You know Jess as the mind behind marrying natural deodorant with activated charcoal and the first person who has ever worn PiperWai. In less than five years, Jess and her co-founder Sarah have gone from mixing PiperWai by hand in a Philadelphia kitchen to overseeing a multi-million-dollar business.
Deodorant is only part (albeit, a big, big part) of Jess' life. She also is a Broadway enthusiast and is always on the hunt for a great restaurant. Read on to learn more about Jess!
Who are you and what do you do at PiperWai?
Jess Edelstein, co-founder of PiperWai! Beyond being the mad scientist behind the deodorant concoction Sarah and I turned into the PiperWai brand, my strengths lie in the business development, sales, and creative problem solving aspects of running the company.
That’s cool. So, what do you like about this gig?
Like many people in my generation, I’ve always felt a deep sense of social responsibility. My only criteria for a fulfilling career was that I was making a positive impact on other people, and that I was passionate about whatever it was (total millennial cliché – I know). Getting to achieve both those goals through a product I made in my kitchen is honestly a dream come true for me.
People write to us just to say “Thank you” for a product they say changed their lives. Furthermore, PiperWai has become a business that supports a team of hard-working, passionate employees and their families. That responsibility isn’t something I take lightly, and the whole experience is so beautiful and so full-circle. We did a thing, and it’s working.
Did you ever think deodorant would be such an important part of your life?
Not really, but I did have a beta fish in my freshman dorm at the University of Pittsburgh that I named Armpitt. With two T’s because I thought I was being clever. That’s the closest thing I’ve got to foreshadowing a career in deodorant, which, at this point has lasted longer than anything else in my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way!
When did you fully commit yourself to wearing PiperWai?
I can confidently say before anybody else on the planet.
Can I tell the story? I know you’ve probably heard it but I’m gonna tell the story! I love telling this story.
Back in the spring of 2013, I decided I wanted to make the switch to aluminum-free deodorant. I was underemployed and bouncing around several part-time jobs trying to find some direction and stability in life. During this time, I was on a DIY kick to save money and realized I got a lot of satisfaction out of using something every day that I made myself. In May of 2013, I remember feeling so frustrated that the irritating, baking soda-heavy “DIY” deodorant recipe online was the exact same thing on the ingredient labels of TONS of natural deodorant brands that already existed. The injustice in lack of innovation! I was spending money on packaging that housed something that gave me an itchy, red rash every time I tried it. Once I realized the baking soda was the culprit, I cut it down and started making batch after batch of something different, with myself as a guinea pig. One of the jobs I had at the time was at a dog gym, where at the end of every shift I had to mop the floors in a thin t-shirt. If I smelled or had sweat stains after the task, it was back to the drawing board (errr, mixing bowl). It takes a lot for me to accept something isn’t possible, so I finally came up with a formula that was incredibly effective without irritating my sensitive skin. It was good enough to give to my lifelong friend (Sarah!), because I knew she was passionate about a toxin-free lifestyle but hadn't yet committed to wearing natural deodorant.
The activated charcoal was added when I was researching it for an upset stomach. I learned it was used in everything from room deodorizers and medicinally in the ER to absorb toxins, and decided to add it to the deodorant – which made it even more effective! By that time, Sarah and I were on a mission to transform the deodorant market with this innovation, since there was nothing like it at the time.
I tend to go on long tangents and tell really long stories. To answer your original question – about four and a half years.
Do you prefer the jar or the stick?
Jar. Hands down. The stick is great if you’re on the go or for new customers who can’t get their head around rubbing their fingers under their arms (I know, antiperspirants have worked hard to train people to believe an applicator is necessary), but my favorite thing about the jar is that it’s more versatile. You can control the amount that goes on better (pro-tip: with both the jar and stick, a little tiny bit goes a LONG way!) and you can use it on other areas of your body (like feet! We hear all kinds of ideas from our customers, because you really can use it anywhere).
What are professional achievements you are proud of?
