Episode 163: Maria Hatzistefanis, Founder of Rodial

After being fired from a fast-paced banking biz position in London, Maria Hatzistefanis, Founder of Rodial, took months before making her next move. That move eventually combined her business savvy and experience in the finance world with her long-time love of the beauty industry.

This episode reminds us to keep calm and find the beauty in every road block, rejection and set-back.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHey everybody, it's Jodi Katz, your host of WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. This week's episode features the founder of Rodial Skincare. Her name is Maria Hatzistefanis. And if you missed last week's episode, it featured Gwen Jimmere. She's the founder and CEO of Naturalicious. I hope you enjoy the show.

Hey everybody. Welcome back to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY® Podcast. I am so happy to be joined by Maria Hatzistefanis. She is the CEO and founder of Rodial. Welcome to WHERE BRAINS MEET BEAUTY®.
Maria HatzistefanisHi Jodi. Thank you for having me. Very excited to be here.
Jodi KatzI am so happy to see you. I've been a fan for a really long time. I think in the beginning of social media, when Instagram became a thing, you really played a pivotal role in storytelling back in that time. And I've been following you ever since. This is a kind of a fan girl moment for me.
Maria HatzistefanisVery exciting. Yeah. Cannot wait.
Jodi KatzLet's go to one of my favorite questions, since we talk about career journey on this show, what did you want to be when you were a kid when you would grow up?
Maria HatzistefanisI always wanted to be an editor of a magazine. Since I was very young, I would buy magazines and Vogue and Elle and Harper's and I was obsessed by the world of Beauty and Fashion and Glamor. And I was born and raised in this tiny island that everything was really basic. This was my escape of reading those magazines and thinking that one day I will be in a different place. And I always imagined that I would run a magazine. How weird is that?
Jodi KatzAnd did you ever work in magazines?
Maria HatzistefanisActually yes. Well, that was my first job while I was at Uni. I applied for an internship with 17 magazine back in Greece where I am originally from. And I worked in the beauty department, so was a beauty writer and I did this while I was studying. It was a part time job and it was amazing. It was my door into the world of Glamor and it was a fun, it was a really fun time of my life. Yeah, I did that for a little bit, but my passion, it was beauty and it was the creative industry, but something was missing. I had this interest in business and I needed this something a bit more structured. I moved to the US, moved to New York and started business. Yeah, it's my career is all over the place. A little bit of beauty, a little bit of business. Crazy, right?
Jodi KatzWell, it's so cool is you made your dream come true. You want to work in magazines and then you've got a job at a magazine. Not everybody really makes their dream come true.
Maria HatzistefanisAnd I realized that, it wasn't meant to be and it wasn't my dream anymore, but at least I tried it, which is it's the important thing, take that risk.
Jodi KatzI always wanted to work in magazines also. And I did get a job. I worked as the assistant to the editor and chief of Cosmopolitan magazine and Glamour magazine in my early twenties. And when I worked there, I realized I don't want to do this for a career, but I'm really glad that I had those experiences.
Maria HatzistefanisYeah, definitely agree to that.
Jodi KatzTell me about studying business in New York. When you were here, were you thinking, oh, I'm going to go into banking or where was your head when you talk about studying business?
Maria HatzistefanisThat was my next step. As I said, I did beauty and then moved to business. The reality was, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew that I wanted to understand business. I knew that I was drawn into the business world and I enjoyed throwing myself and learning this new skill, but I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. And when I graduated, I had a lot of loans, student loans that I had to pay off. Back in the day when I graduated there were only two career options really, either banking or consulting. I started interviewing a whole bunch of companies that were coming on the campus, interviewing us. And I thought, you know what? I'll just try my luck. And I ended up getting a job with a bank, with Salomon Brothers at the time. I couldn't believe it. I had no idea what they found in me, a girl from an island back in Greece, having done a little bit of beauty journalism and then started business. I didn't get it.

But anyway, got the offer and then I moved with work to London. This is what brought me to London. I worked in this bank for three years and it was fun at the beginning, learning new skills, doing presentations, traveling to Europe and meeting new people in companies, but then very quickly the excitement and the adrenaline of the banking world started to wear off. And everyone was reading the Financial Times, I remember and I was reading Vogue and I was thinking, what am I doing here? This is not for me anymore.

