In 2015, Priscilla Tsai set out to launch her own skin care and cosmetics brand. She had $60,000 saved up from her job at J.P. Morgan, where she worked doing equity research.
She had a clear vision, too: After struggling with acne for years, Tsai felt there was a gap in the market for clean, accessible, and affordable products that could treat issues like hers.
Here's how Tsai saved up enough money to leave her corporate job and start her own business.
Tsai credits her parents with teaching her how to spend consciously and save money. As a child, her parents would give her a $10 bill for taking care of various household chores, like doing the dishes or helping with laundry.
When she went away to college, Tsai's parents covered the cost of her tuition and living expenses with the stipulation that at the end of each month, she turn in a list of all of her expenses.
"It'd be like, 'OK, I spent $170 on food, $100 on going out with friends,' and I still remember these numbers," says Tsai. "When you know your numbers, you will save more. The No. 1 strategy for saving is just having the knowledge."
Video by Mariam Abdallah
Tsai applied the lessons she learned at a young age about tracking her expenses and saving what she earned to take charge of her finances as an adult. She learned how to live on less by setting aside roughly one-third of her six-figure salary into savings each year.
After four years, she had $60,000 saved, which she invested into her business in its first year.
"Knowledge is power — simply tracking monthly expenses and tracking what I spent was very empowering," says Tsai.
To avoid the use of prescription medications that brought on a number of unpleasant side effects, Tsai began experimenting with superfoods like coconut oil, avocado oil, and almond oil, and found that they had a calming, nourishing effect on her skin.
"I toyed around with a couple of ideas, but what really got me into skin care was that I felt that there was a lack of transparency in the industry," she says. "How pricing is determined [for skin care products] or what's inside the bottle and really what the consumer is paying for was something that bothered me enough to convince me to start the company."
Tsai now stresses the importance starting small in order to get your business of the ground. When she first launched Cocokind, she started off with a few simple products including rosewater, cleansing oil, skin butter, facial repair oil, and lip balm. She used simple packaging as a way to cut back on expenses when she first introduced the brand in order to start generating revenue.
Tsai made products in a rented commercial kitchen and hired employees to help as her business grew. Now, she has an entire production team and a dedicated warehouse one block away from her corporate office in San Francisco.
Cocokind became a profitable business within the first two years and can be found on the shelves of almost 1,800 Target stores, according to Tsai, as well as Whole Foods stores, Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters, and more. Cocokind charges $3-$25 for single products, filling a niche for reasonably priced skin care products.
"The pricing was not based on what we can charge, but what we should charge in order to give more people access to clean, quality products," says Tsai.
Tsai admits that she was a bit naive when she first started the business and didn't know what it would take. Despite feeling ill-prepared, though, she says she always knew she would start her own business and felt confident it was the right path for her.
"In the beginning, it was just about covering my bases every day," says Tsai. "I went door-to-door to local Whole Foods stores in Northern California and spoke with the local buyers. With every conversation, my path to getting on the shelves became clearer as the buyers would give me feedback, guidance, and advice on our entrepreneurial journey and help support our pursuit. I used every conversation as a learning opportunity."
Tsai was able to get her products on the shelves of Whole Foods across the country within the first year of launching her business. This big step was only possible after she took the small steps to get her business off the ground, such as figuring out the right ingredients and packaging.
While starting your own business can feel like a massive undertaking, she says, breaking it down into smaller steps can ease your stress. When launching Cocokind, Tsai felt it was best to start small and not over-invest in any one aspect of her business.
"A lot of entrepreneurs think that you need a million dollars to start a business, and maybe that's true for some industries, but other businesses start really small," she says, "so it's important to be realistic about what you actually need and then tackle one thing at a time."
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