The Beauty of the Network
Patti Pao (MBA 1987) describes her two years at HBS as “spectacularly unsuccessful,” thanks in part to a culture clash with the section-enforced structure of attending all of one’s first-year courses in the same classroom, in the same seat. (Pao’s undergrad institution was UC Berkeley, which, at least 27 years ago, embodied less rigid customs than those found at HBS.)
“It was so intimidating,” Pao recalls. “I felt lost. But I would definitely do it again, because my best friends have come from HBS.”
Those friends have also been essential in the funding of Restorsea (www.restorsea.com), a line of luxury skincare products with an initial launch of day and eye creams. (Additional products, with expanded distribution, will roll out in 2013.) The venture is a first for Pao, a veteran of the beauty business who has devoted her career to helping create and launch some 400 products for other companies.
“The initial round of funding came from Bonnie Messing, Tracey Bilski, and Lauren Bender (all MBA 1987),” Pao says. “They made it possible to finish my clinical studies—then they worked with me for two months to help write my business plan.” Pao picked up additional investors through meetings and luncheons organized by Bender: “By December 2011 I had raised half the money I needed from family and friends,” she says.
The remainder came through another fortuitous HBS connection, when Pao was helping a young woman find a consulting internship. She checked with Matthew Krentz (MBA 1987), a senior partner in BCG’s Chicago office. “My email was 75 percent about the intern position, 20 percent about something else, and 5 percent about Restorsea,” Pao recalls. Her mention of Restorsea intrigued Krentz, who asked for more information and suggested she meet with HBS classmate Muneer Satter, formerly of Goldman Sachs. In less than five days, Satter had funded the balance of the necessary capital. (Krentz also invested.)
Pao hit upon the idea of Restorsea while hiking with some clients in Norway; during a tour of a local salmon hatchery, she noticed that the workers’ hands looked many years younger than their faces. After some investigation, Pao discovered that when hatching, baby salmon release an enzyme to help them break through the egg wall; that enzyme has some of the same exfoliating and renewing properties as glycolic acid, without its harsh side effects. (The substance is harvested without damaging the newborn salmon.)
On a quick visit to celebrate her 25th Reunion, Pao took part in a panel of women entrepreneurs organized by Corinne Nevinny (MBA 1987), a Restorsea investor and founder of the venture capital firm LMN Ventures. “I had stage fright at first, but it was an amazing experience,” she says of appearing in a packed Aldrich classroom with classmates Sulubha Grant of the Sulu Collection and Lauren Marrus of Dempsey and Carroll. “I would not be in the position of launching Restorsea if I hadn’t gone to HBS.”
On October 15, Restorsea launched at Bergdorf Goodman department stores, with the goal, Pao says, of moving from the “lab,” where the store’s newest brands are sold, to a dedicated counter space. “I want to make it happen in a year,” she says. “That’s like having a newborn and sending it to college in 12 months.”