I started kind of not working as long hours. I started taking weekends off and actually taking holidays. This doesn't go down very well. And one day I got called in the boardroom and I got fired. And you know what? When I say this right now, I say this in a very calm way, but I was devastated. This is the worst thing that could have happened to me at that point. But, if I look back at it, it was actually the best thing that ever happened to me because it made me realize what my passion was. It definitely wasn't banking and it made me think, well, this is the time. Take that risk, start your own business. And that's the point that I decided to start Rodial.
Jodi KatzWow. You had the job in banking, you get fired and then you're like, oh, I'll start my beauty brand now?
Maria HatzistefanisWell yeah, with a few steps in between. When I got fired, I thought, okay, what's next for me? Obviously I've studied business, I've worked in banking. I didn't want to go to another bank and doing a little bit of self analysis and thinking, what is it that I want? What is it that I'm passionate about? And beauty came back and my days at the magazine, which at the end, they were happy days. I just didn't realize it at the time that I was at the magazine. And at the time there were a lot of new brands coming up. There was Marcia Kilgore that just started Bliss a few years ago, actually. And then Stila by Jeanine Lobell. And there was a whole trend of women who were starting beauty brands. And I was reading about them and I was getting so inspired and thinking, I would like to be them one day.

Having a bit of a business background and having the beauty journalism, I thought, well, I have a passion for this so let's just see if I can make a business and a career. That was the thought process. That was my inspiration. And yeah, at the beginning, what I actually learned from banking, which was really useful for me, is to research and get to understand an industry really quickly. Because when I was in banking, one day you had to analyze an insurance company and understand it and understand what drives that industry or the next day it could be a department store business. I had that skill so very quickly, I was able to analyze the beauty business and put together what are the components that I need to launch a brand. Now, what was really interesting is thinking that I just came from a job in finance, that I would be flooded with offers to get investment for my business.

And so I put together a business plan and I thought, oh, that's the easiest thing, get investments. I went to about 20 investors, I reached out. I sent the emails. I had 12 emails back. I had five meetings and had zero investment. Here I am all pumped up to start my own business and being very excited about it, but I wasn't able to get funding. That was my first roadblock of where do we go from here? And it wasn't just the money. Obviously the money is great to help you start your business and fast forward it rather than grow organically. But it was also not getting this funding, it was a slap in the face that if I got the funding, that would legitimize my idea.

And so I started having second thoughts, is this the right thing? Is this what I'm meant to be doing? But I was so passionate about it. And I thought, you know what? I'm going to start really small. I'm going to start from backroom at home. I had a little bit of savings from my days in banking. I'll do everything myself. I'll make a start and we'll see where we go from here. Everything started super small at the beginning.
Jodi KatzThis idea of not getting the validation from the investors is really fascinating because you're coming off of getting fired, which probably also was a little bit of a bruise to your psyche and your ego at that moment. It makes me think of the time period that we're in, during COVID we're five months in now and people are losing their jobs. And that is not just a challenge for the paying the bills, but it's also a challenge to our emotions. And we are probably in our industry so associated with our jobs and the value in our jobs sometimes unfortunately carries over to how I value myself as a person. Do you have any advice of how people can sort of pick themselves up and kind of brush off that bruise so that they can refocus and find their moment to figure out what's next for them?
Maria HatzistefanisWell, it takes me back to the day that I was fired, that I was upset. And I think the key thing, when something shocking happens to you and losing your job is one of the biggest shocks to our system. First of all, you have to take the time to feel the feelings. It wasn't that I got fired and the next it's like, yes, let's start the business. It does take time. You do have to just sit and digest what happened and give yourself time to grieve the trauma that you went through. I can't sit here and pretend that it's easy and that you can turn things around in a day, but it's very important to just feel the feelings, just digest the situation. This is not a time to rush into decisions and no one's going to judge you if you're not going to wake next day full of energy saying, "Okay, got fired yesterday, let's start a business."

It doesn't work like that. But you just have to be kind to yourself. You have to just do whatever feels right for you. Don't rush yourself into any situation. I remember when I did this, all I wanted to do is just go for walks. I went to museums and I just needed to do things that would take my mind off what was happening. I wasn't ready to process my next job move or career move, whatever. I wasn't ready for that. I personally took a little bit of time. I probably took two to three months to really get myself back together and then just started thinking what's next? I feel you need a good two to three months to get you to your next stage of your career.
Jodi KatzAnd I think there's also this idea that the next job doesn't have to be the perfect job. It might not be the perfect job. It might not be the dream job. And sometimes it has to be okay.
Maria HatzistefanisAbsolutely. And it's, you never know where one thing can lead to another and then suddenly you may get your dream job. What I will say is that while we're seeing a lot of industries right now suffering, there's a lot of others that are opening up and there's a lot of growth in other industries. I feel this is the time for everyone to be open to what is out there. For example, the online businesses are thriving. The grocery business is thriving. The delivery business is thriving. There are areas that are doing extremely well. This could be the opportunity to look outside your industry and look at what else is out there. And maybe this is the time I can open my horizons and gain some new skills. That's one way to go.

