Co-Founders Jaclyn Ferber, Nadine Abramcyk, and Adair Ilyinsky of tenoverten, have created an innovative non-toxic nail polish formula that is long-lasting and promotes stronger, healthier nails. We chatted with the trio about what it took to make this product and how they worked together to make their business successful.
How do you all know each other and how did you decide to start a business together?
N: Jaclyn and I are sisters, and now long-time business partners. Adair is like a 3rd sister, but truly a long-time friend. We met many years ago when we both lived in the West Village and it was friendship at first sight.
A: Nadine and I met in New York through mutual friends in the mid-aughts (actually, the true story is that we met through our ex-boyfriends but we don't share that with everyone, ha!). We became fast friends and used to get our nails done together after work, and would lament how uninspiring the typical nail salon experience was. We used to have fun passing the time while our nails dried by brainstorming how we would reimagine the nail salon experience. Initially, it was more of a game and then one night over drinks, we decided to make it a reality. I met Jaclyn when she would visit Nadine from LA (I'm sure they'll share that they're sisters haha). Jaclyn has a product development and fine arts background, so it was natural that she would become our 3rd founder and help start the product line. I can't remember if we suggested it or if she suggested it — the details are a little hazy 10 years later...
J: Nadine and I are sisters, and I’m fortunate enough to have met Adair through Nadine as they were long time friends. Nadine and Adair approached me early on to join them as a co-founder and help bring to life the product vision. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to partner with both of them and so it was an easy YES.
Why was it important to you to make this product?
N: When we first developed tenoverten, it was as a service only business - a non-toxic nail salon in our beloved Tribeca. Soon after we opened, we quickly realized that there weren’t many better-for-you nail polishes out there with chic packaging and an elegant color palette, so we got to work creating a safer polish collection for use in our salons. It soon grew to become a full color line and care line including nail treatments and removers so that we could use our own formulas in service at our salons. We strip out the nastiest chemicals to protect the health of our employees, and in lieu, our large client base that now uses our products within their very own homes.
A: We are so hyper focused on nail health, which is of course one of the big reasons we don't do gel at the salons. A lot of nail salons overcut cuticles and not only can that lead to painful infection, it makes a manicure look messy 24 hours later when damaged cuticles peel back and hangnails emerge. We like to educate our customers that nails look best and cleanest when live cuticles are left intact and moisturized daily. Our Rose Oil is portable and can easily be popped into a handbag or kept bedside, making frequent moisturizing easy.
J: From the start, the Tribeca salon allowed us to see where the holes in the market were. We could create not only aesthetically beautiful products that are truly functional and better versions of personal care in the nail category. The salon gave us insight as a lab into not only what was missing, but where we could do better. We wanted to marry the sensibility of chic and premium with accessibility to all while being safer to use. We all had children early in the life of the company, Nadine even worked the Tribeca desk daily while pregnant, so the ethos to create cleaner products in a category that was notoriously not so safe was paramount to the drive to make our products.
Here at LIVELY, we think every badass woman has had to take a risky leap of faith to get to where they are now. We call this our YOLO moment. What was yours?
N: At the ripe age of 28, I started my first business venture which was a clothing boutique in NYC’s West Village. It was called Mick Margo and was a complete labor of love. It was such a huge risk and I left a very comfortable and challenging job at the time. Everyone around me thought I was nuts, but I knew that I was destined to work for myself, focusing on my passions. Fashion evolved into natural beauty, but owning that boutique gave me the training field I needed for practice before starting tenoverten.
A: In retrospect, leaving a job I enjoyed and a promising career path to open a nail salon would probably be considered a YOLO moment, ha! I worked in Operations finance for Coach when Nadine and I hatched our idea for tenoverten. I had two amazing female bosses/mentors there and they were investing a lot in my growth at the Company, but I felt the opportunity was so compelling that I had to go for it. At the time, I was so convinced that we were on to something that I didn't even consider risky, nor was I deterred when my parents expressed some very reasonable skepticism!
J: I had been doing some consulting in product development when the opportunity to work with my sister and Adair presented itself. I think those relationships being at the foundation of that leap of faith definitely gave me the confidence to jump in. I also just believed we could make something great and felt the risk of losing out on having autonomy and creating from my/our vision was worth it, and still better than the alternative. I just jumped.
How do you divide up the work between the three of you, and how do you support each other?
N: It turns out we truly have complimentary skills, which is a huge benefit when trying to grow a business as it is key to divide and conquer when you are a small team. We collaborate on the major decisions and always bounce ideas off each other. But truly, our buckets of work fell in line sort of naturally based on our strengths and prior work experiences.
A: I always feel insecure that I don't have a more formal answer to this question, but our skill sets are so complimentary that the work really divides itself along our strengths. I'm sure we should be doing more org charting, but we just sort of instinctively know who should tackle what piece of the business. Or sometimes even more obvious; who doesn't want to tackle what! We try to strike the right balance of sticking to our own lanes while also talking a lot and ideating together. When one of us gets stuck, a phone call among the three of us almost always results in a solution that somehow had seemed elusive only moments before.
J: I have to echo Nadine here as we really have from the very beginning had clear strengths, but also clear passions for the areas we “own”. I came from an art and design background so it was natural for me to live in the product development and design lane. We’re also very aware of everything that is going on so we are able to support each other by offering to help when the balance is tipping too heavily onto one of us.
Starting a business is hard, but growing a business can be even harder. What do you think is the key to your success?
