Episode 7: Natalie Mackey, Founder and CEO of Glow Concept

Meet Natalie Mackey. Founder & CEO of Glow Concept. During her “work-cation” Natalie shares what it’s like to build several beauty brands while also figuring out how to focus on the other things that make her happy.

Dan Hodgdon
AnnouncerWelcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, hosted by Jodi Katz, founder and creative director of Base Beauty Creative Agency.
Jodi KatzHi, all, we are joined by Natalie Mackey, she is the founder and CEO of Glow Concept, which owns the brand Winky Lux among others. Welcome to Where Brains Meet Beauty, Natalie.
Natalie MackeyThank you. It's so nice to be here.
Jodi KatzOur listeners are curious about the career path and journeys of executives in the beauty industry, and they want to hear your honest and authentic story and get to know the person behind the brand. We think you certainly have a really interesting story to tell.
Natalie MackeyThank you.
Jodi KatzBefore we dive into your journey, will you just tell us a little bit about Winky Lux and what led you to create this brand?
Natalie MackeyWinky Lux is our fastest growing brand right now, and it is a really whimsical, luxury, fun, almost [inaudible 00:01:04] brands, and it's at a really affordable price. The reason that we started it is that my business partner and I, we always had this multi brand approach, and we were kind of tech people, and we knew we had this great supply chain. We knew we could do a lot of cool stuff with it.
We started doing focus groups, and we interviewed about 200 girls betweeen the ages of 16 and 29, which is kind of the demographic we were really excited about because they were so different, at least the way that they were buying beauty was really different.
We originally thought that we would create a tech platform that would help them curate products. We started this process, and my business partner who I think a lot of times is this really wise, prudent voice in our world. He was like, "Well, we should probably make sure people want to use this platform before we really deep dive into development." We started this focus group, started recruiting girls.
We would have them dump out their makeup bags, and we would give them a three, four minute little interview about the products they had and where they found them and what they were looking for. The first thing that we found. We found a lot of really fascinating things, but the most important thing we found was that nobody cared about our platform.
Jodi KatzThat's awesome.
Natalie MackeyEveryone was like, "Yeah. I don't know if I would do that." That was really good information because we hadn't started to spend any money on it so, it was really useful. What we were finding was ... Everyone was dumping out their makeup bag. About 70% of their beauty products were drugstore beauty products, and then they would have these sort of coveted, beautiful, what we call treasure pieces. They'd have a Charlotte Tilbury lipstick, or they'd have a Chanel eyeliner or lip liner.
What they were doing ... This was the pattern that we started to see. We know that there's ... Actually, one of the big secrets in the beauty industry is that there's a lot of really great product at the drugstore level. We don't care if someone's buying their beauty at the drugstore, but they kept apologizing for it, which was really strange.
Jodi KatzWhat did that sound like? What was an example of an apology?
Natalie MackeySure. It sounded just like this, "Oh. That foundation's actually really good. I just had to get because I ran out of my Armani foundation." We weren't leading them, and we weren't saying, "Why did you buy this $15 foundation?". We just didn't say that, but they felt this need to explain why they had the drugstore product. They were almost embarrassed, which is-
Jodi KatzEven at the younger ages like the 16 year olds-
Natalie MackeyEven at the younger ages. Yeah. What was funny too is if you had a group of girls ... Some of the interviews we conducted ... We weren't scientists. We didn't do a true ... In hindsight, I wish we did more control groups, but when we were doing these big group things, the youngest girls would always be obsessed with the luxury stuff. They wanted to touch it. If they found out another girl had it, they wanted to pick it up. It was shiny, and it was ... It was a really interesting thing to see over and over and over again.
It's one thing to see it once, but when you see it over 200 girls, and it becomes a pattern. We thought, "This is interesting. They all want and covet this luxury experience. They love these really beautiful high end packages. They love this high end branding, which everybody loves, but the reality is that they really can't afford that."
