Acquired Wisdom: Founders Reveal What They’ve Learned From Running Beauty Brands

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask eight founders: What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

Tova Hanifin Founder and President, ÀTOI Skincare

I wish I had known that if you have a unique product and a unique approach, you need to go for it, even if you don’t know everything. Don’t let fear of the unknown hold you back. You will learn and find out. I work with the brightest group of women of all different ages and backgrounds who continue to teach and inspire me. The things I am not good at do not phase me anymore. What I cannot figure out alone, we figure out together, and I have grown to love that process. It’s an incredible experience to be part of such a diverse team. I would have expanded my business sooner had I not been intimidated by what I didn’t understand. It’s so much better to risk comfort of the familiar than to live with the frustration of never trying.

Joanna Montesano Founder, Saint Cosmetics

We learned in our startup years the art of knowing who your customer is. In the beginning, we found ourselves allotting budget for marketing expenses without first truly understanding our customer’s buying persona. Who is she? What’s her motivation to purchase high performance makeup and what problems are we solving for her? Without taking time to learn who our actual paying customer was, the majority or our marketing budget was spent on trial and error with little to no ROI. Today, we have in place discovery phases between both online and offline strategies that allow us to delegate our marketing expenses to a much more targeted audience. These strategies have allowed us to create longer lasting relationships with both Saint’s direct consumers and retail partners.

Joshua Gordon Founder, Noyah

I always knew that good packaging is well worth the investment. But, as an entrepreneur of in indie brand, I was also very conscious of keeping costs down, and I underestimated the importance of the good old packaging, packaging, packaging adage. I started out with packaging that was functional, but just okay. Along the way, I learned to appreciate that great packaging creates an emotional connection with consumers by inspiring them each time they interact with your product. This might occur when they first see it in stores, thereby increasing the chance of purchase, or on their makeup shelf, making them feel good every time they see it or while scrolling through Instagram. Needless to say, beautiful packaging increases the chances of being on social media in the first place. Packaging also can and should align with the brand value. In our case, we are a natural brand and redesigning our packaging so it has eco-friendly bamboo just made sense. To sum up, the product itself has to be great, and one might consider packaging a superficial and meaningless component, but it is most certainly anything but.

Marie Custeau Founder, Enamour

Especially on the social media front, but also in other areas, I wish I wasn't so paralyzed by not doing the right thing or not being good enough, so not actually doing anything. To be honest, it was like that at the beginning and, even if I am working hard to put this in practice, I am still a bit like this now sometimes. Hoping for perfectness every time is not achievable, especially when you are starting a business from scratch with your own funds. Getting things done is the best way to, well, getting things done. Better done than perfect.



Maya Crothers Founder, CircCell Skincare  

Public relations has been such a tricky area for us and is a very hot topic whenever indie beauty entrepreneurs get together. When we launched CircCell, the PR industry was in tremendous flux as the transition from print dominance to digital ascendance was in its early days. As a newcomer to the industry, it was like throwing darts left-handed in the dark trying to find the right path and mistakes are expensive. You never know right away if something is working. You need six months. Quit sooner than that and you may have just missed the return on your investment, but riding out the entire time with six months of retainers becomes an expensive lesson if things don't work out. Having more of a road map in PR would have been tremendous for us. Over the years, we have learned that traditional, big PR firms are not right for our space. We currently work with a woman who has tremendous experience working with indie beauty brands. Finding her sooner would have saved us a lot of time and money.

Sarah Walker Founder, Boosh

Over the past two years of building Boosh, I have come to realize and appreciate how close knit the indie beauty industry really is. When I was thinking about starting my business, I was worried that I wouldn’t get the exposure I needed to grow successfully.  Instead, it has been quite the opposite. Everyone knows everyone, which makes creating contacts and getting your product out there entirely possible. If I ever have a question or concern, there is someone I’ve met along the way who either knows the answer or knows someone who does. It is humbling to know that your biggest competitors are also your biggest advocates, giving you advice and supporting your every move. We are all striving for a change in the conventional beauty industry, and I am thankful that I took the leap and continue to have the overwhelming support of others, to my surprise, around the world.


Lori Fenn Founder, Lua Skincare  

Photography is everything. I enjoy taking images, but the last thing I needed was adding another task to the plate. In the beginning, I spent so much time shooting images, touching up and resizing. When I finally opened the door to have a professional photographer take high-quality images from a different perspective, it was so freeing. I am lucky enough to have one of my good friends, who is also a photographer, take my images for me. Having someone you trust who shares your vision is key. Now, I can call her up and give her product to shoot in the studio and send me the files ready to go. Having images separated into folders for press, website, promotion, etc. saves so much time.

Theodora Ntovas Founder and Manager, Yasou Natural Skin Care

I had just finished my first product, my hydrating body cream with essential oils. This first product was very personal and special to me, and it came out exactly how I envisioned it.  I was so excited about it that I filled a white jar with it and headed to New York. I decided I was going to go straight to Brooklyn - I had lived there for 13 years - and visit my dream retailer. I did exactly that. I walked in and told the girl at the counter that I had a special product and thought that they would love it. She proceeded to open the jar, smell and test it, and told me she would pass it on to the owners. Guess what? They wanted to carry it.  I thought that’s it, my line is going to take off. Well, it wasn’t that easy. They put me on their shelves, but no one came into the shop asking for Yasou Skin Care. This went on for several months, and they told me they were not going to reorder.  I was crushed, but realized a huge lesson:  If I could do it over again, I would have grown my brand on social media and locally before reaching out to my dream retailer. I would have known how to sell my product and would have had a following, even if small, before reaching out. I believe that following that method would have resulted in more of a win-win for both Yasou and the retailer.

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