How She Got There: Sarah Lee & Christine Chang, Co-Founders of Glow Recipe

Name: Sarah Lee
Job Title and Description: Co-CEO & Co-Founder of Glow Recipe
College Name/Major: Ewha Woman’s University in Korea/English Literature
Twitter Handle: @glowrecipe

Name: Christine Chang
Job Title and Description: Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Glow Recipe
College Name/Major: Washington University in St. Louis
Twitter Handle: @glowrecipe

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Sarah Lee: Every day is different with surprises along the way (good and bad, #startuplife), and I wake up in the morning always full of energy and excitement for what’s to come. 

Typically though I start my day by opening my email first thing in the morning and checking if there is anything urgent to take [care] of or respond to. The rest of the day might turn out completely different from how it was planned based on this – whether it’s meeting a new vendor/retailer, going to an industry event or pitching a new idea to editors. We have a wonderful team who is managing the day-to-day logistics and we status frequently to ensure everything is on track. And my co-founder Christine and I travel a lot. Currently, I’m in Korea meeting new brand partners, curating the next round of the latest innovations, meeting Korean media outlets for interviews about K-beauty in the U.S. and our business and lecturing at Yonsei University on marketing and digital strategy. It’s incredibly inspiring to be in Korea and being able to experience the fast-paced trends and innovations.

Christine Chang: My co-founder Sarah and I started Glow Recipe last year after 20+ combined years in the U.S. and Korean beauty industries. There’s really no such thing as a typical day at a startup! The great thing about entrepreneurship is that you wear so many hats, every day is a learning experience. We might be travelling to Korea to curate the latest brands, working with our multi-ethnic tester panel to test products, meeting with beauty editors, recruiting for our ever-expanding team, updating and managing our site and planning for events like our pop-up store in NYC this year.  

What is the best part of your job?

SL: The best part is being at the forefont of the Korean beauty trend and having access to the latest innovations and launches. We are fortunate to have a great network in the beauty industry of Korea and recently Vogue Korea called us the “Glow Creators, the leading Korean beauty site for K-beauty,” which is humbling and very rewarding at the same time. Every day, we’re receiving emails and calls from new brands and industry influencers and leaders on the latest trends. I absolutely love trying new formulas and discovering something that is creative while giving results on my skin!

CC: Getting to discover new brands and brand founders that truly inspire us. We’re lucky to have a strong network in Korea, as we started our careers in the beauty industry in Seoul over a decade ago. This helps us to be the first to uncover amazing new beauty brands. It’s rewarding to help brands like Whamisa, which was one of the pioneers in fermenting skincare, or Blithe, which created the game-changing pressed serum category, grow internationally. They have such great innovations and we partner with our brands to make sure that these products are reaching U.S. customers with the right translation and education. BB creams from Korea came stateside, which then triggered a new category with hundreds of new options. We believe this international beauty dialogue will ultimately mean more exciting product choices for U.S. women. 

Tell me about your experience with Shark Tank! What did it teach you about yourself as well as your business?

​SL: When Christine and I were prepping to go on Shark Tank, we read a fellow entrepreneur describe the experience of watching themselves pitch on national television as an emotional roller coaster. I would absolutely agree with that, except it felt like our roller coaster was running on rocket fuel! I will remember the exact date and time for the rest of our lives (after all, it was literally a once-in-a-lifetime experience). The countless sleepless nights spent composing pitches to media outlets, responding to customer emails or spent speaking with vendors a dozen time zones away, were all culminating in that one moment. Most importantly, I’m so thankful to have had this moment as it was an enormous opportunity for us to share Korean beauty with the world, or at least the nine million or so folks who watch Shark Tank!

Looking back, we thought this would be a long shot but each step of the way we did our very best and in the end, we closed the deal with Robert. My biggest takeaway is that nothing is impossible; "dream big" is truly a phrase to always keep in mind.

