Carolyn Aronson: Founder & CEO of It’s a 10 Haircare

Episode 289

After experimenting with a multi-product line and then doubling-down on just ONE amazing product, this serial entrepreneur quickly dominated the haircare space… with a product many know and love! Carolyn Aronson, the Founder + CEO of It’s a 10 Haircare, shares how one of the only female-owned professional hair care brands in the world was able to scale from zero to hundreds of millions in sales. Her star product—the Miracle Leave-In treatment—lines the shelves in over 25,000 professional salons and 15,000 professional salon chains. Carolyn takes us through her incredible story including some struggles along the way. So many lessons here! You are going to love listening to this incredible no-nonsense entrepreneur take us on her journey to success. You don’t want to miss listening to this incredible episode. Today on #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be you just want to make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone. It’s Kara Goldin with the Kara Goldin show and I am so thrilled to have my next guest here. She is the founder and CEO of an incredible product that I absolutely love. And we have Carolyn Aronson here who as I said, is the founder and CEO of it’s a 10 haircare and after experimenting with a multi product line and then doubling down on just one amazing product the miracle leave in this serial entrepreneur quickly dominated the haircare space. And like I said, when you hear her story, you’re gonna agree with me that this is one phenomenal entrepreneur, and she has been so gracious with their time to come on and talk to us a little bit more about her story. She is one of the only female owned professional haircare brands in the world. Her products are everywhere lining the shelves and over 25,000 Professional salons throughout the world. And I can’t wait for you to hear more about her journey. So without further ado, welcome, Carolyn.

Carolyn Aronson 1:54
Thank you for having me, Kara. Appreciate it.

Kara Goldin 1:56
Absolutely. So let’s start at the beginning. I’d love for you to share with our listeners who aren’t familiar with your company. What is it’s a 10 haircare so it’s

Carolyn Aronson 2:07
a 10 haircare is a professional haircare brand that I started 18 years ago, I started off as a hairdresser behind the chair, then I migrated into salon ownership. And then I went into hair product manufacturing. So this is a brand that is started in 2006. And started off with one bottle that was very, very, very multifunctional. I was really trying to create simple, easy to use multifunctional haircare that people could actually understand after my frustrations behind the chair, I ended up really wanting to creating something different a little bit outside of the box. And so that’s what I set off to do. Every product does 10 things and they really deliver these kind of miracle results. You pick up a bottle, you use it, and it works. So now we have over 80 skews, and we are a worldwide brand.

Kara Goldin 3:00
Wow. So 10 things, how did you come up with 10?

Carolyn Aronson 3:04
You know, first of all, the name of the company is it’s a 10. So that little cliche phrase really kind of came from me working with the chemist. And when they would send me formulas, I literally would say to him, No, it’s a six, we got to go back to the drawing board, we need to do this, we need to do that. And so eventually that name kind of caught on and then from there, the marketing concept behind it The multifunctional ality of it just kind of led into really bullet pointing multiple things that it does on the back of the bottle. And we figured 10 was a good number, hence the name.

Kara Goldin 3:39
So this didn’t all happen overnight. Can you share a little bit more about Carolyn as a child? And when did you think you were going to go into hair, but then actually become an entrepreneur and then and then start a company, which is a whole other step. But I’d love to hear about Carolyn as a child is

Carolyn Aronson 3:58
Yeah. So you know, it was interesting. I think I always had that entrepreneurial bug. Even as a child. I was always figuring out ways to build an urn, create things like that I was always a very creative person. So that creativity really led I think, to an open mind and my just my passion for wanting to to really build things and accomplish things. I was really, really young. I was eight years old. I declare I wanted to be a hairdresser. I was 16 years old. I declared I wanted to be a salon owner. I was really young with with a mission. I wavered a little bit. I thought it was going to be a nurse for a minute, but then I went right back to hair. So really, it was just the beauty industry was something that I knew I loved from a very young age, and it’s really easy when you do what you love. So that’s a big part. I think of anybody who built empires. I don’t think I really set out to be Um, you know, a billionaire, I didn’t set out to be somebody who created a worldwide brand, I set out to bring something new to an industry that I thought it was lacking. And I set out to really do what I love to do in life. And that’s, you know, really create beauty. And I always say, I just traded my scissors for bottles. I still make people look and feel beautiful. So I just kind of migrated into it as my career grew.

Kara Goldin 5:26
So was there anybody in particular who, who inspired you who you really looked up to?

