Episode 55

 

As a former management consultant and now CEO of personal care device brand FOREO, Paul Peros, like many Gen X’ers, spent the early part of his career working long hours. Like most of his peers, working late equated to working harder. “Unfortunately for us, I think we’ve been a part of the culture of all-nighters and things like that”, he observed. Fast forward to 2018, where he now heads a company made up of employees mostly under 30 – and they’ve changed his perspective on what constitutes hard work. “I see in Gen Z a selectiveness, a pragmatic approach to work and life that I wish we had back in the days ourselves.” As in no more all-night work binges. Hear what he’s learned from his junior staff in this episode.

Announcer

Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.

Jodi Katz

Hey there, everyone. Welcome back to Where Brains Meet Beauty. I’m here with Paul Peros. He’s the CEO of FOREO. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.

Paul Peros

Thank you. Thank you for having me.

Jodi Katz

I’d like our listeners to hear about how we met. This is actually the first time we’re meeting face to face, but our first interaction was over email. I had emailed you updates about our show, and you emailed me back, and said it sounded cool. I said, “Do you want to be on?” You said, “Sure.”

Paul Peros

Yes, of course.

Jodi Katz

I tell that story because I want people to know how easy it is, because I’m incredibly curious about everyone’s story, especially about the mundane, the rituals. My goal is to humanize our industry a bit more. We’re not all marketing robots. We’re people with lives beyond the work. Really happy to have you here. Let’s start with something pretty easy. How will you be spending your day today?

Paul Peros

Well, my day today, and this is why I love New York, will be extremely productive. A week in New York is like a couple months of traveling. It’s the only place where you can have four or five meetings back to back, some of them even walking distance. An opportunity to catch up with people in the industry, an opportunity to work on communications, on trade, and it’s the place to be.

Jodi Katz

So you have a stacked day, back to back?

Paul Peros

Yes.

Jodi Katz

When do you go back home? How long is your visit?

Paul Peros

Friday.

Jodi Katz

Oh, okay. Cool. That’s nice.

Paul Peros

It sounds far, but getting here out of Europe is almost equivalent like doing it from the west coast, yeah.

Jodi Katz

Right, so you will be here for I think a snowstorm tomorrow.

Paul Peros

I’m afraid so. Just when I thought I was done with it, we were frozen for a couple weeks in Europe. We’ll see how it goes tomorrow.

Jodi Katz

Yes. Well, I hope it’s snow we can play in, and have some fun in. What does FOREO mean?

Paul Peros

Well, there is a lot of the sound place. The one I really liked is for all, which in itself a bit a challenge that we have with cosmetics and beauty devices. The name itself came in a brainstorm. We checked it on sort of the field, the graphics, the sounds, the IP, the domain, and it cleared on all.

Jodi Katz

Did you say for all?

Paul Peros

Yes.

Jodi Katz

That’s the inspiration?

Paul Peros

Yes.

Jodi Katz

What do you mean by that?

Paul Peros

Well, devices themselves have been around for a while, and they made the transition from initially salon to at home devices over the last 10 years. They were taken up by mainstream retail, and the for all bit is critical in sort of going beyond the beauty enthusiasts in making them a acceptable part for everyday rituals of consumers.

Jodi Katz

So you’re saying that our experience in the beauty industry with, I guess devices before your brand, it would be, for me, Clarisonic or Tria, that there’s a lack of daily ritual in it? Is that what you’re suggesting?

Paul Peros

Not only for successful integration into the routines, and the daily life of the consumer, it is imperative that the product is designed in such a way to allow for seamless integration, that every bit of interaction with the product and with the brand guarantees a positive experience. Not just the operating principle, but the fact that you can go to sleep in peace and quiet, and you don’t have to worry that your product will be charged and ready to go in the next morning. That you don’t have to carry a charging station when you go travel for a week or two, because the product will be able to support you. That it is something that doesn’t make your bathroom uglier, but nicer.

It is something that has a footprint made for even New York bathrooms, and your roommates, that you don’t have to replace the brushes, in case of the cleansing brushes, an experience that we thought is very close to having to worry and think and schedule your next appointment to change the oil of your car. It’s not a positive experience, you look at a brush. Is it dirty enough? You have to go out of your way to buy something that you already had. The product has to really serve the consumer, and not the other way around on every little contact point you have. It has to be fun to discover, to explore, to use, and to have.

Jodi Katz

This is so interesting. You know, I never really thought about a beauty product in that way. You’re not just thinking about the skin care benefit, let’s say, but you’re really thinking about the experience of the product, as I walk through my life.

