Before emigrating to the states in the 80s, Jane Wurwand completed a two-year skin therapy program typical of the UK. When she got to the US, she realized there was no licensing program in most states...so she built one. In 1983, Jane launched the International Dermal Institute in a small classroom space in California. Today, IDI has 37 locations and is considered the best of the best in skin therapy programs.
Simply starting a school wasn’t enough for Jane, though; a few years after starting IDI, she realized there was no product that focused on skin health instead of beauty alone. Thus began Dermalogica, a line of irritant-free products now sold in more than 80 countries worldwide.
Jane is an inspiring example of what it means to be an entrepreneur: She saw a need and not only filled it but went above and beyond in making her vision a reality. Below, Jane share what keeps her motivated, common challenges she sees among female entrepreneurs, and why she’d give her 20-year-old self the same advice as she would at age 60.
Your mother once said, “If you’re bored, it’s because you’re boring.” Tell us what this means to you and how it’s propelled you in your career.
It’s about cause and effect. It means that any time I feel bored or stale or uninspired, the issue isn’t something external—the solution is within me. If you are motivated, you are motivating. I use this to always push me to seek out surprise which is the root of creativity. Get out there and do something, see something and find something or someone that inspires you.
Your business was founded on a lack of education in the beauty industry. What was missing, and how did you fill that void?
Being from the UK, I had studied in a typical skin therapy program that was two years in length with a one year apprenticeship. When I emigrated to the USA in 1983, only 7 of the 50 States even had a license at all, and the length of study was a few months. The lack of success in the US professional skin care industry was a lack of skills, and without them, you can’t get results for your clients and you can’t build a business. I started The International Dermal Institute to bridge the gap, wrote a curriculum that covered the ‘missing’ two years, and taught it in a 1,000 sq. ft office space. We launched Dermalogica 3 years later after realizing that there was no American professional product that could serve the industry we were building. Any disruption starts with education.
What’s been the biggest surprise or highlight of your career to date?
The highlight of my career is that we train and upskill 100,000 professional skin therapists every year around the world to become more successful. What we teach them works and the product we make allows them to build great careers because they get results for their client’s skin. The biggest surprise is that so many people think the industry is about ‘beauty’ and it’s actually about all those salon entrepreneurs, 98% of whom are women. Women own 64% of all salons and our industry is an economic powerhouse for women globally that puts more women into their own business than any other.
What advice would you give to a young woman who’s passionate about a business idea, but doesn’t know where to start?
Sit down at your kitchen table [or equivalent workspace] and start writing out what you want to do, who you want to speak to and serve, and most importantly WHY you want to do it for them. Make it about who you will serve and benefit, and not about how they will benefit you. After that, the ‘how’ you will do it will start to become clear. I believe that unless your business improves the lives of others in some way, the path ahead is very unclear. It’s all about the Why.
What has been your biggest opportunity or biggest challenge?
My biggest opportunity was emigrating to the USA with a skill set that I literally carry in my hands, head and heart. It’s fully transportable. My biggest challenge is dispelling the myth that skin career is about female superficial ‘beauty’ when it is actually about skin health which is genderless, ageless and part of our critical health and wellness. It was much harder to make that distinction in 1983 when we started, and I like to believe we have played a part in making it clearer through our decades of work and leadership in upskilling the industry and the language we use professionally. Beauty is not an aspirational goal, but economic empowerment through entrepreneurs providing skin health sure is. That was the big opportunity and challenge.
Dermalogica funds women-owned businesses through a program called FITE (Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship). How does the program work and why is giving back an important part of your business?
I don’t believe that a business can be successful if it doesn’t serve to improve the lives of others in some way. The key to Dermalogica’s success is that we are first and foremost an education company and we train more salon industry professionals than any other skin care company. That makes them more successful and supported. We have always known that our biggest ‘Why’ is upskilling professional skin therapists. In 2010 we launched FITE with a goal to fund 25,000 women around the world to start or grow their own business. So far, we have funded 100,000 women entrepreneurs in all industries and not just salons. Our 2019 expanded focus is to teach skills to disenfranchised women to come into the salon industry as it is now the greatest opportunity for women’s entrepreneurship. I believe in the Law of Return—what we give away returns to us ten-fold in myriad ways.
What are the common challenges you've seen among female business owners and entrepreneurs?
Expected entrepreneurial challenges are lack of funding, coaching, support, finding community, and resilience. These challenges are not gender specific except in one area – funding. Less than 3% of all available funding goes to women—97% goes to men. That’s crazy. And it’s not showing any signs of changing. Unexpected challenges that I see are that because of this lack of funding, most small entrepreneurs have to self-fund – often around $25K on three credit cards. That might get you started but you are going to need funding to grow. We self-funded on $14K because as new immigrants without credit history, no one would have lent us anything even if we had known where to go [which we didn’t]. Hidden challenges are those within us – self-doubt, shrinking our capacity for success, dreaming too small and not making the idea big enough and limiting ourselves because of whatever construct of success we have decided we don’t fit into. This can affect women more than men due to cultural and societal bias. Let it all go. It doesn’t serve us.
When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find new roads + switch gears to find success?
Energy in the universe continually flows in ebbs, curves, rushes and tides – just look at nature – there are no straight lines. Success and growth aren’t an even road, it’s sometimes hectic and at other times pretty slow, but it is moving all the time. If I hit a bump, it’s ok but if I hit a roadblock I have to stop and really look at what’s happening. Am I heading off course? Have I misread the road ahead? Do I need to hit ‘reset’? I take a step back, I wait and I literally ask, ‘What am I missing here? What is it that I’m not seeing?’ Then I put myself in a situation to be surprised – surprise is the trigger for creativity. Surprise happens in new situations, so find them – something as simple as sleeping outside in a sleeping bag and tent on your back lawn one night can restart your thinking and creativity. Try it.
Where does your passion/drive come from?
Knowing that I can make a difference in other people’s lives by sharing what I know and have learned and helping them in whatever way I can. I’m a teacher and I know that’s where my true calling has always been. I just happen to also be obsessed with skin. My personal focus is on local entrepreneurs and helping them be successful and ‘seen’ through our non-profit initiative FOUND/LA – I want to build back our Main Street through community entrepreneurs who are women, minorities or immigrants. Check out what we are up to at foundla.org
If you could go back and give 20-year-old Jane a word of advice, what would it be?
Same advice I give myself at 60. Trust your instincts and never shrink yourself, your capacity or what you know to be actually happening. Stop worrying as much about what you look like and focus on how you feel. Health and positive energy are everything.