Carolyn Aronson 5:32
Oh, yeah. I mean, within my industry, the Paul Mitchell brand always was an inspiration for me, because they really, were the first ones to really go mass market within the beauty industry. So I always kind of thought, you know, I hope to be like them someday on every shelf everywhere. And they also raise the bar within the beauty industry. They started off with like, a bottle of shampoo for $6 A bottle, and the whole world was like, Oh, my God, that’s so expensive. I smiled for $1. And so they started, they really were one of the first brands to really kind of raise the bar on a mass sense to the public. So, um, that was definitely one of the brands. But you know, there were so many back, back in the day, when I was a hairdresser, we had a lot of brands that were hairdresser owned and started. And so they weren’t they these big public conglomerates, these big, you know, owned by Procter and Gamble, or L’Oreal. These were these little companies that were started by super creative hairdressers. And that’s really the type of people that inspired me to have the guts to go out. And basically start this from nothing and be up against some of the largest brands and companies in the world. So there were a lot Rusk, I mean, I can name tons of of Big Sexy Hair Salon. brands that were started by hairdressers toning guy, I mean, I can go on and on. These were all people that reasons really inspired me. I’ve been doing hair for 38 years. So these these little companies that came from nothing, these little, these little trades that I think I can I think I can that’s that’s the kind of mentality that inspired me.

Kara Goldin 7:18
I love it. We had Rita Hassan on our show a few months ago, and hers was Oribi. I mean, she worked for him. And it was an I think for her just watching him start a product and, and really made her start to think about,

Carolyn Aronson 7:37
Wow, I’m down here in Miami and actually hung out with him a few times. And yes, another total inspiration.

Kara Goldin 7:44
Yeah, I love that. So. So your backstory? I mean, you went from being a hairdresser to actually starting your own product? I mean, do you remember that day when you just decided I’m gonna go do this? Like, I mean, probably in between working on different people? I mean, did you? Did you just like, how did you think about getting a manufacturer? How did you think about what you were about to embark on?

Carolyn Aronson 8:14
Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, it was not something I really anticipated. You know, behind the chair, I always thought How I wish they made it like this, I wish it would do that. I always thought of maybe creating like a brush line or something, you know, tools or things like that. Did I ever think I would create ad products one day and have this massive brand? No. And what happened at that time was my partner who was in sales of hair products had gotten fired from a company. And he’s like, Come on, let’s start our own line. And I thought about it. I’m like, why not? You know, let’s do it. And so I kind of fell into it. But and so you know, he had more the sales and marketing concepts and mind. But yeah, as far as I created all the packaging, I created all the products, and some of the marketing as well, because I really understood how the consumer would interpret the products. So it kind of just happened, you know, that’s why I always tell people in life. Don’t be upset if you don’t know exactly where you’re going or what you want to do in life. Because sometimes, it’s a process that actually brings you to a point in your career where you might go off a path a little bit, you know what, it may not be such a bad thing. So yeah, that’s that’s how I ended up getting into hair product manufacturing. And the first company we had completely failed and we lost everything. So oh my god, it was quite it was quite a learning experience. So

Kara Goldin 9:45
let’s talk about that for a minute. Because I think obviously people see you as this incredible entrepreneur with, you know, at SKUs and this amazing, amazing company. Knee that has products that are sold worldwide. But you had a failure. Right? You just talked about, you know, and all of the lessons that you learned in there. So can you talk a little bit about that company?

Carolyn Aronson 10:14
Yeah, for sure that the name of the company was link, we started off with nine different products in the line. And it was a lot to start with. And I think that, you know, we learned a lot of hard lessons. In the beginning, we did everything very ala carte, we had multiple vendors that we were trying to simultaneously pull together everything at one time and have it sit so perfectly on the shelf, we had a lot of cute quality control issues, QC issues. So you know, we had labels that bubbled we had sprayers, that wouldn’t spray, we had products that shot out of the bottles, I mean, we just had all different kinds of issues. And it wasn’t that the products were necessarily really bad. It was that we just had a lot of simultaneous quality control issues all at once. And so, you know, we, we learned a lot of hard lessons, we, we learned that, you know, not always trying to do everything yourself, is the best way to do it. You know, it’s like, I always like, I always look at like Home Depot, right? You know, you walk into the store, and everything’s under one roof. Well, when I work with vendors, I try to find vendors like that, you know, come bring multiple talents to me, that I can work with that are all under one roof that helps to, you know, keep things cohesive, that if you have quality control issues, they’ll be more responsible for them and help you get through them. Rather than, you know, it’s like, you know, when you when you have multiple ingredients coming together to make a great recipe, sometimes it’s, it’s great to get the ingredients from one vendor, because if there’s a bad ingredient in there, you need him to step up and really kind of help you get through maybe, you know, suddenly fly in some bottles or do whatever they got to do to help you get through those hard times in manufacturing. As we all know, manufacturing has a tremendous amount of cohesiveness to it, I always call it the meeting of the minds. And sometimes you can have really smart people over there, and really smart people over there. But if they’re not talking to each other, and there’s not cohesiveness behind it, you can really run into some major issues. So that was one of the things I think I learned through it all is that don’t try to do it all yourself. And really try to work with vendors that one have the ability and the power to stand up and help you if things go awry. And two ones that can maybe offer you multiple services under one roof, your graphic design is comes from your bottling company and it’s like, you know, you can get the whole package delivered to you. It’s one stop shop, rather than trying, oh, I’m gonna go label over here or cap over there.

