Jaime Schmidt of Schmidt's Naturals
Meet Jaime Schmidt, co-founder of Schmidt’s Naturals, a personal care brand best known for its effective aluminum-free deodorants. Having started Schmidt’s Deodorant in 2010 in her kitchen using DIY recipes, and later through co-founding Schmidt’s Naturals with Michael Cammarata, Jaime helped grow the brand from farmer’s market darling into a multi-million dollar success story.
Paving her path in the natural care industry, Jaime helped work Schmidt’s into big box stores, displaying Schmidt’s alongside tried and true industry giants. In an industry where newcomers rarely prevail, Schmidt’s proved its staying power, managing to compete on a level never before seen in the natural markets.
Schmidt’s went on to catch the attention of Unilever, one of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, boasting a diverse portfolio of well known brands, including Dove, St.Ives, and Vaseline, among many others. Following an acquisition that allowed her to comfortably take on new projects while staying connected to Schmidt’s, Jaime has turned her sights to investing, helping other small business founders find their footing.
I sat down with Jaime to ask her all about what it’s like to take a brand from kitchen to acquisition, how she made it all happen, and how she’s uplifting the makers of the future. Keep reading to learn more.
THIS INTERVIEW HAS BEEN EDITED AND CONDENSED FOR BREVITY AND CLARITY.
Let's go back to the beginning... what led you to start Schmidt's DEODoRANT?
“I had really been on a soul-searching journey for a good amount of time, ever since I had graduated college in 2000. I landed this career in human resources and was quickly making my way up the ladder and just feeling unfulfilled and unsatisfied with my work. With Schmidt’s, it was one of my adventures into a creative outlet that I felt could bring me satisfaction on the side, and it didn’t take long before it became something that I saw as a potential career path. It started out as some tinkering with recipes in my kitchen and having fun with some formulations for my friends and family, but in Portland, there’s no shortage of opportunity to start selling products at farmers markets and street festivals, and I thought that could be fun too. Once I was out there, getting the feedback from customers and seeing the enthusiasm around my products, I realized that this could actually be a thing, and this is beyond a hobby, and beyond a side-hustle, there’s potential here for something big. In addition to that, I had tried every natural deodorant on the market, and nothing was working for me. I think this is a frustration that so many people can relate to, and especially back then, around 2010, the options on the market were limited; there weren’t many natural products, it was just starting to become a trend, and for deodorant specifically. I needed something that worked, but I was also pregnant which played into it too. I always felt like it all came together at the right time, and Schmidt’s was born from that. I saw an opportunity to disrupt the market, not just with the effectiveness of the product, but also as a natural product that was different from what was out there and would stand out on a shelf, and with beautiful packaging. Another big selling point for Schmidt’s, and something that I was really passionate about at the time, was putting together these fragrance combinations that you couldn’t get on the market.”
WAS THERE A NOTABLE TIPPING POINT FOR YOU WHEN IT WENT FROM SOMETHING THAT YOU WERE MAKING IN YOUR KITCHEN TO A REAL BUSINESS?
“Yeah, it was really seeing the enthusiasm from customers, people telling me that the product has changed their lives, that they’d tried everything and nothing had worked for them, but they finally found a solution with my product. Receiving those testimonials is really what made me realize that this is a business and that I’m actually helping people and potentially changing this industry, which Schmidt’s really ended up doing in the long run. We became the leader among the tinier brands in this movement toward natural products.”
Tell me more about your partnership with Unilever.
“I can tell you that back in the early days when I was standing at the farmer’s market, it’s not something I would have ever anticipated. It’s truly amazing and looking back at it now to see how far our brand came. We really did come in at a drought, and once we launched at big store like Target and Walmart and Costco, we were outselling these heritage brands 2:1, it didn’t take long. We hit the shelves and had immediate success, and these bigger brands were seeing it, and so companies like Unilever were taken aback, and they didn’t have a natural deodorant that could compete. They had the conventional anti-perspirant market, and I think Unilever was one of many that just recognized that we were onto something big and that they needed to bring us onto their team to be able to compete and keep up.”
What was your initial reaction to being courted by a consumer goods giant, and how did you manage the emotions that must've come with moving beyond your labor of love?
“There certainly was emotion around it, it was incredibly exciting to even be considered by [a company] so huge for something that I truly developed in my kitchen with my own hands. But to maintain this kind of momentum, we had to start raising a ton of money and bringing on a lot more professionals, and we had done so much with so few employees and built up something so magnificent and huge with so little. So for us, to continue that and be competitive, and go beyond where we were at, we needed more partners on board. It was definitely a smart move for Schmidt’s. With Unilever, we gained access to greater distribution channels, greater consumer insights, and all of the magnitude that comes with that access to resources. What was so great about working with [Unilever] specifically, is that they had no intentions of coming in and shaking up the brand. They understood what made Schmidt’s special and what made it so successful and they didn’t want to change that, so we felt really good about the partnership, and it’s been great.”
