Cover Story: Innovation Through Collaboration

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An English and poetry professor once told his class about a time in his youth when he picked up a telephone book and searched for the contact number of one of his idols—the radical Beat Generation writer Allen Ginsberg. All good sense notwithstanding, sure enough, there was a listing. So the professor, then a college student without fear, dialed the digits and conversed with the famed poet for more than an hour. Taking a risk, the professor experienced the opportunity of a lifetime, swapping ideas with his poetic inspiration, a gift he’ll carry with him forever.

Product developers in the beauty industry could learn from this fearless fan. Sometimes in life, a cold call can make magic happen.
That’s exactly the tactic Scott-Vincent Borba, founder and CEO of BORBA, used to launch several of his most successful business collaborations. Most recently, he cold-called his way into a co-branding venture with Tarte Cosmetics, a company he admired for producing high-quality lip gloss. “I called Maureen Kelly in New York and pitched her my two-second idea,” Borba says. “I told her we could really shake up the industry. She loved the approach.”

Pushing egos aside, Borba says his conversations with the founder and CEO of Tarte led to the research, development, manufacturing, distribution and marketing a year later of the vitamin-infused Tarte/BORBA Inside Out Liptick and Lipgloss lines.
Alexis Mezzina DiResta, vice president of Tarte, says it was “fortuitous timing” when Borba called. “We were working on ways to let our customer know about the ingredient story in our products—it had always been there, but had gotten overshadowed by our packaging,” she says. “Partnering with a skin care company seemed like a great first step toward rebranding.”

During the product launch, Tarte and BORBA co-branded their marketing efforts. The lipstick and lip gloss packages were sold with samples of BORBA’s Aqua-Less Crystalline packets, portable powdered drink mixes touting skin care benefits, and publicity came from desk-side editor meetings with both CEOs, Borba and Kelly, as well as co-branded e-mail blasts. “The press was out of control—almost as good as my waters,” says Borba. “The opportunities it brought us were phenomenal.”

Thus, BORBA, the nutraceutical giant who introduced the world to drinkable skin care, befriended Kelly and proved that CEOs of two companies putting their heads together can be more powerful than one. “The challenge was to synergize the distribution between the two companies,” Borba says, comparing his business perspectives to that of executives at Procter & Gamble. But distribution wasn’t as much of a challenge for an earlier innovation by BORBA. In the case of the company’s agreement with Anheuser-Busch, the American beer brewer’s wholesalers began distributing and marketing BORBA Skin Balance Water to retailers in the U.S. and abroad, as well as its Aqua-Less Crystallines, to domestic retailers. Meanwhile, BORBA retained the right to sell its beverages and crystallines online and through select accounts.

In addition to its topical, cosmeceutical facial and body care lines, BORBA became a leader in the nutricosmetics industry by revolutionizing ingestible alternatives to skin care. Skin Balance Water and Crystallines complement another ingestible product, Skin Balance Confections’ Gummy Bear Boosters—nutrient-rich candies that double as dietary supplements. In addition, BORBA’s Skin Care Boosters include lip balm, lip tints, reviving mist and more—even travel versions of some products, and each product is formulated for specific skin benefits ranging from lines that clarify skin, firm skin, defy aging, and replenish nutrients and moisture.
In its alliance with Tarte, BORBA contributed to innovation in another beauty realm—that of color cosmetics. By formulating a blend of vitamins, borrowed from its skin care lines, for three Inside Out Lipstick cores and six Inside Out Lipgloss blends, BORBA ensured the end-products would perform well and provide skin care benefits. The companies combined technologies on both lip treatments—that of BORBA’s inner core, a nutraceutical cocktail of skin care properties enhanced by antioxidants, vitamins and botanicals, and Tarte’s Skinvigorating ingredients, inside an outer gel-like pigment. Borba says the products underwent rigorous quality testing of their combined technologies. “With a co-brand, if it’s not perfect, it harms both companies extensively. Therefore, the vigor of the efficacy is that much more,” he says.

A Smile like a Handshake
But Tarte’s partnership with BORBA is not the only example of co-branding from the cosmetics brand. Recently, Tarte teamed up with BriteSmile to launch a dual-sided lip gloss and teeth-whitener. Enbrightenmint, a vitamin-infused lip gloss in two shades (glittery pink and red), featuring blue undertones to complement the effects of the whitening gel, is being released in May 2008 and will be distributed online, in department stores and in BriteSmile’s spas.

“It came about on our end,” says Mezzina DiResta. “We had a great formula for a gloss that made teeth look whiter, and we were toying with the idea of pairing it with a teeth-whitener. We could have gone to the labs and researched our own teeth-whitening product, but in addition to the time constraints that research would pose, we also believed there were companies like BriteSmile who were already doing teeth-whitening so well. It just made sense to partner with a brand that already had expertise in that field.”

“After the partnership with BORBA, Tarte was looking for collaboration for 2008,” says Denise Parpard Harrison, vice president of marketing, BriteSmile. “Maureen Kelly is a big fan of our To Go pen, and she’s had her teeth whitened at BriteSmile spas. It was a natural fit.”