Kara Goldin 12:49
And again, until you’ve actually done it until you’re actually in it, a lot of the stuff that you’re talking about, seems like okay, I’m gonna go piece these things together. But then, you know, an inning, especially over the last couple of years, I can imagine if you’re piecing things together, you’ve got to figure out gas price differences, right versus, I mean, there’s lots of things that can come into play along the way that could interrupt thinks

Carolyn Aronson 13:17
about all the ingredients that go into one bottle total, there are there are so many ingredients in one product. And for instance, we had an issue with silicones, there was a silicone factory in Europe that perked up, the majority of the supply dissipated because of the tragic incident. And when that happened at that same time COVID was hitting and most of the silicone was going to hospitals, it was going to, you know, things that needed this particular ingredient stead of the beauty industry, we were on the back burner. So you know when when things like that happen, how are you going to get through them? And I mean, there’s a million things like that in manufacturing. So you really need really good partners, and we sourced things worldwide, and we were able to find it. But how do you step up to the plate like that when shit hits, so to speak, happens all the time.

Kara Goldin 14:13
Well, and I think you’re also talking about diversifying, you know, where your source comes from when I hear that people have one source for something. It’s very, very scary. So

Carolyn Aronson 14:26
that’s how I learned that lesson hard to Yeah, it took me two years but yeah, you definitely. Especially what’s what’s going on worldwide right now, right? I mean, all you need is, you know, for suddenly one country to get really mad at the other and they decide they’re not going to supply you with something and you’re in predicament. So absolutely diversifying yourself as far as all of your sources, and there’s a lot of like I said ingredients to the recipe. When you see that one bottle sitting on the shelf. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into it so have to think about those things.

Kara Goldin 15:02
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Carolyn Aronson 17:21
back up? Crazy. I look back and I think doing like am I completely inept to I’m just like completely inept to fear or something I must have been nuts, because we literally had $80,000 We split it and then we put it back into this this new one bottle, the fact that we even thought we’d get anywhere with one bottle, I mean, usually have to have at least a couple skews, right. But we had this one bottle, we bought close out bottles, we got discontinued, you know, pumps, we had, you know, I mean, we just piece this thing together and launched it. And we were just all gung ho and excited. Again, and I look back and I think, oh my god, we were crazy. But when you have when you have that passion, and you have that love for what you do, I think that it just comes natural. And I I do realize I do have a sense of I think any entrepreneur literally has an Oblivion to fear. They have to, they have to have a certain Oblivion to fear. It is the only way that you kind of get through some of the things that you encounter, especially in the beginning. And so I really look at it as just kind of having this mindset of not looking at as a roadblock, but looking at as a challenge and how do I overcome it and getting creative about how I do it. So that’s I think is continued on. We just figured okay, we didn’t that didn’t work out, let’s let’s move on and figure out how we can make it work.

Kara Goldin 18:59
Your main product that you are talking about the miracle leavin, if somebody is not familiar with, with your company, what’s so special about that product? And what were you trying to do when I mean, you’re still I view your company as a mission based company that has a purpose, right? You are solving a problem for many people that are trying to change something about their hair. Right. And so talk to me a little bit about that. Yes,

