Olivia Landau: Founder & CEO of The Clear Cut

Episode 330

Olivia Landau, a fourth-generation diamond expert, began The Clear Cut as a blog. An educational resource. But it wasn't long before she and her Co-Founder husband Kyle Simon realized the blog’s potential to become much more. Now as Founder and CEO of The Clear Cut, Olivia leads a multi-million dollar, direct-to-consumer, diamond jewelry company that is revolutionizing the way consumers purchase engagement rings and so much more. We hear all about how she met her Co-Founder and husband Kyle as well as the company’s unique approach to selling diamonds through social platforms including Instagram and TikTok. And finally, Olivia lets us all in on her entrepreneurial journey, lessons she has learned along the way and what she thinks it takes to start and build a successful company like The Clear Cut. Another inspiring episode that you won’t want to miss! 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 excited to have my next guest. Here we have Olivia Landau, who was the founder and CEO of the clear cut. And if you don’t know what the clear cut is, then you must not be on Tiktok or Instagram very much because they are just killing it on social platforms and more. Olivia is a fourth generation diamond expert. She began the clear cut actually as a blog, an educational resource for people trying to figure out what kind of rings they’re buying. And then that has expanded into so much more. But it wasn’t long before she and her co founder husband KYLE SIMON realize the blogs potential to become much much more so now as the founder and CEO of the clear cut Olivia leads a multimillion dollar direct to consumer diamond jewelry company that is revolutionizing the way consumers purchase engagement rings. And like I said, so much more than that, we will hear all about how she met her husband and co founder of course, Kyle, as well as their unique approach to selling diamonds through social platforms, including, as I mentioned, Instagram and Tiktok. And finally, I cannot wait to speak with Olivia about her overall entrepreneurial experience and journey, some surprising lessons along the way to and things that she has done in order to start and build and scale. This incredible company called the clear cut. So welcome, Olivia,

Olivia Landau 2:25
thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Kara Goldin 2:28
Yeah, super excited to meet you and have you on as well. So let’s start at the beginning. I would love for you to share with our listeners in your words. What is the clear cut?

Olivia Landau 2:38
So the clear cut is a direct to consumer diamond and now gemstone fine jewelry company specializing in bespoke diamond engagement rings.

Kara Goldin 2:47
Very cool. And when did you start?

Olivia Landau 2:49
So it’s kind of funny because there we have two birthdays. It’s either when I started the blog, which is in 2016, or when we decided to fully launch the clear cut full time, which was in 2018. So we kind of go off of the 2018 date.

Kara Goldin 3:03
What were you doing before the clear cut? I know that you had generations ahead of you who were in the diamond industry. Did you think that you were going to go in this direction or what were your thoughts?

Olivia Landau 3:16
Yeah, I had grown up around the diamond and jewelry industry because my parents were in the antique jewelry business. And my dad’s side the family for generations weren’t diamond cutting and dealing but I personally never thought I would get into the jewelry space. I was always told, you know, I was gonna My parents immigrated here I was going to have a great education and like that was something that they did because you know, that’s just what my family did. But upon graduating from college, I went to NYU I really didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do as a career. And I had an interest in jewelry. So I decided to extend schooling a little bit and enroll in GAA, which is the Gemological Institute of America. They had a campus here in New York and I was going to become a graduate gemologist which was a six month program to become an expert in diamonds and colored stones. And while I was there I really unexpectedly fell in love with it. I guess it was in my blood all along. I not only fell in love with diamonds and gemstones I also met my now co founder and husband Kyle while I was there. And then right out of school, I started working at Tiffany on the engagement floor. And that’s when I found my passion in bridal jewelry and diamond engagement rings and I wanted to get more hands on with it. So I left Tiffany and started working in the diamond district at a large diamond wholesale company here in New York. And I learned so much there from you know how the industry works from the inside and production. And Kyle was in business school at that time and a lot of our friends and his classmates were at that age that they were starting to want to get engaged. So they go to him and say hey, do you know a guy that can give me a good deal on Uh, on a diamond ring, so I happen to be the go to guy, I was the one working in wholesale. So I’d help educate them pick out their diamonds create their custom rings. And through that, that’s how I realized that most people didn’t know the first thing about buying a diamond ring. So that’s when in 2016, I decided to launch the clear cut as just an educational blog for our friends to read about before coming to work with me,

