Topicals Founder on Pitching Venture-Capital Investors With Confidence

  • Olamide Olowe is the founder and CEO of Topicals, which makes products for chronic skin conditions.
  • On Thursday, Topicals announced a $10 million Series A round led by venture-capital firm CAVU.
  • Olowe gives her advice for building investors with confidence as a Black female founder.

Olamide Olowe started his skincare brand after growing up with chronic skin conditions like boils and ingrown hairs. These issues are not usually discussed by his colleagues or medical professionals, he said.

“I grew up feeling really isolated and spent a lot of time going to dermatologists and primary care doctors trying to find treatment,” Olowe told Insider. “I’m not getting results and I really don’t understand why.”

In college, Olowe learned that people of color are not only underrepresented in the skincare industry but are also largely missing from clinical trials and research.

“People with darker skin are less educated and less understood when it comes to formulation for prescription or over-the-counter products,” she says.

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Driven to change both industry and beauty standards, she founded Topicals in 2020, when she was 23 years old, after graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her company makes skincare products for chronic conditions that can be difficult to treat and contribute to low self-esteem.

Topicals announced Thursday a $10 million Series A funding round led by venture-capital firm CAVU, which invests in consumer-product brands such as Beyond Meat and Oatly. This brings Topicals’ total funding to $14.8 million.

Here’s how Olowe is pitching investors with confidence.

Building confidence

Topics launched with $2.6 million in seed funding, which hasn’t been easy for Olowe. As of last year, only 93 Black female founders had raised $1 million or more in venture capital, according to ProjectDiane, a biennial report on the state of Black and Latina women founders by the organization Digitaludivided.

“It took me about two years and probably close to a hundred pitches to get funding,” he said.

Maybe the process would have gone faster if she wasn’t young, Black, and female, but it taught her how to build confidence, she added.

A post shared by TOPICALS (@topicals)

“I learned very quickly, at age 23, when I first raised capital how to assert myself and talk about my business in a way that no one else could get through,” he says. “I go into every room. I know what I’m talking about.”

More importantly, she doesn’t let the funding statistics for Black female founders drive her crazy.

“There are so many reasons why I shouldn’t have the funds,” he said. “But I don’t think about why it shouldn’t happen.”

Color the data with culture

Olowe anchored his pitch on his knowledge and preparedness, which builds respect among investors, he said. He uses data to explain why his products are necessary, profitable, and influential.

“It’s always driven by data, and then we color that data with culture,” he said.

That means she provides more context to give investors a deeper understanding of the market for skincare products, especially in communities of color. For example, when investors asked why he didn’t have an acne treatment in his product line, he said he wanted to start with a treatment for hyperpigmentation, which is a common skin issue for people of color.

“Before we jumped into the market, a lot of people of color didn’t have a ton of products available to them,” she said. “But their spending is seven to eight times higher than other communities.”

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The roles are reversed

His second time raising capital was not as difficult as the first, Olowe said, because investors came to him. This shift showed him that he had leverage as he offered them a chance.

“I’m not asking for money,” he said. “I know this company will be successful. I know what this category will look like in the next two to five years.”

And if an investor misses the opportunity, they will be left behind.

“I’m very scrappy,” he said. “I will not come back to you to ask for money.”

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