Wall Street to Wellness Brand CEO-Priscilla Tsai
Wall Street to Wellness Brand CEO — Priscilla Tsai
Whether you spotted Cocokind’s clean beauty products when grocery shopping at Whole Foods or while you were aimlessly wandering every aisle of Target, this clean skincare brand has been grabbing the attention of many skincare and wellness enthusiasts.
Founded in November 2014 by Priscilla Tsai, Cocokind’s mission is to create clean, conscious, and affordable skincare products that also empowers women.
Some of their best sellers include the chlorophyll mask which helps clarify, smooth, and depuff dull skin and their turmeric stick which helps inflammation and the appearance of dark spots! As part of Cocokind’s “Talk to Me” initiative, Priscilla launched a mentorship program where she gives advice to one female entrepreneur every month.
So what’s the story behind Priscilla and Cocokind? I guess you could say Cocokind’s origins started Wall Street. Yes, a women empowerment wellness brand came out from working at the modern vernacular of finance.
Priscilla graduated in 2009 from the University of Pennsylvania with a concentration in finance and accounting and went to work on Wall Street. Her most recent job position was an equity research associate position at J.
P Morgan covering food and food retail stocks of consumer goods companies such as Whole Foods, Annies, and General Mills.
From her teens, Priscilla dealt with severe hormonal and cystic acne. In college, she took antibiotics and birth control daily to help it but with these medications, she also had numerous bad side effects.
Every morning, her eyes would water because of how much it stung when she applied her moisturizer because her skin was so sensitive. Her gut lining became completely destroyed and she began to struggle with digestion issues because of the antibiotics she took everyday for three years.
After quitting these medications, she started looking into solutions involving superfoods.
Growing up, she would sew her own clothes and dresses for her sister whenever she had a dance in high school. So naturally, Priscilla took to her DIY characteristic and started making her own skincare using super simple ingredients.
Slowly through this approach, she started to nourish her skin and it wouldn’t sting when she put on her facial oils in the morning.
The first DIY skincare item she created was a blend of coconut oil, avocado oil, and rose hip oil, which are all actual ingredients in Cocokind’s current facial repair oil!
She did a lot of research and testing on herself while working her job in finance. The impact of having real antioxidants feeding her skin was so immediate versus all of the acids and chemicals that this helped inspire her current brand Cocokind.
Having grown up going to her mother’s office who was also an entrepreneur, she always knew that she wanted to start a company, but it took her a bit of time to feel less insecure. I mean, I can imagine the pressure of launching a beauty company when you struggle with imperfect skin while everyone else seems to have perfect glass skin on Instagram.
Feeling that she didn’t have much to lose as she was only 25, she left her Wall Street job to start Cocokind.
How do you go from investment banker to CEO of your own business? “I learned from people as I went. I didn’t really know where to start or how to start.
” The most important thing Priscilla knew was that she has to develop formulas, create packaging, and get an organic certification. The rest was up in the air to figure out on her own.
For example, she learned she needed insurance when she was trying to get her products into the stores, and someone said to her “Oh I would love to carry this in my store, do you have insurance?”
In the early days of starting Cocokind, Priscilla needed a pallet but didn’t know where to get one. She went to Home Depot and they were selling them for an absurd $100, which wasn’t in her budget.
After researching online, she found out that there was a nearby warehouse with a ton of pallets and she ended up going there to ask where she could find one. The warehouse was so nice and gave her one, even driving it in their truck to her tiny warehouse.
And that’s how she learned how to build a pallet, by randomly asking around until she got what she needed!
That being said, there were many setbacks during the process of launching Cocokind; however “the broader theme is, in the beginning, you have nowhere to go but up so the setbacks are not really significant.
” Priscilla mentioned how the setbacks get greater the bigger you grow so there is a need for resilience every day.
Especially if you are doing everything by yourself in the beginning- learning to manage things, times, people, training.