Kara Goldin 5:25
I always say that if you think too much about the end, you’ll never get past the beginning. And that’s what I loved when I was researching your experience that you were already helping people, you just decided to kind of write it out and really start this blog. I mean, Little did you know you would be starting the company that you ended up? Starting right, you also launched the clear cut with your husband, I launched my company that I founded hint with my husband, as well. And I’m so curious, what lessons would you say that you’ve learned? I mean, I remember early on when we were launching, people were like, Oh, I could, I could never work with my husband. And, you know, we work together for for the last 17 years. And it’s actually been amazing to be able to start a company and grow a family and really have not two different jobs, but a job and a brand and a company and our family to sort of grow. So I so curious, what are your thoughts on growing a business with your husband?

Olivia Landau 6:31
Well, I think it takes you know, the right pair, because we have very different skill sets. And I think that’s the trick to it. And we have a lot of respect for each other and our respective skill sets. So he, you know, he went to business school, he does all of like the accounting, the finance, like that kind of stuff, which I have no interest in, and I’m it’s not my forte, and I handle like the product, the customer, the design, the social media, and that’s something that he doesn’t have as much experience. And so I think that’s why we work so well together, we both have, you know, a common goal. It’s kind of romantic, like building this together. And we have, you know, our respective skill sets, so we don’t step on each other’s toes too much. And we have a lot of respect for each other as well. So I think that’s why it works. Well, if we were kind of doing the same thing. I don’t know if, you know, if you want to design a ring, and I had a different idea of how I would like it to be designed. I don’t know, we might fight a little bit more. But thankfully, you know, we have our own kind of like liens that we stick to,

Kara Goldin 7:41
I think if you would have asked me this question 16 years ago, I probably would have said a lot of the same things that you did. And what I found over time is that we both learned each other’s roles a lot and sort of could almost think like so for example, if one of us couldn’t be in a meeting, we could pretty much predict what somebody would say about something like that design isn’t going to work for Olivia, I, my guess is that he would be able to say that as well that he starts to, you know, just being able to really understand somebody is a benefit, especially that a lot of people don’t have. Yeah, and

Olivia Landau 8:21
I mean, we do spend concerning amount of time together because we work together and we live together and we socialize together. But I think we know each other so well. So it’s really easy to like be on the same page with our vision for the business and like how we want to grow. And we’re usually, you know, very instinct on like big decisions.

Kara Goldin 8:42
Absolutely. So what’s one of the biggest surprises that you’ve learned since starting the clear cut? You made this decision to sell online and go beyond the blog? What was one of the early surprises when you were starting?

Olivia Landau 8:58
I think, you know, the earliest surprises when when it was a blog, and I started posting some of the designs on Instagram, strangers sort of following the account and like DMing me asking if I could create their custom rings. And through that, I realized that people are trusting a complete stranger through Instagram DMS with their life savings for this very important purchase. And that there must have been a huge whitespace in the market that wasn’t being filled that people just weren’t recognizing that, you know, the new purchaser, like our generation of diamond purchasers for their engagement rings was very different and shopped very differently than our the previous generation. They were really comfortable buying sight unseen online, they were just trying to get the most bespoke, you know, customizing to their liking and didn’t want to overpay and they were willing to do that even like through this really like janky sketchy method at the time. So we were like, Hey, we recognize this issue if we could perfect the problem. So as as much as possible, then there’s like a world of possibility. So that’s what really surprised us when we started because I never when I went to GA, my I remember my professor being like, yeah, people will never buy diamond engagement rings online. And that wasn’t that was a couple of years before we started this. So things shifted really quickly.

