Georgiana Grudinschi is the founder of ANSWR (formerly named O’Wow Haircare at the time of this interview). When Georgiana started O’Wow Beauty in August 2019, she thought she’d be lucky to get 10 sales a day. Now her at-home, salon-quality keratin treatment is a million-dollar business with warehouses in Finland and the UK.
Tell us a little bit more about what your role within O’Wow entails, and how you came up with the idea for the brand?
As the Founder and CEO of an as-of-yet still small company I am involved in every aspect of process and decision making in the business. At the beginning I was more hands on as there wasn’t the budget to hire help, but as the sales grew we hired people to help us out and at the moment there are 10 people in the team.
The idea for developing the product started around two years ago when I got addicted to the divinely shiny hair I achieved with regular keratin treatments done at the salon. However, I was very frustrated at the amount of time and money I was spending on salon treatments and it led me to think there must be a better way.
While investigating alternative options, I discovered that those regular keratin treatments done at the salon were not only costing me time and money but also harmful to my health. I came to learn that most of the salons use keratin treatments that include a heavy amount of formaldehyde which has severe consequences when inhaled. These findings made me even more motivated in finding not only a more convenient and affordable option but also an option which will not compromise our health.
What is the science behind the product, how does it work on a molecular level?
The formulation includes 35 natural ingredients , including coconuts, Cashew nuts, grapes, tamarinds and coffee beans. The rest of the formulation is a blend of gentle acids that open the hair strands and give the user a time window in which the hair strands can be shaped.
At the same time, it also treats the fibres of the hair with conditioning agents that provide softness and shine to the hair. The result is a fantastic smooth hair with natural appearance. So while the main ingredients are natural, there are some gentle acids that allow the hair strands to open so that the natural ingredients can be absorbed. Unlike formaldehyde the acids in our treatment are not unhealthy and create no side-effects whatsoever.
How do the results last for 3 months with washing?
As the effect is built into the hair with the heat of the iron the results will last for 2 to 3 months depending on the hair type and how often the hair is washed. The hair should be always washed using sulphate-free shampoos as sulphates tend to wash off the effect and after each wash the hair should be blow dried with hot air as it is a thermo active treatment.
How does it compare to what else is on the market?
Most of the similar treatments on the market are usually available only in salons and there are basically no other direct to consumer smoothing treatments with no nasty chemicals as in O Wow.
What was key to generating half a million in sales in your first month?
Consistency and a well implemented plan. We had a great pre-launch campaign two weeks prior the launch – we managed to generate 25k leads so we launched to an existing audience. We gifted the products to micro influencers which was also a very effective and budget friendly way of getting the brand out there. We started running paid ads 4 months after launch, as at the beginning we were very limited with the budget.
Tell us a little more about your background, and how and why you first decided to enter the world of business?
I don’t have a background in the beauty industry but as a Business Masters graduate I was also interested in becoming an entrepreneur and have always been very business minded and constantly looking for market gaps. This was just a clear gap I spotted in the market and even though I acknowledged the fierce competition and over-saturation in the beauty industry, I decided to give it a go.
Did you fundraise for your business?
No I didn’t, it’s been bootstrapped. I started with very a small budget – my own savings and also a small loan from the family. That was enough to cover for the first inventory and the first photoshoot.
What have been your top 3 marketing channels in terms of conversions, and who are your main demographic?
Social media ads, press coverage and influencers.
What difficulties have you faced and how did you get around them?
When I started O Wow it was a jump into a completely new industry with no prior entrepreneurship nor beauty industry experience, so I knew it was going to be a huge challenge, yet I could have never imagined how much hard work and long hours it will require.
The journey has so far been amazing, including the wins and the losses, the good days and the bad ones. There are not many things that I would do differently, as it is the failures that have thought me the most.
I’ve learned that you will never feel ready enough to launch – so rather than launching when you feel like everything is perfectly set up, launch fast. There is always space for improvement and if you let that carry you away you will be launching too late. Perfection will come later, if ever.
I’ve also learned that setbacks are inevitable and sometimes they will make you feel very hopeless but the most important things is to face them and try to recover fast and be solution-oriented. I’ve always found a way out even when I thought I’ve faced a dead-end. I firmly believe that the only thing that differentiates a successful entrepreneur from all other entrepreneurs is the ability to recover and solve problems fast.
How did studying for your degree(s) help as opposed to just launching into running a business?
Personally I don’t see that a university degree is required to succeed as an entrepreneur but I do believe it is a huge advantage. Studies have taught me a lot about planning, consistency and systems, which I believe are the keys for building a successful business.
How have your previous jobs helped or hindered your progress?
Before founding O Wow I used to work in an online media company and I was responsible for affiliate marketing. Working in a digital space really helped me understand how doing business online really works.
What’s the smallest change that’s given the biggest return?
Hiring a the first support person to handle the customer support. I handled the support for the first 6 months and it really took so much time and left very little time to focus on the bigger picture, so things were progressing very slowly. Right now we have a 3 support members and one support team lead and they are all doing a great job in keeping out customers happy which is the most important thing in any business.
What motivates you?
Challenges and seeing concrete progression. Also seeing ideas coming to life and the daily reviews and feedback from our lovely customers.
What’s been your biggest achievement in life thus far?
Definitely taking the risk to start my own business and jumping off my nice and easy 9 to 5 job. It was very scary but I knew that however it would end up succeeding or not succeeding, I would learn a lot from the journey and I couldn’t have been more right.
And biggest lesson / failure?
I initially started with the strong mentality of wanting and having to do everything myself. I quickly learned that was very naive and not very healthy neither for me nor for the business. After all I want to build a global beauty brand. Throughout the way, I have hired a lot of help and it’s been the best decision ever.
How do you deal with burnout?
Even though I have been working very long hours ever since I launched O Wow I haven’t really experienced any burnout storms. I guess that is because I don’t really get easily stressed and I really love what I am doing so it doesn’t really feel like job to me.
Also, No matter how busy a day I have ahead, I always start with an hour long exercise – wether it is an easy run in the park or a group training session at the gym. I find this vital for keeping my energy levels up and staying focused.
Do you have a mentor or people you ask for advice?
My boyfriend who has also been a shareholder in the company from the very beginning is the person I always ask for advice and I often involve him in the decision making. He is an expert in design and branding and has branded O Wow.
What is your favourite interview question and how would you answer it?
What are your favourite pizza toppings? Truffles, burrata and rocket salad.
What percentage of your time do you keep unscheduled?
I usually open my computer around 8-9AM at my home-office. It usually starts with answering to emails and planning the day ahead. I am all about to-do lists – I cannot function without them. I set a bunch of goals for the day and at the end of the day I tick the ones that I managed to achieve – the ones that I didn’t I push it to the next days. I have around 4-6 video calls per week – with the warehouse team, wholesale partners, agencies we collaborate with etc.
For the past year my average working day have been 10-12 hours long – which might sound crazy but hasn’t been consuming as I have loved every single moment. I have always dreamed of working for myself so I don’t mind working long hours – I am confident it will pay back eventually. I am very good at switching off – after I close my computer I never think about any work related things until the next day I open the computer again.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths are not getting stressed, working well under pressure and staying positive.
My biggest weakness is time management – I am a very time optimistic which reflects on me always being a little bit late.
How has what you do changed you as a person?
It’s made me more fierce and confident in myself and towards life in general. I have faced so many challenges and setbacks during this journey and there has always been a way out and life seem to always figure itself out one way or another.
If time and money were no object – what would be on your to do / to see list?
I have a crazy obsession for monkeys and my dream is to travel to a tropical destination where I could observe them in the jungle.