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EPISODE 82

More Than An Influencer: Turning a Community Into A Company with Deepica Mutyala

With Deepica Mutyala, a beauty entrepreneur, businesswoman, and founder and CEO of Live Tinted

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You’ve heard it time and time again on this podcast: That influencer marketing not only works, but could be the key to unlocking massive business potential for your eComm business. Influencers have the power to take a product – or an entire brand – from unknown to a trending topic product overnight. And sometimes, the community that they build is so valuable, it creates a jumping off point for a business of their own. That’s what Deepica Mutyala did when she launched LIVE TINTED

On this episode of Up Next in Commerce, Deepica takes us through how she progressed as an intrapreneur at BirchBox before she took the plunge and set out on her own journey. And it all started after one beauty video that she made went viral on YouTube. Deepica explains how she went about building a community based on a mission to bring more diversity to the industry, and how she’s been able to tap into that community to create content and launch a successful business with products designed specifically for her community. Plus, Deepica reveals some of the advice she got from her investors and mentors like Bobbi Brown and Andy Dunn.

Main Takeaways:

  • Deprioritize the Big Channels: It’s okay to deprioritize big marketing channels such as Facebook in order to explore and engage with users elsewhere. Facebook will always be there, but you might catch lightning in a bottle if you are willing to adapt and explore new platforms.
  • It’s Not a Dirty Word: Influencers tend to get a bad rap, but the truth is that anyone can be an influencer, and that influence can be nurtured for the good of a community and a business. By tapping into the power of a community, growth becomes much more attainable.
  • Start Where You Are: Intrapreneurship is an avenue you hear about less often, but is a strategic way for anyone with bigger dreams to learn the ins and outs of business. By embedding yourself in a business that works, volunteering to help in every department, making connections, and taking all of your learnings to build an initiative internally or on the side, you can advance as a true entrepreneur much faster.
  • More Than A Check: Fundraising isn’t just about filling your bank account, it’s also about adding to your knowledge bank. Deepica tapped into mentors and investors like Bobbi Brown, Andy Dunn, Payal Kadakiam, Hayley Barna and others to learn from their experiences and invite them to be a part of her own growth. Tune in to the episode to hear some of the advice they each gave to Deepica!

For an in-depth look at this episode, check out the full transcript below. Quotes have been edited for clarity and length.

Key Quotes:

“I worked at Birchbox, and in true startup culture, you can create opportunities for yourself at a startup. And so, I made it very clear to the founders that I wanted to one day create my own beauty brand, and they gave me opportunities in the company to do that.”

“I never grew up saying I wanted to be an influencer or even be famous, but I did grow up saying I wanted to be a CEO and run my own business. And so, when you fall into something like this, it’s very weird. But I think what got me through the years where I was just an influencer and didn’t have the business side of it was, the end goal was the same. I wanted to change the face of representation for people who look like me, period. So whether that’s in the media, or through my own beauty brand, the net goal was the same, and it still is the same.”

“There shouldn’t just be one of me. There is not just one white girl on the campaign, why shouldn’t there be more brown girls in the campaign, more black girls in the campaign? That experience as an influencer is what led me to launching LIVE TINTED as a community platform prior to launching the actual product itself. I didn’t plan for that, again, being a community brand wasn’t a thing growing up either, but it was lived in experience that truly inspired the idea that, before this launches with a physical product, let’s create this united community where they dictate our future decisions.”

“A lot of investors in the beginning were saying to me, ‘Why do you have to create this community first and spend money on creating content as a community platform and things? You already have a following, create a product, show proof of concept, and build it out.’ I just didn’t listen, and I felt really strongly that LIVE TINTED was bigger than my own identity — it was about a larger multicultural group of individuals coming together and finding common ground in industry where I felt like people were so divisive.”

“There’s this incredible creative community that I’ve come across just from building LIVE TINTED that deserves so much spotlight.”

“Facebook is still a powerful, powerful sales channel, for sure. And so, we do need to be relevant on there. But if you’re a small team, and you have to pick and choose your efforts, for us, it’s been deprioritized, and eventually, we’ll get back there. But I’m way excited about LIVE TINTED impacting the next generation and helping them be a more tinted future, where everyone sees beyond the hues of their skin. And so, I get really excited about tapping into a younger audience because they are the future of this entire industry, versus going toward maybe an older audience. So, these to me, are just the little things you have to keep your mind on: What are your goals? What is the audience you think that you can really tap into? And what are they doing? And then, you decide your marketing leverage based on that.”

“Something people forget is influencers have always existed, they were just called celebrities before. The definition is evolving and changing, and it’s going to continue to evolve and change. If you have a platform and an audience, you are an influencer, you have an influence of some sort. And I think it’s actually a really powerful thing, if you think about it, because it makes you realize, anyone can be an influencer, and it makes people empowered to use their voice. But the part that I get really excited about is this creative community, and how we can work with them.”

“You’re learning so much in the beginning, and the last thing you want is for someone who knows nothing about your business, who just gave you a cheque, to say, ‘You need to go into this retailer, or you need to do this partnership, or grow this, or hire this person.’ So, instead, what I did was tap into a network of people who I worked my off to build my entire career, and tell them, ‘I’m launching my own brand, and you’ve been somebody who has been a mentor in my life in some capacity.’ And really positioned it as an opportunity to be a part of the growth of what I’m building.” 

“The biggest theme and general advice, is slow and steady growth for the win. And that’s very different from what I was told when I was first fundraising in 2018, it was all about the next billion-dollar unicorn company. And I have a couple of people who were unicorn companies, Payal Kadakia as an investor, and it’s like, they are all also advising me like, ‘Just don’t get caught up in the noise, don’t get caught up in the quick turnaround story.’”

“We’re actually going through a site revamp right now, and it’s all going to focus on community… The best marketing tool we have is them, and see them, the product, have them create the content, have them be the things we feature on our website, so people like you can go directly to the site and see themselves and say, ‘Oh, well, I look like her.’ It just helps.”