Recent college grads now have some of the lowest quality of life ever. There was a big New York Times article recently that said, actually it's Wall Street Journal, sorry, that said, "Recent College Grads Finally Getting Jobs." That was the headline, but if you read the whole article, what it should have said ... The headline should have been, "Recent College Grads Finally Getting Jobs but Still Extremely Broke."
The article goes on to talk about the cost of living has gone up, the average student loan debt is $30,000. This is a generation of girls that are on a different budget, and there are a lot of marketers I think want to believe that they have this unlimited income, but they really don't. What we set out to do is create this super luxury experience that you could get for like $1 more than a drugstore product.
Jodi KatzI love that. I love that because first of all when I was a college, when I was in my young 20's, I couldn't afford the expensive stuff, and I, of course, would go to the drugstore. You wanted to pick up something and feel good about the purchase and not pick up something and be like, "Oh. This is all I can afford." You wanted to have pride, and I don't think that ... I'm dating myself, but way back then there were only the few legacy brands that we know, and then anything cheaper than that was really a [inaudible 00:06:37] and there was no pride in purchase. Now that we have so many newer brands, more innovative brands entering the market place. It's really time for great, affordable products.
Natalie MackeyI agree.
Jodi Katz[crosstalk 00:06:53] that you stumbled on this. This is amazing.
Natalie MackeyI think beauty is ... People in the industry will hate me for saying this, but beauty is one of the last big holdouts of margin protection. There are five companies that dominate about 90% of the space, and there's almost a gentleman's agreement between them that everything is going to ... They're going to protect their margin at all cost, and particularly in luxury.
In fashion, that's gone away. There's lots of companies with better supply chains have kind of for better or worse destroyed the other parts of the fashion industry. There's been a ... Technology has really changed the way that that works. I think Zara produces products in eight weeks or less. If it's on the runway, it's in a Zara store really quickly afterwards.
It's an interesting paradigm because there really is a ton of room to bring the prices down in luxury and still make a lot of money particularly when you can access the customer directly, but if you say this in a group of beauty executives, they are like, "Blasphemy." [crosstalk 00:08:15] 90% gross margin.
Jodi KatzWe're seeing that with Marcia Kilgore's latest launch, and the name of it is escapes me, but it's like a club. You join the club, and you get product for a significantly lower price.
Natalie MackeyYes. Beauty Pie.
Jodi KatzRight. I love how your concept falls on the heals of Wet 'n Wild, which at this point I would say is a legacy brand, totally revamping and rebranding and working harder to give their customers pride of purchase and make them feel like they're part of something and not like a last resort.
I'm so excited about this concept, but now let's talk about you. Enough about your brand. Let's talk about you. I think that's what our listeners really want to hear, the back story, what drove you here. After talking to you, I learned that you are most certainly a serial entrepreneur. Why do you think this path keeps calling you?
Natalie MackeyI think I always had ... There's an old saying, "Entrepreneurs do what other people won't so that later they do what other people can't." I think that that's always been something that I aspire to. I always wanted to do something bigger.
Jodi KatzWhat does that mean?
Natalie MackeyI think that the ... I know that you probably agree with this, but there's something about that die heart entrepreneurial spirit that's almost like a screw loose. You have to be willing to work extremely hard for very, very little money. I think there's this imaginary world where people are like, "I'm going to be an entrepreneur, and it's going to be great because I'm going to make the same amount of money or more, and then I'm going to work less," but it's the opposite.
You work a lot more. You make a lot less particularly in the beginning. Sometimes you make nothing in the beginning for years. You also have less freedom. It's not more freedom. You do control your own destiny though, and that was the thing that I really always wanted was to control my own destiny. I always wanted the opportunity to make a lot more money. I never saw that as something that I could do even working a long time ago in finance.
