The Interview — Mia Duchnowski And Laura Cox, Mia Duchnowski: CEO and Co-Founder of Oars + Alps & Laura Cox: CMO and Co-Founder
Welcome to Talking Top 10, a recurring series in which we feature the founders, CEOs, creators, and leaders who are shaking up their industries. Ahead, read our Q&A with Mia Duchnowski and Laura Cox, and keep scrolling to shop her Top 10 must-haves.
Laura Cox: Laura Lisowski Cox is the Co-Founder and CMO of Oars + Alps, a direct to consumer skin care brand for people who lead an active, on-the-go lifestyle. The products are made with natural premium ingredients. The company launched in 2015 after Laura quit her high-profile job at Facebook
Laura has spent most of her career focused on the digital space. She started her career at Digitas NYC in Strategy & Analytics advising Fortune 100 companies on digital acquisition and retention strategies. Clients included American Express and Delta. She then become Director of Consulting at OgilvyOne in Hong Kong helping companies such as Louis Vuitton and IBM on integrating customer data in their digital space to drive overall growth. Finally, Laura ended up at Facebook advising companies like Apple and GoPro on how to best advertise on Facebook to drive both revenue and brand - and closely working with their teams to measure and optimize budgets across channels.
Laura holds an International Master of Finance from the Brandeis Business School. She has a double major from Brandeis University in Economics and Psychology. She has always held a fascination with data and human behavior.
Laura raced downhill skiing for 7 years and was the captain of her ski team in high school. Her husband is an avid skier as well and has completed a handful of marathons—he is currently training for his first triathlon.
Mia Duchnowski: Mia Saini Duchnowski is the Co-Founder and CEO of Oars + Alps, a direct to consumer skin care brand for people who lead an active, on-the-go lifestyle. The products are made with natural premium ingredients. The company launched in 2015 after Mia quit her high-profile job as a TV Reporter with Bloomberg TV, one of the largest financial TV networks in the world.
Mia spent over three years with Bloomberg TV in Hong Kong and in New York City where she was responsible for global economic, political and business coverage. She was the first person at the network to interview the Chairman of Microsoft, John Thompson, after he became Chairman. She’s interviewed hundreds of CEOs and heads of states including the former CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts, and Virgin founder, Sir Richard Branson. She’s routinely covered breaking news stories, such as the disappearance of MH 370, Nelson Mandela’s death, and Steve Job’s passing.
Prior to joining Bloomberg in June 2011, Mia served as an Anchor and Reporter for Forbes TV. She reported from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland as well as interviewed prominent business leaders including Warren Buffett, former FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair, Blackstone co-founder Pete Peterson, former Bear Stearns CEO Ace Greenberg, SAP CEO Bill McDermott and more. Earlier in her career, Mia was a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs, working in hedge fund sales and marketing. There, she helped establish strategic relationships with hedge funds representing over $1.2 billion in portfolio value.
Mia holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School. She has a double major from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in neuroscience and media studies, and a double minor in civil engineering and management science. While at MIT, she interned at NASA Ames Research Center doing artificial intelligence research. She was featured in Glamour Magazine as one of their Top Ten College Women in 2004.
Mia currently sits on the Auxiliary Board of the Chicago Lincoln Park Zoo and the Junior Board of Greencity Market in Chicago. Mia has served on the Board of Directors for the MIT Club of Hong Kong and the Harvard Business School Club of Hong Kong. She loves cycling and yoga and has three kids.
Keep up to date with Laura and Mia by following @oarsandalps on Instagram!
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Tell us the story of Oars & Alps. What led you to team up and launch a business together?
Laura: I was pregnant and upgrading to healthier products as I became aware of the chemical impact that products have on the body, especially on your baby. At this time, I was also buying products for my husband and became very aware of what skincare brands he was using and the abundance of harsh ingredients within them. Mia and I soon realized the void in men’s natural care and the lack of clean products available. Our mission to curate a men’s line without toxic chemicals is what really helped lead to the founding of what Oars + Alps is today.
Mia: Hi, my name is Mia Saini Duchnowski and I’m the Co-Founder and CEO of Oars + Alps. In a previous life I used to be a TV Anchor, most recently at Bloomberg TV. In this capacity I had access to some amazing skin care products. My husband who is your guy’s guy—not a metro and not your average joe was always using my skincare products. He was earnestly looking for products to protect his skin. You see—his grandfather passed away and had skin cancer, his father currently has skin cancer, and my husband is at risk. I started Oars + Alps along with my cofounder, Laura (whose husband also had skin issues) because we didn’t’ want our husbands to be statistics—not just from skin cancer but by other ailments that can result by using toxic chemicals.
As women entrepreneurs, what’s it like running a business aimed primarily at men?
