Fiona Co Chan: Co-Founder & CEO of Youthforia

Episode 513

In this episode, Fiona Co Chan, co-founder and CEO of Youthphoria, shares her journey of starting a makeup brand that focuses on fun, sustainability, and products you can sleep in. What more could anyone ask for? The beauty brand aims to combine skincare benefits with long-lasting makeup, filling a gap in the market. Fiona discusses the success of their viral TikTok product, the challenges of formulating products without prior experience, and the importance of sustainability in the beauty industry. She also shares her experience on Shark Tank and the growth of Youthphoria's product line. Fiona emphasizes the need for founders to trust their gut and stay true to their vision. So much inspiration and wisdom in this episode. Now on this episode of #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 from the Kara Goldin show. And I am so thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Fiona Co Chan, who is the co founder and CEO of an incredible company called Youthphoria. And if you’re not familiar with Youthphoria, you’re going to be so excited. Well, regardless, if you are familiar, you’re going to be excited to hear all about everything that she’s doing, including her journey on her way to actually get to starting this company. But this is not just another beauty brand. It’s a game changer in the world of cosmetics focusing on fun and sustainability and products you can actually sleep in. So if I’ve got your interest now, definitely. You heard that right sleep in. So this is such an inspiring story. It’s formulations that are not only skin loving, but also environmentally conscious, too. And her commitment to positive impact makes Fiona a standout leader in the entrepreneurial world. So without further ado, let’s welcome Fiona.

Fiona Co Chan 1:46
Man, thank you so much for having me. Yeah, totally. So

Kara Goldin 1:49
super excited to have you on the show. So before we jump into Youthphoria, can you share a bit about what you were doing before starting your terrific company?

Fiona Co Chan 1:59
Yeah, before entrepreneurship. And before Youthphoria, I used to work at tech startups. And I used to basically sell extremely complex software to data centers, it couldn’t be anything more different than what I’m doing now with Youthphoria. And I remember my job basically had me traveling all around the world, really just selling software. And I would go to some of these really, really polluted cities around the world where data centers were and that kind of started my idea for you for you, because I would get on these long 14 hour plane rides and always sleep on my makeup, and then I’d also be exposed to like a level of pollution that I had never experienced before. And I realized my skin and my makeup just wouldn’t work in those environments. That’s

Kara Goldin 2:42
That’s crazy. So this actually came from an experience that you were having in a totally different industry. Yeah,

Fiona Co Chan 2:50
a little bit. Yeah, I remember just number one always falling asleep in my makeup even before Youthphoria. I think like college days, I was always just so guilty of studying or partying and you know, waking up the next day, a full face of makeup on and then having like really bad breakouts, but in my working career, or at least early in my working career, but always also fall asleep in my makeup. But certain cities in certain very polluted cities would just make my makeup not work for me.

Kara Goldin 3:17
That’s why all So so how would you describe Youthphoria that and its mission and ethos within the beauty industry. There’s a lot of beauty cosmetics I know as an entrepreneur myself that jumping into a very crowded industry, you have to really have a reason to do something as big as you’re doing. You must have seen this huge need in the industry that maybe as a typical consumer you’re not really aware of.

Fiona Co Chan 3:48
Yeah, I think in simplest terms, we create makeup you can sleep in. I remember growing up it was always like the number one rule never fall asleep in your makeup. And it never made sense to me because you know we’re awake for more hours that we are asleep. Why do we feel like we can you know put makeup on while we’re awake but we feel so uncomfortable about sleeping in it what is it about the makeup products itself that you know makes us feel so uncomfortable seeing these products and when I was doing my research, when I started really researching for you know our formulations and our product. I kind of realized that the beauty industry at least as it kind of pertains to skincare and makeup. It’s really split into two very separate lanes. You get your skincare benefits from you know your skincare products and moisturizers your serums and then you have her makeup which you know it’s pretty colors on her face, love all these ingredients. They might not necessarily necessarily be that great for skin but they last really long. So one thing I really wanted to do was how do we combine the two so that every product that we have, we have these great skincare benefits and a lot of these skincare ingredients we add we also think about how does this improve how the makeup wears on my skin? But then at the same time? If I’m wearing makeup, I want it to last I want the color to look right I want it to have coverage. I want to feel, you know, beautiful confident wearing it? How do we combine these two, and I kind of realized there was a huge gap in the market for these types of products, just because a lot of times what I see is, you know, something that’s really, really I want to say like almost on a skincare scale, or some that’s really, really like super makeup on the makeup scale. And these formulations don’t necessarily, like always play nicely with each other.

Kara Goldin 5:22
So what was your first product that you launched with?

