Wende Zomnir – Founder of Caliray

Episode 216

Wende Zomnir is a legend in the makeup world. Having cofounded one of the top beauty brands and now ready to try again. Most recently, Wende founded the sustainable, clean beauty brand, Caliray, and before that, the wildly successful, Urban Decay. She shares how resourcefulness and authenticity are the keys behind every successful entrepreneur. Listen too how she feels about tying the founding story to your brand. Listen to 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

just 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, though, 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’m super, super excited to have my next incredibly inspiring founder, entrepreneur, total badass on the podcast today. So we have Wende Zomnir, who is the founder of a brand called Callie Ray. And you may know her name, you’ll definitely know her brand. She was way, way back not too far back. But in the far back, I’m pretty far back in the beauty industry. She had she co founded a brand called Urban Decay. And if you haven’t heard of Urban Decay, you should just not listen to the rest of this. No, I’m just kidding. No, definitely an incredible, incredible brand that she co founded. And now she is founding another brand, a terrific new brand, a new brand in the clean makeup industry. And it’s just a great company filled with great products as well that are super clean, super high quality. And like many entrepreneurs that I’ve had on the podcast, Wendy’s journey is an unconventional one. She had worked in advertising and in the fitness industry, and then co founded that great brand I just mentioned urban decay. And then this year, she co founded her company, Callie Ray and she wants to bring simple outdoor makeup look of Laguna Beach, Newport Beach, where she is as well to everyone in the country. And I’m so excited to hear her story. So thank you, Wendy, for coming on.

Wende Zomnir 2:31
Thanks for having me, Kara.

Kara Goldin 2:33
Very excited. So tell me a little bit about you. As I always start with the beginning, because I always feel like you know, when you were just getting started, did you know you were going to be founding to beauty brands and doing what you’re doing today.

Wende Zomnir 2:48
I had no idea. I didn’t know when I was little that I wanted to make something like that was like a sort of thing I like to do as a kid. I loved like making usually horrible looking like jewelry out of plastic straws, things of yarn popsicle. And I was like, I would also ask my mom like, Okay, do you think I could sell this? And she’s just like, No, I’m not. It’s not to put me down. But just, you know, she’s a realist. And, but I think I always had that in me to make something. And then I always watched my dad, he, you know, he worked for a defense contractor. And he’s, you know, relatively successful guy. And but he I always remembered that he wanted he was he loved racquetball, and he wanted to open a racquetball club, and I just watched him sort of like, talk about it and go down the path that way and never really do it. And I think I always thought he just be so much happier if you just do that. But I think you know, he’s a guy with three kids. And I think it’s hard to take those risks, right? You have all this responsibility. And so, you know, I admire him a lot for making that selfless choice to really think about the stability for his family. But I didn’t know like, like, that would have made him happier. And so I felt like I always had that in me a little bit. And when I went to work for big ad agencies, you know, I would remember like, riding up the elevator thinking, wow, I’m going to go sit in my great cubicle now, you know, so I knew that that was it. That was great training, like amazing training. It taught me how to be in business. It taught me so many things about presentations and pitching and I just knew that it wasn’t gonna be a long term, end game for me.

Kara Goldin 4:41
What was the point when you decided that you were going to start your own company?

