BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The third of our series, “All In A Day’s Work,” presents former TV Anchor Mia Saini Duchnowski, who has developed a year-round skincare line for active and athletic men.
“One of the hardest decisions I ever made was to resign from Bloomberg TV and start Oars + Alps. When it happened, I walked up to Mike Bloomberg himself and told him, and he tried to get me to stay.
“Being on TV meant that I had access to lots of skincare products, and my husband Sasha was constantly using them. I realized that I was the gatekeeper to my husband’s skin, and he is at risk for skin cancer. At the same time, my good friend Laura Lisowski Cox, was finding she was constantly evaluating and buying different body lotions for her husband, too, because he has eczema. We decided to launch Oars + Alps with products that are healthy, not full of toxins, and not expensive.
“We partnered with a leading chemist from Kiehl’s to develop our product. Sasha is a competitive rower, and both of our husbands are avid snowboarders and skiers, hence the name.”
I recently had tea with Mia at Soho House and learned how the young mother of three took a natural and inexpensive product for men to market, drawing on her science and communications background.
Mia’s path from TV to launching a skincare product drew on her academic background and the encouragement of parents who championed her career goals. An MIT graduate with degrees in science and engineering, Mia first worked on the trading floor at Goldman Sachs as a hedge fund sales person.
“I loved the energy of the trading floor and the dynamism of the financial markets. I adored the fast-paced nature of helping clients. I was on the floor when Bear Stearns collapsed and remember looking up at the screen at how the TV reporters struggled to explain what was happening in the markets. I decided then and there that I wanted to be a part of that financial conversation—that I wanted to help the average person in America understand what was happening to their 401K, what was happening to the global markets, and more importantly, how they should react.
“Instead of going to journalism school, I applied to Harvard Business School because 50 percent of the grade would be class participation. I thought there was no better practice for live TV than having to articulate my views and thoughts in a few minutes.”
While in business school, Mia received an offer from Forbes TV to help build out their online TV network as an anchor/reporter—a job she said she couldn’t pass up. After graduation she moved to Hong Kong to be a correspondent with Bloomberg TV. Mia spent three years there before transferring to the New York City studio, where she learned that she preferred international reporting.
Tell us about working for Bloomberg in Asia.
Working there was a dream. It was my first time living abroad, and I fell in love with expat life. I loved being in the studio—very similar to the trading floor—super busy and fast paced. Some days I would be on TV for up to 8 hours.
Our primary mandate was to provide global news stories for the Asia audience, which included US business travelers. I covered so many amazing stories from the once-in-a-decade leadership transition in China, to the disappearance of flight MH370, Nelson Mandela’s death, and Steve Jobs’ passing. I was the first person at the network to interview the new Chairman of Microsoft, John Thompson, after he took on that position.
Overall, I’ve interviewed hundreds of CEOs and heads of state, including Angela Ahrendts, the former Burberry CEO, and Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Airlines.
Mia and her husband, Sasha, moved to Chicago, where he is a principal in Bain & Company and a member of the agribusiness practice. He concentrates on developing more sustainable supply chains as it relates to carbon emissions and climate change, water usage, deforestation, and the livelihoods of farmers—especially in developing economies.
“Aside from his work for for-profit entities, he also focuses a portion of his time on pro-bono work in related areas. One example of this is his ongoing work with organizations in East Africa by helping them to build agricultural processing capacity and capabilities.
Small processors like millers and edible oil producers are a critical part of developing local supply chains that ultimately benefit African farmers by improving their opportunities for local work forces and also offering more nutritious food for local consumers who depend on these local supply chains to get most, if not all, of their food.
Oars + Alps ads are very straightforward: ‘Take the complex out of complexion.’ Tell us about the products.
We are about natural, no-fuss products that really work. My partner Laura and I care deeply about making sure the products we were putting on our husbands’ skins are healthy and not full of toxins. We both have kids, and we didn’t want them kissing their dads’ chemical-laden skin.
Our key ingredient, Alpine Caribou Moss, is sourced from Northern Finland. It offers a potent phytonutrient profile that has antioxidant properties and polyphenolic compounds that are able to scavenge and neutralize free radicals, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the skin.
The US government has not passed a major federal law to regulate the safety of ingredients used in personal care products since 1938, and currently only two pages regulate a $60 billion industry. Oars + Alps has banned over 1000 ingredients.
How did you test your products?
All product development is heavily tested and iterated upon, each ingredient scrutinized. We have a huge group of customers that help us come up with our products and act as testers. Our branding is super important as well. Customers like that we are not medicinal, nor hypersexualized or metrosexual, nor overly clinical. We take a very ‘athleisure’ and approachable tone.
What advice do you have for other people wanting to start their own businesses? What skills are necessary, and what are some of the don’ts to avoid?
First, don’t think, just do. There will never be a perfect time to launch a company. You have to have faith in yourself that you can make it happen.
Find a great co-founder. The entrepreneur’s journey is a lonely one—find someone who can share the joys and failures. It is also important that that person has a great complementary skillset.
Quickly hire people smarter than you. Starting a company is being comfortable with uncertainty and always asking questions. These are skills I learned as an engineer and as an investigative journalist. I think it is also important to have someone on your founding team who understands marketing, such as my co-founder Laura.
What will be your next career step?
My career has been as nonlinear as possible: NASA to Goldman to Bloomberg to the startup world. I would be kidding you if I said I knew what’s next, but sometimes I dream of being the Dean of MIT. I like running things, and I love being around smart people who have a thirst for finding answers, innovation, and doing good.
Do you talk to your children about what you are doing?
All three our kids know that mom and dad work full time. They see boxes of our merchandise around the house, and they’ll say with a smile, ‘That’s Oars and Alps, Mommy.’
My older two enjoy putting on a face mask with me!