I just never saw the opportunity to make an absolute ton of money or to work with the people that I really love. Now, I think one of the ... I'm not rich yet, but one of the things that I can say that I have that I'm thankful for everyday is that I get to wake up and go to work with incredible team of people that I really like. That, I think, is really rare. You might have the same feeling when you walk into your office like, "These are my people. I like each and every one of them. Each and every one of them has a lot of talent. I'm learning from them. It's a really fun environment."
Jodi KatzThis idea of an entrepreneur has a little bit of a screw loose. I do relate to it. I never really thought of it in that way. I just thought that I'm not really employable in the regular world.
Natalie MackeySame.
Jodi KatzI have a really hard time with hierarchy and these antiquated office rules really challenge me. It makes me [inaudible 00:11:45]. The protocols and the hierarchy and the unwritten rules, I'm always really uncomfortable with. I don't think I had an option. I think it was just for us.
Natalie MackeyI agree. Certainly it's the long road, but I think that long term it can be really incredibly rewarding, but I agree with you. I think my biggest ... I think I would be so upset in an environment where ... My biggest fear would be talking to someone and saying, "Why are we doing this, this way? It doesn't make sense. We could do this a better way. We could do this a more innovative way," and them saying, "Well, this is just the way it's done."
That would frustrate me. When you have your own business, there's a lot of opportunity to innovate and create systems that really work for you or that you think that fit your vision. I find a lot of comradery with other female entrepreneurs now because it's a rare [inaudible 00:12:59] world.
Jodi KatzEspecially in our industry. I think what's so unique about beauty is there really aren't that many buyers entering. If you really want to do it, you can have some drive and a little money and do it. We have access to so many entrepreneurs at all different levels of growing our business. I only knew what I knew. Is that the saying? I only know what I know. To be able to talk to other people who are growing their businesses and learn from them and have open dialogue, noncompetitive, just open dialogue is really incredible and probably very rare I would think in other industries.
Natalie MackeyTotally. I think women ... We're the first generation that can build a real support network. Men have always had that. They've had a lot of friends who are also doing what they're doing, and they've had guys that they could bond with that are in the position that they want to be.
This is the first generation where we have some real success stories that we can look up to and say, "Great. That woman is really crushing it. How do I get a connection with her?". I find women are really happy to talk with you. The girls, girls thing is real. I think there's a lot of great networks of successful female entrepreneurs that I've learned a ton from. It's still a much smaller pool than men, but-
Jodi KatzWell, you know, what's so interesting, and I didn't know it at the time. When I started my business, I didn't realize how important a network is. I just thought you go off and you do this. I really was convinced that everyone else had a network because they went to school with the right people, or they grew up with the right people. I thought it was just sort of bread into them.
I didn't really think that you make this happen, but when I finally figured that out, I just started reaching out to people that I thought were interesting on LinkedIn, and people responded and met me for coffee, and now some of them are advisers to our agency. It's kind of incredible that you can just say, "Hi. Can you talk?", and that people will talk with you.
Natalie MackeyI think that some of the most successful people are really open to helping other people. I think they were there once, at least the ones that I've met. Most of them are excited to talk. I read this book written by a friend of mine called The Creator's Code, written by a woman named Amy Wilkinson, who is a Stanford professor, and she talks about ... She interviewed the top 200 most successful entrepreneurs in the country, and she talks about gifting small favors and how she saw this as a pattern in really successful people.
I'm probably butchering her exact words so, if she ever hears this, "Sorry, Amy." People giving other people small gifts, not physical gifts but things like, "Oh. I know you're looking for a digital marketing director. I know someone who's really good. Let me introduce you. I know that you're looking for a trade financing. I know a great company. Let me introduce you."
Even if you don't get anything out of it, I think those things build really deep relationships over a long period of time, and that's how when you need that same type of stuff, you can reach out to the network and say, "Hi, guys. I'm looking for x, y, or z," and people jump to help you.
Jodi KatzYeah. This idea of sharing and giving back and supporting each other is beautiful, and when you find that network of people that can do that with you, and when you can do it for them, it's really magical.
