Deodorant products on display by Curie.
Starting as a self-funded side hustle, natural deodorant startup Curie found success by landing on Walmart's shelves and appearing on TV show "Shark Tank." — Curie

Why it matters:

  • Behemoth retailers like Walmart are adding nascent brands that fill shoppers’ desires for fewer chemicals in personal care products.
  • These days even retailers use social media platforms like Instagram to discover new products. Walmart executives connected to natural deodorant startup Curie via Instagram.
  • And there is such a thing as the “Shark Tank effect”: After appearing on the show, Curie Founder Sarah Moret sold more products than she did her entire first year in business.

Brand founders typically pound the pavement at trade shows or invest in retailer headquarters visits to get category buyers interested in their products. Sarah Moret, Founder of Curie, a natural deodorant startup, knew the drill all too well. “I cold-emailed and got a lot of rejections,” she said of her efforts to gain distribution for her aluminum-free deodorant and body care line.

Her biggest break came in an unexpected way.

“A Walmart buyer had seen us on Instagram and reached out through the ‘contact us’ form on our website,” recalled Moret, who launched Curie online in 2018. “My customer support team sent it to me saying I might want to check it out. I thought it could be fake, but I figured I’d respond and see what happened.”

The move paid off. Walmart launched Curie’s deodorant and body care products in 4,300 locations and on in August of 2023. The exclusive partnership propelled Curie beyond its direct-to-consumer roots to physical distribution. The brand was already on a heady growth trajectory with sales surpassing the eight-figure mark propelled by 900% year-over-year sales growth.

Natural is driving 21% of growth in the $51 billion personal care and beauty industry.

Alice Mintz, Director of Integrated Solutions, DAAP

Leveraging Walmart’s massive reach while helping the retailer ‘make our clean beauty standards best in class’

Selling offline wasn’t totally new to Moret, but Walmart’s reach took distribution to the next level. Moret’s products have been featured on QVC and at Anthropologie and Nordstrom. “Customers had been asking us to get into retail,” Moret told CO—. “If you run out of deodorant, you need it immediately.”

There are no petroleum-derived ingredients, parabens, or aluminum in Curie’s formulas — a fact that aligns with Walmart's quest to expand its natural product offering. The lineup consists of the Deodorant Stick ($12.97), Deodorant & Body Spray ($13.97), and the Armpit Detox Mask ($13.97) in three of the brand’s signature fragrance options: Orange Neroli, White Tea, and Coconut Nectar.

Walmart merchandises Curie in its expanding natural department. The brand is a match with Walmart’s Clean Beauty initiative which spans more than 900 products that pass its test to be considered clean. “We’re working to make our clean beauty standards best in class. Many of our clean beauty brands are reimagining entire products,” said Walmart’s Creighton Kiper, Vice President of Beauty.

Kerry Robinson, Walmart’s Senior Vice President of Personal Care and Beauty Merchandising, added that Curie meets the chain’s desire for innovative and effective products. “We believe Curie’s focus on natural offerings will be a great addition to our assortment,” she said.

In conjunction with Curie, Walmart carved out space on shelves for educational materials and tips for consumers who want to transition from traditional deodorants.

Curie is building brand awareness via digital advertising, influencer marketing, and Curie’s “Sniff Club” loyalty program, whereby members who are “superfans” extoll the benefits of the brand.

“This [natural products] is a growing category for Walmart and there are lots of leadership eyes on it,” Moret said. “Traditionally natural has been Burt's Bees, Shea Moisture, and legacy brands — now they want emerging brands to add to expand the assortment.”

Consumers are voting with their wallets for natural or “free from”-certain-chemicals formulas. Natural is driving 21% of growth in the $51 billion personal care and beauty industry, according to Alice Mintz, Director of Integrated Solutions at DAAP, a SPINS subsidiary.

[Read: How Big Brands Turn Customer Reviews Into Sales]

 Headshot of Sarah Moret, founder of Curie.
Sarah Moret, Founder of Curie. — Curie

Curie’s origin story: A startup founded with $12,000 by a marathon runner

It was Moret’s own hunt for a safer, yet effective, deodorant that inspired her to formulate Curie. While working full-time at a venture capital fund, she started looking for business opportunities. "I wanted to start something I could really believe in.” A marathon runner, she didn’t trust the natural products she used. At the same time, Moret started researching the ingredients she was using on her body, including aluminum. That was her “aha” moment. She started Curie as a side hustle with $12,000 of her own money and her sister in charge of fulfillment and customer support.

Getting the formula right required about 10 months of trial and error. Moret’s financial background helped her manage a fledgling company — a luxury many founders lack. A lack of experience can put them out of business if a big order comes along.

“We were a very, very bootstrapped operation from the beginning,” said Moret, who drummed up about $1 million from family and friends to further her growth. Curie achieved $125,000 in first-year sales. When the pandemic hit, she kept business going by pivoting to selling hand sanitizers that helped her hit $700,000 in 2020.

[Read: Inside How 3 Startups Generated Exponential Sales Growth on TikTok]

‘'Shark Tank' was life changing’: The show brought Curie more business in one night than its first year in business

She also got a boost from Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban. While on a hike last year, she received a call to be a last-minute replacement on "Shark Tank." Within two hours, she was on the set with her deodorants and ancillary items. She walked away with a deal with “sharks” Corcoran and Cuban who invested $300,000 for a 10% stake in the company plus 4% ownership in advisory shares.

Beyond the investments, the "Shark Tank effect" brought Moret more business in one night than her first year in business. The show has re-aired more than 20 times, each resulting in a sales spike. “Shark Tank was life changing,” she said.

Availability in Walmart will bring even more converts, she predicted. "We know our consumers live life on the go and our convenience placement in thousands of retail doors will help us to meet our customers where they are."

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

CO— Exclusives: Insider Strategies

How the buzziest brands and hottest startups are solving today's biggest business challenges. CO— brings you advice from startup founders and top executives for thriving in a new world.