Kara Goldin 10:19
Yeah, and I think for large purchases, I mean, look at cars, for example. You know, they have a hard time getting people to come in to a car dealership today. And I think it’s the same thing. I don’t think that it will go away that people buy diamonds in stores. But I think that you’ve created and you and others in the industry to have really created an option for people who, you know, might not live in New York City, maybe they don’t have a Tiffany in their area, what whatever. I think that that is definitely, you know, an option for people and where people really trust you and see the education that you’re providing more than anything, what do go ahead.

Olivia Landau 11:03
I was saying exactly like if you don’t live in an area with like a major diamond district or anything, but you’re on Instagram or social media, you see things that you like, you know how much it should cost, and you are well educated because you’re consuming all of this content. You know, you are really empowered purchaser and you’re not going to settle for whatever is like locally available to you

Kara Goldin 11:23
definitely are the generations before you that have been in the diamond industry. Are they really surprised by what’s occurring?

Olivia Landau 11:31
Yeah, like completely surprised. I was always told like it was a dying industry, there was no future. But it’s just the consumer was rapidly changing. And the industry wasn’t keeping up with the new consumer. So my dad’s always like, I have no idea like what you’re doing what it seems to be working.

Kara Goldin 11:50
That’s, that’s amazing. So the big question, what shape of diamond engagement rings do you think will be huge for 2023.

Olivia Landau 11:58
So I’ve seen a huge uptick in antique cuts. So like old mines and old Europeans. These are cuts that were hand cut before like the 1940s or 50s know to look alike, and they’re really charming, but they’re super rare. So people are really going after, like things that are timeless, but unique. We had a really big spike in oval shapes over the past couple years. But I think people are more leaning towards like elongated cushion cuts or emerald cuts for 2023.

Kara Goldin 12:30
Super, super interesting. So what have you enjoyed the most about being an entrepreneur? I mean, you I call myself an accidental entrepreneur, I think you are in many ways an accidental entrepreneur as well. What have you enjoyed about being an entrepreneur,

Olivia Landau 12:45
I think I’ve enjoyed learning about myself and understanding like how much I should believe in myself, and how much I can push myself and how much I can accomplish. Because before starting the company, I had a lot of self doubt and impostor syndrome, I still do. But seeing that if I really put my mind to something that I can make it happen. And also like the freedom you have when having your own business. I mean, it comes with a ton of responsibility and stress. But it also comes with a lot of freedom and autonomy to kind of create your own destiny, which is really cool.

Kara Goldin 13:25
I always describe entrepreneurship is building a puzzle, because I think that the best entrepreneurs don’t exactly know where the pieces connect, but they just keep trying. And they keep trying different things. And I think it’s especially true when you look at social media, because not as many people are selling diamonds online, right? So it’s not like you have somebody to go and mimic or a company to go mimic. Right? You’re you’re creating an entirely new strategy for how to actually get to the consumer connect with the consumer, more than anything. So how would you describe the entrepreneur journey for you, too, as you sort of tackle these new platforms? Yeah, I

Olivia Landau 14:11
think you know, every day, you’re learning something new and growing, which we find like so exciting. I think you know, when you start the journey, you’re you’re handed like a set of problems, and you’re trying to just make educated guesses and trying to solve that. But once you solve one problem, of course, another problem happens. Like when we first started the business, we were like, how are we going to get customers and that was our biggest problem. Now it’s like when we’re scaling, how am I going to manage a team and like, you know, that’s a whole set of new skills. So I think what’s great about entrepreneurship is you’re constantly being challenged and you’re constantly learning new skills. Once you you know, tackle one thing, you’re presented with a whole nother set of things to learn and tackle.