Mezzina DiResta says she and Kelly chose to contact BriteSmile instead of other whitening brands due to its unique product delivery system. Its portable To Go pen has a brush head that works over multiple uses. “Our gloss was able to be delivered via a brush as well,” she says. “The double-ended, brush-head pen component is incredibly portable, and neither of us had to compromise our formulas or packaging.”

A similar efficacy testing went into Tarte’s partnership with BriteSmile as it did with the BORBA project. Parpard Harrison says the companies ensured Enbrightenmint would have the same delivery as their individual parts when sold individually. Since changes in temperature and travel between facilities can affect ingredients, it was important to raise the bar with Enbrightenmint’s overall performance.

And with the launch of Enbrightenmint, BriteSmile has branched Tarte into a new field and introduced their customers to one another. “It was helpful to align ourselves with a brand that had already established itself as a credible expert in the health and wellness sector of beauty,” says Mezzina DiResta.

Consumer Loyalty
Also in the wellness sector since its debut in 2004, BORBA—similar to Tarte—has vigorously tackled the beauty industry and won. Borba himself, the entrepreneur in his 30s, stars often on QVC to discuss his journey as a business visionary, which includes his project partnerships. When the Inside Out line was launched, he even co-starred on QVC with Tarte’s Kelly.

“With every subcategory we have, we link up with the best of the best,” says Borba, who researches, singles out and pursues top competitors for a co-branding pitch. “Then I pick up the phone and call the president of a company.” Borba admits only about one in every 10 pitches work. “There’s a lot of ego involved,” he says. “You have to separate it and pull together to focus on the best end-product for the consumer.”

Ten years ago, partnerships like this would have been less effective, says Mezzina DiResta, in part due to the growth of the Internet as a cross-marketing tool since then. “Today, if you want to find out more about a company, you can get the answer with the click of a button—so if you’re familiar with Tarte and not BriteSmile, or vice versa, you can easily learn more,” she says. “On top of that, consumers aren’t nearly as brand loyal nowadays as they once were—they tend to be much savvier about what brands exist in the marketplace in general. So, whereas once a co-branded product might have been greeted with confusion, these days it’s more likely to be greeted with excitement—sort of like you’re getting two products for the price of one, which is a trend that never goes out of style.”

However, in order to set market trends, Mezzina DiResta says partnerships offering innovative brand synergy are a popular step. “I think as each ‘world’ in the beauty industry—color, skin care, fragrance, bath and body, and so on— becomes more saturated with brands filling very specific niches, we will start to see more and more crossover,” she says. “Companies are realizing that partnerships are a good way to branch out of your own area and hit a totally different customer base.”

Merging Minds
Once approved, a merger of ideas between brands leads to an extensive process of research through distribution. For BORBA’s agreement with Anheuser-Busch, Borba says it took about a year to come to fruition. “If the other founder of a company is willing to roll with PR, you can really synergize personalities in all mediums,” he says. “For QVC, as an example, my personality comes out on air, and it’s a blessing to showcase innovation and personally say why I did it.”

Borba’s personality is that of a forward-thinking entrepreneur from a small farm town in California. He thought big from the get-go, paying his way through college by strutting down catwalks as a Ford model in Calvin Klein and Versace fashion shows. After earning a dual degree in biochemistry and marketing from Santa Clara University, he even studied at Santa Clara Law School. Borba’s eventual move to Los Angeles built his career in prestige and expanded his well-rounded education firsthand. From working as a product and brand developer to a marketer, he represented Hard Candy, Neutrogena, P&G/Wella/Sebastian, Shiseido/Joico and Murad, before pursuing his solo debut.

Borba admits his business ventures have stimulated rewarding conversations of trends and industry growth. Brad Greenspan, co-founder of and former founder, CEO and chairman of eUniverse (renamed Intermix Media), agreed to help BORBA grow even further, having strategically invested more than $3 million in the brand and joined the company as a nonexecutive chairman of the board. Liberty Media Corporation, the parent company of QVC, also has invested in the brand.

While innovation has placed his company in a league of its own, it seems some of Borba’s cold calls may have planted the seeds for future collaborative efforts. “I want to continue to make the most efficacious and radically innovative products, spinning them with a luxe twist,” he says. “I want BORBA to be a household name—a lifestyle.”

As for Tarte, which has been undergoing a revamped “health couture” image this year, the company remains open to future partnerships. “We’ve recently teamed up with Sambazon, the global leader in acai distribution and the creator of the Sustainable Acai Project, which helps to promote positive change in the Amazon Rainforest,” says Mezzina DiResta. “We use its sustainable organic acai in our proprietary t5 super fruit complex. Also, since Tarte is all about health couture—where healthy beauty meets fashion-forward packaging—it’s very possible that our next collaboration may be on the fashion side.”

Parpard Harrison is pleased with BriteSmile’s partnership this year with Tarte, but she says her company is also excited about launching another innovation. “We’re coming out with a new formulation for our professional teeth-whitening gel with patented ingredients and technology,” she says. “Previously, it took 60 minutes in our spa to put on the gel and get light treatment. Now, it takes about 20 minutes.”

It seems evident from the examples of synergy between BriteSmile and Tarte, as well as BORBA’s numerous partnerships, if you have an idea to collaborate brand technologies for a new product that’s better, faster and stronger, taking a risk may pay off. Making a cold call to a CEO just may make magic—and innovation—happen.
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