Wende Zomnir 4:46
Well, I mean, I met Sandy Lerner. I’m going to back up two more steps though because my mom gave me a makeup kit. It was like the first iteration of Calvin Klein makeup and it was this giant box of makeup and I I remember thinking, this is the best Christmas present I ever got. And I would pull pages out of magazines when we used to have magazines, and I taped them to my mirror. And I would recreate all of the looks that you see in like different magazines. And I remember, like, I grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, and I got home sent home from school in eighth grade for wearing too much makeup. And do you know how much makeup you gotta have on to get sent home from school in Texas like a lot. So I really always love that self expression. And like, you know, creating a new you with your face with your own face, like this whole like mirror to the world then you could do and so for me, it wasn’t about covering up blemishes, it was really about the self expression. So I think that whole entrepreneur thing with my dad, and then the makeup gift from my mom. Um, you know, and I always loved watching her put her makeup on. So I think those two things sort of combined. And I didn’t know I was gonna be a beauty entrepreneur to ask to really answer the question you just asked. I ended up meeting, a brilliant woman named Sandy Lerner. And Urban Decay was her idea. I mean, she had like, she started Cisco Systems, you want to talk about the ultimate female entrepreneur. I mean, this was my mentor, right, I would have never in a million years imagined that I could be part of something that broke the beauty industry, right? Like we went and broke down like that, you got to think back to the mid 90s. And basically, you shop for prestige makeup at department stores. And that makeup was nice and beautifully packaged, and all of that, but it was pretty dull in terms of color. It wasn’t a lot of color. And then there was the drugstore, which had a lot of color. But at that time in the mid 90s. It wasn’t very good quality. So we wanted to really marry this great quality makeup with fun color. And that was really the impetus for it. And I give Sandy so much credit for you know, having been there already in the tech industry as a woman going well, I broke tech, why can I break beauty and bringing me along for the ride taught me so much. How did you meet her? So it was the my best friend’s living in Chicago is my best friend who I had met through her best friend in a yoga class and aerobics class that I was teaching. It was her ex fiance’s business manager, right? It goes to show you like never make you never know like connections you make you never know. So

Kara Goldin 7:41
that that is so while so What year was this at? Like when Urban Decay really started?

Wende Zomnir 7:48
This was 1995 Wow. So we I met Sandy in 1995. And we sold our first product in 1996. Which could the turnaround could never happen today. Yeah, we made it happen fast. That

Kara Goldin 8:03
is so wild. So and what do you think was the hardest thing? I mean, obviously there wasn’t Sephora, right? I mean, how did you get your product out there?

Wende Zomnir 8:13
So this is a story and being resourceful. Like if you ask me like what’s the number one attribute you need to cultivate as an entrepreneur, it would be resourcefulness. So we had this idea for a product and a brand. I’m living in Laguna Beach with my boyfriend in this little beach shack. And his friend was a swimsuit wrap. And he had been out surfing and he had meetings to go to so he calls me and he says Wendy, can I come by and use your shower before my meetings? And I was like, Sure, you know, I’m working at home working on this kooky Urban Decay thing. And he’s in my shower. And I realized, oh my God, he’s got every Nordstrom buyer on a list in his bag right there. And I just took a peek. And I might have just written down a few numbers off that list and put it right back where I found it. And then when he left, I started calling people. And I got the swimsuit buyers to give me the name of the cosmetics buyers. So then I had a direct line and I just started calling people. And one of the buyers in in the San Diego region picked up her phone. Her name was Kimberly Heatman. And she said, Well, I’m going on vacation for two weeks, but I’ll be here until tomorrow so you can come by. And so I was like okay, I you know, cleaned up all my samples, I drove down to San Diego and I gave her a pitch and I thought it was gonna be like the ad industry where you got to like go pitch the client and go back again with changes and pitch pitch pitch. She pulls out an order form and starts writing and I was like, oh my god, how am I gonna fulfill this right? So that was really the start of it.

Kara Goldin 9:50
That is wild. And so you were eventually acquired in 2012 by L’Oreal. So, that is for all entrepreneurs out there who think, you know, they’re going to start a company in a few years, it’s just, you know, going to get acquired, I always say it always takes much longer. I’m even surprised to hear that Urban Decay came out in 96. Because I would have guessed it in the 2000s. I think when I first heard about it, maybe I saw Yeah,