Mentions:

Bio:

Deepica Mutyala (born July 4th, 1989) is a South-Asian beauty entrepreneur, businesswoman, and founder and CEO of Live Tinted, a multicultural community about beauty and culture. She is best known for a viral YouTube video in which she covered her dark under-eye circles with red lipstick released in 2015. Within days, Mutyala was featured on The Today Show and The Dr. Oz Show. The video currently has more than 10 million views. Since then, Mutyala has been featured in the New York Times, CNN, Vogue, Marie Claire, Refinery29, and other media outlets. 

From 2015-2018, Deepica dedicated her efforts as an on-air beauty expert, YouTuber, and activist collaborating with brands on panels and campaign efforts geared toward minority representation. She has partnered with major beauty houses including Estee Lauder Companies, Coty, LVMH, Unilever, as well as brands outside of beauty including Mastercard, McDonalds, & Mercedes Benz. She has also been seen in commercials for L’Oreal and Samsung airing during the 2018 Academy Awards. 

In January 2018, Deepica founded and launched Live Tinted, a digital platform and a beauty product line that explores diverse beauty and creates products for “every shade in between”. The platform gives voices and story tells for underrepresented individuals and features their personal journeys with beauty, culture and identity. 

In May 2019, Live Tinted released their first product based on their community feedback and an ode to Mutyala’s 2015 viral video, the Huestick, an eye, lip, and cheek multistick that balances dark circles, dark spots, and hyper-pigmentation. The Huestick is vegan, cruelty-free, and free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates using pigments that are FDA-approved for both eye and lip applications without the use of carmine. According to Forbes, Live Tinted’s community-driven product line is “disrupting 2019 beauty standards.” The Huestick has won Elle’s Future of Beauty Award for Innovation and been referred to as “magic in a pencil” on Good Morning America. 

In August 2019, Live Tinted raised a seed round from investors like Bobbi Brown (founder of Bobbi Brown Cosmetics), Hayley Barna (Birchbox co-founder), Payal Kadakia (founder of ClassPass), Andy Dunn (CEO and Co-founder of Bonobos), Jaimie Schmidt (founder of Schmidt Deodorant), Shivani Siroya (founder of Tala), and Shilpa Shah (co-founder and CXO of Cuyana). Live Tinted plans to use the funding to expand the beauty product line, hire more staff and create new online engagement tools.

Deepica currently resides in Los Angeles, California and splits her time between developing her company, Live Tinted, her personal channel and other business ventures.

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Transcript:

Stephanie:

Hey everyone, and welcome back to Up Next in Commerce, this is your host, Stephanie Postles, co-founder at mission.org. Today, we’re talking to Deepica Mutyala.

Deepica:

There you go, you nailed it.

Stephanie:

The CEO of a beauty brand, LIVE TINTED. Deepica, welcome.

Deepica:

Thanks for having me.

Stephanie:

How many times do people pause when they’re like, “I’m about to botch your name, I know it, I know it, ah, there it goes?”

Deepica:

I mean a lot, but I appreciate the pause and effort to get it right, versus just blatant lack of attempt to try and get it right. So, I appreciate you trying. Thank you.

Stephanie:

Good. Yeah, thanks.

Stephanie:

So, I was doing a bit of research, as I always do on my guests, and I’m fascinated by LIVE TINTED. I mean, you have such a great story, so much stuff [inaudible] want to dive into, but first, I think it’d be fun to kind of talk through how you got here, your background, What did you do before you founded LIVE TINTED?

Deepica:

Yeah. So, I actually started my career on the corporate side of the beauty industry. In college, my first internship was at L’Oreal in New York, and post-college I had a brief stint at Limited Brands, which is now L Brands at Victoria’s Secret, which is no longer there because they went bankrupt. So, I was there for a brief stint, but the whole goal and end game was to one day create my own beauty brand. I was that 16 year old girl who grew up in Sugar Land, Texas who said that… I was going to change the narrative of what I saw when I was going down the beauty aisles.

Deepica:

When I was a kid, I shopped at Walmart predominantly, honestly, that’s where I shopped for beauty because, going to shop for beauty wasn’t really a thing in my family’s life, so when we were just getting groceries at Walmart, I would divert to the aisles and go look at makeup. And I would find myself not reflected in the ads, and I would also not see any foundation shades that worked for my skin tone. And I literally, remember telling my family at 16 that I was going to change that narrative one day, and everything I’ve done for my career since that point was to get me to starting LIVE TINTED.

Deepica:

So, it’s kind of crazy being now back in Texas, like I was telling you earlier, that it’s just really full circle being here, and finding doodles of me writing out what I thought my brand name was going to be, and talking to family members who are like, “It’s just crazy that you’re actually doing it.” Because this is what I wanted to do. So then, after nine months at Limited Brands, I quit my job to take a risk on a startup called Birchbox, which at the time was the hottest tech company… Not even just beauty, but I think overarching, they created a whole category of subscription model that really created a whole new category.

Deepica:

And so, that was really cool, incredible experience working for two bad-ass female founders who, in my parents’ eyes, were really okay with me working there, and taking a pay cut, and going for my dream, because the two founders went to HBS.

Stephanie:

Oh my gosh.

Deepica:

And so, they were like-

Stephanie:

I also read the quote from your… You were saying, “Oh, my dad all growing up would hand me a stethoscope,” and then you would instead grab lipstick or something, and I thought that was really funny.

Deepica:

[crosstalk]. Yeah. It’s kind of an Indian tradition where… There’s this ceremony that happens… I think it’s after your first 100 days, and we just did it for my nephew, where they put things in front of you [inaudible] like a book versus different things to see what you would gravitate towards. And instead of me gravitating towards anything that was in front of me, I was grabbing my mom’s lipstick in her [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

In the purse digging over there.

