Episode 16: Jennifer Kapahi, Co-Founder of trestique

Meet Jennifer Kapahi. Co-Founder of trestique. Discover what she learned growing up on a farm and how she uses fitness to create rhythm and balance in her work week.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzI am so excited that we're Joined today by Jennifer Kapahi, she's the co-founder of trèStiQue, welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.
Jennifer KapahiHi, thank you. So happy to be here, how are you Jodi?
Jodi KatzWe're so happy to have you Jen, it's awesome that you can make time for us. I know you're very busy now, not only are you the co-founder and entrepreneur as a brand, but you're also a new mom and we appreciate the time you're giving us.
Jennifer KapahiOh, thank you for having me. I'm very happy to chat with you and also just talk all things business and in real life. [crosstalk 00:00:51]
Jodi KatzYep, our listeners really appreciate how we can pull the curtain back, not only in our business, but our career experiences, our personal experiences, moving through our careers, and I thought it'd be a cool place to start with the theme of first jobs.
My first job, I was an assistant camp counselor and then I had a long and fruitful career as a babysitter, I guess starting when I was around 15. What was your first job?
Jennifer KapahiMy very first job was actually working on my family's organic farm, so I started working there when I was around 8 years old in the summer time. Every day all day and I remember working there with my parents as well as my two younger brothers and we started off with just the typical field work. It was sort of being like a glorified gardener of sorts, and then little by little, the weeding turned into more harvesting and we also started growing flowers, so we began to do cut flowers and I really enjoyed arranging and creating these beautiful collections of bouquets and then we actually started a little farm stand on the side of the road where we did cut flowers as well s watermelons, and that was our very first [inaudible 00:02:21] into retail and customers and just dealing with people in general.
Eventually of course that turned into a much bigger retail operation and farm it ... Where it is today, and my parents are like ... One of my brothers still actually works on the farm and run that operation but I didn't think I could do that until one of my many jobs, all the way up until I graduated from high school.
Jodi KatzDo you remember how old you were when you were interacting with customers, selling watermelons at the farm stand?
Jennifer KapahiI don't remember when we launched that little side stand, but it was very young. I mean, it was like nine or ten or something like this. I was an assistant to my mom of course. In terms of the real farm stand when it launched, I was probably a little bit older, maybe 11 or 12 where I was doing more of a cash register and dealing with customers. I remember the most challenging part about that was actually doing customer service, you know, someone wasn't happy or complained about pricing, there's sort of like this weird relationship that Americans have with food in general where we've been trained actually to pay much less than it costs to make food, and that's just the way it is. A lot of our food is imported from other countries, but it's rare that farms actually survive as long as my family's farm because most of them have to sell or go out of business due to the fact that it doesn't even pay their overhead in order to be able to grow the crops. It's a challenging venture.
Jodi KatzDo you remember what you would say to somebody who was an unhappy customer or at least how you treated them?
Jennifer KapahiI remember at first being very nervous because sometimes people got very angry, but what I quickly learned was that all customers appreciated the story behind the product and the more I can share with them and educate them about the process, for example, growing a tomato, which is super complicated and very labor intensive, the more they appreciated it, whether or not they decided to come back and purchase again, they still left much happier and clearer in terms of the reason and rationale behind the way a product was merchandised or a product would fold or how much it would fold for. I think the most important lesson, there was really about being honest, authentic and really not compromising, but being able to share that story they way that we're understandable.
Jodi KatzIs that something you learned from your mom or your dad and how they talked about their products?
Jennifer KapahiYeah, definitely from my mom. She's a marketing genius but she doesn't know it. She definitely never practiced it or went to school for it but she is kind of ... She always, I think, really where it comes from, the only reason why you end up being good at this type of a job is passion. When you're really passionate about something, you're able to tell the story really clearly, and I find that very consistently the more and more I meet other entrepreneurs and other founders, no matter what it is they're selling or sharing or offering a service for what have you, they're always very passionate about what they're doing, probably because it's just so hard and you have to have passion in order to go anywhere, but second of all, it really allows them to ... I don't know, like be better at their message, their story, their customer service and all and all, even by the end of the day, if it's not something that I ended up being interested in or wanting to purchase from them or what have you, I still always appreciate that in people.
Jodi KatzYou have a really distinctive work ethic. Like you said, you started working at eight years old, but you told me that in college you had four jobs on top of grade school, on top of playing soccer.
Jennifer KapahiMm-hmm (affirmative).
Jodi KatzWhy? What is inside of you that keeps pushing you towards this high octane work ethic?
