Today we spoke with Aishetu Dozie, CEO and founder of Bossy Cosmetics, a company focused on providing empowerment, passion, and cruelty-free products. Dozie emphasized the intersection between giving back and indulging, all the while feeling confident.
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Aishetu Dozie: [00:00:01] We exist to ignite confidence in ambitious working women through high quality cosmetics, topical content and essential services.
Sam: [00:00:33] What do you get when you combine a genuine philanthropic instinct with a background in finance and a lifelong love of lipstick? Aishetu Dozie is the founder and CEO of Bossy Cosmetics. She’s a 20 year finance veteran who decided to pursue her purpose and passion in the cosmetics industry. Aishetu lives in Palo Alto with her husband and three children and in her own words, is having the ride of her life. Aishetu, thanks so much for being on Sam with us today.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:01:05] Thank you, Sam. It’s an honor and a privilege to be on your podcast, and it’s always a delight to catch up with you.
Sam: [00:01:13] So, tell us in your own words, what is bossy cosmetics?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:01:18] So I’ll start off with you know, I often tell people that Bossy Cosmetics is a women’s empowerment, mission driven brand that masquerades as a beauty company. So we clearly have business models that we sell high quality, cruelty-free, vegan cosmetic products. We really focus on ambitious or self identifying ambitious women. And so we often say that we exist to ignite confidence in ambitious working women through high quality cosmetics, topical content and essential services. That’s essentially what bossy cosmetics is.
Sam: [00:02:01] So the cosmetics market is currently valued at 358 billion dollars and growing. Your mission to empower women to look, feel and do good while using cruelty-free products makes you fuse what is basically an indulgent purchase, buying lipstick or lip glass with paying it forward, donating to charities that support women and girls. At the same time, cosmetics is a crowded space. How do you differentiate the brand within the market?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:02:36] So I think let me break down a couple of things you said, because I think a lot of people. Look at you and think that, you know, selling cosmetics, you are selling an indulgence and to a certain degree, when you think about the world, and privilege, that is true. But is it actually at its core accurate? Because if you think about it, a lot of women, when they wake up in the morning and they’re getting up to go to work or go to a meeting or whatever, when they think about their professional endeavors, one of the first things that they do is get themselves ready physically. They do their hair, you know, how’s your face going to look? What clothing are you going to pick? And oftentimes women put themselves physically together to suit either the mood that they’re in or what they’re trying to project. So in that regard, it’s incredibly foundational how a woman empowers herself when she’s getting ready in the morning to go into the world and take up space. And so in that regard, is it actually indulgent when you think about a cosmetics purchase? Right. Because for me, I can tell you about my entire career in finance. Putting my face together was like my superpower, when you think about Superman, when he puts on his cape or a superhero like the thing that he puts on and then all of a sudden he’s transformed from Clark Kent to Superman. For me, it was always red lipstick, was always a really bold nail color. It was always something that kind of was the notion for me of you’ve got this Aishetu. And I’m not the only one. Millions of women around the world embrace makeup as something that empowers them.
Sam: [00:04:22] I love that, because in the end, as women, even more so than men, we’re kind of going out into the world with some sort of suit of armor that’s on and some of that’s clothing. But I think an equally critical piece of it, as you’re pointing out, is what do we put on our face?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:04:43] Absolutely, if you look at our newest collection on the boxes, we say that our makeup, we consider it War paint. It’s the thing that you put on in the morning and get yourself going, right? It’s like your coat of arms, your badge, your suit of armor. You get yourself ready to go out into the world. And so that is exactly how I see our cosmetics products when we say we’re igniting confidence, we want you to put on our products. And this is why the names of our new collection have names like bravery, inspiring, fierce, unstoppable, ambitious, you know, our colors all have very bold names. And the reason for that is we are very subliminally sending messages to our customers that we want them to be empowered. We want them to be inspired. We want them to have courage so that they can go out there and level up. And so when we do that, the reason to bring them back to your point around partnering with nonprofits is this notion of being able to do a lot of things at once. So if you do think that putting on a pink lipstick is indulgent, that’s one perspective. But it’s also empowering to you to go out in a really bold lipstick. But just imagine that knowing that that purchase itself not only is clean and emboldens you, but it also supports somebody else somewhere else in the world. And I think that that’s very, very powerful because what it does is it begins to also chip away at this notion of an indulgent purchase and more into what I am giving while I am taking it. And so for me, that was always important.