Deepica:

Yeah, yeah, which is so funny, and crazy, and full circle now, but yeah, this was always the dream, and it’s wild for me to look back and reflect. But I worked at Birchbox, and in true startup culture, you can create opportunities for yourself at a startup. And so, I made it very clear to the founders that I wanted to one day create my own beauty brand, and they gave me opportunities in the company to do that. Then, I had to do it a lot of the times, in my free time, it wasn’t like… I still had to do my day job, but if there was projects that I could work on in my free time, I did it, because I saw it as Birchbox was my business school.

Deepica:

And they always said it as founders, right? But I truly felt it. I really felt like working there was an incredible network of really smart people, and I got to… Literally, you have an idea, you can test it, and just go for it. And so, I got to work on product development at Birchbox. I got to work on influencer partnerships at Birchbox. And when I did that, was my first time being like, “What is going on in this influencer world? And how much are these girls getting paid? What is happening?” Some random girl at Iowa getting paid this insane amount of money to do a YouTube video, and I was just like, “This is wild.”

Deepica:

So, as I was doing that, was when I realized there was nobody who looked like me on YouTube creating content, and I kind of just saw it as a fun hobby. I was like, “You know what, Deepica? At the end of the day, you’re not quitting your job, just do it on your weekends. And at the end of the day, all the people in your life that text you questions about makeup and things like that, you can just say, ‘Go to my channel, stop texting me.'” So, really, I didn’t think much of it. And so, January of 2015, I picked up my iPhone… Because again, I didn’t know what I was doing video content wise, I had no clue how to… Ad revenue wasn’t even activated. I didn’t know.

Deepica:

And I picked up my iPhone and held it vertically instead of horizontally. The production, it was like I knew IGTV was happening before IGTV was happening. I did it in a vertical mode, and I used red lipstick under my eyes to mask dark circles… And people who are hearing this are probably literally so confused, but-

Stephanie:

I read that too, I was like, “Well, it’d be funny if I showed up with red lipstick under my eyes.”

Deepica:

Oh my God, that would have been awesome. Yeah, no, I used red lipstick under my eyes to hide dark circles, and I guess that was crazy to 10 million people, because that video went viral, and yeah, has millions and millions of views.

Stephanie:

And it worked. For anyone who’s like, “What did that look like?” I looked at the pictures and the video, it actually works.

Deepica:

Yeah. So, here’s the deal, I basically… That was my biggest beauty concern my whole life, how to hide my dark circles? And it wasn’t talked about, people didn’t talk about it because it’s such a specific problem to specific communities of people. And so, I just did the video that I had learned when I was on set one day, where a makeup artist was using a color corrector under my eyes, an actual product made for under your eyes, and I was like, “What are you doing putting red lipstick under my eyes.” And she was like, “Oh no, it’s a color corrector, it cancels out the darkness, so when you put on your foundation, you really can mask your dark circles, because you have extra pigments that require kind of additional correction.” And I was like, “Well, what’s the difference?”

Deepica:

My brain is always thinking about hacks and simplifying things, and so that doesn’t change with my beauty routine. I want to always simplify things. And so, she basically, said, “Not much.” And so, I filmed this video and it went viral, and when the video was at 4 million views, I got a call from the Today Show to come on to do the segment on air, and I quit my job that day. I kind of just had this moment of, this could be a cool 15 minutes of fame, or I could turn it into my dream career. [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

That’s amazing. What did the founders say? Because I’m guessing, you had a pretty close relationship with them. I mean, they were letting you essentially, be an intrapreneur within their organization, and test things, and learn, and try, how did they feel about that? Because I saw that they were some of your first investors along with Bobbi Brown, which I’m like, “What? How did you get in front of her?” So, what was that process like leaving and getting them to invest afterwards?

Deepica:

Yeah, it was really tough. There’s two co-founders, and they just had different mindsets, right? One of them was more like, “You are all on a Birch tree, and you’re all acorns that will fall into the world.” I remember she said… And she’s the one that’s currently an investor in my company, “I want to see you grow and thrive.” And the other one, it’s not to say that she didn’t want the same thing, but she was really excited about me growing within the company. And listen, she had every reason to feel that way. She helped me get so many opportunities within the company to be able to create what I have been able to do today, and she gave me those opportunities, but it was more like… I was really close to her too, I worked more with her directly. So, of course, it was like one of those bittersweet things, but they’re both incredible and really supportive.

Deepica:

But it was really scary to… I remember when I got… The day I got the email from the Today Show was when I pulled her into a room that day at 6:00 PM, towards the end of the day, and I just was like, “I feel like I have to go for it.” And she gave me a really big hug and said, “She’s really happy for me.” But you could tell it was like a bittersweet thing, which I appreciated, because at the end of the day, that means she felt that I made an impact at the company.

Stephanie:

That’s great. So, what was the Today Show like? Did you go on there and do a tutorial? Tell me a bit about that.

Deepica:

Oh my gosh, it was wild. So, my sister came on and was my model on air. So, she flew in from Texas. My dad was backstage sitting next to Kid Rock, which was hilarious. Picture this immigrant Indian dad who’s like, “What is even happening? My daughter is on national television. And who is this guy with a beard and long hair, what’s going on?” It was the moment where I realized that I was meant to do exactly what I’m doing in that moment. I was not nervous, I felt like that was… I was just meant to be there, it just felt that way. You know that Eminem song… What is it? Lose Yourself? You get one shot, one opportunity. I was listening to that backstage, and I literally felt like I had four minutes on national television to show people that a brown girl can do this.

Stephanie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative) Oh, that’s great.

Deepica:

Yeah. I felt like I could be the Indian Hoda, and just be the next news anchor on the Today Show. I still feel like… I love doing live television, I think it’s like… There is a beauty in the imperfections that come with it. And it was surreal, is what the word is, and incredible. And I remember after it was over… The hustle and bustle of live television is very real. The second the segment is over, they’re like, boom, boom, boom, moving onto the next thing. And I was like, “That was so fun, let’s do it again.” Most people were just like, “All right, lady, we’re moving on.” But then, there was this senior producer who came up to me and she was like, “You should do it again.”