Jennifer KapahiI think it's just how I was raised. My dad is asian I think, and from every other asian or mixed asian person I've ever come across, we all sort of like smile and nod. It's sort of this mutual understanding. You suffer as a young person, your parents never tell you you do a good job, nothing you do is good. You sort of have this very grand expectation to be better than the best and to work extremely hard and I don't want to say nothing is good enough because my parents definitely always told me that they were proud of me and that they loved me and all those types of things, so it's not like a woe is me story, but it's more like they set the bar very very very high and there's not really any room for being sub par.
And just in general, with your grades, with everything and anything that you do in your life, how you treat elders, what you do when you go to someone's house and they invite you for dinner. It's sort of like your family values I guess, if you will, and that just end up translating to your professional life because it's really the thing that occupies most of your time as an adult, and of course the first way of becoming an adult is leaving home and going to school and being on your own and having to pay for your own bills as early as I had to pay my own bills, so I wanted extra spending money for clothes or school supplies or trips. I could never afford spring break or any of those things but it didn't even cross my mind there was an option not to have a job.
It just ended up triangulating to four jobs because that's what fit into my schedule and that's how I could make the most money, and so I was always very interested in keeping busy and making sure that I can do all the things that I want to do, and the only way to do those things is typically if you have enough fun.
Jodi KatzRight. You have a tiny adorable baby boy and if we fast forward to when he's 18 years from now, going to school, do you think you're gonna be the parent who helps him pave his way and pay for spring break or do you think that you learned so much from earning on your own at that age that you wouldn't want to deny him that experience?
Jennifer KapahiOh, that's a really tough question.
Jodi KatzI know [crosstalk 00:09:21] make a lot of assumptions about your parenting in 18 years but what's your [inaudible 00:09:24] now?
Jennifer KapahiIt's so hard to say, and I don't know what I will ultimately end up doing but I think life is really really hard and I love my son very much, so I don't want him to suffer like how I suffered. I think it's very very hard in general to make a living. I really think it's very hard to be an entrepreneur. I want him to be happy and to be healthy and I want him to be a good person and I want him to work hard, but I want him to also enjoy life and who knows what his talent or skills will end up being but if I can pay for his spring break and he still has a summer job after or before or what have you, I think there's a fine balance, but I'm more than willing to help him if I'm able to more than my parents were able to help me from that perspective.
Jodi KatzI know I put you on the spot, but I think about this stuff because there's incredible dignity in doing things yourself, right?
Jennifer KapahiYeah.
Jodi KatzYou learn about yourself in a different way when you have to do something all by yourself verses when people do things for you. But it doesn't mean [crosstalk 00:10:43]
Jennifer KapahiIt certainly builds character.
Jodi KatzRight, and it probably really stunk, you know?
Jennifer KapahiYeah.
Jodi KatzWhen your friends can do things that you couldn't do and I think, at least in this part of the country, we live around some people who have a lot of money, and then we live around some people who don't right? And it's hard to be on one side of that fence and have friends who are super close to you and every single way financially.
Jennifer KapahiYeah. I agree, and I think I was very naïve when I was young. I didn't really know any better and so I wasn't really effected by ... I never remember feeling sad, I just remember being very matter of fact about it like, yeah, of course I can't afford spring break. No big deal. I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna work. It didn't even cross my mind that there was the option to have a very wealthy mom or dad who was gonna give me $5000 for a trip. It doesn't even come in my mind, so I guess I ended up being okay.
Now that I'm older and wiser, I've been looking back on life, oh poor me, you know? But back then I didn't feel that way at all. I was like "Whatever, I'm gonna go home and I'm gonna work and I'm gonna make whatever money and I'm gonna come back and I'm gonna be able to buy those cute new sandals or that really amazing new prom dress or ... Well I guess you don't go to prom in college, it's more like semiformal or something.
Jodi KatzLet's shift gears a little bit and talk about stress. No matter where it's gonna come from, whether it's the baby's having a moment or work is difficult or you're having too many tasks into a short amount of time or whatever it is, how do you deal with all that hard stuff in your head?
Jennifer KapahiUsually I laugh. The harder something is and the more painful it is the more I laugh about it. I have literally no clue how I did that [inaudible 00:12:40] sense of humor but I think by the end of the day, the fact that I'm in beauty and not a brain surgeon, I think it keeps me feeling light hearted about what I do on a daily basis because it's really not that serious, but to deal with all of the stress, and we really have a tremendous, tremendous amount of it. Tremendous amount of risk, tremendous amount of stress. I truly always go back to my exercise roots and I think it was 'cause I grew up playing soccer and I was a sporty girl and all the things that you learn when you play sports with a team is so applicable to real life and having a team in a professional setting, and when you're the team captain, your job is not to let the stress get to you because you still are in the game.
Like, literally in the game, you can't just leave the game. You have to just sort of grin and bear it and do the best that you can every day all day. I always exercise because it really takes away the stress and the endorphins are super addicting and I feel calm and clear headed and I always go back to my problem solving, organizational skills and I'm just like "Okay, what are my options? A, B, And C. Which one am I gonna choose?" And that's it. Very matter of fact about it. But the exercise is definitely a clearer thing, I know where to get there.
