Women In Beauty You Should Know: Lisa Mattam, Founder of Sahajan

Lisa Mattam Quits Pharamceutical Sales 9-to-5 to Start Skincare Brand, Sahajan
Lisa Mattam leaves pharmaceutical sales 9-to-5 job to start skincare brand, Sahajan

How Family Tradition, Scientific Rigor, and Sephora’s Beauty Accelerate Gave Roots and Wings to Sahajan, a skincare line based in Ayurveda.

I first experienced the magic of Sahajan when I was pregnant with my son, furiously and liberally applying the Ritual Body Oil Lisa had sent me all over my stomach to prevent stretch marks. I went through that bottle reeealll fast. Needless to say, I gave birth with nary a stretch mark where I had slathered the oil, and was forever grateful to Lisa and her magical body oil for preserving at least one aspect of my pre-baby body.

I credit the efficacy of this product to Lisa’s meticulous application of scientific rigor to a natural product line. For those that don’t know, it’s not common to find a green brand that has extensive clinical data backing their product effectiveness like Sahajan does. The brand is truly a marriage of Lisa’s two backgrounds—ayurveda principles stemming from her South Indian upbringing and a career built on data in the pharmaceutical industry. It’s no wonder that after applying to Sephora’s Accelerate program 6 months post launch, Sahajan was included in the lineup amongst 7 other brands (even though Canadian brands weren’t even supposed to be considered for this program)!

Below, Lisa shares how her daughter inspired the creation of Sahajan, her tips on tackling the challenges of being mom and CEO, and the shift she made to digital pr that exploded her business. 

1. What inspired you to start a beauty company?

This is a long one but I distinctly remember coming home one day to find my beautiful, 2-year-old daughter at the top of the stairs with my face cream on—super thick the way kids apply everything.  While instantly thinking that she was so cute I became immediately uneasy about what she put on her skin. I had been so cautious and careful with her skin, her first foods etc. so I quickly cleaned her face and told her that she can’t play with that stuff—it wasn’t good for her. Everything I buy says anti-wrinkle and anti-fatigue—who knows what’s in it?  So I took her to her room and showed her the products that I used for her, products that my parents had given me from India and I told her that I trusted these…and I thought to myself, isn’t it crazy that I would consider a product not good enough for her, but it is fine for me, that I would worry about what the ingredients were doing to her beautiful young skin but not to mine. If I was so worried about the potential impacts of the ingredients, their toxicity per say, then it was time for me to walk away from them and towards the ingredients that I trusted. Ones that had been in my family for generations.

It turns out that what I perceived to be family tradition was really deeply rooted in a science and that science was Ayurveda.  My family is from South India the epicenter of Ayurvedic study so Ayurveda and its philosophies were part of everyday life for them.  I was using coconut oil, turmeric and other ingredients long before they were trendy because both experience and science taught my family about their efficacy.

It was at that point that I wondered why it had taken me so long to get here—for the most part I try and eat healthy, I exercise, I practice yoga and I realized that I had always focused my habits on results…anti-wrinkle…anti-fatigue and it was in that moment that I realized that I could take those ingredients that I believed in and apply the scientific rigor that I had learned not only in my studies but in my career in pharmaceuticals and create a beautiful line that gives our clients the science to follow their intuition while the ability to choose clean beauty.

2. What was the hardest part about launching a beauty business? How did you overcome that challenge?

For me the hardest part was finding the right partner to help us scale up our manufacturing. We created all of our products in the lab but we needed a bigger lab to help us produce the collection and that was incredibly challenging. Some local manufacturers wouldn’t work with startups- others didn’t have the standards that I was looking for in order to produce. When I finally landed on a partner one with an ISO standard facility, who would work with us to scale, they treated me terribly and even tried at one point to say they owned our formulas. How did I get over it? I think I am still not over the experience entirely but I learned that I had to push through, to be resilient, to negotiate and where I needed it, shore up the right advisors, advocates and sponsors to help me further the business.

3. What has been the biggest success for Sahajan so far? How did you celebrate?

Oooh, that is hard to say but I would in my heart of hearts declare winning a spot in Sephora’s Inaugural Beauty Accelerator as the biggest success. To paint the picture, we were the only Canadian brand accepted and from what I have been told, they hadn’t anticipated accepting a Canadian brand until they looked at Sahajan…add to that, we were only 6 months post launch so the validation from beauty giant Sephora was the added boost to reach hard and far for my dreams.  How did I celebrate? I just learned a very important lesson writing this- in fact, I did nothing specific to celebrate but I will be mindful to celebrate all our wins moving forward- with a team lunch or a team ice cream! Every success is a success worthy of celebration.

