OLITA Founder Laurie O’Hara Talks Responsible Products and Entrepreneurship

Woman applying OLITA sunscreen near pool

MP recently sat down with Laurie O’Hara, a self-described accidental entrepreneur. O’Hara has a background in marketing in financial services, but she completely pivoted her career and transformed her love of the outdoors into creating a clean sun care CPG brand focused on protecting people and the planet. Her children and love of water sports inspired her to make OLITA a clean and affordable sun care choice for families. O’Hara has been running OLITA full-time since 2019 and has never looked back. 

Modern Professional
OLITA founder Laurie O’Hara / Photo courtesy of Laurie O’Hara

OLITA

MP: What is OLITA, and why is it unique?

LO: OLITA is on a mission to be the cleanest sun care brand on earth. We do this by sourcing clean, natural ingredients, moving to 100% sustainable packaging, and using carbon-neutral shipping. We have four product lines within sun care to keep you covered before, during, and after sun exposure. OLITA makes reef-safe mineral sunscreens, hydrating after sun body oils, protective lip balms, and our own Beach Be Gone body powder. We also give back to ocean conservation on every sale through our partnership with the Coral Reef Alliance. We call it ‘Protection with a Purpose!’

Woman using OLITA sunscreen stick on face
Woman applies OLITA Sunscreen Stick on face / Photo courtesy of OLITA

What does OLITA stand for as a business, and why?

Our mission statement says it all: we believe in creating clean sun care products that protect and nourish your skin without harming the environment. 

Our four core values are Family, Fun, Trust, and Protection. We’re creating a ‘better for you’ choice in sun care through our products and our business practices. We’re creating a healthier planet by sourcing only reef-safe ingredients, raising awareness of ingredient safety (for both people and the planet), and committing a portion of all sales to ocean conservation. We know that consumers are demanding healthier food, beverages, and cosmetics, including sun care. We are delivering on our promise to be safe on your skin and safe on the planet. Ultimately, we believe that people and the planet are just as important as profits.

OLITA Family having fun on beach
Family has fun on beach / Photo courtesy of OLITA

How is OLITA tackling skin protection from the sun?

OLITA is hyper-focused on clean ingredients and sources every ingredient knowing its function in protecting skin from the sun, toxins, and early aging. All our sunscreens are chemical-free, mineral, reef-safe, made with organic ingredients, and cruelty-free. We use a longer homogenization process to make our sunscreen lotions emollient and silky smooth on your skin. We also have SPF30 and SPF50, tinted and non-tinted, to blend with every skin tone.

OLITA sunscreen product
OLITA before and after sunscreen products / Photo courtesy of OLITA

Where did the name OLITA come from, and why was it chosen?

OLITA means little wave in Spanish, and we’re a sun care company leaning toward a beach lifestyle vibe. The little wave is our logo, and ocean conservation is our charity of choice. We are a business founded on our love of ocean and water sports. But the fun fact is that it’s also a mash-up of my family’s initials: O’Hara, Laurie, Isabel, Torres, and Alex.

OLITA Woman in chair on beach
Woman enjoys the sun on beach / Photo courtesy of OLITA

Why does OLITA donate a portion of every sale to ocean conservation?

We believe in giving back, and what better way to give back than to ocean conservation. As a family, we all love doing water sports (sailing, surfing, kiteboarding, paddleboarding, rowing, scuba diving, and so on…). So, as a family-inspired business, we decided to give back to protect our playground – the ocean. We also know that chemical sunscreens combined with rising ocean temperatures kill our coral reefs. We want to be part of the solution with our reef-safe, clean ingredients and a portion of our profits to tackle coral reef restoration.

OLITA women having fun on beach
Women having fun on beach / Photo courtesy of OLITA

Entrepreneurship

What three characteristics define an effective leader, and why?

Tenacity. It takes hard work and drive to run your own business and continually come back from defeats until you’re winning and succeeding. Showing tenacity is key to leading by doing.

Humility. Being humble enough to do every job – big or small; glamorous or gritty. They are all key to learning every aspect of your business and being able to help your team learn.

Delegation. You can’t be an expert at everything. Knowing what and when to delegate and trusting your team to be the experts they are, speaks volumes in leadership.

What are your three greatest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?

Fear of failure. Statistics say failure is likely for small businesses. I have failed at other things in the past, but I have learned so much from my failures and applied said learning to my next challenge. I deal with my fear of failure by keeping my eye on the prize and focusing on the next win.

Fear of supply chain disruption is a new problem since the pandemic. And we got hit with packaging stock issues last summer, and it hurt sales. The world is quite volatile now, so that remains a fear. I do more contingency planning and look for redundancy in suppliers

Fear of having work take over my personal life. I can work 24-7, so I need to watch that. I try to keep fun family and friend time scheduled so I don’t become a work zombie.

Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful leader?

I believe there are many paths and patterns to becoming a successful leader, not just one. That said, many attributes are common among successful leaders. The most important thing that I have learned is being able to build and trust your team. Leadership is about teamwork and leading a team of people with shared values – not being a team of one. Leadership is also about cultivating those shared values and practicing those. That makes it authentic versus lip service.

What are three obstacles you’ve faced while growing OLITA, and how have you overcome them?

Cash flow is always a concern for a small business. Managing costs and revenue streams is an art form, and I have learned how to make it work by seeking alternative funding sources. I have bootstrapped until now and am doing my first raise this spring and summer.

Finding the right manufacturers who can create the right formulas in smaller batches was an obstacle. Still, I eventually found expert labs to work with me to make OLITA’s line the amazing products they are. That takes a lot of research and references to vet the best ones.

Effective sales staff was a gap in our corporate structure until this year. I did most of our selling, and I think that as a founder, it’s important to take that on in the early stages. To scale, you need an effective sales team. I had a hard time finding the right sales team to get OLITA into stores. I now have awesome brokers who are opening new accounts every week. Tradeshows were the best place for me to showcase OLITA and connect with sales brokers.

How do you deal with doubt?

Doubt is present during leaner times. I think that’s a natural feeling when you’re dealing with the unknown. I believe everything we do is driven by fear or love. So, when in doubt, I choose to do what I love and soldier on with OLITA and my pursuit to bring this mission-based brand to success in the market.