Divya Gugnani – Co-Founder and CEO of Wander Beauty

Episode 151

Divya Gugnani! Divya is the CEO and Co-Founder of Wander Beauty, a company that’s been trailblazing new paths for clean, cruelty-free, and essential beauty products. We talk about how she got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug and how a personal pain point in her beauty routine led to Wander Beauty. Hear more about her inspiring story on #TheKaraGoldinShow

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Transcript

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 just sort of make sure you will get knocked down but just make sure you don’t get knocked out knocked out. So your

only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi,

everyone, and welcome to the Kara golden show. So 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. Its Kara golden from the Kara golden show. And I’m super super excited. I’ve been fangirling over her products for years. I had it originally on one of my favorite sites net a porter. But I have Divya good Nani from wander beauty here. And I’m so so thrilled to have her as my next guest. So just a little bit about her She is the co founder of wander beauty, which has been trailblazing new paths for clean, cruelty free and essential beauty products. And she started for companies She was also in banking for years, we’ll talk a little bit about that and some of her background and how that has really helped her to build the business that she loves. And she’s also an author, co author, lady friend over here, sexy women eat secrets to eating what you want and still looking fabulous. I absolutely love that. You’re an author as well. Very, very cool. We’re going to hear a little bit about that. And more than anything, how you just manage this crazy career. You’re a New Yorker or living in New York. We’ll talk a little bit more about that. But Welcome. I’m happy to be here. Super, super, super excited. So talk to me a little bit about where did Divya get started? Like where Who was she when she was, you know, little girl.

Divya Gugnani 2:11
I was in Springfield, Illinois, where no one was gonna find me. I was born in Springfield, Illinois. My father worked for the government, which is why we were there. He actually came over from Indiana for grad school. He had an arranged marriage with my mom. And then he lost his job in the government and he became an entrepreneur. And when he started his business, and we were in Springfield, Illinois, it grew to a point where he felt like we needed to move to New York. So we moved to New York, when I was about three and a half. And I primarily grew up in Long Island, which is kind of suburbs of Manhattan, and then went to Cornell studied public policy, thought I was going to be a lawyer. I’m sure my parents would have been much happier if I told them I wanted to be a doctor. You know, those Indian parents, they hold out. You have to be like engineer, doctor or your top lover. And so I did an internship in investment banking, in college, I loved it. And then I took a job at Goldman Sachs and worked at Goldman Sachs for a few years and worked in private equity. I invested in late stage businesses, then worked in venture capital, investing in early stage businesses, then got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. And as you mentioned, I’ve started and co founded four businesses since then, and I’m a die hard entrepreneur, I love entrepreneurship. It’s just something that drives me and I thrive on and I have my own investment fund as well called concept to co where I invest in kind of pre seed to Series B, consumer companies, mainly some of the brands that you know that you’ve had guests on your show.

Kara Goldin 3:48
How did you get the first bite, as you said that like the the itch to go out and be an entrepreneur, you know, it’s

Divya Gugnani 3:54
so bizarre. I didn’t want to be an entrepreneur. I am an accidental entrepreneur, I did not want to have the instability and the stress of being an entrepreneur because I know a lot of it is glamorized in the press. Like it’s so fabulous. Like, it’s really, really hard work. He works seven days a week, the thankless job, and I love it, but it’s hard stuff. So I was dating someone and he was not really working or figuring out what he wants to do with his career. And so I started a company for him and was like, here, we’re gonna start this company, and you’re gonna work and do something besides sit on my couch. Yes, exactly. And that was the whole idea. And little did I notice this little company. They started out in my Manhattan apartment on 36th Street would grow to be a multimillion dollar business that we would sell

Kara Goldin 4:38
and what was the name of that company?

Divya Gugnani 4:40
It was called Porsche parts and we had an you know, auto parts business where we sold aftermarket Auto Parts primarily on eBay but also on to other bigger autoparts chains. It was crazy, but you know, I’d handled the e commerce and handled a lot of the fulfillment, the shipping, the customer service, all that stuff. I got the chance to kind of get my head into everything and learn it. But then after that, and you know that experience, I ended up starting a company in the culinary space. I’d gone to culinary school between undergrad and Business School, and then a tech company that was focused on fashion accessories. And now wonder beauty. So all different industries,

Kara Goldin 5:19
totally different industries. I love that I think that there’s this idea that when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to like pick an industry. I mean, I think that I was actually speaking at a business school, when my book launch last October, and I was invited in to speak, and they’re actually rewriting their curriculum, because I said, that, you know, the problem is, is that you’re teaching people that they have to, you know, go be an entrepreneur and tack and go be an entrepreneur and beauty when actually the best entrepreneurs, actually, are entrepreneurs, but they cross lanes, right?