I wanted to switch gears a little bit because you told us that you called in from vacation. I mentioned to you that for the first time in 10 years, last month, I took the first vacation where I really didn't work. I never thought it was bad that I was working on vacation. It was just work doesn't feel like work for me. If I can be at Disney World and make a few emails or phone calls in the morning, and then have the rest of the day at Magic Kingdom, I'm happy. It was a milestone for me.
Why don't you tell me about your feelings around time management and how being an entrepreneur does or does not take over your life.
Natalie MackeyOh yeah. There's no boundaries between personal and professional for me. I'm working all the time, really. I don't know if it's not healthy. I don't know how to do it any other way. I love what I'm doing so, I constantly am doing it. It still stresses me out, but as I was saying, I'm putting that on my goal sheet is maybe in a few years having a team that's so ... Our team is amazing, not to diminish the team, they're incredible, but they're all spread thin, and there's so much work to be done.
It's exciting work. It's a lot of fun stuff. I'm looking forward to the day when I can actually maybe completely shut off. I think someone will have to physically remove my phone from me. I think there's not ... My friends are people that are in the industry too. A lot of the events that I go to are industry/social events. There's not much of a hard line between personal and professional.
Jodi KatzYou've been honest with me about the fact that you consider yourself single minded in nature. You're on this. [crosstalk 00:19:14] and this what you're focused on, but tell us about some of the personal costs that comes with that, that people don't even realize happens in the life of an entrepreneur.
Natalie MackeyI think that I ... About a year ago ... We've had this business for a little over two years. Winky Lux is only about 16 months old, but the business has grown exponentially. We went from a tiny little start up to being sold in 50 countries and thousands of doors and launching new products every two weeks. It's been a lot of growth, which is really exciting.
About a year ago, I had to start a ... I felt a lot of guilt around the fact that I didn't travel the same way I used to. I still traveled a lot, but it was mostly for work, and I didn't host parties. I had this passion for hosting dinner parties. I don't do that anymore.
I gained some weight, and I don't work out as much as I used to. That's actually something that I've now started to really focus on more because I think it's really important for your mental health. About a year ago, I had to forgive myself for not doing some of those things and say, "Look. This is where you're at in your life." For me, it really ... I really ... My whole life is around this business, and that's what I do.
I'm happy going full force into it, but it is at a cost. There are certain friends I don't see that much anymore. I try to text them and reach out. I try to let them know that I still care about them, but I think there's this ... Men don't get this, by the way. Men are not expected to have it all. They have a wife who handles the social part, and everyone forgives them because they're working all the time. In fact, they get a pat on the back like, "You're a hard worker, [inaudible 00:21:25]."
I think women have this idea that you can have everything that you want all at the same time, and you can run a really fast growing organization, and have this beautiful social life and travel schedule, and time if finite. I think the movies make it seem like that's possible, and for me, it's just not possible.
There hasn't been a weekend where I haven't gone into the office in a really, really long time, and I'm okay with that because I'm building something I think is important, but it does come at a pretty steep cost as for as ... I don't know if I'll look back and say, "I wish I had made more time for certain things," or if I'll look back and say, "Thank God I [inaudible 00:22:15] for five years and now we're really set up."
Jodi KatzIt makes me think of when I had kids, and now they're older in elementary school, but when they were babies and first born, I was completely focused, single minded. It was all about feeding the baby, changing the baby, holding the baby, who's going to hold the baby, and I didn't shower. I was wearing clothes with spit up on them, and I was running a business. I was trying to have a social life, but I guess I was doing it all, but I wasn't doing any of it well.
Life was insanity, like chaos. I guess chaos is really a better word. Me with a baby in my arms, a toddler on my leg, and Clinique on the phone, and without a shower. I was doing it all, but not well. I think that was part of my journey. I had to figure out how to do this in a way that's going to be comfortable and healthy and rewarding.
