Breaking Through: How To Make It in a Crowded Market
With Trinity Mouzon Wofford, Cora Miller, Alicia Scott, and Roya Shariat
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The beauty industry is known for changing faster than the seasons. In this panel from the 2022 Women in Business Summit, Glossier and three founders from the next generation of leading beauty brands share how they have navigated the delicate processes of starting their business, scaling it, overcoming obstacles, and tackling new goals.
- Trinity Mouzon Wofford, co-founder and CEO, Golde
- Cora Miller, co-founder and CEO, Young King Hair Care
- Alicia Scott, founder and CEO, Range Beauty
Moderator: Roya Shariat, senior manager of impact, Glossier
Prefer to read about it? Dive deeper into the conversation with these three speakers about their experiences with representation, finding community, and launching their beauty businesses.
Trinity launched Golde in 2017 in response to a gap in the health and wellness market and aims to make wellness more affordable, inclusive, and fun. She is the youngest woman of color to ever launch a brand in Sephora and was named one of the Top 100 Female Founders in 2019 by Inc. Magazine. Trinity champions transparency as a tool to empower rising entrepreneurs and helps future business owners start and scale their businesses with her #office_hrs series on social media.
In 2019, Cora developed Young King Hair Care, the first and only plant-based, natural grooming line crafted for multicultural young men. Young King was inspired by Cora’s son and developed to celebrate Black and Brown boys’ hair and create a space for them in the beauty industry. Cora’s corporate background includes strategic and collaborative social responsibility leadership with a focus in program development, operations, and communications.
Alicia graduated from Virginia Tech with a fashion merchandising and design degree. After noticing the limited availability of makeup shades for women of color, she founded her first cosmetics line in 2017, which would relaunch as Range Beauty in 2018. The line focuses on clean ingredients that are safe for acne-prone skin and eczema while providing the appropriate undertones and shades for melanin-rich skin tones. In 2022, Alicia won the investment of both Lori Greiner and Emma Grede on SharkTank.
Communications and social impact expert Roya Shariat graduated from New York University, where she studied economics, Middle-Eastern studies, and social and public policy. She currently focuses on helping Glossier have a perspective and stance on important social causes, including a grant program for Black-owned beauty businesses. She also leads Glossier’s employee volunteer program Smile Wave.
Emily: I know many of you battle with what to say, how to say it, where to say it, and I think these experts are going to be incredible. They’re going to share a ton of tips with you about making it in a crowded market. First, I’d like to welcome Roya, Trinity, Cora, and Alicia to the stage. You guys can all join me by turning your cameras on. And our moderator is going to be Roya for this one. So Roya, let me hand it to you and you take it away with this fantastic group.
Roya: Thanks so much, Emily. Hi, everyone. I’m so excited to connect all of you and even more excited to be on a panel with these incredible women. I’m Roya. I’m the senior manager for social impact at Glossier, a beauty company, and I lead our grant program for Black-owned beauty businesses as well as all of our charitable and philanthropic initiatives. I’m thrilled to be with these incredible founders of Young King Hair Care, Range Beauty, and Golde, to discuss how they navigated the delicate process of starting their businesses, scaling them, overcoming obstacles, and tackling new goals.
Roya: Before we get started and jump into it, I’m going to give a quick intro to these three phenomenal panelists. First up, we have Cora Miller, the Co-founder and CEO of Young King Hair Care. Inspired by her son, she and her husband launched Young King in 2019, with the mission to redefine male grooming for the next generation of Black and Brown men. Cora was previously VP of external affairs at UnitedHealth Group and has 10 years of experience as a leader in corporate social responsibility, program development, operations, and communications.
Roya: Next up, we have Alicia Scott, Founder and CEO of Range Beauty. Alicia started her career in the fashion industry in New York, where she realized the difficulty of finding the right shades for her skin and undertones and complexion products that didn’t also aggravate her eczema and acne. So she started Range Beauty, a brand that would not compromise color, care, or condition of her skin. And last but not least, we have Trinity Mouzon Wofford, the Co-founder and CEO of Golde, a Brooklyn-born health and beauty brand. She founded Golde in 2017 with her partner with the mission of bringing accessibility to the wellness industry through approachable products, powered by super foods.
Roya: Welcome, welcome everyone. So happy to have you here. I’ll kick off our first question and just get to the fundamentals and basics, which we know every brand starts out with an idea, but I’d love to hear a little bit about your business and how you took it from an idea to a company. And Cora I will start with you and move to Alicia and Trinity next.
Cora: Of course. Thanks, Roya. First of all, can I just say how hyped I am to be on this panel with three people that I love so much. So, yay, woo! This is going to be great. Anyways, I digress. For Young King, it’s interesting. I always tell people, I never thought I was going to be an entrepreneur at all. Not even a little bit. I was kind of busy climbing the corporate ladder and really doing my thing. And it really wasn’t until having my son that my whole perspective changed. They always say, when you have kids, it shakes things up, and that’s exactly what happened for me. And so for me, having him with all this beautiful hair and really searching for products to help me style his hair, I just found it so strange that there weren’t any products in the space that were specifically and intentionally crafted for young men of color.