Fiona Co Chan 5:24
When we first launched, we launched with our byo blush. So this is a green color teaching blush. It’s what we went viral with. And I remember at the time, there was nothing like it. And so when I launched the business, I didn’t realize how, if you do something that’s like no one has really done before, there’s really no demand for it. And it was like one of the, I don’t know, it was the the first lessons or marketing that I learned.

Kara Goldin 5:47
So that’s your blush oil that went viral on Tiktok. So can you share more about how this product works and exactly what it is for those who aren’t familiar with it?

Fiona Co Chan 5:59
Yeah, so it is a green including blush oil, so reacts your skin’s pH, so everyone will get a slightly different color. So when it comes into contact with your skin, it goes from a clear to a pink, kind of like a pinkish blush color. And it’s a really fun product because you can wear it on a foundation, you can wear it on no bare skin. But everyone gets a slightly different color, but it’s always your perfect shade of blush.

Kara Goldin 6:23
That’s so wild. So you took it on Tik Tok, you had no idea what was gonna happen when when you got it on there, right. And all of a sudden, what was the reaction to it?

Fiona Co Chan 6:34
I remember one of our first videos that I posted was, this is a collared union blush oil versus a powder blush, just something that people are really familiar with, because our price looks so different from what you might expect to see from a blush. And a lot of people were just like, what is that? Is that? Does that actually work? Is this a gimmick? I want to try it. So it was kind of like a lot of curiosity. And then when one thing that was really fun to see was other people just buying it and trying it and seeing their reactions for the first time where they’re like, Oh, my God is actually changing colors. Oh my god, this is actually a really beautiful shade of blush.

Kara Goldin 7:07
That’s so wild. So where does the name Youthphoria come from?

Fiona Co Chan 7:11
So it refers to those happy moments in your adult life where you’re reminded of your favorite childhood memories. So for me, like these memories are like the first time going to Disneyland or like having a meal with my grandparents, I find that when I’m really happy, you know, even in my adult life now, like I always think back to, you know, what my childhood core memories. And it’s something where I wanted her brand to kind of inspire that feeling. So a lot of our packaging, it’s super fun. I always like to add kind of like a surprise and delight element to how you interact with our brands, whether it’s like a texture or like how our packaging is like super magnetic and everything stacks together, I always try to incorporate like an extra touch to our products.

Kara Goldin 7:55
So do you remember the moment when you decided, Okay, it’s time to start Youthphoria. You have not been in this industry. I mean, it’s a very brave thing to do. And I think you started the company during the pandemic as well. So a lot of people would also say that that was incredibly brave. What was kind of the, the moment when you said, You know what, I need to just go do this, and you had probably a lot of fear, somewhere in there. Like, what if this thing isn’t going to work, but I might as well just go for it. And but do you remember that moment? Can you kind of share that day? Yeah,

Fiona Co Chan 8:33
it was the first week and then pandemic, I was actually stuck in Asia. And I actually was stuck in Asia for most of 2020 and, and a part of 2021. And I remember, because I was on the other side of the world, nobody knew what I was doing. And I felt safe enough to start a business like really Mike until any of my friends really told my parents. And I remember thinking, You know what I really I’ve always wanted to start a makeup company. I remember being in college and for some reason wanting to go to makeup school that I didn’t know why. And I didn’t know what was pulling me into that direction. I didn’t end up going until much much later when I actually started the business. But I remember just feeling like I’m on the other side of roll. I might as well just start this and you know, kind of see how the pandemic will play out. And you know, here we are a couple years later. That’s

Kara Goldin 9:22
so wild. How did you figure out exactly how to formulate the products? I mean, you talked about the blush. But you didn’t have experience in this industry? How did you figure this out?

Fiona Co Chan 9:36
I remember in the early days, it was just trying to Google I had no context of industry. So it was a lot of Googling and then asking people who were in the industry. Do you know anyone and I remember it was just a lot of trial and error. Some of the manufacturers that we worked with in the beginning, we ended up not me to kind of losing the deposit on that fabric. didn’t ship making a lot of mistakes and it took it took a while for us to kind of find our footing.

Kara Goldin 10:05
How long do you think it took? And like where you said, Okay, we’re, we’re actually on to something, we can actually get a product out there, maybe you started to tell a few people that I’m actually launching this company.

Fiona Co Chan 10:20
I remember for blush specifically because it was something that was so out there we almost it was just me and my husband in our in our apartment. And we just looked at each other. And we were like, I think this might be a hit. Because my husband will say, you just have this way about you. When you like touch something, you see something you glow and when you really believe in the product. But we still didn’t tell anyone until basically move back to the US to launch the business. And when I launched that was really when I told a ton of people like Yeah, we had a few people try. But like I would say like amongst like my closest friends and family, nobody knew until they actually launched the business.

