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Running a business

Keeping your head above zero: 3 business strategies with the founders of Dune Suncare

In the first couple years, small business success has more to do with achieving benchmarks than profitability alone. These benchmarks are reached via a mix of the marketing, financing, and money management tools discussed in earlier episodes, culminating in a clear path to growth and profits. 

Emily Doyle and Mei Kwok, founders of Dune Suncare, have experienced substantial growth in their first three years, despite not yet being profitable. In this episode of Mind The Business: Small Business Success Stories, they’ll share some of the early decisions they made that have helped their company be successful. Listen to the full episode below.

A plan to be profitable: 3 business strategies at work

Dune Suncare might not be profitable yet, but Doyle and Kwok say it will be soon — very soon. Here are three of their ongoing strategies to be profitable in year four. 

1. Operate as a lean machine

“We've been incredibly lean,” admits Doyle. “We're a two-woman band. We work with an onslaught of freelancers, contractors and agency folks, but Mei and I are running every corner of this business by ourselves, and have been for over three years.”

2. Get finances right from the start

“One of our longest-standing and most valued partners is our finance and ops team,” says Doyle. “They've been with us for over a year and a half. They've really helped build our entire financial model, projecting for the next five years. We're constantly updating that to input actuals and input updates, based on new relationships that we have, or sell through expectations from retailers, etc.”

A row of four different colored vases sitting on top of a counter.

Doyle says it’s imperative to build a strong business infrastructure right out the gate. Waiting to hire a finance team can set a business up for failure, with messy books, delays, and jeopardized relationships with vendors. 

3. Find and secure the right partners early

Being in the skincare industry, Kwok and Doyle knew it was important to find a PR firm that could get the attention of big-name retailers. “Our PR agency [helped] drive our long-lead press and our short-lead digital press,” says Doyle. “Initiatives prior to launch put us on the map, and they absolutely blew it out of the water.” 

With their agency’s help, Dune Suncare was featured in publications like Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair. “We made Oprah's June O list. … We were off to the races.”

A chance to sink or swim: Overcoming supply chain issues

No new business makes it through the first three years unscathed. Those that weather the storm, however, generally come out with unique strength and perspective — including Kwok and Doyle, who encountered supply chain issues along the way.

“I would say the biggest hurdle for us was about five months pre-launch,” says Doyle. “We had gotten a call from our packaging supplier and a contract manufacturer we were about to go into contract with [and] learned that our packaging was not going to be able to deliver [on time].”

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We found the right partners that can meet our deadline and goals.

Kwok and Doyle were told their product launch would be delayed until September, causing them to completely miss the sun season. “We had already raised capital, so we had investors and partners that were heavily counting on us for a summer / pre-summer launch,” Doyle explains. Adding insult to injury, they were also informed that because of raw material shortages and ships being held up at port, everything they’d ordered was going to be twice the cost.

“We were devastated. I mean, we thought for sure that was it,” says Doyle. “Mei and I scrambled to find new partners that would help us launch in time and at the price points we needed to offer accessible formulations, and we were able to pull it off. But yeah, that was … that was the time when we felt like, this is really a make-or-break moment.”

In the end, Doyle and Kwok were able to overcome their supply chain issues by finding vendors that could meet their needs. “We did a lot of vendor vetting,” says Kwok. “We [met with] every contractor or raw material supplier possible. [In the end,] we found the right partners that can meet our deadline and goals.”

Kwok and Doyle set manageable benchmarks to make it through their first few years. They knew there would be rough seas ahead, but so long as they kept their eyes on the next goal, they’d be okay. To hear more of their story and find out how Dune Suncare is doing today, check out the full episode.

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About the Mind the Business podcast

New business? No problem. Mind the Business: Small Business Success Stories, from the team at Intuit QuickBooks, is the source for tools and resources for small business owners as they face new hills to climb. Hosts Jannese Torres (Yo Quiero Dinero podcast) and Austin Hankwitz (Rate of Return podcast) connect with entrepreneurs across industries as they start and grow their businesses. From securing funding to building a team, they'll uncover what it takes to power success.

If you're looking for tools to manage your business and capital, the team of experts at Intuit QuickBooks can get you started with free guided set-up.

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