Ju: What I realized about entrepreneurship is that it’s all about convincing skeptics. Hero Cosmetics still has skeptics, even though we’ve been around for five years. It’s just the nature of the industry. That’s why founders are so amazing because they see something most people don’t see. Even when you’re a bigger business, you’ll still have skeptics. That’s okay because being an entrepreneur is all about that deep belief and knowing you’re going to persevere and prove them wrong.
Priyanka: The flip side of that is taking care of my mental health. Entrepreneurship is all-consuming and, at the same time, very lonely. How do I make sure that I’m setting boundaries so I can have healthy relationships outside of work and continue to feel joy in what I’m doing?
Ju: You have my number, so anytime you feel lonely, text me.
Priyanka: You’re one of our angel investors. You invested before we launched. It was literally a deck and one phone call where I told you my vision. And you were like, “I’ll write you a check.” You understood where I was coming from.
Ju: You have the background and conviction to make it a success. I always back founders where the business comes from a personal place. There are some businesses where it might be fem health, but it’s founded by a man. There’s not as much authenticity. I love with Kulfi that there’s a lot of empathy. Not many people have dared to be the solution, but you’re one of them.
Priyanka: We should get on a call more often.
Ju: I know, we should. We’ll be each other’s hype girls.
On recent wins
Ju: We just expanded at Ulta, full chain with eight additional SKUs [stock keeping units]. It’s huge because we do a lot of our revenue in Amazon and Target, and we needed to prove that we could succeed in specialty retail. The fact that they brought us on and are also supporting us in a really big way, taking eight SKUs full-chain, [with] out-of-aisle moments. Then literally the week after launch, my team was on a call with the Ulta buyer and they were so happy. They’re giving us another shelf at the end of this year.
Priyanka: So this is a personal brag moment, but being on a billboard in Times Square just happened, which I could never have imagined. Sephora has a billboard on top of their store in Times Square, and they reached out saying, “We want to feature a quote from you.” It’s surreal seeing us showcased in such a big way. And then, of course, every time a customer makes an order, it’s such a special feeling because I’m still in awe that someone went to our website and trusted us.
On Stop Asian Hate one year later
Ju: I think last year was a great catalyst. It’s going to be a journey; we’re never going to have a moment where we’re going to be like, “Okay, our work is done.” The next step I would like to see is that this should be something that isn’t thought about in this one month but throughout the year. I’d love to see this be a real, consistent topic that we all talk about and try to find solutions to.
Priyanka: I think more needs to be done. The reality is that my friends in New York who are Asian are afraid to take the train. It’s just not right. It’s also not fair to make the members of the community that are impacted do all the work around education. AAPI community members are the ones who are speaking up and putting in that labor, which I think is great, but other people need to speak up and rally. We need that allyship.
On advice for new entrepreneurs
Ju: Cold-email, cold-call, don’t be afraid to reach out to random people. That’s actually how Priyanka and I got connected. You messaged me on LinkedIn and we did a Zoom chat and then I became an investor. You never know what a random email or LinkedIn message can do, so take the chance.
On keeping the spark alive
Priyanka: It’s been five years of Hero Cosmetics. What are some practices that have helped you sustain the energy and passion you had for the business on day one?
Ju: Thinking about the future helps. The goal post keeps changing. When you’re zero, you just want to get to a million. Everything’s going to be great if I can just hit that million-dollar hurdle. Then once you hit a million, the goal post changes because then you want to get to $10 million, then you want to get to a $100 million. You just have to keep thinking bigger and that’s a big part of what gets me excited. It’s a marathon for sure. You have to pace your energy and time. So taking breaks, going on vacation, resetting. That mental health aspect is really important.
On generating media presence
Ju: When you launched, I saw Kulfi everywhere. You got amazing earned media press right out the gate. How were you able to generate so much amazing goodwill in the press and sustain it?
Priyanka: Definitely tapping into your community. A lot of the people who first started posting us on social media were people I’d had conversations with. It feels like they’re personally invested in your brand. Also our visual aesthetic—having packaging that’s Instagrammable and beautifully presented. Even our own imagery—we invest a disproportionate amount of our budget into having really beautiful photo shoots and made it a point to have BIPOC creators behind the scenes. It changes creative output and looks very different from what you see in the market because it’s created by teams that don’t typically get formed by brands. I also do one TikTok a week. It’s important for me to stay connected to the community because they tell me what we should be making next. With our new launch coming up, I’ve personally tested our product on over 300 women. Personally putting yourself out there and connecting helps.