Sam: [00:06:23] I totally agree, I think it’s also breaking down a culture of individualism and making it much more integrated into a culture of community and feeling connected to others. Consumers are looking for that in every way, big and small, that they can find through the products that they buy these days.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:06:48] Yep, yep, and that’s for us at this company is really at the core of our DNA, which is that we always think about the whole group of women. It’s not just you. And someone said this to me recently when I was kind of like, oh, I don’t want to do something or I’m a bit nervous about doing something that would put me on a higher platform. And it was actually a gentleman who said to me, Aishetu it’s not always about you. You showing up in a certain space sends a message to so many other women and girls that they can, too, that they belong in these types of rooms. And so if you are given an opportunity or a seat at the table, you should take it. And so for me, running a business that allows my customers that, even if it’s just I mean, when you shop on our website, you can round up your order by one cent. Or you can donate a dollar or three dollars and you can pick a small organization or you can spread it across three. So it’s a small act, but that’s how small acts become major movements. And so I just always want that to be at the core of our DNA, of who we are as a company.
Sam: [00:07:59] One hundred percent, it is more acts that become large movements. You’ve always believed, Aishetu, that women should and could strive for career rights on their own terms. Wearing lipstick that looked good and felt good was one of your signature ways of showing up when you got, as you just said, your seat at the table. You started Bossy in late 2018, what was the catalyst that made you want to do it then?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:08:30] So it’s amazing because in your intro you said, you know, I’ve been in finance for quite a while. And I always thought that I would be a finance person for three years at the most, and then as we always talk about the golden handcuffs, you know, I had a lot of loans when I went to undergrad, so I first had to focus on paying off the loans and then, wait a minute, I didn’t come from privilege. So you’re like, oh, wait, I want to travel. I want to do nice things. Right? And you start having a little bit of extra cash and you really like this life that you have worked really hard for. And so three years stretch to five to 10 to whatever. And a number of years ago, not only for health reasons, I just wasn’t doing well from the health standpoint, physically and also mentally and emotionally. I just wasn’t happy with my life. I didn’t really enjoy the grind of an investment banking life. And I was increasingly learning that there were more women like me who had been out of school for quite a bit of time, had been on a treadmill. Many of us managing families, managing volunteer work, just really amazing women, but not excited about our day-to-day lives. And I wanted to. I felt like that was something that I needed to drill into. How could I feel super actualized as a wife, as a mother, as a daughter, as a woman, as a career person? I’ve always been ambitious. And so I didn’t want to quit and just stay at home. I wanted to do something meaningful. And so I did this fellowship at Stanford. I spent a year and that was really the time that kind of gave me the courage to do something crazy. You don’t traditionally work for 20 years in finance and then all of a sudden decide to to start a lipstick company. But I just really believed that people should pursue their passions. What you’re really good at and when you’re passionate about something, you know, it gets you through the hardest of times. And I can tell you, having done this business now for almost two years, there is I mean, oh, my goodness. Every bad thing that happens to an entrepreneur has happened to me. And the reason I keep going is because I love my customers. I love making products for her. I love exciting her. I love creating content. I love partnerships. I love designing beautiful colors and beautiful packaging. I love it. I love meeting new people to learn about how my products affect them more, to learn about how they’re leveling up in their lives. I am obsessed with just watching women who are ambitious just keep getting more and more for themselves. And so I could not have picked something more exciting and more natural to what I believe my purpose is.
