Interview with Tina Hedges, Founder of LOLI Beauty – Women Making History Today
The following article is part of Like a Boss Girls’ Women’s History Month series, “Women Making History Today”.
Tina Hedges, Founder of LOLI Beauty, is stirring up the beauty industry with her innovative product line of ethical, effective and customizable skincare products.
LOLI Beauty believes in full transparency, from their ingredients to their environmental impact. Tina Hedges and LOLI have taken a “food approach” to beauty by only using the purest, most potent, hand-selected and responsibly-sourced food-grade ingredients in their products.
LOLI Beauty’s environmental consciousness also carries over to their packaging. Skincare products are contained in food-grade, glass yogurt jars that can be reused for food storage, and shipments are packaged using certified compostable materials. Keeping in step with their commitment to ethical practices, LOLI Beauty uses technology to monitor their supply chain and makes donations in order to join in the fight against human trafficking.
LOLI Beauty is not only raising the bar for how skincare products are made, they are also giving customers an unprecedented opportunity to customize their skincare routine without requiring an overwhelming number of products. Customers start by choosing a “base” that is appropriate for their skin type, and then have the option to add additional “mix-ins”, creating their own recipe for a personalized, blend-it-yourself skincare experience.
“We are the world’s first organic, zero-waste beauty brand. But even more than that, we are a superfood and organic approach to customizing your own skin, hair, and body products.”
So how did LOLI Beauty get its start? I recently had the opportunity to speak with Tina about her business, background, and experience building her company from initial concept to new launch.
For about a decade and a half, Tina worked in product innovation for the mass-market beauty industry. In 2014, she shifted from the corporate realm into the startup world, making waves with various startup ventures across an array of industries.
Tina: I had this amazing training in corporate beauty and then I went into the startup world and understood that I knew how to be scrappy and nimble.
When Tina created the concept for LOLI Beauty, she had the experience to bring it to life.
Tina: I have to dovetail back before I tell you the story because there’s another piece. It’s not just that I come from the beauty industry but, personally, my parents are Cuban. I was born in Jamaica West Indies. I lived there until I was eight. I grew up watching natural ingredients being used for remedies both internally and externally. I remember being a child and my mom grabbing three leaves from three different trees and rubbing them together and putting them on my arm or my leg for a bee bite and the sting going away. So that was part of my initial foray into natural remedies.
I also lived around the world, including in China, and learned all sorts of other traditions. And then I went into the beauty industry and I learned the science.
Tina first launched LOLI Beauty as a MVP (minimum viable product) three-month surprise subscription box, shipping over 1,000 boxes to customers.
Tina: I was shipping and batching and everything out of my New York City apartment. But it showed me that women really cared, you know? I was stirring up beauty and creating a movement. And that is so powerful. That’s way more powerful than just a product. So I knew I had something.
Now, two years later, the new LOLI Beauty has launched with a blending system of bases, mix-ins, and recipes for customers online and at pop-up blending bars around New York City.
Tina: LOLI Beauty is a complete holistic approach to stirring up beauty, literally and philosophically. We are making a change that’s equal parts ethical, effective, and empowering. We feel like we’re really doing something meaningful and different and it’s not just about “Oh, here’s another approach to natural beauty.” It’s way more than that.
LOLI Beauty is still in the really early days, so it’s a combination of excitement and fear, you know? As a creator, I think you will always have some trepidations: “Will people like what you’ve created? Will it resonate? What is the reaction?” But although we’re just starting out, the initial feedback has been fantastic.
We did a collaboration with a retail store called STORY on 19th and 10th. It’s a store that does curated collaborations, and I’ve been doing blending bars there on the weekends there as well. It’s been really exciting to see the customers’ reactions and engagement – for both women and men.
While talking with Tina, it quickly became clear that she is a strong, innovative, and inspiring businesswoman. We covered a lot in our hour-long conversation, including some tidbits of honest and motivational entrepreneurial insights; the highlights of which I wanted to include below:
Do you have any advice for our readers who hope to eventually run their own company, but are hesitant and unsure of how to take the first step?
Tina: Try to find yourself a mentor. Try to get yourself in front of people that are actually going to advocate for you. Create those relationships and don’t be shy about it. If someone makes an introduction for you and you’re not getting a response, go back to the person who made the introduction and say, “Hey, I can’t seem to get their attention. Can you help me?” Because the easiest way to get somewhere is with help, and with doors being opened.
