In Ep. 61 of Earned, we sit down with beauty industry veteran Catherine Gore, Global Brand President of sustainable skin and hair brands Biossance and JVN Hair. The eponymous haircare line, founded by professional hairdresser and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness, has become the fastest-growing haircare line at Sephora in its first year since launch.
We start the episode by unpacking the key areas of focus that help Catherine scale a brand, before learning why she prioritizes building a positive, supportive team culture. We then explore the interplay between a brand’s DTC and retail footprints, and Catherine reveals why there’s “no replacement” for either. Next, we take a step back and hear why Catherine decided to pivot away from the LVMH corporation and enter the indie beauty world, before discussing best practices for launching celebrity-founded brands. Finally, Catherine emphasizes why “connection is key” when it comes to successful influencer marketing, and closes the show withs advice to young professionals looking to achieve a similar path to success.
We’ve included a couple of highlights from the episode below, but be sure to check out the full interview above, or tune into the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts!
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“The Dream Team”: Catherine Gore on the Importance of Cultivating a Positive Team Culture
Conor Begley: Given that you've emphasized team as an important element of success, what's your process for identifying the right people?
Catherine Gore: There's a famous saying that goes, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I think about it a lot, because yes, I am focused on finding the right people, but I'm even more focused on building the right culture and assembling the right people together. There's probably a million sports analogies in there that would work about putting the right team together, but I believe in it wholeheartedly. I also believe in an underdog mindset, and always striving to win as the small guy. But as it's team-related, I really look for individuals that have a natural curiosity for life, a bit of levity to them, are really scrappy and have that grit that we all look for, and that I know will get along with each other really well.
I call the team the “Dream Team” across JVN and Biossance. We started with 17 people in 2018 and we have almost 130, so we've grown quite rapidly. In that growth you have to be very focused on how you spend time with the team and onboard the team. But their nickname is the Dream Team, because how we all interact together is the magic sauce. We really love each other as a team, and I'm very passionate about promoting folks. I'm very passionate about my team's growth. I'm very passionate about women in leadership. I think when Reese Witherspoon and I connected, she was very drawn to this. I think she saw what we had been building, which was this incredible team that's very passionate about what we do. We're a brand whose heart is in the right place, but it's got to start at every level. So it's really the chemistry that I look for. It's not always in the most obvious spots. I really try to keep an open mind about where our team comes from. I think that's probably the thing I'm most proud of—this leadership team and these teams we've created.
Conor Begley: You’ve grown nearly 10X in four years. How do you maintain the culture when you’re hiring so many people who presumably don't know each other, don't know the brand history, and who you haven't had that time to really bond and become close with? How do you cultivate that?
Catherine Gore: Well, certainly, the last few years have been different than any of the rest. We work predominantly virtually, but we get together in person for key moments. I do think it helps a lot to have those moments where we come together as a team. We don't take ourselves too seriously. We keep a bit of levity. We get to know each other personally. Then I think it's about celebrating wins and making sure you give teams visibility into some of the fun stuff that we do, like making sure people are going to Australia with Jonathan [Van Ness] to launch in Australia, in the U.K. Those can really be important memories for teams to be able to participate in
I think it always helps that we're growing. It's good to be a part of a growing team, and we are very focused on growing. I think all of that comes together really nicely and it works. It’s good for our teams to see their peers grow and watch themselves grow. I love to promote from within, so I always look internally first, and I think that's a good rule of thumb overall, but it just ultimately provides these opportunities for people and they can reach their own personal goals a little bit faster, hopefully. But at the end of the day, what you always want to provide is a psychologically safe environment where people feel like they're in a good place, and then balance that positivity with the business deliverables that need to happen at the same time.
“The secret sauce is in connection”: Catherine Gore’s Approach to Successful Influencer Marketing
Conor Begley: You’ve seen a lot of success in influencer marketing. It’s great to have Jonathan [Van Ness] involved, but there are thousands of creators talking about the brand, not just him. What's your philosophy when it comes to working with creators who are not the brand founder?
Catherine Gore: The secret sauce, I believe, is in connection. We really try to manage our influencer relationships directly. I've had dinner with most of them, or had a session where I meet them. I know their kids' names. I genuinely care about our influencers, and I genuinely appreciate that they're creating content, and acknowledge what a job that is. Talk about always-on and 24/7—that is on another level in terms of putting content into the universe. I genuinely want to get to know them, whether it's Mama Shocks or Aimee Song or Reese Witherspoon. I feel a deep connection to what they're going after.
I also feel like we are not so different from one another, especially in beauty. Typically, when you're having a conversation with someone in beauty, you can get really excited about products and formulations and you share a bond over loving beauty. So I think connection is the key. Then I think it's about having a brand that has a point of difference that feels unique. I do feel a lot of our influencers are proud of Biossance and what it's accomplished, and I think they're excited to be along for the journey with us because there's so much to celebrate. The brand has made so many strides with regard to sustainability, and now we're doing the exact same with JVN Hair. I can see when it clicks for people and when we tell the story of Biossance or JVN Hair, I can see when the light bulb goes off and it gets me excited. But I think connection, true connection, is the key.
You can watch the entire interview here, or listen to the full episode on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Google Podcasts. To catch up on our other 60 episodes, featuring leaders from brands like Milk Makeup, Gymshark, Gucci, and Summer Fridays, visit our Earned Podcast page.