In Conversation with Brooke Hanmer of Pseudo Labs
What made you take the leap to start Pseudo Labs?
At age 11, after running out of my dance recital mascara last minute, I ran to my mom in tears explaining that I would not be prepared. She then shared with me a trick that would forever become a part of my makeup routine. She wet the bristles of an old mascara tube of hers, placed them back into the bottle and gave them a good pump a time or two. They became almost as good as new. In 2016, I was rushing out the door for work. While brushing what brown mascara I could get on in a short amount of time the most magnificent thing happened. Spots splattered up my cheek and onto my forehead as I ripped the wand from the tube. I loved them, so I left them! For weeks, I reached out to chemists searching for the right person to bring my vision to life. After landing on a spectacular set of chemists, weeks of over 50 formulations, months of component tooling and configuring, years of learning, sweat and tons of tears, a major rebrand & another year of doing it all over again, Pseudo Labs was born.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I worked for Wow Skin Science, a great health and beauty brand, for three years prior to starting PL as Head of Social Media Marketing and Content Production. So much was learned there that I was grateful to take forward into PL.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
For as long as I can remember, I hated feeling constricted by the thoughts and logistics of teachers, authority etc. Being somewhere at a certain time and unable to move through life creatively on my own clock really held me back. I think I always knew I was meant to pave my own path in business, I just didn’t know that was what it meant to be an entrepreneur.
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
I originally come from digital marketing. I watched Facebook marketing work so well for so long for my previous employer. I took forward with me that we would have the same success with a low, low CPA. The pandemic and election year drove up costs of CPA’s and my entire marketing structure fell apart. I put together a digital marketing report to see what we were doing that drove great returns and moved efforts and capital to those outlets. They’ve been harder to scale but our marketing dollars are now doing their job instead of bleeding us dry.
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
The hardest part of starting your own business is facing mistakes constantly. Every day presents a new challenge. Inventory running out, mismanaging employees, disorganized cash flow etc. Our biggest mistake came early on, luckily it ended up becoming a blessing. Our lawyers overlooked a trademark. We had to spend a year rebranding and tossing some components and starting over. This allowed Pseudo Labs to become bigger than just faux freckles. We now have some exciting products in the queue. Originally we were just going to stick to Phreckles.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
It’s such an accomplishment just to move the company forward day after day. We recently gifted Lizzo and SZA Phreckles, that spawned a pretty major happy dance.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
This year all hiring has been virtual for me. I ask to record all interviews so I can go back and review them. I look for attentiveness, note taking, confidence, & excitement for the position. The biggest indicator of someone who will work best as a part of a team is whether or not they ask questions. Before hopping off I always ask if they have any questions. If they say no, they generally aren’t suited for the job as they don’t have the ability to ask finite details about the position that are almost always left out by me on the first call.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Our first year took place during the pandemic. All our projections were completely off. Months when ecommerce years generally would be slow were huge for us and vice versa. There really was no telling what would work month after month. While first years are hard for all startups, this one was particularly tricky to navigate. Masks kind of defeated the purpose of wearing faux freckles but we continue to push through and pivot our campaigning to stay relevant.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
We have some really unique to market products in the works. We’re hoping to get them out before Summer. Once we expand our product line, we’ll pursue some bigger retailers and take Pseudo Labs to Canada, the EU and UK.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
Even the people you identify most with just don’t share the same thoughts as you. It’s so important to communicate, set boundaries and respect others. That applies at home, in life and in business.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
It’s common even out of business to wish you knew what you know now. When starting your own business, that feeling stays with you on a day to day basis. I think when that feeling goes away, your business becomes stagnant. It’s important to embrace the mistakes you make along the way and be grateful that you were able to learn from them. If I had to pick something specific, I wish I picked up on managing cash flow from the get go.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
The real hero this year has been wine haha. I spent a lot of the year picking up new hobbies like tennis, painting, learning Spanish, boxing, lots of yoga, meditation, tons of books. I think it all made everything a bit more stressful. Sitting on the beach with a glass of wine and a burger on the weekend gets me through the tough weeks better than all the hobbies combined. In tough situations like the one we’ve all faced this year, sometimes it’s best to just do what actually FEELS best rather than drowning self-care.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I live at my desk when I’m home, there’s always something that needs to get done. I’m sure it will burn me out quicker than I’d like it to but I definitely get things done which is what I want to be doing at this stage of the business.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
Out of high school, I went to hair school. I never planned to spend my life doing hair, so I am glad I failed the State Exam. It sent me down a completely different path in life. I’m grateful for all the failures I’ve endured.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
Knowing when to move on from something you just can’t accomplish in the moment is so important. Rather than trying to focus and tick something off my to-do list, I focus on the things I enjoy doing or know I can get done and revisit tasks that take a bit more will power. I don’t beat myself up over not getting things done either. That just makes room for self-resentment vs productivity. That and matcha have really been getting me through the hazy WFH life.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
GRIT. The ability to turn failure and devastation into opportunity. Taking someone’s no and turning it into a yes. Believing in yourself, even when you’re at the end of your rope. Being an Entreprenista means persevering, even through the toughest challenges.