Small Business

How a trip to the Congo kickstarted a skincare startup

Milain David, has launched a startup, Eben Naturals, offering skincare products for people of color. He says his line is all-natural, vegan and cruelty-free.
Milain David, has launched a startup, Eben Naturals, offering skincare products for people of color. He says his line is all-natural, vegan and cruelty-free. rkoltun@miamiherald.com

Company name: Eben Naturals

Headquarters: WeWork Lincoln Road

Concept: Eben Naturals is a Miami-based skincare line geared toward the dark complexion segment. Its products are meticulously crafted to address issues common to its target market, such as uneven skin tone, dry body, breakouts, excess sebum secretion and oily skin.

Story: Milain David first thought of starting a skincare company about two years ago during a trip to the Congo, his native country.

“There I noticed the widespread use of skin-lightening products by misguided consumers who had no information whatsoever about their harmful effects. As a matter of fact, they feature a high dosage of hydroquinone, a product defined as carcinogenic by the FDA. So I thought it’d be great to promote products that would encourage people to embrace their natural skin tone,” he said.

When he returned to the U.S., he began looking into the beauty industry and realized that there was a lack of beauty solutions geared towards his demographic. This was later confirmed through extensive market research. “That’s when I decided to dive in and create Eben.”

David, an alumni of the University of Miami in economics and finance, received strategic advice about business planning and researching the market from UM’s entrepreneurship resource center, The Launch Pad. “It was like getting a very good business consulting firm, but for free.”

Once he graduated in May 2015, he jumped into Eben 100 percent, putting the business plan into action. Over the next year, he hired a chemist, and together they visited farms around the U.S. and rented small labs for R&D and creating the formulations. Once David had the formulations, he found a Doral manufacturer, The Pure Source, and began testing the product with his target market. To finance the production and get more early feedback from consumers, he launched a crowdfunding campaign this past summer. He raised $16,000, which was just enough to finance initial production and create some early marketing buzz.

David said Eben’s three-step product line is all-natural, vegan and cruelty-free. The company has launched its first line of products this fall and is selling on Amazon as well as www.ebennaturals.com.

Founded: June 2015; launched first product line in October.

Management team: Milain David, CEO and Chief Financial Officer; Valeria Quiros, branding and social media; Khadija Andrews, head of marketing; Daniel Lamus, sales adviser.

Website and social media: www.ebennaturals.com; https://www.facebook.com/ebennaturals/; https://www.instagram.com/ebennaturals/

Financing: The company is mostly bootstrapped and raised $16,000 on Kickstarter.

Recent milestones: Eben received approval from Amazon to become sellers in its highly competitive and restricted “Beauty and personal care category.” Eben also has an agreement with a major beauty sampling company to be featured in their limited edition Christmas box. “This would give us a major boost in terms of brand awareness.”

Biggest startup challenge: “The biggest startup challenge we face is to garner brand awareness with a very limited marketing budget. I like to think of it as having given birth to a child no one can see just yet,” David said.

Next step: The next step is to raise a seed round to finance customer acquisition efforts and improve processes.The strategy is to consolidate our brand identity to show potential investors that they are putting their money in a viable lifestyle company and not just another startup,” David said.

Mentor’s view: David said he met Jacques Cohen, a long-time executive in the cosmetics industry, at a friend’s Shabbat dinner. They exchanged small talk and numbers, and Cohen has offered his guidance ever since. “Milain reminded me when I started, the enthusiasm and the will to succeed. Milain recognized and accepted some of the early constructive criticism, too,” said Cohen, CEO of Prestige Cosmetics, a leading cosmetics manufacturer based in Deerfield Beach.

“Though Milain’s category is not that crowded, he is going to have to promote and make his products known. His advantage is his positioning. The ethnic market is mainly and traditionally positioned as mass market. That demographic has evolved enormously and is looking for and willing to pay for good products,” Cohen said. “Fortunately, today advertising can be done very economically through social media.”

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