Cora: My husband always calls me a forever do-gooder. Roya shared I used to work in social impact, social responsibility. So when I see injustice anywhere, I’m like, ah, we got to do something about that. And that’s how I felt for our young men and recognizing that there’s not really a place for them in beauty. And so, I strongly believe in representation. I strongly believe that you should be able to see yourself in whatever product that you use. And I wanted my son and boys that look like him to be able to do that.
Cora: And so, that’s how Young King got started. And it was a journey. It took a really long time, almost two years for us to launch, but it was so worth it. And just the response that we received from our community. Just so happy that young men of color now have a place in beauty, it’s just been the greatest blessing of my life.
Roya: I love that so much, forever do-gooder. I can identify with that. Alicia, let’s go to you next.
Alicia: Yes. I sing the same sentiments of Cora. I love the women on this panel. I’m excited. I kind of had a little bit of an opposite journey. I grew up knowing that I was always going to own my own company. I loved fashion. My whole goal in life was to have my own fashion collection. I wanted to see it walk down the New York runway. I wanted to walk down the street and see people in my clothing. I always knew I was going to be an owner of a brand or a company in that segment. Beauty, mysterious world to me. I did not like makeup. I didn’t wear makeup, but while working behind the scenes in fashion, I went to Virginia Tech for fashion merchandising and design, and post-graduation, moved to New York, took any fashion job that would hire me.
Alicia: And during the course of all these different roles, I noticed that models, Black models, were coming to set with their own makeup kits. And I discovered it was because a lot of the makeup artists didn’t have anything in their kits for these different skin tones. And it resonated with me because it was the first time I think I heard someone outside of myself say, I don’t feel represented in this space.
Alicia: And so I didn’t feel represented in beauty. I didn’t see myself in any of the marketing images. I didn’t see myself when I walked down that aisle in stores. And at the same time, I was also beginning this kind of struggle-journey with atopic eczema and cystic acne. And so I had to be very cautious with the ingredients that I was applying to my skin. And I thought it would be a really great idea to incorporate the remedies that I was using for my acne and for my eczema into makeup so that I could have something that was a match for my brown skin, as well as something that didn’t inflame or worsen my skin conditions, but also helped and was an extension of my skincare routine. I wanted a line that was makeup with skincare benefits.
Alicia: And that idea, I planned at the first scene in 2014. I did a lot of research. I initially launched in 2017. Scrapped everything, went back to the drawing board and relaunched again in 2018. And just like Cora said, it’s been a journey, especially a journey because it’s so eye opening when you don’t have a background in whatever you’re trying to build. It was like, okay, great. I could speak for my personal journey, but then having to do the research and understand how this could help and how you actually sell it to others was a whole other part of the journey.
Trinity: I love hearing this ‘cause I feel like I’m learning new things. Sorry. I’m just excited. I’m also excited. But hello, everyone. My name is Trinity Mouzon Wofford, Co-founder of Golde. My journey with starting the business, I co-founded the business five years ago now. I started the business with my high school sweetheart. So I can relate to Cora on all the fun stuff of starting a business with your life partner.
Trinity: Really my interest around starting the business was really from my own experiences as a consumer in the wellness space. And I feel like this is a theme that’s happening here. We had these experiences. I was actually, my career path was I was planning to be a doctor. I was pre-med in college, but I ended up moving away from that path because I found that there was really more of this opportunity to make this space of wellness products and super foods more accessible.
Trinity: I think we’re all kind of used to the more kind of typical wellness world where you’ve got these powders that you’re mixing and got to plug your nose and chug it down, or everything is so expensive. I was really focused on this idea of like, I think people want to explore this. I think this is exciting. Why can’t it be delicious? Why can’t it be affordable? Why can’t it be approachable? And that was really how we got started. So very humble beginnings. It’s been a crazy journey so far, and I’m so excited to talk more about it.
Roya: All of you are such an inspiration and it’s wild to think that I’ve known you all very close for, almost a year and a half for me and Trinity, and about almost a year for me, Cora, and Alicia. We got to know each other through Glossier’s grant program. And I didn’t know these specific details either, which is amazing.
Roya: And to give some context on the grant program, every year we run a grant program where we give half a million dollars away to Black founders in beauty in an effort to make the beauty industry more inclusive and recognize kind of the historic injustice and disinvestment that’s taken place with Black founders. We started the program in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic murder, when there was a nationwide call and movement towards justice, which is obviously still ongoing and always important. I would love to hear from you all, at that time, May and June of 2020, how did that movement and that subsequent spotlight on Black entrepreneurs and brands impact your businesses. Who wants to start that one?
Trinity: I can—
Cora: Oh, go ahead Trinity.
