Born in Sydney, but raised in Melbourne, Australia, David Rosen, Founder and CEO of Kira Labs, began his journey in the health and wellness space by distributing products to plastic surgeons and dermatologists while still attending college. As Rosen shared, “I discovered the world of beauty from a medical perspective.” When his wife wanted to move to the United States to finish her law degree, Rosen was on-board and, after moving to Florida, he began working with a new manufacturer.
As an early adopter of online sales, Rosen utilized various websites to reach his target market. His success outpaced supply, which ultimately led Rosen to develop and manufacture his own formulas, thus allowing him to better control the supply chain and the quality of his products. Rosen shared the story behind his journey from a one-man garage-based operation in 2003 to a multi-million dollar company manufacturing over 30 brands worldwide.
“I started in my garage with three tables – one for my computer, another to make the formulas and another for packaging,” Rosen said. “Once everything was made and packaged, I would take it to UPS for shipping. I did it all, including customer service, without much funding. It was a lot of work, but I took great enjoyment in experiencing the true entrepreneurial lifestyle. I had very few resources to work with, but what I did have was a lean startup mentality combined with the right product at the right time.”
Initially, Rosen’s distribution channels were limited to online sales. However, it didn’t take long for wholesalers to come knocking. A customer from Japan was the first wholesaler to express an interest. Rosen shared that the products they started ordering on a monthly basis were more valuable than what he was making through all other avenues combined.
From Startup to Second Stage
“Things really picked up from that point,” he said. “Additional wholesale orders came in and plastic surgeons and estheticians started ordering from us. We then added private labeling and contract manufacturing. We were supplying products to Walmart and other retailers under someone else’s brand. Business was good, but we made a strategic decision five years ago to stop doing private labeling and contract manufacturing.”
Rosen continued, “So many clients were overly focused on making the perfect product, when their marketing and operations needed as much, if not more, work. They had so much potential, but we grew frustrated with how they marketed and moved their product. We also saw much larger contract manufacturing plants close during the recession. Many of our customers were shifting their manufacturing overseas. All these factors contributed to our decision to only focus on manufacturing our own products.”
Today, every product produced by Kira Labs is wholly owned by Kira Labs. According to Rosen, there are several benefits to this model. For one, you’re able to reduce waste throughout the entire supply chain process. This helps to drive more value back to the consumer. They’re receiving the products without the use of wholesalers and distributors. This, not only drives down cost, but also improves quality and decreases the time it takes to get new products into the hands of consumers.
Creating and Maintaining a Competitive Advantage
“Many retailers are excited to work with us because we’re doing things differently,” Rosen said. “Our rapid turnaround on a hot new idea is unmatched. Some of the retailers we work with, including Kroger, Walmart, Amazon and TJ Maxx feed us ideas, we respond with practical ideas for new products and brands and we’re able to deliver those products to market very quickly and efficiently due to collaborating on ideation and innovation. Our strong relationships with our retailers allow us to better understand what consumers want.”
Kira Labs produces a wide array of beauty and health products at a level of quality that surpasses traditional price points. Its mission revolves around delivering quality and value. Rosen and his team accomplish this by developing high quality formulas and finding innovative ways to refine the cost, while still delivering exceptional value.
Rosen shared how Kira Labs stands out in such a crowded market. “The world of beauty is crowded, but it’s also very diverse and dynamic,” he said. “There are always new opportunities to deliver innovative products that consumers are looking for. We take great efforts in understanding consumer behavior and what they’re looking for. We stay ahead of the curve by investing heavily in R&D and design for whole product packaging. We have 7 full-time chemists and 7 full-time designers, all with a variety of backgrounds in beauty and other industries. Simply put – we focus on understanding what the market wants and providing those products.”
According to Rosen, Kira Labs’ marketing strategy is geared towards micro-targeting at a geographic level. They put a tremendous amount of effort into platforms like Instagram and also seek to partner with influencers. Ultimately, the strategy comes down to getting their products into as many hands as possible. Consumers become advocates and advocates write great reviews and tell others about their positive experience.