From hearing Priscilla’s story, here’s what I am going to remember. Find your own path. For Priscilla, covering stocks Annie’s and other organic food companies on Wall Street fueled her curiosity in the food industry. Then her own struggles with acne inspired Cocokind — not as a career move but as a consumer recognizing a need in the market.
That was her story, but everyone’s is going to be different because we all have different backgrounds. Just start. Priscilla didn’t know every single detail of running a company when starting this now multi-million dollar company. She figured it out as she went along which helped her be where she is now. Time is precious so be a doer! Network.
I didn’t include this part of her story but Priscilla had entrepreneurship mentors in the natural food industry (Sam from Emmy’s and Jon from Peeled Snacks) that she met when she went to Fancy Foods in New York for fun. She told me to reach out to people and you can develop a really strong network by being intentional with their time.
Educate yourself! Priscilla researched and tested these skin care ingredients in her own home before throwing a company label on it and turning them into company formulas. It would have been really hard for her to start her company if she didn’t know the ins and ingredients, superfoods, and skincare.
Her favorite book that she recommends is Shoedog and she also loves the podcast How I Built This!
“,”author”:”Juyoung Song”,”date_published”:”2020-04-01T20:40:16.949Z”,”lead_image_url”:”https://miro.medium.com/max/752/1*-MER1Qy62R6VnBIrHPqRXQ.png”,”dek”:null,”next_page_url”:null,”url”:”https://medium.com/freshbyte/wall-street-to-wellness-brand-ceo-priscilla-tsai-6478ad9317fa”,”domain”:”medium.com”,”excerpt”:”Wall Street to Wellness Brand CEO â Priscilla Tsai”,”word_count”:1050,”direction”:”ltr”,”total_pages”:1,”rendered_pages”:1}
This Founder Walked Away From a Steady Wall Street Job to Bootstrap a Clean Beauty Brand
You asked for more content around business finances, so we’re delivering. Welcome to Money Matters where we give you an inside look at the pocketbooks of CEOs and entrepreneurs.
In this series, you’ll learn what successful women in business spend on office spaces and employee salaries, how they knew it was time to hire someone to manage their finances, and their best advice for talking about money.
Photo: Courtesy of Cocokind
Leaving a steady job and switching lanes isn’t easy.
Just ask Priscilla Tsai, who was climbing the Wall Street corporate ladder when she decided to shift gears and launch Cocokind, a clean, conscious, sustainable skincare brand.
“The first years were tough,” the founder and CEO tells Create & Cultivate.
“I was only 25, considered successful in my career, and about to leave it all behind to start a company in an industry that I had very little experience in.”
Disappointed by the lack of transparency in the beauty industry and sparked by her own struggles with hormonal acne, Tsai felt compelled to ditch her high-paying job in finance to launch an accessible clean-skincare company. Of course, it’s safe to say that Tsai’s risk has more than paid off—Cocokind is now stocked in every Whole Foods store in the U.S.—but all that success didn’t come without hard work and determination.
In this installment of Money Matters, Tsai shares the nitty-gritty financial details behind what it really takes to get a business off the ground.
CREATE & CULTIVATE: You walked away from a career on Wall Street before bootstrapping your business. What led you to leave a steady paycheck and switch lanes from finance to beauty?
PRISCILLA TSAI: I always knew I wanted to start my own company. My mom is an entrepreneur and watching her career progress definitely inspired me. Separately, my hormonal acne was my biggest insecurity, and I hated the harsh medications and pills that my dermatologist prescribed me.
They kept my skin technically clear, but they also totally stripped it of moisture and gave me digestion issues. Ultimately, I decided to explore more holistic remedies for my skin and body, and when I’d created something that worked and that I was proud of, I knew I needed to share it.
As a consumer, I was also disappointed at the lack of clean ingredients and transparency in the beauty industry, and I felt compelled to offer a better, more accessible option.
Can you explain what those founding years were financially?