Jodi KatzYou mentioned organizational skills. I'm curious for someone who's an entrepreneur and a new mom. What is a day in your life? When does it start? When does it end and how you fit in the stuff in between?
Jennifer KapahiWell typically it starts as soon as I open my eyes. It depends, my son is on a pretty good sleep schedule, but sometimes he wakes up at 6:00 AM and sometimes he wakes up at 6:45 and sometimes he wakes up at 7:00, so really just depends on when he gets up I get up. The other day it was about 5:30, so that wasn't too fun but he gets up, I hear him, I check my phone one second after I open my eyes. I look through all of my emails before I get out of bed and before I do anything, which is probably really bad, and then I answer anything super super urgent and then I brush my teeth and then I usually put on my workout clothes and I go say good morning to him and we play together for 15 or 20 minutes, and then I do a workout.
Typically at least 3 days a week and then I quickly do my shower and get ready for work. I do my trèStiQue five minute face, hold up waiting for my Uber and then I'm out the door and I go to the office or a meeting or whatever I have in the morning. Typically I do a lot of morning meetings now. I go right from my house to the meeting and then the office and I'm literally in back to back conference call meetings, team brainstorms. From the second I walk into the office after my morning out of the office meeting, which is usually like 10:00, and then I stay in the office now these days until around 5:30 and then I go home and I spend a good hour with him before bed reading or playing or taking a walk or doing some kind of activity, and I always do the bedtime routine with him, so I do his bath time, or my husband will do the bath time and I'll do the bottle and we sort of snuggle together and then we this great hour and a half and then I put him to bed at 7:30 then I go back to work.
I typically eat and have conference calls and work at the same time. That's like, really really bad. I definitely don't have any me-time at night and I work typically until around 11 or 12.
Jodi KatzSo from 7:30 when he goes to bed at night to 11:00 or 12:00, you are not hanging out watching The Leduc on Bravo the way that I am. You are zooming through emails, making things happen, you're on top ...
Jennifer KapahiI don't even know what that is. It's so embarrassing how little I know of pop culture. If it wasn't for the skim that I occasionally get to pan through on my Uber ride to work, when I'm not putting on my five minute face or not taking a conference call, I would know literally nothing that happens in the world. It's like, really embarrassing. I have this tendency to have complete and utter focus on whatever it is that I'm doing, which is now these days, my work, and so I don't even know what's on TV. I really truly could not even turn my TV on. I think there's a button in my closet that I have to press before the screen comes down, it's some kind of newfangled projector thing, but if my husband isn't home and he literally isn't there to make it work, there would be absolutely no way I would be able to turn it on, so that's extremely embarrassing but that's how little I watch television.
Jodi KatzDo you feel like that's unsustainable for you with your[crosstalk 00:18:07] can you keep doing this?
Jennifer KapahiNo, definitely not. I plan to do this for however many years I need to to get the company to a very solid profitable, comfortable, well supported situation, and then I plan to add ina little bit more flexibility and personal life back into my life. I tend to see things very realistically. You don't build a company overnight and I don't expect to get this back in six months, but I am able to take those breaths of fresh air. I am able to make a morning meeting whatever time I can make a morning meeting, I'm able to exercise and I'm able to spend time with my family. As long as I have what I would consider my essentials, I can basically do 17, 20 hour days. That's no problem for me.
I do know whatever the future is, that there will be an eventual future that I will have to shift gears again, dial it down, take a bit of a break, make sure that I have ... I don't have to work like that all the time and my friends are very important to me and making sure that I'm a good friend and supporting them and spending time with my extended family and my parents, my brothers and all of those things. It's important to live life and not forget that we're here for a very short time. I keep that always in the back of my mind but I've been given a tremendous opportunity to run this company and to basically go for my dreams and if you somehow get that opportunity in your life, like you just don't throw that out out the window. You hold onto it and you try your best and you just keep protective about the future.
Jodi KatzJen, this is so incredible. I really appreciate your wisdom and your honesty. It's so cool to hear about your work ethic, how you feel so grateful for this opportunity and how valuable it is to you. it's beautiful to hear. Thank you so much for sharing all this wisdom with us today.
Jennifer KapahiYou're welcome. Thank you for asking. I don't know, it's just like I don't even know where this comes from.
Jodi KatzWell you're making it work, it's really beautiful.
Jennifer KapahiI have one fault and I'm definitely very truthful. And like, you ask me something, I'll definitely tell you for bad or for good.
Jodi KatzThat's great. Thanks Jen.
AnnouncerThanks for listening to Where Brains Meet Beauty with Jodi Katz. Tune in again for more authentic conversations with beauty leaders.

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