Trinity: It was a lot. To be honest, there were a few things happening at once. First of all, our business was surging. We did more in revenue in June of 2020 than we did in the entire calendar year of 2019. At that point we were a full-time team of two. We were not prepared for that scale. And on some level, of course, massive unexpected growth is very exciting. At the same time, as a Black founder, I was also grappling with everything that was happening. I think it felt very conflicting to see this surge of interest and enthusiasm about our business but to also know that so much of it was kind of coming from a really strange place. It wasn’t necessarily the circumstances under which I wanted to seek growth for my business.
Trinity: At the same time though, I think we saw so many incredible messages of encouragement of folks really saying, I’m so glad that this movement brought me to your brand because I wouldn’t have found you otherwise, and this is incredible and I believe in the work that you’re doing. And there has been a level shift in our business ever since then. I think it was a whirlwind of a moment. There were a lot of feelings, there was a lot of racing to get our supply chain ready, but I think ultimately as a founder, you always just have to be prepared for whatever’s coming down the pipe, and so often you cannot predict it.
Cora: No, that was so great, how you said all of that. I think, sadly, it really did take this very tragic situation for people to be woken up in our country and recognize not only the social injustices facing the Black community but also the economic disparities and this enormous wealth gap that exists for our community. And so with that in mind, then you have programs like Glossier that are really reaching out to small businesses, to entrepreneurs that are trying to close that wealth gap for generations to come. You have big-box retailers that are coming out with all of these amazing programs to try to help scale and grow these companies, again, to close that wealth gap.
Cora: So it was amazing to see all this immediate outpouring of support just to help businesses like all of ours, but at the same time, it was a struggle to ensure, or at least for me, to feel like it was from a genuine place and not just I’m doing it because I feel like I have to. And so when I was evaluating all these opportunities that were being thrown my way from all of these programs, because everybody wanted to help everybody all of a sudden, it really took some deep diving to really understand the intent behind these programs that were being stood up and recognize: is there value being poured into our business from a genuine place or really is it kind of value being extracted from our businesses?
Cora: And so that was kind of the internal struggle that I felt during all of this time. But at the same time, just super grateful that I did have such great opportunities come our way for Young King. I guess, similar to Trinity, we weren’t even full time yet at that time. We were .5 of a person between me and my husband, and we literally got wiped out, like inventory, gone, and we were out for like weeks and months. So it was great to have this influx of intention, but just really balancing that among just understanding: is this really genuine, coming from a genuine place, versus I’m just doing it because I need to.
Alicia: And I will say, I completely agree with Cora and Trinity. I think for me, it was very interesting. I left my full-time job in December of 2019. And so, 2020 was my first full-time year with Range. And so we had the pandemic happening. It was peak pandemic. At the same time, we also had this happening. And I think the personal balance was very difficult because there were days where I just did not want to get out of bed. I hate to see the images of us on the screen like that. I hated to see what some people were having to say about it in negative ways because not everyone was, “Oh my gosh, we have to do something about this.” There were absolutely those negative comments, and I had to really get myself together because I’m like, my gosh, now I’m full time into this business. By this time, I now had a full-time employee. I had contractors. I’m like, well, they still have get paid. You know what I mean? I can’t just stay in bed for weeks on end. And so I had that personal struggle going on.
Alicia: And then the same sentiments of trying to decide who was genuinely trying to support us and who was doing it just from a performance measure. And for us, we were the same. We blew through four months of inventory within one month, and it was our highest revenue year since I had launched the brand. And just really trying to stick to the people who I already knew were showing us support in the community like Target and trying to stick to people like Glossier, who they actually, you guys had a plan. It wasn’t just, “Oh, we’re popping up with this thing and now we’re just disappearing into the shadows afterwards.” Just really trying to stay with people who are actual allies to us.
Alicia: And also, I think it was great because it was a year that showed Black-owned brands does not mean that it’s only for Black people. And there was a lot of discovery going on in 2020 that was just like, “Oh, okay, this is an inclusive brand, it’s just Black owned, black founded. Maybe from a personal problem within the black community is why it was created, but it’s for all.” And so I think that was really important as well in 2020 when we see that ongoing too.
Roya: You all put it so well. I feel like, Alicia, one of the things you called out is some came out of the woodwork in 2020 and then were never to be seen from again. And that’s incredibly frustrating as someone who’s passionate and cares deeply as a person and then someone who works in impact for a living. You can’t just show up when there’s tragedy and trauma and then not be there for the good times or not be there all year round. And I think, unfortunately, racism in this country is nothing new and things have persisted. My hope is that for other businesses: always realize the importance of speaking up and supporting communities of color in really authentic ways. On that note and kind of looking forward, Alicia and Cora, I’d love to hear from you. What changes do you want to see happen in the future, I think in the beauty industry and also just generally in the business space to create more equity?
Alicia: Yeah, I can start. I think the biggest thing for me is I just want diversity and inclusion to be normalized. I don’t want it to be a specialty topic. I don’t want it to be a spotlight because of this. It should just be part of normal conversation. It should be a normal benchmark for any company. And it shouldn’t be like, “Oh my gosh, let’s give this company so much love because they’re really putting efforts towards diversity and inclusion.” No, it should just be part of your framework because that’s when the most unique ideas come together. That’s when the most powerful brands are created. That’s when there’s a true sense of community and belonging, is when someone can see themselves represented in some type of way, some type of part of the thread of your brand and your community, the way that you speak to us. I just would love for it to be normalized.
