Episode 6: Samantha Citro, Director of Marketing and Operations at Immunocologie

Meet Samantha Citro. Director of Marketing & Operations at Immunocologie. Listen as she explains how picking up slack where she saw slack led to opportunities in the beauty industry that most 20-something’s only dream about.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHi. We are joined by Samantha Citro. She is the Director of Marketing and Operations at Immunocologie, a natural prestige skincare brand, based in New York City. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, Sam.
Samantha CitroHey Jodi. Thank you so much for having me.
Jodi KatzWell, we're so excited for you to be here. Our listeners are really curious about the career path and journeys of executives in the beauty industry, and we just want to hear your heart as an authentic story, and I think your story is going to be really interesting for our listeners.
Samantha CitroYeah. Absolutely. So, do you want me to start from the very, very beginning?
Jodi KatzWell, I think what's interesting, and I'm gonna call this out, and I haven't done this in any other podcast. I'm gonna call out the fact of your age. You're in your 20's, and I think that's really important. So, you are in your 20's, right? You can confirm that for me?
Samantha CitroI can confirm that I am, squarely in my 20's.
Jodi KatzI think this is interesting because there's relevancy here, to our listeners, with you, that maybe they can't get with someone who's in their 50's or 60's, and has maybe had multiple careers. But that feels really far away from our listeners, who are maybe in college, or just entering the workforce. So, in that sense, I think when our listeners hear your story, it might feel like their story. The might really connect to it in a way that they can't with someone who's farther along in their career.

And then the other thing is, I don't think our industry gives a voice to the young person, unless you are, I don't know, securing a billion dollars worth of funding for a startup. No one really listens to people your age.
Samantha CitroYeah. Or like a Instagram star, social media influencer.
Jodi KatzRight. Right, but there's hundreds of thousands of people your age doing incredible jobs in this industry, and you have a significantly elevated role. Your journey, which you'll share with us, is really phenomenal. Maybe not everybody can get there as quickly as you have. But I think it's really interesting for people to hear this, and hear from someone in your position.
Samantha CitroThank you. Yeah. And when I was ... Over the past few years, as I've kinda been going through twists and turns, and trying to figure out what I want to do, and what I want to focus on, I've sought out words of advice from people who have gone through similar things, and who didn't go through it 20 or 30 years ago, but are going through it now, and it's hard. It's hard to find people who are in their 20s, and feel like they want to talk about it, because I feel like most of us are still so much in that discovery phase, that we're like, "What do we have to say? Why should anyone listen to us?" And so, yeah. Just going to CEW events. I love the events that they put on. But it still feels a little bit far removed from the place that I'm at, and trying to find some pure guidance on how to navigate the workforce right now, has been tricky.
Jodi KatzYeah. Let's start with where you started, because most people wouldn't have expected someone in your position now, as the director of marketing at a really interesting brand, to come into this industry the way that you have. You told me that you were an actor, right, for most of your life?
Samantha CitroYep. So I was an actor from the time when I was very young, through college. I did regional tour type of stuff. I had a couple of small TV things. I did a lot of national competitions. I studied at Mason Gross, and Boston Conservatory, and UCLA while I was in high school, and then decided to go to NYU Tisch for college. And I studied the Meisner Method, for anybody who's familiar with acting, and really loved it. I was 100% convinced that that was what I was gonna do for the rest of my life. And then I had the opportunity to think about joining a national tour, and I was gonna have to be on the road for about 18 months, and something in my gut just said no. If I don't want to do that, if I don't want to be on the road for 18 month, then this isn't the thing for me. This isn't my forever passion. And that was the catalyst for me to start thinking about what else I wanted to do with my life. I'd been so set for 20 years, on being an actor, and then it feels like sort of overnight I had to find something else to do, which was a pretty scary place to be, but also very invigorating.
Jodi KatzWhat do you think happened in that moment, when you got that opportunity? Here, here's the job. Here's the gig. You'll be on the road for 18 months. What changed for you?