Divya Gugnani 5:53
100% entrepreneurs see things other others don’t see, they take risks that others don’t take, but it’s a DNA. It’s like, you know, they see problems and they create companies to solve them.

Kara Goldin 6:05
100% I totally, totally agree. And so, wander beauty, as I mentioned, is this, it has this amazing slew of products. I can’t even you know, actually your eyeliner to is rock star. I mean, it’s it’s so nice. And it’s not so hard that it’s like

Divya Gugnani 6:24
impolite. It’s called slide liner for a reason. Yeah, the brand is pretty much you know, it came out of a personal pain point, my co founder, Lindsay and I met at a party, we were both like struggling with our beauty routines. I had two children within two years. And when I had those kids actually was diagnosed with autoimmune disease right before that. And I had suffered from a lot of different chemical allergies, I couldn’t use any of the personal care and beauty products that I was using. I was only using things were natural and organic, and they were lackluster in performance. And as I say, my condition started to improve and I could actually incorporate safe synthetics into my routine, I started looking like a human like a kind of polished human like 25% better than what I normally look like. And so I was always in search for clean beauty. For me clean beauty is really where it’s at. We’re certified clean at Sephora, you know, clean it net, a port a clean at Nordstrom, all these other retailer partners that we have. And what I wanted was one brand as a career mom of two kids who literally drink a glass of Cabernet at night and wants to get on her iPhone and admitted in 30 seconds wants to buy what she needs and have it delivered to her doorstep. Because you know, I’m also an Amazon Prime customer and just need everything else all the time. I just like to swim in packages. And I wanted to have one brand record just get fast, free, foolproof, do it yourself beauty, clean beauty essential things you reach for every day cross category across, you know, powerful skincare that’s clinically proven. And you know, performance makeup that gonna last all day, and a limited assortment of hair and body and I wanted one place where you can get clean beauty essentials that you reach for every day. Wherever you wander. I love it. I

Kara Goldin 8:04
love your your shampoo and body wash, I’m always telling I’m always telling my husband actually, whenever we’re traveling, he’s like, okay, which one’s the body wash. And I’m like, it’s the same stuff like

Divya Gugnani 8:17
your labor of love. You know, I really love all inclusive and scenic route. Those are like sleepers in our regimen that people don’t know about. But I love that you love it. And every week, my friend who’s a celebrity, makeup artist, Jamie Greenberg, she’s like, it is amazing how well you do hair. And she’s like, it’s amazing how well, you do color and skin and like, you really have to have that lens of like, we’re a beauty brand. We’re servicing the modern woman who’s time starved, and on the go, we want to hit each category with real performance. And so we had to do it really well or not do it at all.

Kara Goldin 8:49
So how’s your entrepreneurial style changed over time as you’ve gained, you know, more experience and gone into different industries,

Divya Gugnani 8:59
it has changed dramatically. So I used to be the entrepreneur used to do everything herself. When I first started my first business, I was like, I have to check every PL I have to check every single dollar I checked the financials line by line, like I just was so meticulous and detail oriented, which is a Virgo, you know, tendency, right, I will say. But as I have developed more strong gut intuition, and built and scaled companies, I’ve learned that I can, you know, think strategy, think opportunities, think partnership, and bring amazing team members on to hand a lot of the execution and my role has changed dramatically even at wander and the last. You know, it’s been five years that we’ve been running the business and we hired a President last year and just alleviating a lot of the day to day responsibilities I used to handle so granularly has been an amazing journey for me personally to then actually have time to sit back and to think about what does the next three years look like what are the next five years look like and be able to think out of the box and be creative and think strategy. So AI, early days execution, execution, execution, buses moving forward, wheels are falling off, kinda just like make the Bus go forward. And now it’s more about you know what Jeff Bezos says when he’s someone cracked, congratulates him on a good quarter. And he’s like, don’t graduate me. Like, this quarter was like thought about like two years ago. He’s congratulate the team that delivered the quarter. He’s like, I’m thinking two years ahead. So you know, that’s kind of the mentality I want to get into. I’m not there yet, but we’re working on it.

Kara Goldin 10:33
I love it. How many people on your team? You know,

Divya Gugnani 10:35
I think we’re kind of mid 20s. Now maybe high 20s. I love we’ve hired a lot during COVID and kind of changed our talent a bit. But I’m excited to build and grow.