Alicia: And so that it’s just, future generations just feel that sense of belonging and it doesn’t have to be this audacious “Oh my goodness” type of thing. It’s just like, “Oh yeah, I could do that because there’s already been room made for me to do that.”
Cora: Oh my gosh. She said that so beautifully. I don’t even have much to add. I think inclusive marketplace. Seriously, like Alicia just said, we haven’t always been represented in the places and spaces where we’re at, so let’s get there. And to her point, let’s normalize it, that it’s nothing for my son to go online or walk in a store and see products represented for him, period. That should just be a normal everyday occurrence.
Cora: The only other thing I think I would add is, when it comes to capital, really for founders who look like us and in beauty, it’s really hard to secure that capital needed to really scale and grow your business. And so just being more equitable in that space could really triply impact all of our businesses by just being able to tap those resources with us not being pigeonholed into being a niche brand because we are Black or because we’re women. Even though we can serve all, it just makes it really hard for us when we do try to scale and grow, if we don’t have that access to capital. I think it starts there and I think it starts with the marketplace.
Roya: 100%. It starts with real equity and inclusion and normalizing it as well as changing our funding ecosystem. Another challenge that comes to mind beyond funding is sticking out in a crowded space, which is the topic of our panel here today. And all of you are running incredibly successful businesses in such a crowded space of beauty and wellness. And I’d love to hear how you all broke through the noise and maybe what you thought was most important in terms of standing out against your peers. And Trinity, I’ll call on you first, and then, Alicia, would love to hear from you after.
Trinity: Yeah. We operate in the wellness space and there’s a lot of players out there. There are all sorts of superfood powders that you can buy, et cetera, for your matcha, your collagen, whatever. I think that what we have found has worked really well for Golde is really leaning into telling our authentic story. And so for me, that’s meant like putting my face out there, which by the way, in case anyone watching is like, I don’t want to do that. I didn’t want to do it. But there’s something to be said for, if you think about what some of your favorite brands are, why do you have that affinity toward them? What is it about that brand that makes you the super fan that can’t get enough? It’s product quality, but it’s also the heritage of the brand and the story behind the brand. And it’s the fact that you feel empowered as a consumer to tell that story. You understand it. You relate to it. It means something to you.
Trinity: I think that’s something that we can all do as we’re thinking about this opportunity with our businesses, how to grow them, how to stand out, what is it about your business that you want your customer to evangelize? What do you want them to be out there spreading the word about? Is it your sourcing, is it the style, is it the inclusivity, whatever. Pinpointing those things is so important. I think part of it comes from doing that exercise yourself, but it also comes from talking to your customers.
Trinity: And so, we do fairly regular customer surveys. We also just like hop on Zoom with our customers. We’re answering DMs, whatever. That’s where the magic is. Figure out, if someone comes to you and says, “I love your brand,” ask them: Why, what is it? If you could name one thing, what is a thing that makes you love this company? And you’ll start to hear themes and you’ll start to find that pattern of where you need to lean in.
Roya: So good. The DMs are where the magic happens. Alicia, I feel like you might be frozen, but I cannot tell. She might be frozen. Okay. In the meantime, Cora, I would love to hear how you and the Young King team have stood out in a crowded space.
Cora: Yeah. I think for us, I don’t want to say it was easy, because it’s not. The textured hair care space is very full, but I think for us, there was truly a wide space when it comes to young men of color in this segment. When you look at the market, and I guess this is kind of a piece of advice, I did a lot of research when starting the business. Blame it on my husband who has an MBA. And so he was like, “Well, if you really want to do this thing, you need to do some market research, consumer research, customer research, all the research.” And so I did it. I actually interviewed and surveyed like 100 parents. I walked down store aisles. I Googled. I looked at various reports just to understand who were the big players in my category; how they were showing up; and then how we could be different than that and how we were different than that.
Cora: And so that really, for me, in doing all that research, which again, it took weeks and months, it wasn’t something that I took lightly. I didn’t do one Google search and that was it. So I strongly recommend you actually take the time to do all of that research to really understand: What is your unique proposition? How are you so different from what’s out there that you can create this community of people that will become your ambassadors and will ride for you no matter what? So that’s what we were able to do by understanding that the textured haircare space, there really wasn’t a brand out there that was speaking to our target audience, and so that’s how we could fill that gap.
Cora: And so, I think standing out just meant doing my research, being well educated on my segment—who the big players are—and using that to inform how I would be uniquely different from everyone else. On top of that, just staying true to my “why,” and why I created this brand was for my son, at the end of the day. And with that, I knew we weren’t going to fail. We were going to figure it out, get it done, because my son was tied to why we created Young King in the first place.
