Nora Schaper is the President and Co-Founder of HiBar, an eco-friendly health and wellness company that sells haircare and skincare products without any water in their products, or any plastic packaging. On this episode, we talk about her holistic approach to running a company, what she's learned in her 28 years of successful entrepreneurship, gender equality in the ecommerce industry, and much more.
Tell us all about Hello HiBar
Nora Schaper: So HiBar, we are a mission-based company. We're trying to inspire people to less dependence on single use plastic.
So we started that by redesigning personal care products. So, We started with shampoo and conditioner. There are four of us co-founders in the company, and three of us are still operating the company. So my husband is one of them, which is a unique thing to be cool starting a company with your husband.
But all four of us were parents at the same school, so we were all motivated to. Help inspire people to use less single use plastic because our children, you know, we wanna leave them a planet for the future, obviously, and we're drowning in plastic and things can be done in a better way. So we started with shampoo and conditioner.
We took the water out of a spa quality formula or a a salon quality formula. And we launched with solid salon quality shampoo and conditioner in October of 2018. And since then, you know, we're sold mostly in natural grocery stores. We also are sold online, so we have a website and we're sold on Amazon and you know, on e-commerce eco accounts as well.
Alex Bond: So, out of curiosity, do you have like any brick and mortar store?
Nora Schaper: We do not have a brick and mortar store. Just partners with retailers.
Zero Plastic Packaging
Alex Bond: You know what I'm hearing you say is that your big hook with Hi bar is that your product and it's packaging. I should also mention has zero plastic. And you kind of mentioned it a little bit, but why is that personally important to you? Because again, that is kind of like the real main hook. So why did personally you come up with that idea?
Nora Schaper: Well, that kind of all happened through a lot of reasons. I mean, mostly because having kids and you know, we're in Minnesota, which I know is landlocked.
There's no oceans here. But miss, the Mississippi River begins in Minnesota and the Mississippi River flows right down into the ocean. And you know, it's just a beautiful part of the world. There's so much water. Minnesota's called The Land of 10,000 Lakes and it's just a beautiful place.
We're really outdoorsy people. We love going in nature and we realized, you know, that basically you see plastic bottles and plastic bags, and we know that there's big garbage hole gyres of garbage in the oceans.
So to get rid of plastic and so that we can leave a beautiful world for our children and, and the next generations, and also to show people and inspire people that you can rethink the way something is done.
And solve problems. I mean, our shampooing conditioner is as good if, in fact, probably better than traditional shampooing conditioner that is in a bottle that's actually 70, 80% water.
So it's really watered down where a concentrated product or a solid product made without water, it's all effective ingredients. There's no water in there. So using it works better and it lasts longer. So really it's to leave a beautiful planet.
How they keep their products affordable
Alex Bond: No, that's cool. I mean, it's literally not diluting the product, you know? Exactly. One of the things that's interesting to me is that's my knowledge, plastic is typically used because it's the cheapest option, but you know, when I look at your website, your product still remains affordable. So how did you retain such a decent cost? While still elevating the product at the same time.
Nora Schaper: Well, that's interesting because, you know, really it's all high end ingredients too, like a, a bottle. If, if you were to bottle our product and add the water, you know, it'd be 50, $60 at a salon because of the ingredient deck.
And really we just figured out that a way to make it, we had to do a lot of exploring to figure out how to make it. I don't know why they charge so much money for the water down version, honestly, but we've figured out a way to make it efficiently, you know, on our own and we can just afford with still decent margins to sell it for a lot less money. I'm not exactly sure how we did it in that way, but it is really high-end ingredients at an affordable cost.
Alex Bond: Being an innovator, something that I have looked at and and seen in the past is anyone who's generally coming into an industry innovating on it, doing something that you're not supposed to do, or you know, breaking the mold a little bit, you might get a little flack for it.
Have you gotten any sort of flack from that health and beauty wellness sector that is saying, You know, you're making us look bad or, or anything like that from this avenue?
Nora Schaper: Surprisingly, no. You know, in fact, I think that even the other people know now.
So let me go back to kind of the history of shampoo real quick. Because shampoo and conditioner, like I said, is 80% water and it comes in a bottle. And the reason that that was, it was invented. Is because we didn't at the time that shampoo came about, people would go out to have their hair done to a barber or a salon, and they didn't have running water necessarily in their house or hot water in their house.