You're very passionate about uplifting maker communities - what does that look like for you?
“After Schmidt’s was sold, I had a little bit of time to sit back and reflect on the whole journey of what just happened. I started thinking about where I started and who I’ve become and I was just so thankful to this community, specifically Portland, that embraced this DIY/Small Business mindset. So without that, it would have been really hard to grow the business. I realized that I have a lot to offer now, I’ve learned so much, and there’s so much I can do to help other people that are who I was 8 years ago. I know it’s the way of the future, these brands that are making things by hand, and people that have an artistic mind, I think there’s so much potential. That’s what I’m excited about, and even just having conversations with people, I get tons of emails from people looking for support; small things too, like questions about production, it’s great to offer some insight. There’s a lot to be done, but I’m excited for this new path.”
What has investing taught you about entrepreneurs and makers?
“A lot of these brands and entrepreneurs, they don’t always know what they need, but they know they need something. In the way of capital, or something to take them to the next level, and I think that’s one piece of advice that I’ve been giving to people, if you’re looking for funding or support, know what you’ll be using it for. I’ve also noticed that there’s so much talent, and the community of small businesses is really competitive, and there are so many people doing really amazing things.”
What does a typical day look like for you Now that you’re not on the operations side of schmidt’s?
“It’s pretty different each day. I more or less work at home, and I have an office here, but I’m out and about a lot in the community. I’ve been doing a lot of networking, especially in the past year since our acquisition, because I really want to make sure I understand the landscape here in Portland, who the key players are and what the needs are, and how we can all work together. Lots of phone calls and planning sessions. I’ve certainly been busy. My husband Chris and I collaborate on projects, we have a few exciting things in the works that we’ll be rolling out this year. There’s a lot going on, but it’s a good variety, which is interesting and fun. With Schmidt’s too, I’m definitely still involved with the brand. I work mostly as a spokesperson, I’m less involved operationally, but I support them with things like product launches and speaking engagements. That’s been really fun too because I get to stay in touch with the brand, but not be bogged down by the less sexy parts.”
What advice would you give to women looking to build and grow their own brands and companies?
“Find your own niche, and do something that hasn’t been done before. I think that’s increasingly challenging because there’s so much that’s been done. But even if you want to do something that’s not necessarily new, do it in a way that speaks to you, that’s personal and genuine and that you really feel confident in. With me, I had pursued several creative outlets, I tried sewing, I took interior design classes, trying to figure out where my creative outlet was. I liked the things I was doing, but I wasn’t feeling inspired. I think that once you’re able to pin that down, you’ll know when it feels right, you’ll have a certain kind of enthusiasm and drive that shows up when you’re doing the thing you’re meant to be doing.”
What's the hardest obstacle you've had to overcome in terms of taking your business from your kitchen to an ultimate acquisition?
“If I had to think about an actual business obstacle, I would say the forecasting piece was really challenging for us. The demand for our product was so immense, and it kept growing and growing and it was really not ever possible to forecast what we needed to be making. That’s what’s challenging in terms of capital, space, etc. We changed warehouses 4 times within 2 years, because it was so hard to know how much space we needed. On the personal level, balance [was an obstacle] of course, it was an entire lifestyle shift for me, I was a new mom too, my son was born right around the time the business launched, so I had this new identity there. Keeping up with that and what it meant for me personally to be running this huge company and to be wearing so many hats and be seen as the boss, and all of that. It wasn’t easy.”
Where do you consume media, and do you have any favorite publications, or podcasts?
“It’s a mix. I’m definitely an Instagram scroller, and I get a lot of information there. I’m also a huge fan of the business publications, Entrepreneur Magazine, Inc., etc. Every time I’m in the car, I like to throw on a podcast; one of my favorites is How I Built This by Guy Raz, it’s always fun to hear those startup stories because I can relate. I’ve been reading a lot more non-fiction too, I just started the biography of Warren Buffet.”
What big projects do you have planned for 2019?
“The investments will continue, I’m on a hunt for a certain type of entrepreneur. I really want to support people who had similar humble roots like I did, who are trying to grow something. Generally women and people of color, that’s the area of focus that my husband and I are both passionate about and that’s where we’re putting our energy. There’s also a big project that Chris and I are working on that we’re not quite ready to release any details on yet. All of our efforts really focus on shaping the future and celebrating this next generation of consumer brands.”