This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.
Officially turning one year old on June 15, skin care startup Habit is already profitable in its first year of operation. It has sold out of product three times over, generated wait lists into the thousands, and gone viral on TikTok, too.
With a background in health care and e-commerce, founder and CEO Tai Adaya merged her experiences when developing Habit and its flagship product, the No. 41 Mister, an ultrafine, touchless sunscreen mist (SPF 41) with aromatic notes of rose geranium, lavender, and rosemary. And with an innovative marketing strategy that highlights beauty, antiaging benefits, as well as critical health protection, Habit aims to eliminate some of the barriers to sunscreen use—namely, accessibility as its products can be purchased with FSA and HSA funds.
Fortune recently spoke with Adaya about what it’s like been like launching a skin care brand during the pandemic, how to get more people to use sunscreen, and plans for the summer.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: Can you share a bit about your professional background prior to launching Habit?
Prior to Habit, I worked in strategy consulting at Bain & Co. and marketing at GoodRx, Casper, and Il Makiage. Across these companies, I’ve managed and/or invested $35 million in consumer marketing, typically aiming for three to seven times return on investment in a one- to three-month window.
Personally, I’m interested in health, fashion, and politics. I believe people deserve access to health care. Most Americans don’t have affordable access to a dermatologist. SPF is crucial to skin health and longevity—but how do we get people to want to use it? To enjoy it? Enter Habit.
There is no shortage of sunscreen products on the market, which can make it a bit of a crowded, and even confusing, space for consumers. What inspired you to launch Habit?
Only 10% of Americans use sunscreen daily. Within that 10%, the majority don’t apply the right dose (sunscreen is a drug after all). Most don’t reapply—reapplication is crucial for proper protection.
Most sunscreens on the market today have not been developed with non-white people in mind. Even though women represent the vast majority of the consumer base, the beauty and skin care industry is still dominated by white men when you look at equity stakes. Of course, this impacts product development. I knew how powerful it would be develop products as a non-white woman. The non-white population is the fastest growing demo in the U.S., and so many sunscreens on the market have not been developed with this massive segment in mind. I’m developing daily preventative products with the future in mind.
The massive story with sunscreen is antiaging. The massive skin story of the 2020s will be sunscreen; you can already feel the excitement and curiosity growing around sunscreen, especially from skin care enthusiasts and longevity hackers. It’s proven preventative skin care, not magical ingredients or gimmicks. As a brand, Habit focuses on the daily use case and preventing wrinkles, from a messaging and product development standpoint. We have exciting new products in the works. Habit is not a typical beauty or skin care brand; we’re at this exciting intersection of beauty and health: next-gen skin care.
Habit’s marketing gives off the vibe of a high-end beauty brand, but the company’s mission involves getting more people to use sunscreen to protect their skin and overall health. It should also be noted that Habit has been prominent on TikTok. What goes into planning your social media strategy? What is the core demographic you’re targeting?
We like to meet consumers where they are at, whether that’s TikTok, Instagram, or text. Sunscreen has existed since the 1930s, but so few people use it. Like Reformation did for recycled cloth fibers and Tesla for electric cars, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make sunscreen fashionable.
Habit is for everyone, but my mission is to change the dynamic in which women, especially, have been conditioned to fear aging and then sold antiaging cosmetics that don’t truly work.
One of the goals for Habit is to reduce and eliminate barriers to accessing sunscreen. Can you explain a bit more about what those barriers are and how Habit is responding to them?
You’re going to see a lot of new products in the next 18 months. I’m designing our product line to really tackle the major problems with sunscreen: First, people don’t use it; second, people don’t use enough; third, people don’t reapply.
Most people will learn about the importance of sunscreen from a dermatologist or trusted older figure in life, like an older sister or mom. As a brand we aim to be that trusted figure that will tell you the importance, but really make the idea of daily sunscreen approachable.
Habit launched just a year ago—during the pandemic, no less—but has already run out of inventory several times and generated a massive wait list. How have you dealt with the scaling hurdles? What do you plan to do differently to meet demand this summer?
We are working overtime to get back in stock! It’s frustrating for us, too, but a lot of our supply chain issues have been due to COVID as our atomizer factory in France has been offline much of the past 12 months. But we are scaling to meet demand. We’ll be back in stock next month, and for now we have a fun sun protection—flirty bucket hats—campaign launching this week for our first birthday.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com