Kara Goldin 10:55
So you launched with the blush oil? And then how soon was it before you launched your second product or a few other products?

Fiona Co Chan 11:03
Yeah, I think after the blush, we launched our primer. So maybe that was like nine months afterwards. So in primer was also like a quick product demo that I was working on before the company launch. But we were just kind of trying to find our footing, I think especially that first year like, we really had no idea how to really do a lot of things if we’ve survived long enough to launch a second product. But we launched our second product, probably like nine months after we launched the company.

Kara Goldin 11:30
And your primer is terrific. It’s super, super great. I love it a ton. I know that sustainability is such a core principle for Youthphoria, can you share more about incorporating some of those practices into your product development and business operations as well.

Fiona Co Chan 11:49
One of the really great things about starting a company and being so involved in product development is I get a huge say in how we pick ingredients and source ingredients. And one thing I was finding when I was starting my research was at the time, a lot of a lot of cosmetics and a lot of beauty and just fake up in general was made from fossil fuels. And I had a lot of experience being in these like super polluted cities. And it had such a big impact on how I was feeling how I was living. And I remember thinking like if I’m, you know, in the cities, I can’t really control my water, I can’t control my air can’t really control my food, my food source, but I can control what I put my face. So if I ever start a product, or startup brand in this in this line, I want to be able to source really great ingredients. So something we do differently is we certify our products with the USDA o based program, which basically means if we’re choosing ingredients, if it’s coming from like a fossil fuel based source or plant based source, or an animal, animal based source, we will always choose a plant based source. So sometimes like synthetic ingredients in kind of come from either of those three options, and I always choose a plant based source.

Kara Goldin 13:00
Definitely. So how many products do you have now and your whole line?

Fiona Co Chan 13:06
So we have six product families. Some products, like there’s different colors and shades in the family. Like we recently just launched a foundation. So of course that has several several shades on our family line.

Kara Goldin 13:18
So you were on Shark Tank? Can you share a little bit about that experience?

Fiona Co Chan 13:25
Yeah, so we were on Shark Tank. I guess our first episode aired a year ago and it was one of these. I was like it’s I describe it as like, it’s a really fun way to do a very serious business meeting because you are really going out there you are pitching your business. It’s kind of like an investor meeting except for it’s a lot more fun. You know, you get dressed up, you have a whole set behind you. And of course you’re filming a TV episode. But it’s a I remember just going in there and thinking like I can’t believe I’m you know, I’m so used to making tic TOCs and putting my blush on, you know, on myself. But now I get to do this in front of the sharks and like what a cool experience it was. And then we ended up getting an investment from Mark Cuban. So it was also really great. It’s a great experience for us overall.

Kara Goldin 14:11
That’s amazing. That’s so great. So I see a good guy. I’ve heard great things about him. He

Fiona Co Chan 14:18
really is yeah, he’s so kind and he’s so generous with his time and like of course good gifts like amazing like business advice. So super happy. That’s

Kara Goldin 14:28
amazing. So currently you’re selling obviously through your website but also what stores are you guys available and are you beyond the US are you selling and I know you’re traveling around a ton right now but what other markets are you really focused on at this point?

Fiona Co Chan 14:46
To live on so many us? So we sell on our website we sell on Amazon, we sell an altar we sell like Quito beauty. And then revolve is also one of our retailers that has like really great international shipping options. That’s

Kara Goldin 15:00
terrific. So one of the most intriguing aspects of Youthphoria is the concept of makeup you can sleep in, I know that there’s a lot of discussion around makeup. And actually not just makeup, but skincare products that make people break out when they don’t typically break out, what are some of the things that people really have to be worried about when they’re looking at ingredients and products,

Fiona Co Chan 15:26
I think it is so important to patch test products before you really put on her face. So everybody’s skin and you know, what they’re sensitive to is going to be a little bit different. Of course, there are ingredients that are known irritants, and, you know, we definitely try to avoid that. But it’s hard to tell with people’s different allergies, sensitivities and how their skin will react. One thing I really liked to do is patch testing. So basically, whenever you have like a new product, and you’re really wanting to introduce it to your routine, I like to put it on the inner kind of like your inner elbow to see if you’re gonna get if your skin is gonna elicit a reaction. After that, then I might do like my kind of like the like your were my chin. And my ear kind of meets somewhere that’s like on the face, but not my entire face just to see how my skin’s gonna react to it. Before I put out my oh my full face. And I’ll do that every time I introduce like a new skincare product or makeup product.

