Episode 5: Wendi Berger, President and Creator of Pour le Monde Parfums

Meet Wendi Berger. President and Creator of Pour le Monde Parfums. Listen as she reveals how pregnancy and a passion for fragrance inspired her to pave her own road in beauty.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzWe are joined today by Wendi Berger, president and creator of Pour le Monde certified 100% natural perfumes.

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.
Wendi BergerThanks Jodi. I'm happy to be here.
Jodi KatzWe're so excited to have you, because our listeners are super curious about the career paths and journeys of leaders in the beauty industry and not just the glossed over and picture-perfect PR story that people like to tell, but [inaudible 00:00:39] an authentic one, and you certainly have an incredibly interesting story to tell.
Wendi BergerWell, thank you.
Jodi KatzWill you tell us first about Pour le Monde? What is Pour le Monde?
Wendi BergerPour le Monde, as you mentioned before, is the world's only certified 100% natural fine fragrances. We are really catching on a lot of the hotspots of consumers these days. Besides being all natural, we're vegan, cruelty-free, pregnancy-safe. We have been told many times that our fragrances don't trigger migraines, which I know because I'm a migraine sufferer. Each one of our fragrances is benefiting a different charity, so we've got the altruism component there.

Lastly, we were just made a couple months ago a B corp. There's over 40,000 companies a year that try to become a B corp, and not only did Pour le Monde get accepted into this really small amazing group of companies, but we're also the only fragrance company to be a certified B corp. A B corp are about companies that are truly doing good for the world. There's transparency in what they're doing. They use sustainability componentry and resources, et cetera.
Jodi KatzCongratulations [crosstalk 00:01:54]
Wendi BergerThank you so much.

Each one of our fragrances smell really, really beautiful. In addition to all of our certifications and the things that we are, at the end of the day you can be all those things, but it's most important to make sure that you have an amazing product. Jodi, I know you've smelled our fragrances. They truly smell complex, beautiful, just luxurious. We hear all the time that people can't believe that our parfums are 100% natural.
Jodi KatzI am totally, completely your target customer, because every time I'm around traditional fragrance, that I didn't even realize had synthetics because I wasn't studying the fragrance industry, but I would get an instant headache. The second it's free, my head starts to feel uncomfortable. Not quite a migraine headache but certainly one of those like I need to get out of this space and take some Motrin.

I stopped wearing fragrances for years, really years and years, and then experienced yours, and now I can say I wear it every day with no side effects, and it's really incredible.
Wendi BergerWell, thank you. Yeah, nothing used to get me more, and still does is, especially if I'm trapped in an elevator with somebody wearing a really heavy fragrance, and of course now you've got UberPOOL and Via. The other day some woman got in and I just rolled down the window. I think we all did. It was just so beyond overpowering. They have said that fragrance could be the next secondhand smoke, because it just affects so many people in different ways.

It also affects small children. Their little lungs breathing it in and the indoor air pollution that it creates. It was really important for me to give consumers an alternative without feeling like they were making any sort of sacrifice, sacrificing on of course on scent and out of pocket, because we are priced right there with the synthetics even though everything we have is from nature, and we use incredibly expensive ingredients.
Jodi KatzWhy did you start this brand?
Wendi BergerMy background is in magazine publishing. I was at Vanity Fair In Style for several years, Elle Magazine, and I was constantly working with the beauty companies. I actually started my career at Revlon as a sales trainer.
Jodi KatzCool.
Wendi BergerAt the time they owned a lot of different brands. Yeah. When I finally got pregnant, my doctor said, "You should really think about fragrance." I have this amazing OB/GYN who's always up on everything before anybody knows about it, and I was kind of surprised that he had said that to me. For me, not wearing fragrance is like going outside without any clothes on. It is the last piece of my wardrobe, and I really feel naked without wearing it. I of course went online and started looking up what he was talking about, and there were a lot of unknown chemicals in fragrances, and it just struck me as, "Hmm, maybe I really should avoid these."

