Pauline Prescott is the owner of Frances Prescott, a clean, vegan, skincare formulation company focused on creating luxury multi-tasking skincare that address several skincare needs.
Tell us about your background, what journey did you take to arrive at where you are?
I come from the financial services sector, and I spent most of my life living overseas traveling extensively across the world for work.
The journey to launch a new skin care range was born out of my own need as a busy working woman who travelled extensively and who wanted to have less products in my luggage carrying them across the world, and on the bathroom shelf at home, in an effort to take good care of my skin.
“Our growth plans are multichannel plans that include direct to consumer, key retailers and e-tailers as well as other platform partners and distributors”
I believed there must be a way to combine ingredients into an intelligent formulation that provided several functions in one application. I decided I would start work to create it myself. It had to be easy to use and cruelty free; I wanted a waterless product and it had to be multitasking to stay true to my mission. Furthermore, the formulations had to be free of parabens, chemicals or synthetics. I wanted to create a range of Intelligent skin care so consumers had choice and could buy healthy, effective skincare that also spoke to the need to be conservation focused.
Why are you doing what you are doing?
I love what I am doing. I’m helping busy women and men by supplying great quality skin care that is multifunctional and that allows you to have less products, less components but still have effective skin care products that are luxurious to use and nutrient dense for your skin. At the heart of what I do is conservation and efficacy.
“Stay close to the market, be flexible and quick to respond”
What needs are you meeting?
We are all time poor and now more than ever focused on supporting clean innovations and conservation focused companies. My company’s formulations are all created from the ground up to accomplish at least three skin care requirements within each product. We save the consumer time, deliver highly effective skin care products, save the consumer money and we do it by using natural plants, seeds, flowers and food to create our lovely formulations.
What’s your USP?
All our products are multifunctional. Our hero product Tri-Balm cleanses, exfoliates and hydrates in one product. It also contains no water. We have built our formulations from the ground up to accomplish multiple tasks with a single product.
How did you fund and start the business and what are your growth plans?
We are founder-funded but our growth plans are aggressive, so we are exploring investors at this time. Our growth plans are multichannel plans that include direct to consumer, key retailers and e-tailers as well as other platform partners and distributors.
“One of the most constant features in my life has been change and I believe that has been a key to allowing me to feel comfortable and at home in young start-up companies where change is constant”
What are your key skills and qualities that set you apart?
Drive, an all-consuming focus on execution and innovation.
What (or whom) has helped you most along the way? Who was your greatest mentor/inspiration?
A business leader told once that you need three critical elements to be successful and I always remembered them. First of all, you need to know what to do, and that comes from experience. You need to know how to go to market, what your message is going to be. All of that you learn by experience. Then you need to want to do it; this speaks to drive and focus. Finally, you need to know how to do it; this element speaks to skill. All of these things are not necessarily part of the same person’s background, as long as they are all present within the founding team. For example, in our skincare company, I have a lot of business experience and I’m addicted to the energy and drive of the start-up environment, but there are others in the team who have the skills necessary to support the growth of a skin care brand.
What was the greatest piece of business advice you ever received?
Stay close to the market, be flexible and quick to respond. Many other founders will relate to this, this is such a common concept in the start-up world we have a word for it – pivot – it means that whatever you thought you were going to be doing with your business, you are not actually going to do just that. You will adjust from lessons learnt, changes in market opportunities and client needs. You are going to evolve into doing something more and your business will evolve in ways you may not have anticipated at the beginning of the experience.
“We anticipated a slow burn education process, but the opposite happened. Consumers loved the product and understood its benefits very quickly”
What circumstances/qualities/events can mark the difference between success or failure in life or business?
One of the most constant features in my life has been change and I believe that has been a key to allowing me to feel comfortable and at home in young start-up companies where change is constant. I’m very decisive which is critical to adapting and responding to the changes and challenges of a small company. I am a driven, decisive and a focused businesswoman with almost fanatical perseverance who always believes I can find a way through any challenge.
What was the most challenging aspect of either starting or growing the business?