Kara Goldin 10:46
So you sell you mentioned some of the places that you sell and then you sell you direct direct to

Divya Gugnani 10:50
consumer. Yeah, direct to consumers on number one storefront is our number one area of focus is DTC.

Kara Goldin 10:56
Why do you think that’s important to beauty brands? To have, you know, that relationship, that direct relationship with the consumer,

Divya Gugnani 11:05
I think it’s important for any brand for us in particular, when we first launched our brand, we surveyed 100 women, and we asked them what their pain points were in the reading routine. And these women were 18 to 72. And we wanted to know all the problems, what do you hate about your current beauty regimen? Oh, I have one trick wonders. And oh, I have foundation in a glass bottle, I can’t take on a plane that’s going to explode. You know, I want things that have built an applicator. So I don’t have to bring a powder and a brush, I want cream and sticks that I can do in the back of a car. So we learned so much from these community members. And we formulated and created products that were multitaskers that would save them time, save them space and save the money. So every multitasker we’ve created at one really has been really originated from the community. And so it feels only sensible that a they participate in the journey of creating it. So they help us decide the packaging. They vote on it. They you know, different community members are testing early versions of formulas. The customer is so deeply ingrained in the wander beauty product development process that ultimately selling directly to her. It makes the most sense. And having that direct two way communication on what’s working, what’s not working, what they like, what they don’t like, we have to own that feedback loop. And the way to do it is to have a DTC business.

Kara Goldin 12:26
Yeah, absolutely. And I think anybody who has not figured that out, given the pandemic and you know, is relying on sort of somebody else to sell their products you know, when stores close when you don’t really understand the financials of some of the partners that you’re partnering with whatever it is, I think is they’ve got their head in the sand and and that people definitely need to figure out how to not only work with these partners, because they are really important aspects of their business. I mean, certainly over over 50% of our business by the way is direct to consumer for our beverage which is very unusual, very unusual. And but we you know, we’re in Costco, nationwide and target as well as Whole Foods and you know, it’s in as well as in many offices Not at the moment because everything’s shut down but it’s

Divya Gugnani 13:23
as well as my home. Yeah, throw that in there.

Kara Goldin 13:27
Yeah, so but it’s it’s so so important. So in terms of social I always feel like especially for for your category is Instagram like gold,

Divya Gugnani 13:37
Instagram is definitely helpful, I will say Facebook too, we really try and replicate the in store experience with digital narrative and digital storytelling. So while you’re not going into a store to physically test and try our makeup and see the coverage and the payoff and the colors and the pigment, or skincare and see the texture, the slip the viscosity, and here the ingredient story, we use video to do a lot of digital storytelling and just show all of that on real people. So before afters of mascara and showing you amazing differences and you know beautiful long lashes and complexion covering your acne age spots sunspots rosacea treating hyperpigmentation with you know an overnight retinoid skincare product so we’re doing a lot of that digital storytelling which happens yes on Instagram and on and on Facebook

Kara Goldin 14:29
so influencers the question of the hour right yeah, so are influencers here to stay? Are they are they challenging?

Divya Gugnani 14:38
You listen when my husband who was a generation ahead of me, you know asked me for Mother’s Day what I want for Mother’s Day and he’s touched like literally dming me ads from his Instagram feed of things that he should buy me like then you know influencers are here to stay like um, like he literally he follows female fashion influencers. I don’t know if he’s like checking them out or what he’s doing. But, you know, it’s fascinating that generationally and across genders or gender fluidity, everyone is seeking to tastemakers to influence their purchasing decisions. And so it’s happening. It’s here. And so we’re not, you know, just relying on magazines or print magazine, forget it. I don’t remember the last time I looked at one, or online magazines, I were we are relying on friends, family and influencers, to be tastemakers to put everything into our skin, our hair, our body, our minds, and our homes. And so, you know, that’s what’s happening. And I think that’s going to continue. I think the authenticity and the transparency in this industry is evolving. But you know, beauty influencers, like a lot of beauty influencers that I would follow, like I used to trust and love, but when they’re talking about a new product every 30 seconds, I don’t know which one they’re getting paid for, and which when they’re talking about authentically, like a little confusing, the lines are blurred. So I like people who are I like micro influencers in particular? Because I feel like there’s a level of trust there.