N: We’ve always stayed true to who we are and don’t get distracted by watching what others are doing even 10 years into the business. We’ve also seen that growth is not defined just by the numbers, it is equally defined by the journey.
A: I think the key to our success is that we never give up and rarely get discouraged. Even with the devastation that Covid brought to our business and industry, we stayed grateful for what we had (our health) and just pivoted to the opportunities like so many other scrappy businesses. Sometimes I think it's a little bit of a sickness, but we literally see the silver lining in everything.
J: Slow and steady. We don’t try to be everything to everyone and do our best to do things with integrity and honesty, even if it’s harder, takes longer, or costs more. The end result is that we truly feel proud of the brand and products we make and don’t compromise or cut corners. Staying true to that has been a major key to who we are.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from a mentor?
N: Stay Present.
A: I actually read some advice from a founder a few years ago that really changed my workflow. She suggested identifying 1-3 things in the evening that you want to get accomplished the next day and being laser focused almost to the point of ignoring everything else to get those things done. Urgent things naturally come up that are time sensitive and need to be dealt with right away, but in today's email heavy culture, I found that I was responding to emails all day and working a lot of hours, but never really checking anything off my to do list. This approach has really helped me prioritize and be more productive.
J: You can do hard things.
How do you inspire one another?
N: We share ideas, news items, products, etc, all the time. We think big and when we share our ideas, there is a lot of encouragement within the group to be solutions oriented and aim for our goals. For whatever reason, nothing seems unattainable when we put our 3 minds together.
A: I feel inspired by Nadine and Jaclyn because we're really on the same page. It's so fulfilling to share a vision with them and all get excited by so many of the same things. I'm also inspired by their work ethic. While of course we are devoted to our friends and family and pour ourselves into our roles as mothers, we all really live and breathe our business, so there's just always an abundance of creative energy that we can each feed off of.
J: We acknowledge strengths and motivate each other by voicing and sharing the confidence we have in each other. When someone seems to be stuck, we try to re-group as a team to brainstorm and move through things. Often times a phone pow-wow, even if it’s brief, we talk through a struggle, strategize, brainstorm, and laugh which makes me come out the other side feeling completely re-inspired.
What is your relationship like outside of work and how does it influence your work relationship? Any tips for nurturing and balancing the two?
N: It’s really a tough juggle. On the one hand you want to share every last thing that’s going on personally, but business matters feel more urgent so you fill up on the personal, and then the scale tips the other direction. We are all really good about carving out special Facetime sessions with our kids which means work talk is officially off limits.
A: I feel that we have really transcended friendship and are now family, which I think can be good and bad. It's wonderful because I know that Nadine and Jaclyn love me unconditionally, and will always support me and know me as intimately as a family member or spouse, but it can be challenging because sometimes we forget to do the lighthearted friend stuff that we used to enjoy so much like go shopping or for a boozy brunch (this is in a non-Covid world of course). Sometimes it feels a little forced or funny to make a non-work 'date', but we're always so happy and almost giddy when we do. There's a reason we became besties!
J: There is an innate trust in each other as friends, and family, which has been key to the success of our work relationships. We have a huge amount of respect for each other, so even if we disagree, we are able to listen with respect. I think making sure to find the time to make personal calls with no work talk really helps balance out the load of daily work demands.
When do you feel most empowered?
N: When truly present in the moment.
A: I feel most empowered when I am prepared. I've learned that I'm not a wing it type, so I am much more confident when I've done some legwork before a meeting or have some talking points for an important conversation.
J: When I’m resilient and push through something hard, as well as recognizing my personal growth even in hardship.
How do you recharge when you’re feeling burnt out?
N: I get outside! Preferably to play tennis or run. I love a good sweat.
A: I never think of myself as getting burned out, but I do get overwhelmed. When I sense that feeling, I try to go back to basics and prioritize my to do list as I mentioned before, in manageable chunks. I used to think the answer was burning the candle at both ends, but I've since realized that sleep and exercise are non-negotiable for mental health. I have not gotten into meditating, but I'd like to this year.
J: Ditto. I live up in the canyons in LA, so I try to get outside to walk as much as I can, listen to a podcast or music, and take time to be totally by myself. I also love to do Taryn Toomey’s "The Class" to move my body and reset my mind at the same time.
What are your thoughts on “following your gut”?
N: I think that it’s good to listen to your instincts, but I also find that patience can be key when it comes to business decisions. Sometimes a little time can be quite revealing as to the right direction.
A: I think it's so critical to follow your gut. I'm convinced that we have been as successful as we have been because we've always been our own customers and used our consumer instincts as our guide. From the start, we've created the experiences and products that we've personally found lacking in the marketplace. If we don't want something ourselves, we're basically incapable of making it (don't ask us to cut corners with our formulas for costing or logistical reasons, believe me, we've tried and can't!), so it's allowed us to trust our instincts and stay authentic to our brand.
J: I’m a big believer in following your gut. Since we are a team of co-founders it helps balance out any mis-directed instincts, but ultimately I think it’s truly important to pay attention to your inner guide.
Fave LIVELY products?
N: The All Day Striped Lounge Set Bundle. I love a menswear inspired sleep set and this is one that can take you right into a zoom call should you not feel like getting dressed first thing in the morning.
A: I love the Terry-Soft Jogger Set Bundle in Heather Grey. Even though it can obviously be worn all day at home, I'm styling it for Spring under a trench with a cute lug boot. The price and quality is so good compared to other jogger sets out there.