Businesswoman Jennifer Lapidakis has been successfully managing the Mannheim Anixe Studios, as well as the synchronisation studio Darkis. After winning the sought-after pitch award by the ProSiebenSat.1-Accelerator, with her beauty brand Strong, she is really getting going.
Jennifer, your business Darkis Production successfully takes care of synchronization for movies and series, for clients such as Amazon and Netflix. What’s special about your studio, which is situated in the Mannheim business incubator Musikpark?
Through Anixe-Studio we have been offering state of the art audio and video solutions for many years now. In 2006 I became involved in my fathers business. Today he is charge of his own HbbTV development firm in the Mafinex, in Mannheim. At that time I was already in charge of studio operations in Musikpark. Over the years we have put together a pool of around 150 voice actors. These voice actors are sourced within a radius of 150 kilometers approx. By doing so we offer an alternative to the established and well-known voice actors in Germany. Aside from that we are one of few Dolby and THX certified studios in the country, and the only one in Baden-Wuerttemberg at all.
Sounds like a lot of work – where do you find the time to push your start-up beauty brand Strong?
Our studios success really took off over the past three years, through several external commissions. I am very happy to say we have a great team here, with seven permanent employees, which allows me to pursue my other business idea: Strong.
Tell us about how the idea to develop a beauty brand came about.
I’ve been really into Crossfit for several years now. We train in a warehouse in Ludwigshafen, in a so called “box”. One day, after a session, a friend of mine said: “Hey Jenny! You can’t always show up to a session in make up … it’s all smeared!” As many business women do, I would go to the gym directly from work, which didn’t allow me to properly remove my make-up. This led me to search out the market of products, that would stay in shape, despite real physical exertion.
And there were no such products before Strong?
Most big-name brands recommend using waterproof makeup and mascara. I’ve tested many products, and have to say most don’t really work. With my friend Ines I decided to look for a manufacturer, who would develop something, that would do the job. In Munich we got in touch with a cosmetics manufacturer, who has been in business for over 40 years and has great experience in the sector. She immediately fell in love with the idea and began with development.
Did you do your own testing of the products?
Of course! And once we saw that they worked, we sent out the products to be tested by 20 women at the Sport University in Karlsruhe, which was a success. By December 2015 we were ready to go with our first three products: makeup, mascara and eyeliner.
Sounds like that worked out smoothly. Were you aware of the implications of launching a new line of cosmetics at that time?
Developing the Strong brand idea was rather easy: cosmetics for successful business women, who want to look good in the gym. For this we choose a clean-cut brand design in black and white. In the end we quickly discovered how hard it is to establish a new brand of cosmetics, no matter how good your corporate design and product quality may be.
Because the big players dominate the market?
We found there are several things to be aware of. You can quickly get a shop online, but if you don’t know how the mechanics of distribution, it’s very hard to get a footing in the market. This especially applies to over-the-counter trade, which is very important to understand.
What’s so important about over-the-counter trade?
A product like Strong needs explanation, and female customers want to test it. This is only possible at the point of sale, within stationary trade. Should one, for instance, partner up with a big drugstore chain, it makes things easier, but you are bound to an exclusive agreement and can only get into a certain segment of the market. Admittedly, it has become easier to get into big German stores such as dm or Rossmann, as these guys have begun getting interested in fresh young brands and start-ups.
What’s your marketing strategy at the moment?
We were immediately struggling, in phase 1, right after starting up, which was starting our online store and building a presence with the big external shopping platforms. We quickly discovered that people invest way more trust into a brand such as Amazon, compared to any market newcomer. By today Amazon accounts for nearly 70 percent of our total revenue.
What are the next phases?
At the moment we are in phase 2, which is building our presence in gyms. We offer an opportunity to test the products, where they are meant to be used. I like to be on-site with our Strong make-up table, to be able to give direct advice and to get direct feedback. I acquired a lot of cosmetics know-how over the past years, and know all about the special requirements every skin type has. If you’ve spent a whole day putting make up on 100 girls at a trade fair, you’ll know how much this hands-on market research is really worth.
What’s the feedback you’re getting?
It’s really positive! Though it can be tough dealing with male distribution partners. They just don’t understand the issue. Any female, on the other hand, who has experienced their makeup being ruined after working out, understands that Strong now offers a solution to an old problem.
You’ve invested a lot of money into the development and products. How does financing a start-up such as Strong work?
At the moment we have to function on our own. There were some investors from Berlin, that were interested, but I felt with a business, production and team firmly situated in Mannheim, the excessive traveling would make things unnecessarily complicated. I’ve honestly become really worried at times though, as revenue was tough – things were to far to just stop, but not far enough to further finance development.
What kept you going?
Our team! And especially my dear friend Anka was a real help. As a business consultant, she has a very factual and dry way of analyzing the brand. She keeps things down-to-earth and helps me with the numbers. And so, finally, we have been seeing a continual positive trend within the performance indicators, after three years. Since 2017 we have good organic growth, and things have gotten fun again! Aside from that our passion and endurance with our product has also been rewarded by winning the sought-after pitch award by the ProSiebenSat1-Accelerator. This really helped push things even further!
Was winning the award really such a surprise?
Indeed! Things began with our participation in the Entrepreneur University in Darmstadt. The event offered some great speakers and mentors from the start-up field. There was also a pitch area offered and we were invited to submit a one-pager for the Pro 7 Accelerator. Then things happened really fast: we developed our one-pager over a few days, submitted it and on Friday, shortly before the award ceremony, we received a call requesting we attend in person, and that we also attend the closing ceremony. At that point we kinda knew something was up. But when we were asked to the stage as winners, we were truly awestruck. Receiving a million euros in media value is really big chance for us.
What are you planning with the media volume?
We are currently negotiating the process of things. What we do know for certain is, that the exposure we can achieve through traditional television is really important. In the best case this could lead to connections to formats such as Germanys next Topmodel – who knows. This was how brands such as Zalando got to where they are now.
What are the next steps with Strong?
We have just expanded our product range to suit the needs of women who like to take nice selfies. As an addition to our basic set we now offer lipgloss, including five matt colors and four nude gloss colors, to allow for more variations. We became a bit more colorful since the launch, but as always we offer high quality products, which were not tested on laboratory animals, and have scored well with Stiftung Warentest. Our goal still stands: to become the most successful new German sports cosmetics brand in 2019!
Interview: Ralf Laubscher / LA.MAG
Fotos: Sebastian Weindel