The first years were tough. I was only 25, considered successful in my career, and about to leave it all behind to start a company in an industry that I had very little experience in. I hustled in every way possible. I made full batches of products by myself. I created our first labels on Photoshop instead of hiring a designer.
I think many founders think that they need a ton of capital to start a company. Obviously, capital is important, but for me, time was almost as important as money.
It took a lot of time for me to get Cocokind’s formulas to meet my standards, and it took a lot of energy and persistence to get our products into brick and mortar stores.
I went door to door to Whole Foods’ in northern California to demo my products to the regional buyers, which led to building great relationships with them. Today, Whole Foods is one of our biggest retailers—we’re actually stocked in every single store in the United States.
“Knowledge is power. Knowing as much as you can about your financial situation is essential to feeling financially empowered and independent.”
Talk us through your bootstrapping process. How did you self-fund your business? Would you recommend that route to other entrepreneurs?
I really just tried to take things one step at a time, but I also worked quickly once I had a product concept and samples. I started going door to door to get my product out there and to start bringing in revenue as quickly as possible. Finding retail partners Whole Foods helped me get Cocokind off the ground pretty immediately.
These days, it’s much more common to raise than to bootstrap and I think that either strategy can be effective. It’s really just about what the founder wants and which approach makes more sense for their work style and personality. I personally loved bootstrapping, but I definitely don’t think it’s for everyone.
How did you know the brand was ready to scale and introduce new products?
At Cocokind, we’ve always been big on social media because it makes it easy to build relationships with customers and hear their opinions and feedback. We’re able to use this feedback to decide what our community and what the market, in general, wants.
In the beginning especially, we funded new products by starting with really small batches—that way, we were never taking huge risks with inventory. On top of that, I thought it’d be better to sell a product and have a waitlist than it would be to overproduce a product and potentially run the risk of not selling enough of it.
I guess my main point here is that entrepreneurs should always recognize that their product will most ly change to improve, so over-investing in early iterations can be a bad idea.
“I hustled in every way possible. I made full batches of products by myself. I created our first labels on Photoshop instead of hiring a designer.
What was your first big expense as a business owner?
Either insurance or inventory!
How did you decide what to pay yourself?
I didn’t! I didn’t pay myself for the first two years of my business, but I was lucky enough to be able to live off of savings during that time.
How did you decide what to pay employees?
Research. I always want my employees to be paid fairly but as competitively as possible.
What are your top three largest expenses every month?
Payroll, inventory, and rent for our office and warehouse.
How much do you spend on office space?
We’ve always tried to spend 4% of our sales or less on rent. We did recently just relocate to a larger office space so we can continue to grow our staff.
How much are you saving? When did you start being able to save some of your income?
It varies. Saving has always been important to me, even more so when I had a regular job, before starting Cocokind. When I was in college, my parents helped me with my tuition and living expenses as long as I sent them an itemized list of all of my expenses every month. That experience helped me learn how to budget and it also taught me that when you know your numbers, you save more.
“Cash is everything. No matter how much profit your company is bringing in, you need to adhere to a tight cash flow model.”
What apps or software are you using for finances?
I actually just use Excel to track all of my expenses. I don’t have a financial advisor at this time.
Do you wish you’d done anything differently in your financial journey as a business owner?
Nope! I’m really proud of Cocokind and how far we’ve come, and I think we’ve always been responsible with capital.
Why should we all be talking about money?
I think everyone should talk about money. Knowledge is power. Knowing as much as you can about your financial situation is essential to feeling financially empowered and independent.
Do you have a financial mentor?
I don’t. But my parents did and do a great job of teaching me strong values when it comes to my finances and how I think about them, and I’m grateful for that.
What is your best piece of financial advice for new entrepreneurs?
Again, knowledge is power! Knowing your numbers and staying on top of them is crucially important to starting and running a sustainable business.
What is the biggest money lesson you've learned since starting Cocokind?