And so they didn't have the means to do their own shampooing. So that's when shampoo was invented so that people could do their own in their house once water, you know, before water was in their homes really, and hot water was in their homes. And so people just continued to do that. Not because it's a better way to do it, it's just because that's how they've always done it, and that's how it was introduced to them.
So by eliminating the water from the formula, we are asking people to use something they've always used in a different way, which our, our biggest challenge or our biggest pushback is really educating people on how to use a bar, which is pretty funny because you know it's you can use soap and understand how to use soap, but when shampoo comes in a bar form, it's confusing.
And it's just because it's always been in a bottle for this lifetime. But things are really changing and now you're seeing, you know, all sorts of change as far as like, Household cleaning products that are in a concentrate that you just put in your own reusable bottle and add water and then you can just continue to refill that same bottle. So it's not just in personal care where the change is happening, but utter list products are, are happening all over many industries now.
Alex Bond: You know, I'm sitting here looking at my, like, now gene bottle thinking. People will eventually grow to love this idea. I think as long as they're just not so. You know, risk averse to it, right?
You can't walk around somewhere without seeing someone, you know, you go to a gym, you go wherever you see people with a reusable bottle instead. So I can imagine how, you know, people are either using a reusable shampoo or going to something that just doesn't require any sort of, you know, container like that whatsoever. So I think it's a great idea, you know?
Nora Schaper: Yeah. And we do see the trends are all headed that direction as well. You know, all the trend reports that we're seeing are showing more and more people converting to sustainable packaging and waterless products. It's just heading up.
So we believe that in 10 years you'll walk down the aisle of your grocery store, and if you see something in a bottle, you'll be like, wow. Well that's weird. Why did that brand put it in a bottle? I haven't seen that. You know, like smoking indoors these days You used to be able to smoke anywhere. But now, yeah, now you see somebody do that.
Alex Bond: Do you actually see that as, you know, the trend changing? Or do you see it as kind of like I don't wanna say pandering, but companies that don't wanna be late to the party. We don't want to be the ones that are still using this thing because I don't know, with most innovations like that, it feels like a company can look around and be like, man, this whole industry changed overnight and we didn't even realize it.
So do you think, you know, that trend is moving in that way because companies don't want to be the last one on the train or because they actually see the difference that it can make?
Nora Schaper: I think that they're seeing the difference and honestly, I think it's consumer demand. These young people coming up, you know, we hear all the time, like the, the 14 year old in the household is saying, I don't wanna buy that Mom, don't buy that. Or Dad don't buy that. Let's buy this one and try this because they, there's climate anxiety out there that's real, especially for younger people who are seeing all this crazy, you know, weather changes and climate emergencies happening everywhere.
Health and wellness brand called Bodylish
Alex Bond: No I think that's extremely valuable. So, you know, prior to Hi Bar you were the co-founder and CEO of another holistic health and wellness brand called Bodylish. For about 20 years which, you know, you eventually sold in 2019. Can you give us a bit of background on that company as well?
Nora Schaper: Sure. And really that company led to this company. So my husband was also a founder in In Body. And high bar. So that company in part, it was 25 years because I was doing it part-time. My husband and I started that company actually before we were married.
And then we hadn't, we got married and had kids and we took turns working outside of that business in order to pay the bills and keep it going. But that business, you know, we were making soaps and bath bombs. And we were selling them to the natural food markets and we realized through that, hey, why are we packaging all this stuff we can make, we can reformulate things not to need a package.
And that's kind of where it all began. That job, that business, you know what, we had over 25 different products and you know, after having a company for that many years, we kind of lost focus. I would say we. We were really great about our ingredient choice and what products we were making. Like we were careful about that, but we still had so many products and so many different components to keep it going.
It just got complicated. It was such a relief in a way too, to come into High Bar with the mission, because having the mission, we really use that as a filter for every piece of our business. Like even down to the employees we hired down to, like we've modified equipment in our warehouse. In order to be sustainable in order to meet our mission, you know, so we have the nation's only water activated box tape sealer.
So we modified. So these are the boxes that just, you just run 'em through this machine and it tapes 'em for you? Well, we had to modify that machine to take water so that we wouldn't use plastic tape. We model five machines. We have our pallet wrap. Is biodegradable pallet wrap. And so we had to modify our pallet wrapper to accommodate the size of this biodegradable pallet wrap.
And then we created communication. You know, that we stick on the pallet to say, this is, this can be composted, so save it and compost it. We just run everything through the filter, even our shipping, we decided to go with USPS, United State Postal Service because they rock the same route every day.
