? 75 units is like one sale."

And so quickly I realized I have to find a bigger manufacturer. So that's when I took NuFACE, and we redesigned it. We downsized it and I took it to a proper contract manufacturer and then ultimately met our current manufacturer who's been with us for 14 years now. So I had an amazing jump start. I mean, I think, I always say the hardest part of starting a company is just jumping off and actually doing it. And so I was able to like jump off, but there was someone there to catch me, which was my mom who had already kind of laid some of the most critical foundations for me, but then we were able to perfect them together.
Jodi KatzAnd did your sister decide to join in at the same time?
Tera PetersonYep. So we all really came together at the same time. So my mom was still in the treatment room. I was in the treatment room now. I was writing the business plan for NuFACE, and my sister. So this is April of 2005. My sister had just had her first son and so she wanted to stay home. So she was working as my mom's assistant calling her clients and confirming appointments. And again, this was pre-text, pre-social media. So we kind of... And it was this gradual just growth. So we, at that point, didn't even have NuFACE as you know it today. We had a big professional microcurrent machine, which we called the microdermal tone and we sold those to different estheticians, including Renee Rouleau, who, if you're familiar with Renee, she's a celebrity esthetician based out of Austin. And she comes out to LA often. So she was one of our top estheticians that was using our big professional microcurrent machine.

And then in 2005 launched our first device. So it definitely was a gradual process. So it wasn't overnight that we had launched NuFACE. So there's been a couple different phases of NuFACE, including the first name of our company was Skin Start, Inc. And people thought we were in a different type of business. So we decided to change it.
Jodi KatzAnd in the early years, did you have a vision or a dream for what this business would become? If you let yourself fantasize way into the future.
Tera PetersonI always knew it would be big. I remember sitting and thinking of everything that we needed to do, even the standard operating procedures of when we first created our device, everything was really kind of winging it. There wasn't... It was like, okay, well, this is the output that I want. These are the spheres that I want. I mean, we bought an off the shelf casing and the plastic, and we drilled holes in it to make room for the spheres. So, but I always knew that it was going to be big and I always just had really high goals. And even to this day, I have... We're entering what I call NuFACE 2.0, but I already have a vision of NuFACE 3.0, and that's not as a device, but as a company. And what does that look like? So I've always dreamed really, really big and we're not stopping anytime soon. So there's a lot of innovation coming.
Jodi KatzWas there ever a time in the business where you're like, this isn't going to work, we're not going to make it?
Tera PetersonSo in 2006, I had the brilliant idea to write the FDA. So 2005, there was two other devices in the marketplace. There was Clarisonic and then Zeno. Clarisonic, as we know, is the cleansing brush. Unfortunately they're no longer. And Zeno was this device. It was a zit zapper. So it heated up. So it killed the bacteria in the skin, and it was FDA cleared, and they sold it through medical offices, and it just took the industry by storm. And I was really fascinated by the fact that they actually had FDA clearance. And so I was like, this is really, really interesting. What would this mean for NuFACE if we got NuFACE FDA cleared? So I wrote a letter to the FDA. Again, this is I don't know, yes, we did have regular phones, barely cell phones.

So I wrote a letter to the FDA and said, "Here's our marketing collateral. Here's what we want to say about NuFACE. Take note. We're already selling NuFACE in the market. I believe that NuFACE is a class one device, but tell us what category it is. And then we can put FDA cleared or FDA approved on our packaging. It would be a great marketing story." So needless to say, six weeks later, I get a letter in the mail, not an email, a letter in the mail that says you are a class two medical device, which requires an FDA application and clearance. Stop selling your product in the U.S. immediately until you get clearance. And it was this OS moment, like I've really screwed up, and it was doom and gloom. I mean, it was 2006. It was my mom's income, my sister's income, my livelihood. Again, we were doing maybe a couple, maybe a million dollars at this point, probably maybe a couple million dollars, but very, we weren't a big company, but it was our livelihood.

