Sekhmet Ventures Grows It's Clean Beauty and Wellness Portfolio by Backing Fragrance Brand Heretic

By Rachel Brown.  This article originally appeared on Beauty Independent on April 23, 2019.

Sekhmet Ventures, a venture capital firm specializing in clean beauty and wellness, has invested in the boundary-busting natural fragrance brand Heretic.

The amount of the firm’s investment wasn’t disclosed, but it injects startups with on average $500,000 to $1.5 million in seed funding, and accelerates their business through its technological, financial, marketing, wholesale, production and supply chain capabilities, among other functions. Following its support of superfood ingestible brand Stamba, Sekhmet Ventures’ investment in Heretic heightens its presence in the clean beauty and wellness field.

“What is wonderful about Heretic is because it’s using handcrafted essential oils and absolutes, it’s actually gone back to processes that were used by perfumers years ago before we had synthetics. In a way, it’s brought back the art of perfume making from an era where there was nothing but organic and natural products, but it’s doing it in a very fun fashion,” says Sekhmet Ventures founding partner Barbara Paldus. “We wanted something in our portfolio with a sense of humor, and we want revolutionary companies. Heretic is true to its name.”

Founded by Douglas Little, who blazed onto the fragrance scene in 2003 with candle brand D.L. & Co., Heretic set out to be the opposite of a crunchy green brand. Its marketing oozes sexuality, and the gender-transcending brand established itself as a premium player at the start by launching exclusively at Barneys New York in 2015 with eight fragrances. Since then, Heretic has kept its distribution tight. It’s currently available at Barneys New York, Credo, Tigerlily, Goop and Twisted Lily in the U.S., and plans to extend outside the U.S. this year to Liberty London prior to heading to Italy and Australia.

“To me, a very interesting aspect of Sekhmet was that they are focused on super clean wellness brands. I’m looking to bring something new to the health and wellness segment of the market.”

Today, Heretic’s collection encompasses a dozen fragrances, each offering twists on classic conventions. Released in 2018, Dirty Rose couples rose de mai and damask rose absolutes with citrusy bergamot, spicy pink pepper and juicy apricot notes. Dirty Lemon, a fragrance with zesty lemon, bergamot, lime, sandalwood, juniper and black pepper notes, was also released last year along with imagery of two lemons resembling breasts and one pierced. Within 30 days of its release online, 2,200 units of Dirty Lemon were snapped up. Little says, “It really proved to me that there was a great deal of interest in a new voice and provocative take on clean beauty.”

Little describes Dirty Grass, a fragrance sold at Credo and shipping May 2 from Heretic’s website, as the brand’s most controversial fragrance yet. It contains 150 milligrams of CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis ingredient that’s paired with vetiver in the scent. “A friend of mine gave me a small jar of pure hemp-derived CBD resin. I opened that jar up, and it totally blew my mind. The aroma profile was so unique and complicated. It has a distinctive cut grass and musky animalic note to it,” says Little. “I wanted to play with it and see if I could build a fragrance around the CBD that was unique and different. The concept of the fragrance having the effects of CBD was secondary.”

While the effects of CBD were secondary in the development of Dirty Grass, the fragrance designed to deliver the benefits of the ingredient transdermally pushes Heretic in a therapeutic direction that it will increasingly dive into. Paldus mentions the brand can broaden beyond traditional liquid fragrances in bottles as it expands in the wellness arena, and Little explains he decided to partner with Sekhmet Ventures because he believes the firm can assist Heretic in strengthening its wellness positioning.

“What we try to do is fund a company through cash flow break-even. A cash flow-positive company doesn’t need to take funding, and it can be more strategic about whether to take funding and who to take it from.”

“I have been looking for a partner that could come in and work with me from the wellness side of things. To me, a very interesting aspect of Sekhmet was that they are focused on super clean wellness brands. I’m looking to bring something new to the health and wellness segment of the market,” says Little, emphasizing he was cautious about entering a partnership due to a previous experience with a financial backer at D.L. & Co. He exited the brand after disagreeing with the financial backer Jan Rosen, now owner of the company, on growth strategies. Heretic’s deal with Sekhmet Ventures puts Little in the driver’s seat. On top of his role at Heretic, he collaborates with Goop on its fragrances.

“We absolutely want to have Douglas not only be comfortable, but feel like he has been empowered through this investment. We are the support team. We are there to provide him with connections and resources. We fully share his vision,” says Paldus. She adds that the challenges facing Heretic as it expands is to sort through the wellness angles that make sense for the brand and scale it while maintaining quality. Paldus shares its sales have been doubling quarterly.

Sekhmet Ventures has recruited a number of advisors to guide rising clean beauty and wellness brands like Heretic, including Dianne Vavra, founder of Spotlight Beauty PR and former senior vice president of press relations at Dior Beauty, Jacqueline Kissenpfennig, an international marketing and brand development consultant previously in training and marketing positions at Crabtree & Evelyn and La Prairie, Kerry Whorton Cooper, president and COO of Rothy’s, and e-commerce consultant Jenny Skinner Robinson, former vice president of digital marketing and e-commerce for Tatcha. Sara Kaur, former CFO at Finesse Solutions, recently joined the firm as CFO.

Should Heretic secure series A and B funding rounds, Sekhmet Ventures “is definitely going to invest,” according to Paldus. However, she says it may not require future rounds. Paldus elaborates, “What we try to do is fund a company through cash flow break-even. A cash flow-positive company doesn’t need to take funding, and it can be more strategic about whether to take funding and who to take it from. Once you are profitable, they know you don’t need the money, and it completely changes the way you can do a term sheet.”

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