Hero Cosmetics and Kulfi Beauty: Ju Rhyu in conversation with Priyanka Ganjoo

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Ju: What I’ve learned about entrepreneurship is that it’s all about convincing the skeptics. Hero Cosmetics still has skeptics, even though we’ve been around for five years. It’s just the nature of the industry. That’s why founders are so amazing because they see something that most people don’t. Even when you are a big company, you will always have doubters. It does not matter, because being an entrepreneur is above all this deep conviction and knowing that you will persevere and prove them wrong.

Priyanka: The other side of the coin is taking care of my mental health. Entrepreneurship is voracious and, at the same time, very solitary. How can I make sure that I set limits for myself so that I can have healthy relationships outside of work and continue to feel joy in what I do?

Ju: You have my number, so whenever you feel lonely, text me.

Priyanka: You are one of our angel investors. You invested before our launch. It was literally a bridge and a phone call where I told you my vision. And you were like, “I’m going to write you a check.” You understood where I was coming from.

Ju: You have the background and the conviction to make it a success. I always support the founders where the business comes from a personal place. There are companies where it may be about women’s health, but they are founded by a man. There is not as much authenticity. I like with Kulfi that there is a lot of empathy. Few people dared to be the solution, but you are part of it.

Priyanka: We should call each other more often.

Ju: I know we should. We’ll be each other’s hot girls.

On recent victories

Ju: We just expanded Ulta, a full chain with eight additional SKUs [stock keeping units]. It’s huge because we make a lot of our revenue from Amazon and Target, and we needed to prove we could be successful in specialty retail. The fact that they brought us in and are also supporting us in a very big way, taking eight SKUs across the chain, [with] off-aisle moments. Then literally the week after launch, my team was in communication with Ulta’s buyer and they were so happy. They give us another shelf at the end of this year.

Priyanka: So it’s a moment of personal bragging, but being on a billboard in Times Square just happened, which I never could have imagined. Sephora has a billboard above their store in Times Square, and they reached out saying, “We want to feature a quote from you.” It’s surreal to see ourselves presented in such a way. And then, of course, every time a customer places an order, it’s such a special feeling because I’m always in awe that someone went to our website and trusted us.

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On Stop Asian Hate a year later

Ju: I think last year was a great catalyst. It will be a trip; we’ll never have a moment where we’re like, “Okay, our job is done.” The next step I would like to see is that it should be something that is not thought of in a month but throughout the year. I would like this to be a real and consistent topic that we all talk about and try to find solutions to.

Priyanka: I think more needs to be done. The reality is that my friends in New York who are Asian are afraid to take the train. It is not fair. Nor is it fair to ask community members who are affected to do all the work around education. Members of the AAPI community are the ones who speak up and do this work, which I think is great, but other people need to speak up and join in. We need this ally.

On advice to new entrepreneurs

Ju: Cold-email, cold-call, don’t be afraid to contact random people. That’s actually how Priyanka and I were connected. You messaged me on LinkedIn and we did a Zoom chat, and then I became an investor. You never know what a random email or LinkedIn post can do, so take your chance.

Keeping the spark alive

Priyanka: Hero Cosmetics has been around for five years. What practices have helped you maintain the energy and passion you had for the business from day one?

Ju: Thinking about the future helps. The goal post keeps changing. When you’re at zero, you just want to get to a million. Everything will be fine if I manage to reach this million dollar hurdle. Then once you hit a million, the goal changes because you want to hit $10 million, then you want to hit $100 million. Just keep thinking bigger and that’s a big part of what excites me. It’s a marathon for sure. You have to pace your energy and your time. So take breaks, go on vacation, reset. This aspect of mental health is really important.

On the generation of media presence

Ju: When you started, I saw Kulfi everywhere. You have incredible press from the start. How were you able to generate so much incredible goodwill in the press and sustain it?

Priyanka: Definitely tap into your community. Many of the people who started posting to us on social media were people I had conversations with. It feels like they are personally invested in your brand. Also our visual aesthetic, with instagrammable and beautifully presented packaging. Even our own footage – we invest a disproportionate amount of our budget in really great photo shoots and we’ve made it a point to have BIPOC creators behind the scenes. It changes the creative output and looks very different from what you see in the market because it’s created by teams that aren’t typically brand-trained. I also do a TikTok a week. It’s important to me to keep in touch with the community because they tell me what we should do next. With our new launch coming up, I have personally tested our product on over 300 women. Putting yourself forward and connecting helps.

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