Features Sonali Chaturvedi of ShikSona

Sonali Chaturvedi of ShikSona Beauty: “Make sure your brand is different from other brands”

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sonali Chaturvedi, Co-Founder of ShikSona Beauty.

Sonali and Shikha Chaturvedi are sisters who have collaborated to create beauty services and make up products targeted towards busy women on the go. They have spent the better part of their adult lives as professionals in the corporate world, where often beauty fell to the wayside amid their busy schedules. The recent launches of Glam Set Go mobile salon services and the ShikSona Beauty lip collection and beauty products represent their desire to streamline the beauty process for women who need 28 hours in a day to get things done.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Unabashedly, I would say that my sister and I never really focused on getting glammed up for our day-to-day lives. We always assumed that glam was meant for special occasions- much to our mother’s chagrin. Admittedly, while we find ourselves to be fairly intelligent women, we never really understood contouring and baking, and I can tell you that transforming my wavy and frizzy hair into a beautiful blowout by myself has yet to happen- and it is not for a lack of trying. As we continued to grow in our careers, the time to focus on beauty for ourselves just did not, and certainly still does not, seem to be there. And if we do happen to have time, we value things like sleep and spending it with our family versus sitting at a salon all day waiting in front of a mirror for some transformation to occur. We have all watched celebrities — surrounded by a crew of people constantly attending to their every need with hair and makeup. You may have watched in admiration but for me and my sister, it was more in jealousy. I have certainly stated more than a few times to my loved ones “If I had the ability to bring someone to my home and do my hair and makeup then I would also look fabulous all the time.” So we decided to do just that: create mobile beauty services for everyone to have access to get glammed up without monopolizing precious time with our one-of-a-kind Mercedes Sprinter GlamTruck. In addition to providing mobile beauty services, we also created a beauty brand, ShikSona Beauty, to empower everyday super-women by enhancing their natural beauty and providing them a boost of color and confidence to crush their day. With our new line, we take the complexity out of beauty. We always use the highest quality ingredients to deliver vibrant, gorgeous, and timeless shades that look amazing on any skin tone and can be worn for any occasion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Initially, we were supposed to launch our mobile beauty business with individualized hair and makeup services. But, since we launched in the middle of the COVID pandemic, we had to pivot pretty quickly and focused the launch on special events, because we noticed more of a demand for hair and makeup services for birthday parties, weddings, and other special occasions, which really helped drive up our sales. The GlamTruck itself is a major key to our company’s success, and customers feel safe getting their hair and makeup in our trucks, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Initially, we didn’t check if the name of our company was already trademarked before we started all our branding/marketing efforts. Unfortunately, we ended up having to regroup and find another name, which took us a couple of months to figure out. It was a big lesson learned. Don’t forget about trademarks and research early in the process before you incorporate!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

With Glam Set Go and ShikSona Beauty, we would say that our greatest influence, mentor, and guide would have to be our mother. Ever since we were little our mother would express to us the importance of putting your best foot forward. “Avoid the sweat pants when you go out” is what she would say because “you never know who you will run into.” Unfortunately, as our professional careers started to take up the majority of our time, we lost our ability to prioritize putting our best foot forward from a beauty perspective. Our mother stepped in once again and taught us easy hacks to help save time and really was the inspiration behind the start of our mobile salon service and beauty products. We are even more grateful to her because she has been our number one supporter and has spent countless sleepless nights helping us find the right array of colors and products for ShikSona Beauty. We are forever thankful to have her in our lives and we are so lucky to be able to spend this extra time with her in this venture.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I think that finding available capital is difficult for women, and women may not feel like they aren’t being taken seriously when they are pitching to investors, which are usually male-dominated. I also think it’s really difficult for women to juggle both entrepreneurship and childcare, which can be costly and emotionally draining. It’s hard enough for women to take time off for just maternity leave in a corporate job without worrying about the impact on their job or career, and as an entrepreneur, it’s even harder because you really can’t have set work hours initially. Starting a company requires multitasking, crazy hours, and hustling hard for the first few years. Women are such hard workers and so focused on making sure every aspect of our lives is thriving that sometimes we forget it’s ok to have a work-life balance with family and business.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