Deepica:

And I was [inaudible] around, and it’s so cool because my dad is in the background recording it, so I have all this on camera. But she just was like, “We can’t believe it was your first time doing national television, we’d love to have you back regularly.” And that was really cool for me, because everyone told me that when you go on national television, it’s a cool moment in your life and you move on, and I feel like I proved the exact opposite, that if you have what it takes, you can make things happen for yourself. So, I became a regular doing beauty segments on the Today Show, and was a full-time influencer, which is a thing.

Stephanie:

Yeah, I saw that. That was one of the first things when I was looking into your bio a bit, and it’s like, “Oh, Deepica is an influencer, and I think she’s just signed a deal with WME.” I’m like, “Oh.” So, tell me, now you’ve got the status, and you’re super popular, how did you think about capitalizing on that, and to get out of just being an influencer, and then being like, “I’m going to create my own stuff?”

Deepica:

Yeah. Well, here’s the deal [inaudible] I never grew up saying I wanted to be an influencer or even be famous, but I did grow up saying I wanted to be a CEO and run my own business. And so, when you fall into something like this, it’s very weird. But I think what got me through the years where I was just an influencer and didn’t have the business side of it was, the end goal was the same. I wanted to change the face of representation for people who look like me, period. So whether that’s in the media, or through my own beauty brand, the net goal was the same, and it still is the same.

Deepica:

And so, what I realized was, I had this opportunity to create a brand around myself that was really once in a lifetime, honestly. And I was just like, “I want to focus in on this and really learn everything I can about the beauty industry.” Which at this point, I knew a decent amount. I worked at Birchbox, I had a lot of beauty brand contacts. And really, what I did was, after I quit my job, I emailed all my contacts and I was pretending to be my own assistant, and I was like, “Hello, I’m the assistant to Deepica Mutyala, beauty influencer with 10 million views, Today Show beauty expert, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, if you want to work with her, whatever.”

Deepica:

And for every 100 emails I sent, I got one reply, and that one reply led to my first job where they asked me my rate, and I had no idea what to say. And then, when they said, “Okay,” I realized, damn it, I could have asked for triple. You just learn as you go, and you’re your own assistant, producer, editor, manager, agent, sometimes lawyer, which I don’t recommend.

Stephanie:

Nope.

Deepica:

I’m like, “Bad idea.”

Stephanie:

Yeah.

Deepica:

But you just learn as you go. And so, I think for me, what got me through being the girl who was waking up and taking selfies, and posting it for literally a career, I got paid to do that, was that I really saw a narrative in the beauty industry that didn’t exist when I was growing up. There was no token brown girl, there was always… And even then, there wasn’t really a token black girl growing up, that was still in the… Now, I feel like we’re finally… It still has so, so much work to do, but I do think that we now have representation happening more than I ever saw growing up, but there still is this tokenism that happens where… I felt like for three years, as grateful as I am, that I’ve been able to work with every beauty brand under the sun, like a L’Oreal commercial to a Samsung ad that aired during the Golden Globes, and just any beauty brand I could have dreamt of.

Deepica:

I also realized there’s plenty of people out there that deserve the shot to also do that, and there shouldn’t just be one of me. There is not just one white girl on the campaign, why shouldn’t there be more brown girls in the campaign, more black girls in the campaign? That experience as an influencer is what led me to launching LIVE TINTED as a community platform prior to launching the actual product itself. I didn’t plan for that, again, being a community brand wasn’t a thing growing up either, but it was lived in experience that truly inspired the idea that, before this launches with a physical product, let’s create this united community where they dictate our future decisions.

Deepica:

And really, for me, honestly, I was craving a home where people were talking about things in the beauty industry that was not a thing, heavy topics like colorism. But then, other topics like facial hair, and things that you just didn’t say. And so, we created this almost like collective home where every day we were just posting about faces that I felt like you didn’t traditionally see being shown in campaigns. And it just started to organically grow into this very, very engaged community, which then at a point, I was like, “Let’s create products for them, it’s time.” And that’s kind of what led to our first product launch in may of 2019.

Stephanie:

Yeah. We had a really cool company on… Food52, same thing, they build up a huge community first, and then, afterwards, she was like, “Oh, it was only right to then start creating products to service that community.” But my biggest question is always like, how did you build that community? How did you transfer the audience from TV to then go into your community? Or from Instagram, or YouTube, or wherever you were, how did you pull them in and get them engaging in a way where you’re like, “They’re here for the long haul and now I can move on to phase two of a product?”

Deepica:

Yeah, no, it’s a good question. I think for me, I feel very grateful that those three years as an influencer, I created a community of people who felt very connected to me, because again, there wasn’t a lot of brown girls doing this. And so, I felt like they would be ride or die for anything I put out into the world. But that is, to me, a huge responsibility, and it was like, “Okay, so now, if I create this brand, I don’t want it to be about me, I want it to be about something so much bigger than myself.”

Deepica:

So, if I had just launched it, which a lot of investors in the beginning were saying to me like, “Why do you have to create this community first and spend money on creating content as a community platform and things? You already have a following, create a product, show proof of concept, and build it out.” I just didn’t listen, and I felt really strongly that LIVE TINTED was bigger than my own identity, it was about a larger multicultural group of individuals coming together and finding common ground in industry where I felt like people were so divisive.

Deepica:

And so, I really wanted to kind of bridge that gap and create a really powerful, I think, warm home for people. Which, I think, a lot of brands are saying they’re doing now, and it’s awesome, right? I’m not hating, I think it’s all for the greater good. But people are smart, and they can understand when some people are being performative versus not. And I feel very grateful that since day one, we’ve had values and core beliefs that we’ve… Of course, they evolve, but the core belief around diversity and inclusion is the pillar that has stood strong since the beginning.