Carolyn Aronson 19:32
yeah. So that particular product, you know, within our industry, we have what I call golden formulas. And this is definitely a golden formula within the industry. It’s a formula that can probably be around 4050 years from now and still be an amazing seller. That’s the level that it’s at. And so I really set out to create a product that was not only multifunctional, but can be used on many different types of hair products, hair types, and really create an instant result. And I say what I ended up creating was a third step to every woman’s morning, our man’s morning, are really a hairdressers step when they actually do hair. So it’s shampoo, conditioner and miracle leave in product. And what happens is it truly transforms the hair instantly, create slip, shine, helps the hair get healthier, brings back its own natural elasticity. So listen, within 1530 days, you’ve transformed that head of hair and people, they go, they’re going out and they’re getting the confidence. People are saying, Oh my God, what did you do to your hair, it looks healthy, it looks shiny. I’m a firm believer and healthy hair is hair that really will do anything you choose it to do that day, whether it’s straight, curly, whatever, however you’re styling it that day, if it’s a healthy head of hair, it’s going to behave better. And people are noticing that instantly, when they start using it, we sell over 17 million bottles a year of this product. And I now have eight different versions I build entire collections around them. So we have for for coily hair, we have a for blonde hair, we have a for chemically treated hair, we have it for the deep condition, I mean, all these different versions that that really kind of add the little touch to that we have a for white light hair for fine hair. So people who would never think about conditioning their hair, because it’s fine, they can use my products. I think all my years behind the chair using 1000s and products, touching 1000s of heads has really given me that 10,000 Hour Rule, and how to know how to create products that work. And so this is definitely a golden formula within the industry. We’ve just been really blessed with it organically growing because I didn’t have the big budgets, I didn’t have had to get really creative. And how I built this brand and connected with people that was they were just organically in love with the product itself. And they are to this day.

Kara Goldin 21:56
Well, I think it starts with the product and having a great product and you’ve obviously created that. But then it also takes a special founder or entrepreneur, it takes the right team to actually build the company too. What have you enjoyed most about being an entrepreneur?

Carolyn Aronson 22:18
I think like you mentioned the team, the team is a major, major part, the people you surround yourself with, you know, in my company, we almost become like this little family and the camaraderie we have, and the really the the end, the end goal we’re all working towards. And when we achieve it, you know, I had someone who works for me the other day just say to me, you know, I just I’m so happy to be on a winning team. And, you know, I love that works for a lot of different companies and you know what, it’s when when things are moving great and flowing, and everyone’s creating and everyone’s helping to create this end kind of result. And it works. And I’ll tell you I I also am a firm believer in doing not only business with a purpose for beauty, but business with a purpose with giving back not just a business to consume, not just a business say hi I’m going to I want to make myself rich kind of a thing. I not only do I like to make people look and feel beautiful but I also really enjoy having the tool to be able to make a difference and give back to the world because of of the creations you know that that have people have embraced and loved. So I’m a firm believer and this kind of karmic circle that happens so like a little example, Christina Applegate back way back 2007 I think I just started the company publicly spoke about my brand on People Magazine for free 10 Top things she loved miracle leave in product and I’m I connected with Twitter back then it just started I’m like I said I’m the owner of the company. I’m so thankful that you were so generous just to mention my company and I want to get back to you I created a breast cancer awareness bottle. I made a million bottles and they sold out within two weeks and I donated proceeds to her breast cancer foundation so I believe in really karmic things like that. And things like that help build the company because it’s all it flows you know

Kara Goldin 24:28
No, I absolutely love that when you thought about distribution as well so you started what was your first salon that you were in that you had your products and

Carolyn Aronson 24:38
so we were fortunate enough to get into beauty Systems Group which is a Sally Beauty holdings professional sector of Sally Beauty holdings so we they took our product on because they had lost L’Oreal at the time. Oh wow. They were they needed a product and they were like, alright, we’ll give it a try. And one of the head guys they’re trying to do Like this pretty cool product, we’ll put it on the shelf. So we gave out literally millions of bottles, the first couple years. That’s how I built this company, I gave out free samples to hairdressers in the hairdressers who loved it. And so, because I didn’t have any marketing budgets or anything else, so it kind of came in the back door. And, you know, that was the beginning. And then in 2017, I became the sole owner of the company. And that’s been a really interesting journey, because I bought my partner out, I basically had to kind of start over and really talking about distribution I hadn’t, he was mainly sales and distribution and I was developing. Well, once I own the product, I was able to really incorporate my concepts for sales and distribution, which were quite different than his. So I started over, I expanded, I went worldwide actually cross expanded throughout the United States, I took on salon centric, as well as BSG. So yeah, I did it really, really different. And I kind of broke a lot of rules, and it worked. So we have more than doubled in the last five years, since I’ve taken it over.

Kara Goldin 26:06
So when you think about rules, like what were the rules that you weren’t supposed to break that you did?

