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Business Leaders & Powerhouse Brands: A Chat with Lela Kelly, Founder of Volto Urbano

When and why did you start your company?

Volto Urbano formally launched in early 2020, just in time to be overtaken by the Covid-19 crisis, but in truth, I started this company in my dreams when I was a girl growing up in the Philippines. Skincare and beauty were such a big part of our lives and I wanted to be known for helping people heal and care for their skin.

I moved from Hawaii to California to begin undergrad at University of Southern California and suddenly experienced for the first time frequent breakouts and dryness. I tried everything from the drugstore brands to high-end lines costing 3–4 times more than what I could realistically afford at that time. I couldn’t find the solutions that really worked for me until I started to focus on the differences between Pacific Island life and Los Angeles.

Unlike Hawaii, Los Angeles is dry and polluted and after graduating law school at UCLA I began working long hours in a law firm with air-conditioned offices exposing my skin to lots of ground ozone and blue light from my computers. Turns out all of these things accelerate skin aging through a process people call “inflamaging.”

It took me years and years to research, understand and connect the problem to effective and safe ingredients that target and treat these common skin issues. I collected all of my findings and shared them with my now business partner, Mark Tennenbaum who has a background in finance and investing in lifestyle brands and he immediately jumped on the idea and assisted with operations, finance and logistics to get Volto Urbano up and running.

What have been the benefits to being your own boss?

The best benefit of being my own boss is the privilege of collaborating with my business partner, Mark Tennenbaum. Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely and scary road. After all, it takes a lot of guts to sell products that you’ve put your heart and soul into — it’s the ultimate judgment. Mark and I have known each other for 11 years (we actually met on a blind date when I was 23 and he was 50). Although the romantic relationship did not blossom the friendship certainly did.

Mark and I are able to have tough conversations without any doubt that we have each other’s backs. Having that sounding board and Mark’s entrepreneurial background is my lifeline in such a crazy world.

What are some of the challenges?

Got a year? Let’s just look at two of them:

1. I have built a small yet efficient team who wear many hats. The problem is we can only accomplish so much in one day. There is always something that is not completed or gets forgotten by accident. Finding the time to get to everything is a massive challenge.

2. We are working hard to get our latest product into the country. We’ve been working with a fantastic French Lab for almost two years on our amazing Radiance Recovery Biocellulose Mask. Covid-19 has slowed manufacturing and quality control checks and we are scrambling to get our inventory here in time for the holiday season.

What is your personal favorite product?

It all starts with a clean face! I adore our Double Cleanse Kit, which consists of our Cleansing Oil plus our Cleansing Foam. If we could have engineered this into a single product, we would. However, the only way to really remove dirty skin oils from your face requires a combination of oils that attract and bond with the dirty oils on the face while also fully emulsifying when I wash it off with water so that all the dirt and impurities are removed.

How has your business adapted to the global pandemic?

It was quite easy for us to transition to a totally remote office since Mark and I have been working with our email security investment as a remote business for 8 years. We still deeply miss human contact, but luckily we are highly connected through email, phone and virtual conference calls.

We expect to launch our fully built-out Amazon store later this month while continuing to finalize agreements with other retailers in both the digital and the physical world.

Would you recommend entrepreneurship?

That depends on your emotional make-up and tolerance for ambiguity. It’s the rare start-up that runs directly to glory out-of-the box. Of the 4 start-ups we invested in nine years ago, only two are alive and prospering today. The best one turned profitable within a year. The other took 3 more years to begin to harvest cash flow. The other two never made it through the first year.

I strongly recommend this road if you:

1. have something to say that is worth hearing;

2. see failure as the learning experience that leads to success; and

3. don’t mind disappearing down the rabbit hole of your own making — the hours can be very long if you really want it bad enough.

What’s on the horizon? What new products will you be launching?

We are excited to launch our new Radiance Recovery Biocellulose Mask very soon. We travelled to France to track down a superb lab filled with creative people like us. We put together a product where the mask itself imparts moisture to your skin along with our Radiance Recovery Serum, which promotes oxygenation and protects the skin from environmental irritants and digital pollution. This product is also completely biodegradable!

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Nataly Blumberg

Nataly Blumberg

Born from a long line of entrepreneurs with a passion to keep learning from and loving them.