This is what we had dedicated a number of years to do. And my mom's like, "Let's just move to New Zealand." And I was like, "Well, what's that going to do?" So anyways, we just sucked it up and within a network found a FDA regulatory consultant, and he and his team took us through the FDA process, the application, as well as preparing all of the standard operating procedures, the design files. And so six months later, actually in 2017, we received our letter saying NuFACE is FDA cleared, and you can again start selling NuFACE in the US, which was a huge win for us. And it made NuFACE the first and only handheld device, FDA cleared for facial stimulation. So we were truly one of the pioneers, but that was a moment that I was like, probably not the best decision, but in hindsight it was the best decision that we've ever made.
Jodi KatzYou've talked to me about this entrepreneurial journey being one of not just business growth, but personal growth. And you talked to me about learning how to manage emotions. And this is something that I've spent a lot of time thinking about and learning about for myself. I think my entrepreneurial journey is the best gift in figuring out who I am, who I am as a whole person. So I'd love to hear your perspective on what you've learned around managing emotions, why it was important for you, what those opportunities to learn were and what you did to learn them.
Tera PetersonYep. So building your own company of course, has a lot of highs and a lot of lows. Right. And so what I learned is to really manage my emotions and really to operate pretty even keel. The highs don't get too high, the lows don't get too low. When the highs, it's like, yes, great. And then I always kind of go into tactical mode of, okay, we just gone into Sephora doors. Now we need to sustain the excitement, sustain the sales. And so it's like I don't so much celebrate in the moment, which is something that I'm working on, but also the lows don't get so low. I go into fixing mode. Okay, I can't stress out about it. I need to focus on solutions. And so for better or for worse, it really is.