Samantha CitroI think I just didn't want to live a life on the road, and a life of never knowing where my next job was gonna come from. I wanted something with a little bit more certainty, but I also wanted something that I felt I had more control over than the performance industry gives you control over, until you're a superstar. You're always at the whim of a director, or a casting agent, or your manager. I just didn't want to live my life that way.
Jodi KatzThis must've been a moment where you had to be incredibly brave about this decision.
Samantha CitroI think so. It was hard, but it felt, once I had decided, once I got that twinge in my gut that said, nope, this isn't the thing, I'd say I had two days of sitting in bed eating chocolate, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. And after that, I was like, alright, it's time to get it together. Let's figure it out. And I think that's how I've always led my life. I'm not a dweller. I don't show when I'm scared. I kind of just keep moving, and I think that that has served me well so far.
Jodi KatzSo at that moment, were you like, "I'm never gonna pursue acting as a career anymore." Or "I'm just not gonna take this gig." Was it as cut and dry? Or was it a little more fluid?
Samantha CitroIt wasn't so binary. It was more fluid. I think that was the start of me realizing that I didn't want to do this as a career anymore. I said, "No, I don't want to do this gig." I stopped pursuing it. And then I picked up a web design course, and that was getting me really jazzed, thinking about when you're putting together a website, how are you marketing the product, through the visuals. And I think that's part of how the back of my brain started thinking about marketing as a potential career. And some other things came up, smaller acting gigs. I took them, but I wasn't jazzed about going to rehearsal in the way that I used to be, and I kind of went through the motions of being excited about doing it, but I had shut off a little bit on the inside. And I'd say after probably two or three of those, I was pretty sure that I was done.
Jodi KatzMm-hmm (affirmative). So how did you get your first job in beauty?
Samantha CitroThis is my favorite story. I was looking for a job to pay my rent, because now that I was no longer pursuing acting gigs, I needed to find something to do. And so I have this friend. Her name is Liza, who's a D.J. And she would D.J. down at this bar, where we were living, near the Gramercy area, like three nights a week. And we, my friends and I, would always go. And I became friends with the guy, Steven, who owned the bar. When I was looking for a job, I reached out to him, and I was like, "Hey Steven, I don't know if you have any bartending positions open, but I'm really looking for a job. Can you help me out?" And after a couple of days of silence, he reaches back out to me, and he goes, "Sam, you know, I don't think bartending's for you," which was so funny. "But I know these women who run a skincare company. Would you be interested in selling skincare?" And at that point, I was-
Jodi KatzThat's so random.
Samantha CitroSo random. But that moment, that decision to say, "Yeah. Sure. I'll take the job," changed the path of my life, and the fact that Steven knew enough about me to know that being at a bar until last call, dealing with drunk people, was probably not for me. And so, he and that decision sort of set me off on a path that I really love, and have enjoyed ever since.
Jodi KatzComing from acting, and devoting your young adult life to acting, did you have any self doubt about taking on a job in an industry that you were unfamiliar with?
Samantha CitroYeah. Absolutely. I remember calling my dad when I got the job. And it wasn't like a full time thing. It was gonna start out as part-time. It felt more like taking a part-time sales job than making this huge career move. I didn't know, at the time, that that's what I was doing. But I remember calling my dad and saying, "Hey dad, I have this opportunity. Do you think that I should take it?" And he said, "Yeah. Why not?" And my parents have always been encouraging of me to follow the path that feels right, and to keep my options open, and to try new things. And so I took the job, knowing that, since it was part-time, 20 to 30 hours to week, at first, I would still have time, if that itch came up again, to go on an audition, or to do a small gig. I could still do it. But I never did. I never did, after that point.
Jodi KatzSo tell us about that first job. What were you doing? What was life like in the beauty industry for you at that time?
Samantha CitroWell, first job, I was a sales and events coordinator for JUARA Skincare, which is a really amazing Indie brand, based on these Indonesian beauty rituals. And sales events coordinator, but I was going to ABC Carpet and Home, which is an eclectic boutique here in the city, and standing in front of the product for six hours, and giving people hand massages, and introducing them to the brand. I was customer facing. I was on the floor. So I was at ABC, and I was also at New London, which is this little pharmacy, and they have such a great staff. And I would go in, and we would chat, and we became friendly, and the same thing, I'd pull out the Candlenut body cream was their signature product, and I'd hold it in my hand, and as people would walk by, I'd be like, "Oh my goodness. Do you smell that amazing aroma?" And they'd be like, "Yes. What is it?" And I'd give them a hand massage, and try to sell the product. And that was my first job in the beauty industry. That was how it started.

