Episode 3: Jillian Wright, Champion of Indie Beauty Brands
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Meet Jillian Wright. Aesthetician, creator, connector and champion of indie beauty brands. Listen as she reveals how being open to change and balancing family and career has helped her act as a powerful voice for tiny brands in the massive multi-billion-dollar beauty industry.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHi, listeners. We are joined today by Jillian Wright. Her beauty credentials are very deep. She is the co-founder of Indie Beauty Media Group, which brings us the Indie Beauty Expo, currently in three markets. She's also the founder of Jillian Wright Skin Care, and a former spa owner. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty.
Jillian WrightThank you. And I'm a clinical esthetician.
Jodi KatzYeah. You're the triple play of beauty, right? An esthetician, a business owner, and a mogul of media.
Jillian WrightWell, thank you very much. That's very kind of you.
Jodi KatzSo, Jillian, our listeners are curious about the career paths and journeys of executives in the beauty industry. But particularly not the glossed-over, picture perfect view that many tell. They're really much more interested in an honest and authentic one. And you certainly have a really interesting story to tell, so I'm so excited that you're here with us today.

I thought that we'd start with the theme of inspiration. I remember when you and I first sat down to talk, you told me the story of how you were inspired to create the Indie Beauty Expo. And it seems like such a vivid memory for you. And I believe you said you had it, literally, as you're walking across the street, on the city street, one day. I was hoping you could take us back to that day and tell us what that inspiration was, and why.
Jillian WrightWell, sure. My journey actually started back in 1999, when I became an esthetician. And I basically called DailyCandy and I said, "Hey, do you want to come in for a facial?" And back then it was much easier, and you could talk to writers and editors, and most of the time they were very happy to do so. And she did, and three weeks later, she wrote about my spa, and she wrote about my facial. And that put me on the map. And I booked 100 facials in 24 hours. No joke. No lie. It was incredible.
Jodi KatzSorry, go ahead.
Jillian WrightI had to call upon a friend of mine who was also an esthetician. Begged her to come and work with me. And that relationship lasted five years, because we were just inundated with appointments.

