We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do, but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their stories in our series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life profile. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details—from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves—we’re not holding back.
Alisia Ford was working as an attorney when she launched Glory Skincare, but the business was always more than just a passion project for the first-time founder. As someone who never felt celebrated or represented by the beauty industry, Ford was determined to build a platform for women of color who, like her, had also been overlooked by major beauty brands and retailers. “I wanted to find skincare that worked for women of color and fulfill that huge hole in the beauty industry,” Ford tells Create & Cultivate. “It was almost a moment of, ‘If not me, then who?’ and that’s when I knew I had a responsibility to create this space in beauty for ‘her.’”
But Glory Skincare is more than just a platform to shop clean skincare. “We carefully curate products with dermatologists and chemists with specialties in skin of color and even work with psychologists so we can positively build up the relationship between skin and mental health,” Ford explains. “I prioritize making sure that women are creating self-care rituals based on what they really want, not what marketing agencies want them to buy.” And her conscientious approach has gained the attention of two of the most influential names in beauty, Beyoncé and Sephora. As a brand that’s been featured in Beyoncé’s Black Parade Route and graduated from Sephora’s accelerate incubator program, Glory Skincare is a beauty brand to watch in 2021 and beyond.
Ahead, Ford tells Create and Cultivate how she bootstrapped the business, what she learned from the Sephora accelerate program (mentorship is everything), and why it’s important to invest in the future success of your business.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you were doing professionally before launching Glory Skincare?
Before Glory Skincare, I had a long career as an attorney. Most recently, I was an attorney for Apple’s advertising agency, but I’ve also served in various roles at premier organizations, such as Nike, Fox Sports, and Disney, across a broad range of industries. I’m so glad that I took the leap to leave my attorney days behind me and launch Glory Skincare. Being a woman in business has been so rewarding because I’m always surrounded by other incredible and supportive women.
How did you come up with the name Glory Skincare? What are some of the things you considered during the naming process?
The naming process for Glory was pretty easy but there is always a lot to consider when naming a company. I needed something that would be easy to recognize, but also reflected the vision and values of the brand. I wanted this company to be a community where women of every color and background are celebrated because, for many years, I never felt represented or celebrated by the beauty industry. It has taken me many years to find a sense of peace and belonging. This journey to self-acceptance has been a gift from God and the name glory is a personal reminder of this opportunity. Glory means great beauty and splendor which is how I want my community to feel in this new kind of beauty movement.
What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?
After I had the initial plan for Glory, I wanted to jump right in but I knew it wouldn’t serve the business well to rush into things. I started out by writing a detailed business plan that helped me to understand the values, mission, and goals for Glory. Part of writing this business plan was also spent doing a lot of market research. Glory is intended to be a reflection of what my community wants. I dedicated a lot of time connecting with women of color about their skin to listen and understand the top concerns and problems they all face. Luckily, my background in the legal industry prepared me well for all of the paperwork you have to do for trademarking, finances, etc. Other immediate things I did were setting up the Glory Skincare domain and social media channels, hiring a team, and working on the marketing and design elements of Glory.
What research did you do for the brand beforehand? Why would you recommend it?
Because Glory Skincare is meant to create a space for women of color that changes our relationship with beauty for the better, I made a decision from the very beginning to be very mindful about every aspect of our actions that could affect the women in this community. Even though my own experience as a Black woman helped me make the initial realization that a community like Glory was necessary, our adherence to this standard meant that we had to do additional market research, learn from dermatologists, and work rigorously with psychologists.
How do you find and identify the brands that you stock? What do you consider during this process and why are these factors important to you and your business?
Glory Skincare is a community for women of color, and all of the brands and products on our site reflect that. We carefully curate products with dermatologists and chemists with specialties in skin of color and even work with psychologists so we can positively build up the relationship between skin and mental health. I prioritize making sure that women are creating self-care rituals based on what they really want, not what marketing agencies want them to buy.
How did you identify the manufacturer you work with to create Glory’s line of products? Are there any mistakes you learned from along the way and what advice can you share for aspiring entrepreneurs on finding the right partner to create a product?
