Igor Bekker is an accomplished, talented and visionary leader supported by a wide range of expertise in digital marketing, e-commerce operations and technology that merge to drive measurable, sustainable and profitable results for both established and startup corporations including global enterprises. Leveraging his expertise, Igor with the help from his co-founder launched MADE OF the world’s first NSF Organic Baby-care Brand. MADE OF’s mission is to provide new parents with simple, organic-first and safe everyday baby products. In addition, MADE OF is the first and only to tell you what their products are MADE OF by disclosing the origin and safety of each ingredient, actual test results and location of its factories in the US.
How did you get into the industry?
I have no experience in CPG (consumer packaged goods), nor am I a toxicologist or chemist. Not exactly the thing you want to hear from someone selling Baby-care products for newborns. My background is in Digital and Data Analytics. My co-founder and I ran a qual and quant project and noticed consumer demand in beauty and skin care. What surprised us was the lack of product on the market that delivered on its promise. What was already out there failed to deliver and deceived the customers causing confusion and mistrust.
Any emerging industry trends?
The take away from our studies, in addition to 3rd party data we’ve purchased to enrich our research results, saw the following. There’s an increase in demand for “green” and “blue” CPG products. Green are products that are transparent, sustainable and have “clean” formulations, in essence, green products are good for the individual. Blue are products that are good for mother nature, such as waste reduction and have a decrease in the use of resources and byproducts.
Because the demand increased, we saw an increase in new start-ups in the CPG category, specifically skincare. We’ve also noticed an increase in consumer frustration within the “natural” category. Other findings included consumers demand for efficacy of product was more important than “clean” products. Demand for products with USDA, EWG and NSF certification was on the rise within the younger generations. Lastly, consumers in the age group of 40+ were less concerned with “clean” beauty than consumers in millennial age groups.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
As we dug deeper in our research, we found the reasoning behind the influx of startup “natural” brands. The reason for this is because the FDA does NOT regulate “natural” or “organic” claims which results in a loophole in that anyone creating a product can do pretty much anything they please.
This triggered a wave of new “natural” brands on the market, because anyone can create a product and sell it on Amazon or their website with “natural” or “organic” claims. We can see this on Amazon currently, there are tons of products all claiming to be “natural”.
You can literally put anything in a jar and call it an “organic facemask” and Amazon will not care how and where you sell it.
Furthermore, we were surprised to find there’s no brand on the market who’s transparent on how they make the product even though the majority of brands’ marketing material discusses transparency. We further expanded into the topics of consumer perception and response on marketing claims and we noticed a decline in consumer trust for claims such as “natural”, “transparent”, etc.
As demand for better products continues, consumer awareness and frustration will be on the rise. We feel the opportunity lays in revamped supply chains, where factories and suppliers forgo their “black” boxes and become transparent in their manufacturing processes. The technology is there to be able to trace the origins of each ingredient, inclusive of testing.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
What puzzled us was why isn’t there a brand that’s actually “natural” in what they make. This is where the idea to build a supply chain that can create a better product stemmed from. We started R&D to understand and test why there can’t be a truly “natural” product on the market with complete transparency on how its produced. The outcome inspired us to launch a movement called ULTIMATE TRANSPARENCY®. We’re pioneering transparency in manufacturing by disclosing to our customer on each product page not only ingredients, but also their origin and safety, actual independent test results and location of our factories in the US. Hence the name MADE OF.
We’ve also noticed not one brand is consistent with what they claim. You might see a mix of “organic” vs “natural” vs “non-toxic” throughout the assortment, but which one are you?
Consumers want to build affinity to brands that are consistent throughout their experience of the full ecosystem of products. This is why MADE OF is the first to commit to NSF Organic Standard by certifying all product NSF Organic or we will not make the product. Consumers that trust MADE OF can always expect the same experience no matter what they buy. (exception: Diapers are not organic)
Our goal is to expand our supply chain not only to other categories, but also to globally inspire and help other brands achieve similar goals, starting with the baby-category which needs major disrupting.
What's next for the Business in the near future?
What pains me is even though MADE OF products including packing such as bottles, pumps, boxes and tubes are all Made in USA from 100% recyclable material, we’re still not as sustainable as I’d like us to be. We’re partnered and B-corporation and our goal is to replace all our plastic with either Post-Consumer Recycled material or Sugarcane. Our focus is also in supply chain optimization and consolidation for efficiency. Staying true to our mission will ensure we attain our goal.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
We believe that organic products, including both food and skin care, are a right and not a privilege. Unfortunately in today’s market, it’s a privilege as the prices are not as welcoming as generic options. Our goal is to ensure that great organic baby-care products are available to mass markets no matter the household income level. We’re focused on both direct-to-consumer and retail distribution strategies. Partnering with the right retailers that believe in our vision will help us bring the product to mass market, which in return will help us decrease cost and source better and cost effective material.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
I’ve always compared building a company from ground up to climbing mountains. Everything up to launch is training and the hard part, the actual climb, began when we launched. We’re still learning and have a long way to go. The difficult part for any startup is having no leverage to negotiate with suppliers. It takes patience and great storytelling to sell on vision. Sometimes you have to cut corners in negotiations even though you know it will come back and bite you. Or else you just won’t launch. What we did learn is CPG is not tech, you can’t launch a half broken product and hopefully someone will give you feedback so that you can release the new version. There’s no room for error in CPG. Amazon reviewers and bloggers are watching.
In addition, we’ve learned today’s customers don’t just pick up any product they see. The shopping behavior has significantly changed. Consumers rely on bloggers, social and family recommendations. MADE OF product is unique not because we re-invented shampoo or wipes- we didn’t. What we did was figure out how to create the same high performing product using organic and natural ingredients and have independent 3rd parties certify the formulations. There’s a component of storytelling that goes into explaining how we’re MADE BETTER MADE SAFER.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
If you want to know what your shampoo or diaper cream are MADE OF then you’ve come to the right place. We provide the full story on how the product was made from ingredient origin to how we tested it and where we made it in the US. We encourage consumers to be sceptics especially because it’s so easy to pick up a wrong product. We also provide a platform for parent to parent communication, where parents can ask questions or respond to other parents’ questions.
Lastly, we’ve launched a content platform to educate consumers on topics such as skin issues, feeding, pregnancy and many others. Our customers are extremely engaged with our content.
How do you motivate others?
We have a unique team because everyone is spread out across the globe. We face unique challenges that other startups might not face. We believe in work life balance in a way that others mind find unconventional. We strive to partner with folks that are smarter than us in subjects we’re not familiar with. What motivates the team is our unique positioning and the value our product brings to our customers. We’re not a baby lotion or shampoo manufacturer, we’re a design and supply chain disruptor. Partners that work with us share our mission and our purpose.
Career advice to those in your industry?
I’ve never had a mentor but I’ve always understood the importance of having one. My drive for entrepreneurship has led to both dead-ends and successful endeavors. I hear a lot the slogan “follow your passion” but I don’t necessarily agree. Successful people will always brag about their passion. It’s important to know what you’re good at and what you’re not. When I was 26, I had over 20 real estate properties. I lost it all and was almost bankrupt – I was not good at real estate but I was passionate to do something. You’ll be much more successful if you focus on what you know. And get a mentor who will advise you along your journey.