They do not teach business in nursing school. But that didn’t stop Nancy Pellegrino (better known as Nurse Nancy) from teaming up with Courtney Baber to co-found The Route Beauty, a science-backed luxury skincare brand.
Three years since they launched, Nurse Nancy and Baber share their experience, breaking down their entrepreneurial journey from finding the right idea to finding the right partner to finding the right time to go for it. (Hint: now!)
How did you two meet?
Nurse Nancy: Courtney was my patient. She had come in for some major skin issues she had been experiencing for years. When she walked in, there was something unique about her. Not just because she was strikingly beautiful and genuine (and kind), but I had a feeling our lives would come to be intertwined.
Courtney Baber: We became fast friends. During my second appointment, we discovered our shared dream of starting a skincare brand designed for maturing skin that combined everything we loved about the countless brands we’d tried over our combined 50 years in the beauty industry into one amazing line. One that would be focused on making people feel a little more beautiful – and even a little happier – while simultaneously recognizing the beauty, wisdom, and inevitability of the aging process. I was 51 and Nancy was 54 when we launched.
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What inspired you to start The Route?
NN: I had been using various skincare lines on my patients – and myself – for decades, but I kept jumping around, searching for products that would do more and do it better. After years and years in business, I had yet to land on one that I loved enough to use exclusively. I wanted to simplify the process for my patients without cutting corners on ingredient quality or efficacy. I wanted to give women access to medical-grade products that worked but didn’t cost a fortune. But most importantly, I was finally ready to go all in. It wasn’t too late. It was just the right time.
CB: When we discovered we both had paper routes as pre-teens, we thought, “This is it.” We already had a name and the work ethic. Now we just needed a business plan. We tested every high-quality product line out there and researched which treatments in Nurse Nancy’s office we could tweak to be available – and more affordable – to more people. We knew the products had to be medical grade (no cutting corners on efficacy or ingredients), clean (as low impact to the environment as possible), and luxurious (we wanted it to make you feel good on your counter, your face, the entire experience had to feel elevated). The Party Peel, inspired by a popular in-office peel that Nancy’s clients love, is a prime example of our arduous process and it’s now our best seller. You should have seen my sensitive skin during that year. It was not happy. But I was committed. But if I had to be the guinea pig, so be it. If it weren’t for my lifelong skin struggles, I would have probably never met Nancy when I did, and the brand would have never come to be. Life is full of silver linings.
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What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who think they are “too old”?
NN: I have seen so many friends put off pursuing a career dream because they think the timing isn’t right or they are too busy or they don’t know where to start. I know firsthand that this hamster wheel can be a hard one to climb out of. But, trust me, one day you’ll wake up and be 50 or 60 or even 70 and wish you’d have just gone after it. My advice? Ten years in the future, what would you tell your current self to do? Would she think you were too old or too busy or too fill in the blank? Probably not. If you really want it, stop making excuses. Tap into your superpower and go get it done. Your future self will thank you. Trust me.
CB: No matter how old you are, you have to really, really want it. If you don’t, it will never happen.
What is the mission of the brand?
CB: In short, it’s to help people have happy, healthy, beautiful skin no matter their age. But if you peel back a layer, it’s about so much more than that. The name, The Route, is both a testament to where we are in life right now and a celebration of the journeys we took to get here. It’s also a reminder that our unique paths in life are the most beautiful things – bumps, roadblocks, detours and all. We want people to know we see them, we’re here with them, and we believe in them.
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NN: I love the saying, “Kind is the most beautiful thing to be.” If we can do even the smallest thing to inspire women to be a little kinder to themselves and, by default, to others, I consider it a win. It’s the little things that sometimes make the most impactful difference. We created The Route for ourselves but wanted to share it with everyone. Treat others how you want to be treated. Quality, integrity, and innovation is first and foremost, but we also infuse happiness and luxury into everything we do. From the highest quality ingredients and formulas to the most beautiful bottle components and packaging. We wanted everything to be thorough, thoughtful, and unquestionably beautiful.
What advice do you have for middle-aged aspiring entrepreneurs?
CB: You have to really want it, and you need to be ready to work your tail off. There’s no other way to do it. There’s no replacement for working hard and you’ll never know how hard it really is until you own your own business. It’s all-consuming when it’s yours.
NN: The sacrifices will be crazy. Get your support system in place on Day 1. Get your health in check. Make sure your family is on board. But at the same time, do not use these things as an excuse not to start. You can’t wait until everything is perfect because it never will be. Where preparation meets opportunity is the bridge to success. You have to make it happen for yourself. And, of course, if you have an amazing business partner (thank you Courtney) it’s so much better.