When looking for a manufacturer, take your time and don’t settle for something you don’t want. Bringing on a team of people you trust and work well with is essential if you want the business to succeed. As a people person, it was really important to me that I had a good relationship with the manufacturers. The key things I looked for in the manufacturing company we hired were attention to detail, flexibility, problem-solving, and dependability. I am really lucky to work with a great manufacturer and I think this is because I really took the time to do the research and find the right company that aligned with my vision and goals for Glory.
How did you fund your business? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend that route to other entrepreneurs?
At the beginning, I was bootstrapping the business but I knew we would need to begin fundraising in order to grow the business to where I wanted it to be. It was challenging to be launching a business with such little funding available but it pushes you to be resourceful and work as efficiently as possible. We managed to raise a pre-seed round of capital but recently, my time and energy have been devoted to our seed funding. Fundraising is challenging and feels like a full-time job itself but it’s been rewarding to have investors really connect with the brand and believe in the mission of Glory.
How big is your team now, and what has the hiring process been like? Did you have any hiring experience before this venture? If not, how did you learn and what have you learned about it along the way?
We’re a small but mighty team! Right now, we have about five people on the team full-time but have a board of dermatologists, a team of manufacturers, and a PR team that we work with as well. Hiring during a pandemic can be difficult. It’s hard to really connect with someone when you are interviewing over Zoom. I did not have much experience with hiring before this so there has been a lot to learn along the way. During an interview, it’s important to ask questions pertaining to the job but I think we often forget it’s important to also ask questions to help get to know the candidate on a more personal level. Someone might look great on their resume, but if you are bringing them onto your team, you also want to make sure they are someone you can trust and get along with.
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup?
I do have a financial team that helps with investments, deposits, financial planning, etc. Since I do not have a background in finance, I knew I needed to hire an accountant to help with the financial side of the business. Just like with any member of your team, it’s important that you trust this person with the success of your business. Find someone who aligns with your values and believes in your company as much as you do.
What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing your business?
This may sound a little cliché, but the amount of time and energy that goes into a business is something you can’t really anticipate. Every day is a new challenge and my toughest but most important lesson was definitely flexibility.
How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?
Shortly after we launched, we were featured on Beyonce’s website in the Black Parade roster of Black-owned businesses. That was such a highlight of this whole journey and really ramped up the business. Last summer, I hired a PR team to help with securing press coverage for Glory. From product placements to founder interviews, their team has really helped get the name of Glory out into the media landscape.
You recently graduated from Sephora’s accelerate incubator program—congratulations! What was the experience like for you and how has it impacted your business? Tell us everything!
It’s been such a great experience and an amazing opportunity that I’m so thankful for. The program has been extremely helpful. We’ve received advice on everything from financial statements, to branding, to operations and fulfillment. As a cohort, we’ve created a bond as all founders of color and every individual in the program is someone I respect and value. I am beyond grateful for the experience! The program was intense and we all dedicated many hours to attending seminars, workshops, and meetings with various industry experts and professionals. I was pushed outside of my comfort zone but in the best way possible. The future of Glory is brighter than ever before thanks to the program.
Do you have a business coach or mentor, and would you recommend one?
I have a handful of really incredible mentors and advisors that I have met along the way. I am a part of several entrepreneurial groups and programs that have put me in touch with other founders that I have been able to lean on for support and guidance. I recently graduated from the Sephora Accelerator program which introduced me to people who are experts in their respective fields. As a brand founder, it’s easy to forget that we are not experts in every aspect of the business. Having mentors, coaches, and leaders to go to for advice and support will help you make more educated decisions that will benefit your business greatly. I am grateful that I have a space to learn about what it is like to start a business, share ideas with other dreamers, and get encouragement to take a leap of faith.
What is one thing you didn’t do during the setup process that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?
Don’t try to do it all alone. When I first launched Glory Skincare, I was fired up about my idea and tried to manage and oversee every element of the business. This wasn’t sustainable and I quickly realized that I was burning myself out. Having a team is everything. Everyone can bring their unique talents, skills, and experiences to the table and build each other up in a really inspiring way.
What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new business owner and why?
Invest in the long-term success of your business. At first, it’s hard to see so much money going into development, branding, marketing, operations, etc., but these investments will pay themselves off in the long run. If you set yourself up for success, it will come with time and effort.