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Entrepreneur Profile: Brian Guadagno, founder & CEO of Raw Elements

Brian Guadagno Raw Elements
Brian Guadagno, founder of Raw Elements USA, has caught many breaks, both in the ocean and with his natural sunscreen business. Hard work, a deep understanding of his product and a desire to help both the environment and people stay safe in the sun have taken him on an exciting road to success in the natural products industry. 

What was the inspiration for your business? What inspires you daily?

I've been an ocean lifeguard for 20 years. Through this experience, I used every sunscreen imaginable and was very dissatisfied with the use of chemical sunscreens.

After making the switch to natural sunscreens it was clear to me there was a need for a brand and a product that could effectively crossover and resonate with both the natural and the active consumer alike. Finding new and creative ways to communicate, educate and ultimately connect with our consumers is inspiring work to me.

What has been your experience sourcing all natural, certified organic and non-GMO ingredients? Any challenges?

This is certainly a challenging yet rewarding and educational process. Our Non-GMO Project verification process took nearly a year. While that was frustrating at times, it was because of the Project’s attention to detail in the evaluation process. We have a much greater appreciation and understanding of what the verification truly represents now. With sourcing the ingredients, I would say one lesson learned is quality of product, consistency of delivery and availably, and the relationship with the supplier is of greater value than the pricepoint of the ingredients.

What went into the R&D for Raw Elements? What should entrepreneurs expect when imagining, testing and creating a new natural product?

A lot of time went into the R&D, and still does! I spent the first two years of this project researching and learning, followed by a year at home formulating, reformulating, field testing and developing my prototypes. While the concept and brand orchestration were hugely important, I do not believe we ever would have made it this far if I didn’t understand my products inside out, better than anyone. It took a couple of years bouncing between different manufacturing facilities to find one that could deliver the product I developed.

Every venture is different, but my suggestion, for so many reasons, is to be the architect of your product, whatever it may be. If you have the greatest knowledge of your product — its strengths, its weaknesses, its abilities, its vulnerabilities — ultimately, you will have the leverage needed to make the intelligent decisions along the way.

Also, we are constantly continuing to upgrade and better our products. On-skin aesthetics and ease of application are challenging areas for natural and mineral-based sunscreens. Only recently in 2015 have we reengineered our sunscreens with completely sustainable and recycled zinc oxide. Our new particles, in conjunction with new mixing techniques and tooling, have proven to deliver the best on-skin look and feel our sunscreens have seen yet.  We are very happy with that.

What’s been your road to success and critical success factors along the way?

I can say our road, thus far, has been filled with many supportive and motivating people who have been critical to our forward progress. Friends and family, brand ambassadors, manufacturing and logistic partners, strategic supporters, the late and great chemist Chris Vaughan — it just seems that every step of the way a new, welcoming door opens which leads to a critical breakthrough. For that, I am truly grateful and motivated. 

Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?

I would say the biggest mistake was the assumption that a well thought out business plan and a unique model would be enough to raise the capital desired to launch Raw Elements USA. At the time it was a mistake, although today, I believe it was more of a blessing.

Not having the ideal capital raise has forced creativity, lean methods of operation, placed greater value and return on assets and an overall more critical approach toward organic growth. The fix is now having a much more mature understanding of capital needs and better positioning to meet them.

What’s your best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?

  1. Intent, delivery and follow through. These are three things I continue to try to piece all together.  It’s sometimes easy to hit one or two of the three, but to string all three together is challenging, yet very effective. 
  2. Creativity is crucial and if it seems like at times you are swimming up stream, that’s how you know you can make a difference.   
  3. Choose a project in a space you truly enjoy and feel can impact many areas of your life positively—you’ll likely be spending three times the amount of time swimming in it than you think!
  4. Be grateful and accepting to anyone who supports you along the way—you’ll likely need it all.

Where are you going? What is the vision for your business?

Our mission is to deliver the safest, most effective sunscreen in the world. 

The truth is coming to the surface about sunscreens and other products that can be toxic to ourselves and to our environment. Over the next 2, 5, 10 years, the vision is to be a leading voice in this awakening and a provider of the best, most innovative natural and organic sunscreens & supportive personal care products.

How did you land your first retail account?

Our first account, I believe, was the Cowshed Spa in the SoHo Beach House, Miami Beach. We had great friends involved with the opening of that property, and thankfully, they felt our local product would be a good fit.

Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?

Sure! I'm surprised every day by how unique each retailer is in their practices.  

How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?

We strive to instill attraction, connectivity, trust and education through our brand’s personality across a number of different segments. Providing superior, innovative products, with pioneering achievements and key points of difference is crucial.  

How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company’s story?

This is challenging. I think a key component is to find the one aspect or one key point about the brand or product that seems to resonate with the retailer or buyer. Then you strike that cord, it provides a good common ground to build the relationship off of. Every retailer and every buyer is different with varying interests that they value as important.  

What most helped market your product in the beginning?

Facebook, to be completely honest. I built the brand in the early days, even before we had product to sell, all through Facebook. Many strategic connections and friendships were built and they're still relevant to our brand today.  

What’s a guilty pleasure of yours?

Well, I'd have to say I have an enormous appetite—so, overeating can be a guilty pleasure of mine!

What's the inside scoop on yourself? 

I always wanted to be a veterinarian.

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