Another way to go is if you do feel that you have a passion and you've always had a hobby, let's say photography, let's say you're an accountant and you always loved photography. What do you do? This is the time to go and educate yourself, go on YouTube and watch tutorials and get inspired. And if you have a passion and if you have a hobby that you think this can end up being your full time job after you've lost your current one, do your research and do anything that you can to get yourself educated and up skill yourself in your passion.

And I feel that we're quite fortunate compared to when I was fired back in the day, that there just so much out there. You can Google anything in this world and now you can Google, I don't know, if you want to be a photographer. I don't know why I'm stuck with this photography thing. How do I become a photographer? And boom, you get a 1,000 articles. What equipment do you need? What courses you can take? Online courses or YouTube videos? And there just so much out there that I think this is the golden opportunity for anyone who has a passion or a dream to just take the time that's given to them to take them a step closer.
Jodi KatzWe mentioned your Instagram following when we opened the show. I'm curious if during this time more of your fans have reached out to you over DM asking more of these more personal questions or guidance questions and mentoring questions.
Maria HatzistefanisDefinitely. That's all we have right now without having events and without having any real connection with people, all we have is social media. I've personally been a lot more active on social media than I used to in the past. I used to post pictures and now I'm a lot more involved in talking on my stories. I'm doing a lot of Q and A's at times on careers and advice. And a lot of people in the followup of my second book, How to Make It Happen, they have follow up questions. I'm always DMing and I'm answering to DMs. But also it's been a great opportunity for me to connect with our customer at Rodial. Because I was a little bit self conscious, I would say. My team always wanted me to go out there and do tutorials and talk about the products.

And my response was always, well, I'm not a makeup artist. I'm not a facialist. I don't feel that I know I'm passionate about the products because I created them, but I don't have the skills to present. And out of this lockdown, here I am waking up in the morning, applying my face masks, talking about the masks, talking about the economy and all sorts of different things. I feel that the lockdown sort of personally helped me to get out of my shell and start communicating and not having to have that perfect image of the business woman that I can only talk to you if we're talking about business and I've loosened up a little bit, which it has resonated a lot. I'm doing everything now from skincare consultations, to make up color matching, to career advice. I'm doing a lot and I'm actually enjoying it. It's super fun. And it's great to know that even though we're not out there, there's still that connection with my audience.
Jodi KatzRight. You just spoke about be being vulnerable, allowing yourself to be vulnerable. You're not a trained esthetician or a makeup artist, but you still have a point of view. But I think this time period has given people in our industry a way to rewrite the rules. Who cares that you're not a trained makeup artist, you wear makeup, you're a customer of it.
Maria HatzistefanisAbsolutely yes. And once you get out of this, we all have those limiting beliefs that I can only do X, Y, Z, because this is what I'm programmed to do. Once you get out of that and say, "Well, you know what? I'm going to talk about how I apply my foundation. It may not be the perfect way, but I am sharing my point of view as a consumer, as someone who needs to get ready in five, 10 minutes. I don't have an hour in the morning to get ready."

And maybe there is an audience out there who is not a trained makeup artist, doesn't have an hour to get their makeup done and maybe I can help that audience get inspired and get ready in the morning. Plus, the fact that stories, they do disappear after 24 hours. Even if it's not your best, it's okay. It will go after 24 hours. It's not registered forever. It definitely helped me. And I also have seen a lot of that online. I have seen a lot of people really going out of their way to communicate and come closer to their audience. I think that's it can be transformational even after lockdown.
Jodi KatzOne of my favorite things to ask people is about their superpower. My superpower is, I think I'm so good at seeing 10 steps ahead. I'm curious to know what your superpower is.
Maria HatzistefanisHuh. Superpower. I would say keep calm under a lot of stress. And it's actually something that I talk about in my book that whenever you go through a stressful situation, never really react immediately because that first reaction isn't necessarily the best. And it kind of takes me back to when I first started the business and I wanted to put Rodial in one of my favorite department stores, Harvey Nichols and I send them product. I emailed them, I would love to get my products in your store. No one answered my emails. I was disappointed, but I could have gone back and said, "How dare you? Why are you not answering my emails? My products are the best. I can't believe you're not responding and you're not taking my products." I could have reacted that way. Although I'm a professional, I would never do that. But I'm just saying.