That was the first five years. The first five years was just the chaos part and gave me the chance to learn. I don't want to feel this way. I don't want to be overloaded in this way, and that maybe doing it all at one time isn't great for me. Maybe I need to compartmentalize, focus on one thing at a time.
I think a lot of people have a similar journey, try to do everything at once, doesn't feel that great. Maybe some people can do it. I couldn't. I still have it all. I just don't do it all at once. I think that's part of my learning about who I am and what motivates me and what works for the business and for me personally.
Natalie MackeyI bet you're super efficient because every mom that I've met is crazy efficient. I don't know any young moms who are not insanely efficient. I think they're some of the best people to work with because they just have zero time for any b.s. They just get everything done.
Jodi KatzOn our team, we have a lot of moms, similar age to me with similar age kids so, we are all in the same head space I would say. This is part of our life. It's not the only thing in our life. We're good at this. We love it, but at whatever hour we switch over and sometimes we switch back, and then we switch over. I think I've learned to take advantage of the fact that I have other things in my day that I want to do other than work.
In my 20's when I'd be in an office. I'd be sitting around, cruising the internet, maybe I'd stay till 7:30 or 8:00 because I'm dilly dallying at my work, but there was nowhere else for me to be. Maybe go to the gym. Maybe go to dinner. Now, it's about being more compact and effective and focused.
Natalie MackeyI saw Kevin Ryan maybe a year ago, and he did this intimate little speaking engagement. He's this amazing serial entrepreneur who founded DoubleClick, one of the founders of Gilt and [inaudible 00:25:44]. I can't remember much of what he talked about, but I remember one thing that he said, which was, "I actually think you can only have three priorities, and I think that you can't do much more than three or four things in your life really well."
He said that his were his business, his family, and working out, and that he didn't know what the coolest restaurants were in New York. He didn't know what ... He didn't know lots of stuff about lots of stuff. Those were his things, and he felt like he was doing all three of those really well. I was inspired by that and releasing myself from the pressure of trying to do a thousand things, and maybe just saying, "My health, my business, and my small circle of friends and family are my most important things in my life, and maybe I won't necessarily become a paddle boarding expert, but that's okay because if I could do those three things well, then I'll have a good life, and I'll be really happy." That's the day to day goal.
Jodi KatzI love that, and I love three. I think three makes sense in a lot of places in our lives, and it feels doable and full at the same time. My last question for you, Natalie ... I think it's kind of personal if you don't mind. Aside from financial goals, what do you see as your barometer for success?
Natalie MackeyI think building something much bigger than yourself is my barometer for success so, building something that lives and breathes independent of me is a big part of what I do and keeping those ... My friends and family are ... They're super, super important to me, and keeping those relationships and continuing to nurture those relationships.
Like I said, I have a few side dreams like traveling to Punta and Antarctica and places like that, and maybe I won't do that in the very near future, but if I can keep those things really going ... If I can keep building this business and get it super healthy and something much bigger than me and more important ... If you get to a point where you have 100 employees, you're only doing 1% of the work. I want to build a great organization where people are doing great innovative things and just keep those relationships healthy and happy and continuing to just enjoy those people in my life.
Jodi KatzNatalie, this has been such a lovely conversation. I just want to say, "Congratulations on your growth." You've done so much in a short amount of time in this business. It's been such a pleasure to learn from you today. Thank you.
Natalie MackeyThank you and congratulations on your vacation. It is on my dream board now.
Jodi KatzI'll just end with this, that my big fantasy is to disappear for a month. I don't think that's going to happen this year, but maybe in a few years. August is just-
Natalie MackeyTotally. I want to be there to high five you when ... You'll get there. You'll get there. When you do, I want to have lunch and high five you.
Jodi KatzYeah. That'd be awesome. It's a deal and it's a date. Thank you for your time, Natalie.
Natalie MackeyNo problem. Thanks for chatting, Jodi. Talk to you soon.
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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