Frederic Fekkai, CEO and founder of FEKKAI and co-founder of Bastide, joins us today to discuss his experience of reinventing a brand. After selling FEKKAI to Procter & Gamble in 2008, Frederic realized how far the buy-out removed his products from their original mission. In 2016, he and his wife co-founded Bastide, a beauty and lifestyle brand celebrating artisans from the South of France. In 2018, he bought the FEKKAI brand back making it the global authority in salon performance with clean, highly effective formulas in sustainable packaging. Listen in as Frederic discusses how brands change between owners and how he brought his brand back to what he wanted it to represent.
Frederic Fekkai [00:00:01] I found myself later on a little bit naked, you know, by seeing my name on bottles on the shelves, but not being what it should be.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:17] Welcome to Ideamix radio. I’m Sam Jayanti, and every week I chat with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, career changers, experts and enthusiasts for insider tips that you can apply to turn your idea into a business. So sit back and enjoy today’s show.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:39] Hi, everyone. Today we’re talking to Fredrik Fekkai about how to reinvent a brand. For almost three decades, Frederic has shaped the international beauty landscape. In 1989, he started his own salon and product line, which he sold in two thousand eight. In twenty sixteen in a nod to his birthplace in France Frederic and his wife founded Bastide, and in twenty eighteen he bought back Fekkai brands. At both brands, the focus is clean ingredients and sustainable practices. Of course, paired with development and innovation, Frederic, wonderful to have you on the show today.
Frederic Fekkai [00:01:19] Thank you, Sam. Thank you very much, I’m really delighted to be on your show.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:25] Could we tell us, especially with the with the circumstances that we’ve had in 2020 and 2021, how do you stay motivated during tough times?
Frederic Fekkai [00:01:37] You know, it’s been obviously a question that I always remind myself is how do we get inspired? How do we get creative? How do we get going with an environment that is challenging? You know, it’s imagining you’re on your road in the road and there is not one speed bump, but thousands of them. And I think it’s something that you learn organically. But the thing that is so important, whether it’s a pandemic or anything, it is vital to have what I call sanity, which means, you know, you need to be curious no matter what you know. At one point, you have to put a buffer and start to think about what is what matters to your life first, to your family, and to your business as well. So, it’s also very important to figure out what you can change and what you cannot, so that you don’t waste your time working on things that you cannot change. And it’s really just for me, it was important. What can I change is my behavior, my way of thinking, my approach. And then, you know, it’s about how you are once you have taken care of yourself and this is not selfish, you have to take care of yourself first to be able to take care of all this. But it was.
Sam Jayanti [00:03:18] Absolutely yeah.
Frederic Fekkai [00:03:20] So you do that. Once you do that, then you have to bring and to bring that compassion to and to guide and help your colleagues. But also you have to show them how motivated you are how inspired you are. You have to get them going to be creative. And you know, it’s also very important to not doubt, to not cast a doubt. To not cast insecurity. To not cast, you know, disorientation. It’s about showing that you still have a clear vision. It’s going to take longer and may be slower and maybe differently. But this is where you also have them participate through Zoom or any visual converts to to to brainstorm. Would you read to make them part of the solution so important?
Sam Jayanti [00:04:28] Absolutely true.
Frederic Fekkai [00:04:30] So this is important is to really how to make sure that you are compassionate and that you will bring back to this, your team, this this this spirit of showing them that, you know, it’s tough, but it’s not the end of the world.
Sam Jayanti [00:04:49] Yeah. So what’s what do you feel is a common piece of advice that people give that actually is rubbish?
Frederic Fekkai [00:05:00] And that’s a very, very good question, and I’m you know, first of all, I mean, I don’t think I have a specific one, but I know in general is people give you, you know, here’s what it is. You never take a piece of advice from somebody who hasn’t done anything. OK.
Sam Jayanti [00:05:18] Yes.
[00:05:19] So, number one. So whoever gives you a piece of advice, let’s make sure they have done something to me. I mean, this is maybe arrogant, but consultants drive me crazy, you know? You know, and they’re brilliant. They’re smart. But you know, they give you advice. And I shouldn’t generalize, that’s not true. But many of them give you advice. They don’t have the operation. They don’t have the full
Sam Jayanti [00:05:51] experience to underpin it.
Frederic Fekkai [00:05:54] Now, exactly. And you know, by the way, a business it’s once you operate that you start to figure out what is happening. You know, that’s where you it. That’s how you figure it out. You, you, you learn organically all the situations, the challenges. Yes, on paper, everything looks great. By the way, everything we’ve done on paper never sticks. Never does everything stick. You know what I mean? You have to be agile. So the most important thing is to make sure that whatever advice you have, you know, it’s coming from somebody who has operated.