Cash is everything. No matter how much profit your company is bringing in, you need to adhere to a tight cash flow model. It’s something I’m still learning and always trying to improve upon.
Skin-Care Brand Cocokind Founder Priscilla Tsai on Running a Small Beauty Business During a Pandemic
Priscilla Tsai, the founder of skin-care brand Cocokind, tells Allure, in her own words, everything that went into starting her small business and how it's been impacted by the novel coronavirus.
I started Cocokind over five years ago. Previously, I worked at JP Morgan doing equity research and always struggled significantly with my skin.
Whether it was taking antibiotics or using harsh topical prescriptions, it led to a lot of skin sensitivities. In the mornings, I would put on [moisturizer] in the dark because my face stung so badly my eyes would water, and my skin would turn bright red.
It was a terrible process for me, so I became passionate about finding a better option.
I started looking into living a more holistic lifestyle and stopped the antibiotics I was taking for my acne. With that, I started looking to very clean ingredients and researching the ones I was applying to my skin. That's when I decided to start Cocokind around a few key values: simple, quality ingredients, consciously and sustainably created, and with affordable pricing.
During that first year of business, I went door to door selling to natural retailers. What was most exciting was that just with those three values: clean, conscious, and accessible, I got into most retailers that I presented to. The first two years, we focused on retail, and then we were lucky to have launched a few products that became popular online.
Those were the skin-care sticks: matcha, turmeric, and beet. People could only find those on our website, so our business to consumer arm really emerged. Since then, we've prided ourselves on communicating digitally with our customers and allowing them to purchase wherever makes sense for them whether that's Target, Whole Foods, or our website.
In early March, tech companies in San Francisco where we are based had already started to announce their work-from-home policies. So we started our work-from-home policy as well, a week before the official shelter-in-place started. For us, it seemed preventative, it wasn't going to impact business. All of our products are made in the U.S.
, but our ingredients come from all over the world. A lot of the packaging that comes from the U.S. so we weren't initially too worried about supply chain disruption. We believed our exposure to any supply chain issues would be from China, so we were pretty limited to disruption. We were feeling good.
We thought, “We are going to take this preventative measure, but otherwise we're pretty good in terms of our exposure.”
We started working from home and then, a week later, that's when the shelter-in-place was announced for San Francisco.
We have a warehouse here, so we immediately shut it down and turned our website to pre-orders only. We had no idea whether we were going to see our revenue go down to zero because we were not able to ship products. We didn't know whether shipping carriers were going to be doing regular business or not, and that was really, really scary for us.
We still had all of the same overhead. We spent five years building a really strong business in terms of our financials. We've been a profitable company for three years. We've always hired people knowing that we could fully afford them. We've never gotten ahead.
If anything we've been behind in terms of building our team, but it was scary for me. We were projecting a year of growth, and then, we had to forget about growth.
We still had the same amount of people to support, the same amount of rent to pay, and at the same time, the potential for zero dollars in revenue which I hadn't even thought about in five years. It was something I never imagined was a possibility.
I told everyone I was not going to take a salary if we were at zero revenue, so I took myself off the payroll. We paid our hourly people a daily stipend for two weeks, and we tried to limit the disruption to the team and their livelihood as much as possible.
We found that the shipping carriers were still open and shipping out packages, so myself and our chief of staff immediately started working to ship out as much product as possible to an external fulfillment center and get our website back up and running.
We had already started the process of moving our fulfillment center San Francisco because we couldn't handle the capacity. We are really thankful that we had already started that process, but we did it in a week and weren't prepared for it.
But we had started, so didn't have to do everything and start from ground zero. That was a huge saving grace for us.
I was super upfront with our customers about what was happening and told them on social media what we were facing — warning people that we didn't know when their orders would go out, but it could be April.
But as soon as we got our external fulfillment center up and running safely, we turned our website back on to regular orders, and we saw a huge response from our customer base who wanted to support us — showing the desire to help others through this tough time.
We ended up having strong sales as soon as we turned our site back on.