Eventually, I started coordinating events at the different locations. I started out working in the office, and this is kind of where the next switch came. When the girls, who were in the company were moving offices, from one location to another, and they needed help organizing, cleaning, and packing boxes, and I just ... They mentioned it in passing, when we were having a conversation about something else, and I was like, "Oh. You need help? Absolutely. I'll come by and help you." So I spent three days in a row cleaning out the old office, and packing boxes, and moving them down the street to the new office, and that is when I really met, and started to get to know, a woman named Nadi Yusef, who is an amazing, amazing mentor, and marketer, and brand creator, and very important person in my life.
And I think she saw something in me, in those three days when I was packing. It may have just been my ability to clean dust from very far corners. I'm very detail oriented. I think that's [inaudible 00:14:52]. And she said, "Hey, do you think you might want to start coming to the office a couple days a week? You can help me with packing out boxes to retailers, or PR people, or helping me with random things that come up." And I was like, "Sure. Absolutely." And so, that was kind of the next turn, where I was on the sales floor a couple of days a week, I was working in the office a couple of days a week, and that's where I really started to love marketing and branding, and eventually sales. I was doing cold call reach out. It was a super small team, so I just picked up slack where I saw slack. And I filled holes where I saw holes. And eventually, three days a week in store turned into two days a week in store, turned into I was working full time at the office, and then I was hiring someone else to work in store. And I ended up staying with those guys for a while.
Jodi KatzThis idea of picked up slack where I saw slack. This is probably something that our young listeners should write down, put it in their phone, or on their wall, because it's probably a theme that's followed you, before and since, of the road to success, which is seeing opportunities, and taking advantage of them, even in the smallest way in your story. It's offering to help pack the boxes. Did you see that as an opportunity to get one on one time with the founder, or was it just one of these pick up slack where I saw slack moments?
Samantha CitroNo. It was really just pick up slack where I saw slack. You're right. It's something that has followed me throughout my whole life. I'm always looking for places where things can be improved. I'm a tiny bit of a, not, I wouldn't say a perfectionist, but a like, do it right-ist. And so, whenever I see places where I can help, I try to. Sometimes it's welcome, and sometimes it's not, but it's mostly served me well so far.
Jodi KatzI think it's probably something that goes on hyperspeed when you work at a startup. This chance to see opportunities and take advantage of them. I think it's harder to do in large corporations. But would you say that's one of the benefits of working in a startup?
Samantha CitroDefinitely. I would say in my first year of working with the girls at JUARA, I was a sales rep. I was a event coordinator. I was a PR assistant, a marketing assistant, a sales assistant, an operations assistant. I had my fingers in product development a little bit. I was also a product filler. I hand filled a thousand samples of Camelot Body Cream one day. That was something I did. I got to wear a lot of hats, and that was something that I'm very thankful for, happening early on in my career, because I got exposed to so much, and that comes from both raising your hand when opportunities become available, but also I was very fortunate to be with a group of really great women, who wanted to see me grow, wanted to give me opportunity, and wanted to help. And that is something that is very rare. But again, I keep finding it, throughout the few jobs that I've been in in my career. I keep finding people who are nurturing, and who are open, and who want to help. I think aligning yourself with people who care about their business, and care about you, is such an important thing early on in your career.
Jodi KatzI'm really so struck by your openness. You seem so open to change, and open to experiences. It sounds like you live in this constant state of acceptance of what's happening around you now, and breathe openness. Share with us where you went next, because I think this theme of openness and willingness is probably what keeps leading you on this journey, and it's just really a rare quality. I think a lot of people come out of school rigid and nervous. And you're the opposite.