Roya: Wow. That was incredible. And you heard it here first: Do your research. Go in the shelves. Do your surveys. Send them out. Spend your time really figuring out what’s missing from the market and what’s your unique value add. I think one of the things I remember so distinctly in reviewing grant applications and talking to the Young King team was asking about their peers and competitors. And they had mentioned, if we really think about who’s targeting young men, it’s largely brands like X. And that made me think, and that took my mind to the drugstore aisle where I’d see these products and it’s typically one or two big brands. I think moments like that are aha moments of things can be different, and I can start this, and I can get a following.
Roya: I’d love to hear both of you and Alicia, in addition to being Glossier grantees, you’ve all been in the Target Accelerator Program. And I’d love to hear how your approach to retail differs from your online approach and why you think it’s important to be omnichannel.
Cora: Do you want me to start?
Roya: Go for it.
Cora: We definitely, in building Young King, knew we wanted to have a multi-channel approach. And that just goes back to me as a mom, a parent, when I was searching for products for my son, I was looking everywhere. I was looking online. I was looking in stores. And so it was important for me to create a brand that would be able to show up wherever moms like me or young men were looking for products. And so for us, we started as a DTC brand, direct to consumer brand. We launched online, and that was at the end of 2019. We were a full DTC brand through 2020. And we had the amazing opportunity to go to retail the following year, which is really insane when you think about it, y’all, like we had only been fully launched for a year and then we were showing up in two major retailers. It was kind of bananas. That’s a whole other story.
Cora: But anyways, I say that to say I didn’t think that we would be in retail as quickly as we were. I knew that’s a place that we wanted to go, literally was on my vision board and for the company, but to be able to get this just great opportunity by participating in Target Accelerator, we knew we were ready and we knew we could do it. And so retail for us was just another way again, to make our products more accessible to young men, to parents. And so that’s why it was important for us to still have a strong web presence so you can shop for us online and also go down a store aisle to pick us up.
Trinity: Yeah. I feel like there’s so much there. And our journey was, we were omnichannel from the very beginning. When we first launched our business, we launched in small indie boutique retailers. And for the first couple of years of operation, that was by far our largest revenue channel. I think it was a phenomenal way to start because we didn’t have any budget to put towards creating awareness on Facebook ads or anything. We were able to sit on the shelves of these great beauty and wellness destinations and cities like New York and Los Angeles. And we got this brand recognition, but it was also profitable. And so, these are not like the big checks, these are not the things that are going to make you into a multimillion dollar business, but they kept us afloat while we learned, which I think was really important.
Trinity: And so, we launched in 2017, it wasn’t until 2021 that we launched in Target. Target had also been, I would say on my vision board. I’ve got a long, crazy story about how I hacked my way to my first meeting. I was literally told that no one could meet with me that day. And I was like, my flight’s already booked, I’m coming.
Trinity: I think you make things happen when you believe in them. I do think that big time retail like Target, et cetera, it’s such a different game from going on an indie boutique shelf. I do think it’s really worth it to, again, do your research, make sure that you feel ready, you are better off launching when you’re ready than launching too early. That’s a much higher risk scenario. So making sure that you really understand the supply chain constraints, what you’re going to need to be able to do to keep product on the shelves of like hundreds or thousands of doors all the time. It’s a very big undertaking. I think it’s something to really just make sure that you’re ready for.
Roya: Thank you both. And Alicia, welcome back. I know technical difficulties are still a thing in year three of our Zoom world, but let’s hear from you on omnichannel and being part of retail partnerships.
Alicia: Yeah, absolutely. When I launched, I launched August 2018 as Range Beauty, and I was very intentional about our messaging being around acne and eczema. Our social media started off already about acne and eczema. And so we were already in this place when we launched that we were actually contacted by Target in September of 2018, and they contacted us on social media. And it was a buyer who said, “I saw your presence on social media. I love what you’re speaking about and we would love to meet with you.” So I had the fortunate case of my buyer and her associate actually flying to Atlanta for me to do an in-person line review, my first line review ever. I had no idea what to say, what to do. I just brought my product. And I was like, I’ll just show up with myself and present and tell my story and we’ll see what they have to say.
Alicia: And they were ready. They were like, “Okay, so when can you launch?” And I was like, I actually just launched in August of 2018. And it was great because the buyer was like, I did not realize you were so early into this. I didn’t know you were so young. And it was great though, because they laid out a lot of the things that I needed to prepare, a lot of the expenses that go into being on-shelf, especially at Target. And they were just very transparent of what it looked like to be in a brick and mortar, or to even be on their dotcom. So that allowed me to say, okay, I’m not ready now, just like Trinity spoke to, if I tried to go at that time, who knows what would’ve happened, honestly. And so I said, okay, I’m not ready now, but I will do what I need to do to make sure I’m prepared for this partnership in the future. And they were like, “Okay, no problem. Just stay in touch. Keep us updated.”
Alicia: And so for me, I had that initial contact with Target. Every year Target does a Black-owned business fair at their headquarters in Minneapolis, where they have Black-owned businesses that are either already on the shelf or will potentially be on the shelf, come out and showcase their products, kind of like a popup style. They have you showcase to their C-suite. They have you showcase to Target employees who work on the floor. And so I presented there. I met with the head of buying. And they were like, “Okay, you’re going to let us know when you’re ready?” And I’m like, okay, yes, yes, yes.