Kara Goldin 14:55
That’s so so true. So, being an entrepreneur is One of the most challenging careers that I try and share with people, it’s exciting to be an entrepreneur. But every single day, you have to figure out how to not stay complacent when you hit a challenging situation. But also you have to be able to be thinking on your feet and be confident and your move, etc. I’d love to hear a story when you were been building the company where maybe you faced a tough challenge that you were really trying to figure out. Okay, now, what do I do? I can’t stay complacent, I have to make a move and do the right thing. And what lessons did you learn through that?

Olivia Landau 15:43
Yeah, totally. One instance, I would say is, in 2020, we were really growing very rapidly. And we had, I always, when we started, the business had a vision of creating this proprietary software, this platform where it would really streamline that unscalable way we’ve been doing things and make it in like a beautiful portal scalable process for our remote clients and also create processes in the backend that would help our team. So in early 2020, January, I remember we decided to invest heavily in creating this software. And obviously, in March and April of 2020, the whole world shut down because of COVID. And we manufacture everything in New York. So we couldn’t manufacture any pieces, we had to have orders cancelled, we I think didn’t sell anything for two months, which was extremely scary, and we didn’t know what was going to happen. But I felt really confident that we should still continue investing in the build of our tech, because I believed really heavily in remote purchases for this product in the future. So we stayed strong to our thesis and our belief and continue to build through the tough times. And once things started opening up again, and manufacturing in New York, was able to continue, then that was probably the best decision ever. Because all you know, jewelry stores, retail stores were closed for an entire year. And we were one of the only like destinations where you could get an engagement ring in a time where people were locked in with their significant others wanting to celebrate things had some, you know, extra spending money a lot of times, and it ended up being some of our most rapid growth ever was right after, you know, the lockdown and investing in that remote technology was one of the best decisions we ever made.

Kara Goldin 17:42
I love that. So sometimes, you know, to look back on something that Steve Jobs said, I mean, sometimes you know, the dots eventually connect, I mean, you’re sitting during this time saying what’s going to happen, but more than anything focusing on what you can do versus Yeah, what the problem is, are. And that’s a great example of that. So a lot of people have ideas for products or services. Do you have any words of advice for others who want to start a company but are daunted by the prospect of it not working out or failing? Or however you want to view it?

Olivia Landau 18:16
Yeah, I would say, you know, you always have that self doubt. But I would say take it in baby steps. And try and you know, if you’re not embarrassed by your launch, you waited too long, they always think that so you know, I didn’t just start out being like, Okay, I’m gonna build a direct to consumer jewelry company, I started it as a blog, and then work slowly to selling on the side through social media. And then it became a business when I kind of felt like there was momentum. So I think if you’re not ready to quit your job, or like, go full time into an idea, start slow. Do it on the side is iterate, take feedback and make it better. And I think, you know, failure is just a learning lesson like I don’t I think failure is good. If you never fail, that you’ll never really learn or grow or really understand like, what you’re doing. So I wouldn’t be scared of failure. But I You have to take that first leap and make that first step to try.

Kara Goldin 19:13
Absolutely. So you’re a direct to consumer brand. And you’ve grown tremendously on Instagram and Tiktok. Are those two platforms significantly different for your consumer, when you look at kind of how you’ve grown or sort of what the future is, what do you predict on both of those platforms for you as a business person?

Olivia Landau 19:35
Yeah, so it’s a obviously we started on Instagram, it was the platform that was there first, and that’s where a lot of you know, we were lucky we were kind of on the tail end of like, a lot of direct to consumer businesses growing on Instagram. And I think there was it was way easier to grow then you have a lot more reach and it was a great way to build our community. Now it’s a little bit more stagnant. I feel Like it’s less organic, it’s a lot more pay to play. So it’s a great place to be and be established on. But I think tick tock is like definitely the new frontier, you’re getting a lot more younger eyeballs on you, you are being able to grow really rapidly, like your content can go viral just by having great content. And you can be seen by a lot of people that aren’t necessarily following you. So you can be a little bit more real, a little bit more candid on tick tock as well. So it’s a great place to experiment. It’s also a place that content is, you know, being turned over so quickly. So used to be posting like one to three times a day minimum. So it’s a good place to like try things, see if they stick if not, like move on to the next thing. But that’s definitely a place if I was starting a business, a new business from scratch now where I would focus a lot of my attention to growth on and do

Kara Goldin 20:53
you see the millennials, that’s where you’re initially that’s where your your core audience, but I saw that you guys are gaining a lot of traction with Gen Z, as well. I mean, do you want to speak to that a little bit?