Wende Zomnir 10:23
well, you wouldn’t have heard about it till the 2000s. And it’s like, it’s kind of a little bit of what, you know, we had quickly touched on, which was, you know, we did have to break down all these barriers, there wasn’t for us. So I had to go to the department stores, I didn’t have the infrastructure that the big brands had. And there was no roadmap to success. So we made a ton of mistakes. There wasn’t anyone else doing this. And so what I love to give myself credit for is breaking down all the barriers and paving the road for all of these beauty entrepreneurs to be able to, like, follow that same path and have success a lot more quickly. And, you know, be able to be participate in the media industry. And I really feel like urban decay, help democratize beauty. And before it was very aspirational, it was very much like, okay, these, you know, corporate people are going to hire a model, and she’s going to be white and blonde, even featured and thin. And she you are going to aspire to look like her, and we’re gonna sell you products that make you wish you looked like her. And maybe if you use them, you might just look a little bit more like her. So is this aspirational model. And we really took that and turned it on its head and between Sephora, the rise of social media and us saying your face is a canvas. It’s not about looking like her. It’s about expressing yourself. We really did do this whole thing about democratizing beauty. And along the way, like I said, opened the door for every other beauty entrepreneur to have their piece of the pie which I’m thrilled about that the beauty landscape looks so different than it did in the mid 90s. When most of us did not see ourselves in magazines, or you know, you know our body shapes our types. Most of us are not supermodels. But we are all beautiful. So I just really felt like we helped change the world that way.

Kara Goldin 12:26
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Wende Zomnir 15:36
know, I called them influencers. But we did. I did what I call like the, the earliest form of social media, I threw, you know, a friend of a friend met these young women in New York, who were kind of the IT girls, the party girls, and I would send them boxes, a product and some cash. And they would basically go out and like hand the product out to their cool influence, tastemaker friends smart. Um, so between that and and then I would go to the hardware store. And I was like, you know, I know these people are getting like, press release, after press release, I can only imagine what editors were getting on their desks everyday, that all look the same. And I certainly can’t compete with these sorts of elevated beautiful things. So what can I go like, make that’s going to be crazy, and cookie and I remember going to the hardware store and making press kits out of like, aluminum flashing and caution tape, and sending them to New York and just looking on the masthead and calling people and going well, you meet with me, and being able to like weasel my way into Conde Nast. And, you know, pitch, pitch, pitch, sell, sell, sell, and get people to cover us. And that’s really how we got started was through, you know, just like boots on the ground press. And, you know, because I didn’t know that like PR firms existed. So boots on the ground press. And these like trying to find my own kind of influencers?

Kara Goldin 17:03
I love it. So did you ever hear? No, we’re not really interested? You’re, you know, this is this is? We nobody, you’re not a big enough brand. Did you feel like you had walls put up in front of you? And how did you get over those times?

Wende Zomnir 17:22
Well, I felt like, um, you know, from a press standpoint, they were fortunately kind of craving something new. We were never going to get a big feature like, you know, one of the big brands we’re going to get, but we might get something on a like beauty roundup page or something that like featured the latest, greatest new shades, we might you know, like, black is the new nail polish shade. So like, let’s show you a page of black nail polish, we might make it to that. So I was just hustling for whatever little bit of press we could get. And so I felt like I didn’t really get told no that much. I mean, we I got us into vogue. So amazing, you know, and who would have thought a brand called Urban Decay would have made it into vogue.

Kara Goldin 18:08
I love it. That’s so great. So this last year, you started a brand called Callie Ray. And so tell us a little bit about that. What inspired you to decide that the world needed a new brand, a different brand to share a little bit about that? Yeah,