So then, in 2010, I realized, at that moment, that I had enough experience in the spa industry, and as an esthetician, that I was going to start to develop my own collection. And it took me about three and a half years to do so, from start to finish, from the formulations, and my story, and the packaging. And I thought that, in 2013, when I actually did launch, and I did desk-sides, that if I built it, they could come, just like I did with my facial and my spa business.
And because the landscape had changed so dramatically in terms of marketing, and it became very saturated, that didn't happen. And I had this amazing collection of products. I had the experience, and the expertise, but yet, nobody was really coming to my website to buy the product. I had this grandiose idea that I would have 50 retailers by the end of the year. That they would all come knocking at my door, and it would just be easy like it was with my facial business. I was very lucky. I was very spoiled, and fortunate to be in New York City, have a facial business, and start when I did, and be as successful as I was.
So I was very humbled back in 2013. I didn't really know or realize that I needed a team to scale my business. So, at the moment, at that time, I thought, "Okay, well, I'll do a show. I'll do a trade show." So I did my research, and I was looking around for the right fit. And I considered my brand luxury indie beauty. A high-end line with a higher price point. Really great formulations. But I wasn't really competing with the Rhonda Allisons, or the Bioelements, or the Eminence. I wasn't that big, and I didn't have 300 SKUs, and I wasn't taking the middle of the trade show floor with 2,000 square feet. I was a little brand.
But when I did my research, I realized, "Oh, my God, I don't really fit in anywhere. I don't fit in at the bigger shows. I don't fit in at the natural expos. I know who I am, but who am in the industry?" So, when I had a not-so-favorable experience with the trade show that I did decide to do, the customer service wasn't there, I admit. I had never done a trade show. I didn't know where to start. I needed my hand held. And it just didn't happen.
So that "a-ha" moment for me was when I was walking to my spa, and I was walking across the street. I had just gotten off the bus. And I just said, "You know what? I'm just going to do this myself. I can't believe that there isn't anything out there for me to do serious business with buyers, and press, and even consumers." So that's when my "a-ha" moment was, walking across the street. And I envisioned Tata Harper, Tracie Martyn, Kahina Giving Beauty, Lotus Wei all in one room doing business with buyers. And that's when I got really excited. So that was my "a-ha" moment, walking across the street.
Jodi KatzThat's so awesome. You know, if we can just go back to 1999, when you picked up the phone to call DailyCandy. So this is, for those who aren't familiar with it, it is really what everybody was tuned into, right? DailyCandy. Email went out, and listed cool, interesting things to do or people to see. Or places to go. And everyone was a believer. Right? There wasn't as much clutter in terms of this kind news at the time.
Jillian WrightThere was nothing like it. I mean, it was the go-to place to find the hottest restaurants, the hottest nail salons, the hottest everything. Everybody just was dying to open up their DailyCandy email. The only other form of marketing we had at the time was Citysearch. There really wasn't-
Jodi KatzRight.
Jillian WrightThere was no Yelp. There wasn't Facebook. We didn't have Instagram. We didn't have anything like that. So, for me, Citysearch and DailyCandy were my go-to places to find the hottest places to go. So it was perfect for me. It was amazing.
Jodi KatzBut did you feel like you needed to be brave, in that moment? And make the decision to pick up the phone when you weren't a publicist yourself, and never had to navigate that kind of media landscape?
Jillian WrightNo. No.
Jodi KatzWhat was the feeling at that time that gave you the courage to actually just give it a try?
Jillian WrightIt was a no-brainer for me. I was like, "Oh, I'm just going to give them a call." And I just looked on their website and found a phone number, and I called, and somebody answered. And, literally, she came in, and three weeks later that was it. She wrote about me. It was very organic, and it was very natural. It was very easy. It was too easy. It wasn't even a thought process. It was just like, "Oh, okay." And I never really had to call a publicist after that. I mean, when you book 100 facials in 24 hours, it literally did not stop, Jodi, for 17 years. It built my business.
Jodi KatzOh, my goodness.
Jillian WrightThat was it. It was incredible. It was incredible.
Jodi KatzWell-
Jillian WrightI was very lucky. I was very, very lucky.
Jodi KatzYeah. I mean, the universe was aligned for you in that moment, right? To make that happen?
Jillian WrightIn that moment.
Jodi KatzSo from the spa world to Indie Beauty Expo ... You know, I wouldn't call this a career change, right? This is more like a pivot, right? You're still totally rooted in beauty. But you've since given up the spa. Is that right?
Jillian WrightYes. I gave up the spa almost a year ago, on February 29, 2016, because my focus and dedication was definitely more towards my brand, and the Indie Beauty Expo. I just needed to focus. And for about eight months, I did see some private clients a couple of days a week. But then that even got to be too much, and I just retired on November 18. And I say "retired" loosely because, for me, promoting my brand and doing in-store events, and doing facials for special occasions, I am expecting to do. It's just more of that in-spa experience where I have to go someplace, and I have equipment, and whatnot. I'm just a lot more mobile, now. I can share my expertise with other estheticians. I've been in the industry so long now that I can actually share what I've learned with other people, and educate other trade professionals. So I am really happy and excited to be able to do that, and have the time.

And I don't think people realize that when you're a therapist, and when you're a provider of energy and physical expertise, like extractions and massage, it's very draining, because I'm using my energy on many different levels to take care of somebody else.
Jodi KatzRight.
Jillian WrightAnd I happily did it for almost 18 years. But right now, it time for me to reach a broader audience in what I've built with Nader, with IBE, is just more important. So it's definitely a pivot. It's definitely a shift. It's an enhancement of being able to share what I have done on a broader platform. So, rather than working one-on-one with somebody, now I've been working with many.
Jodi KatzIt's so interesting. For myself as a business owner, for the past ten years, I've started to think of business ownership as a journey. Right? None of it's immediate. It's a journey. And I've been following these invisible dots. Right? I don't know where the journey's taking me. Just, kind of a dot appears, like a Pac-Man game, right? There's a dot in front of me. I grab it, and don't know where the next one is.
Jillian WrightRight.
Jodi KatzBut that's how opportunity has been for me. And I sense that with you. This real trust in the journey. This sense of allowing the universe to bring you what's next. And then the courage to take advantage of it, and utilize it. And I think there's a lot of business founders and owners that are uncomfortable with that. But you seem incredibly comfortable with that kind of acceptance, I would say. Would you describe it in a similar way?
Jillian WrightSure. Absolutely. We're very laser-focused. We're very dedicated. Nader and I have this incredible team, and we have team meetings. It's amazing that we all work remotely. We're all over the world, actually. But because we are so dedicated, and because Nader can lead our team in such a meaningful way, that connecting the dots in a Pac-Man way is very true. Because I don't know who is going to email me, or who is going to reach out, or who is going to call, at any given moment. And that's the exciting part for me, and that's what makes this whole journey very electric.

