The Mentor for This Clean Beauty Retail Founder Lent Her Influence and Credibility
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.
When Tara Foley was working to launch Follain, a retailer of clean, non-toxic beauty and skincare products, she entered (and won) multiple business-planning competitions, hoping to earn some cash and guidance along the way. When she entered in a competition sponsored by Edens, the massive retail real estate developer, she got more than she bargained for. Edens’ CEO, Jodie McLean, served as a judge in the competition and took an interest in what Foley was proposing: a single platform and physical space to hold clean beauty products and educate and inform the consumer. At a time when digital commerce was exploding, Foley stood out by intentionally focusing on brick-and-mortar, catching McLean’s attention. Five years later, McLean has become an invaluable adviser to Foley, whose business has grown well beyond her original vision.
Women Entrepreneur: How long have you two known each other, and how did you first meet?
Tara Foley: We met in 2013, at a business-planning competition that Jodie’s company, Edens, was sponsoring. I’ve competed in a lot of those competitions, but I’ve never ended up with a five-plus year relationship with any other judges! But Follain has a brick-and-mortar element to it, and a lot of people at the time didn’t believe in that. Jodie comes from the physical retail space and world, and hers was one of the first true signs of big support -- and it was a big catalyst for launching Follain.RELATED: How This Founder Uses Obstacles as Inspiration: 'I'm Making Lemonade'
Jodie McLean: I never entered into this relationship to be a mentor, and I don’t think Tara entered into it looking for one. But what naturally happened is, sometimes we need people to give us advice and access to networks. We had this relatively young woman, so focused on her business, that just didn’t realize the power that she, as an individual, had. When I met Tara, it was so obvious that she had everything it would take to change policy, thinking and approach, if just given the empowerment and access to networks. That’s the power of these kinds of relationships.
TF: I had a public policy degree and wanted to change the world, but I was working at a law firm and realized I wasn’t going to change policy fast enough through a career in law. I started a blog about healthy living and skincare specifically, and I was so moved by the response, I realized there was an opportunity to create bigger change through business. But I didn’t know anything about business or beauty or the natural aspect of it. I got up to speed -- I worked on a lavender farm, worked with a skincare developer -- but I wasn’t wired, at the time, to really empower women. I’ve learned so much from Jodie, who’s sitting on top of a male-dominated industry.
WE: Can you give some examples of obstacles she’s helped you work through?
TF: As Jodie mentioned, the network aspect was very much the focus in the beginning of our relationships. The biggest thing on my plate right now is team building. Our business has evolved, and we’re building online as fast as we are brick and mortar. I used to be the only one in the office, and how we have 23 people. That’s been a huge challenge for me, and building a team can feel very lonely and scary when you’re doing it for the first time. So I look to her for advice on leadership, and talk through my thoughts on different candidates. I bring my hardest questions to Jodie, and I’m lucky that she turns it right back around and makes me ask the hard questions of myself.RELATED: You Can Have It All, But It's a Sh*t Show,' Finds These Two Beauty Industry Mavens
JM: Tara’s really learned to think strategically about her business. Being able to move quickly in the retail world will continuously distinguish her. You’re not only trying to keep up with the consumer -- who is thinking at internet speed -- but you have to think ahead. How to communicate, iterate, launch products and do all of this while creating community and building relationships. And that community begins with your own employees. Business is a circle, and everything is interdependent. Watching her grasp and build that community through training and education, it’s really seeing someone who understands how to launch and scale.
WE: You’ve both mentioned the idea of networks multiple times. As women in business and women founders, how has that idea of community impacted you?
TF: For every entrepreneur that comes to me now, my biggest piece of advice is to surround yourself with experts, and, in the beginning, especially people who are ready to serve as mentors to you. It was invaluable to me, especially in the beginning, to have advisers. I knew what I brought to the space -- passion and knowledge about beauty -- but I also knew I needed to bolster my business skills in finance and real estate.RELATED: You Can't Do Everything Well' - How This Advice Helped the Founder of TwoBirds and Hatch Focus Her Priorities
JM: Building and scaling and leading anything is lonely, and I do think it’s probably harder for women. So those peer networks give you a place to go and share and connect and feel like you’re not alone. Am I crazy? Am I alone? Or is there a whole group just like me? That’s important.
WE: Jodie, had you served in this kind of mentor role to anyone before?
JM: I find a slight awkwardness in defining myself as a mentor. But I am comfortable saying that I do try hard to give advice when asked for it, to empower and share networks. I’m also conscious of trying to be a sponsor for other women, and there’s a slight nuance there -- a mentor gives advice, but to be a sponsor, I open doors where I have influence and credibility. I’m really intentional about that.
TM: [Being a mentor has] totally affected me, and I’ve started to try to pay it forward a bit to others in the clean beauty space. Clean beauty is on fire right now, and these young brands are getting approached by big business and big capital. They have a lot of questions, so I’ve started to become a resource for them. I’ve already gone to the dark depths and asked the hard questions -- now I can help others do the same to figure out what they need to grow.