It’s a nice problem to have but we completely outperformed our predictions, we never anticipated that we would be in fundraising mode this early in our development, but we cannot make inventory fast enough. We were featured in the Beauty trend report 2023 that points to high growth in the area of Skin Minimalism – the trend to accomplish more with less products and an eye on the environment. We believe our segment is just starting to gain traction and we expect very high take up and adoption of this category given the focus on conservation, no water and high-quality natural skin care. We anticipated a slow burn education process, but the opposite happened. Consumers loved the product and understood its benefits very quickly. We now have five products in our range and are sold in prestigious beauty and department stores in the UK and overseas.
“One of the things you learn by being a founder is that you need to be decisive and adaptable”
How did you navigate your business through the pandemic and what lessons did you learn?
Being a young company we had the flexibility to change tack swiftly and moved the emphasis from launching into stores, which were all closing due to the pandemic, to focussing on direct to consumer sales via our website and selling on other ecommerce platforms. A lot of things were put on hold such as trade events and expanding into travel retail, one of our key focus areas; however we were able to spend time honing formulations, and developing new products and now we are ready to dive back in where we left off. One of the things you learn by being a founder is that you need to be decisive and adaptable.
There is absolutely nothing surer that at some point, something is going to come out of left field, something that wasn’t in your business plan (like Covid!). Something you didn’t think through. Some adjustment you’re going to have to make to your product, your pricing, that you were not prepared for. So, I’d say that one of the most important lessons that I learnt is to be adaptable in order to adjust to this kind of circumstances when they come up, because they are going to come up. You build a business plan and make projections and predictions but you never know everything about a business until you start running it. That’s when you start gradually learning and realise that you need to respond to external changes quickly.
“A digital presence is vital today and I would hope Irish firms, like us will continue to harness this technology”
How has digital transformation been a factor in your scaling journey and do you believe Irish firms are utilising digital technologies sufficiently?
The pandemic sparked societal changes across the globe and businesses had to find ways to continue activities remotely. Selling in stores and airports was no longer an option so we had to fully embrace digital opportunities, both in terms of selling online, growing our presence on social media, collaborating with influencers and featuring in online publications.
It’s been a massive learning curve but an absolute necessity in order to keep the business going and growing. A digital presence is vital today and I would hope Irish firms, like us will continue to harness this technology.
If you were to do it all over again, what would you do differently?
Focus on D2C (direct to consumer) faster than we did initially but funds lay at the heart for that decision so I’m not sure we could have achieved what we wanted faster without outside funding.
Who inspires you in business today?
I meet a lot of founders though my network and honestly there are so many inspiring business leaders out building young businesses and it’s wonderful to be around them. The drive,energy and passion always inspires me.
“Do something that you love and that you are passionate about, find partners and business colleagues who are as focused, driven and passionate as yourself”
What advice/guidance do you give new hires and how do you nurture talent in your organisation?
Frances Prescott is currently made up of only five dedicated staff, but I firmly believe and share with the team that diversity and equality are key to building successful strong management teams in any company. Creating replicas of yourself is never a healthy thing, it fosters a narrow view of the world that benefits no one. The world is a wonderfully diverse place and I want to ensure that my organisation is a representation of that environment. My team’s wellbeing is critical to my business and to me. I have always believed that who you are says more than what you say. Regarding the team we employ, every consultant who has been engaged by my company now wants to be an employee as we grow. When your team want to form closer more permanent ties with you, then you know you are taking good care of them and being respectful and kind. I try to foster a workplace environment where everybody feels valued.
What business books do you read or would recommend?
I read lots of personal development books and autobiographies. I like to try to learn from the experiences of other entrepreneurs and innovators looking to drive change and improvements. One of my favourite books is Wild Swans, I learnt a lot about Chinese history and culture from that story.
What technologies/tools do you use personally to keep you on track?
I love Zoom but rely on my computer calendar to manage my day and time (although I still have a desk diary and will always have one I suspect).
What social media platforms do you prefer and why?
I don’t like social media and never use it socially but for work it’s an important part of our communication plans. When I’m relaxing I like to leave technology behind.
What are your thoughts on where technology overall is heading and how it will apply to business generally and your business particularly?
We use a lot of technology in my business with inventory management systems, web applications and marketing tools and they are invaluable to me and the team managing the business as we grow. We have come to rely on them to ensure we make good decisions efficiently and I don’t see that changing.
Finally, if you had advice for your 21-year-old self – knowing what you know now – what would it be?
Do something that you love and that you are passionate about, find partners and business colleagues who are as focused, driven and passionate as yourself.