But on the back end of what we're doing, it's a very different story. We keep data. We're very statistically oriented. We're very focused. We're very driven. We're very dedicated. We're very passionate. And we have the right things aligned with taking care of our exhibitors, and making sure ... They are our clients. They are number one, and paramount for us. So our team is focused on making sure that they're happy. So, yes. It is like a Pac-Man game, because I don't know, and we don't know who we're going to encounter on a daily basis. But on the back end, we are very laser-focused with our communication. With our graphics. With our visuals. With our spreadsheets. So, having a business and doing something like this, you have to have the discipline on the other side to make it look effortless. This is very, very important.
Jodi KatzWell, for anyone who's attended one of the Indie Beauty Expos, it does seem flawless. It's a really incredible experience. From my point of view, I guess I'm almost stunned and surprised that this hasn't happened before you. Right? Why wasn't there an indie beauty opportunity for brands to gather together for this sort of exposure before you and Nader founded it. This idea of founder-led small brands being the innovators in the industry has been happening for decades, right? Bobbi Brown just celebrated 25 years in business. So this is not new. It's not a new phenomenon that small founder-led brands drive innovation. But you are the ones that brought this to us. Why do you think that now was the right time?
Jillian WrightWell, it just came from a very personal perspective, and a very personal experience. And if you don't have that experience to drive frustration, then it's also a very difficult thing to do. I mean, what Nader and I do, as effortless and beautiful as it seems on the front end, on the back end, we have this incredible team that is making it work in a very profound way. Other people have tried and realized how incredibly difficult it is. And you're pretty much set up for failure. But because I am so driven to see this succeed, and to build a platform for small businesses.

We're the wallflowers. We're the little guys. We're the underdogs. And nobody wants to invest in the underdog, because it's a financial gamble. And I don't think anybody ever really took us seriously. And when you have brands that are considered small, doing 20 to 100 million dollars, that isn't us. That's just not us. I mean, we're focusing on the brands that do 0 to maybe 10 million, or 20 million. And when your business isn't driven by passion, or you don't have a personal experience with the result of that, then why is there a need? There's no need. But I found there to be a significant need to get these entrepreneurs together, and to feel validated. That, to me ... I never felt validated.
And I thought to myself, "Jodi, my God. I just dedicated my entire adult life to beauty." To the spa industry. To everything. From being in the treatment room, to having a small business, to promoting, and I felt invisible. I felt invisible, and I said, "Why? Why am I invisible, when I have dedicated all this time and energy into something I am extremely passionate about? Why don't I have the opportunity to tell my story? Why don't I have the opportunity to showcase something that I just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on to promote? Why am I being pushed aside, or not being seen?" And when you have that behind you, that's what fuels the success.
Now, I have to tell you, my other smoking gun is Nader. I could never have done this without him. And he could never have done this without me. We are such a complimentary pair, with his business expertise, and then my vision, and my ability to see it to the end. And also, the relationships that I have built in the industry. It's a win/win situation. So, every small business, I believe, needs a Nader, and needs a Jillian to have a vision.
Jodi Katz[inaudible 00:17:37]
Jillian WrightSo, I mean, other people have tried to do it since the inception of IBE, and they've unfortunately failed. But I'm telling you, it's not easy. But that's kind of where we're at, in terms of ... I don't want to say we've made mistakes. But we've learned how to do these events, and be able to grow them in meaningful ways. But we've also sacrificed a lot.

So, I think in any small business situation, when you have something like this, you have to learn how to sacrifice. And live under your needs. Absolutely, 100%. We all have done it to do what we're doing with IBE. And with my skin care line, too. Sacrifice is another very important word, I think. In the beginning. And then, hopefully, you gain steam, and you meet people, hopefully through IBE, that can help scale your business and distribute your brand.
Jodi KatzAs a business owner, I'd like to say that I have unlimited earning potential. I might not be seeing it in this moment, but there's unlimited earning potential there. Right? It's a future. And maybe that's part of this sacrifice thing. Right? I'm working hard now because I know if I stick with it and stay focused on what I think our value is, and my value, it will come. Right? But it really requires an enormous amount of patience.
Jillian WrightPatience and time, and you have to constantly work, no matter what. Even if you gain a level of success, it's a constant grind. And it's challenging on so many ways. Because it challenges your character. It challenges your support system. So when I talk to beauty entrepreneurs, or just small business entrepreneurs, it's a little bit of tough love. Who are you? What is your brand? What are you bringing to market? Why? Does it already exist? I really try to have that person dig really deep, because that is the foundation of your business. Why are you putting it into the market? Are you contributing to the waste stream? Are you contributing to sustainability? What are you? Who are you? And when somebody can dig that deep, and then they can come out of it with a business plan or a business model, or an idea, or something that they feel very strongly about, that's when they will see success.