Kira Labs has a mix of full-time employees and full-time equivalent employees totaling 150 individuals. Their incredible growth has resulted in the hiring of approximately one new employee per month. According to Rosen, the culture of the organization is reflective of the company’s “bottom up” approach.
“The person in the warehouse is just as important as the person in accounting,” he said. “This bottom-up approach is a real driver for us. We all matter and everyone needs to feel valued and that they have a career path ahead of them. We’ve modeled our culture after the Toyota methodology. They give their employees plenty of opportunities to grow and so do we.”
Rosen added, “We also have this general feeling of connectedness and camaraderie. We have a Slack channel where we post funny messages where the head of sales can joke and interact with the head of production. We’re very open and sharing. For example, I was on a business trip and my flight was delayed for 8 hours. I took pics and posted a video as a way to take to those back in the office along on the journey. We like to share what’s important. We also encourage social events, many of which are subsidized by the company. Fifteen years later, we still have that startup mentality.”
When it comes to community involvement and philanthropic activities, Kira Labs actively supports several food and toy drives during the holidays. They also make donations to support victims of natural disasters.
As Rosen shared, operating in the state of Florida is beneficial for a number of reasons. “Florida is a relatively young state,” he said. “This makes it particularly fertile in terms of growth and new opportunities. Also, the lifestyle can’t be underestimated. To look out your window and always see blue skies and palm trees is incredible. From a business standpoint, Florida is very pro-business and regulations are minimal. It’s been a real pleasure to work with local officials. Here in South Florida we also have easy access to international trade through the Port of Miami and access to talent through local universities. In fact, one of our first interns from Florida Atlantic University is now a full-time employee.”
What it Means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
“It’s a tremendous acknowledgement,” Rosen said. “This award, and others for exporting and manufacturing, gives us a real sense of pride. We’re part of something that’s contributing economically to the state and our local community. To be honored for this is really special. We’ve had a great run over the past few years. This award really caps things off. We’ve very blessed to be in this position.”
Rosen continued, “In terms of why we were selected, I think it has a lot to do with our growth and innovation. We employ a continuous improvement ideology and put processes in place that allow us to experience consistent growth. We’re producing products and getting them to market in ways that aren’t typical of most manufacturers. We’re also providing great opportunities for employees to grow with our company and we’re certainly not resting on our laurels. We have a lot left to accomplish.”
Rosen was quick to acknowledge a handful of others for contributing to the success of Kira Labs. First and foremost he gave thanks to his wife, Lindi, for being the “anchor” of the family. According to Rosen, her support and understanding of his commitment as CEO has been tremendous. He also thanked God, America and several supporting organizations for providing resources and guidance along the way. In particular, Rosen praised the Small Business Development Center, South Florida Manufactures Association, Florida Makes, CareerSource Broward and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance for their support.
Looking ahead, Rosen is steadfast in his commitment to create a community of enthusiastic and loyal customers who appreciate high quality products. Long term, he’d like to see at least one Kira Labs product in 100 million homes. Along the way they’ll continue to innovate and quickly respond to consumer demand while being mindful of new technology. Rosen sees Artificial Intelligence and Automation as opportunities to minimize waste and to better understand what consumers want and how best to replenish inventory.
Advice for Aspiring Entrepreneurs
“There are 168 hours in the week,” Rosen said. “You work for 40 of them. That leaves plenty of time for hobbies, including entrepreneurial hobbies. Starting a business doesn’t necessarily mean taking big steps, don’t give up your day job to start. Start small, generate a proof of concept, seek validation and slowly start to gain traction. At first, I only had one product. I started small and reinvested to grow the business. Stay in your job and understand that cash flow is king. When you do that, you remove ‘false’ pressure. Think about it, if you’re under a crunch to make income through your business, you can’t always do what’s best for your business. When you’re working to make ends meet, you won’t always make the best decisions. Take incremental steps and maintain your current cash flow. I’m a strong believer in that.”
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