Olivia Landau 21:05
Yeah. So I’m, obviously I’m a millennial. And when I started the business, we were selling to, you know, people in their mid to early 20s 30s, which were all millennials, and there, they still make up a great deal of our engagement in business. But we are seeing a lot more Gen Z purchasers, as well, we always had the idea that the engagement ring was going to be the gateway drug into all your other fine jewelry purchases. So when you buy the engagement ring, you’d get the wedding bands, push presents, anniversary gifts, so on and so forth. And that was what our collection was for. But now we’re seeing a lot of Gen Z clients who are starting with our collection, buying gold hoops, name, necklaces, things like that, and then graduating on to getting their engagement ring from us from knowing and loving the brand from the collection. So it’s like an interesting shift of, but I think it’s great, we always want to be like servicing the new generation and being you know, ahead of, you know, however we can technologically wise as well,

Kara Goldin 22:06
I love that. And I think it’s so interesting, too, I think that there’s a lot of people, especially millennials, your generation who are waiting to get married, right, and so or choose not to get married, as well. So I think it’s really, really smart to be able to have other things that you’re offering people, it’ll be interesting to sort of see where your audience kind of goes as well, or I should say expands.

Olivia Landau 22:34
Yeah, and one big shift that we’ve seen generationally that’s really different from millennials and Gen Z, from, you know, the previous generation is that couples work together to get their engagement rings, they design and pick up their stones together, design their rings together, they even contribute financially together. So it’s really different from past generations where, you know, in a heterosexual relationship would be the man buying the ring complete surprise, and then you’d be like, Oh, my God, I love whatever you get me. It’s not like that at all anymore. So I think we understand that and previous generations or, you know, the old school way of doing things doesn’t quite understand that shift to kind of women being in charge, and we have a lot of self purchasing women as well.

Kara Goldin 23:16
That’s amazing. So do you get together with people in a chat room to sort of understand their interests may be?

Olivia Landau 23:23
Yes. So all of our engagement clients start with an initial phone consultation. So usually, it’s the couple on the phone with myself or one of our dermatologists understanding their preferences. You know, what their price point is understanding what they want to prioritize. And then we get them set up on our gem portal, which is the online software that we built. And we handpick a selection of loose diamonds based on what they’ve discussed in their preferences that we inspect in person, and kind of add them in there. And we go back and forth until we find the perfect one.

Kara Goldin 23:55
I love it. I love what you guys are doing and just making it that much more accessible for people to be able to figure this stuff out. And it’s really, really great. So last question, what is the best advice that you’ve ever received?

Olivia Landau 24:10
The best advice I ever received, I would say to to bet on yourself. I’m very risk adverse. And I never like I said, Never thought I would be an entrepreneur get into this. But I think really believing and betting on yourself is something that I never did growing up and I was very, like insecure and shy. And from the experience of building the business, starting from the blog to what we have now. I know that I can trust myself and that, you know, I’m not scared of failure, and that there are going to be curveballs and like ups and downs but that’s like part of the journey and I think you’ll never not feel like an impostor I think but to believe in like your own ability.

Kara Goldin 25:00
I love it. So well thank you so much, Olivia, it’s been such a pleasure to talk to you and get to understand the clear cut a little bit better. And everything that you’ve done, we’ll have all the info in the show notes as well on access to the clear cut as well as you, etc. So thank you so much for coming on and have a great rest of the week and also a great holiday.

Olivia Landau 25:26
Thank you so much for having me.

Kara Goldin 25:27
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 book.com 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 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