4. What does your morning routine look like?

It’s usually consistent-  but with kids and an appetite for Netflix, I fall off the routine sometimes.  For the most part, it’s a 6am wake while everyone is asleep. A prayer for the day, a glass of warm temperature water, a stretch then emails until everyone is up. I am a big believer in Dinacharya- Ayurvedic Daily routine, which ultimately teaches us that our bodies and our minds do best when they are on a routine—I customize it for myself and don’t get too worked up if I am off it but it works. I highly recommend!

5. As a mother, how do you balance motherhood and entrepreneurship (what are some tips for other mompreneurs for juggling motherhood and entrepreneurship?

I think you have to know that it’s hard but it’s doable. There are times when your kids need more of your energy and times when your business does—you have to be able to roll through those cycles and make sure you have the support to get through them.  Sometimes as a founder, my biggest struggle is admitting to people, that in fact, I am not available for a call because of a family commitment.

We have to work together to dispel the myth that children are an inhibitor to career success and we have to welcome mothers to live their lives openly at work. Click To Tweet

Only in doing so, in being truly honest about what it takes, we can actually create a world where working mothers thrive.

Here are a few tips from me:

    1. Get help! Whatever the help looks like in the way you feel is right. My parents are my saviors and they pick up the kids one night a week and I stay late at the office in order to feel sane and to make sure I have addressed the needs of the business.
    2. Make plans but allow those plans to change—I often on Sunday night will make a list of things that I have to do that week and I even do the old school prioritizing so that the big things get done. That way even if something interrupts my weekly plans and that can be anything from manufacturing challenges to someone having the stomach flu, I don’t fall too far behind.
    3. Don’t compare—I find this is a hard one. I often look at other founders without kids and think, I am not working hard enough—look at all the things they can do, will I measure up, what will others think? But then I remind myself, that part of the pull on my time is my desire and my vision of the relationship I want with my kids. They are the best part of my life and once I ground myself in this reality, the fears dissipate quickly. Know that you are running a different race than your non-mom counterparts but the finish line is just as close as just as accessible. You just have to do things differently.

6. How do you come up with new product ideas?

Mostly from our clients who send us notes to tell us what they want to see next. The hard part is keeping up with the suggestions.

7. What has been the #1 game-changing marketing or pr strategy for Sahajan and why?

Shifting to an increased focused on digital….I started this business with the goal of gaining retail placements, so like every good sales person, I started looking for those partners. In times past, the idea, the pitch and the PR traction would have been the best support to gaining that retailer but now it’s different. By nature, I am a luddite and a people person. I still love to touch and feel the things I buy and I love to spend time in front of our customers watching them do the same. So while we have always invested in digital, we have really been honing our skills in this area and right when I think we get it, it changes on us!  We shifted a year ago to focus on our own digital not only because it is a critically important sales channel but digital traction teaches you a lot about your customer, your messaging and your audience. It’s a gift that will serve you no matter what path you take or partner you choose.

8. What’s a non-fiction book that’s positively impacted your business and why?

Traction by Gabriel Weinberg.  I confess that I am not a great reader and leave my learning to podcasts, youtube, online articles and magazines. That being said, I constantly go back to and reflect on Traction. It’s critical for both mindset and action. It reminds you that as a startup, your only responsibility is to grow and it gives you 19 channels to explore to create that growth. Love it.

10. What’s next for your company? We love the new oil cleanser from Sahajan!

Global domination- haha!  I love that you love the cleanser- my heart is singing.  I am excited for new products, new retailers and growing a community that shares our passion for wellness and the deep treasures that exist in the Ancient Science of Ayurveda.

11. What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a beauty business? 

Remember that a beauty business is a business first. While you must have incredible passion for the business and the industry, it’s incredibly easy to get swept up in the world that surrounds it.  Ask yourself, the business fundamentals. Am I offering something different? Who is my intended client? How will I get traction? Build your plan around these ideas. Also, I believe that you have to shore up the right team around you. In the early days, that doesn’t mean hiring people or even giving up equity but as you identify the gaps you have as the founder, ask yourself who could advise you on this? Who could be your champion? How might you access people who can help? It takes a village to grow a business even when it’s just you. You can do this.

Want help building a cult-status beauty brand with the right brand and marketing strategy? Do you desire to be the kind of brand that has customers hopping on waitlists and spreading the word of your brand for you without you even asking? Learn more about how you can do this here

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