Paul Peros

How it fits into our life. It starts with the communication content, because the further out you are on a limb on bringing something that has never been here before, the more work you will have to do on linking it into the context of our existing life. It’s basically taking the future, and mashing it with the present, in a way.

Jodi Katz

Right. Do you think there’s a chance that you are ahead of your time with this company?

Paul Peros

At times. It’s sort of fluid, because we are very productive, and we bring a lot of products. All of them themselves contain a lot of the proven or second generation thinking, but always also a little bit of things to come that we are experimenting with.

Jodi Katz

Right. It’s interesting. As new brands pop up, and challenges persist that have existed way before social media in terms of communicating brand differentiation, I’ve been looking at brands that maybe were 20 years too soon, too early. I think about Prescriptives in that way, do you remember that brand?

Paul Peros

No.

Jodi Katz

It was [inaudible 00:07:00] brand all about finding the perfect match foundation. They actually had attendants at the booths in all, at Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale’s mixing for you. This is like, this is made for social, but it was happening in a completely different time period.

Paul Peros

Well, there is this coincidental circumstantial element. Definitely it was a positive reality for us overall. Devices were just getting mainstream, so the intake with select retail, with department stores, was less of a hurdle than we would have had five years earlier, where doing devices meant a lot of legwork through capillary channels, professional and the like.

Jodi Katz

Right. But you’ll always have the challenge that you need to educate the consumer on a new way of living a certain part of her life, right? A new way of doing what she’s used to doing for the past 20 years?

Paul Peros

Correct. Fortunately, we have the communications channels to do so. As a matter of fact, something that historically was probably a hurdle for indies, in our case, was effectively a relative advantage. We didn’t have the resources to go after the traditional glossy press and so on, so we had to learn how to manage digital channels and digital content, something that some of the incumbents, the majors of yesterday and today are just about learning. They had a bit of a vested position difficulty in addressing that.

On top, there is also a big difference in this new environment in treating the brand itself that is less from one center to the public in traditional communication sense, that is less from a pedestal, taking a message and just hammering it until it’s there for everybody. It’s an approach where you take the brand, and you bring it closer to your consumers, and the brand itself, contrary to traditional marketing theory, becomes a lot more fluid.

In our case, this even impacted the organization that had to move closer to the market itself. We do our copy, we do our own content, so that the thinking is a bit almost like a moderation of this peer to peer, because the best at educating consumers are the consumers themselves. This is qualification, this is credibility, this is a language that makes sense, that is natural.

Jodi Katz

You just said something, I haven’t heard it ever presented this way. It’s really interesting, that your team is really moderating the conversation between consumers. You’re not directing that conversation, but you’re moderating it. That’s a pretty fascinating approach to social. I think that’s very unique, that point of view.

Paul Peros

It is. It is. It’s also a lot of hard work and learning, mistakes, some wins, many discoveries along the way, definitely.

Jodi Katz

Right. I think a lot of brands look at any of their communications as pushing out, but by moderating it, I’m saying that it’s spinning around us. We’ll just help guide one thought to another, and connect two people together, and two thoughts together.

Paul Peros

Yes. I mean, we, in terms of formats, it’s difficult to pin it down, because it’s a discovery, a continuous one. But the best recent example I have is the use of crowdfunding, fortunately and primarily for the crowd, less the funding itself, an opportunity to spend a month or two prior to the launch with progressive consumers, people that are really interested in new products, the ones that are most likely to be the first ones to adapt, yes, but more importantly, the consumers that will provide you feedback and comments, either direct, or even indirect. You can work on your messaging, reshuffle the content, until you see progress in your storytelling, as far as it makes sense to the consumers, in case of serious innovation, in peace and quiet before you’re set in stone, and live with retailers.

Jodi Katz

Right. So you’re using your consumers as your own focus groups.

Paul Peros

Co-developers of content, in a way.

Jodi Katz

Co-developers?

Paul Peros

Yeah. Even on the core product level.

Jodi Katz

Right. I’m picking up what you’re putting down. That’s cool. Well, let’s talk about you. Before you started this business, you were a management consultant, which sounds like a very vague industry. What does that mean?

Paul Peros

Well, at the end of the day, it’s an amazing job. I really enjoyed it, because you are called in when some change is needed, when the way things have been done before is not good enough anymore. Something we try to actively force ourselves to do even now on a day-to-day basis. Incredibly interesting in terms of the visibility across industries and geographies, and in my case, also fascinating in terms of the core realm as far as being … Okay, it might sound a little bit strange, but Italian family business consultancy, mainly though for companies that have become international and active, some of them known also here in the US, the worlds of the likes of LUKE’s, Ortica and Ray-Ban and Oakley, to specialists in luxury fashion materials, or third-party makeup OEMs. Something that was part of an extraordinary entrepreneurial tradition, and a very interesting bit of history as far as Italy itself, that went from a really bad situation at the end of World War II to becoming really a standard in fashion and beauty, and in industrial development within Europe through the ’60s and ’70s.