Samantha CitroYeah. I think I am a big believer that things build on each other, and skills build, and life experiences build, and I really think that the openness that has led me to ... And then I'll go into the next thing that happened. But this open quality really comes from being an actor, and going to basically a trade school. Tisch didn't feel like a regular college experience. Most of my friends went to class two days a week, and then kind of bummed around the other five days of the week, and did whatever. Maybe had an internship here or there, but mostly napped a lot and watched a lot of Netflix. But I didn't have that experience. I went to class five days a week, had rehearsal in the evenings, and on the weekends. I was constantly moving, and constantly doing new things, and being an actor, being a student of acting, you have to be open. I took a class called clown, okay? I don't think I would have ever pictured myself wearing a red nose, and walking around in some big shoes, and pretending to be a clown, but it happened.
Jodi KatzThat's awesome.
Samantha CitroAnd so, I think that experience has led me to be open throughout all the different parts of my life. The next turning point in the story. I worked with the JUARA girls for about three years, in a role that evolved as much as it did. That first year, it kept evolving. I took over their digital marketing strategy. I ended up taking over 50% of their accounts, and managing sales with Nadia. I was there when they did their first appearance on QVC. I went over to Indonesia, to meet the Southeast Asia team, and train them on the way that we were doing things in the U.S. The role continued to evolve, and continued to be interesting every single day. But after working there for three years, I felt like I needed a change, I needed to go and learn frameworks, and to learn what it's like to work in a big organization, and to have that experience, because I never have. And so I had started putting some feelers out about different jobs that I could take, thinking I would stay within the beauty industry, because I was loving it so much. And a recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn, and said that he had an opportunity at a hedge fund. And I was like, "Okay."
Jodi KatzDid that seem really random to you?
Samantha CitroSo random. But my dad worked in the finance industry. My mom is an accountant. And so I was like, "Yeah. This could be interesting. Maybe I'll make some money." That was intriguing. And I wasn't gonna do anything about it, and I probably sat on the message for about three days. And then I wrote back, and I was like, you know what, what the heck. I'm looking for a new job anyway. It might just be an interesting experience, to go on the interview. And I may look like a complete idiot, because I don't know anything about trading, or financial markets, but I will give it a shot.

And so I wrote back to the recruiter, and we got on the phone, and he explained the very unique environment of the hedge fund, that I did end up going to work at, and I was captivated by the culture, and by the fact that they had jobs that were just management jobs, kind of like PMing, but I didn't have, they weren't expecting me to have any sort of financial background, and he was like, "You know what, just apply." And so I did. And there was a very long online application process, and then I had to go in for a whole day there, where I did a whole bunch of stuff. I did case studies, and round table conversations, and I met with what felt like everyone in the department. It was crazy. It was a long day. It was like 12 hours of interviewing. And at the end of that day, I was just so intellectually stimulated by the quality of people that were there, that I decided to take the job. And so, I went from working at a beauty startup, with maybe five people working there, to a hedge fund with 2000, kind of overnight.
Jodi KatzYeah. That's a crazy shift. And once again, I think this openness is so compelling. Willing to leave the comfort zone of a small, probably family feel environment, and then completely switch careers, like the trajectory of a career, to go to a hedge fund. I love this, and I think this is something that young people can feel really good about hearing, that it's okay to explore. You have this sense of discovery in a lot of your life, that I think some people feel really rigid and scared to do. But it led you to be able to become the director of marketing in a brand that's really compelling, at such a young age.
Samantha CitroYeah.
Jodi KatzCan you fast forward us to how you landed back in beauty?
Samantha CitroSure.
Jodi KatzBecause my question for you, now that you've experienced this hedge fund world, beauty world, acting, then why beauty?
Samantha CitroYeah. I hope that that sense of discovery never leaves me. I think it's something that you should have while you're young, and I hope to still have it when I'm 85, because I think that's what life is, an ever evolving journey. But going back to your question, I worked at the hedge fund for about a year, as the CIO of the research analytics department, and then eventually as the chief of staff. It was an awesome, awesome, awesome opportunity, and I learned a ton about the things that I wanted to learn about. Operations, frameworks, managing people, managing up, managing teams. I think that it gave me a vocabulary for a way of being, and a way of working that I had innately wanted.