Kara Goldin 16:20
Were there any types of preservatives, for example that you decided I do not want these in my products that like do not. When you’re working with formulators, I know for us when I started my company hint water. We didn’t use any preservatives on our product. And I drove our bottlers crazy, as you know, they were trying to add different preservatives to products. And I’m like no, like this cannot be in here. Were there things that were just absolutely not that could not touch your products and your brand. Okay,

Fiona Co Chan 16:54
there was a long list and I relate to that, because a lot of them were on the preservative, that preservatives, I think was preservatives. You know, they’re great at killing bacteria. But sometimes I find that they can be overly harsh, especially in the skincare products, it might kill your own skins, bacteria. And sometimes you might feel like it’s making my skin really sensitive. So there are newer technologies, newer preservative systems that are plant based versus fossil fuel based that are a lot less, that still work super effective, but gentler on skin. So we prefer this sums.

Kara Goldin 17:27
So as a co founder and CEO, you’ve likely worn so many hats. Can you share some key lessons that you’ve learned maybe about building a team, working in this competitive industry, about your own leadership? You hadn’t started a company on your own before? And now you’re doing it? I mean, what what have you learned along the way that maybe has been surprising or hard for you?

Fiona Co Chan 17:55
Yeah, I think the biggest surprise and biggest lesson is kind of like how I roll evolve. So in the beginning, you do like everything. I don’t know if you relate to this, but I work every single hat there was no one else to wear a hat basically. And so I’ve touched pretty much everything. And as I started growing a team, I was just trying to figure out when when, you know, what do I hire out for? What do I keep? How does my role evolve? So that’s been a big learning for me.

Kara Goldin 18:26
So innovation is so crucial and critical for scaling, especially in the beauty industry. How do you stay ahead of trends, but also not feel like, oh, we need to go there next. You must be you’re constantly I’m sure just looking at other companies and other products and saying, Oh, wow, that’s really cool. But how do you stay focused and make sure that you’re continuing to have the process that really works for us for you?

Fiona Co Chan 18:57
Yeah, for for me, I mean, I have like definitely like a wish list bucket list of products that I want to create. And it’s still like the same as I’ve been working on. Since I had the idea for the company. And every time I approach a product category, because in makeup, there’s so many different product categories. I’m always thinking about like, what’s a category that hasn’t been super innovated on? What else can innovate on a mountain. And if there are, let’s say, like six attributes about a product that I’m launching, like, for example, like our foundation that we just we just launched, can I innovate on all six, all six things, I want to do something that’s really differentiated. I think a lot of times in the beauty industry, you’ll just see a lot of the same product over and over again with the same kind of ingredients, same textures, same components, and just a different logo that’s a little bit less interesting. For me as a as a founder as a content product developer. If I’m creating something, I really want it to be super differentiated, like a very different experience. So it’s a pretty tough bar to pass for us in terms of what we actually do. Go launch in and market with. And then a lot have never tried to create like the world’s first XYZ, like we did really well with the world’s first coaching and wash well, and that’s a really fun feeling where, you know, I think I cannot like I can’t believe we made a freaking blush, you know become one of the top selling blushes at our apart our retailers it gets it’s a really insane thing to think about. But like, being able to do that repeatedly is is a, you know, something that’s kind of cool. And definitely something that I look to to achieve as we’re launching additional product lines.

Kara Goldin 20:33
Yeah, it’s you, you set the bar high for yourself. Right. And but it’s but it’s hard because you want every product after that one to be just as good, if not better. I totally get it. We’ve done that with flavors over the years. And has there been any surprises along the way where you thought something was going to be massive? And it was either good or? Or was a total bomb? I’ve heard that from so many different people, especially in the beauty industry. We’ve had some really interesting conversations with founders. Are there any things that any great stories to share where you thought like, Oh, this is going to be massive, and it just wasn’t or you didn’t think it was going to be that hot. And then it definitely was much hotter than you thought I guess the blush to some extent. But we’ve also had situations Well, I’ll tell you one for him as it just as an example. We launched a hibiscus flavor years ago. And it was I had grown up with hibiscus Santi, I grew up in Arizona, where a very you know, Hispanic culture where hibiscus flowers, people sort of understand what it could taste like. And when we launched it, it was fascinating to me because it sold in the West, but it didn’t really sell in the east. Nobody got it, nobody could visualize what hibiscus was, I would imagine hibiscus would have or it would be sort of the same maybe for Asian culture, they wouldn’t really understand what that would taste like. So not as many people would grab it, because they wouldn’t get it. But in California and Arizona and Texas, people understood what hibiscus was. So it was really surprising to me. And we ultimately put it on hold. We brought it back for seasonal items and special items. And we had it online, but I was really surprised that more people didn’t know what it was.