Jodi Katz

So you were specifically only working with Italian companies at that time?

Paul Peros

Yes.

Jodi Katz

Oh, that’s cool. What’s one of the more odd or really random type of industries that you found yourself in doing this job?

Paul Peros

Well, eyewear itself is extraordinary. Even the concept of 90% of it being in a small valley in the middle of nowhere in the Dolomite Mountains, but it’s a very common thing to find these specialized industries in these local communities that then have world-leading companies there. It’s an extraordinary world in terms of product and product design. We’re talking about launching a couple hundreds of new models twice per year around the world. Very interesting thing in terms of organizational evolution and the reality of China in specific. That was something over the last 15 years that truly changed the approach and the need for organization and articulation of new product development from the artisan to the industrialized or articulated one. We are talking about product architectures, definitions. Some of the things I was surprised to have to work on.

Jodi Katz

You were at a meal, I think you said a barbecue meal, with your co-founder of FOREO, and that’s when the idea took place. Do I have that right?

Paul Peros

Well, it was more than a barbecue. It was out in China, a random contact, as many were back in those days, that developed into a really nice relationship that was both private and fun as well as professional. We didn’t know it then. We had our own worlds, and shared sort of the fascination about creating something new. That person became the founder of FOREO, and the primary investor, and we had no idea it was going to end where it did. It was informal ideas that led to some more digging, that led to some trials. Then off we went in 2013 making the first push, Bologna Cosmoprof was the first fair where we sort of took the idea out, made a product, and started to look for the judgment from the market.

Jodi Katz

Let’s go back to those many conversations over several months of daydreaming, right?

Paul Peros

Correct.

Jodi Katz

That’s basically what it is. Daydreaming with your co-founder. What changed from just thinking and considering innovation and daydreaming about it, into saying, “Let’s do it. Let’s make this happen”?

Paul Peros

Necessity. On my side, it was shortly, and still part of the backlash after the financial crisis, so consulting was not really going well, and I myself was really enjoying the lively atmosphere in Shanghai. Those days, everything was possible. It was unlimited. Then the founder himself was also looking into ways to develop into an area that had opportunity in terms of one, being significant and relevant to the consumer, such as the beauty world, and second, still showing his lot of improvement potential on what we found was not only product but also communications. This is sort of where things got real.

Jodi Katz

I love that you tell us the story that it formed out of necessity. You needed a job. Everybody needs a job at some point.

Paul Peros

It’s really, really important. It sort of is also the key driver today. In addition to being a real-life laboratory in my case in some way beyond the supporting function in the sense that we really get to do things a little bit of a management consultant’s frustration of submitting proposals and never seeing those happen. It is an incubator for something progressive. I hope, it’s been five years now, that we will have the opportunity to continue over the next 20 years, and maybe even more, to see really how far we can go into provoking change, and building a new generation, also on the organizational levels.

I just came back from South by Southwest where then unexpectedly, the most important panels or speeches I found in the area of generation Z retirement planning trying to formulate and structure what is going to be an even more significant gig economy in the future. I am happy to see some of our first sort of illumine going back into the world, and doing some significant jobs way beyond their peer group, hopefully, eventually, also impacting the industry and the way we work in a good way.

Jodi Katz

You know, when we first talked the other day, I was surprised and pleased by how much you’re considering that your team’s experience in working with you, what they’re getting out of it, not just from a business perspective, but personally, and how they have … It seems like you’re really longing for them to have a balance in their life.

Paul Peros

Yes. Yeah reciprocity that is unavoidable, that was already there. We didn’t invent it, but these contribution, and the perception of one’s role in the work being done is really, really important for us. I mean, we are aware we have to be racing at double speed of our peers, if we are going to progress. We’re asking a lot, but I think it is that feeling of being engaged, and being part of something truly unique that drives it.

At the same time, this leads also to a very monolithic culture in a way, and as such, we are struggling a little bit to play with our environment, or with the other kids, which makes that we tend to have all of our activities integrated, and we do everything from copy to the design of shipping boxes in house in order to be able to keep with the pace and the mentality of our approach.

Jodi Katz

You told me that, I think, a significant portion of the people who work for the company are under 29 years old, is that right?