Wende Zomnir 18:27
well, you know, number one, I’m a little older and wiser, just looking at the world a little differently. And a couple of things happened. One, I was trapped. I think we open to like 60 countries with Urban Decay. And I was traveling all over the world doing press trips and opening these markets for urban, which was really exciting. And the thing I would get asked about a lot was California. And you know, do you serve? Do you drink kale smoothies? Do you do yoga every day? Like I would get all these questions about like, is everyone an entrepreneur? And I don’t think it was about like everyone wanted to move there. But I think there’s this sort of like archetypal like, idea of like freedom and carefree that really resonates with people no matter where they live. And I think they wanted to understand that a little more. And so I was like, this is really interesting that this really resonates with people. The other thing that happened was I went on its amazing surf trip with my family. We were surfing by ourselves on this beautiful little wave off this gorgeous Island. And you know, I’d been surfing for like three hours a little tired, I paddle it. And I decided I’m going to sit on this island until we’re ready to leave. And I get to the island and it’s covered on the interior of the island in plastic trash. And so I just said to myself, Oh my God, this This is terrible. And I felt like I had been a giant offender in the beauty space of creating plastic trash and I thought well what could I do? Do so between the sort of like California stuff in my head and this idea that as you know, as I was getting older and I started to have children like I wanted everything for them to be clean, I built a house that was non off gassing and clean. I made the Urban Decay offices when I built them I made sure the workstations were made out of this particle board that was non off gassing formaldehyde no off gassing formaldehyde rugs, like everything was super clean. And Urban was one of the first brands to take parabens out of their products. We didn’t get credit for it at the time, but clean was starting to be a bigger and bigger idea. So I wanted to create something that was that embrace this, like the like cookie Cali weirdness, and fun, clean and sustainable. So it doesn’t sound like like, oh, every brand is clean. Now. It’s easier to be clean now than it was but it’s not easy. And being sustainable in a big way is really difficult. But we made a mascara and the tube is 100% upcycled. ocean plastic. It’s amazing. And we decorated it so that it can be recycled again. And we have a recycling partner because you know, unlike your packaging, our packaging is too small to go into the curbside recycling stream, which is why beauty packaging is so detrimental all of that little tiny plastic is a problem. Bigger plastic is not such a big, you know, problem. But you know, it’s there’s a solvable solution in place that people are working towards. So we had to find a recycling partner that could take all of our little beauty packages and put them back into the recycling streams. So there’s a lot of things to be done in this space. And we just felt like clean beauty is awesome. And there’s a lot of people doing it, which I think is great to have a lot of choices for the customer. And we just felt like there was something missing though a lot of times clean Beatty tends to be a little quiet. And as you know, with urban our brand is kind of cookie and loud. And I just still wanted that for Kelly Rae. I wanted it to be like fun. And I wanted you to just kind of you know, go into this like, fun portal that brought you that transported you to the West Coast no matter how you wanted to experience it.

Kara Goldin 22:19
I love it. What is the number one Kelly Ray product? Well,

Wende Zomnir 22:24
Kara, we only have two products right now. So more to come. But we just launched with a mascara and three shades of eyepencil. So I love the other thing that’s a little different about ours is that we made these super highperformance a lot of times like a clean mascara is something that doesn’t really last all day or give great volume. And ours is a clean tubing mascara, which means you can fall in the pool, you can cry, you can get rained on, you can just have oily eyelids, and you will have zero smudges at the end of the day. So I like to say it’s a zero smudge formula.

Kara Goldin 23:02
It’s great. And your pencils are awesome. You sent me some that were Yeah, good. And they’re soft. They don’t rip your eyelid parts when you’re putting them on either. So they’re they’re really, really terrific. So well, this is so exciting that you you know decided to Why did you start with ice and so curious?

Wende Zomnir 23:24
Well, I feel like that’s an area where I’m the most have the most expertise is eyes. That’s what Urban’s really known for is its shadows, and it’s palettes and it’s 24/7 pencils. And so I wanted to start with that. And I also felt like these were products that almost every woman uses, right, so I wanted to tap into, you know, everyone pretty much uses mascara and I wanted to make the number one complaint I would always hear is like, Oh, I hate it when my mascara smudges on my lower lids at the end of the day. So I really wanted it to be something that people could wear and feel like okay, I have this clean formula. It’s in this great sustainable package and I’m not going to have smudges, I’m going to have a great result. And the same thing with the pencil I feel like most people do something with an eyeliner in either a small way or a big way every single day. Even if it’s just a little smudgy line on the top of your lid and so I felt like pencils would be another you know kind of one two punch for people

Kara Goldin 24:21
beyond the packaging. I totally agree and that and the cleanliness of what’s inside as well. For clean beauty. What do you think are the biggest changes as you know the Gen Z generation is coming up obviously they’re the ones that are their huge makeup consumers as well as millennials and and but what do you see is like the biggest trend right now.