We didn't wanna go with, you know, deliveries where they're driving the van to each house because that's worse on the, on the fuels and the carbon output. And so we really like run everything through the filter.
Alex Bond: No, that's great. So I mean, it sounds like you even conscientiously picked places that, or picked every single facet of the conception to the packaging, to the distribution.
What would be the most environmentally friendly?
Nora Schaper: Yep. And we continue to, I try to improve and honestly it's employees too that bring ideas and they say, well, we could try it this way and that would reduce this. And we're like, wow, that's amazing. So once you kind of get down that road, you know, it's easy to have more ideas and bring improvement.
Alex Bond: That's awesome. I mean I was gonna say, with that sort of experience and kind of a similar aspect I was very interested in hearing how, you know, 20 years in that led to this and what you learned from that. And I think, you know, there is very little that has more value. In terms of learning than the experience than actually doing. So I think that's awesome.
Nora Schaper: It's true. So now, it was just my husband and I in that company and I, you know, ran the production and my husband was, was helping formulate and now my husband formulates for this company and I had sales in part because, you know, I had experience talking to the natural market and I had contacts naturally, and you kind of know like the format.
So without that experience previously, you know, really we wouldn't know how to do this, which it really helps to have a little bit of knowledge. I still don't think I really know what I'm doing. Does anybody really know what they're doing?
What she learned from Bodylish acquisition
Alex Bond: So, you know the company was eventually sold. How did you approach that acquisition process and and what did you learn from that?
Nora Schaper: Oh, that was such a great learning experience too. So it was a different company as far as you know, how big we were as well. It was a much smaller company than High Bar has turned into. But we started, we had both companies for a while and we were trying to do both hi bar, build up, hi bar and do body.
Honestly, Hibar started in our basement cause that's where we had the body studio. So we were even having scheduling conflicts between businesses. So at that point, my husband and I were like, okay, it's time to just focus on Hi Bar. And so we did it because of the timing and everything. We decided to reach out to a broker, reached out to a local broker, and he helped, you know, find interest for us.
And that was really fascinating. Of course, that business we had, we thought, well it was a great name for the company. We thought that was a fantastic name, and so we really thought, wow, this has gotta be worth, you know, a lot of money to have the name, you know, and own that website.
But really what it boiled down to is we got paid basically for the amount of revenue we made in a year is basically how it leveled out. And to be honest, in that business, we had a lot of debt. And so we really didn't end up making very much money, you know, in fact, very little money. We were just happy to make any money.
But really that business, you know, it took so long to build up and it was a great business and we loved it. And we expected that we were gonna make some good money. But that's not how it panned out, but the experience with worth millions.
Alex Bond: And it also sounds like the major benefit, was it freed up your time to work on something that it seems to, you had more legs, had a better execution, better mission.
Exactly. So think that's what the real benefit sounded like to me, is sometimes it's nice to just, you know, cut it off. Then and move on because it's requiring so much more it time than you're willing to give it or able to?
Nora Schaper: In a fresh slate, you know, starting fresh when, when you have knowledge and experience it, it's like you start at a different level.
And so that was really great. And, and honestly, our CEO, his name is Ward. And Ward had pet food company prior to this that he even had manufacturing and patents on his process, and he built it up and sold it, and I actually found out that he'd sold that company. And I tracked him down in the school parking lot because I knew what a smart business man he was.
And I was like, would you consult with me and my husband on body list? So that's how we got him into the mix is he started consulting on and he was like, he said, what's your why? And we said, well, we think we can eliminate plastic. And he was like, wow, really? I need to be part of that. So when we started working with him is when we decided, okay, let's start over.
Let's create a new company, a new name. It was getting too complicated to figure out what was gonna be what and then it was about another year before we sold it. Took us a while to kind of get that up and running. Actually, it was more than a year. It's probably two and a half years or so.
So we started working on Hi Bar and then we started having conflicts with the studio in the basement and, and trying to get it all done in a day. And then we moved forward with selling.
Alex Bond: Well it sounded like that that meeting with him was, did you say his name was Ward was pretty helpful?
Nora Schaper: Oh, it was amazing. And I think that's where I was going with that. Like his experience, his company it was called, so Joe's the pet food company. And he sold to a big company called Well pet, his experience in figuring out manufacturing. And growing and scaling a company, it's been so beneficial to this company.
And then Jay and I having experience in the personal care area and in health food, you know, and in co-ops and natural stores was super helpful. And then Jay being able to formulate. But that, going back to what you had said earlier, like innovation often comes from outside of the industry. So Jay is not a chemist.