Deepica:

And so, for me, on an actual tactical level, the first 20,000 followers, I would say, came directly from my following, from… I remember before we even launched it, I was trying to find photos of deeper skin brown women online, and it was virtually impossible. I was just searching and the team was searching, and I was like, “You know what? Let’s use the power of social media.” And I just posted on my Instagram, “I’m working on a project on stories, if you see any deeper skin melanated brown women, use #livetinted.” I’m not even kidding, within minutes, the #livetinted was flooded with just tags. It was just like this community of women who have been thriving to be seen. They are just craving for this industry, who has neglected them, to pay attention to them.

Deepica:

So, when you ask, how I did it, sure, my following definitely helped do it, but what really did it was that there was just a natural need. These people didn’t have another home, and they were excited to finally have it. And so, I also think that it grew from just being a South Asian Brown collective to being much larger. Because again, I talked about topics that were very specific to me and my life. I didn’t force it and try to speak to something that I didn’t know personally. And with that, I recognized colorism is not an issue in just the South Asian community. To be honest, I’m learning so much as we build this brand that… I had no idea, this is something that so many different cultural backgrounds face around the world.

Deepica:

And that actually, excited me, because I realized that there is an opportunity to create a brand with pillars that, like I said, unite people from all different cultural backgrounds rather than divide. And so, it just organically grew from there, just by talking about things that I lived in and experienced in my life.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s very cool. So, how many people are in your community now?

Deepica:

Well, it’s a tricky number, because I say 600,000 because I include my community as well. Because quite honestly, my whole brand has shifted to just LIVE TINTED stuff, Which I love. Yeah, we’re a little over 600,000.

Stephanie:

Cool. And how do you think about keeping them engaged on the different channels? What are you doing now that’s maybe different than when you started out in what? 2015, 2017?

Deepica:

I mean, yeah, because my brand started in 2015, and then LIVE TINTED started in 2018. But you have to evolve with the times. Perfect example is, hello, TikTok.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Actually, my favorite influencer is an Indian girl on there with her dad.

Deepica:

Oh yeah, she’s amazing. I love her.

Stephanie:

What’s her name?

Deepica:

Sheena? Is it Sheena? It’s starts with an S.

Stephanie:

Yeah. She’s so funny. But you never see her dad, it’s always just his responses to things that she’s doing. I’ve never seen her dad anyways in any of her videos. But she’s my favorite. She’s hilarious.

Deepica:

I’m obsessed with her. And yeah, I feel like there’s this understood brown community bond where you’re rooting for each other, because it’s like, so many of us were told to be doctors and go down this traditional path. Yeah. One of my goals for the brand is to spotlight not your traditional beauty influencers, but people like her who are just creative creators. I think there’s this incredible creative community that I’ve come across just from building LIVE TINTED that deserves so much spotlight. We have big plans to only continue to spotlight them in a bigger way as the brand continues to grow, Which I’m excited about. What was your question, again?

Stephanie:

[inaudible] Yeah. Okay. So, [inaudible] I like to derail things every once in a while, but back to saying… You said you had to change with the times, from what you used to do to what you do now, and you said, of course, TikTok, what are you doing today to keep your audience engaged? And how do you think about treating the different platforms different, [crosstalk] people right now are connecting with them best?

Deepica:

Well, I think, first and foremost, I don’t try to pretend like I know something that I don’t know. And so, luckily, at this stage in the business, bringing in an intern that’s in college that can do TikTok for us, because I’m like, “Wait, what is this dance move? What’s going on?” So, I think hiring subject matter experts is something that I feel like, finally, oh my gosh, because I’ve been just doing everything for the longest time that now, it’s like, let’s hire for people to do what they’re good at.

Deepica:

But of course, you have to have a pulse and know what to even hire for, right? It’s like, am I looking for an email expert? You have an X amount of budget, if you’re going to focus in on email versus… Social versus paid versus all these other marketing levers, you know what makes sense? For example, for us, influencer is such a critical part of the business, because a lot of them are my personal relationships, but we need to continue to grow that network to the people… Just like the girl you just mentioned, there’s a whole community of people that are continuing to create and build every year, and so, for me, it’s about staying on the pulse and making sure you feel comfortable evolving with the times.

Deepica:

Facebook is still a powerful, powerful sales channel, for sure. And so, we do need to be relevant on there. But if you’re a small team, and you have to pick and choose your efforts, for us, it’s been deprioritized, and eventually, we’ll get back there. But I’m way excited about LIVE TINTED impacting the next generation and helping them be a more tinted future, where everyone sees beyond the hues of their skin.

Deepica:

And so, I get really excited about tapping into a younger audience because they are the future of this entire industry, than going towards maybe an older audience. So, these to me, are just the little things you have to keep your mind on, what is your goals? What is the audience you think that you can really tap into? And what are they doing? And then, you decide your marketing leverage based on that.

Stephanie:

Yup. So, how are you thinking about tapping into TikTok then? I mean, you’re mentioning partnering with an influencer who isn’t a beauty influencer, but could still probably drive results. And I know earlier you said influencers, and you kind of cringed too in thinking about that. So, tell me a bit about, how do you partner with them? Does it work? How do you make sure that it works? All the details behind them.

Deepica:

Yeah. I cringed because I feel like the word influencer has been so like… It’s been created into this like comedic relief for people, and I think that’s what makes me cringe. But one thing that I feel really, really strongly about, is the value of these creators. I think of them as creatives that are just really changing the landscape of marketing. And I think that it’s just the word influencer used to really make me cringe because I felt like it wasn’t respected. And as somebody who went through being an influencer, and I still am an influencer, at the end of the day, [inaudible]… By the way, something people forget is influencers have always existed, they were just called celebrities before.

