Jane Wurwand: Taking Risks and Speaking to the Genius of Women

Rosemary McClure ('13) stands next to Dermalogica founder Jane Wurwand. On Nov. 10 Jane Wurwand, founder and owner of Dermalogica Inc. and the International Dermal Institute, spoke about the excitement of running a company during a recession, the importance of risk- taking in business and why her “female” intuition is her best professional asset.

Wurwand credited her mother as her greatest influence. Widowed at 38, Wurwand’s mother was left with four young daughters to raise—and no idea how to do it. “My mother taught me the power of being in control even when your life is out of control,” said Wurwand. After her father’s death, Wurwand began working in a hair salon at age 12 and soon came to California to live what she called the American Dream. When she arrived in California, the state had a 10.4 percent unemployment rate. “I’m thankful for the unemployment,” said Wurwand, “because otherwise I would have gotten a regular job. And I never would have started Dermalogica!”

Relying on a beauty school background, $14,000 and three friends, Wurwand undertook the task of starting her own business. Although she had no formal business training, Wurwand’s company took off right away. She credits her intuition as a female: “I think that, as women, we approach problem solving differently. I don’t think it’s that men don’t have an intuitive sense of what to do; I think that it’s that they don’t trust it. But as women we tend to trust that feeling a lot more and we’ll act on it. We don’t need it to be quantified or validated.” Large corporations—such as Unilever or Procter & Gamble—do copious amounts of data analysis before a product gets approved. Decisions are much more analytical and much more deliberate. But Wurwand enjoys the freedom that comes from being an entrepreneur. “If I come up with a good idea and I think, ‘I’d like that. That’s a really cool product.’ then that’s a good enough reason to develop it,” Wurwand said. “You have to move like a speedboat. If you’re a huge oil tanker, it just takes you three days to turn around in the ocean.” Wurwand also stressed the importance of flexibility in the context of an economic downturn. “We have to be seeing what’s happening. What are consumers saying? Where are they buying? Where are they shopping?” Wurwand said that businesspeople have to get creative and be willing to try new ideas. “There’s a definite shift in buying patterns.  There’s a new frugality. A new it’s-cool-to-save-money kind of mindset. And it’s not going to go back after the recession; it’s changed.’” Wurwand’s presentation described a few business suggestions:

Get the safe idea, then move onto the BIG idea that makes you different. Dermalogica is not a beauty company. Their customers are tired of being sold beauty and luxury. Dermalogica is about skin health, learning, and wellness. That is what makes it a unique and authentic company. “Apple is not a computer company,” Wurwand said. “It’s a lifestyle company. They don’t sell you the computer. They sell you what the computer can do for you.”

Learn to be comfortable with risk. Be prepared to make a decision with only 70 percent of your information. “Too many people are risk-aversive because they feel they don’t have enough information to make the right decision. And the reality is: you never have enough information.” Wurwand said that colleges need to be careful not to educate the risk-taking out of their students. “All entrepreneurial companies—think Steve Jobs, think Bill Gates—were started by risk-takers. If you can’t do that because it’s just too scary, you’re not an entrepreneur.”

Energy creates form. Avoid negativity. “Pessimists are right more often than optimists, but they don’t create change. Optimism wins. If you had room full of pessimists, nothing would ever get done! Ever! How long do you think they would let a baby try to walk before they would tell him to just stop trying? You can’t do that! You have to encourage him with nonstop praise.”

Be frugal. Spend where it matters. It’s not about cost, it’s about value. A one-page ad in American Vogue costs $150,000. Vogue has about 1.2 million readers. You do the math. That’s why Dermalogica doesn’t do print ads. They focus on PR: events, makeup artists, relationships with professional clients. Publicity puts them into magazines, and in an authentic way, not advertisements.

Don’t relax under pressure. Relax when there’s no pressure. It sounds obvious, but it’s actually the opposite of what many of us hear all the time. We’re always told to take time for ourselves when we’re under stress. Wurwand disagrees: “When you’re stressed out, don’t get a massage. Translate that anxiety into creativity and hard work! Dig in! Figure out a way out of it!”