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How Triathlons Inspired Entrepreneur Marie-Pierre Stark-Flora

Whether competing in an Ironman or shepherding her young brand, entrepreneur Marie-Pierre Stark-Flora is in it for the long haul.

All founders walk the walk, but Marie-Pierre Stark-Flora, cofounder of Herb + Flora, swims the swim, bikes the bike and runs the run.

Stark-Flora, a beauty industry veteran who’s had leadership positions at L’Oréal, the Estée Lauder Cos. and Coty, among others, is also an avid triathlete, a personal passion that led to a professional reinvention.

Last January, she and fellow athlete Guillaume Herbette launched Herb + Flora, a skin care brand formulated to mimic the antiaging effects that exercise has on the body by accelerating autophagy and lowering the oxidative stress in cells, much like physical activity does.

Over the last 12 months, the brand has been growing — launching online at macys.com, entering livestreaming, opening a cross-border shop on Tmall and driving its own direct-to-consumer business. Likewise, Stark-Flora has pushed her physical limits, most recently participating in a longer-form event called the Sahraouiya, a five-day race to promote women’s solidarity and peace that includes running, kayaking, night trails, bootcamp and orientation races.

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As disparate as the two activities seem, the parallels between building a business and readying for a race are many. “For both, you need to be very well prepared. But no matter how well you prepare yourself, you will never be ready for what’s coming,” Stark-Flora said.

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“It’s always a lot harder than what you think it’s going to be,” she continued, “and you have to find the energy and resourcefulness to face what’s coming inside of you.”

Stark-Flora has been swimming since her teens, but came to triathlons relatively late, competing in her first one at age 44. Since then, she’s participated in about 16, and her age has been a benefit.

“This sport is very inclusive, half men and half women, all ages,” she said, “and the older you are, the better you get at endurance. It’s  counterintuitive and gives you a completely different view on age.”

Herb + Flora
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Training is like a full-time job, too. Stark-Flora is usually in action five or six days a week, working on two of the three sports. She usually starts at about 5:45 a.m., before settling into a day of work. “You have a lot of energy until 5 p.m.,” she laughed, “and then – you collapse.”

Her favorite distance is the Ironman, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim followed by a 58-mile bike ride and culminates in a half marathon, which is 13.1 miles. Her average completion time is about seven hours — but it’s not about speed for Stark-Flora.

“I’m not fast, but I always finish,” she said. “In business, so many start-ups don’t make it. There are so many factors — chance, funding, energy, people. But there is also faith and energy and not giving up and always pushing, pushing, pushing. At the end of the day, the people who succeed are the people who are very stubborn and they don’t give up easily.”

No surprise, then, that The Odyssey is the symbol for Herb + Flora and that Stark-Flora’s personal Instagram handle is @life_is_an_odyssey. “It took Odysseus 10 years to get home. He went through victories and near-death experiences,” Stark-Flora said. “The road was very difficult and the same thing with entrepreneurship or a race.

“Anything could happen — you could get injured, dehydrated, hit a wall or have a fantastic victory and break your own record,” she continued. “You have to be ready for absolutely anything when you’re the owner of a small company and believe in yourself and trust in others.”