Kara Goldin 16:06
Yeah, definitely. Don’t give away any of your influencers for the beauty industry. But for other industries fashion industry, who do you love Coco

Divya Gugnani 16:14
cashmere, she’s my favorite Coco cashmere is I just had lunch with her yesterday, by the way, and we became Instagram friends, and like we met in real life. So IRL happened, it turns out, she actually went to Cornell to and was in my college and was in my sorority, which is bizarre. But I love that she just goes to target and dhara and starts pulling things off the rack, and then tells you how to style them. And I’m like, I don’t know any of this, please tell me I need to know, kind of like, I’m

Unknown Speaker 16:39
happy to shop at Target and

Divya Gugnani 16:40
Zara. So this is like, great. It’s like up my alley. So I really like that I like people who are just, she’s grown exponentially. She has an engaged community that trusts her. And that’s what I love. I love that. I’ll

Kara Goldin 16:54
definitely definitely check her out. So very, very cool. So your, you know, your backstory of being in finance, and then starting your own company. I feel like that must have given you. I guess a lot of not only information, but also confidence because I think it’s so scary to people. I talk to founders all the time who are going out and trying to raise money. What do you think you knew that maybe other founders don’t know what when they’re going out to raise money?

Divya Gugnani 17:26
A couple things. One is have confidence. So many female founders that pitch me sometimes they’re just like, my ideas, not there. I’m not quite there. I’m not really sure. I’m like, don’t, don’t be not sure. Because if you’re not sure that I’m not sure about you, Hello, I’m not writing a check. If you don’t believe in yourself, how am I going to believe in you to then recruit the right talent to deliver this business, like deliver this business and gross and results. And then by the way, have vendors trust you and have customers trust you, you have to believe in yourself first. So confidence, I think is the most important thing. And I knew that and learned it up front. The other thing is like knowing how much money to raise, classic founder mistake, too many founders raise money too quickly burns a hole in their pocket, and they spend too much too early. And there’s the downfalls of business, we’ve seen so many businesses that have been over capitalized and haven’t sold at the venture valuations and then have been, you know, tragic for investors. So I say, raise what you need, and 10 to 15% more, which is mistake capital, and then take it in stages, phase it through, take a little bit, see what it does for you. And take it from there your product market fit, you need a little bit of money to scale scale, you really like need more capital to scale, you take a little bit more to just do it in phases.

Kara Goldin 18:44
I totally agree. I think that you know, and, and also have have a lawyer because the devils in the details, the number of times that I’ve seen, you know, everybody was so nice. And then you know, until they’re not right. And I think that that’s that’s just a whole other learning to this is Yeah,

Divya Gugnani 19:05
businesses are super easy to run when times are good, because everyone’s smiling and happy and cheering you on. And when COVID happens and you have pandemics and difficulty, then you really see the true colors of who your investors are.

Kara Goldin 19:16
Yeah, and their business people too. And it’s just you know, and oftentimes it’s, you know, I can’t say that it isn’t personal, though, probably feels that way. But then it’s it’s also a matter of, you know, I’ve got the cards and you don’t and I mean, I’ve seen this over the years so often and I’m often the the phone call to people when they, you know, phone a friend and I’m like, this is bad, you know, and it’s just and I I totally get a good lawyer like in the beginning not not when you really, really really need it. I mean, get it before and make sure that you really understand what that document says. So that’s my two bits of advice. So beauty industry, what happens at COVID roaring 20s

Divya Gugnani 20:01
for makeup, it’s going to come back in a big way people are going to start going out having all weddings that were postponed are going to happen events, bar mitzvahs, wedding anniversaries, like all these birthdays are all going to be in a grand scale, and people gonna be wearing more makeups. I see that coming back. And I think

Kara Goldin 20:21
the

Divya Gugnani 20:22
conversion to buy online and all those customers who started buying online or started buying online more frequently during COVID are going to continue to stick with the digital channel more than store. I think they’re just, you know, that is here to stay. That’s a permanent trend. And I really think that the customer who’s become intellectual and started taking care of their skin during COVID, or taking better care of their skin during COVID will continue to do so we’ll continue to see that trend of people investing in their skin.

Kara Goldin 20:51
I totally agree. How do you think your your product? What do you see this? You know, this next generation Gen Z is just getting into the workforce, right? They’re graduating, they’re, I actually have four Gen Z’s so

Unknown Speaker 21:07
I hey,

Kara Goldin 21:08
yeah. So I’m, I’m your, your focus group. So I have two girls and two boys. And God. Yeah, so three in college and one in high school. And, anyway, but how do you think the Gen Z generation in terms of beauty varies from millennials?