In my opinion, I think it would be great to have more women who have successfully launched businesses mentor/help other women navigate through the challenges of starting up their own businesses. I would love to see more female investors as well that can help provide the capital women need for startup costs.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women are resilient, are usually not quitters, and are successful multitaskers. Women also are very passionate, so if they have an idea they believe in, they will work hard to see it to fruition. Also, women in my opinion, also have a very high EQ, which is really important when working with and understanding clients/customers and employees.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I think a lot of people are under the impression that starting your own company is better/easier than working for someone else. That is definitely not the case. It’s easy to come up with an idea or concept, but being disciplined enough to launch successfully requires A LOT of blood, sweat, and tears….and money. It’s not as glamorous as you think, and there is a lot of hard work, stress, and sacrificing of your personal time before you can make that celebratory champagne toast at the launch party. Also, most businesses require about 3–5 years of this hard work and dedication post-launch before it becomes a success — it definitely doesn’t happen overnight.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No, I don’t think that everyone is cut out to be a founder. Successful founders should have the following traits: persistent/resilient, risk-taker, good communication skills/high EQ, thinks outside of the box, is able to take criticism, passionate, has good leadership skills, and is goal-oriented.

In my opinion, I think that people who are more risk-averse, want a defined career path/plan, and want to enjoy their work/life balance should take the employee route as opposed to being an entrepreneur.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Make sure your brand is different from other brands. There are so many different brands out there, and it’s important for the customer to see why your brand is unique. Our beauty brand focuses solely on providing convenient, simplified, and luxurious products/services to busy women on the go. As part of our beauty services, we have our luxurious mobile salons (GlamTrucks) that come to your home, work, event, etc for makeup and hair services at your convenience. Our beauty products are created to reduce choice overload for our customers. We recently launched a lip collection that includes lipsticks that are multifunctional, made with clean ingredients (gluten-free and vegan), and are made of a limited amount of universal/timeless/inclusive shades that look amazing on any skin tone and can be used for any occasion. Also, be ready to really think outside the box in your industry to set your brand apart from others (for example, one of our lip glosses, Sassy Stunner, can also be used as a highlighter for cheeks).
  2. Identify your customer. Our customer is the busy, super-woman who is working hard and long hours, is busy multitasking, is not a beauty expert, and doesn’t have time to travel to a salon and wait for hair and makeup services appointment nor has the time to go to the store or online and try to figure out which lipstick/lip gloss shades to choose with the best ingredients.
  3. Sell only to that customer. It’s important that you focus and stay true to marketing and selling to your core customer only and not try to sell to other customers. For example, it may not make sense to sell our beauty brand to women who love doing their own hair and makeup and who are makeup and hair experts/enthusiasts that enjoy trying different beauty products and choice overload.
  4. Focus on slow and steady growth with quality products and services. It’s really important that you roll out a limited amount of services and products at a time to ensure you can handle capacity and provide the best service and best quality products to customers. Also, we recommend doing a soft launch for friends and family 2–4 months prior to really test the entire process end to end and fix any unexpected kinks prior to the official launch.
  5. Ensure you hire full-time team members (not part-time contractors) that are dedicated to achieving customer satisfaction. As a small business, our brand’s reputation means everything to us. We hire top, full-time talent to make sure all our clients are happy.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

With the pandemic, we understand how difficult things have been for families in the Loudon County/Washington DC area (where we currently service) and across the country. We are undergoing those very same stressors and pressures at the moment and it certainly is not easy to start a business in the middle of a pandemic. To try and launch a new business under normal circumstances often feels like an uphill battle, but with the pandemic that hill has felt more like a mountain. This can be discouraging but we try and concentrate on why we do this- to restore some sense of normalcy for our clients. There doesn’t need to be additional stress associated with getting hair cut or styled or getting makeup done for your normal day or a special occasion. It is our hope that we have removed a significant portion of that additional stress with our glam trucks and our highly skilled staff. I was telling my sister last week, every commercial on TV always ends with “we are there for you” and I still don’t quite understand how a cell phone company, car company, or bank is really there for me at this point. Everything is still markedly difficult and particularly inconvenient these days. We don’t want to just be there for our clients, we want to help restore normalcy and convenience to their lives. We will remain focused on doing that for our clients.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

We would love to promote that it’s ok for women to look beautiful (i.e. getting their hair and makeup done) without being judged as less competent or not taken seriously. Confidence is beautiful, and we want to help encourage women to always feel their best.

I also think it is important to talk about women being able to be their best selves without living in fear of unwanted attention. Women are so harshly criticized on all fronts in today’s society. We would love to see that come to an end.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.