Beyond our success on "Shark Tank" two years ago, Sarah and I were recently recognized as EY Winning Women (class of 2017) and Forbes 30 Under 30 (class of 2018). These accomplishments are straight out of a daydream for me.
Real talk: I’ve quit or been fired from almost every traditional job I’ve ever had. I spent a LONG time feeling sorry for myself for being “unemployable” and not fitting into the box I thought I was supposed to somehow squeeze into. I’m a fiercely independent self-starter with ADHD and enough eagerness, passion, and drive to bootstrap a pie-in-the-sky deodorant startup while paying my bills as a real estate salesperson working entirely on commission.
I was always meant to be an entrepreneur, but I didn’t learn the term “entrepreneur” in the context of a viable career until I was 24 years old and got a real-estate license. That’s a problem. I figured it out eventually, but how many others don’t? If I had an entrepreneur role model back when I was a bullied kid or a struggling young professional, I would have wasted a lot less time forcing myself to fit into something that wasn’t made for me (but I might not have made deodorant, so it’s a double-edged sword, really). In any event, I’m dedicated to spending the rest of my career making sure kids like me have the resources and encouragement to learn about entrepreneurship at a younger age than I did. (If this resonates in any way, please DM me @jessedels10 on Instagram. I’d love to hear from you).
What’s your favorite animal?
Dogs. PiperWai was named after a dog! I don’t know what it’s like to live without one (except for college when I wasn’t allowed to have a dog in the dorms and got Armpitt the fish in an attempt to fill that void...). My dog Velma (@velmadog on Instagram) was the ring [teddy] bear-er in my wedding this October. She’s a 10ish-year-old rescue mutt from Kentucky that the DNA test said is 1/2 long haired dachshund, 1/4 bichon, 1/8 springer spaniel, and 1/8 mystery mutt. She is the snuggliest little muppet and my husband (also a business owner) and I have a custody battle every morning over who gets to take her to our dog-friendly offices.
I’m an adventurous eater who will try anything twice - but my absolute favorite treat is a fresh, young coconut. Coconut anything, coconut everything!
Also, I’m interested exploring a more plant-based diet. Lately, eating meat is highly unappetizing – it feels hypocritical, wrong and kind of against all of my values as a person who cares deeply about the welfare of animals and sustainability of the planet. As someone who sells a cruelty-free product, I’m aware many of our customers are passionate about this topic, and I need help to do this right! If you have any great vegetarian/vegan recipes (especially if they involve coconut!), or resources, blogs, and Instagram accounts I should follow that will help me ease into this important, albeit daunting, leap, please DM me @jessedels10. I would love to hear from you! I know I’m in for a challenge, but so was switching to aluminum-free deodorant…so…I got this.
I grew up just outside of Philadelphia, PA in Lower Merion.
What are your hobbies?
My life has been pretty devoted to the business for the past few years! Mentoring my friends just starting out in the startup world and helping them brainstorm solutions and strategies for their new businesses is my favorite hobby right now. I also love experimenting in the kitchen (with food! Although much like the deodorant, I’d rather make up my own recipe than follow one), and taking Velma to the dog park with my husband.
Tell us the most embarrassing concert you’ve ever been to.
I’m not sure if this really answers this question because it’s not really a “concert” nor am I embarrassed by it, but when I was in college, I would go to great lengths (involving all-nighters and a Chinatown bus) to get from Pittsburgh to NYC to see my favorite Broadway shows as economically as possible – which often meant I didn’t have a ticket, but I did have a plan to be first in line for student rush tickets early in the morning. It was always worth it.
Outside of your job, what are your passions?
Broadway, rescue dogs, making a difference, learning new things, giving back, overcoming challenges and obstacles, health and wellness, and, of course, deodorant. I had to say it. I am passionateAF about deodorant.
Want to be done now?
I could talk about myself forever, but this is already way too long. Thanks for reading down this far!
Our team has grown to 10 people now! Keep an eye out for Team Spotlight posts beginning Thursdays in January. Next up: Resident GIF enthusiast and VP of Customer Engagement, Lindsay.