He's a potter. He does ceramics art, and he grew up on a farm. And so he knows how to, like, he fools around with you know, glazes he had formulated for body in different soaps. And so he knew a little bit about ingredients. But really it's because he's outside of the industry that he was able to break all the rules and come up with such an amazing formula for HiBar.
Nora's eCommerce journey
Alex Bond: When looking at your professional experience, it seems kind of like you started a bit out of nowhere. And then it ran successfully for 20 years. You know, it's not like, you know, no disrespect, obviously. I mean, you had a lot of experience in, I think it was like wealth management and insurance and communications and just general business. And then a company for 20 years, so I guess my question is, how did you find success running that company with what seemed like little solo entrepreneurship experience up until that point?
Nora Schaper: Well, you know, I think an entrepreneur is really somebody who keeps getting back up even after they get knocked over. I don't know. You know, a lot of it is just persistence and for me, you know, like I had said at the beginning, a real nature person. And I loved to be outside and I was a mom at the time, and I felt a little bit like a poser in the corporate world. You know, I could do it, but it didn't feel, it didn't feed my wanting to make a difference.
Alex Bond: It's kinda like code switching a little bit.
Nora Schaper: Yeah. It felt really good to do my side gig and I really prioritized it even though I, you know, we didn't make very much money with most of it goes back into the company when you're growing a company, you know, and even at Hi Bar, you know, we're the lowest paid people in the company.
It's like, we're not here to make money. We're here to grow this business and make a difference in the world. So the corporate thing, I could do it, but I sure was glad to go out on my own and really that was my motivation and also the flexibility, you know, to be raising kids when you're doing your own thing is a lot easier. I could bring 'em with me if I had to, so that was a motivator for me as well.
eCommerce industry changes over the years
Alex Bond: You know, in that amount of time, 26 years between, you know, now and, and the beginning, how have you seen the e-commerce industry change or evolve in that time?
Nora Schaper: Oh wow. Yeah. I can't believe how much has changed. I mean, when we started, the only way you could really get in front of people was like at a farmer's market. And now Instagram and TikTok are such amazing marketing vehicles, so that has changed tremendously. I mean, when we started, there weren't even cell phones. Well, there was, I remember I had a car phone that came in like a suitcase. It came in a suitcase and yeah. Yeah, things have really changed.
Alex Bond: And you know, just in kind of how you talk about how you've navigated, you know, innovating without plastic, the way you approached Ward, I mean, for the lack of being pejorative. It feels more like an old school mentality where it's like, I got an idea. We try it and we innovate. It doesn't work. We just figure out a way.
Compared to, I know a lot of entrepreneurs who while I see a lot of value in it, don't get me wrong, go to a bunch of like networking seminars and are on boards and pretty much immerse themselves in e-commerce so that they can do YouTube videos, learn from YouTube videos, and just kind of are using all this auxiliary knowledge that's easily at our access, at our fingertips.
Right. But it sounds like the way that you did it was head down, do it, you know, and just keep figuring it out, which I respect because I don't know, I feel like the only way to actually see if it works is to try it out a few times. Like we can research and plan as much as we want to, but I do think that there is no real replacement for successfully failing, if that makes any sense.
Nora Schaper: Right. I think you're right. And for me, honestly, you know, I don't have the tech skills that I see, you know, my kids or younger, younger employees have like, I wish I was better at it because I do think it's highly valuable, but the amount of time it would take me to get, you know, fluent on some of the technology is like, it's too big of a beast for me to take on and, and it's easier for me to just, you know, keep doing what I'm doing or try different things.
Women in the eCommerce industry
Alex Bond: No, that's cool. And it does also sound like. You surround yourself with people who fill in those different puzzle pieces. So I always respect someone who's willing to say, I'm not good at this thing, so I need to find someone who is, you know?
I've kind of seen differing statistics on the internet with a little bit of research about gender demographics in the e-commerce industry. One article that I read said essentially, 61% of e-commerce owners are women. While another one I found said that 56% are male, and I've keep finding these different numbers and different statistics.
So from your experience, do you feel that e-commerce is more male or female dominated, or is it really not even that binary as maybe other industries are?
Nora Schaper: So we consider ourselves a beauty company because we are salon quality or spa quality for our face wash and. I would say from our numbers, it's 85% women that are purchasing from our site. I think it's still women from the beauty perspective. Anyway, that's just my ex my experience, so I think you're right. I think those that data is right. I do think it's mostly women that are the purchasers.