I tried to find naturals in the marketplace. Many of them were roller balls, essential oils. They smell nice but just a little more in an aromatherapy way, which I don't mind if I'm ... but when I'm out to dinner with my husband or if I'm at a meeting, I just didn't want to always smell like I had a massage, so nothing out there satisfied me. I was always a real fragrance snob to begin with, and I always had a different fragrance for however mood I was in and saw that there was a whole marketplace.
Again, this is five years ago when I started venturing into this, and people thought I was crazy. First and foremost, people thought that fragrance was natural to begin with. If it smells like a flower, shouldn't it be from a flower? Then I found out that's really not the case. The consumers back then weren't as knowledgeable as they are today with green beauty, clean beauty, safe beauty. It's amazing just in five years how the knowledge has increased, and with that knowledge comes demand.
Once consumers have found out about, that want to go clean beauty, they ditch the fragrance. Pregnant women ditch the fragrance, because there isn't anything out there that smells beautiful until they discover Pour le Monde. We hear that all the time, with, "Why do we find about you guys," and, "Oh, my God, we love this brand. We love what you're doing. We love that you give back. We love that you're vegan. We love that you're cruelty-free, but, most importantly, we love that we can wear fragrance again." That's been very rewarding to me.
Jodi KatzI bet. That makes me think of a theme around patience and perseverance, right? Five years ago you really didn't have a lot of people, I guess, picking up what you're putting down in terms of the mission of this brand and being natural. I bet it was quite hard to try to convince retail partners and customers that this was something important.

Can you take us back to those first few years in business and I guess the hustling, the pounding the pavement and getting the word out? What was that like when people weren't really quite ready to hear this message?
Wendi BergerI'm going to even take it a step back further, if you don't mind, and that is I couldn't find a fragrance house that wanted to do this. They all said that 100% natural fragrance and a fine fragrance, an eau de parfum, it could not be created. It just wouldn't smell right. We only have about 400 notes that we can work with, super limited, super limited. In the synthetics category, you're dealing with thousands of notes, which is why you see a new fragrance. It seems like they launched every week.

I couldn't even find a fragrance house. When I finally found a small house, they really had the expertise in natural flavoring for lotions and soaps. They'd just never done a fine fragrance before, so that in itself took a long time. It took many, many months, because I didn't want to launch with one. I wanted to launch as a collection. I just thought that launching as a collection would be very important. I wanted people to know that Pour le Monde was here to stay and that we truly had a scent for everyone.
I launched this incredible collection that, yeah, to your point, we didn't have a home. We focused online, which is a little difficult to sell fragrance online, although we came up with a program where consumers could purchase all three scents with a sample pack. We sell that for $20. We still can't keep them in stock. It's just a great way for them to try it before they purchase the full size. That's what we did.
We started taking note of all the green beauty bloggers who now are our dear friends and quickly realized that the traditional approach to fragrance marketing was going to be out the window when it came to Pour le Monde. Quickly realized that we were a fragrance disrupter in the category and that we weren't your typical fragrance. That, again, was something new for me, because here I'd been exposed my whole career to traditional cosmetic marketing, and suddenly that all had to be changed.
The beauty of having your own company is if it doesn't work today, you can fix it tomorrow, and that's what I love about entrepreneurship. My years in magazine publishing, if something wasn't working, it took a lot of focus groups, memos, "Here's why we're going to do this, and here's what it's going to ..." When you're an entrepreneur, you can just fix it like that. I had a lot of pivots when it came to positioning Pour le Monde.
To see it now, where we have a retailer, Credo ... Credo was launched by the original team that brought Sephora to the US, and they recognized that the green beauty market was exploding, so Credo is pretty much the world of discovery that Sephora was when it came into the market. Credo's only about a year and a half old. They didn't have that when we launched.
Now we find with Macys.com, Macys.com has recognized that green beauty is here to stay, and it's not a trend. It's a movement. Now that that consumer demand awareness followed with so many people on Instagram, bloggers and the press talking about green beauty, has certainly made it much easier for us to get appointments than when we first launched. No one would speak to us when we first launched. It was rather depressing.
Now, "Hey, we do want to give consumers an alternative," because that's what Pour le Monde is about. It's about an alternative to what you're currently using if you want to make a switch and go totally clean within your beauty regimen.
Jodi KatzI love that you spent so much time forging your own path and that you obviously by necessity had to do so. Can we talk and dive down a little bit deeper into the emotional effects of being an entrepreneur in a space that people maybe certainly aren't ready to embrace? In my own business I find that what's in my head gets in my way quite a bit, like, fear-based stuff or anxiety or "Compare and despair." I'm wondering if you suffered from any of this the early years of growing the business, and if you did, how you were able to move forward?
Wendi BergerYeah, that's a great question. I think you have to be completely resilient. I'm friends with a lot of entrepreneurs, especially in the green beauty world. We all stick together. We all consider ourselves pioneers. We try to support each other. The one common thing that we say to each other all the time is, "It's a good thing we didn't know. It's a really good thing we didn't know, else none of us would have done it." I think that's something that really happens with a lot of entrepreneurs, is, thank God no one told them really what the path could possibly be. It was challenging.