Laura: Being women entrepreneurs for a men’s targeted brand is so interesting—it makes us better at what we do! It’s so easy to say “I like this or that” when you’re focusing on building a brand around your interests and own demographic. By being removed from the target, we can be more data-driven and focused on what trends are telling us. In fact, data has shown that 50% or more of the buyers of men’s care products are female, so women like Mia and I are a major portion of influence that make up the category.
Mia: When we first launched Oars + Alps many VC investors would ask us, “Why are two women launching a men’s skincare company?” We would say, “Who do you think launched Victoria’s Secret?—it wasn’t Victoria.” The point being, that as women we felt like we shouldn’t be receiving this question as there are countless examples of men who start brands for women. We truly felt that we were the best people to launch Oars + Alps because we controlled the household purchases—from the toilet paper to the shampoo to the face moisturizer. As our business has grown, our brand has evolved to be more unisex. I’d say about 40% of our customers are women now.
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What separates Oars & Alps’ products from other men’s beauty and grooming products?
Laura: Oars + Alps aims to be much more than just skincare; the brand is aspiring to elevate and instill confidence in our consumer’s healthy, active, and busy everyday lifestyle. With the male and female identity constantly evolving in today’s world, Oars + Alps is unique in providing meaningful, thought-out formulations for everyone with rigorous research around clean lists, to ensure our products avoid any harsh, abrasive or bad-for-you ingredients.
Mia: Oars + Alps is a skin and body care company providing premium naturally-derived skin care without the upcharge for people who lead an active on-the-go lifestyle—these people are traveling a lot and working out even more. They are up against the elements: sun, wind, pollution. They approach skin care through the lens of a healthy life and not through vanity. But current brands weren’t speaking to them: they were either too clinical, too medicinal, too feminine. Plus, they were very expensive.
How would you describe the Oars & Alps customer?
Laura: Oars + Alps is much more of a mindset than a company, as the brand really embodies someone who is aspiring to achieve in life. Our mantra is “If the wind does not serve, take to the oars.” This statement is really about perseverance—a main quality of our consumer. These achievers are active people who are constantly looking to better themselves, not from a place of vanity but from a place of health. This drive and need to better themselves applies to everything they do, including skincare and body care.
Mia: Our customers are active, on-the-go individuals. They live a life full of movement. Whether that is racing out the door to get to work or now in the COVID world or racing out the door to get their morning workout before, they are looking for clean skin care.
What’s it like working with your BFF? How do you divide responsibilities?
Laura: We have a wonderful working dynamic – respecting one another and sharing ideas is essential when it comes to merging a personal friendship and professional relationship. We have healthy debates because it’s important to disagree to ultimately come to a fresh and healthy conclusion. Our roles are constantly evolving, but I’m very focused on growth. I love working on the logistics/operations side and ways to serve our customer better!
Mia: For any friendship that turns into a business relationship there are pluses and minuses. In our case, our creating a no-nonsense skincare brand for people who live a life full of movement unites us in our goals. As CEO I focus more on the overall strategy and on financial and operational aspects and Laura as CMO focuses on marketing and brand strategy across channels.
As moms and CEOs, how have you navigated running the business during COVID-19? Do you both have the whole WFH thing mastered?
Laura: It has definitely made it easier that our children are in school. Sometimes, I find that being a mom helps maintain my drive: as a mother to two young boys, it aids me in having a different perspective. My mom and business mentality are in sync; both jobs keep me always on and juggling, making sure I don’t drop the ball.
Mia: I have four children under the age of seven. In the spring, my house was crazy, because both my husband and I were working from home and we had 3 children who were attempting to do remote learning. I’ve taken calls from toy closets and the floor of bathrooms just so I can have some quiet. Now, that my kids are back in school, it’s actually quite enjoyable to work from home because I have a lot of solitude!
What’s your favorite way to wind down after a long workday?
Laura: On a long or stressful day, I’ll unwind with a glass of rose and focus on breath-work. I really enjoy soaking in a bath with Epsom salts and lavender oil for a calming ambience.
Mia: I love taking a hot bath every night. It really relaxes me!
What’s your go-to outfit for the office?
Laura: I like dressing up even while I’m not going to the office. My go-to is usually a loose button down shirt with skinny jeans and white sneakers.
Mia: I love wearing dresses or leggings and an oversized sweater.
If you were to recommend buying just one product from Oars & Alps, what would it be and why?
Laura: Our Oars + Alps Natural Body + Face Wash—it feels luxurious and your skin feels so revitalized and nourished after use. And the smell is exquisite!
Mia: I have to do two. One body and one face. My go to deodorant is the Eucalyptus and Spearmint Natural Deodorant. I use the Wake Up Face Serum every morning. It has 15% encapsulated vitamin C and really brightens my skin and reduces darks spots.
What can we expect next from Oars & Alps?
Laura: We’ve always wanted a sun care line to support our consumer’s outdoors-y, active nature and are excited to expand to that sector come 2021!
Mia: Sun care! We are launching an extensive sun care line in spring of 2021.