Alicia: And so for me, on my vision board, I was like, oh, hopefully five years from now, maybe I can get in the room with Target. Now my whole thing was making sure whatever I was doing in terms of getting the capital, in terms of making the packaging ready, in terms of making sure our audience was ready for Target was kind of a long journey until I said, okay, now I’m ready. And so after the Accelerator Program, we had another line review, our second line review, with Target in April. And then we launched the year of the pandemic, which was kind of crazy. We launched and we were talking with our buyer about in-store strategy versus dotcom strategy. And because we were unsure of what was going on with the retail landscape during the pandemic, and also due to our price point (our price point sits higher than most of the makeup brands that are sold at Target) our strategy was to go continue our story on dotcom.
Alicia: And for me, dotcom has been very influential in the community that we built, because it’s so easy for you to own your story. And it’s so easy for you to communicate your story on your own sites. And then even on Target.com, it allows us to also control that narrative a bit more, but definitely through your dotcom, that’s where you should be pushing your story the most so that people are familiar with you. Your community is familiar with you starting there so that when they go to the store or when they’re speaking to their friends, family, when they’re speaking on social media about you, they’re like, “Okay, I already know that these are the kind of the points that I’m talking about. This is the story, the founder story. This is what makes them different, why you should support them or purchase from them.” That’s kind of our strategy, was let’s build up our presence on dotcom and then venture into brick and mortar. So we’re actually doing a little bit of a different journey and we’ll be going into brick and mortar next year.
Roya: Well, congratulations and good luck in advance. That’s super, super exciting. And I love that you mentioned that Target found you because of your social media, which blends in beautifully with the next question, which is, tell us how you feel about social media in terms of building a community and spreading brand awareness and what tactics have landed well for you. Trinity, I’ll call on you first and then, Alicia, would love for you to round that out.
Trinity: Yes, social media has been so huge in building Golde. It’s still the number one traffic source that we have to our website. It’s the number one place that folks say that they found out about us. When we launched in 2017, that’s like peak Instagram moment, that’s where we really started. That’s where we built our brand’s home. And I think what worked for us in building our community over time there was really just to be very transparent about our story and to create content that we thought was engaging.
Trinity: And so, we didn’t go super salesy on Instagram. We really leveraged it as an opportunity to show the lifestyle around the products. And that was what we found was kind of like our special opportunity was that, at the end of the day, it wasn’t just that someone wanted to be drinking Golde matcha or Golde turmeric latte, it was that they wanted to have Golde as a part of their lifestyle. They wanted to be someone who used the products. And so creating that opportunity I think has been really instrumental for us.
Trinity: Now, of course, I think the social media landscape has shifted a lot in the past few years. We’re on TikTok and Pinterest. Instagram is still kind of that like home for the brand, but there are different sorts of priorities as you think about these different channels. And so, I think that it’s actually a very exciting time for brands that are working on building their presence on social media, because you have multiple different channels to really look at and think about. And so you can say for example, okay, TikTok is a really great selling channel. It’s a discovery channel. It’s where people are going to find out about something new, get excited about it, and potentially just go and buy it—go buy it online, go buy it at Target, whatever.
Trinity: So what’s the type of content that you want to create for that versus what’s the type of content that you want to create on Instagram, where Instagram is kind of like, you hear about a new brand and you check out their Instagram to get the vibe. You want to know who they are, what’s the deal. Thinking about those different content opportunities I think is really exciting and something that I’m excited to honestly keep diving into in 2022.
Alicia: I love that. For me, because I was breaking into an industry that there are thousands and thousands and thousands of makeup brands, and I was coming from the interesting angle of being acne and eczema center, that’s how I was breaking through the noise. So for me, I was like, okay, when I go through these Instagram pages of other brands, I don’t see anyone with acne, I don’t see makeup as kind of… it’s like taboo. “We want you to come and associate our product with flawless skin, not with acne or eczema-ridden skin.” And so I was like, okay, I was very intentional about making sure when we were posting on social media, that we were showing images of people with real skin, without any filters, and also redefining what healthy skin meant and redefining getting away from perfect skin and flawless skin.
Alicia: We were just like, no, it’s your skin, which is a little oomph, but your skin is still beautiful the way it is. And the products that we’re creating aren’t meant to cover up your skin or your face at all. It’s meant to make you feel more secure and confident in your skin health. And so that was our whole approach, and that’s something that a lot of feedback we receive is when people come to our page and it’s like, “Oh my gosh, I see someone who actually looks like me. I see someone who has skin like me—” whether it’s with freckles, whether it’s hyperpigmentation, acne, dry spots from eczema.