Someone just posted recently a quote. I saw it the other day. It was in honor of a guy in the ad agency, and he went on to build this big ad agency, and someone asked him once, "What is the one thing to which you would attribute your success," and his answer was, "I was stupid, because I never once thought of the downside risk to what I was doing. I never thought about the 'What ifs.'"
I think that is what has carried me to this point. When there was a lot of doors closed on me, I believed in what I was doing. I believed that I had a market for Pour le Monde, and I also believed that eventually there would be a consumer demand for it. I didn't really think of the "What ifs." I thought of the "Why nots" and just kept plowing away.
Believe me, it's still a struggle. First of all, there's a lot of expense to it. Then when you finally get into a retail door, guess what? You can kiss away some of your margins. There's so much support that's needed and demands from the retailer, so you have to really choose your retailers, what they can give back to you as far as support is concerned. We've also started to do well with Amazon, and Macy's and Credo have been wonderful partners with us as well.
I think partnering with a retailer that understands that you're a small business, understands that you're not going to be able to give them 20,000 little VOCs, [vylon 00:15:17] cards of fragrance, a month. It's choosing who you're going to partner with too. Yeah, you just really have to persevere. When you're knocked down, you've got dust. I think it's great to have a support team that can help pick you up and say, "You got this. You can do it, and tomorrow's a new day."
Jodi KatzLet's talk a little bit about the idea of a support team, because when I started the business, certainly for the first half of the past decade, I thought I had to know it all by myself. I thought I had to do it all by myself. I really didn't realize that I could develop relationships and get support elsewhere. I don't know why. I'd never done this before, so I just assumed that everyone who does this, they just did it themselves. Then I found, like, "Oh, I can connect with other small agency owners. Oh, I can connect with other beauty business owners, and I can have a network of people for emotional support and practical support as well."

Did you know this going in, that other people would be such an important factor in your success, and, if not, how did you figure that out?
Wendi BergerAt the beginning, before I launched, I didn't really have much of a support team, because I was very concerned that if I told people what I was doing, they would try to talk me out of it.

No, I'm not kidding. I really did, because I knew so many people from the industry, because I did speak to one person. They were like, "You know that's a really tough market. Fragrance is really competitive. It's really tough." I kept thinking, "But I'm not doing what anyone else is doing, so technically there isn't any competition.
Jodi KatzRight.
Wendi BergerI kind of didn't do that. I also didn't have in place the kind of support team I have now, and that really is through other beauty pioneers doing what I'm doing, other women who have, like yourself, Jodi, you stepped away. You created something on your own, and I think the most important support team you could have is somebody that's in the same place as you, because they've been through it. They've been through the challenges, the highs, the lows, and with that comes a success story to help somebody get to that next level.

Then of course it does help to have somebody who's been knee-deep in it. My support team does include other entrepreneurs, though, that have been super, super successful, because everybody has to start that way. Yeah, I wished I had the team at the beginning, but I had to get in it to understand the kind of support that I need, but it really does help once you've got that network going.
Jodi KatzYeah, the network's so important. I actually, I have advisers now for the agency, and two of them are like super, major, major advertising agency players, giant corporations. I realized that they can't understand the business. They understand the business of advertising, but they don't understand the business of running a business or a small business.
Wendi BergerRight.
Jodi KatzI really needed to widen my net. I figured that out, like, "Oh, well, they're not going to know what it's like to do all this stuff on their own. There's thousands of people in the organization who do this work." I needed to broaden that network and fill the gap with people who run businesses, wear many hats, right? Have outreach to good lawyers and good bookkeepers and good accountants and all the stuff a business owner needs and that type of support. I think that just comes with time. You just figure it out as you go along. Unfortunately, there's no rule book, no good rule book, anyway.
Wendi BergerI always say, though, if I were to launch Pour le Monde tomorrow, I would do it in half the time and half the cost.
Jodi KatzThat's why people become serial entrepreneurs, right? [crosstalk 00:19:27]
Wendi BergerI get it. Let me tell you something. I get it. I get it. I'm constantly thinking of other ... I have this other invention that has nothing to do with cosmetics, and my husband looks at me and he goes, "Where you going to get the money to do that," because everything I have pours back into Pour le Monde. That's what happens. You're right with being a serial entrepreneur.

