"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Or in Priscilla Tsai’s case, when you’re dealing with acne, turn to coconut oil and create a successful skincare brand.
You may have spotted Cocokind’s products at a Whole Foods near you, or even on your favorite beauty blogger’s Instagram feed. Launched in November 2014, Cocokind’s mission is to provide clean, conscious and accessible skincare that empowers women.
And empower women it does.
For starters, as someone with a finance background (Tsai, Cocokind’s founder, studied finance and accounting at University of Pennsylvania, and worked at J.P. Morgan as an equity research analyst), Tsai provides business advice to fellow female entrepreneurs by coaching one female business owner (new or existing) for one hour every month.
The vegan skincare brand is also part of a movement encouraging women to love their skin and show it off on social media (hopefully, with #NoFilter).
And Cocokind walks the “clean” talk: Its products are certified organic and socially conscious, and made from virgin coconut oil as well as plant-based superfoods (therefore a perfect fit for a mega-retailer like Whole Foods). Its products are also accessible, with price points ranging from $8.99 (for each Cocokind Collective Stick) to $18.99 (for the Organic Chlorophyll Mask).
Here, we talk to Tsai about how she turned her experience with hormonal acne into a successful business in a little over two years. We discuss her focus on using natural ingredients like turmeric, matcha, and avocado oil, as well as leveraging authenticity on social media and harnessing the power of community to help her grow Cocokind into a booming natural beauty business.
Cocokind’s Launch: The Birth of a Beauty Business
It’s the selfie era and we’re just living in it.
After all, it’s harder to hide a bad skin day when sharing selfies on social media is more popular than sharing an “Outfit of the Day,” or #OOTD, post (fact: at the time of writing, #selfie pulls up 311K Instagram posts, while #OOTD pulls up 138K). Other people's’ seemingly perfect skin tends to fuel insecurities about our own complexion, especially when social media filters are used. Tsai is hoping that Cocokind can make a positive impact on this mentality — and she can speak from first-hand experience.
“I’ve dealt with hormonal acne since I was a teenager. When I was in college, my dermatologist put me on antibiotics and spironolactone, and I took those pills daily for years. When I graduated, however, I started having major digestive issues, and I realized that there may have been a link between my acne medicine and my stomach problems,” Tsai explains.
“After some convincing, I quit those pills and started looking into holistic solutions for my skin and body. I started learning how to eat clean and how my diet may have been impacting my skin issues. What started with cooking with coconut oil turned into trying the oil on my face! At first, I was terrified because I had been told all my life to only use oil-free moisturizers. However, within a week of trying coconut oil, my skin felt and looked completely different… After experiencing some success with coconut oil, I started searching for other food ingredients that I could use to heal my skin. My search process always started at the produce section of supermarkets!”
That’s where my business idea started. It was founded out of my own need – I realized that there was nothing out there to serve my needs as a consumer.
While Tsai was DIY-ing her own “skincare concoctions,” she was working 12+ hour days on Wall Street.
“When I went to the grocery stores, I would get so frustrated because most skincare products either contained way too many unnecessary ingredients or they would be (what I believed) unfairly expensive.”
This paved the way for Cocokind, as an effective vegan brand providing quality products at an affordable price.
Closeup of the Business Of Beauty
Cocokind’s timing is particularly beautiful, as today there’s a strong connection between skincare and self-care, with an emphasis on creating a skincare ritual as a form of de-stressing and indulging. A recent Business of Fashion article, “The Hygge Effect: How Beauty Is Cashing in on Cosy,” focuses on the correlation between the hygge trend (a Danish term defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being”) and the rise in skincare products. (Note: according to Forbes, beauty is now a $445 billion sales industry — and it shows no signs of slowing down.)
Today, there’s no shame in staying home and “masking” rather than being out mingling. As a matter of fact, taking the time to use a cleansing mask or intense hydrating treatment is trendy! Because staying in is the new going out. This line in the BoF article says it all: “Small indulgences. Me-time. It’s a cultural moment tailor-made for beauty.”
Cocokind’s Growth: From Shopify To Saks
Tsai and her team started with a very simple Shopify website and immediately began wholesaling into local natural grocery stores in Northern California.
“In the beginning, we would call stores and explain that we had a skincare brand that was based on superfoods, USDA certified organic, with retail prices under $20. With that proposition, it usually allowed us to land in-person meetings or at the least, send samples. We were in around 100 stores, including Whole Foods in our region, within three months!”
I’m a firm believer in starting small and building the business step by step. I never overwhelmed myself with the big picture in the beginning, I just concentrated on the immediate next few steps. We are able to get a lot done quickly that way.
Tsai knew her business was for real when she saw Cocokind products on shelves for the first time.
“I still get excited every time I see our products in stores, but the first few stores in the East Bay (shoutout to the Berkeley Bowls and Alameda Natural Grocery!) were extra special.”
Fast-forward two years and Cocokind now has over 3,000 retail stores in its North American distribution network, from coast to coast. Today Cocokind can be found in wellness stores and beauty salons in the U.S. and Canada, and it was even included in the Wellery section at Saks’ NYC flagship as part of LifeThyme Natural Market’s pop-up.