Sam Jayanti [00:06:34] Yeah. So true. That experience is invaluable. Frederic, you’ve done this for so long. But if you had to see yourself in a different profession, what would that be?
Frederic Fekkai [00:06:48] You know, it’s a very interesting thing because, you know, we live in New York and I’m fascinated to see all my friend is usually successful in finance and Wall Street and all this. And you know, and I think about it a while and you know, and definitely, it’s so I mean viable, desirable to be successful like they are and all of this. But then I realize I said, You know what, but it’s still not me. You know, it has to be something that is me. So one thing that I’ve been drawn to is business and creativity together. One thing that I feel like I. Always wanted to be, but never really got a chance to pursue is to be an architect, you know it when I say an architect and I’m not sure maybe I would have been good at it, but suddenly I wouldn’t have done a commercial architect. I would have tried to be an architect that would be seeking to do things out of the box like I did with my business. So it has to be something that is allowing me to do things out of the box. But architecture is one of the things that I admire because maybe I maybe it’s similar to what I do in some way because it’s the best shape, volume lines, things like that. But one thing that I love about architecture, it’s that globally, you can really be impressed by great architecture. You know, great houses, great buildings. A great hundred percent. It’s so lovely. I mean, it’s made.
Sam Jayanti [00:08:36] So true. So let’s dove in. Reinventing a brand that you launched FEKKAI twice, first in 1989, then in twenty eighteen almost 30 years apart. Tell us three ways in which those launches were different, different from one another.
Frederic Fekkai [00:08:55] Yes. So, you know, it’s been an amazing journey when you think about it, you know, back then I launch my line, FEKKAI through my business to the hair salon. So the hair salon gave me the opportunity to be very innovative in product and as I mentioned earlier, thinking out of the box and instead of doing a product like everyone else. But then basically without knowing it pioneered the first luxurious haircare line by changing the parameters and going to the skin care lab as opposed to the haircare lab. By doing so, you know, I created a brand that made a big buzz, that made people feel great, and so on and become a good success. As you mentioned, I sold it in 2008. And I sold it to a big group, Procter & Gamble. And, you know, I found myself later on a little bit naked, you know, by seeing my name on bottles on the shelves, but not being what it should be. And I’m a perfectionist and I’m motivated but passionate but also ambitious. So when the opportunity arose to buy the brand back. I did and knowing that the brand, we are not the brand that I left, so I didn’t know, and this is a good question to when you asked earlier, Isaac, you know, many people gave me advice. You know, advice is I’m cheap and welcome. But once I got the brand, we realized what we had and the brand was distributed in food, drug, and mass. We call that FDM and the innovation of the brand, the product where pretty significant in the last 10 years since I sold it. So that brand needed again the soul and the innovation thinking out of the box to to to bring it back and to be relevant. So to me, I said, there’s no way I’m going to go buy this brand and start to continue to do product that just are commercial and that you know that to satisfy the needs of the retailers, it’s not the way I function, the way I function is. I want to make sure that I come up with a great idea. So that is going to awaken the senses and a feeling of our customer and myself. So the first thing I did is, Wow, what can we do? So first of all, I wanted to be relevant, you know, because we had busted before, and busted was already an example for me. It was a brand that was made by care with artisan. It was eco friendly, sustainable and clean formula. So I said, why can’t I apply that to FEKKAI? And this is how we went since we couldn’t do glass like Bastide. So we did. We went and find an amazing supplier that gave us a repurposed plastic to manufacture our bottle and made it 100 percent recyclable. And then furthermore, I went to the lab and, you know, years ago, we couldn’t do this is push the envelope to create formulas that are super professional, super performant. And clean, what clean means, means that product has less of the indesirable ingredients such as sulfate, carbon, phthalites, and so on. And it’s a moving target. You know, there’s a lot of great new ingredients that come today that are substitutes for those ingredients. And by doing that now, we feel like we are pioneering to have. A health care professional with amazing potency, but. Clean, and that is a big accomplishment. That’s what we love, and that’s what we continue. In fact, we just came back today. I just got a package of the new line, the Shea Butter Line, some that I will send you. It is a dream and that.
Sam Jayanti [00:13:46] I can’t wait to actually use it because I have always loved your shea butter products. I always thought they were amazing and I’m sure you’ve done something in reformulating them that’s made them even better.