Wende Zomnir 24:50
I think for Gen Z the biggest trend is transparency. And and being you know having a point of view on a cause like I think that the days are over of being able to not be completely transparent with your customer. I think they’re demanding it, they want to know. And they have the internet and they’re good at it. And they can dig up a lot of stuff, right? They can go in and, and they’re willing to be little flus and uncover truth. So you might as well just be straight up with them. And I have two Gen Z years myself, so I kind of understand them. Right? I at least I feel like I do. Um, I mean, it doesn’t mean I want to watch tick tock all day like they do. But I do understand like, what they’re driving towards, and what is important to them. So you know, we really just try to be really transparent, like on the mascara will tell you, the tube. And the stem of the of the mascara are the 100% ocean plastic, we did make the brush out of nylon fibers, I tried to cast a seed oil brush, I couldn’t get it to work. I’m still working on it. And I’m going to try to make the brush more sustainable. But I haven’t done it yet. And that’s all I mean, is like I don’t think anyone’s expecting perfection. They’re just expecting truth and transparency.

Kara Goldin 26:19
Well, and I think also being able, I mean, here’s, here’s another thing that I think is is also the case is that if you’re able, you need to do your homework as as a CEO and as a founder and be able to speak to it. So you don’t have to have all the answers to it. But I think gone are the days where you can say, oh, that’s someone else’s department. Right? You really have to be able to speak to kind of where the company is going. And and it might not be perfect, but here’s what you’ve learned. And so I think that’s absolutely right. That’s the I have a few Gen Z years in my house as well. And I think that it’s it’s very much the case that you have to be able to speak to it. And and I really do believe that. Look, I think beauty has changed so much. And even through wearing masks. Somebody reminded me that lipstick was always who was it that Chanel had always said like nothing changes. During any crisis in the world. Everyone will always you know, wear lipstick, well, when everyone’s wearing masks, I

Wende Zomnir 27:31
think that was actually think of Leonard Lauder or was okay,

Kara Goldin 27:35
so that that’s, you know, wasn’t really the case as much during this time. Although I know, I bought plenty of lipsticks along the way. But it’s, it’s definitely a there’s, there’s lots of changes in the beauty industry for sure. And I think that the more natural, the more, you know, looking at your own characteristics and your own face versus trying to match someone else’s, you’re your own individual you write is is really important. So, but I think ingredients and things like that are, are much more important than they were I also just think that the story, right, I think that storytelling is is such a big piece of brands today. What are your thoughts on that?

Wende Zomnir 28:21
So I have always been a big believer in storytelling. And I do think, you know, the seeds of Urban Decay really did start this trend of, you know, self expression and, and being yourself right, and, and not trying to conform your face to someone else. And I think the storytelling has always been part of what we did as that brand. And I think it’s becoming more and more important, as part of brands, like people want to know the backstory, like people are fascinated with your story, like you gave up diet soda to like, and created this amazing brand, because of your own personal experience. And I think, you know, I had a personal experience when I was 16 it that indirectly led me to this point of view on makeup, which was, you know, I was coming out of church and and the you know, pastor is like, oh, you know, you’ve got so much makeup on, I just hate it when you hide behind that mask of makeup. And I was like, Oh my gosh, I’m not hiding it all. I’m showing you who I am. I’m like being really clear with you. And I remember having that thought. And I think that’s what we need. What we need to be doing with brands is like telling the backstory and also telling the story of each product through the product through every single little thing you do with the product. I think there’s there’s ways to tell the story and and bringing people into your brand, whether it’s influencers, employees, whatever and like having them be part of the story too.

Kara Goldin 29:54
Yeah, absolutely. I think that that makes so much sense. So you found it, too. Bran. So what what do you think are the biggest lessons that you learned from your journey? And that you’re doing things differently? This go round?

