How a Strong Partnership, the Right Investors, and a Nude Lip Launched Mented Cosmetics as the Go-To Line for Women of Color
I first met KJ and Amanda last year at WeWork, when they were just about to launch Mented Cosmetics. Over the course of a couple of hours, we discussed influencer marketing, blog strategy, and partnering with retailers. They also shared their mission with me—to become the go-to luxury brand for women of color who have too long been treated like an afterthought in the world of beauty. They were their own customer, and their passion was palpable.
However, what stood out to me the most was what I’ve unofficially now dubbed the “beauty founder trifecta.” Over the last 9 years of being in the beauty industry, I’ve discovered that certain founders have three things that make them really special—a strong mission to change convention, a clear and thorough understanding of their target audience and their brand’s point of differentiation, and a stellar product. When I notice these three criteria, I sense they’re going to do big things. More importantly though, I get jazzed because I know they will challenge the status quo of the beauty industry and empower thousands upon millions of women with their purpose. And that’s exactly what Amanda and KJ are doing with Mented.
Below, Amanda and KJ share the marketing strategy that’s been pivotal in their business, what their morning routine looks like, and the one book they’re reading right now that has encouraged them to be brave and pursue what they desire.
1. What inspired you to start a beauty company?
When Amanda and I graduated from business school we were both working in corporate America and in need of an everyday beauty routine. Unfortunately every time we went to the beauty retailers or searched online, we came up short. So few brands made products that worked for our skin tones, and the ones that did often relegated us to the brightest, boldest shades because that’s what they felt would show up on our deeper complexions. We wanted to wear the nudes and neutrals that many women live their lives in, and when we couldn’t find it, we decided to make it ourselves. – KJ
2. What was the hardest part about launching a beauty business? How did you overcome that challenge?
The hardest part about launching any business is launching it and particularly in a saturated market like beauty. There are so many elements to consider and they’re all important. The blue sky strategy and the little details all matter. In beauty in particular you constantly have to think about your product and your relevancy. There are so many times when KJ and I questioned whether we could really do this, whether we truly had the best product. That fear can keep you from pursuing your dream. That question of whether you have what it takes to truly stand out can be consuming. We leaned on each other and believed in what we were pursuing and that got us through every time. – Amanda
3. What has been the biggest success for Mented Cosmetics so far? How did you celebrate?
Honestly our biggest success has been creating a brand and products that women of color love. No matter how big we grow, knowing that there are women out there who feel seen and celebrated by our brand is how we measure success. – KJ
4. What does your morning routine look like?
I’ve always been a morning person, so my routine is pretty extensive. When I wake up I try to take a few moments to myself, before checking email or Twitter or the other billion things on my phone, and express gratitude for another day. I work out 3-4 days a week, so depending on the day that’s usually my next step. If there’s time, I like to eat breakfast with my husband, and after I shower and get dressed I jet out the door, eyes fixed on my phone. I like to play a game of “how many emails can I get through on my walk to work” – so I’m pretty much heads down the entire 20 minutes it takes to get to our office. My new favorite thing is to wait to do my makeup until I get to the office – it ensures I don’t spend too much time on it, and since I sometimes do it at our office vanities, I can also socialize with the team while I’m doing it. – KJ
5. Congratulations on your latest seed funding! What are the hurdles you had to overcome in getting funded, and can you share some with our readers on how you overcame them? – KJ
Fundraising is difficult no matter who you are, which is why I was determined to create a process and time-box the pitching portion to 6 weeks or less. It meant I was pitching pretty much non-stop during those six weeks, but it was worth it because once that part was done, I was able to return more of my focus to the business. I think one of the biggest hurdles we faced in the beginning – and by that I mean our pre-seed round last year – was access to the right investors. To overcome this, we took meetings with any and everyone, theorizing that if our pitch was strong, those people would introduce to other investors and eventually we’d make it into the right rooms. Lucky for us, this strategy worked. – KJ
6. How do you come up with new product ideas?
Our product development process is driven by our customers and by our goal to solve their most pressing beauty issues. We started with nude lipstick because we knew, both from our experience and from friends, that finding the perfect nude was nearly impossible for women of color. From there, we’ve kept our ear to the ground – and in fact our monthly pop-ups are great for this – to understand where our customers are struggling and what are the biggest items on their wish list. So far, it’s been a winning strategy. – KJ
7. What has been the #1 game-changing marketing or pr strategy for Mented Cosmetics and why?
First off let me say that marketing is a complex machine. The entire structure must be solid and built in a scalable fashion. There is acquisition marketing, retention marketing, PR, events, etc. and they all serve to create a engaging environment for customers new and existing. Without that you have nothing. We have found that some efforts really move the needle. Getting in front of your customers in a meaningful way and having them experience the product in your designed environment matters. We do that with our pop-up shops across the country. Women love coming to our events, bringing friends, and experiencing the world of Mented Cosmetics. – Amanda
8. What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
I absolutely loved The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. The book wasn’t about saying yes to everything indiscriminately. The book was an empowering testimony to being brave and allowing yourself the freedom to pursue what you desire. I never considered a career in entrepreneurship until after business school. Being around a lot of people who had both failed and succeeded in the startup world was helpful in normalizing that risk for me. Once I realized that win or lose startup life was a worthwhile pursuit then it was about being brave and saying yes. At Mented Cosmetics we use that same attitude to evaluate opportunities from a place of excitement and not fear. – Amanda
10. What’s next for your company? We love the new everyday eyeshadow palette from Mented Cosmetics!
We love that you love it! There are so many new things to come for Mented. Being just under a year and a half old, the world is our oyster. Everything seems possible. We are excited to grow our team that will help us grow faster. We are excited to keep launching new products and solve the beauty problems of our customers. We are excited to keep growing our community so that every woman who has ever felt left out of beauty now has a home. We have a big task ahead of us, but everyday we come with renewed excitement for the problems we’re solving and who we’re solving them for. – Amanda
11. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a beauty business?
My advice is to ask yourself if it’s truly something your passionate about, and if so, to go for it. It’s a crowded industry with low barriers to entry, and when you tell people you’re launching a beauty business their first question will likely be “…why? There are so many already.” That’s where the passion comes in. If it’s not something you’re certain the world needs and that you’re the one to create, doubt will creep in and you’ll be done before you start. But if you find yourself waking up thinking about your business, and going to be doing the same, then you almost have to pursue it. The other thing I’d say is you don’t have to start big – in fact we started by making lipsticks in our kitchens. These lipsticks weren’t glamorous, but the shades were gorgeous, and people reacted to that. So get to mixing, get to experimenting, and create something you believe the world needs. – KJ