Frederic Fekkai [00:13:58] It’s it’s absolutely. I was very, very proud and very happy to see that this formula was so good and not so, you know, not only they were great, they are great. But you know what I love I always love them. I get mad when it’s not happening is that the experience of shampooing, conditioning your hair, even there’s an oil. It’s to die for. This oil is amazing because it’s all for the hair, but also for the body, because he has a mix of mono oil and shea butter mono oil. And it is so nourishing, so good without being greasy. It’s amazing. So so yeah, this is the satisfaction to have is that I came back with. Trust me, pain, pain, pain, pain with financially, pain with operation, pain with COVID, pain with all of this. But you know, again, we pull out through it and, you know, slowly. So now we see our guest and I hope the light at the end of the tunnel and we see a result and we see it very well on our D2C to see and that’s where we we have we fully knowledge of our data and we see how our customers are repeat customer. They love it and we see the interest, the people who are clicking and checking and, you know, and experiencing our brand.
Sam Jayanti [00:15:33] Yeah, truly, truly a loyal set of customers. I think it’s so interesting what you encapsulated in terms of you realizing that it was time to buy back the brand that you invented because it had really come over that 10 year period when P&G owned it to not represent what you had started out with at all and the steps you identified in going back to the roots and ethos of the brand in terms of innovation, satisfying the customer, making it a unique experience for them and really always thinking forward about innovative ingredients while being a performant product is really fantastic. Frederic, how did you think about what elements when you bought the brand back in 2018, what were the elements that you thought were good and wanted to keep the same going forward?
Frederic Fekkai [00:16:32] You know, this is a very good question, and this was also a big challenge because how can you reinvent, modernize but yet to not alienate the base customer that we’re used to that product? And also, frankly, what made that brand successful? How do you make the part of all of it to make sure you are selecting in the right, the right I want to say ingredients, but no pun intended the right, you know, assets of the brand, but yet making it more modern. So the thing that we knew is that everybody was really drawn to the color of the product. Okay, and this is on frosted, clear frosted brought a bottle so the product you could see it through and all this and to do that. So the challenge we had is, how can we keep that? Heritage, but yet, you know, be sustainable, and today we haven’t found a solution to have a clear, frosted, sustainable bottle. But we are searching and we are working and I think we are getting there and we will do that. But so we kept obviously the even if it was opaque, the bottle end up mimicking the color of the family of the product. And to also tell you about the product is that, you know, when I did the FEKKAI product, one thing was important to me is not, you know, data or research from customers. It’s it was what I heard from the stylist from our customers in the salon. So basically, this is where our lab was. And this is where I remember, you know, customers were complaining and this is how complaining about their hair color fading out too fast. All they have been too flat or the hair never shine. This is the this is all the things that basically all the skin care program is the aging of the hair, you know, so. So and that’s how I thought about the skin care technology for the hair. And that’s how my first product, well, a cool care product, the technician pull care to make sure the color would not fade as much. So things like that, then after that, when we realized that the people who loved swimming, all this lady would love swimming. But you know, when you had the blond hair highlighted hair or even color of the hair and you go to the pool, your hair color changes red, green, brassy, whatever. And that’s how I came up with the apple cider. Clear remains to make sure we would get rid of the those impurity in the end and the chlorine and so on. And this is also a line that is coming out soon again. But to me, it was very important that you know, and I find this all the time, I don’t have to come from, you know, the marketing offices because it needs to be authentic. It needs to be genuine. It needs to be, wow, I need that product. You know, the worst thing that a brand can do is to do a product or anything just on the trend. Because because. And this is a question to ask all the times before you tell me we should do this product. Would you buy it? Would you use it? You know, and then then we can talk.
Sam Jayanti [00:20:18] Yeah, yeah. Absolutely makes sense. Frederic, such an important aspect of being an entrepreneur is your capital partners who you end up partnering with. That puts in various types of capital into your firm. And that partnership is super important in guiding the performance, but also the plan and vision and direction and execution of your vision for the brand. Tell us a little bit about the experience that you’ve had. You’ve worked with different partners over time. Yeah. And what is the advice that you would have entrepreneurs when they are thinking about the key criteria that are so important in finding the right investors and financing partners?
Frederic Fekkai [00:21:09] Yes. You know, it’s a very good question because money today, as we know, is so available everywhere, and that’s not the difficult part. It’s finding the investors that have the passion and the interest of building a brand. There are two things you know, there are the investors who catch up, you know, they are jumping on the train that is already going fast and they make it accelerate it. And that’s a great way, and that’s usually does. That’s the one. They love those deals because that’s the one that they can execute fast. But then there is the deal where you you have, you know, investors that understand that there is a building process and a culture to to to to to build. And that is, you know, important to have a partner that will walk with you on that because it helps. It helps you build the right team. It helps you spend the money and the right place at the right time. And it is so important that you find the partner that understand your business plan. And you know, there is a moment of truth here. You know, like everything in life, its business is no different than the family. You cannot bullshit. You have to say what you want to do with your family. You know, the kids are going to know sooner or later if you are, you know, telling them what to do, but you’re not doing it. So same in business. It’s about making sure we all align that we think the same thing. We think the same way and also that. When there is, you know, a problem, an error, you know, is that let’s assess. Let’s make sure we understand it and move on as opposed to being delayed or starting to to accuse, blame, you know, it’s.
