Never manufacture a product until you have a purchase order. Case in point: For years I’d been working on a line named Caviar & Diamond because it contains those two rare ingredients that are incredibly good for the skin. I went into full production mode without a single purchase order, and it came back to bite me at the bank.
As a part of our series called “Celebrity Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vince Spinnato.
Cosmetic chemist and “certified nose” Vince Spinnato began his career in the personal care, cosmetic and fine fragrance industries nearly 30 years ago. As president and CEO of TurnKey Beauty, Inc., VS Vincenzo Ltd., Inc., Aegean Skincare, LLC and Vincenzo Skincare, LLC, Spinnato has formulated and developed hundreds of products for skin and hair care, color cosmetics, bath & body as well as fine fragrances for celebrities Jennifer Lopez, Judy Garland and the Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald. He has refined and developed cutting-edge technology for over 300 name brands including Chanel, Estee Lauder, Proctor & Gamble, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
While most boys my age were outside throwing balls around, I preferred to play with my sister and watch the soaps with my beloved Grandmother Serra. Our favorites were The Young and the Restless whose characters owned a cosmetics business and Dynasty. Both “families” lived lavish lifestyles and I became obsessed.
By age ten, I had decided on a career in the beauty industry and would try to formulate perfumes and even named them. I never veered from that path and named my company, VS Vincenzo, a combination of my first and last names in Italian. It’s a name I retain today.
At age 20, I struck out from New Jersey to Beverly Hills to find fame and fortune. Let’s just say the fame came very slowly and I’m still waiting for the fortune! There were many, many bumps in the road that I shared in my memoir My Pursuit of Beauty: A Cosmetic Chemist Reveals The Glitz, The Glam and the Bat*shit Crazy.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I read a book about Coco Chanel when I was fifteen and fell in love with her fearless determination to succeed. She was a pioneer and trend setter and became one of the first women to achieve success by creating comfortable attire which freed women up from WWI-era form fitting clothing. She became my idol and role model. A fun fact: at that time, fair complexions were deemed the height of beauty but when Coco went to San Tropez and noticed everyone tanning on the beach, she popularized the trend.
Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I “came out” as gay when I was in the eleventh grade and since I knew I would never have kids, I wanted to create a company that would carry on my family’s rich history. What better way than to try and make sure that VS Vincenzo skin care lines would stand the test of time like Baccarat, Tiffany, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Chanel.
There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
As a cosmetic chemist, I make it a habit to talk with the 40 or 50 suppliers who I work with throughout the year. It’s the best way I have to learn about new technology, ingredients and trends coming down the pike. It could be sap from a tree in the Amazon or nectar from an exotic flower that might translate into ground-breaking new products.
Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?
The simplest way is to ask Mr. Google! But obviously, you can’t stop there. The most important step to see if someone else has gotten a patent or a trademark is to do a free search through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. There are even YouTube tutorials showing you how to do it.
Big ideas happen all the time. The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce is staging a year-long celebration to honor the 100th anniversary of the famous Hollywood sign and I’ve been asked to create two fragrances, Sunrise and Sunset. They’ll be included in the gift bags presented to the stars honored on the 2024 Walk of Fame when they get their stars. Thirty-one luminaries from film, live theater, TV, the recording industry, and sports will be honored, including one of my early celebrity clients, Gwen Stefani, as well as Dr. Dre, Def Leppard, Toni Braxton, Michelle Yeoh and Billie Jean King. They dreamed up other innovative plans such as placing small Hollywood sign replicas around the city for selfie moments.
Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?
Through the years, I’ve had several significant mentors, but without a doubt, cosmetic chemist Marie Ardita made the biggest impact on my life. She took me under her wing and taught me how to develop complex formulas in the arenas of haircare, skincare, bath and beauty, over the counter products, and even baby and pet products. Equally important, she taught me the real-world skills I needed to run a business, like marketing, packaging, sales and leadership. She continues to be one of my closest friends.
For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea, until it finally landed in consumers’ hands? In particular we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.
When clients come to TurnKey Beauty with an idea for a product, I give them a Product Development/Process and Procedures document that outlines all the steps necessary from concept to delivery. Since we’re a “one stop” shop and include development, testing services and manufacturing for the Personal Care Industry, clients don’t need to worry about filing for a patent or distribution. We handle the whole ball of wax.
The process begins with sourcing and purchasing the raw materials to start formulating samples of the product. Once a sample is approved, we move to building a marketing story, then to sourcing packaging and producing the documentation required before it can hit the market. After we receive purchase orders, we begin manufacturing which takes three to four months. There are too many steps post-production to name here, but suffice it to say, it’s not an overnight process!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Growing up, I was an avid viewer of The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson and Late Night with David Letterman. Both frequently featured a woman named Juliette who created “kitchen cosmetics” using ingredients found at home. She also owned a beauty salon in Beverly Hills that sold her all-natural products. I was determined to work for her to learn the ropes and even called her from the road.