And so, I would say about halfway through my time working there, so I'd only been there about six months, I am on a trip with my boyfriend, in Italy, and I get this email from some random person, who I'd never met before, saying, "Hi. Your resume sort of fell through the cracks of my email. I'd love to have you come in and talk to me if you're still looking." No other context. And so, I'm like, "This is so weird." I emailed back, and I'm like, "Hi. I'm so sorry. I don't remember applying for a job recently. Do you mind just giving me a reminder of what this is for?" And she writes back, and she's like, "Oh no. You applied probably eight or nine months ago."
Jodi KatzOh man.
Samantha CitroSomehow your resume got lost, and it was for a brand manager position, but now we're maybe looking for some marketing people, and we're a private equity fund, and we own a bunch of different beauty brands." And at that point, my ears perked up, and I'm like, private equity fund that owns beauty brands. That seems like the perfect marriage of the two past jobs that I've had, the two worlds that I've been in, finance and beauty. I was not ready to make a move at that point. I'd only been where I was for six months. But I told her that I'd grab a coffee with her, because I really love meeting people, talking to them, hearing about their lives, and I love to make new friends.

And so, I went into work late one day, and I took the morning to grab a coffee with this woman. Her name was Karen. And she told me about their fund, and about all of the different brands that they own, and she said that there might be a brand manager position available for this really cool, luxury, plastic surgeon brand. And I said, "Great. That sounds awesome. I'm not looking to move right now, but maybe next year." And she's like, "Oh, just come meet the doctor." And so, I go in, I meet the doctor, I have this amazing facial peel, and we kind of just kept a dialogue going for the next six months, until I felt like I was ready to leave, and they felt like they had ... I didn't end up taking the plastic surgeon brand manager job. They ended up having something else that they wanted me to do, which I think is an even better fit for me.
And so, we kept the dialogue going until this job, the director of marketing and operations job, at Immunocologie, was open, and they were ready for me, and I was kind of ready to make a move. I'd gone. I felt like I had learned some things, and I really wanted to come back to an industry that feeds a lot of the things that I want in my life. There's a lifestyle that comes with working in the beauty industry, that I love, especially at a smaller company. It's fast paced. You get to do a lot. It's a little bit glamorous, which I love. That actor part of me will never go away. I love clothes. I love shoes. I love makeup. I love getting dressed up, and I love that I can do that, and people care about that, in this industry. I love the science behind products. I love learning about ingredients. I feel like there's always a new ingredient that's being discovered, that could be the next industry changing thing. I love packaging. I love going to printing houses. I love foil stamps. It's the best combination of glamor and nerd, and I don't think there's another industry that's quite like it.
Jodi KatzThat's such a great thing, the best combination of glamor and nerd. I'm writing that down. My last question for you, Sam, and it's really more a personal than business, but aside from financial goals, what's your personal barometer for success?
Samantha CitroHmm. I'm a very intuitive person. I don't know if you've ever taken a Myers-Briggs psychology test.
Jodi KatzYeah.
Samantha CitroBut, people span, on this test, between sensing and intuition. That's one of the bars, and I'm through the roof on the intuition side. And so I kinda feel when things are right, and I feel when I'm in a groove. And that feeling of moving forward, building something, is definitely one of my barometers for success. I also think that building a business is one of my barometers for success. I don't want to go in and do a job every day, that maybe makes some impact, maybe doesn't. I want to feel like I'm going in every day, and doing something that moves the needle for the company that I'm working for, or hopefully one day, the company that I own, because that's my ultimate goal. And I think one of my other barometers for success is happiness. How happy am I to wake up and go to work every day. Am I jumping out of bed, running to my computer, checking my email, calling people, or am I pressing snooze five times, and dreading the wake up. I never want to dread the wake up. I always want to be jumping out of bed.
Jodi KatzIt's an incredible goal. And Sam, thank you so much for joining us today. It has been such a pleasure to learn from you.
Samantha CitroOf course. Thank you so much for having me. I loved chatting with you and your listeners.
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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