Carolyn Aronson 26:13
Well, let’s put it this way. I think previously, the brand was maybe a little bit leery about possibly stepping on toes or, you know, it’s it was definitely more, you know, it’s all about how much kind of power you have in distribution and how you can actually expand that distribution. So as we were young and growing, we had to be careful, we wanted to keep our distributors happy and keep that relationship, you know, flowing as, as we became a little bit bigger, I think we didn’t really come from a position of power like we should have. And as you grow you you have that power, and you have the ability to really cross distribute as well, as you know, the way I looked at it is I had built this company from nothing. And I decided I was going to drive my own bus. And I was going to be behind the wheel. And I was going to decide how this company was going to be run, and how it was going to be marketed. And I got really kind of unique ways of distribution I expanded. I started an E commerce, e commerce platform, which is now massive. We had nothing in 2017. So I just really did a lot of different things that I think at that time brands were a little bit afraid to do. And thank God I did it because during COVID It kept my company alive.

Kara Goldin 27:39
Yeah, no, absolutely. And your site, your online site is terrific. So it’s, it’s yeah, it’s really, really great. Well, I can’t leave this podcast without mentioning that you just had your fifth child, which you and I were talking about before. Congratulations, I absolutely love that

Carolyn Aronson 28:00
fortunate enough not to have to burn them all. The first three I didn’t burn, but there’s still mine. We have a blended family and and it’s a blessing. What can I say? I think it’s great that 50 is the new 30. And, you know, in today’s world, I mean, it’s much more doable, I think, than in the past. And so I hope that if anything, I inspire women, not to give up not to be afraid and to make those choices when you’re ready for them not because you have to, you know,

Kara Goldin 28:33
no, I absolutely love that. What do you hope she knows about you? I have four children of my own. And I think about that a lot i i You know, share with many entrepreneurs and friends of mine that I think it’s it’s no matter what we do, or how many awards we get, or how well known we are right? You want your children to know, you know who you are and what you care about. And that’s why you’re doing this and what would you say,

Carolyn Aronson 29:05
you know, I hope my I hope my legacy will speak for itself. I try to live by example. You know, I’ve learned one thing in life if you try to lecture your kids too much. It’s like you say black, they say white I hope to show her really what life should be and how you should be here trying to make a difference in this world no matter what you do. But ultimately, I think what I hope she gets to learn and see is that if anyone sets her mind to something, they can achieve it you know, especially girl power all the way while about girl power. I love and so yeah, I mean, if anything, I hope that that she gets to understand I have a 15 year old daughter as well and I’m really kind of I’m starting to really see the seeds that I planted girl. So I think that you know the best thing you could do is live by Example. And, you know, I’m in real estate for fun, and I flip homes and someone once asked me, So how are you teaching your kids to do this? And I said, I’m not really lecturing them or teaching them, you know, I’m showing them by example. And I kind of teach them get ready to move, because flipping houses Yeah, you know, don’t get attached to anything too much. Just kind of, you’d be surprised how much they pick up when they’re around you, and how they end up kind of just learning by seeing. So

Kara Goldin 30:33
well, I love that and you are so inspirational, just everything that you’ve done, and all of your resilience and how you’ve gotten back up. And I am so honored that you agreed to come and share your story with us.

Carolyn Aronson 30:49
I’m so honored to be here as well. I’m so impressed by obviously, what you’ve accomplished. And I hope we get to chat offline sometime, because I’m sure we have a lot of stories to share.

Kara Goldin 30:59
Absolutely. Well, thank you again, and thanks, everybody for listening. And definitely some great insights here that you’ve given us, Carolyn. So thank you so much for the conversation, and we will put all of the links in the podcast as well. Yes, thank you again.

Carolyn Aronson 31:18
Thank you, Kara.

Kara Goldin 31:19
Thanks all for listening to this episode. We hope you enjoyed it. And I want to thank all of our guests and our sponsors. And finally our listeners keep the great comments coming in. And one final plug. If you have not read or listened to my book undaunted, please do so you will hear all about my journey, including founding, scaling and building the company that I founded. Hint we are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks everyone for listening, and goodbye for now. Before we sign off, I want to talk to you about fear. People like to talk about fearless leaders. But achieving big goals isn’t about fearlessness. Successful leaders recognize their fears and decide to deal with them head on in order to move forward. This is where my new book undaunted comes in. This book is designed for anyone who wants to succeed in the face of fear, overcome doubts and live a little undaunted. Order your copy today at undaunted, the and learn how to look your doubts and doubters in the eye and achieve your dreams. For a limited time. You’ll also receive a free case of Pentwater Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara Goldin and let me know. And if you liked what you heard, please leave me a review on Apple podcasts. You can also follow along with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn at Kara Goldin. Thanks for listening