Alicia: And that was something, Trinity spoke about it earlier, I became the face of the brand because I’m like, okay, well, I can speak to my journey. I speak about tips outside of makeup—just tips that help with my eczema, tips that help with my acne—to make it more so of a story instead of always sales, sales, sales, sales. And I think that’s really important when you’re building out your brand, is you want people to come to you because they feel comfortable, not because like, “Oh, this person’s always selling to me. I’m probably not going to follow that page,” or “I’m not going to really support because it just seems money is the bottom line.”
Alicia: And for us it was really about building a community, really about giving people a place, a home, where they felt comfortable. And I think another crucial part is making sure you have something that goes hand in hand with your social media. So I’ll speak honestly, for me, for newsletters, I was like, newsletters? I always delete my newsletters. Who cares? And then I really started understanding the importance of building your community off of social media. Remember, Instagram went down? And you’re like, “Oh my gosh, now what?” You want to make sure that you’re building that community elsewhere. So for us, it was like, okay, let’s get intentional about our newsletters. Let’s speak about ingredient knowledge in our newsletters. Let’s speak about helpful tips and tricks in our newsletter. Again, making sure that we’re not only sending you a newsletter when we have a sale or when we have a new product launch, but actually helping you, again, find community with us. So that was something big.
Alicia: Like Trinity spoke to, we are also on Twitter, and it’s very different. Your conversation and how you appear on Twitter is completely different from Instagram, is completely different from TikTok, Pinterest. And making sure that you find wherever your community is, don’t feel like, oh my gosh, we have to be everywhere. And we need to have thousands and thousands of followers on every single platform. No, because that might not be where your actual audience and community is. I think that’s something to also think about.
Roya: Amazing. Thank you both. And I think what I noticed from both of you and from Young King, because Cora, I see you. I see Stefan. I see Kate on your page. When you’re scrappy and when you are controlling a large part of the social, it’s okay to be part of it. In fact, I think that’s your superpower because any big business can have a slew of models and professional shots. And while those are certainly aspirational, they’re not necessarily very real, and they’re not always going to be the thing that entices someone to buy your product or what sets you apart. So always remember that your smallness and your personality are your superpowers.
Roya: I’d love to get to at least one of the audience Q&As while we have about eight minutes left. So folks, if you do have Q&As, please feel free to get them in Zoom and we’ll do our best to answer them. We had someone ask, “When just starting off, you have to do it all yourself or with a very small team. At what point do you decide you need to hire someone to do a specific part of your business, like social or online advertising or maybe supply chain?” I’d love to hear from each of you, how you’ve kind of gone about hiring and growing your teams. When did you make the choice?
Trinity: Cora and I were just talking about this. So I feel like she should kick us off.
Roya: Oh, Cora.
Cora: I was laughing. Yeah. We literally were just talking about this. Team, it’s interesting. Honestly for Young King, again, me and my husband were still working our full-time jobs even when we launched. I didn’t actually leave to go full-time on the business until the fall of 2020. That was a whole almost year after we launched. And then my husband just recently came full-time on the business fall of 2021.
Cora: So team is, for us, for Young King, is getting as scrappy as we could, just figuring out. It’s kind of that grit, that hustle. You just do what you need to do. So customer service, I was on it. Social media, I’m doing it. Supply chain, that’s me. I’m going to figure it out. That’s “team” for Young King.
Cora: Obviously, there is a point where you can’t do it all. And so, that for us came when we started to get these big retail opportunities and recognizing that obviously we needed to kind of elevate and move beyond ourselves. So that meant bringing on a 3PL, a third-party logistics partner. That meant that we need to scale manufacturing partners. That meant I needed to stop doing customer service because I don’t have time for that. Love my customers, though I do, I can’t answer every email or DM. And so when you get to the point where you are really starting to scale, that for me, that for you, can kind of be that turning point.
Cora: I definitely always tell entrepreneurs, don’t feel like you have to quit your 9 to 5 right away to start the business. I think you need to be thoughtful and really plan out your exit plan to get there. Starting a business requires money, and you’re not going to get money right away. Let’s just be very real about it. As much as you think you’re going to blow up and make all of this money, thousands and thousands of dollars, it’s just not going to happen right away. So you will probably need your 9 to 5 to help fund the business.
Cora: And so, I think I’m all for people diving in, getting really excited, but just be very thoughtful and very strategic on how you plan to finance the business when you’re first starting out. And then you can get to a place where yes, you can hire yourself, you can hire a team, you can hire part-time consultants, whatever you need to do that fits within your budget and your business strategy, but just kind of pace yourself and just be willing to roll up your sleeves and really get in there and do all the things, all the things that you need to do to help grow your business.
Trinity: Big plus one on all of that. I still write every Instagram caption for Golde. I can’t give it up. But here’s the thing, it depends. I feel like social media is one of the first things that people want to outsource. And I had that feeling too, of like, I’m the CEO, what am I doing writing Instagram captions? If you’re the best person to write them, and it’s the biggest revenue channel for your business, write them. If it’s not that critical to your business and it’s not where your community is, and it’s not that impactful and your time is better spent on sales or supply chain or whatever, go there.