You try to manage your emotions because there is a lot of highs. There are a lot of lows. And I feel like when it's in my control, I can manage my emotions. When it's out of my control, that's where the stress really takes hold. And that's where I start meditating. I start doing yoga more, getting acupuncture, really focus on breathing because that's when it's like... If I'm in control, I can manage that stress. But if it's out of my control, then it really definitely takes more of a hold. And I have to figure out some more other holistic aspects to manage that wellbeing. But yeah, the words of wisdom there is definitely try to manage the highs and lows and try to be as even keel as you can.
Jodi KatzI actually, I feel like we could be in a support group with each other. Hearing you talk, it's like, what I live through. My biggest challenge is that I wouldn't celebrate the wins. I just zoomed through them. Right. Okay, that great news happened. Okay. Blah, blah, blah, blah.
Tera PetersonI know.
Jodi KatzAnd what my body was doing because I used to live mostly in self-doubt is just hang into those holes and those bad spots and not get out of them when I had bad news. So I actually, I want to tell you my technique, I have all these bells in my office, a lot of bells and I ring a bell for anything good that happens. It could be someone on my team sending a great email that was hard to write or getting new business or anything.
Tera PetersonI have a bell too. We're like soul sisters. I have a bell too. And I do it for employees. And so actually what I want to do is write everybody's name on a bell. And so when people, you know how they do snaps, ours is ringing a bell.
Jodi KatzI do snaps sometimes too when I don't have a bell, and that's, I think was in a sorority thing, right, instead of clapping, you snap.
Tera PetersonYeah.
Jodi KatzDid you ever do that?
Tera PetersonI was in a sorority for, I don't know, maybe a month.
Jodi KatzYeah. So I needed to teach my body that great things happen every day. And that was the counter weight to the garbagey stuff that would happen with frequency. And maybe that's how my body kind of gets to a more even place because I am celebrating the highs. I'm acknowledging the lows, but I'm celebrating so many highs, big and small, that the bad stuff doesn't hurt as much.
Tera PetersonYeah. Well, and I feel like just even focusing your mindset, it's so easy to focus on the negative of problem solving and why is this happening and what do we need to do? And perfectly right before I jump on the call and why was a couple minutes late is because I was dealing with something and I was like, what is going on here? But then it's like, we have to really snap ourselves out of that and focus on the positive and then just feed that energy because that energy is what's going to get us to the next level. It's going to get us what's... We're going to focus on the exciting things rather than dwelling into this kind of like this negative frequency that's ultimately would just pull us down. So you have to kind of check yourself.
Jodi KatzRight. It's the negativity doesn't serve us. Learning from mistakes, learning from problems serves us, but staying in that spot for too long doesn't help us get to our goals.
Tera PetersonNo, for sure.
Jodi KatzOkay. I need to switch gears because I only have time for one more question for you. And this is a topic that's really fascinating to me. I feel like growing my business has been a very, very seductive. Once in my business, I got like a taste for reaching a goal, then I wanted more and more like my relationship with sugar. So I'm curious in building this business, do you find it seductive and how can that be sometimes good or sometimes challenging?
Tera PetersonIt's so funny that you describe it as seductive because I totally get what you're saying. It's kind of this game, if you will. For instance, I love the sales aspect of NuFACE. I've always, getting a big account and they're placing a big order. I just got an order for $500,000 and it's like, that's a lot of money. That's a lot of money. And so it's kind of like how big is big? So, and there is this addictive aspect to sales and I think that's why they say sales is like, those people are another breed because they really feed off of it. And it truly is this high that you yearn for. So I completely get what you're saying and I agree. It is completely seductive, and it I'm sure it has to do with some brain functions of what like the sales process and that winning does to you. I'm sure there's like a correlation to even like sex, that euphoric feeling.
Jodi KatzWell, okay, we're going to have to transition. And now we get to move to our final stage of our show today, which is fan questions that we collected from fans on Instagram. We might only have time to get one or two of them in. So let me give you the first question. This one asks, what are the benefits of being able to use a microcurrent device at home?
Tera PetersonSo think about microcurrent as fitness for your face. So microcurrent technically is a low level current, just like the name implies micro and then current. So it's a low level electrical current that goes in and stimulates the facial muscles. Again, that's the fitness for your face. It also in turn will increase cellular activity like ATP, which in turn can increase collagen and elastin. And so what it does aesthetically for you is it's going to lift and tone the face. It's going to contour the jaw line. It's going to pop the cheek bones. It's going to lift the eyebrows. It's going to increase circulation. So it reduces lines and wrinkles. And so it's a great preventative treatment for our clients in their twenties and thirties. And then it's also a great corrective treatment for those of us in our forties, fifties, sixties, and above. So big believer of microcurrent in every skincare routine, no matter where you are in the process.
Jodi KatzOkay, Tera, the last question for the day, you can't choose the device as the answer to this one. So if there's one, how about we say topical skincare product, you can't live without, what is it?
Tera PetersonRight now, it's which I love is the P50, Biologique Recherche the P50. When I use it, my skin is glowing. I also see a difference in my elevens and just in forehead, just glowing skin. So I'm obsessed with that.
Jodi KatzOkay. I'm going to ring the bell for you pronouncing the name of that business.
Tera PetersonWait, and-
Jodi KatzIt's a tough one.
Tera PetersonThe only reason why I know how to pronounce it is because I'm really good friends with their GM and I've done a number of lives in my first live, I literally was in bed practicing it. And my husband's like, "What are you doing?" I was like, "I need to learn." And I don't speak French. And so anyways, yes. Thank you.
Jodi KatzWell, she's been on our show as has your new CEO, Jessica Hansen. So she was a guest many years ago as well. So I love this coming full circle.
Tera PetersonYeah. I mean, you've got some good gals on this show, Jodi, so bravo to you and everything that you've created.
Jodi KatzThank you. Well, thank you for being here. And I also want to say, thank you so much for your wisdom, Tera. We're going to close out the podcast recording. So for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Tera. Please subscribe to our series on your favorite podcast app and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram at Where Brains Meet Beauty podcast.

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