Here I am a year before turning 30 doing exactly what I dreamt of when I was a teenager growing up in a suburb of Houston, Texas. Never would I have imagined a viral YouTube video about under eye circles would’ve taken me to where I am today, but that one moment in time has brought me to exactly where I always wanted to be.
Being a first generation South Asian immigrant, there was really only one path for me -- doctor or doctor. Well if I really didn’t study hard enough a lawyer would suffice. The notion that I could work in the beauty industry was seriously a pipe dream and one that wasn’t truly accepted coming from a strict Indian family. It didn’t help that I always felt different than my surroundings. I was that Indian girl who dyed her hair blonde and wore blue contacts. I wanted to look like the cool girls in high school and the celebrities I saw in the media. I always daydreamed of being on E! There was a glamour to that life, but I never felt like that could be a reality.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve set out to change that mindset and developed an “American Dream” than my parents were accustomed to. With my passion for the beauty industry, I wanted to prove that I could be part of industries that wouldn’t traditionally be welcomed by a South Asian woman. My idea of the American dream was to change the narrative that was predetermined for me. Instead of following a traditional career trajectory that would’ve granted me stability and superficial praise, I worked extremely hard, developed a niche skill set, built authentic relationships, and knew that my strong belief in self would get me to where I wanted to be within a very tough world: the beauty industry.
I went into college with a very clear career trajectory. It looked like this: I would major in marketing, work for the biggest beauty brand in the world, learn how to be a brand marketer, go to business school to make my Dad happy (Harvard being the obvious and only option in his mind), and then launch my own beauty brand. The plan started out just like that - I majored in marketing at the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin, I worked for the biggest beauty brand in the world interning in college at L’Oreal USA in New York City --- and then the rest of the narrative took a turn...
After that college internship, I didn’t get the full-time job at L’Oreal. I felt lost. I mean I had a plan, but the beautiful part about the plan being broken was that it led me down a path that I believe brought me to where I am today. I ended up working for Birchbox in NYC; that at the time was at the early stages of being a startup. I was an early employee and had direct access to the two incredible female founders that much to my Dad’s enthusiasm went to Harvard Business School.
To me, working at Birchbox was my version of obtaining my MBA. There, I was able to wear many, many hats. I worked long hours and proved myself to the founders, who allowed me to join the in-house product development team. I was able to learn about product lifecycle and was part of a team that oversaw a brand from conception to launch. In doing so, I had amazing opportunities including leading meetings with major beauty brand CEO’s.
I felt empowered with my ability to teach myself things I had no idea how to do (thanks Google). When you’re at a startup, it’s up to you to get what you want out of the experience, and I also learned you’ll never get something you want unless you ask for it. Startups move fast - agility is crucial to survival. It’s not a life meant for everyone, but it was definitely one meant for me.
While working at Birchbox, I noticed there was a huge market opportunity in the world of influencer marketing. There was no one that looked like me. I, like many, made a New Years resolution to start a YouTube channel in 2015. However, my start on YouTube was an enigma, because I ended up going viral after my second video got picked up by BuzzFeed, and now four years later it has over 10 million views.
After an email from the TODAY Show landed in my email inbox, I went with my intuition and took a leap of faith in what I believed to be an opportunity of a lifetime. My end goal of building a beauty brand still remained the same but the path of getting there took a major turn. Now here we are, as I spent the last three years of my life building myself as a beauty influencer.
Being an influencer involves many facets that most don’t see. On the outside, you might watch my Instagram Stories flying to Bali for a few days or trying out the newest lip gloss, and of course, I am so incredibly blessed for this adventure. But there are stresses -- similar to startup founders -- that many don’t understand. The pressure can take a toll on mental health; especially in the age of real-time social media sharing. It becomes an addiction, but this is a piece on its own that I’d love to write in detail about on another day.
My point of sharing this is that I think about my grind and hustle of my Birchbox days, and it barely puts a dent into how hard I have worked these past three years as an influencer. I left my job not knowing when my next paycheck was coming. I leveraged every contact I’ve ever made. It brought out a level of self-belief I didn’t even know I had. I had to motivate myself every day to be own manager, agent, assistant, producer, director, video editor, copywriter, community manager, etc. I wore all hats and woke up every day reminding myself that I had an opportunity, and it was my duty to seize that opportunity to prove out my version of the American dream.
That hard work has paid off. I’ve worked with every major beauty brand I’ve ever wanted to, I’ve become a regular on-air expert for America’s number one morning show, and I’ve been in multiple national commercials - one of which aired during the Academy Awards!
What I found fulfilling as an influencer was creating a space for South Asian women that didn’t exist before. It’s been every email, message, and direct message from my followers that keeps me going. The shoots, the selfies, the red carpets, and fancy trips, sure they were fun, at least at the surface, but there comes a point where you start to feel unfulfilled and feel like a churning wheel. Still, I knew building this part of my career would only help the one-day beauty brand that I always dreamt of.
I’ve found myself tapping into the more business side of influencer life. I’ve worked with brands consulting on best practices of working with influencers and advising influencers on best practices of working with brands. That was more fulfilling to me than anything else.
In my heart of hearts, I know that it’s the business aspect of this industry that’s my strength rather than being in front of the camera or slaying a perfect winged liner (I still don’t have that down at all by the way). It’s been a surreal ride and one that I’m beyond grateful for, but last year, I had a moment where I knew it was time to move into the next chapter of my career.
At the end of 2017, I made a decision to start my company. I wanted to take everything I’ve learned from the corporate side to the influencer side and build a business. Not just any business. I wanted to build a business that had a soul & created change in the space. A much needed change that I had observed through my years in the industry. I want it to be better. More inclusive. More welcoming. A happier space encouraging others to see beyond the surface level of beauty. I was also ready to build something bigger than myself, and that’s what I did. I am lucky to have launched: Live Tinted.
All that being said, this past year has been the most emotionally taxing year of my life.
2018 is the year of transition. I spent it balancing out my current job as an influencer while pouring my soul into building my new job as the CEO & Founder of Live Tinted.
This meant a shift in priorities. I went from influencer to startup entrepreneur. I raised a pre-seed round of funding. I’ve brought on three female-led institutional investors as well as two female advisors who both have built multi-million dollar businesses of their own. More importantly, they’ve built businesses that are purpose driven and have changed the perception of women in tech. To me, it was important to have a support system of strong women I admired.
Along with fundraising, I was building out a team. There are so many learning lessons that come with that. I for so long had been an executor but now it was important that I focused on building the right team to execute and provide them the right tools and resources to do so. That was a hard thing for me to get adjusted to. At this stage of a company, you’re not even sure exactly what positions need to be hired for. I made mistakes - a ton of mistakes. I’ve hired people, had to let go of people, and recognized that I will always be a leader that leads with empathy.
Now, I’m here in India taking my first vacation as we close out the year realizing that I’m wrapping up my transition year & moving into a year where my life will now be focused 100% on TINTED, and I couldn’t be happier about this next chapter. It’s what I truly believe I was destined to do. And, I spent my entire career up to this point building up to it.
For anyone who is in their transition year, my biggest advice is to learn from mine and do the following: remove all distractions immediately, recognize the value of your network, don’t neglect self-care, and always remember your purpose along the way.
To my followers through the years who have so willingly welcomed TINTED & joined the #TintFam, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re the reason I’m living out my dreams. You’re the reason this industry will evolve. You’re the reason so many around the world will know they are enough just as they are. I’m fired up for 2019 and hope you are too. I promise you we are just getting started. We will change beauty standards together. Get ready. #livetinted