But the success will come down the road. Because, another reason, people are saturated with information. People are saturated with product, and stuff. So you have to be able to separate yourself in a very meaningful way. Because our consumer is extremely educated, and they're aware. So if you're going to start a business, or continue and maintain your business, you have to ask yourself the hard questions. And that's when success will come down the road. Because you're building that solid foundation.
And if I can say one more thing about it-
Jodi KatzYeah. Please.
Jillian WrightEverybody has their hand out. Everyone will promise you the moon. "I can do this for you." "I can do that for you." "I am the best." Blah, blah, blah. Be very careful and mindful of where you spend your money. Very careful. Because you could blow 100 grand in an instant. In one year. Boom. It's gone. So also be very mindful of who you partner with, and who your outside help is that you hire. Make sure that they are as passionate about it, too. And that's where, again, you'll gain success. Just be mindful of that.
Jodi KatzThat's a great note for entrepreneurs. You know, I'd love to switch gears a little bit, now, and talk about balance and family. When I started my business, I was inspired to do so because I wasn't seeing, in the business I was working in, or people around me, role models for how to be a mom and still have a job, and be the mom that I wanted to be and still have that job. And when I talk with you, I get this profound sense of balance, and focus, and priority for your family, and your role as a mom.

Can you walk us through a little bit about how balance plays a role in your life, and how you make time for all the things that are important to you?
Jillian WrightSure. When I became an esthetician, it was the perfect position and job for me, living in New York City and raising a family. It was very stable. It was very scheduled, and I needed that in order to raise a family. And so it really served me well. I was around women, most of the time, 90% of the time, and I really love female energy. And the women that worked with me, I love, and we built a real community, and we supported each other. So I can't necessarily say that my job was high pressure, but it was something that I really enjoyed. And I worked part-time. I've always worked part-time to raise a family, and that was also very helpful.

And, believe it or not, in the midst of all of that, I went through a divorce, and I was still able to maintain balance. Because I've always lived below my means. Always. I've never been selfish. I've always been very selfless, and when you have a family, you have to be selfless. I mean, I would love to have beautiful clothing, and I would love to have beautiful purses, and go on lavish vacations. But those are some of the sacrifices I made to live in New York, and to raise a family, and make sure that they were happy. I always just worked part-time.
So then, shifting gears, closing my spa ... I stopped doing appointments. Facials. I definitely took another risk. But I've been able to, again, maintain stability with my family. I work from home, now, or I go in and meet with my team, every so often. Like I said, we work remotely. But I am remarried, and I'm remarried to a wonderful guy who just lets me do my thing. He never, ever puts any pressure on me in any way, and he never points out my flaws. He never makes me feel bad. And I'm telling you, that is huge. It's huge for me to be able to do this with IBE and my skin care line.
My kids are very supportive. They see me as somebody who is there for them, but also someone who is doing something really great, that makes me happy. So I would say, the support system from your partner. And even my ex-husband is supportive. So, all around, my family universe, I think the support of them is very key to my success, and my future success, and being able to take risks. But also finding that balance.
I work on Saturdays and Sundays. I write some of my best emails on Sundays. You know? And I don't expect a response until Monday. But I work every day. And because of that, I'm able to ebb and flow when my kids need me to pick them up from school, or take them to the doctor, or the dentist, or the orthodontist, or be home for piano lessons. Or my turn to make dinner. It just all works because I don't have any strict rules, or no one's really putting pressure on me to do certain things, or making me feel bad if I don't. And I think that's really helpful.
Jodi KatzMy last question for you, today, is tied to this topic. But, aside from financial goals, what is your barometer for success?
Jillian WrightThe key to building my skin care line and IBE, and to make sure that our team is really happy, and that they are as passionate as Nader and I am about growing this platform for small beauty businesses. And we're so excited to grow Connect Indie. We have Indie Essentials, and Expert Dialogues. We want to do another track, like a 2.0 and a 3.0 business track for brands. We want to create workshops during Trade Indie. And for me, success is to see people, and brands, and businesses happy and scale, and further their distribution, and to finally have a say in this 50 billion dollar a year beauty industry. If they succeed, we succeed. And that, to me, is just ... It just makes me so happy. Is that, our team is happy, and disciplined, and can grow IBE, and that the brands are happy. And the buyers are happy. And that the press is happy. And that we are actually bringing something to this industry that's meaningful. That, to me, is success.
Jodi KatzJillian, thank you so much for these insights, and your honesty. It's really inspiring and beautiful. And I really appreciate you sharing with us, today.
Jillian WrightOh, it was my pleasure, Jodi. Anytime.
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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