Sam: [00:11:26] Amazing. Well, turning passions into businesses is what we do at Ideamix so will resonate more plausibly. You decided on cruelty-free products and to donate your profits to charitable organizations. Absolutely from the outset, tell us what that decision meant to you and why you invested it so much at the heart of what you were doing, even as you just got started.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:11:55] So I think that when you’re trying to think about your differentiation as a brand, right, you had said earlier on that cosmetics is incredibly saturated market, which it is. And that was the thing that I lost sleep about every single day when I first started. And I don’t lose sleep about it now, but it’s like my North Star. How do you show that you were not like everybody else, that a red lipstick may just be a red lipstick? But A red lipstick from Bossy is so much more than just a red lipstick. So that was my obsession, is that I create a business that is beautiful. I create a business that when you encounter it, the imagery is inclusive and diverse, the imagery is empowering. The products are efficacious. They are lovely. They’re wonderful, like you feel energized. So that was important to me. And one of the main parts of the DNA of the company was that we give right. Because we’re talking about women who are ambitious. And I think it’s important when you are looking up, you don’t forget to reach out as well. And so that I want it to be part of the DNA of the company. And so I just think about it every single day in our packaging and the words we write, everything is just we have to make sure it permeates everything in the company. And I think, you know, we’ve done it. We’re doing it, we’re getting better at it, let’s put it that way.
Sam: [00:13:22] Yeah. I think when you embed a key value like that at the heart of the company, then it begins to really pervade everything that you do. Whereas when something is sort of off to the side as its own ancillary thing, that it becomes exactly that sort of almost extraneous to the fundamentals of what you’re trying to do.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:13:42] The one thing I will I agree with you and the one thing I’ve noticed also, and it came up really for me when the pandemic first started, is because this is so germane to our DNA, we stop telling our customers about it. We just felt like, yeah, of course, if you go to our website and you dig into the story, you will see that we give a percentage of our proceeds. So not even our profits, but our revenue. At the end of every year, we write checks to these three organizations and we work with a system called Daily Karma, which takes care of this for us in terms of if you give us a dollar when you buy lipstick, they take it out and give this organization themselves. And so I just realized that, wait a minute, you just assume that your customers know, you stop telling them. And so when things really kind of plummet, especially in March and April, I decided that the best thing to do with my time was not to convince people to buy lipstick because that just didn’t feel like what I wanted to do anyway was to tell people more about what these organizations that we partner with do. So we did a couple of IG lives with the CEOs of the nonprofits that we support. And I want to keep doing that more because I realize that we’re not talking enough about our mission. And even though it is a core part of our DNA, we have to always talk about it.
Sam: [00:15:12] One hundred percent, I think. You know, often when you’re an entrepreneur and something is embedded in a process in your company, the way giving to a nonprofit is for every purchase that someone makes on your site. It feels self-evident, right, that this is a key value of the company, but it’s still something that needs to be communicated and communicated with frequency and regularity.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:15:41] Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
Sam: [00:15:45] So Aishetu as you look back over the last couple of years. Tell us about a key change or pivot that you’ve made with the business and why?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:15:56] Well, you know, it’s interesting because I ask myself every day, should I be pivoting right now? Like when the pandemic first started. And honestly, I don’t have an answer to it, but I think about it every day. I think about how are you going to not waste this crisis? Are you going to dig your heels in and say, well, I want to sell lipsticks even though people are not really wearing lipstick. So people are buying. But is this an opportunity? And people would say to me, you should start selling masks, you should start doing this. I had started to do it, but then I realized to myself, if you start moving around just because that’s what is happening at the moment, you’re going to lose the focus and you’re going to lose the passion. Your passion about this business is igniting confidence in ambitious women through cosmetics, content and services. If people are buying product work on content and services, don’t all of a sudden start creating masks. And so what I would say that I have done and I think we will see in a year or two whether this was a dumb idea or not is I’m actually digging my heels in and staying incredibly true. And I’m saying, listen, guys, we’ve got a great product if you want to buy. Here you go. And people have been buying or let’s keep creating content together. What can we do to inspire you? What kind of services? I mean, earlier this year we launched this thing called Beauty Meets Wisdom, where we provide a free hour of executive coaching with a partner company that we work with. So we started to push that more, as I said, doing more IG lives. And I think I need to kind of pick up on the pace of that now. I have a whole slate of women that will be interviewing to just bring inspirational content to women. And so I think that if I am being honest about we are actually a women’s empowerment, mission driven brand that masquerades as a beauty company, then I have a lot of work to do. This is not the time to be pivoting because women really do need confidence being ignited. I just need to think about different ways to do that. And so that’s the thing that now keeping me up at night.