Deepica:

The definition is evolving and changing, and it’s going to continue to evolve and change. If you have a platform and an audience, you are an influencer, you have an influence of some sort. And I think it’s actually a really powerful thing, if you think about it, because it makes you realize, anyone can be an influencer, and it makes people empowered to use their voice. But the part that I get really excited about, like I said earlier, was this creative community, and how we can work with them. The same way I told you, these girls were just wanting to be seen. These creatives are just wanting to be seen, and they’ve never been given the opportunity to be seen. So, how is it that LIVE TINTED as a brand can tap into these people, and really invest time and effort as an internal team to search for these people, and work with them, and not go against the grain, and go against who everyone else is wanting to work with?

Deepica:

Listen, we’re still a small company, so paid partnerships is something that I can’t wait to be able to do. It’s like, are you kidding? I went through it, I want to be able to do it for other people. So, we’re working on trying to grow those relationships now. So, when we have a full budget in place, we support these, I would say, underdogs, versus going towards the people that everyone else was going to, because that’s no fun.

Stephanie:

Yeah. And I mean, that’s a big theme that I’m hearing too, is finding more of the micro-influencers who have a very engaged following, but they might only have a few thousand followers, versus a million, but those few thousand are ready to convert and really buy the products, and do the things that you’re doing. How do you go about finding those people? I mean, it seems hard to have to go through TikTok and Instagram, and find people that might not show up on your feed right away, if you are kind of searching through all that.

Deepica:

Well, there’s a lot of cool tools now that we’ve actually just invested in, which… Honestly, for me, my plan was to do it the old school way, of just investing the time, finding people, and I think, that to me, was the way to go, but there’s supplemental tools, like there’s this new platform… I sure don’t know if it’s new, it’s new for us, called GRIN. And it’s a way to manage your influencer partnerships and relationships, so you can actually have data and analytics to back up why you’re doing certain decisions. And it’s like, traditionally, in PR, you send products out, you hope somebody posts about it, who knows if they do? Tracking that is really… It’s just a lot, so you need to have the manpower to be able to do it.

Deepica:

And now there’s these tools in place that make it a little bit more scalable, which is really great. But I don’t think anything can beat the just human aspect of finding a gem of a person and saying, “This is who I want to grow with.” And I now, luckily, now that there’s a team in place, I can spend my time doing those things, because, first of all, I truly believe that is the special sauce that comes from a brand, is those little efforts you put in that take time, that really set you apart from the others out there. I don’t want to be the person who partners with the biggest TikToker, and not just because of the financial reason, which I think… I don’t want to speak for other people, but I think a lot of times, the theme is to go to micro or nano influencers because of budget reasons. And to me, it’s really exciting that they’re untapped, and have a voice, that they’re… You just want to continue to empower that voice, I guess.

Stephanie:

Yep. Yeah. I love that. So, how do you think about strategic partnerships, or when it comes to when you’re getting investors? I mean, I’m thinking, okay, you have Bobbi Brown who is very big in the makeup space, what did that look like? Did you have that in mind when you partnered with her, like, “Oh, maybe you can kind of showcase my line along with your brand?” How does that work? And how did you think about picking strategic investors instead of just going with the first person who might give you money?

Deepica:

Yeah. That’s actually exactly what happened too. So, I learned so much through my fundraising process, so it was my first time doing it, and what I came out of it realizing was, nothing is more valuable than experience, and that includes a cheque. I think I was taking people’s cheque, but really, what I was taking was their experience, that’s what I wanted to learn from.

Deepica:

And so, I had a couple term sheets where it was like one large cheque from one VC… Which, by the way, that whole process is a whole thing in itself. But I feel grateful to say that… I actually don’t feel like I had as much trouble being a woman of color getting investors on board as much as I think I’ve heard a lot of my other girlfriends who are women of color, specifically, black women, which is just all sorts of messed up in its own, that… I feel very, honestly, grateful that I didn’t go through that, but I also think it’s really messed up that I didn’t go through that as much. But that process has taught me so much in what I want to do in my future of… There’s so much I want LIVE TINTED to do to help other women who want to create their own brands. But when I went through that process, I was like, “Wow, I really don’t want one person this early in my business to dictate my decision-making.”

Stephanie:

Yup.

Deepica:

You’re learning so much in the beginning, and the last thing you want is for someone who knows nothing about your business, who just gave you a cheque, to say, “You need to go into this retailer, or you need to do this partnership, or grow this, or hire this person.” So, instead, what I did was tap into a network of people who I worked my off to build my entire career, and tell them, “I’m launching my own brand, and you’ve been somebody who has been a mentor in my life in some capacity.” And really positioned it as an opportunity to be a part of the growth of what I’m building. And I feel very confident about that. I still feel that way. I know and I feel very competent about what I’m building, and what the impact it’s going to have on the world.

Deepica:

And so, I went to all of these mentors or just advisors in my life, and they put in more angel cheques, strategic angel cheques, really, just to get their advice. I’m learning from their mistakes. Andy Dunn from Bonobos, the other day, I sent my annual investor update, and he was like, “Just continue to focus on profitability, don’t overspend on marketing, learn from my mistakes.” I’m learning from all of their mistakes. Payal Kadakia from ClassPass, she would say, “Focus on your why, don’t ever get distracted from the why.” And Bobbi Brown, she was the first to tell me, “Go on a motherfucking date.” That’s what she told me to do. She literally, told me to go on it, and she used that word. So, that’s why I said that, I apologize [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

That’s okay.

Deepica:

But that’s Bobbi for you. She is such a dope woman. She is no BS. She told me, she was like, “At the end of the day, you will succeed because that’s who you are, but you don’t want to look back and wonder, what was it all for if you don’t have someone to share it with?” And so, maybe that’s a part of the reason I came back to Texas, and I’m kind of taking a step back and zooming in on things. But they all give me different advice for their own nuggets of what they went through. And Hayley Barna from Birchbox, is now a partner at First Round Capital, she put in a personal cheque, and I feel like I could always call her to ask her about fundraising advice, because they’ve obviously raised so much money.