But anyway, I took the no response. It's okay, we'll move on. And then next year I would contact them again, send them more product, be very gracious about everything. And then it took me five years to get a response from them and a meeting. And finally we ended up working together. But if my initial reaction was to be disappointed, be shocked and react back in a defensive way, how can they not respond to me? How could they not take my products? That have been, would have closed the door for me. And I would never be able to work with them again. Yeah, it's one of the elements that I talk through in my book, Make It Happen, on the three stages of when something shocking happens to you or when you're under stress, just take 48 hours to digest it. Never react immediately. And I think I've learned this over time. I don't think I was so calm always, but now I just take my time to digest, formulate a strategy before I react too quickly. Yeah, just keeping calm under stress is probably my superpower right now.
Jodi KatzThat's such a great notion because what I've learned through the years is we don't know the reason why things happen or don't happen, but work is way more fun when I can go with the flow.
Maria HatzistefanisA 100%.
Jodi KatzVersus trying to slam my head against the wall. It's more joyful. I sleep better. And ultimately my business grows when I can just relax and trust, but it's hard to learn that. It's painful actually.
Maria HatzistefanisIt's hard and I think it takes a certain level of maturity and experience of having gone through things and have made mistakes. I'm not saying I've been perfect in every single situation. When I started as a young entrepreneur, everything that comes your way, that that doesn't come your way, it is a big deal. It is, oh my God, this happened to me. Am I going to survive another day? Naturally you react in a way that's a bit more sharp, but I think after you've gone through a few of those challenges, you do see things in a more mature and calm way I'd like to think.
Jodi KatzHave you had any key mentors through the years? You mentioned some of the entrepreneurs who came before you to start, I guess that sequence of indie beauty back when you started, did you have any mentors during that time?
Maria HatzistefanisI haven't had any real mentors, but I've always been a big read. I read a lot. If there was anyone that I was feeling particularly inspired by, I would, these days follow them on Instagram, on social media. I would read all the articles about them. If there are any books written by them or for them. I'm a big reader of biographies. One of the first biographies I read was the one of Estee Lauder and I was fascinated by Estee Lauder. I wanted to be Estee Lauder. You know what? I think that back in the day when I was starting my business, the idea of a mentor wasn't really a thing. I think now it's a lot more widely spread and there are mentors and mentees, but at that time it was all about finding indirect mentors.

And this is what I say to a lot of people when they say, "Oh, how can I find a mentor?" And they panic, I don't have a mentor. Well yeah, chill. There's probably five people that you look up to, just try to find what they do, how they behave, read interviews about them, get as much information as you can. Go to podcasts like yours and see where they talk to and listen to them. And there are just so many platforms right now that you can go and get inspiration. And especially now with the lockdown and everything, the face to face is difficult so you can get inspired and get that mentorship indirectly.
Jodi KatzYou talked about Estee Lauder's book. It made me think about the time period where you launched your brand, up until pretty recently where independent brands were really outsiders. Our industry was controlled by the big global strategics. During that time, did you feel like an outsider?
Maria HatzistefanisIt took me a while to realize that this is real, I have a business. As I said at the beginning, everything was from a backroom at home. I was on my own doing everything from packing boxes, to going to the factory, to answering calls, to going to the stores on the weekends to sell my products. I was a one woman show and it probably took me five years until I realized this is a business that's here to stay. It took me a while. And it was, I remember it was year five, we were in a small office, I just moved into my first office. I have a team of three, so still tiny. And we were about to launch our first anti-aging serum. I get this package from the lab, a beautiful texture, beautiful product. I try it on my skin. It felt amazing.

And then we sit down to look at the packaging and the names and the label on it was anti-aging serum. And I thought, oh my God, how are we going to compete in this market with something called anti-aging serum? This is so boring. We're going to get lost. I had the list of the ingredients and I go through them. And one of the ingredients related to viper venom. I say to my team, "Let's just go and call it the snake serum." And like, oh my God, what are you talking about? You're going to take us out of business, all that. But anyway, we talked about it and then we thought, you know what? Nothing to lose. Let's just go with it. We capitalized on the name. We made the product black, we did a photo shoot with snakes around it.

