Here at LIVELY, we’re constantly surrounded by swoon-worthy women that are killin’ it in their businesses. We're launching #WomenCrushWednesday to celebrate the boss babes who provide us with a constant flow of inspiration, support, and endless girl-crushes.
Where are you from?
I was born in Seoul, South Korea but moved to Seattle, WA when I was 3. I moved to NYC for business school and now live in Paris, France. My husband is French so we decided to start out here. I go to NYC once a month for work because Hero Cosmetics is based in NYC.
Tell us about your journey to becoming an uber successful founder and CEO?
Ha! I’m not sure I am quite “uber successful” yet, but it’s been quite the journey. I had been living in Seoul from 2012-2014 as an expat working for a large conglomerate and was struggling from breakouts. I think it was due to the new environment, change in lifestyle, stress. I noticed people in Seoul walking around with acne patches and got curious. I tried them for myself and was blown away at how effective they were on my sensitive skin.
My next thought was, why am I learning about this now? Why aren’t acne patches more available in the US? I conducted some research and came up with a hypothesis - if acne patches were positioned as a beauty product and marketed to the Western consumer rather than as a K-Beauty import, I thought it could do really well.
The next step was to prove out my hypothesis so we came up with a product (Mighty Patch Original) and put it on Amazon to see if there was product/market fit. Within 3 months we had our answer - people loved it!
Quickly thereafter, we got into retail. We launched on Amazon in September 2017 and got into Anthropologie stores January 2018. That was pretty wild.
Since then, it’s been a crazy ride just growing and scaling, trying to grow responsibly and profitably, but keep up with all the demand.
This business has exceeded all my expectations and I’ve had some fun moments like being part of Inc. Magazine’s 40 Founders Project, being mentioned in the New York Times and having our product carried in over 1,500 Target stores.
I’m not sure where we’ll go from here, but we have some exciting initiatives on the horizon.
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?
I think the pivotal moment was moving to Korea for an expat assignment for two years. I had this job offer from a big conglomerate, was feeling uninspired in New York, and was ready for a change. I was single, in my early 30’s and faced with this opportunity that could be amazing or terrible. I decided to move and accepted the job offer. The job itself was not a good experience although I did make friends and have new experiences that I will never forget. However, this was pivotal because moving to Seoul is what eventually led to the launch of Hero Cosmetics. This is where I discovered K-Beauty, acne patches, and started getting into the beauty world. Without this leap of faith and spirit of adventure, I would not be where I am today.
On your website, you say “Acne isn’t going away, but the stigma around it can”. Can you tell us more about that philosophy and how it’s reflected in your brand?
We live in a social media, Instagram-heavy world where we all feel pressured to “live our best lives” with perfect skin, the right outfit and that aspirational life. Normally acne shouldn’t be part of this conversation, but we’re trying to share the message that it’s ok to breakout. It’s normal and over 60 million Americans struggle from it. We surveyed our customers and over 90% responded that when they have acne they feel negative sentiments - shame, embarrassment, insecurity, just to name a few. It doesn’t have to be that way. We’re trying to normalize acne, in that, we’re trying to say it’s ok and we’re building a community of like-minded people who suffer from the occasional pimple and want to be real about it.
Hero Cosmetics is critically acclaimed, award winning, and totally disrupting the beauty space. Can you describe one of your most rewarding moments?
There are a few that stand out and they are mostly early on. One time was when we were written up about in Into the Gloss. That was 3 months after we launched and was a big sales and awareness driver for us. The other time was when we launched in Anthropologie. They were the first retailer to take us on and it further validated my idea. The other one that stands out is launching in Target. I remember booking a $3,000 flight from Paris to Minneapolis to have a 20 minute meeting with the buyer and thinking, “this had better be worth it”. And, in the end, it was totally worth it. We rolled out in over 1,500 Target stores in July, and when I saw our product in store, I was so proud of how far we’d come in such a short time.
What’s the best advice you’ve received from a mentor?
I did a mentoring session with Jaime Schmidt of the natural deodorant brand Schmidt’s Naturals. Now that acne patches are becoming a lot more popular as a category (and dare I say that we were the ones that popularized it), there is new competition daily. I think natural deodorant is similar where there are tons of new deodorant brands popping up and I asked her what to do about competition. She said, ignore them and focus on your business and what you’re building; they’re just noise. It’s easy for me to get sucked into the rabbit hole of comparing ourselves to the competition and get insecure about what they’re doing better, but I try to remember what she said, keep my head down, and keep building a great acne care brand and community.
What’s the biggest myth of starting your own business?
I think in America we glorify the entrepreneurial story. The media loves stories about founders who risked it all and mortgaged their house 3 times over or barely slept for years because of their business. It doesn’t have to be this way. You can build the kind of business you want with the values you want. I wanted our business to be financially responsible from the very beginning so we bootstrapped and didn’t raise any outside capital. We were focused on making profits from each sale and making sure our marketing was ROI positive. I put in a small amount of capital in the beginning and after that, when the company needed money, I gave a loan. I didn’t want it to be a money pit which it could have easily become. We take salaries. I get 8 hours of sleep. If you build the right business with the right efficiencies, you can have your cake and eat it too. It’s possible.
When do you feel most empowered?
Now that I’m a co-founder and CEO of my own business, I never feel un-empowered. I guess that’s the benefit of being your own boss, you can have your ideas and actually execute them. It was hard for me in corporate because ideas would have to be prioritized against other ideas. There’d be a level of politicking involved to sell your idea and many things would never get actioned upon. But with my own business, I spit out ideas all the time and we actually make them happen!
Also, I know there’s a lot of dialogue around female founders and funding, and while we haven’t raised money yet, I don’t feel like my gender hinders me at all. If anything, I feel like there is such a movement in supporting female founders that I feel even more empowered.
What are your thoughts on “following your gut”?
I think this is extremely important. Women especially are very intuitive and listening to your instincts can lead you to the right place. I remember once right before I had accepted a job, I attended this company’s happy hour and met their new CEO and team. My gut back then had an immediate negative reaction — I didn’t like their CEO or feel like I really fit in. I wish I had listened to my gut then, because that job was a terrible fit. On the other hand, with Hero and acne patches, it was an idea that wouldn’t leave my head. I had revisited it several times and just kept thinking, “there’s an opportunity here”. I think I doubted myself back then, but I’m glad I listened because it led to where we are. Now, I think I have more confidence in listening to my gut for future decisions or ideas.
Describe your personal aesthetic.
I would say my personal aesthetic is classic with a twist. I love simple neutrals and basics like a good pair of jeans with black sweater and then I’ll add funky shoes. I like mixing high and low, like a luxury pair of shoes with a Uniqlo sweater. I’m being more influenced by the Parisian style since I live here now. They never do athleisure and always have this cool, effortless, chic aesthetic, which I love.
Fave 3 LIVELY Pieces?
The Lace T-Shirt Bra: This is a staple since it works with everything and the lace adds some femininity
The All-Day Jogger: Perfect for weekend lounging or when I'm working from home and just lazy
Active High Neck Bra: Love the high neck design, it feels modern and provides the right support while being super comfortable