Deepica:

It’s just truly invaluable to be able to talk to people who’ve gone through the mistakes and the wringer to say, “I’m thinking about [inaudible]…” I’ll give you an example right now. Food52, I love what they’re doing. You mentioned them earlier, I love what they’re doing. I love the idea of a collective ecommerce shop where you’re creating content to commerce. I think it’s really smart. And I’ve gotten distracted in the past of wanting LIVE TINTED to also be that as a collective home for inclusive beauty. I wanted to create the next sephora.com that truly zoomed in and focused in on, you won’t be on our site unless you are caring about inclusivity. That doesn’t mean you have to be a POC owned brand, we will absolutely prioritize it more than most people do, but I had this vision.

Deepica:

And at the end of the day, I think the biggest, hardest thing for founders to remember is to stay focused, eye on the prize, and I think… That doesn’t mean I don’t want to still do it one day, but we have way too much momentum happening as a singular brand that I think I just have to stay focused. And these kinds of founders in my life, if I called them, and I’m like, “But what if we, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” They will all pull me back and say, “All in good time, young grasshopper.” [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

That’s awesome. And I mean, that is the time when a lot of founders do kind of want to start seeing profit, want to go big, want to experiment a bunch of different areas, and I think that’s really smart. And I also love Bobbi Brown’s advice too. I mean, I love the personal aspect when you find people like that.

Deepica:

Another thing, on the Bobbi Brown thing, her specifically, we met through the DM.

Stephanie:

That’s great.

Deepica:

Yeah. You can connect with anyone in the world, you have no clue what the power of social media… There’s so much negative that comes with it, but there’s so much positive. And I remember on my launch day, I was in New York City doing a ton of press, and I went to Jersey to meet with Bobbi Brown in person, and she was like, “Wait, your launch day is today, and you’re here?” And I was like, “Yeah, you’re Bobbi Brown.” [crosstalk].

Stephanie:

I’m here.

Deepica:

Yes, of course, I’m here. Because to me, she was doing inclusive beauty before inclusive beauty was inclusive beauty. And as a Jewish woman who grew up in New York, I just find it to be so impressive that she recognized that… She sees it as like… Obviously, I care about making sure that everyone feels represented, that’s how she sees it, and I feel like I wanted to learn from that person. I want to create my own Bobbi Brown cosmetics one day, and I feel like with her guidance, I’m well on my way.

Stephanie:

Yeah. That’s cool. So, I mean, you have a lot of good mentors and investors. I mean, Andy Dunn is another good one. He actually was our first investor in our company too-

Deepica:

Oh, wow.

Stephanie:

[inaudible]. So, good people you got there. What is something that they’re guiding you on right now for 2021? How are they kind of… I mean, Andy has Walmart, but he got to look at… He has a lot of things that he can see around ecommerce at Walmart. What are people like that saying right now? Like, “Hey, Deepica, you need to start preparing for this. Or we’re seeing this shift at our company, so maybe you need to kind of pivot, or adjust, or do something different to be ready for this new world.” Anything high level like that?

Deepica:

I think the biggest theme and general advice, is slow and steady growth for the win. And that’s very different from what I was told when I was first fundraising in 2018, it was all about the next billion dollar unicorn company. And I have a couple of people who were unicorn companies, Payal Kadakia as an investor, and it’s like, they are all also advising me like, “Just don’t get caught up in the noise, don’t get caught up in the quick turnaround story.” And the more I’m seeing what’s happening in this bubble, that’s kind of bursting, it’s like, “I’m so happy that we didn’t take on a ton of funding, we’re growing slow.” And I’m going through the fundraising process right now for our Series A, and the reality is that we don’t need to fundraise right now. It’s this back and forth of like, we’re doing really well and we can go really slow.

Deepica:

But at the same time, like you said, Andy is with Walmart, and one thing we’re exploring right now is retail partnerships. And so, one thing that I think is very apparent now is, it’s a very different ecommerce and D2C climate than it was five years ago, as we know. And I think the idea of being omni-channel, it’s not an option. We have to be omni-channel to also beyond just like the business and the metrics, because myself being, again, that 16 year old girl who dreamt of having her own beauty brand, it’s about impact too. And I want my physical products to be able to be touched and held by people who are in store. And again, go down those beauty aisles and actually see yourself represented. And I feel like we’re the brand that needs to do that in a big way.

Stephanie:

Yes. Beauty feels hard to me though from ecommerce. I mean, I’m just thinking about… I went to Tarte, which is of course, a beauty website, and I was ordering things on there, and it still feels so hard to figure out what you need to buy based on your skin tone. And it’s asking me all these crazy questions, which you’re probably like, “Yeah, those are obvious ones.” Like, do you have a pink with a yellow undertone there?

Deepica:

Undertone.

Stephanie:

I’m like, “I…” And it literally has 50 options, and I’m like, “I don’t know, am I pink? Am I yellow? Am I green? I’m not really sure.” So, beauty feels hard. I mean, I know obviously, being in retail, being in person is important, but during this time right now, where that’s been a little bit harder, how did you think about adapting your ecommerce experience in a way that people could know what they wanted, or what was meant for their skin? It just feels so hard.

Deepica:

And it is really hard. That’s totally true. We’re actually going through a site revamp right now, and it’s all going to focus on community, which I know is such a buzz word. But the best thing we can do is tap into all these people who, again, have been just dying to be seen and be featured. And they’re not like the person with all this following, whatever, this massive following. And to me, what we can do is… The best marketing tool we have is them, and see them, the product, have them create the content, have them be the things we feature on our website, so people like you can go directly to the site and see themselves and say, “Oh, well, I look like her.” It just helps.

Deepica:

I think Rent the Runway is the first example I saw of a company that… I remember shopping it and picking a dress, because I saw girls who had my body type, and I was like, “Oh, well, she…” All the reviews, I think it was [inaudible] that they used on their website that is really great customer review experience. And I remember when we created livetinted.com, I wanted to use [inaudible]. So, we do for our review system, because I wanted it to feel really real, a yelp kind of situation where you’re truly feeling like you trust that person telling you which product works for you.