And that was the one single product that actually put Rodial on the map. We started getting calls Japan and Germany and Italy and everyone wanted a piece of that snake serum. And I say this in my first book, How to be an Overnight Success, which is the story of the brand, that everything that I achieved that I'm proud of is because I took a risk. The risk could have gone all different directions, but I'm a big believer of taking risks. Not all of the risks that I've taken have worked but some of them have and that's where you see the change. And that's where you see the growth.
Jodi KatzI love that. These types of decisions are these off the cuff risky decisions are so hard for companies and as they grow there's more on the line. Does your at past history of taking risks make it easier to take risks now that you're a bigger company? Or do you start to feel the pressure of how you've scaled and what kind of impact a decision that doesn't go well could have on the business? You had nothing to lose before.
Maria HatzistefanisYeah, exactly. I think that we're at the stage right now that the business is very established. We do take risks, but also we live in a very different world than when I started the business 20 years ago. We live in a world that social media is bringing all of us to the attention. And so while it's great to take risks, you also have to consider a lot of elements and you need to make sure that whatever you do and say it's appropriate and that the risks would not put yourself, the business or anyone around you in a situation that can get into a social media frenzy, let's say. We are taking risks, but I feel it's a very different time that we're going through right now and we're a little bit more careful. But yeah, we are thinking about risks. Yeah. Calculated ones.
Jodi KatzWell, it's so fascinating because with social media, we have the opportunity to get closer and closer to our customer. I'm sure you leverage their feedback in your decision making when you're launching or evolving your products or your offering. But with that also comes this real deep honesty, sometimes painful. Where brands and personalities are being asked to confront things that they never thought about. It's a really fascinating space and it just shows how powerful the consumer's voice is. The consumer's never been more powerful than they are right now.
Maria HatzistefanisYeah, absolutely. And it's, yeah, if you, my view on this is, if you have an honest business, you are honest about what you do, you're upfront about your products, your ingredients, your practices and you go to sleep every night, thinking I'm doing a decent job. I think that's all you can do. And yeah and take that risk.
Jodi KatzMy last question for you is something that I struggle with, which is what I call the noise of the industry. There's so many things to read, so many reports, so much data, so many trends and sometimes I feel choked by all the information. Competitors and more competitors and more competitors. Sometimes I just feel like I can't swallow it all. It just feels like it overwhelms me. But this is the business I'm in. If I'm not reading about the business, then I don't not informed. How do you balance this? Because it really can get quite noisy. It gets noisy in my head anyway. I'm wondering if it challenges you and if you have any guidance for me.
Maria HatzistefanisThere's been a time that I was lost as well. I was following all sorts of different beauty brands and then every time a brand would come up with a product, I would be, oh, why didn't I think of that? And it just became too much. And there was a point that actually I was looking at the @rodialbeauty Instagram with my team and we didn't recognize who we are anymore. That was about a year and a half ago and we sat down and we said, "We've been influenced by a lot of other brands. This is not who we are." We sat down, we deleted 3,000 images from our Instagram account and we started from scratch and we redefined who we are. And from that point, we said, "Listen, we can not please anyone. We cannot wake up every morning and be inspired by a 1,000 other brands or being affected by what they do. We have to define who we are, what we're good, what is it that our audience wants and needs from us and be focused and just follow our own lane."

Which is, I'm a big believer. And if you were to check my account, you will notice, I follow zero beauty brands and this is on purpose because I can't have all that noise. I am aware and we'll go on a website and check about new launches, but this is when I choose to do so. I don't want to wake up every morning and see a 100 different launches from different brands to that in any way will make me feel inadequate. I choose not to look at that. I will be aware and I will jump into and read articles when it feels right, but not receive information unless I choose to do so. And I think that there is a point we just have to clean up what comes our way and just focus on what we do. And that is the only way just clean up the noise.
Jodi KatzI love that. I love staying in your own lane. This is so amazing. I think that people will probably have more questions for you, want to learn more, but they can go to your two books. They can order your two books. And what better time to read books then during quarantine?
Maria HatzistefanisAbsolutely. Or anyone who has any questions you can go to @MrsRodial and you can send me a DM. And I've been quite good with my DMs recently. Or leave me a comment and I'll respond.
Jodi KatzWonderful. Well Maria, thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with our listeners today.
Maria HatzistefanisThank you for having me, Jodi. That's been a bit of a highlight of my week, so thank you for having me. That's been so much fun.
Jodi KatzGreat. And for our listeners, I hope you enjoyed this interview with Maria. Please subscribe to our series on iTunes and for updates about the show, follow us on Instagram @wherebrainsmeetbeautypodcast.
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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