Vol. 127 - NO. 39

Blog Startup CPG

SINCE 2019

Founder Friday Feature:
Jolynn Henke of Protéger

Meet Protéger: the brand on a mission to become the white t-shirt of skincare

“Protéger was inspired by motherly love,” Jolynn Henke explains. “My mother was diagnosed with ALS several years ago, which is a neurodegenerative disease. It impacts your ability to talk, walk, and eventually breathe, and it’s 100% fatal. At the time, I was working an incredibly demanding job as a healthcare consultant. I remember when I flew in to see my mom over the weekend. It was 9 pm on a Saturday and we were watching a movie together, and I was deep in my inbox pounding out emails. I looked up at one point when I could take a breath, and I realized what I was sacrificing. I had this important, precious time with my mom, and I was sacrificing that for being on my computer and doing my job.”

Jolynn decided to quit her job and devote herself to taking care of her mom. During this time, she says, “Our greatest bonding ritual was what she called ‘spa day,’ which is essentially a very positive spin on a sponge bath. It was a time when I could wash her hair, take care of her body, and nourish her skin. And it was a privilege to be able to do that.”

“The experience of caring for my mom and having my hands become her hands, connected me to my ability to care for myself. It highlighted how incredible of a gift it is to have the autonomy to do it myself. It was such a life-changing experience for me, and it shifted my focus entirely.”

For these spa day rituals, Jolynn’s close family friend, Peter Clarkson, began sending Jolynn and her mother personal care products that, as a model, he used himself for his head-to-toe skin health. Throughout this period, Peter and Jolynn began lamenting the overabundance of products on the market. “70% of beauty consumers feel overwhelmed by too many product choices,” Jolynn explains. “That’s what I felt when I was helping my mom, and that’s how Peter felt when he was trying to help his skin as a model. This is a cost on our time, our wallet, and the environment, and there’s a better way to do this. That’s how the concept of Protéger was born: we wanted to create fewer products that do more.”

The development process

As they began dreaming up Protéger, Jolyn and Peter’s vision was clear. “We want to become the white t-shirt of skincare. We wanted to create something essential, minimalist, and versatile, and a staple that simplifies your day.”

From this vision, Jolynn and her co-founder began the long development process. “We realized that brands typically launch with a full product line because they’re white labeling formulas. They buy a formula and then they slap their brand on it. We wanted to create first-of-its-kind products that don’t add to the noise, and as a result, that process is much more lengthy.”

Once they settled on an initial formula, Jolynn and Peter began testing their product in the market. “We did a perception study with about 40 or 50 people. We sent them samples and asked them to track their daily progress. Do they like the texture, the scent? We wanted to collect feedback and then iterate on the formula.”

After countless iterations, they landed on a formula and turned their attention to the bottle itself. For Jolynn and Peter, the design of the bottle was just as important as the formula inside it. “We needed the aesthetic to match the quality, and we knew that if something could not be proudly displayed on a bathroom countertop, it was going to be put in a drawer and go unused.  Typically, conscious skincare brands go towards earth tones. We wanted to do something different that was modern, sleek, and minimalist. We created our logo and then we ended up partnering with the lead designer of Aston Martin [for the rest.] We wanted to offer a unisex product that someone would proudly display and gravitate towards every day.” Finally, with their design and formula locked and loaded, Protéger officially launched with their flagship face and body product, Dermal Sérum, in 2021.

Getting Protéger into customer’s hands and onto their skin

“What we’ve realized as first-time founders is that there is no silver bullet. We have to experiment and get creative and do what it takes to get this in the hands of people.” Since the skincare market is so competitive, Jolynn explains, they’ve leveraged unconventional ways to reach prospective customers. “The versatility of our product means that we can promote outside of the traditional skincare space. Our formula leaves the skin with a satin finish so some customers started using it on their hands post-manicure. This led us to collaborate with not only nail salons but also jewelers who offer Dermal Sérum before clients try on jewelry. Expectant moms have raved about Dermal Sérum reducing stretch marks and calming their expanding skin, so we started contacting pregnancy circles and baby registries. We’ve seen makeup artists use Dermal Sérum as a primer on clients so we started gifting products to makeup artists.”

Jolynn and her co-founder have also had to get creative when it comes to User Generated Content (UGC). She explains, “As a bootstrapped brand, budgeting for [UGC] has been hard. Rather than compensating for UGC, we reached out to our most passionate users—those who’ve purchased multiple times and shared written reviews — and offered them a complimentary bottle of Dermal Sérum in exchange for a short video testimonial. With one message, 45% of these loyal customers shared their love for our product. This strategy not only saved resources but amplified genuine endorsements.”

Working with retailers and finding their niche

Jolynn and Peter also recognize the importance of getting Protéger on retail shelves, but without an educated staff, Jolynn says, their product won’t go anywhere. “We try to establish a relationship with the staff at our retailers After we secure a retailer, we send them a two-minute video explaining our product. It’s a personalized video, so the buyer can take that video and present it to their staff. And we interact on social media and via email, checking in and asking if they have questions. We also always say we’re available via text if the staff has questions.”

Protéger’s niche is “eco-luxury,” Jolynn explains. “[Protéger] is at the crossroads of sustainability and prestige. We’re looking for apothecaries and boutique retailers, and in the future, we’d love to partner with places like The Detox Market or Credo Beauty. In addition to retailers, we also want to make sure that our products are in the hands of industry tastemakers. One exciting achievement is that Linda Wells, the founder of Allure, said that of the 1000s of products she’s experimented with throughout her career, Dermal Sérum is considered one of her must-haves”

“In the skincare space, we want to lead a shift to where luxury meets minimalism. We’re determined to help declutter not only the physical space of bathroom countertops and cosmetic bags but also the mental space that’s occupied by an overabundance of products. Ultimately, we don’t need all these products, and we want to offer reliable yet luxurious products that make life simpler.”

Jolynn’s proudest moments as a founder

“When we launched, it was a month after my mom passed. So it was a way for me to come full circle on my journey with her. It was a real moment where I could I could be a brand founder, and I could also process my grief in the same breath. [My mom] is on every product. She was a beekeeper so we put a little bee on the bottom of each box.”

“More generally, I’m proud of our customer reviews. Skincare is so personal. You apply it at home, in your bathroom, on your bare skin. So to have an average store rating of five stars, mostly from people I’ve never met before, is a real honor. We’ve had 18-year-olds reach out to us and say that we help help their acne. We’ve had postpartum moms say that they never had a stretch mark because they were applying dermal serum every day. We’ve had those same mothers say that we’ve helped relieve their children’s keratosis polaris. We’ve had husbands say that they never liked skincare and now they’re stealing their wives. I see skin as the canvas of our health, so my proudest moments are helping people achieve their best and healthiest skin.”

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