Sam: [00:18:14] There’s never been a greater need for it in some ways. The pandemic would have affected women very disproportionately by the end and even now already, because so many of them have had to take a step back from or redefine their own career goals. And that, in turn impacted their confidence and their self belief and their self-esteem. And so there’s never been a better time to empower them actively then than now.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:18:44] Yeah. I mean, so many women have left the job force because of you know, you and I both have three kids managing distance schooling or moving kids around and all this stuff. I mean, it disproportionately affected women. Women are exhausted and tired and giving up on their careers. This is really the time to provide support. And what I really, really love. My dreams are filled with pictures of my customers sending me pictures of them and my lipstick. You cannot imagine how happy it makes me feel when somebody from Miami can see like people I don’t even know, just telling me I had a crazy day slapped on some red lipstick went to my zoom call, aced it. This is the stuff that keeps me going. This is the stuff that lets me know that the pivot is not the business model pivot. The pivot is how do you continue to ignite confidence for your customers and beyond?
Sam: [00:19:43] That’s amazing. That’s hugely gratifying. I totally, totally understand, and you’re seeing the impact of what you’re doing. So as you think about it, what’s been the most effective method of growing and scaling the business?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:20:00] One foot in front of the other. I think just because you have a lot of deep track record in one industry does not mean that you’re going to leapfrog into a whole new industry and go in at the level that you went from somewhere else. And so I have had to be very humble. I have had to take digital marketing courses, how to use social media blogging, like Web hosting all this stuff. So stay curious, always stay learning, stay humble and just put one foot in front of the other. Don’t look at this 350 billion dollar industry or what other brands are doing. I’m learning how to almost put blinders on and focus on the customer. So I will often do either surveys or reach out to customers to say, hey, I’d love to talk to you or I look at reviews or I just try to understand what women are going through. So I’m crazily focused on empathetic customer relationships to really understand what her pain points are, to see where that intersection is with Bossy and how we can meet those pain points. Yeah, it’s just focussing on the customer. If there’s one thing, focus on the customer and just take your time. Fortunately, I didn’t come to this business thinking by the end of year one, I’d have millions of dollars of sales. And so you have to really be comfortable with what success looks like to you and really hold on to that and be realistic and just put one foot in front of the other and just know you’re going to make lots of mistakes. Right? I think I am constantly testing. Is Facebook a great ad channel for us? Is Google good? And how does Pinterest work for us or where do our customers sit and how do we reach out to them? It’s just constantly trying new things to figure out where your spot is.
Sam: [00:22:07] One hundred percent. As you think about the other people who work with you on your team, but also the broader group of friends, advisers, brainstorm buddies, family members, who are the people you most rely on?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:22:28] Oh, wow. So in terms of people who work with me, you know, I have a philosophy that I want to hire people who are excellent in a particular thing. And my preference is that we don’t overlap. So if you think about it, my supply chain, everybody in my supply chain, they are literally top notch. My product designer has 15 years of product design experience, having worked for major French houses. This is her work. So when she gives me mockups, I will speak about things from an esthetic standpoint. But from the technical everything that Stephanie’s work like, I’m not even going to go there. When I think about Odile, my Italian colleague who manages the formulations, I defer to her. So I would say the people that I lean on are the other colleagues that I’m working with who are excellent, just deep, deep, deep domain expertise and what they do. And so what ends up happening?
