PHOTO: Heritage Laboratories and cofounder Kateigh Williams went from the RAIN Eugene Accelerator to Finalists in the Willamette Angels Conference in less than a year. (Brian Davies/The Register Guard)

Q&A with WAC Finalist Kateigh Williams, Cofounder of Heritage Labs

Heritage Labs, a luxury skincare supplement brand targeting Asian American women, is a rising star in the RAIN network. Cofounders Pabel Delgado and Kateigh Williams met during the first month of the RAIN Eugene Accelerator program in 2016, and less than a year later they have advanced to the finals of the Willamette Angels Conference. We recently had a chance to ask Kateigh a few questions about that journey.

RAIN: Most startups aren’t considered for investment within their first year. Has this felt like a meteoric rise?

Kateigh Williams: It’s been a year that’s gone by incredibly quickly, not only because it’s been fun but also because we’ve accomplished quite a bit. We have a lot of work ahead of us, but to be considered for investment within our first year is exciting! We’re thrilled to be part of the startup ecosystem in Oregon.

Heritage Laboratories is introducing a relatively new product category to the U.S. market. In Asia, these skincare supplements are a significant part of the beauty culture. As we’ve spoken with investors here in America (who, generally speaking, have been Caucasian men) there has been a bit of a learning curve. But once they understand the product, the available market and the zeitgeist, they quickly recognize its value.

RAIN: You were a branding consultant before starting the RAIN Eugene Accelerator. Did you feel prepared to enter this world of startups and investor conferences?

KW: My whole background was in branding for premium fashion companies, so there has been a learning curve for me. So much of my experience and education has taught me how to listen to my gut or read a client. As a startup, everything we do has to be backed up by numbers and data.

RAIN: And what does the data say about Heritage Labs?

KW: The data serves as a “behind the scenes” narrative to the trajectory of our company.  For example, one exciting thing that’s supported by our metrics is that as a subscription-based business we don’t have to bring in hundreds of thousands of customers to be successful. In fact, we need less than 6,000 customers to reach annual revenues of nearly $5 million by 2020.

RAIN: Some companies apply to the WAC multiple times before they advance to the final round. Does this early success signify any special validation for your business?

KW: We feel really grateful for the support we’ve received in getting to where we are – it’s been validating and encouraging!  We recognize that our product is more readily understood in markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco or  New York — where there are larger populations of affluent Asian women, who represent our initial target market. So, to be a finalist in the WAC as not only a beauty company, but with a completely different target market than most Oregon startups, is both exciting and humbling, too.

RAIN: Your business partner Pabel is based in Japan. What kind of logistical challenges does that present, especially as you prepare for your WAC?

KW: Fortunately, Pabel splits his time between his home in Kobe, Japan and Eugene. When he’s here, we get to work on the things that need our most immediate attention. When he’s working in Japan, my day starts at 6 a.m with emails and really ramps up around 3 p.m. when he wakes up in Japan. But we represent a unique team of brand-meets-science. Or, more simply, one of us makes our product and the other one is selling.

RAIN: What would you tell a company who’s considering applying to the next WAC?

KW: It’s an incredible opportunity to meet, connect and work with really good people who have everyone’s best interest in mind — and I really mean that. They want to see the the companies they’ve invested in succeed, so they’re committed to mentorship, guidance and helping entrepreneurs… far more than just writing a check.

It’s also a highly valuable, learning experience. Going through the due diligence process was very helpful for my education in fund raising for a company.

RAIN: What’s next for Heritage Labs after the WAC?

KW: We’ll start working with a well-respected Asian American physician on our clinical trials. We’ll also conduct focus groups in major cities along the West Coast, and continue with additional fund raising.