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Wonder Women Entrepreneurs! This is the place to join conversations with thought leaders who amaze, astonish and inspire you. Listen each week as entrepreneur and host Kalika Yap explores the challenges, wisdom and breakthroughs of extraordinary people. (An Entrepreneurs’ Organization production)

Featured guests include:
Lisa Sugar, cofounder of POPSUGAR
Toni Ko, founder of NYX Cosmetics
Devin Alexander, celebrity chef and nutrition expert who appears on "The Biggest Loser"

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Aug 18, 2017

Toni Ko, founder of NYX cosmetics and owner-founder of Perverse Sunglasses, worked as an employee (on an allowance) at her family’s cosmetics business from ages 13-25. Today on the EO Podcast, Toni discusses the challenges of working at her family’s shop as a teen and young adult but also how her experience there acted as a springboard to start NYX. Tune-in to learn how Toni handled the sale of her business after 15 years and what catalyzed her next business move. 

Time Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:19 – Habits that make Toni a successful entrepreneur
  • 00:33 – Having a routine is very important, especially in the morning for health and body care
  • 01:27 – The book “From Good to Great” by James Collins inspires her and transformed her life
  • 01:40 – Core values for NYX and Perverse are honesty and sticking to what you promise
  • 02:18 – When she was little she’d volunteer for everything and was very enthusiastic
  • 02:46 – She grew up in South Korea in a rural area; she’s a country girl
  • 03:30 – Her family moved to the U.S. in 1986 (7th grade)
  • 03:50 – She’s happy that she grew up in nature
  • 04:22 – She had to learn a new language and culture, she had to be creative and hypersensitive of her surroundings to understand what was going on
  • 05:20 – This hypersensitivity has helped her in business; she can pinpoint situations quickly
  • 06:03 – The “gut-feeling” comes from the ability to analyze body language, energy
  • 06:58 – Her family owned a small business selling cosmetics and she’d always work there
  • 07:30 – She’d go to school and work at the store with customers, merchandise, POP; she experienced business from the point-of-view of an employee
  • 08:20 – She started looking into how things could be done more efficiently
  • 08:38 – Her older sister did her own thing and her brother, being a boy, was exempt
  • 09:00 – She didn’t like being at the store all the time, her mom was the scariest person at the time
  • 09:23 – Her mother was very strict: she couldn’t chew gum or sit down in the store
  • 10:00 – There were fun moments, too; cleaning up, inventory, and displays were fun to do
  • 10:30 – She worked with the family business until she was 25 years old and she lived at her parent’s house with an allowance
  • 11:00 – This was normal to her; it’s a cultural thing
  • 11:23 – She told her mom that she wasn’t going to work at the store anymore and was going to get a job
  • 11:42 – She decided to start her own business with a loan from her mother and started it at 26 years old
  • 12:10 – She birthed the idea out of need; she didn’t have money to spend on high-end cosmetics when she worked at the family store
  • 12:44 – Her friends would buy department store products and she would buy drugstore products; she was embarrassed
  • 13:35 – She knew some of the ins-and-outs of business, suppliers, and how the industry worked; she knew that high-end products were expensive due to $ spent on marketing
  • 13:55 – Instead of spending on marketing, she wanted to put the money back into the product and depend on consumer’s word-of-mouth marketing
  • 14:20 – She started a one-woman cosmetic company: she delivered, packed, designed, created invoices/orders, in a 600 square foot showroom
  • 14:50 – In the first year, she sold $2 million worth of wholesale cosmetic pencils, which is $4 million in retail and she packed and delivered each box
  • 15:27 – Her mother was her first client and she got the rest of her clients through word of mouth; people had never seen something of such quality at that low of a price point
  • 16:00 – She made “sleek” packaging inspired by higher-end brands
  • 17:00 – In 1999, when there was still a chain in business (wholesalers to retailers), even retailers wanted the product, not just drugstores
  • 17:50 – She did a lot of tradeshows; they were the way to get your product in front of customers/suppliers during that time
  • 18:16 – How it has changed since then
  • 18:25 – She gets nostalgic thinking of trade shows, especially the ASDAMD show that would showcase mom-and-pop shops
  • 19:10 – 10-15 years ago, the show was packed and now it is much emptier
  • 19:40 – You have to adapt to the changes in business
  • 20:01 – As she launches her new business for sunglasses she knows there’s 90 million millennials that shop on their mobile
  • 20:46 – 90% of traffic comes from the mobile and this is important for e-commerce and when considering website design
  • 21:30 – Only 18-20%(not exact) of business is done through e-commerce, the rest is still through brick and mortar businesses; retail isn’t dead
  • 22:35 – Those who can be like a chameleon and adapt to change succeed and those who don’t, don’t
  • 22:45 – How did Toni adapt with NYX?
  • 22:55 – Organic growth and marketing
  • 23:10 – In 2008 NYX got its big break with the market crash: People weren’t shopping at expensive stores and were buying drugstore makeup instead
  • 24:00 – Once her product was purchased, they liked the quality and would repurchase
  • 24:15 – In 2008 social media hadn’t boomed yet, but YouTubers were doing tutorials and “hauls” with NYX products
  • 24:58 – Some companies resisted this change, but NYX embraced it and sent products to YouTubers to use, review, and blog about
  • 25:27 – The jumbo eye pencil in white got very popular because YouTubers were using it as an eye shadow base to keep eye shadow on; it was the #2 bestselling item
  • 27:10 – Struggles in business
  • 27:30 – Everything was a struggle but it was all good
  • 27:40 – You get into business knowing that there will be struggle
  • 27:50 – No matter the size of the company, the headaches exist
  • 28:16 – Why Toni sold her business
  • 28:24 – She thought she was ready to retire; she was married to the company and after 15 years she felt that she needed to part from it
  • 29:10 – Selling the company came down to who was going to pay the most, and L’Oréal bought it at auction
  • 29:30 – The whole process took one year
  • 29:50 – Feelings of unpreparedness when selling
  • 30:03 – She was totally ready to sell; she started phasing herself out with a new CEO, CFO, and product developer so she wouldn’t have any doubts that it would continue to run smoothly
  • 31:28 –She was miserable for 3 months after the sale, because the company felt like her identity and worth
  • 32:10 – She’d wake up and not know what to do
  • 32:30 – To get out of the slump she overcommitted herself to charities, boards, committees, foundations, meetings, and her real estate and investment company portfolios
  • 33:12 – It was very artificial; she was just trying to fill the time
  • 33:32 – Her true calling is in producing products, so she started Perverse, a sunglasses company
  • 34:16 – After she sold the company, she got her wire transfer, said goodbye, drove herself home, felt like a deflated balloon, and slept for 14 hours straight
  • 36:00 – Now she feels proud and happy with the decision, the brand, and the company’s direction
  • 36:50 – She knows the brand will be revered globally
  • 37:00 – Advice for her 26 year old self: “Just chill”
  • 37:23 – Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: Focus only on the goal, everything else is noise

Key Points:

  1. Start your day with a mind and body wellness routine so that you are ready for a successful and productive day.
  2. Adapt to change and advancements within your market to avoid falling behind.
  3. Focus only on your goal, everything else is noise.

Resources Mentioned:

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