Whether you’ve spotted Cocokind’s clean and conscious products on the shelves of Target or Whole Foods, or while scrolling through Instagram (the brand has a highly engaged community of 140K followers), the skincare brand was launched in November 2014 by Priscilla Tsai, a former Wall Street investment banker who always suffered from hormonal acne.
Cocokind’s origin story and mission is empowering: when prescription medications weren’t helping to treat Tsai’s acne, she decided to create all-natural skincare products, all with superfood ingredients. Tsai recognized the potential and moved back to San Francisco to bootstrap her business.
The accessibly-priced skincare company’s upward trajectory has been a whirlwind ever since: The beloved beauty brand has experienced many more milestones, including a rebranding (with sleeker packaging), product innovation beyond its more niche products, and a collaboration with influencer Jeannette Ogden (of @shutthekaleup).
“We’ve become available nationwide at Whole Foods and more recently at Target to reach more people, all a part of our mission to make clean beauty more accessible,” Tsai shares.
Another area of growth has been in the realm of human resources — the brand has tripled in size, from five people in 2017 to 15 today.
Priscilla Tsai discussed Cocokind’s super growth (its business doubled in both 2018 and 2019) and how she manages it all as a self-funded founder in the buzzy wellness and beauty industry.
What have been your biggest challenges over the past two years?
“The past two years have been incredibly rewarding and challenging. While we are so incredibly lucky to be consumer-backed and supported by our community, I definitely underestimated the challenges associated with scaling. Over the past two years, we learned that scaling touches everything in the company — people, systems, infrastructure — not just making more and more products!
“Personally, I was working extremely long hours doing every possible function —connecting with our consumers, recruiting, managing, building, selling, marketing, even fixing printers. When you’re doing all these things, there’s no possible way you can do a good job at everything. While hiring took a long time, we now have amazing people and are continuing to hire teammates to meet us where we are and help build the systems for where we are going.”
As a beauty founder, if you have struggles and are open about them, does that make you less of a “credible wellness founder”?
“Social media has been amazing for spreading the wellness movement, but it also has created a certain perception of what leading a wellness-oriented life should be. While I love a lot of the trends in the wellness space, I don’t overshare because I believe that wellness looks different for everyone. It’s very important to recognize that not everybody has access to wellness as it seems on social media. I’m more interested in how to make wellness realistic, easy to adopt, and accessible for all people.
“Wellness to me is being able to live your own best life — whatever that looks like! I am proactive about adopting mindfulness and better lifestyle habits, but I am also a regular person who has struggles. I’ve been open about my sleep anxiety and insomnia, or how I don’t follow a strict diet because I struggle with that, or how I watch reality TV to escape work thoughts at night. I’m open about these topics because I know more people can relate to this than not. Showing only the good stuff is a misrepresentation of my life and that’s not the type of example I want to be for others. So while it may make me a less credible wellness founder, it makes me more of a leader in authenticity and vulnerability. I’ll take it!”
How do you deal with how to scale and still manage it all— and if there are days that you feel you aren’t managing, how do you talk yourself through that?
“Being an entrepreneur is a choice, and I’ve happily made that choice with zero regrets. I truly feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing, and I’ve never felt more optimistic or ambitious about where we are headed. That does not mean that I don’t have bad days when I feel like I’m failing at all the things.
“One of the biggest things I’ve accepted is that it’s ok to be a work in progress. There’s an expectation sometimes that the CEO needs to have it figured out and make all the right decisions. I’m very open with my team about the things I’m working on personally because having their compassion is really helpful. Even more importantly, I’m trying to practice more acceptance and compassion for myself while committing to continuous self-awareness, reflection and work.”
How do you deal with the pressure of growing and scaling a business?
“You can feel like a failure even when you’re succeeding! However, being vulnerable and building out a stronger support system through founder friends and advisers have been important for me this year.”
Is it unfair to glorify stories of founders making millions or getting rounds of VC money behind them without also mentioning the struggle and growing pains?
“More than glorifying the fundraising process, I feel like most stories cover the beginning and end without enough coverage of everything in between. I’m also a believer that fundraising is not an outcome in itself; it is a means to an outcome and that outcome is fulfilling your mission. Similarly, fundraising metrics are not an equivalent substitute for business fundamental metrics.
“I have a healthy view of fundraising — and if we pursue it, it’s because I believe it can strengthen our ability to execute on our purpose and mission without compromising our values.”
Can you share a bit about how Cocokind is helping people feel as good as they are, and the billboard campaign you ran, which focused on people’s vulnerabilities?
“This is super important to me! We don’t market to the idea of having perfect skin, we want people to accept where they are with a healthy desire to further nourish their skin, bodies, and minds. Growing up, the beauty industry made me feel constantly “less than.” I felt like a pariah dealing with persistent acne, so I not only had body image issues but I also had skin “normalcy” issues as well. That’s a feeling that I never want to promote — at Cocokind we care about our community feeling really good, period.
“We want people to come to our social media channels feeling really good about being exactly who they are, and when they leave, they feel inspired to get back to being even more like themselves. That’s one of the reasons why you’ll see Cocokind employees and community members featured on our social media pages.”
“Our billboard campaign featured selfies submitted by our community to celebrate inclusivity and advocate for self-acceptance.”
What else is coming up that you’d like to share, in 2020 and beyond?
“I’m so excited for next year! In addition to new products, we’re going to be redefining what it means to be a transparent company by finding additional ways to bring our consumers along for the ride. We already have a close relationship with our consumers, but our community can expect to hear even more from us on all things ranging from product development and sustainability efforts to financing and team building.
“Five years into this business, I’m so incredibly proud of what we’ve built so far but I still feel like we’re just getting started. That’s the beauty of conscious business, too. You constantly task yourself with improving and bettering the way you do things, how you innovate, and how you build real, deep relationships with all stakeholders. You can’t just state your values — you have to continuously earn them every day.”
Photo Source: Lauren Hsia