As for Cocokind’s ecommerce, it has grown significantly in 2017. Last year, its ecommerce shop only accounted for around 5% of sales, while this year, Cocokind.com will account for around 20% of its total sales. Tsai expects this to grow closer to 30% in the long term.
Building a Success Story: Creating the Perfect Packaging
While Cocokind’s ingredients are important, its packaging and branding have also contributed to its success. Its Cocokind Collective Sticks (“MyMatcha All-Over Moisture Stick,” “MacaBeet Tinted Moisture Stick” and “Turmeric Spot Treatment”) are constantly shared on beauty and wellness bloggers’ Instagram feeds, primarily due to their highly shareable packaging and portability.
Packaging has always been important to Tsai; she even taught herself the basics in Photoshop and InDesign, and amazingly has designed all of the brand’s packaging herself.
We want our packaging to represent some of our core values such as being clean, simple, yet creative. Of course, as our social media has grown, I definitely think about if the packaging is ‘shareable’ more and more.
She explains: “I’ve learned a lot over the past 2.5 years, and as I’ve become smarter about what actually resonates with our customers, we’ve made a good amount of changes to improve our look.”
Getting Social With Cocokind: Instagram Is Key
From product development to packaging, you might wonder how Tsai has the time to do it all — especially since she also manages Cocokind’s social media channels and engages with customers first-hand.
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“We use Instagram as our primary marketing tool right now. However, how we speak to our customers is pretty different than most other beauty companies. It is extremely important to us that we do not market to our customers feeling the need to be ‘perfect’. We market to our customers by ensuring they feel loved and good being exactly who they are. I think that’s a really big difference in how we market to our customer. We tend to talk more about our target ‘psychographic’ vs. a traditional demographic. Our customers are on a search for quality and clean skincare at a price point that makes sense. They are extremely knowledgeable and innovative, and they are leaders in the wellness movement.”
We use Instagram to empower women and teach them how to empower their skin and minds.
For Tsai, authenticity is critical:
“I’ve always managed our social media and I still do — our community on Instagram is one of the things I’m most proud of. The key to our social media is our authenticity. Having struggled with so many skincare problems myself, I understand the various concerns our consumers face. When I break out, I show that to our customers. When I’m flying all over the country and my skin is drained, I show them what skincare steps I take. We are relatable and always educational. Furthermore, we want to show our customers more than just pretty pictures. We care about being a fully transparent company — and that means talking about our company, our values, our products, and our message of empowering women in general.”
One of the empowering methods that Cocokind leverages is encouraging the community to share their photos as well.
We have this amazing and growing community of people who love sharing how they use our products. They also love sharing and supporting the fact that we are a conscious company, environmentally friendly, and women-led.
Sharing Is Caring: Helping Fellow Entrepreneurs
Another way Tsai empowers women is by doling out advice to other female founders. She got inspired after attending a conference for founders in the wellness space.
“When I looked around, I was really surprised to see that it was mostly men. As such, I decided to start our ‘Talk to Me’ initiative where I coach one female business owner (new or existing) for one hour every month. The women email me detailed questions and I pick an individual with whom I think I can really have a collaborative discussion.”
I’m always conscious of the little things we can do to make the world a better place. You don’t have to wait to give until you can donate a huge amount of money or time. You can start small — that’s what this female empowerment initiative is all about.
Here are some of Tsai’s tips:
“The best advice I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is that the greatest idea in the world is nothing if you don’t do anything about it. I’m all about actions — you should talk only after you’ve done it. Don’t overwhelm yourself with thinking about the big picture every day.
Set small goals, achieve them, and then constantly set new ones
“For me, it’s the best way to get things done effectively and quickly (while also staying sane and not overly stressed).”
Make sure entrepreneurship is for you
“These days, it’s pretty easy to be attracted to this lifestyle — but not everyone should start companies. I believe the closest people to you should not be surprised when you say you’re going to start a company… It’s easy to have ‘beer goggles’ on when you start brainstorming ideas, so let these people be a sanity check before you jump into this entrepreneurial world!”
The Future Is Female: The Future of Cocokind
The future looks bright and beautiful for Cocokind. They are launching their version of makeup (still with a strong skincare focus) this summer, and they’re working on a sunscreen that will launch in 2018. They are also focusing on expanding the number of products they have on shelves at their current retailers.
They will also be producing more content that helps empower women and change the way we think of beauty.
Speaking of content, Tsai and her team believe in content marketing: Cocokind recently launched The Look, a limited-edition monthly newspaper (yes — you read right!), which delves deeper into Cocokind’s values, products, and user-generated photos. The Look is available in some online orders as well as digitally via email.
Find A Team That’s Like Family...
And lastly but maybe most importantly, Cocokind’s team is constantly growing. As a result, Tsai is focusing on maintaining and creating an awesome and supportive culture at work. To Tsai, it’s all about “finding passionate people who can hustle every day, be creative and smart, and be as obsessed with our customers as I am.”
As for her biggest challenges, being based in San Fran has its setbacks.
San Francisco isn’t always the easiest place to find the type of talent we’re looking for, and I’m very protective of our family-type of culture at work.
Sounds like a solid recipe for success.