People 09 October 2018
In a cosmetics world teeming with mysterious ingredients, strident claims of the efficacy of unknown substances and an almost spiritual belief in nature's ability to cure all-- who can beauty entrepreneurs turn to for a clear, honest understanding of skin care? Paula Begoun the Cosmetics Cop, long known in the beauty industry for her outspoken reviews and now CEO and Founder of Paula's Choice Skincare, seems like the obvious choice.
Begoun started her career in the beauty industry in the early 1980's as a makeup artist in Seattle, Washington. It was here the young makeup artist introduced herself as a cosmetic vigilante-- appearing on a local news station as an investigative journalist of the beauty industry and self-publishing her first book Blue Eyeshadow Should be Illegal in 1982.
The book gained national attention, leading to recurrent appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Begoun's column, “Dear Paula," that diverged from the fatigued and archetypical advice column and instead featured the unprecedented honesty of Begoun over specific cosmetic products.
Begoun's experience in the newspaper industry eventually developed into a larger venture. Like everyones' cherished, fictional columnist Carrie Bradshaw, the young writer complied her column and published the first edition of Don't Go to the Cosmetic Counter Without Me in 1992. This exposition on the cosmetic industry was an immediate sensation, and following its publication,“The Cosmetic Cop" became a household name.
Photo Courtesy of Paula's Choice Skincare Instagram
“Women used to literally take my book before it was online to the cosmetic counter," laughs Begoun, reminiscing about women entering makeup stores, wielding literary protection against harmful face washes. And although the author faced some criticism over her candid assessment of the beauty industry Begoun describes herself as “a nonpartisan critic." The credibility of her work was corroborated when it became a standard of every dermatologist's office, “I remember when I started formulating my products I would walk into chemist's offices and contact manufacturers, I would see my book on their shelves, and that was the best feeling."
Determined to use her status as a conscientious makeup advocate, this writer-turned-entrepreneur launched Paula's Choice Skincare in 1995. At first Begoun released ten products dedicated to the high standards she upholds now some thirty years later. Today her company continues to formulate researched products that provide a full spectrum of documented benefits.
Major makeup corporations constantly advertise new, fast acting skin care that despite promises of blemish free skin, are usually replaced by a newer, trendier product. Small, eclectic brands consistently launch new skin care lines that are just as quickly abandoned by their founders-- well intentioned people who lack the knowledge to create what they envisioned.
However, Paula's Choice Skincare is neither an opaque company nor an impractical indie brand with unrealistic expectations.
“I didn't do any of this because I wanted to be master of the universe-- that I ended up being a successful business women was an accident. I didn't have high expectations", explains Begoun, who's motivation to create a transparent and successful skin care line produced consumer cult favorites from her original ten products. Begoun was not driven by a desire for the beauty industry's recognition, but rather an inclination to develop skin care that actually works.
“Do the research," is Begoun's immediate advice to modern beauty entrepreneurs. “Do the research. It's called medical dermatology science journals-- one study is not going to tell you everything, you need to take a look at it all," expounds the CEO. She credits her success to being involved in both the research and the formulating of her products.
Paula's Choice Skincare was one of the first beauty companies to sell solely on the internet. However, in addition to viewing it as the key to modern marketing, she sees a dark side to the internet. Begoun is wary of the immense amount of incorrect information circulating, “It's way easier to just reread the bullshit research that gets resaid in blog after blog. The information on the internet around skincare is still pretty damn fucking crazy."
The internet is also a driver of trends, but Begoun credits her success to a habit of avoiding the latest thing. “One of the reasons we rarely jump on trendy ingredients is that I know that a trendy ingredient is going away when there's not enough research or the research is just silly." Marketing fads come and go quickly, “Just in terms of oils I've watched emu oil and tea tree oil and I've just watched trends come and go. Trends aren't good skin care-- it's good for reporting but it's not good skin care."
The current affectation of natural skin care has prompted many of our favorite celebrities and influencers to come out with new green product lines. However, Begoun believes that the quick failure of these products results from a lack of knowledge and research about effective skin care, “The entrepreneur themselves aren't usually chemists and they don't know chemistry or biochemistry. They don't have a fundamental knowledge of what makes for good skin care."
Begoun feels that the need for her insights and careful analysis is greater now than ever, “I'm the only one saying that because it's the truth. I always say to people that the truth in beauty is telling women things even when they don't want to hear it, even when it's disappointing." The budding entrepreneur might well choose to follow the path of research, testing and formulating; this will lead to effective, quality products and will avoid the wrath of the Cosmetic Cop.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!