CC: Shark Tank was an unforgettable experience. It was almost a nine-month process from attending the open casting call, to video submissions, to filming to the segment actually airing. (You can read about our experience in detail here!) We rehearsed practice questions the week before filming started in LA, but nothing could have prepared us for how intense the Q&A session [was] when we were in the tank. We had five incredibly successful business leaders grill us about our business for almost an hour – though around 10 minutes of it aired – and they asked incisive, thought-provoking questions that really helped us to relook at our own business in a very objective way.

While our answers may not have been perfect each time, I’m glad that we were able to calmly present the business that we worked so hard to grow in a positive light, even in a high-pressure situation. We had three offers from the Sharks and ultimately decided to partner with Robert!

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

​SL: This was something that Daymond John said on Shark Tank: “It’s very easy to preach and tell other people what they should do and shouldn’t do, but the true evidence of whether a person truly does live by the standards he preaches is to see how his children develop into adults.” I am working on this every day. I want to become a role model for my team and as much as I have passion for mentoring and coaching, I know I need to always live by the words I tell them.

CC: I love the quote "Hire character. Train skill." from Peter Schutz. Skills can be taught but the basis of strong partnerships and strong teams are founded in integrity and character. It informs a lot of the choices I make on a daily basis, from the type of brand founders that Glow Recipe partners with, the people we aim to recruit for our team and how I try to interact with our lateral partners. 

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

​SL: Blaming the workload is a mistake I made along the way. There will always be a lot of workload no matter how successful the business is, and it’s my responsibility to prioritize efficiently and wisely.

CC: I used to think that being an introvert was something to be overcome. Now I’m appreciative of this aspect of my personality – it’s helped to shape how I approach and think through problems. And we’re not alone, fellow introverts – Forbes recently reported that almost 40% of executives describe themselves as introverts. 

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

​SL: Definitely being on Shark Tank. Applying for it was also one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The best part is that we were able to share the wonderful world of K-beauty [with] America. The impact was incredible in so many aspects. We learned so much along the way and we cannot be more prepared for any new challenges to come. The combination of preparing for Shark Tank by understanding even the smallest details of our business and having to respond professionally and calmly while being "grilled" by the sharp, intelligent and challenging sharks made us both stronger entrepreneurs and individuals. The emails and supportive comments from Shark Tank viewers and our customers have been beyond motivating and we’re just very grateful for this opportunity.

CC: Definitely appearing on Shark Tank! We’re still amazed that we had the opportunity to present not only our business but also our vision for Korean beauty on a nationally televised platform. And it was incredibly rewarding to see the sharks recognize the potential of Korean beauty products as well. The feedback and encouragement we’ve received from customers all over the world since has been humbling. 

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

​SL: In beauty, there are so many amazing talents with creativity and intelligence, and it’s brutally competitive. I look for someone who can strive in this environment with a can-do attitude and passion. I’ve worked with extremely smart and experienced employees who would easily be demotivated and in the end not perform. On the flip side, I’ve worked with an inexperienced college student who was completely green in beauty. But she learned and applied something every day and had a huge passion to try anything and everything when the opportunity came. Lucky me, I’m still currently working with her and it is an indescribable joy to witness her growth. Mentoring is a huge passion of mine and I plan on continuing to hire and nurture young female talents as we grow our business.

CC: The drive to go above and beyond, and a great attitude toward learning. When you’re first starting out, drive and attitude is what will set you apart from your peers. I want to work with someone who is passionate enough to evolve past the boundaries of their job description and make it their own. 

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

​SL: Set your goal to something that you think might be impossible to achieve. Dream big and don’t look back. You will make a lot of mistakes and shed tears along the way, but trust me, they’re such critical moments in your life to only make you better and stronger. Follow your passion and keep learning to be the expert in the field you’re passionate about. You will get there.  

CC: Beauty marketing is a combination of creativity and analytics. It’s as important to have rich experiences outside of the office (or library) as it is to understand numbers and charts as both will fuel you to become a stronger marketer. 

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