'You Can Have It All, But It's a Sh*t Show,' Find These Two Beauty Industry Mavens
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
In the Women Entrepreneur series Mentor Moments, female founders sit down to chat with their own mentors (and us!) about how and why the relationship developed, and the lasting impact it’s had on their careers.
Jennifer Kapahi didn’t go looking for a mentor. Her mentor came looking for her. Elana Drell-Szyfer, a successful beauty industry veteran and the CEO of ReVive Skincare, was impressed with Kapahi’s startup Trèstique, an innovative makeup line focused on convenient products that can be used on the go. So she reached out via LinkedIn, met with Kapahi and the two women have since formed a mutually beneficial friendship full of brutal honesty, talking about their work lives and their lives outside of work. The two chat with Women Entrepreneur about how the industry is changing and becoming more supportive rather than competitive and how the idea of “having it all” is a big, messy myth.
Women Entrepreneur: When did you two first meet?
Elana Drell-Szyfer: I had been following what Jenn was building at Trèstique. In addition to running a company for a private equity firm, I also kind of advise them on acquisitions, so I like looking at new brands. So I reached out to Jenn through LinkedIn.
Jennifer Kapahi: So many people had told me that I had to meet her, and when we finally met in person, around 2016, right after we had launched Trèstique, we had a great chat that was half business and half personal. I left feeling so inspired because Elana is not only an amazing businesswoman and leader, but she’s also a mom of three girls. At the time I was thinking of starting a family with my husband, and after talking to her I was like, How the hell does this woman do it all?
EDS: My path was very different than Jenn’s -- I had worked in big companies and I was running a company, but I had never started one. I come into contact with a lot of founders, most of whom have knowledge in one specific area and a lot of hubris, which can serve them well. What I first admired about Jenn was the innovation of the product, and then when I met her, she was just so knowledgeable about the industry. She’s very grounded and practical, and the structure she and her co-founder have set up to run the business is very smart. They have a good understanding of division of labor based on skill and passion.
WE: Jenn, in addition to the built-in support you get from your co-founder, what kind of guidance were you still craving that Elana was able to provide?
JK: [Co-founder] Jack [Bensason] is a wizard with supply chain and operations. I was completely lucky to find him. I’d worked as a makeup artist, in retail, in sales and in product development. I knew what I was good at and what I wasn’t good at. And I knew that I was quite bad at digital and social, which is the name of the game at this point. So I needed to speak to people like Elana with a different perspective and more experience, who understand what’s working and not working. I didn’t go to business school, so I needed a lot of real-life experience to catch up.
EDS: Irrespective of the size of your business, you never have enough resources. You need to find people with expertise who are willing to introduce you and share information. And it’s a two-way street. Jenn was on a panel recently talking about learning social and digital, and she said Trèstique recently wiped their Instagram and started over to set a clearer visual identity. I went back to my team and was like, "Maybe we should do that!"
JK: We called it a "Taylor Swift."
EDS: People talk a lot about the sharing economy, but when I think of the sharing economy, I think about the free sharing of ideas. There’s access to a lot of information, and people think it’s only big companies who can pay for it. But that’s not how things work -- things work based on relationships.
WE: As beauty industry vets, have you guys seen the industry evolve in that sense?
JK: It used to be like a steel vault. And now, maybe it’s because I’m in the entrepreneurial world and the people I meet are also in the startup world, but there’s so much willingness to help each other, share information, pass contacts along and collaborate.
EDS: When I ran global marketing at Estée Lauder, I reached out to someone -- who became a very good friend -- who did the same job at Clinique at the time. And people literally warned her to be careful around me. It used to be so competitive. But there’s a better understanding today.
WE: You mentioned that in addition to business, you two bonded over kids and families. Jenn, do you have kids today?
JK: We have a son who just turned 19 months old!
EDS: Jenn, when my first daughter was 19 months old, my second was born. It was insane.
JK: I just fractured my own tooth because I’m under so much stress, and then I got an infection and now I have to have the whole tooth out. It’s like me and 95-year-olds in the oral surgeon’s office. Elana and I talk a lot about our families and our relationships with our husbands. There’s no such thing as balance, it’s just smushing all the parts of your life together. I’ve breastfed my son at a Sephora in Denver on a business trip, standing in a closet next to a mop. I remember thinking, This is pretty bad, but at least I can do it both! You can have it all, but it’s a shit show.
WE: As your business grows, how do the challenges change, and how has your relationship with Elana changed?
JK: Gosh, the things I need help with now are much more specific. I need a contact for a WWD event, or do you know an investor interested in early-stage brands, or can you recommend someone who’s a digital marketing expert in e-commerce? I’ve learned so much about my business that I’m able to thankfully ask more educated questions.
EDS: I’ve always had different types of mentors, both men and women, but now, one reason I’ve taken an interest in mentoring is because there weren’t a lot of women in executive positions who also had kids when I was having my kids. So people would often call me and say, "You’re working and you have kids; how do you do that?" It’s hard, and you need an enormous amount of support. You need to both accept and direct help. And you’ve got to pay it forward.
JK: Elana, I was out to lunch with two friends recently, people who’ve worked with and for you, and everyone was talking about how amazing you are.
EDS: That’s kind. I get my reality check when I go home and someone’s like, “Mom, you didn’t fill out this form! Mom, the dog pooped on the couch! Mom, I didn’t have a ride and I was stranded!” Like, Hi, thanks, this is my life, how was your day?