All the Best Ingredients
What Furtuna Skin Can Teach You About Attracting VCs to Your Startup
If you’re a follower of the beauty press, you likely already know about Furtuna Skin, a luxe skincare line which features organic, plant-based formulas that are like health food for your face. Launched in late 2019 by two veterans of the beauty industry—fashion model Agatha Relota Luczo and executive-entrepreneur Kim Walls—this boutique brand has received gushing accolades and awards from the likes of Vogue, WWD, goop, Allure and many others for its clean, environmentally conscious and natural products that are 100% additive-free.
Earlier this year, GingerBread Capital became an early outside investor in the startup and our team got to try out Furtuna’s signature eye cream, facial serum, skin oil, and replenishing balm.
Now, truth be told: Some of us on our team are women of a certain age who, collectively, have used hundreds of skincare products in our time and have a healthy skepticism for all those fountain-of-youth claims that didn’t measure up. But after just a few days of using Furtuna? Soothed, dewy skin. Smoothed wrinkles. Less puffiness. Brightened tone. We. Were. Blown. Away!
Those results have everything to do with Furtuna’s core ingredients, which are extracted from extremophytes™, the flowers and plants that thrive on a protected, 800-acre estate on the island of Sicily in southern Italy that is owned by Agatha and her husband, the tech titan Stephen Luczo. Flora used in Furtuna products are organically grown and wild foraged—that is, sourced from their natural habitat. Many are rare species particular to the region: flowers like the Nigella damascena, which contains elements that lessen puffiness and dark circles under the eye, and the Anchusa azurea, long known for its skin-soothing properties. Many others are ancient heirloom plants and olive trees whose leaves and oil produce the foundation for Furtuna’s potent balms and skin oils. The plants are sustainably harvested—to protect them and help them thrive—under the care of La Furtuna Estate’s world-renowned resident botanist and biologist Dr. Marino Pasquale.
If this is beginning to sound like a fairy tale—well, it kind of is. Furtuna Skin is a startup blessed with all the brains, beauty, connections and resources—and don’t forget a magnificent, game-changing product line—that would seem to be a lock on its becoming a wild success. There is no doubt in our minds it will be.
We also believe Furtuna Skin and its dynamic founders have lessons that any startup founder seeking venture capital can take to heart and emulate in their own quest to attract investors. Here are six, gleaned from our recent conversation with Agatha and Kim.
1) Tell your amazing story.
Furtuna’s story starts with the Luczos’ family estate—land where Agatha’s husband’s grandmother and her family had been landowners, before moving to the U.S. As a young boy growing up in the Chicago area, Steve made a promise to his nonna when he was 10 years old that one day he would become successful and return to Italy and buy the land back for her. Decades later, he made good on that promise. The La Furtuna Estate (pictured here—photo by Amanda Caruso), 80% of which is an eco-reserve, is fed by natural springs and hadn’t been cultivated in about 400 years. There are 12,000 olive trees, nearly 100 species of medicinal plants, and over 500 different flowers and herbs on the estate. (They make their own line of olive oil and other food products too, under the Bona Furtuna label. Want to see more of their gorgeous estate? Watch the brief video at the end of this post.)
2) Bring your creds to the forefront.
Agatha is a former high-fashion model who spent years walking the runways of Fashion Week where she learned the ins and outs of makeup and proper skincare. Now the mother of four young children, Agatha is a leading proponent of sustainable organic farming, an overseer of the La Furtuna estate and a self-described olive oil fanatic who is studying to become a certified olive oil sommelier. (That’s Agatha, pictured here, with cuttings from La Furtuna’s olive tree orchard—photo by Karina Taira.)
Kim is a fourth-generation entrepreneur based in Los Angeles whose father was a founder of the luxe skincare line Epicuren. Kim made her own mark in the industry as founder of a skincare distribution business and the baby skincare brand Babytime!, both of which were later sold. She also helped turn around and grow Lime Crime, a digitally-native cosmetics brand that was also acquired in 2018. A clean-beauty pioneer, Kim has served as a senior advisor to the Environmental Working Group, a public safety advocacy nonprofit that tracks and lobbies against harmful chemicals in food, cosmetics and other consumer products.
3) Have a tested product or service people like to use.
Furtuna differentiates itself in a crowded, noisy field of constant new-product launches and brands by providing several features that other products in its category and price points don’t have: It uses rare and uniquely powerful botanicals from the La Furtuna Estate. Its ingredients are mostly organic and all follow the EU’s stringent standards, which ban some 1,300 chemicals that the U.S. doesn’t. Furtuna Skin’s products are devoid of any harsh chemical additives, parabens, phenoxyethanol, phthalates, synthetic fragrances, synthetic colors, GMOs, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and dyes. And while the line might be more expensive than other brands, its 4-step system (the Cuore Collection, pictured here), at a cost of a few hundred dollars, is priced to appeal to a younger consumer who invests in self-care and is committed to eco-conscious brands.
4) Hold fast to your vision.
Your investors should be investing in you because they believe in you and your vision, notes Agatha (photo by Karina Taira).
Seek out investors who can give you the tools and guidance to put your vision into a longer-range plan. “Having investors who you can share the megaphone with is essential,” she says.
Building customer loyalty is key to Furtuna Skin’s growth strategy. “We want our customer to grow with us over time. We’re striving for a 30- to 50-year relationship,” says Kim.
One mistake young brands tend to make is not considering the customer journey, she notes. Successful brands will aim to service their customer better and better through time. Brands fail when they present their customer with too many competing choices within the product line. “You want to increase the share of wallet over time, but you never want to force your customer to choose from too many products within your line.”
The TAM [total addressable market] for Furtuna’s current assortment of products is “in the billions,” Kim continues. “We don’t need a huge SKU count to expand, we need deeper penetration in key accounts and then broader distribution into new markets globally.”
5) Stand for something bigger than your own success.
The La Furtuna estate is a prime example of what sustainable farming looks like. Its farming practices, from how the land is irrigated to how the plants are nurtured and harvested, are designed to support the region’s rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, and to preserve the land for generations to come, says Agatha. As the company grows, it will continue to source its botanicals from the estate and other farms around the world that maintain the same standards of sustainability.
The estate also provides much-needed jobs to people in the area, which is located in a remote, hilly part of the island where unemployment exceeds 50% and there is little tourism or other industry to bolster the local economy.
6) Make room for a little magic.
Sometimes, the perfect partnership happens when the stars align. Some people might call it kismet; others might call it luck, hard work and perseverance, or just great timing. Whatever brings people together, it’s important to trust voicing your ideas and dreams to those who will listen with an open mind and heart.
As the “olive oil fanatic,” Agatha understands both its nutritional benefits as a superfood and its topical healing and moisturizing properties. One day when talking with her children’s pediatrician*, she happened to mention her desire to create her own skincare line using olive oil from her family estate, but she didn’t quite know where to begin. Said her doctor:
“You need to meet my friend Kim Walls!”
And that’s how Furtuna Skin came to be.
(*Alan Greene, MD. You can listen to the podcast Dr. Greene and Agatha co-hosted in 2020, “Mom Driven, Doctor Aligned” on Apple podcasts.)
Can’t get enough of La Furtuna Estate? Watch the video (credit: Andrea Caruso).