As soon as I pulled into Beverly Hills, I drove to her shop. “I’m the one who called earlier and want to work for you,” I said. She looked at me like I was crazy and told me she wasn’t hiring. “I know that,” I told her, “but I’ll be here tomorrow morning at nine o-clock.”
I worked at Juliette’s shop for free for a year, determined to learn the cosmetic industry, no matter what it took. To survive, I lived off credit cards, which eventually backfired. But that’s another story.
It paid off by giving me superior on-the-job training and she even let me sell my own white label products that are created by specific companies to be sold under new names like VS Vincenzo, what else!
Lesson learned: Be willing to do whatever necessary to learn all you can about the career you want.
The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?
Half-way through my career when I was consulting, I met a woman named Ashley, a rock star in the business, who was a supplier to the beauty industry specializing in packaging design, manufacturing and formulation for the mass market. Since I wanted to create products for myself, she asked me if I was interested in a partnership. Was I! The deal was, I would help her build her brand first, then we’d turn the attention to mine. Only one problem: I was doing all the work setting up our joint venture while she made me her confidante and complained endlessly about her marriage problems while having an affair. Finally, her husband imploded, but instead of blaming Ashley, he blamed me, and I was literally locked out of the business I had created. She even refused to take my phone calls.
I lost a fortune in the venture and made up my mind that I’d never work for anyone else again. That’s when I opened my own lab and production facility, and despite some hard times, I never, ever went to work for anyone else.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Never manufacture a product until you have a purchase order. Case in point: For years I’d been working on a line named Caviar & Diamond because it contains those two rare ingredients that are incredibly good for the skin. I went into full production mode without a single purchase order, and it came back to bite me at the bank.
- Make sure all the ingredients are clean and sustainable.
- Use only FDA approved ingredients.
- Have a massive amount of marketing dollars in place.
- Have a strategic plan for getting the word out on social media — essential in today’s retail market.
Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?
Focus on similar products you love and have used. What ingredients do they contain? What technology is needed to produce your product? Is it feasible?
I’ll give you an example. A potential client came in asking for help with developing a line of baby products representing signs of the zodiac by adding crushed wood, earth and metal to correspond with the month. Since the FDA prohibits putting foreign elements into baby products, the idea was dead on arrival.
On the other hand, good ideas can come to fruition with persistence. The Queen of Jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, is one of my all-time favorite singers and after the success of my fragrance Judy (named after the incomparable Judy Garland), I decided I wanted to develop one for Ella. It took me six months to get ahold of her estate and permission to use her name. But once I approached them, they were all in and wanted the fragrance to launch alongside the Broadway show about her life that’s debuting in 2024. It turned out just the way I imagined, with bottom notes that have hints of tobacco and leather rounded out by top notes of blood orange, dark orchid and coriander, reminiscent of her velvety voice and sultry music.
There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?
Of course, people can strike out on their own, but here’s a warning: 80 % give up before their invention comes to fruition. My unequivocal advice is hire a consultant who has an excellent track record about bringing products to market.
What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?
Bootstrapping is fine if you have the time and the resources but be prepared for a long slow build. You need time to let the business grow. Venture capital can definitely get your invention on the market sooner but be careful about how much of your business you’re willing to give up. Most important, make sure you don’t lose majority control.
Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Both my father and grandfather were accomplished musicians and I couldn’t think of a better way to honor them than to establish scholarships in their names at my alma mater, Vineland High School in New Jersey. I named it The Professor Enrico Serra & Vincent Spinnato Sr. Scholarship and winners receive $20,000 over four years. I travel to New Jersey annually to present the awards to students who major in music, dance, theater, or fine arts.
Another pet project is funding water wells in Uganda through Wells of Life that builds one well at a time and has impacted more than 1 million people.
I also volunteer with the Wounded Warrior and take my service dogs to visit wounded veterans.
You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’d want it to be something I knew about firsthand like the bullying I received during my entire childhood. The key is to create a self-esteem movement that focuses on cyber bullying and the false idea that everyone ELSE is beautiful/handsome/smart except you. Young teenage girls are particularly vulnerable. Any why not? On a daily basis, they’re exposed to thousands of videos on social media. The “influencers” have perfect hair, perfect lips, perfect figures, and stylish clothes. The problem is: most are fake. So called “travel influencers” use the handle of a large detergent bottle to mimic the window of a plane and describe their fabulous vacations from their bedrooms. They photo shop their pictures to look glamorous and slim. “Fashionistas” take selfies in designer clothing that don’t belong to them.
A lot of these fake perceptions are tied to the beauty industry, and what better group to tackle the issue than us? We need to figure out a way to counter the trend.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
That’s an easy one: Leonard Lauder who took over the Estee Lauder Companies after his mother’s death. He created the company’s first R&D lab and acquired brands like MAC, Bobbi Brown, and Aveda. He and his brother, Ronald, are also major philanthropists. I’d love to have an opportunity to pick his brain on how to succeed in the beauty business.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Celebrity Inventors: Vince Spinnato On How To Go From Idea To Launch was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.