Ada Polla: Co-Founder, Alchimie Forever

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In 2004, daughter and co-creator of Alchimie Forever, Ada Polla set out to launch her family's Swiss based skincare line in the US. Today, the brand boasts global visibility and distribution, thanks to her focus and determination, which have yielded double-digit annual growth and garnered her several press-worthy opportunities to communicate her family’s knowledge and passion for the science of anti-aging skincare. Although day-to-day operations at Alchimie Forever keep Ada busy, she still finds time to be involved in several ventures such as the Washington Spa Alliance and Fashion Group International, where she serves on the board as Founding Member and Treasurer, respectively. She was featured on the cover of Business Week Small Biz and was one of the top five finalists nominated for Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year by Entrepreneur Magazine. In 2011, the Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship presented her with the Homegrown Entrepreneur Award. Ada’s distinguished educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in political science and art history at Harvard University followed by an MBA from Georgetown University.

How did you get into the industry?

I started working in the beauty industry when I was 10 years old, in my father’s dermatology practice. He had a hard time finding front desk help for evenings (he often worked until 10pm) and during the weekends, so I helped out after school. He was the first dermatologist to offer laser treatments for the treatment of Port Wine Stains and hemangiomas. Most of his patients were young children, and had to come for treatment repeatedly, over many months, sometimes years. I had the opportunity to see how these children blossomed throughout the course of treatment, which gave me a keen understanding of how one’s looks truly impacts one’s feelings and actions. Working with my Dad at such a young age also taught me about hard work – he is where I get my work ethic from!

Any emerging industry trends?

With the emergence of the Millennial generation, I have seen a shift in skin care priorities. It is less about “anti-aging” and more about healthy skin, and a “naturally perfect look” for selfies. The priorities are more about a glowing complexion, an even skin tone, a healthy glow – and less about fine lines and wrinkles. There is also a new emphasis on the visual aspect of skin care (thank you Instagram!), hence the re-emergence of masks as a key item in everyone’s routine.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

One challenge in our industry is everyone’s desire and expectation of constant newness. I can’t tell you how many times I get asked the question “So, what new product are you working on?” I love new too… However constant newness is challenging as one of our brand promises is to only launch exceptional products that are truly innovative. Also, too many products make it difficult for the consumer to understand a brand, and to shop. We don’t do new for newness’ sake. We are also mindful in our new product development, so that it sometimes takes us up to two years to launch a new product…

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

The inspiration for Alchimie Forever came from what I learned in my father’s practice -  that looking good means feeling good, and in turn that feeling good means doing good. I certainly act better, kinder, nicer when I feel beautiful! I run a skin care brand, yes – but ultimately the vision goes beyond skin. It is about making the world a better place, by making people feel more beautiful, feel more confident, feel happier. It’s also about reminding people to take care of themselves – self care through skin care.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

We have some really exciting opportunities to expand our distribution in 2017, stay tuned! Increasing our footprint is top of mind for the year ahead. I want everyone to know about Alchimie Forever, to use our products! Expanding our availability, while staying true to our brand values and ensuring that everyone offering Alchimie Forever is the best brand ambassador possible will be our priority for the year to come.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

We have taken a very deliberate approach to growth. As a family-owned and family-funded brand, we are both constrained by limited resources and unfettered by the typical Wall Street view of quarterly profits and triple digit growth expectations. We have developed our brand with purpose, with control, and have focused on long-term goals. To me, this is our biggest success – sustainable growth – in particular because patience is not typically a virtue I excel at!

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

For a number of years I heard feedback from industry leaders and potential customers that our packaging was not appealing or reflective of our brand. I had a really hard time not taking that personally, and for many years justified our packaging in my own head. Finally, a Monday in January 2014, after hearing that same feedback one too many times, I cancelled all of my appointments and spent the day roaming the beauty isles and counters at Sephora, Nordstrom, Khiel’s, BlueMercury. I looked at packaging – boxes, color assortments, font sizes… I told myself I had to stop ignoring the feedback I was receiving and most importantly stop taking these comments personally. That is how our repackaging effort began – and our brand is stronger for it! This experience taught me that while I might think Alchimie Forever is my baby, it is not – and that learning from others who have done this before is a privilege and opportunity.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

The ideal experience for Alchimie Forever in my mind is to experience an Alchimie Forever facial (in Geneva at our spa is the true crème de la crème!). In our experience, the way a client feels afterwards and the visible results she experiences speak for themselves. If that is not possible, a one on one consultation with one of our team members is a perfect introduction to our brand. We work with you to tweak your routine and make suggestions to yield changes in your skin, taking into account your current skin care routine and budget. I love to show people the results of our Kantic Brightening moisture mask on one hand and compare to the non-treated hand. The results are so impressive I barely have to say another word!

How do you motivate others?

I motivate by example, and by sharing my vision for Alchimie Forever. The best motivator for my team is for them to understand where I see the brand going in the future, and then see that I am doing all that I can to make that vision become a reality. That in turn makes them want to contribute to the vision. I also lead with transparency, and always give credit where credit is due. If something great happens, it’s thanks to my team. If we fall short on an initiative, it is my fault.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Building a consumer brand takes time, patience, resources, and lots of love. Love what you do, passionately, and it will never seem like work. Also, always send hand-written thank you notes!