The way I met my lead investor was that I literally went through my Rolodex and I thought of everyone that I had met in the last couple years in finance, including people that I had actually done favors for, and I called them up and said, “I need to meet with you”, even if I knew they wouldn’t invest or they were in big private equity and couldn’t invest. I was an early stage company. But I sat with every single one and I would say, “I know this isn’t for you. I know you can’t invest, but who are the three people in your Rolodex that I need to meet?” And I would walk out of those meetings with three introductions. And those three introductions led me, in one case, to my lead investor.
We’re so afraid to ask for help as women. We’re so afraid because we feel like that makes us look weak and not in control and not a good leader. I think a good leader is someone who can raise their hand and say, “You know what? I need help on this. What can you do for me?” So it’s important to be conscious of that.
My next piece of advice is don’t be afraid to just do it. What I mean by that is when I started the MVP of LOLI, there were so many pieces of it that I didn’t feel represented what I ultimately wanted to build – but if I’d waited for it to be perfect, I would have never done it. I didn’t have the money to do the packaging I wanted to do yet. I didn’t have the money to do the website that I wanted to do. I did a website, and it was great, but it wasn’t my full vision. But if I’d waited for it to be perfect, I would never have done it. And if I didn’t do that first iteration, I wouldn’t have raised the money. Because what I’m trying to do is so innovative that people had to see it and experience it, even if wasn’t quite what I was building, in order to sort of have a frame of conversation.
What would you say, thus far, has been your biggest challenge in launching the company initially? From subscription boxes to now, what is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
Tina: Oh, this is so easy to share with you and also so meaningful given what your platform is with Like a Boss Girls! So here I am, a woman over the age of 40 – actually, over the age of 45 – and with tons of experience, both in corporate and startup. And with traction. I had done an MVP. LOLI wasn’t just an idea on a piece of paper. I had shipped 1,000 boxes. I had collaborations with Urban Outfitters and Adidas and tons of press – way more than many startup founders have under their belt when they go to get their first round of financing. And when I first started going and pitching, I was told by some very prominent venture capital firms that I should just pack up and go home.
The feedback they gave me was, “You know, it’s too bad, Tina, that you’re not 35 and straight out of Harvard business school or Stanford because, if you were, even with no experience and even if LOLI was just an idea on a napkin, I probably would have written you a two million dollar check. But the fact that you’re over the age of 35 and you have tons of experience but you’re doing this NOW, the chances this will become a unicorn are slim to none.”
On top of that, I would hear, “And you’re a single founder. If you had a co-founder, especially if it was a guy, then we would also probably invest.”
“I want to show women that you have value over the age of 35. That you can do things. That your experience counts for something.”
Are there any resources that you discovered along the way that you think our readers should know about for their career development?
Tina: If I could go back in my life, one of the things I would have done is learn how to code, even in a rudimentary fashion. Take some classes at General Assembly. Become proficient, or at least start understanding the language because more and more, the middle man between the engineers and the brand is going away, because the middle man is just an interpreter.
She continued on to discuss resources for people eventually looking to fundraise:
Tina: Start getting comfortable reading and understanding the language around investment. First Round Capital does an incredible newsletter that is always really interesting and evocative. There are tons of meet-ups in the tech world that also are great for you to build out your network and start learning from other people. Put yourself out there with groups that already have the insight and knowledge that you can learn quickly from.
In honor of Women’s History Month, can you name the women who inspire you?
Tina: On a philosophical level, I was very inspired by Amelia Earhart. I think about what she did in proving that women could be pilots and fly across the Atlantic Ocean. It is crazy to think about the resistance that she must have had, paired with the fear that she had to be an adventurer and maverick by herself. I just think that’s a great metaphor for where women are at today. There are so many paths in life that we still have to forge for ourselves, and we need to combat the resistance and not to let anything stop us in that vision.
As far as a beauty industry-related inspiration, I have to say Anita Roddick. She was such a visionary and so true to her vision. She really was the first to rock the world of beauty and say, “How we are making products and where those ingredients are being sourced from are things that matter, and how we approach that matters.” I think about her all the time as I’m building LOLI. She inspires me and I hope that I have her courage and fortitude.