Cocokind Founder Priscilla Tsai on Running a Small Beauty Business During a Pandemic — As Told to, Interview

Priscilla Tsai, the founder of skin-care brand Cocokind, tells Allure, in her own words, everything that went into starting her small business and how it’s been impacted by the novel coronavirus.

I started Cocokind over five years ago. Previously, I worked at JP Morgan doing equity research and always struggled significantly with my skin. Whether it was taking antibiotics or using harsh topical prescriptions, it led to a lot of skin sensitivities. In the mornings, I would put on [moisturizer] in the dark because my face stung so badly my eyes would water, and my skin would turn bright red. It was a terrible process for me, so I became passionate about finding a better option.

I started looking into living a more holistic lifestyle and stopped the antibiotics I was taking for my acne. With that, I started looking to very clean ingredients and researching the ones I was applying to my skin. That’s when I decided to start Cocokind around a few key values: simple, quality ingredients, consciously and sustainably created, and with affordable pricing.

During that first year of business, I went door to door selling to natural retailers. What was most exciting was that just with those three values: clean, conscious, and accessible, I got into most retailers that I presented to. The first two years, we focused on retail, and then we were lucky to have launched a few products that became popular online. Those were the skin-care sticks: matcha, turmeric, and beet. People could only find those on our website, so our business to consumer arm really emerged. Since then, we’ve prided ourselves on communicating digitally with our customers and allowing them to purchase wherever makes sense for them whether that’s Target, Whole Foods, or our website.

In early March, tech companies in San Francisco where we are based had already started to announce their work-from-home policies. So we started our work-from-home policy as well, a week before the official shelter-in-place started. For us, it seemed preventative, like it wasn’t going to impact business. All of our products are made in the U.S., but our ingredients come from all over the world. A lot of the packaging that comes from the U.S. so we weren’t initially too worried about supply chain disruption. We believed our exposure to any supply chain issues would be from China, so we were pretty limited to disruption. We were feeling good. We thought, “We are going to take this preventative measure, but otherwise we’re pretty good in terms of our exposure.”

We started working from home and then, a week later, that’s when the shelter-in-place was announced for San Francisco.

We have a warehouse here, so we immediately shut it down and turned our website to pre-orders only. We had no idea whether we were going to see our revenue go down to zero because we were not able to ship products. We didn’t know whether shipping carriers were going to be doing regular business or not, and that was really, really scary for us.

We still had all of the same overhead. We spent five years building a really strong business in terms of our financials. We’ve been a profitable company for three years. We’ve always hired people knowing that we could fully afford them. We’ve never gotten ahead. If anything we’ve been behind in terms of building our team, but it was scary for me. We were projecting a year of growth, and then, we had to forget about growth. We still had the same amount of people to support, the same amount of rent to pay, and at the same time, the potential for zero dollars in revenue which I hadn’t even thought about in five years. It was something I never imagined was a possibility.

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