Divya Gugnani 21:28
I think they vary dramatically. I think that they are purpose driven. I think they, when they buy a product, they really feel like it’s a reflection of who they are. And so they want to buy brands that create value in their lives, but also are aligned with their ethos and values. And so I think that Gen Z cares about and particularly in beauty, cares about ingredients, cares about formulations, working with their skin, not against it. They’re not as heavy makeup users, they are more focused on sustainability. I think these are all big things that we’re seeing from our customers that are Gen Z customers. And, and, you know, gotta pay attention to that. And I think they’re more focused on good for you good for the planet.

Kara Goldin 22:10
I totally agree. I think there’s, there’s one other thing that I’ve definitely seen and I’ve talked a bit about is that they have so much knowledge about who developed companies way more. And so I think that getting your story out there and you know, you are, in many ways, an influencer, right? You are. I mean, they know, you know, Ilan Musk, you know, you love him or hate him for Gen Z years. He, he’s the dude. Like, I mean, he’s the guy that you know, reached for the stars and, you know, did stuff that is just people, the number of Jen’s ears that I’ve met that know that guy’s story, way more than I do, like, you know, obviously, I know what he’s done. And it’s incredible. But it’s so interesting, how Gen Z years are really interested in kind of backstories. And I think it’s it, you will definitely see and obviously, you have an incredible story of why you founded the company. But I think that we will see for companies that maybe don’t have that story, don’t have a why I think that it’s going to start to really show. So it’ll, it’ll be very interesting. So anyway, I love it. So what so what’s next for you guys?

Divya Gugnani 23:31
Well, we have something big in the works right now we have a big new launch coming out. And it’s something that we’ve we’re doing our first brand campaign, we’ve never done a brand campaign before. And the campaign is all around being bright, and being brighter and focusing on other entrepreneurs just like you love to tell the stories of entrepreneurs, I do the same fantastic crew of you know, female entrepreneurs, some women of color, we’re going to be telling their stories and how they brighten their own lives and other people’s lives. We have a really an amazing new multitasker that’s launching that’s got really innovative science behind it, that we’ve worked on this formulation for years. So I’m so happy to finally see it come out. And so that’s next in the short term. But I think in the long term, it’s about building the brand. continuing to build our DTC business here in the US building our global footprint we’re now globally available all through Sephora, Southeast Asia. We’re in net a port a and cult beauty in Europe, continuing to build that European footprint and you know, really, also just digitally growing our footprint across the entire world.

Kara Goldin 24:36
I love it. And I I have to ask you about the book that you that you wrote. So talk to me about that.

Divya Gugnani 24:44
I wrote a book called sexy women eight. I’m a huge food fanatic. I grew up cooking. I went to culinary school at the French Culinary Institute. I used to host of short form TV show on food on NBC local so I did all the local markets and I am just like a food fanatic. And so I wrote this book all about, you know, my love of food and my relationship with food, which I continue to have because I love to cook and I love to eat.

Kara Goldin 25:11
That’s awesome. When did the book come out?

Divya Gugnani 25:13
Oh my god,

I don’t even 2009 maybe or 2010 long time ago.

Unknown Speaker 25:20
That’s awesome. And you’re still you’re still selling it and you know, it’s like, right it’s crazy at a long tail. That’s amazing. So great. Well, Divya, you are incredible. And again, everybody needs to go out and buy some water beauty products go check it out. I was actually in Sephora the last weekend and saw a bunch of it as well. And it is one incredible product that is just so essential. And I love the cruelty free factor to it as well. You can feel good. buying it and putting it on and and giving it to your kids as well. So

Divya Gugnani 25:58
beauty and cruelty free and you definitely have to try the baggage claim goldeye masks, that’s a hero. It’s you know, they deep puffed, hydrate and brighten your under eyes. It’s like coffee for your face.

Unknown Speaker 26:08
I love it. So, so great. Well, thanks, everybody. And thank you Divya. And thanks, everybody for listening. And please give your five stars and come back and see us. We’re here every Monday and Wednesday with incredible founder and CEO stories and we’re just having an amazing time getting lots of stories out about founders. Hopefully, everybody is learning tons from people’s stories that I think are just so so important to know about. So thank you again, Divya.

Divya Gugnani 26:40
Amazing. Thank

you for having me. Take care.

Kara Goldin 26:43
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 book calm 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 hint water. Do you have a question for me or want to nominate an innovator to spotlight send me a tweet at Kara golden 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 golden golden thanks for listening