Protea Conversations-April Gargiulo

Protea Conversations: April Gargiulo

Protea Financial was founded in 2014 to provide high-quality outsourced accounting at an affordable price.  Given Protea’s flexible work environment, the Company especially appealed to accountants who wanted to re-enter the workforce after taking time off to start a family. This allowed Protea to attract extremely talented individuals who were overlooked.  Over 80% of both Protea’s leadership and accounting teams are women.

We selected the name Protea because is the national flower of South Africa and is a symbol of our connection. The Protea flower has become an ornamental flower because of this striking beauty and is included in arrangements and bouquets as a symbol of courage or daring to be better or a sign of positive transformation.

Protea Conversations focuses on successful woman in business and their achievements.  The hope is that these conversations will create a forum to discuss the experiences, opportunities, and challenges women face, and how we can build a more diverse, inclusive, and successful environment for everyone.

In April 2021 we spend time with April Gargiulo the Founder and CEO of Vintner’s Daughter, a luxury skincare company committed to performance-driven quality-focused, non-toxic skincare. She launched her first product, Active Botanical Serum in February 2012 bucking industry standards by using whole organic plants and methodical formulation methods versus low-quality fillers and formulation short cuts. Vintner’s Daughter quickly became a benchmark for quality and performance in the beauty world and is coveted by top beauty connoisseurs and industry professionals around the world. Before starting Vintner’s Daughter, April spent 8 years at the helm of her family’s Napa Valley winery, Gargiulo Vineyards. There, she helped build the winery’s reputation for terroir-driven, “first growth” Cabernet Sauvignon. Before Napa, April spent 6 years in Manhattan where she worked for design leader Vitra. Through Vintner’s Daughter, April commits 2% of every bottle sold to charities benefiting women, children and the environment. She is married to a fellow entrepreneur, Mitch Lowe (also her Executive Chairman) and has two young daughters. 


It is a story that has been told many times, but please share with us how Vintner’s Daughter came to be?

I was someone who had struggled with my skin for my entire life. I had acne, discoloration and all the fun things that come along with getting older. I was using what I thought were the very best “luxury” products. They were the most expensive and were written about often in glossy magazines. One day I started looking at the ingredients. I was shocked to realize that they were .01% active ingredients, the rest was low quality filler that was also in many cases toxic. Coming from where I was coming from, none of that sat right with me. I come from Napa Valley, a community dedicated to making the finest wines in the world through attention to detail and craftsmanship. Short cuts are not allowed and practically every grain of dirt is considered for its quality. That to me is the true definition of luxury; beginning with the finest raw materials and honoring them through the most thoughtful formulation practices to achieve something even greater than the parts. These products I was using were anything but. 

This was the genesis of Vintner’s Daughter. I wanted to build a true luxury skincare company that made products from the finest ingredients in the world, using time-honored techniques in order to bring about profound and lasting balance and health in the skin. It sounds lofty, but I wanted to build a skincare company on the very same philosophical foundations and principles as fine winemaking. There have been many bumps along the way from labs shutting their doors in my face when they find out about our weeks-long formulation process, or retailers who didn’t want to work with me because I had too few products. Overcoming these challenges has made me believe in our purpose to create fewer, higher-quality products fueled by whole plant nutrition even more. 


What has been the biggest challenge you have experienced in reaching your current success (personally and professionally)?

We are a brand that is going against the grain of traditional beauty in so many ways from our whole plant sourcing, to our unheard of formulation timelines to our snails-pace product introduction schedules. This has proven to be a challenge when finding manufacturing partners, retail partners and even garnering press who need “new” to sell their stories. Instead we have taken a slow approach in our weeks-long whole plant formulations that go against the 6 hour industry average formulation time and we have only introduced 2 products in 7 years versus the standard every 4-month product introduction schedule. We do this not to be contrarians, but because we believe that fewer, but better made products not only improve your skin, but improve your life and our planet. It is a kind of quiet activism that we pursue joyfully. 


What are your short-term goals of your career/business and yourself?

My short term and long term goals for the company are the same, to create skincare that has a dramatically positive effect on our customers’ skin and lives. 


What is the best piece of advice you have ever received that has helped you in your success?

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Find your north star and follow it relentlessly. 


What is the piece of advice that you wished you had gotten when you were starting out?

I’m not sure I would have taken it, but I certainly wish I would have more fully understood the classic line “team eats strategy for breakfast.” No matter how great your plan is, if you don’t have a highly functioning team of A or aspiring A players, it’s going to be nearly impossible to achieve. 


What advice you give to others to help them be better leaders?

Don’t rush yourself. Gain experience and knowledge with every step. It might not feel like a straight line and that is okay.  In the end, you have to decide what makes the most sense for you and follow that journey truthfully, with a full heart and a lot of hustle.

As a thank you to our interview and Protea’s commitment to more diverse and inclusive leaders, Protea will make a donation to Vital Voices. Vital Voices Global Partnership is a global movement that invests in women leaders who are solving the world’s greatest challenges. They are “venture catalysts,” identifying those with a daring vision for change and partnering with them to make that vision a reality. They scale and accelerate impact through long-term investments to expand skills, connections, capacity, and visibility. Over the last 22 years, we have built a network of 18,000 change-makers across 182 countries who are collectively daring to reimagine a more equitable world for all.