However, in terms of our retail business, that's been struggling. At Whole Foods, there are limited hours or people allowed in a store.
We totally understand that, and we understand people might not be going to Whole Foods for things other than buying groceries.
Our retail business has been hit very hard, but we are lucky we have such a strong community of customers that are supporting us as much as they can in any way possible.
Now, everyone is working from home, and we're trying to maintain the culture, but it has been hard with everyone being remote.
I think the period of major disruption has passed us, and now, we're settling back into normal and getting back to who we are as a team.
We do have warehouse employees that are currently receiving benefits, and while we had that stipend the first couple of weeks, we weren't able to continue that. They still have a job, but we're not able to pay them their regular salary.
We've asked our customers what they want to see from us right now. We're confused, and we don't know what to do. I asked on our Instagram, and we got over 900 comments.
It was hugely interactive, and overwhelmingly, they wanted business as usual.
They asked us to post our normal content, do our normal launches, telling us it would make them happy right now — just be sensitive but do you.
With that, we decided to launch our Texture Smoothing Cream and Pore Refining Concentrate. We delayed it two weeks to make sure our team could handle it, make sure our operations could handle it, make sure everything was going to be OK if we launched a product.
We felt the customers wanted it from us, and we were excited by it. As long as we felt we were operationally okay to do it safely, with excellence, and not have a complete mess in our supply chain or put people at risk, we would do it. And the product was ready.
It had been in development for over a year, and the finished good had been ready for over a month.
People really care about skin care right now, and our pricing is accessible at $20 and $14.
It would be one thing if we were launching something super expensive, an $80 serum, but at this price point, we felt we were still staying true to our values of being accessible especially during a time period where there's a lot of uncertainty.
We know not everyone can afford a $20 cream, but we felt strongly that our proposition is really important in clean beauty right now — to be able to offer a clean product that doesn't cost a fortune.
I think that contributed to the success of the product on launch day. It ended up being one of our more successful launches to date. We can't control our financial environment. The things we create, we can control, and we're doing a really good job. We're connecting with our customers and giving them what they want.
We want to increase connectivity with them as much as possible. We always try to connect deeply, and it's important not just for us but everyone in the world right now to feel connected. That's what we're focusing on. We have been working hard on a major product launch calendar for this year, and some of those products are ready.
We are still going to plan on launching more products even though they're a little bit late. We're just trying to keep a semblance of what we had planned because we know our customers are still wanting to see that, and they trust us to be a voice for positivity and connectivity.
Every day is a new reflection and changing a little bit, but for now, we're in a lucky position.
We have been so fortunate to have support — people buying our new products, people pre-ordering, people coming even when they didn't need the product just to show support. Every pre-order and order helps, but it's not just that.
There are things people do for free — spreading the word to friends, posting a story or a picture. All of that is helping us so much right now. A customer may think it's a little thing, but I see every share and every photo, and it means so much. All of it helps.
I am constantly surprised and so appreciative of our community.
Over the past five weeks trying to keep everything afloat and do so much to maintain the semblance of what we've built has consumed me.
I think it has been important to take a step back and realize everyone is dealing with shit and things could be much worse than business. As a founder, you get sucked into your business.
You think it's the worst problem, but people are dealing with basic health issues and life and death situations for family members. I think that's been an honest conversation I've had to have with myself.
There have been points where I've felt so consumed by this. I've had to check myself and make sure I'm still maintaining perspective.
Yes, this is hard, but we're in a really good position compared to a lot of other people, other small businesses. I'm trying to change my perspective because there is so much going for us. We've done so much good work to be here.
I'm trying to be more grateful for what we are able to do and not dwell on the struggles.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Read more about natural products and the benefits incorporating them into your skincare routine:
Now, watch Lauren Jauregui's first and last five things she does every day:
Watch Now: Allure Video.
You can follow Allure on Instagram and , or subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date on all things beauty.
Originally Appeared on Allure