In Ep. 74 of Earned, we sit down with Dr. Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, the incredible founders of goat milk-powered skincare line Beekman 1802. But being brand founders is certainly not the pair’s only claim to fame: Brent is also a renowned physician who studied the genetics of aging at Harvard, and went on to become the VP of Healthy Living at Martha Stewart Omnimedia; meanwhile, Josh is the bestselling author of his memoir I Am Not Myself These Days and Candy Everybody Wants. The couple also starred in their own reality TV show, “The Fabulous Beekman Boys,” before going on to *WIN* the 21st season of The Amazing Race. Clearly, we had a lot to talk about.
To start, we hear why Brent and Josh are so comfortable and eager to pursue new, varied opportunities, before diving into their rural backgrounds. We learn why the couple decided to purchase the 19th-century Beekman Mansion in upstate New York, and how helping out their neighbor, Farmer John (and his goats), in the wake of the devastating 2008 recession eventually inspired the creation of the Beekman 1802 brand. Next, Brent and Josh reveal the impact that having their own TV show, and winning The Amazing Race, had on their brand and community. We step back to their early days building Beekman 1802, and hear how their ambitions have evolved after surpassing $150 million in revenue and accepting a $100 million investment from Eurazeo. To close the show, Brent and Josh explain why kindness is the core tenant of their brand and company culture, and the couple reveals their best advice for maintaining a personal and professional relationship.
The following interview has been lightly edited for concision.
“Kindness is a really powerful thing on many levels”: Why Kindness Lies at the Heart of Beekman 1802
Conor Begley: You guys have very much adopted this tenant of kindness as the center of the brand. That's such a good place to come from. I would love to know about the origin story for that.
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: [Kindness has] been part of our brand for the longest time, but it was never really condensed into that word, “kindness,” until a few years ago. We actually had an outside brand consultancy about three years ago, because we had grown and grown and grown. And one of my favorite sayings is, “You can't describe the mountain that you're standing on. You can't say how tall it is. You can't say what shape it is.” When you build a company, you can't really describe what's making it work because you're so intricately connected to it. It was when we were going into Ulta, we were like, “We need to clean up our branding, get our messaging a little more concise.” And the agency came in and they said, “Kindness. That's what you're about. Everything from taking in Farmer John and his goats in the beginning when you didn't have to, to calling all of your customers ‘neighbors,’ to all the charitable things you do.” And we were like, “Oh yeah, that's really simple. We should have thought of that.”
Conor Begley: Well, you did. You lived it, which is the most important part, and makes it more authentic. It wasn't like you started out and said, “Okay, what do we want this brand to stand for?” You just stood for it and then you found a way to describe it, which is just going to be a lot more true, a lot more authentic.
Dr. Brent Ridge: And we have longevity. When we started the company 16 years ago, we always said we want to be a company that's here 200 years from now. We built the brand the old-fashioned way, just really one “neighbor” at a time. We try to look at kindness as wellness, and we say kindness to skin, kindness to self, kindness to planet, kindness to community. The way we try to explain it to people is that when you give an act of kindness or someone gives you an act of kindness, that glowy feeling and warmth you get inside, that's not something that's just happening. That's a complex set of neurochemical reactions happening in your body. Dopamine is being released, serotonin is being released, cortisol levels are going down, and that's causing that feeling of euphoria. And guess what? All of those chemical changes are also impacting the microbiome of your skin. So even though we're talking about kindness and what it can do in the greater world, it's also having an impact on what we're doing from a scientific standpoint. And so we really do believe that kindness is a really powerful thing on many, many levels.
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: I mean, it even helps internally with our corporate culture. When you have something that's so pure and so ingrained throughout our history from the very first act that started the company—taking in Farmer John—every teammate in our company knows how to make decisions: kindness is the North Star. If you're negotiating with a retail partner, you might be able to cheat your way into a better deal, but no, because kindness is [our motto], so it has to work for us, it has to work for our retail partner. Anything else isn't kind. So it really does inform, internally and externally, all parts of our company.
The 51% Rule: Josh and Brent’s Advice for Maintaining a Good Working (and Personal) Relationship
Conor Begley: I think it’s pretty tough having a business together. How have all these experiences shaped your guys' relationship? And what are some of the things you think work in terms of [maintaining a good] relationship?
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: It really has been an incredible and weird and unexpected ride. We met in 1999, and like most couples, he had a job, I had a job. We had a normal dating life and moved in together, bought a place together. And then this thing happened where we became two halves of one thing: the business. And nobody says Brent without saying Josh, nobody says Josh without saying Brent. Any relationship is challenging. A relationship where you are the face of the business that you founded is even more challenging. We had rough years in the beginning. Ironically, I think it was the fact that we did have this business and everything we had was sunk into this business that probably kept us together through some of those rough spots, because there was no other option.
Dr. Brent Ridge: I think what helped us is, there came a point when we were fighting a lot, it was just so much stress trying to get things going, and we realized that oftentimes we would fight over things that both of us didn't have to be worrying about. Of course, when you're starting a business, everybody's worried about finances, but Josh was just particularly anxious about the finances all the time. So we would get into these huge arguments about the finances. And finally I said, “You know what? I'm going to let you control the finances. I'm not even going to look at the bank statement because I don't want to have an opinion on that. That will start this cycle.”
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: If one of us is worried about it. That's enough.
Dr. Brent Ridge: That's right. And he was like, “Okay, well then you're passionate about product development. You can take the product development. I'm not going to try to exert any control over the product development.” He can give his opinions, but [he said,] “That's what you're passionate about. You do that.” And that just solved so many arguments, because if one person's going to stress more about something, let them stress about it. No need for both of you to stress.
Josh Kilmer-Purcell: We always call it the 51% rule, where it just becomes clear who has the most concern or the most passion about something, whatever it is in the business, that person has 51%. And it doesn't mean that the other person ignores it, or doesn't take part. You can argue all the way up to your 49% worth, but the other person has that 51% and you just have to accept that and move on.
Dr. Brent Ridge: And people in their personal relationships can think of that same business application in their personal relationship. It works. That's how relationships can work.
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