Wende Zomnir 30:10
Yeah. So I would say the first big lesson. And I’ve been telling people this for years, because I realized that really early on, I just thought, oh my gosh, if I just create this amazing creative product, and I’ve got some people to sell it, it’s just like, I didn’t understand how important finance and operations were right? Like, I just thought, Oh, I’m a creative person and creative business are this great product with this great brand. People love it. And the fact is, it’s a business. And so I think a lot of times people in creative fields sometimes forget that you really need to remember that, like, cash flow is super important. So you’ve got to be able to like, it looks like you’re successful on paper. And yet there’s nothing in your bank account, like how is that possible, right, I needed to understand that. And I know that seems like a baby step lesson. But if someone’s listening, who is really just getting off the ground, I highly encourage you to have a backstop, or a partner in your business that’s willing to really take on that role of watching how things operate, planning, forecasting, like making responsible business decisions, in addition to all of those awesome creative branding decisions you have to make. So that’s number one. And I think number two, as I go into, you know, round two of my, you know, beauty career. And I did that I brought in people who are more senior than I would have the first time around, right, I’m less intimidated. So I would tell people always hire the most senior person you can afford, or maybe can’t even afford, because they are worth their weight in gold. If they’re a good fit versus bringing on, you know, someone at the beginning, you think like, oh, I’m on a budget, it’d be better if I just had a bunch of little junior people like bodies to get stuff done. But you’re actually better off I think hiring at a more senior level. And really having that experience to make good decisions from the beginning that are going to set you up for success.

Kara Goldin 32:16
So so true. So where are you raising money on this go around?

Wende Zomnir 32:21
No, no, no, we, we have some friends and family that wanted to be a part of it. But it’s, it’s a passion project. And we definitely are building a brand, but just trying to do it. Grassroots.

Kara Goldin 32:35
I love it. That’s so great. So how about supply chain? How do you feel that that’s like the hot topic of

Wende Zomnir 32:42
a hot topic, the world hot topic? Well, I can walk out my front door and count the ships that are sitting, waiting to get in, in San Pedro in the LA ports. So I do visually understand how big the supply chain issue is. Fortunately, we started planning this a long time ago. And we did anticipate that we might have problems. And so we placed POS very early way earlier than we thought we needed to, which was hard, right? Because sometimes you got to, you know, it cost you money to place that po right off the bat. And we just decided to bite the bullet and do it early. I will tell you, it’s still the deliveries are still way later than I thought they’d be even placing them early. So it’s just about planning ahead.

Kara Goldin 33:38
Definitely. Well, thank you so much. So many important lessons here. And where do people find you and also kalray, where’s the best place for people to pick up some of the great AI products that you have now and you said more coming later,

Wende Zomnir 33:54
more and more products are coming and really excited about what is to come in the next couple of months. Right now you can buy all of our products on kalray Beauty calm, but you can also this is hot off the press. You are the first person to hear it from me, but support calm, so you’ll be able to pick it [email protected]

Kara Goldin 34:18
That’s so great. I’m very, very excited to hear that and I love walking into support there. So terrific. So well. Thank you, Wendy and you have a great Instagram account as well. So everybody definitely follow Wendy on you have a personal one as well as Kelly Reyes.

Wende Zomnir 34:43
I do so we have one that’s just Kelly Ray and then mine is Wendy Sumner.

Kara Goldin 34:48
Yes, they’re both really, really great. So well thank you again, and thanks for having me. Yeah, thanks everybody for listening and definitely if you have already subscribed to the Kara Goldin show we’re here every Monday and Wednesday. With amazing stories from founders and CEOs and amazing brands. Definitely subscribe on Apple or Spotify or your favorite podcast. And if you haven’t picked up a copy of my book that came out I can’t even believe that a year ago. Undaunted, overcoming doubts and doubters. It’s really is about the journey of building hints and so much more and kind of being able to figure out how to move forward get through challenging times. And definitely pick up a case of hint or a bottle of hint at your local store if you haven’t tried it, or if you’re just thirsty as well. And please follow me on all social channels at Kara Goldin and thank you everyone for listening. Have a great rest of the week. 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 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