Deepica:

So, it’s tough, but there’s tools and ways to make it better. And I think just leaning into people and humans, and having them be a part of the experience, and creating a really strong customer service experience so they want to meet that review, is all important.

Stephanie:

Yeah, that’s great. I also think that technology is evolving to a place now where… You should be able to have your face in front of your camera, and take a picture, and then be like, “Here’s exactly what would go best with your skin tone or something.”

Deepica:

It’s getting there, and there’s apps and stuff too where you can do that, but lighting is such a factor. We’re getting there, but with beauty, it is tricky. And I think all the tools I’ve seen this far, none of them have worked for me. That was one of the business ideas I wanted to do in college, I was like, “It’s just too hard to shop for beauty online.” We’ll get there though.

Stephanie:

Yep, I think so, too. All right. So, let’s shift over to the lightning round. The lightning round is brought to you by Salesforce Commerce Cloud. This is where I’m going to ask you a question, and you have a minute or less to answer. Are you ready?

Deepica:

Yeah, sure. Okay.

Stephanie:

All right. What one thing will have the biggest impact on ecommerce in the next year?

Deepica:

I would say new ways of leaning into people and community. Yeah. I just said that, but we’re currently revamping our ecommerce site, and the biggest thing we’re focusing it on is people and experience, and tapping into the human aspect of what people are looking for when they’re buying something, which is as emotional as a color corrector to solve their dark circle issues. And so, I think if you continue to focus in on people, community, how they can drive purchase decisions, you’ll thrive in the ecommerce world, especially in beauty where things are very… You want to see yourself reflected.

Stephanie:

Yep. I love that. What’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for you?

Deepica:

Wow. Is this personal or business? I mean-

Stephanie:

Whatever comes to mind, whatever you want.

Deepica:

This is the first thing that comes to mind, because we just talked about it. You should always value every person you meet in life, because you never know where it’s going to lead, and come back, and connect, and help you in the future because… I didn’t work directly with Hayley at Birchbox, but when I quit my job for her to… She introduced me to XFactor Ventures, which is our first VC that came on board, that gave us our first cheque, which then created a ripple effect that made other people think we were legit, that created another ripple effect. And I think that confidence in somebody who only… I worked with her but at a very bird’s eye view and stuff, and so it’s kind of like… I’m so grateful for that. And not just her, just generally, I think, when I think about the people who have taken the bet on me, I think it really makes me feel like I’m here for a reason, and I have shit to get done.

Stephanie:

Yep. That’s great. What ecommerce tool are you most excited about right now?

Deepica:

Right now, it’s GRIN, that’s the one that we’re literally doing trainings on right now. We’re really trying to optimize. I think the influencer partnership space is something everyone’s trying to figure out and find a way to scale, and I’m hoping and hopeful that GRIN can help us do that.

Stephanie:

Yeah. Wow, that’s awesome. We will check that out also. If you were to have a podcast, what would it be about? And who would your first guest be?

Deepica:

Well, I’m working on getting this started, but it’s going to be… It will be called Hue To Know, which was… Instead of [inaudible] To Know, Hue To Know.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I like that. That’s cute.

Deepica:

And we had a whole video series for LIVE TINTED when we were just a community platform, where we interviewed people, they came on, and they talked about their identity and culture, and it was all these… To me, they were dope creatives, again, people that you should know about that you may not, like a black Muslim rapper, or a gender nonconforming South Asian artist. And these people who were like, “I’m going against the grain and creating a path for myself, and living tinted.” That’s really, to me, what that means, and what LIVE TINTED stands for. So, I want to bring them on as a guest, and create it into a podcast form. And my first dream guest would be Meghan Markle, because I think she’s incredible.

Stephanie:

That sounds great. Well, if you need help getting off the ground, you know who to call.

Deepica:

Great. Okay. Cool. Yeah.

Stephanie:

All right. And then, the last one, what is your favorite business book where you often go back and think about it, or read quotes from it, or whatever it may be?

Deepica:

Man, I wish I had it so I could show it to you right now. This was a pile recommendation. It’s called Financial-something, Financial Terms… Financial… I’m going to have to find it and send it to you.

Stephanie:

[crosstalk].

Deepica:

Yeah. But she told me… Before you go into fundraising process, as a person who’s never done it before, there’s a lot of terms that get thrown around, like convertible notes, and cap tables, and all this stuff. I didn’t know what I was doing, so she was like, “It’s going to feel like you’re reading a dictionary, and it’s going to be dense, but you want to be able to walk into those meetings with full confidence, and I highly recommend that you read it.” And so, I have to look for the book and find the name. There’s a lot of different terms in there, so I’m blanking on the title itself.

Stephanie:

Yeah. I think there’s a good book that it reminds me of called Venture Deals by… I think it’s Brad Feld-

Deepica:

That’s what it was.

Stephanie:

Oh, is that what it is?

Deepica:

Damn it, it was Venture Deals. You’re right. Yes. Yes.

Stephanie:

Okay. Well, [inaudible] because I’m like, “That’s a good one too.” Where I remember-

Deepica:

That was it.

Stephanie:

… when we were thinking about raising money, I’m like, “All these terms, I don’t know what they are. Pre-money, post money, cap table. Oh my God, what are we talking about?” So, that’s a good book for anyone raising money right now.

Deepica:

That was it. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephanie:

Awesome. Well, thanks so much-

Deepica:

[crosstalk] But it’s a good book, but yeah.

Stephanie:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a good book. And then, after you read it, you’re like, “Okay, I’m done with that for a while.” Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining the show. It was so fun having you on. Where can people find out more about you and your work?

Deepica:

Well, I’m obviously, going to plug LIVE TINTED first. LIVE TINTED is L-I-V-E T-I-N-T-E-D, livetinted.com. @livetinted all on social. And then, you can also follow me at @deepica, D-E-E-P-I-C-A on all social outlets.

Stephanie:

Amazing. Thanks so much.

Deepica:

Thank you for having me.

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