Sam Jayanti [00:23:32] So not constructive, yeah, to do that.
Frederic Fekkai [00:23:35] Exactly. It’s all about wow, wow, we made a mistake. Well, let’s take this as a blessing. Now let’s learn. And how can we overcome that, you know, and will use this to our advantage? And I think this is what we’re doing now. It’s been very painful, but it’s so great to see that now we have, you know, a business that is on a clean path, no pun intended, clean with formula, clean with packaging, but also clean with distribution, which is so delightful and excellent. I love I never loved clean as much as I do today.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:11] That’s great. Frederic, tell us, who is your role model and business?
Frederic Fekkai [00:24:19] You know, my role models is….it’s really entrepreneurs, in general. Or people that are, you know, thinking out of the box. Over the years, you’re a New Yorker Sam, and you know this, you know, for instance, I was always in awe of Ian Schrager, you know, how can disrupt the hotel business? You know what I mean? To me, it’s this is what is interesting. Ian Schrager, you know, Andre Bellagio, you know, you know, whether you like it or not. I mean, you know, it’s so amazing to see the experience they brought to the hotel business. So entrepreneurs like that, of course, at the grand scheme, but I don’t know him personally. I love what Elon Musk is doing. You know, obviously sometimes debatable in all this. But I mean, the guy’s a genius and genius, not only because he has a brilliant mind and because he’s super smart, but he’s also genius because. He’s a risk-taker.
Sam Jayanti [00:25:18] Yes.
Frederic Fekkai [00:25:18] I mean, the guy. Can you imagine three years ago was almost bankrupt?
Sam Jayanti [00:25:22] Yeah, it’s unbelievable. I think that that appetite for risk, as you said, but also the will just the sheer will to work through it and get it done and find a way, even when the odds are stacked against you, is what distinguishes successful entrepreneurs from everybody else. Yes.
Frederic Fekkai [00:25:40] No. And I love, you know, obviously my idol forever and I’m maybe cliche, but I certainly go to YouTube and or read a few times, a few chapters of his book is Steve Jobs, because the main reason for me. Even though it was controversial, the main reason for me is that this guy didn’t want any advice or bullshit advice as you mentioned earlier. He wanted to say, OK, wait a minute, we’re not going to do this because the customer is expecting this. Let’s do something they don’t know. You know, let’s offer them something you don’t know. Think about this. You know, we take it for granted today. But you know, today we have this smartphone, the iPhone. As I mean, infinity is a possibility for us, you know, research, assistance, you know, health. I mean, think about
Sam Jayanti [00:26:40] empowerment across the world of people in all kinds of remote areas, we can find the access information.
Frederic Fekkai [00:26:48] Absolutely, yes. So yes, those are also the people that really makes me make me tick.
Sam Jayanti [00:26:57] Yeah. So, Frederic, last question. Looking back on your career, you’ve had a long career as an entrepreneur. What do you feel is the biggest myth about entrepreneurship?
Frederic Fekkai [00:27:09] Yeah, the biggest myth, I think, is that people are thinking that because you work for yourself, it’s a huge success. And yes, working for yourself is maybe great, but it has to be right for you. And the reason I say that is that I’ve seen along the years. You know, people that I hire to become partners. All associate and realized that they had no entrepreneurial spirit. And, you know, being an entrepreneur means that. You are from nothing. And you built, you know, and the people who are smart who come from, cooperate with a great career may not be successful, and many of them won’t because they are used to a process they used to, you know, a format and they used to have all the departments at their disposal. Entrepreneurial means you have to learn everything, you have to learn how to deal with a lawyer, your accountant. You have to deal with. You have to learn how to deal with the retailer. You have to learn about how to deal with it. All of this that you, you know, you never learn. I mean, I’d never done before at school, you know, so all of those is the entrepreneur. You have to be ready to also think that nothing is beating you. It has to be, you know, if you have, you know, I go to the kitchen and I see a pile of dishes, you go. You clean it up. You know what I mean? It’s important. Show do what I do, not what I say. I mean, this is, yeah, so true.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:14] Wonderful, Frederic. Thank you so much for being with us today.
Frederic Fekkai [00:29:17] Thank you, Sam. Have a great day.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:20] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you, so e-mail us at email@example.com or Instagram DMs. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Malesky, with music by the awesome Nashville based singer songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at Doug Allen Music Dotcom.
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