Paul Peros

Yes.

Jodi Katz

Do you have insight as to someone who is: pardon me, but you’re not 29, or under 29? Do you get insights from them on how they actually shut off work for the day, and then live their lives beyond work? Have you gotten any insights or advice from them?

Paul Peros

Well, I figure it’s something that comes pretty natural at 29, but this sort of balance in lifestyle is what you’re talking about, engages possibly also at work itself. I mean, who’s to say when we can do it, or not? We try to make the work place itself something that allows for the people to sort of live through elements that are part of what we would traditionally call is the private life. It’s something that I think with working from home, is already happening. Again, by itself, it’s just sort of building the company around it, and the way we work, where we respect it, that actually brings more to both sides, the private and the professional.

Jodi Katz

Right. I don’t think it necessarily comes easy or automatic to a young person. I mean, when I was in my 20s, I was working til 9:30 at night. This is very common for me, because I felt this pressure. Well, I accepted the pressure from around me of working long means working hard, which means working well, which I don’t actually believe or subscribe to anymore. I’m quite the opposite.

Paul Peros

Unfortunately for us, unfortunately for them, I think that we have been part of that culture of all-nighters and things like that. There is a discipline, I think, to be seeing in today’s Gen Z, a selectiveness, a pragmatic approach, that I wish we had back in the days ourselves.

Jodi Katz

Yes. I’m completely focused, and my team is on just working smart. We’re like a judgment-free zone. If it takes you five hours to do something or it takes you an hour to do something, it is what it is. But I’m glad to hear that … I mean, it’s easy for us. We’re 10 people, so I only need to find nine other people that are like me in a mindset. I don’t have to find 3000 people that are like me in a mindset, which is much harder.

Paul Peros

I know. For me, a lot of the work, including this session we are having right now, is very, very important, because at the end of the day, we don’t have a lot of PP or production assets, nor capital commitments, any other than resources related to organization. It really takes a lot to get to the current numbers we are at. Most of our seniors are spending most of their time in recruiting and team building, and that, for me, is the key concern. I’m happy to see the momentum we seem to be getting in the recent past, yeah.

Jodi Katz

Let’s shift gears with our last topic, which is you are very well traveled, and you’ve lived a lot of places, which means your family’s lived a lot of places. Give us a laundry list of the places you’ve been, where your kids have been, and where you are now.

Paul Peros

I myself started out from Croatia, originally. This is where I’m from.

Jodi Katz

You’re originally from Greece?

Paul Peros

Croatia.

Jodi Katz

Oh, Croatia.

Paul Peros

And however, grew up between Austria and the US, and the Middle East.

Jodi Katz

Where did you go to high school?

Paul Peros

I went to high school a bit in Croatia, a bit by San Diego. Then the second part, now with family, was more sort of in the area as far as Switzerland and Italy, and a few back and forths between the two. Prior to a longer trip out to China, most of my projects were in Asia at some point, so we said, “Let’s pack our bags and move there.” I spent the first year of FOREO actually working out of Shanghai, and then moved closer to the markets we were developing in Europe and in the US. Of course, the go-to place was supposed to be Stockholm, but for reasons of primarily climate, I decided to settle in Madrid for a couple of years.

Then somewhere unexpectedly, I got to return to Croatia after 15 years, because one of our distribution and logistic centers turned into the global marketing and development hub for FOREO, and this is where I’ve been since, together with some 300 people from 20 countries and counting.

Jodi Katz

What is the family mindset around this … I mean, there must be a sense of adventure, right, to be able to keep moving the family?

Paul Peros

Well, adventure is a very nice way to put it. I see some confusion when I talk about my kids. Like if you ask them, “Where are you from?” they will actually respond back with a question being, “Do you want a short version, or the long version?” because they sort of were even born along the way, one of them in Italy, the other one in Switzerland. However, I’m very happy that they get to experience back home for the first time in their life, but also to maybe slow down a little bit of the moving, for now at least, because I think these years, we are talking about puberty, 15, 17, so formative. I think it’s good to have a bit more fixed context reference points, because you’re developing as a part of a community. I think that that growth is also key.

Will they themselves continue to travel? I fear that the chances are so, as was the case with myself, for that matter.

Jodi Katz

Well, thank you for sharing that with us. I mean, I think what’s so cool about your kids is they speak a lot of languages, even if it’s just a little bit of everything, right? They can go anywhere now.

Paul Peros

Yes.

Jodi Katz

Paul, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us today, and for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes, and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram, @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.

Announcer

Thanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

 

 

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