I can't describe the feeling you have when you have an idea, regardless if it's a product or just even launching your own business, like you've done, Jodi, when you actually do it, it's pretty amazing. One of the things that I think entrepreneurs are very bad at doing, myself included, is stepping back and recognizing all that you've been able to accomplish pretty much on your own. Taking that leap of faith, leaving corporate America and launching your own business, because we're constantly looking at ways that we can improve or, "I should be doing this better," or, "I should have done it that way."
We forget our successes, because we're constantly focused on how we can improve ourselves, how we can grow, how we can get bigger. Going back to that support group, especially if you have a lot of support from individuals who have their own businesses, I think that support group is so good about is just like, "You know what? Don't beat yourself up. Look what you've been able to do."
The fact that we're the only ones still in the world that are certified 100% natural, we don't even use any absolutes in our fragrances. The fact that we're the only B corp that's a fragrance company currently, for now. I have to step back and appreciate that, that, hey, that's something I was able to do and build and create.
Jodi KatzI'm so glad you said that, because I think that what I realize is really recently, just like the past six months or a year, that I don't celebrate my victories. I'm just like, "Oh, that's cool" and move on to the next thing. That's not fair to myself. It's not fair to the hard work that I've put into the business and my team as well. I need to make an effort. I need to get a cupcake and put a candle in it. I need to dance around the office. I need to do something to acknowledge these victories, because there's so many days when there aren't victories. My body I think needs to remember the good stuff.
Wendi BergerYeah. You worked so hard trying to get those victories, half the times you're just exhausted.
Jodi KatzThere's always something in the future, but I really want to stay focused on the now. How do you do that? When you got the B corp or when you landed Macy's, do you dance around in your PJs? What is it that you do to acknowledge these incredible moments?
Wendi BergerYeah. I definitely celebrate, but then comes the, "Ooh, we got to make sure that we keep these partnerships. We have to make sure that we keep these certifications." It's, and again, probably going back to my days in magazine publishing, where you'd win a big piece of business, and, you know what? You could lose that business any time. Then you got to service it. Then you've got to ... You do the victory for a day, and then you have to, "Okay, now I have to live up to this. Now we have to make sure that this is a successful partnership or successful run there."

Yeah, I'm sure I probably am right there with you with maybe I need to celebrate a little bit more. It's kind of short-term, because I then get focused back, and maybe that's just a Type A personality. I don't know. Just like, "Okay, what's the next one coming?" I don't feel like if you are someone that's going to sit back and just not keep going forward with constantly the next challenge, then I think entrepreneurship is going to be tough for somebody. You really have to always be focused.
I know, Jodi, you're terrific at that. You're always focused on, "Okay, what else now? What else can I be doing?" I just think that's in general the key to success.
Jodi KatzFor my last question for you, Wendi, it's more of a less of a financial question, more of a question of the heart. Aside from financial goals, what is your barometer for success?
Wendi BergerMy barometer for success is to build Pour le Monde. I've always said I'd love for us to be the Jo Malone of natural fragrances, with product ... Yeah. I know, but you know what? I had the pleasure of meeting her about two months ago. I was at her book signing. For me, it was just such a thrill to meet her and hear her story. It was very similar to mine. She really persevered. She built herself up in such a way that she was acquired by Estee Lauder.

I really want to have this as a long-term brand and be the leader in the marketplace for it. There's a lot of extensions that I'd like to add to this brand, still always being true to who we are, and that is a natural fragrance company.
Somebody asked me recently, "Oh, are you going to go into hair care?" That's not who we are. "Are we going to go into skin care?" That's not who we are. What we do is what no one else can do at this time, and that is create certified 100% natural fine fragrances, which I know can be applied to other scent products, so it's long-term success. It's getting to that level, which, my gosh, if we were the Jo Malone of natural fragrances, Jodi, I would totally celebrate for many weeks. I would celebrate for many weeks on that one. That's really what I'm looking for long-term.
Jodi KatzWendi, thank you so much for sharing your story with us. It's lovely.
Wendi BergerWell, thank you so much. I had a lot of fun chatting with you.
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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