Fiona Co Chan 22:38
Yeah, I think for us, I think some of I think like the surprises were, you know, our blush did a lot better than I thought it would. There was a little bit of a gut feeling to like, this is like a huge bet. It’s really different. But I think it was just something that was right for its time. And I remember at the same time when we launched our plush, we also launched a lip gloss that didn’t actually didn’t do as well and comparatively speaking, you know, if you were to use all logic, the gloss would make more sense. It’s like a safer product to trial, especially for new brand. So I remember like when we launched seeing the difference in how blush got picked up instantly. Our glass didn’t really I mean, it’s a great product. It’s still like, I still love it. But the vast difference in you know, what you don’t know and what we’re known for what people love us for. That was really surprising because by you know by listen to all experts, they would just say like, watch all the losses. And that’s the way you launch a beauty brand and Pete at the super safe product to launch but they didn’t really work out for us that way. Hmm.

Kara Goldin 23:42
So interesting. So how have you built like a community around the brand? So I would think you initially started on tick tock, I mean, that was kind of where people started to hear about what Youthphoria was, but how did you launch beyond that and kind of get the word out about what you were doing.

Fiona Co Chan 24:00
It’s all really social media driven. So Tik Tok was definitely one of our first channels Instagram, so really strong for us. Initially, I mean, I was not a content creator, I was on an influencer. I just remembered thinking, oh my god, I’m sitting on so much inventory, I have to talk about why I love this product and why I created it. And then it became something where I realized actually really like content creation, it’s actually a really nice creative process for me. And one thing I started doing was just kind of bringing people along the journey of what it’s like to build the brand. It’s not like I have a great content plan and mom like super planned out in terms of like what we post. It’s really driven by what I feel like talking about that day. And one thing that really surprised me is like people do like following that following that journey.

Kara Goldin 24:47
Totally and especially on Tik Tok, but I think they’re on Instagram and to some extent, even LinkedIn. I mean, I think that there’s definitely a business community that would probably react to that as well. So so some then you would warn someone who is maybe a few steps behind you, who is just starting their first company in any industry. I mean, what? What do you think you know, now that you didn’t know that about being a founder,

Fiona Co Chan 25:13
I think being a founder, you know your business better than anyone else. And I think especially like, couple steps back, it’s so I don’t know, I feel like there was just so many days of like imposter syndrome and not really knowing what to do the fear of like creeping in, and sometimes I just took advice from other people, but, you know, their advice probably was relevant for their company, and their situation might have not been so relevant for me and my situation. I wouldn’t, you know, advise people to, like, always trust your gut, because no one’s gonna know your business as intimately as you.

Kara Goldin 25:44
Yeah, that’s so so true. And I think it’s, it also takes a lot longer, right than you ever thought it was going to take. But can you imagine going back into tech going back into doing what you were doing before knowing what you know, today?

Fiona Co Chan 25:59
No, I don’t think I don’t, I don’t think I could sell software. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 26:04
I think that the idea of touching a product, a physical product, I was in tech before starting Kent. And I think the idea of having a physical product and actually watching it go off the line and being able to make people you know, really fall in love with your brand, which I’m sure you’ve heard from so many consumers. Are there any consumer love letters, I call them that you’ve heard from consumers when they’ve gotten a hold of your product that really kind of keeps you going on those really hard days that you want to share?

Fiona Co Chan 26:41
Yeah, my favorite is every time you launch a new product, and actually get real feedback from customers providing it over an extended period of time, I get messages now for like, let’s say our primer and our foundation, especially that’s like, I don’t know how but this product has cleared up my skin. And I think about that so much. Because growing up I had the worst acne, I went on Accutane, like twice, makeup was really a source of just bad breakouts for me. And two currently good makeup product that actually is helping people clear their skin clear their acne. That’s something I wish I had when I was, you know, super insecure and 16 and kind of growing up not really knowing my way. It makes me feel like I am almost like giving my inner child something that she didn’t have. And so every time someone’s like you, you know, I feel so confident wearing your products where it really takes my skin. I love those. I love those letters.

Kara Goldin 27:35
So Fiona Co Chan, co founder and CEO of Youthphoria, thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom and also, just about the product Youthphoria. Everyone needs to try it. We’ll have all the info in the show notes, but really appreciate you coming on.

Fiona Co Chan 27:52
Thank you so much for having me.

Kara Goldin 27:53
Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted, where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and good bye for now.