Alex Bond: That are the purchasers. What do you think about the owners? Because that's kinda where I've seen a lot of disparity in the ownership. So just to expound a little bit, I thought about it and I think that I'd love to get your opinion on it. In other industries, wage inequality has been notable with women.
You know, sometimes infamously getting paid less, and do you think that the more equal gender demographics of something like e-commerce is a result of more women entering this space and starting their own businesses to bypass these potential wage gaps in other industries.
Nora Schaper: Well, that makes a lot of sense. You know, and I also think part of what I was saying earlier, you know, this is just my experience, but for me, having my own thing so I could have flexibility with the kids is huge. I mean, in my corporate job, if I had a sick kid, you know, I had to find somebody to cover the sick kid cause I can't miss work.
Whereas when your own thing, you know, you can just handle the sick kid and handle work at the same time, which maybe with Covid and they're being more flexibility at work from home. That solved that problem for some people. But for me, the flexibility was such a big piece of it. More than the money.
You know, the statistics still show like I'm the company president, you know, there aren't very many women in at C level in companies. There's still way fewer, and I just read, I think finally in the top companies in the nation now it's up to 10% women in the C-suite.
So 10% that is not that much. So, women being in these positions is still an opportunity, you know, for growth. And I have heard, you know, in fact, I just watched Shark Tank the other day and one of the sharks said, I can't remember which one it was now, but he said, all the businesses that I've invested in that are run by women are profitable.
And, you know, those are the ones I'm making the most money on. The person that was being interviewed or for the Shark Tank was like, well, it was a woman that, she's like, yeah. So I do think there is something to women being good business managers. I'm not saying, you know, men are good too, but women aren't being given as many opportunities to do it.
Alex Bond: No, that's a great answer. And you know, I've also seen infamously that the tech industry has been pretty famous for being a male dominated industry in the past while I think there have been some changes to it the tech one is, is big one that jumps out at me.
And, you know, since e-commerce is practically tech meets finance, do you feel that you've had to deal with any sort of adversity as a woman in this space that. Maybe men might not face? Or is that not even a factor honestly?
Nora Schaper: I have experienced, experienced that too much. But I have been in meetings where, you know, I go, my partners are men. And if you go in with a partner, they assume that's the person leading the company, even though it could be me, generally, the conversation goes to the man first, but I don't think that, well, and another example is that I'm also, I've worked with a coach a little bit to help me present my ideas in to my, you know, partners that are men in more of a way that can be heard, heard better.
So my approach is very generally feminine and I'm working on approaching it, you know, just a little bit different way. And I think that what I mean by feminine is that maybe I'm not as confident or I don't know quite what it is, but. So I'm just trying to like you know, one of the things I do is I physically put my hands on the table and try to be more commanding is maybe the word I'm looking for, but to really make sure that I'm being heard, cause I don't always feel heard in some of those conversations.
But I think that's on me. You know, like I think it's on anybody who's interacting with somebody else to learn the methods that are gonna get through to them. You just have to be aware and then try to improve your approach is when you're faced with something that you're not sure how to handle.
Alex Bond: And I totally agree. I think that there is actually, you know, a lot of value to knowing all of your options and ways to navigate essentially when I'm trying to speak with someone, sell my idea. I just think of sales automatically, and it's like sometimes your audience would benefit and you would benefit more from being assertive versus say like a soft sell where, where it's kind of like, Hey, I got this idea right.
I'd love to hear your opinion on it where that, that's kind of what I'm hearing when you say feminine is, is kind of more of a soft approach versus kind of maybe an assertive approach. And I think there's totally value in both because you're, you're meeting so many different complex people every day.
I could imagine that. There is a huge benefit of actually going to a coach. I think everyone should, should be able to, because I bet there's some men out there that probably don't know how to soft sell. They're just used to convincing people that my idea's the best, or something like that.
And there are women who probably do that too, and I'm just saying it's a lot more complex than how we, I might be pigeonholing it. And I think there's a lot of value in an entrepreneur or a business owner going to a coach and saying, hey, I feel like I'm not being heard. What can I do different?
Nora Schaper: Yeah. And you know, with only 10% of women being in the C-suite in our nation, there is un people are not aware of some of the biases that they might have.
So as more women are entering the tech field and, and other fields, everybody's gonna have to learn a new way of communicating with each other cause you know, it really is a different approach.