Sam: [00:23:37] How did you find them actually?
Aishetu Dozie: [00:23:38] Wow. A lot of luck, to be honest. A lot of luck and a lot of looking. So my product designer approached me right after we started and it was funny because she really liked the philosophy of the business, but she thought our packaging was awful. She thought our website was crazy and she thought everything was bad. But she thought I had something. And she’s like, you know, and she’s this French lady who doesn’t speak English really well. And she’s like, I want to help you because you need help. And at first I was insulted, right.
Sam: [00:24:11] How French of her.
Aishetu Dozie [00:24:12] I mean, and because her English is so good, she just went straight to the point where these things are all so terrible, so bad. I’m sure that you can do better and you become such great friends in addition to colleagues. So that was luck. My formulation lab was through. You know, I went looking. I started talking to people to say, look, I want a deal. I want to level up with our formulations, and I want to deal with providers who work with some of the major cosmetics companies that have decades of experience behind them. So I interviewed a bunch of them. I traveled to Italy, met many of them myself, along with my colleague Stephanie, who’s based in Paris. And we just spent last summer meeting people. We interviewed, I think, about six global packaging providers. And many of these came from her relationships because she’s been in the industry for so long. Many of these companies I had met on my own and they didn’t respond to me, but because of Stephanie’s deep relationships, I was able to leverage those. And that’s how we got excellent primary packaging partners. So, as I said, just leaning on people who are fantastic. And I also have a philosophy now which I don’t know how healthy it is, but it’s I am slow to hire, quick to fire, so I will not bring anyone on unless they are excellent, which means that I will figure out a way to either do it myself or just won’t be done until I find someone who’s great. And so, yeah, that’s been my philosophy. My husband is an entrepreneur, and is a serial entrepreneur. So he’s a really good advisor. My mother is an investor in the company. She’s a great adviser. I have a number of friends, yourself included, who I call or message and say, hey, I’m on this because it’s really important when you’re the CEO, you’re the ultimate decision maker. You don’t want to have blinders on, but you do.
Sam [00:26:17] And you don’t want to be lonely. [00:26:17][0.8]
Aishetu Dozie [00:26:17] Oh, it is lonely. I mean, this is the loneliest job I’ve ever had in my life. So I have basically co-opted everybody that I know to become my colleague. You know, I send product design to them. What do you guys think about this? I send all sorts of stuff to my friends, thank God for my community. Otherwise it would be challenging to do this by myself.
Sam: [00:26:43] It is a lonely path. And I think the only way it’s not is with the people you choose to surround yourself with.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:26:49] Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Sam: [00:26:52] So Aishetu, last question. Where do you see yourself and the business three years from now?
Sam: [00:26:58] Three years from now? I see us as a truly global brand where we are available in select stores in the US, in the UK and a couple of European countries at levels. I’m originally from Nigeria and I’ve been approached by a number of different African retail stores who would love to stock us. So in three years, I’d love to truly call myself global with products far beyond just lip at that point. I’d love us to be fully facial cosmetics at that point. Every type of makeup product you want, you can find. I would love that. And by then, they have even ventured into skin care. But I’d love us to be known as just a brand that empowers boss women. Just really, really champions women in business and politics, women who just want to level up. I’d love for us to have to have that brand identity and love for it to be global.
Sam: [00:28:07] I love that. I like the ambitious goal. I would expect nothing less.
Here’s something else you should know. A nationwide survey found that 75% of respondents would purchase a product labeled cruelty-free over a less ethical alternative. Thanks to Ibis World of Leaping Bunny for the data used in today’s episode. Aishetu, we love your story because throughout your career, being yourself and authentic to yourself as well as being a powerful woman has always been the value that centered and driven you. Thanks so much for being with us today.
Aishetu Dozie: [00:28:46] Thanks so much, Sam. I really appreciate it. And I will always say yes to the opportunity to chat with you.
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