Even if you are not in the beauty industry, you are likely aware of how massive it is. Its influence on social media and startup culture has been mind blowing, especially the last two to three years. Today, there are more than a handful of incredible beauty entrepreneurs who are on track to becoming unicorns, like Kylie Cosmetics (Seed Beauty). There are new companies that have had explosive organic growth like Ouai by Jen Atkin and a few recent exits like IT Cosmetics by Jamie Kern Lima, that was purchased for $1.2 billion in cash in 2016 by L'Oreal and Birchbox that is reportedly in talks for acquisition by Walmart in 2018.
Aside from all being incredible companies with brilliant founders, they all happen to be started within the last decade.
The beauty industry is estimated to be worth $445 billion. One of the key drivers to its rapid growth stems from influencers on visually focused social platforms like YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. Since social media's boom, brands have had a love-hate relationship with beauty bloggers. In one way, they are marketing machines and your brand can get out to millions of followers over night, alternatively, there is such an oversaturation that it is getting harder and harder to determine ROI.
Of those popular personalities, Mona Kattan & Huda Kattan of Huda Beauty, a cosmetics line based in Dubai, have created one of the most globally recognized and a massively successful empires - all by using their own followers to kickstart their growth.
Out of all of the aforementioned brands, Huda Beauty is the most interesting to me as its founders (who are globally recognized influencers) did not come from a celebrity or cosmetics background - they started in finance. And their Executive Vice President/Cofounder, Mona Kattan has a similar background to my own.
I was lucky enough to have a moment to speak with Mona about starting up, lessons she's learned, and advice she would give her young self that every entrepreneur in any category can use.
1. Never underestimate the value of corporate experience
Mona grew up in the states and moved to the Middle East with her family when she was 17. Her career began in corporate finance, which wasn't ultimately her calling, but she was skilled in the field and decided to work in the industry to gain experience for whatever was to come next.
No matter what industry you are in, you're previous experiences will shape you and ultimately dictate how you run your company in the future.
Not everyone needs to have a corporate job to grow a billion dollar company, but it certainly smooths some of the early bumps in the road. I frequently speak about this when I lecture on college campuses, but even if you are not a full-time employee at a major company, internships will get you so much farther than any book you read or class you take.
2. Identify your interests early and never take them for granted
In early 2006, when Facebook had just taken off, Mona identified her passion for social connecting. If you speak with her, or follow her on Instagram, you can tell she is a naturally warm, and welcoming person, so it comes to no surprise to me when she told me she maxed out her allotted "friends" on Facebook. Between her and her sister, they currently have almost 30 million followers on Instagram alone - and the platforms have been a passion to this day.
3. Just start
When Mona left finance, she started a public relations firm that helped early stage companies build brand strategy. Her and her sister both had large social media followings at this point, and never stopped producing content - which, if you have never tried, is insanely hard to do.
Her sister, Huda, became a popular makeup artist who, for fun, would do her sisters and friends makeup by putting together products in a non-conventional way. Her followers would constantly ask about the products she used, so Mona, being the business brain, suggested they create their own custom products where their followers could actually buy what they were seeing - and Huda Beauty was born.
4. ALWAYS learn from other entrepreneurs in your space, and support each other
Something that Mona said that I think should be reiterated over and over, is that when you're launching a brand, keep in mind there will always be competition, but that doesn't mean war. If you are creating something unique - which you should be - it doesn't matter what any other brands are doing, and you should be learning from each other.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely place, make sure that you surround yourself with people who are right there with you. Mona even mentions some of the most supportive founder friends she has: Jeremy Johnson & Jerrod Blandino of TooFaced, Jen Atkin from Ouai, and the team at Urban Decay. An outsider would assume its dangerous competition, but as Mona said, "no one should be afraid of encouraging their friends to do what they love."
5. Invest in lawyers & accountants early
I have said this many times over, but it is much harder to fix something later than to invest early and have it done properly.
6. Figure out a process for disagreement with your partners before you start
Having cofounders is a lot like being married. These people should be your ride-or-die who will whether the storm with you. But, at the same time, spending a lot of time with someone and having to make huge hard decisions every day causes disagreement. Huda & Mona Kattan are sisters who also happen to have the rest of their family involved in their business, so for them - and for anyone - there should be a set process for disagreements before starting anything with partners. That way, it takes the emotion out of business decisions, which is absolutely necessary.
Overall, the best advice I got from Mona was to "surround yourself with an army of positive people to spend your down time with." You need a team of cheerleaders - family, friends and mentors who will be there to celebrate the highs, and support you during the lows.