Trinity: I think when you’re thinking about who you want to hire out, you also kind of want to think about where your core skill set is and where you drive the most meaningful opportunity and revenue for the company and make sure that you’re trying to prioritize you doing as much of that as possible. For example, I’m really not like a finance or supply chain person. I still oversee all of that, but we have people on the team now that do that and they do it so much better than I ever did it. I think it’s like looking at efficiencies too and making sure that everybody’s in the right role.
Alicia: Agree, agree, agree. And I think for me, what I loved, and even though it was a love/hate relationship, but what I loved from handling everything was that when it was time to hire someone, you’re not blindly hiring someone. So for me, I think every entrepreneur should be able to at least touch these areas that may not be your expertise. Obviously it’s not going to be something that you’re going to eventually do day to day, but I’m like, I don’t want to hire someone in finance and I know nothing about finance, so I have no idea if you’re even doing your job. I don’t want to hire someone in social, product development, wherever. And I am like, oh yeah, those metrics look good. Okay, whatever. And I’m just paying you and I have no idea what you’re even doing.
Alicia: I love that I had to wear those hats. And then it was also a hate situation because it was like, I feel like I’m spreading myself so thin. I want to be able to give attention to what I love, like I love product development. I want my attention to be over here. I love building community. So for me, it was definitely figuring out what my strengths were, figuring out my weaknesses, figuring out: Who did I want in this role?
Alicia: For me, like I mentioned, I had one full-time employee join me in 2020, and that was my cousin. That was my cousin who had been with me in my apartment, filling orders with me. She was with me when I was talking about customer service issues. She was with me when I was doing the Target Accelerator. She was my right hand person, and it was such an easy hire because her passion for the business was on the same page with me. And that is something that you want to think about too, when you’re hiring. It’s like, is this someone I actually like, is this someone that I actually want to work with? Is this someone, like, am I dreading getting on this Zoom call with them? Or I’m like, okay, let’s get it done. Let’s talk through it.
Alicia: And then it’s like, is this person actually going to do what’s best for the mission of the company? Are they just here to collect a paycheck, or are they actually here to build what you’re building and believe in what you’re building? Because a lot of times on a startup, that’s what it’s about. The paychecks aren’t going to be that huge, sorry to tell you. So you really have to believe in your job here with us. So I think it’s really making sure you like the person, they actually believe in the purpose and mission of your brand, and then of course, that they’re able to perform in the role that you hired them in, and then sometimes a little bit more than what you hired them for. That’s another thing about a startup.
Alicia: You might give someone a job description and then like, “plus more.” There might be other things. I’m not saying I’m going to hire you in this role and that’s the only thing you’re ever going to have to touch. I want you to be flexible. I want you to be able to think outside the box and help us in other issues too. That’s really big with hires. But for me, when I knew it was the time, same as Cora, I was like, okay, I can’t sit here and actually go through every single customer service email. So for me, I was able to just get someone part-time to do our customer service. For me, it got to be, okay, we can’t fulfill 1,000 orders a day. When we were definitely preparing for Shark Tank, we were like, we’re probably going to need additional help, so we had to get with a warehouse that handled that full time. Especially with Target, we’re like, I’m not learning how to do EDI compliance and how to pack pallets and all of that, so we need to get with someone who can do that.
Alicia: It’s really assessing the areas that you actually need help with and then looking at your budget to see: Is this a contractor role, is this freelance, is this part-time, is this a full-time role? And building from there.
Roya: Thank you. And I’ll close us out, but let’s see if I can do a little bit of a recap because I feel like there were so many gems dropped in that answer. Hire people who genuinely want to be there and who you genuinely want to work with, and make sure that you hire for the expertise you might not have. And when you’re good at something, when you’re good at writing an Instagram caption and telling a story, keep at it. Just because you’re the CEO and the boss doesn’t mean you need to stop doing that, or that you should. And finally, it’s okay to be a side hustle at first, and it’s okay to bootstrap and grow this thing on your own and better to do that versus try to go all in. Because, to be honest, a lot of us have bootstrapped our side hustles and our businesses and enterprises, and that’s totally normal and okay.
Roya: And I do want to give a quick shout out to Cora because Alicia mentioned that she was on Shark Tank last month, and tomorrow evening, Cora and Stefan of Young King are going to be on Shark Tank, 8:00 PM Eastern and Pacific Time. So please watch them and cheer them on. But with that, thank you to these incredible iconic panelists, Cora, Trinity, and Alicia. It’s a joy to be in community with you always and to be on the stage with you. You have taught me so much in this one hour and I think it’s been a wonderful session. I will hand it back over to Emily to get us onto the next one.
Emily: Oh, you guys, that was incredible. Let me just move my camera down here so you don’t think I have this random… here’s my little brand new puppy.
Roya: Who’s this?
Emily: He’ll be with us for these final 15 minutes, because he’s done not being near me for the day. So, we will just ignore him. But can I say you guys, man, that panel was just loaded with experience. All the stuff you guys were saying was resonating with me. I was ferociously writing notes down. What a fantastic way to wrap our experts today. I’m so grateful you all could be with us.