Inspiring Women: Meet The Entrepreneur Who Keeps It Real About Natural Beauty
Priscilla Tsai, founder of Cocokind, used her own struggles with acne to change the way we treat and heal our skin.
How much do you care about the ingredients in your skincare products? Considering your skin in the largest organ in your body, you should probably care quite a bit. The same logic that tells us we should nourish our bodies with clean, organic foods should also apply to how we treat our skin — it only makes sense, right?
That's what drove Priscilla Tsai to create her own skincare line, Cocokind, a brand that promises to use only clean, conscious, and simple ingredients in each of their products. And that's exactly what they deliver.
Pricilla's motive behind Cocokind is personal. When dealing with her own issues with acne, Pricilla took a step back to evaluate the ingredients she actually wanted to use to heal her skin. After a little experimenting, San Francisco-based Cocokind came to fruition, and has been sweeping the nation (and Canada) ever since. Adding to Cocokind's appeal is the fact the brand aims to dispel the concept of "perfect skin." Instead, it intends to empower women to embrace their skin by caring for it with natural ingredients and strive for beauty in its most natural form.
We chatted with Pricilla to learn more about her story and what sets her woman-run company apart.
Let's start at the very beginning — can you tell us the story behind Cocokind?
Priscilla Tsai: I’ve dealt with hormonal acne since I was a teenager. When I was in college, my dermatologist put me on antibiotics and spironolactone, and I took those pills daily for years. When I graduated, however, I started having major digestion issues, and I realized that there may have been a link between my acne medicine and my stomach problems.
After some convincing, I quit those pills and started looking into holistic solutions for my skin and body. I started learning how to eat clean and how my diet may have been impacting my skin issues. What started with cooking with coconut oil turned into trying the oil on my face! At first, I was terrified because I had been told all my life to only use oil-free moisturizers. However, within of week of trying coconut oil, my skin felt and looked completely different. It wasn’t that I became acne-free overnight, but I did immediately notice that my skin was more supple, soft, and when I did break out, my acne would recover much more quickly. After experiencing some success with coconut oil, I started searching high and low for other food ingredients that I could use to heal my skin.
At the time, however, I was working on Wall Street and working 12+ hour days. I didn’t always have time to make my own skincare “concoctions”, as I would call them! When I went to the grocery stores, I would get so frustrated because most skincare products either contained way too many unnecessary
ingredients or they would be (what I believed) unfairly expensive. My skin is extremely sensitive; more
ingredients means that there is a greater chance that I will have a negative reaction. That’s where my business idea started! It was founded out of my own need – I realized that there was nothing out there to serve my needs as a consumer.
How was the process of starting your own skincare line? Did you face any difficulties as a woman entrepreneur?
PT: The beginning was the most fun time I’ve had in my career thus far. I was learning things for the first time and gaining momentum quickly. While I didn’t have much of a work / life balance, all the difficulties we faced in this initial time period were good problems. The good problems were needing to produce more products to meet demand, ordering supplies faster, fulfilling orders at 12 am just so the customer would receive it in time, etc. Those were what I now call “fun problems”!
I’d say the second year was much more challenging. I still didn’t have a work / life balance, and I started to develop more anxiety as the company grew. I was also learning how to become a real manager for the first time in my life as our team grew. I had many challenges in this year adapting to my new company, being cash-strapped, and having a limited support network.
As far as challenges faced being a woman, one thing I thought was funny was that when I’d go to sales
meetings with my first employee (a male), I would do 100% of the talking and he would assist me in
taking notes. No matter what, however, people always assumed at the end of the meeting that we were
in a relationship or co-founders. I realized, at that time, that being a woman founder wasn’t as common or “standard” as I thought it was in my mind. That assumption wasn’t a challenge, per say, but it did make me feel defeated or alone on a few occasions.
How is Cocokind different from other organic and natural skincare lines?
We take a different approach to our formulation where we use effective superfoods in a gentle and minimal way. We use A LOT of the superfood ingredient, it’s not just a small part of a list of ingredients. We are designed for those with sensitive skin and who appreciate holistic living.
Additionally, our products are accessible. Our team, including myself, is extremely accessible to our customers, and our price points are all under $25. Our best seller is $8.99 (the MYMATCHA stick)!
We also care about educating our consumers and communicating to them in a different way. We are not an “aspirational brand”, we like to meet the customers where they are right now. We do not market to this idea of having perfect skin — we are realistic, caring, and communicative.
Speaking of the notion of having "perfect skin" — I love how you normalize acne and support IG accounts that do so as well. Can you elaborate on why you feel this is important?
People who know me know that I have always dealt with major skin issues, mostly relating to sensitivities and cystic acne. Dealing with acne can be such a challenge for both your body and mind. We don’t talk about the insecurities that come from acne as much as we do about body image issues, but we really should be. I can point to several times in my life when my problematic skin majorly disrupted my life, dictating and impairing how I felt about myself.
Through my own products, I’ve thankfully overcome (most of) that mental challenge. But because I know how hard it can be, I care a lot about how my consumers use our products and what their experiences are. In the age of social media, it’s important for people to feed their minds with images that are real (like of me and my breakouts); our customers relate to me! That relatability is extremely important to our brand.
I know you are a woman-run company. Why does that hold value to you?
I believe us women can do everything and anything. For the women who work for me, building their expertise and confidence is important to me. I remember how it felt to be insecure in my old jobs in finance, surrounded by men, and that’s just not an environment that promotes empowered women. We need more women in managerial roles.
The 20+ women at my company can do every role – whether it is sales, marketing, finance, accounting, warehouse, production, or fulfillment. As we are growing, it is now becoming women teaching even more women how to do these functions. I think that’s so cool!
What is your personal favorite product?
I don’t have a favorite product because I use every single one – no exaggeration! In terms of the product that I use the most, I’d say it’s the MYMATCHA. I keep two on me at all times – one as a lip balm (I use this 20x a day) and one as my under-eye or general dry spot moisturizer.
Here are Livingly our motto is "live life beautifully." What does living beautifully mean to you?
That’s a great motto. To me, it means feeling enough in your every day life. It’s hard, and it takes a lot of work to get there, but I think that’s the real key to happiness.