Why Kopari Co-founder Says Great Leadership Isn't About Gender

The daughter of an entrepreneur (and surf legend Joey Cabell), some might say Kiana Cabell, co-foudner of the cruelty-free organic coconut beauty brand Kopari Beauty, has business in her blood. But it's the company's lightweight Coconut Sheer Oil that's on her body. Working since the age of 12, she's always be a go-getter goal setter. Unafraid to fail, the Honolulu-raised business woman knew she could take the coconut cooking craze (she's also a certified organic chef) and apply it to beauty.

Dedicated to exploring the different ways coconut benefits the body, inside AND out, Cabell, along with co-founders, beauty entrepreneurs and industry veterans, Bryce Goldman and James Brennan, launched with a firm understanding of their miracle multitasking ingredient. Today, the Kopari Beauty success is so real that some Hollywood heavy hitters have gotten involved.  It's a startup tale that proves successful entrepreneurs know their business from soup to coconuts. 

We caught up with Cabell to find out how she launched, what scared her, and her standout moment as a business owner this year.

What was your first job and are there any lessons you learned early on that help you today as an entrepreneur?

My father was an entrepreneur himself - he founded the Chart House restaurant chain - so those practices were instilled in me from a young age. It was important to him that I set up values and worked throughout my childhood. From the age of 12 and on, I spent every summer working at the Chart House as a hostess. I cleaned menus, greeted guests, managed the seating arrangements and answered calls, and that definitely helped position me as a self-starter. I began networking and really honed my communication and organization skills. Above all, I found that starting in the workforce early instilled in me a unique drive and understanding that hard work truly pays off. 

People always tell you to find the white space in business. So what prompted you to start Kopari? Where did you see that white space?

I was initially inspired to go into the natural food space by attending New York’s Natural Gourmet Institute to become a certified organic chef. Consumer awareness of health and wellness, and a greater concern over what you put in your body, was quickly growing and I saw an opportunity within that movement. I never ate with any dietary restrictions, but I enjoyed learning more about nutrition and the benefits of good, clean ingredients and wholesome foods. I ultimately took what I learned at the Gourmet Institute and applied it to Kopari. Similar to the organic food movement, there was a wellness trend in the beauty space. I capitalized on the growth in awareness of the ingredients consumers were slathering on their skin, as well as a mounting love for coconut oil, to co-found a brand that really addressed an unfilled niche in the market. The movement for coconut products in food was blowing up, but in the beauty space, it was just now kicking off. I really just recognized that this was my time.

Can you tell us about the initial stages of your company. How did you get funding to get it up and running? 

Everything came together so quickly. I was lucky enough to have two amazing partners, James Brennan (also the co-founder of Suja Juice), and Bryce Goldman who is an accomplished beauty industry veteran. They both really helped on this end. Additionally, we all reached out for initial funding from close friends and family, who were happy to contribute. They really believed in us and that was when we first knew that we were onto something.

Why did you decide to start online only?

Digital and social was where everything was moving. We knew that we could create a lot of buzz, drive traction, and create demand via a thoughtful, well-constructed online and social presence. As opposed to reaching out to retailers as so many brands do, we had them coming to us.

As opposed to reaching out to retailers as so many brands do, we had them coming to us.

Let’s talk for a minute about finding co-founders and taking the leap. What does your team look like? How did you know you wanted to go into business with them?

Initially, it was myself, Bryce Goldman and his wife Gigi Goldman, and James Brennan, and we immediately had great synergy. We were all on the same page with what we wanted to create, but everyone brought something unique to the table. Obviously our team has grown substantially since launch, but the four of us continue to balance each other well, and our team does the same.

Starting a biz is no small undertaking. Were there any lifestyle changes you had to make in order to make the leap?

Like my father, I was very entrepreneurially-minded. I never really had a traditional 9-5 job, so starting a business where you’re working the 9-5 plus was a different experience. I have learned a lot along the way when it comes to maintaining a good work-life balance, but I definitely still struggle with knowing when to “turn off."

Were there any growing pains? Did you ever doubt your decision?

I never had a traditional job and didn't come from a background of having my own business, but I have always been a hustler and a doer, so it came pretty naturally. There were definitely times when I was in the day-to-day and would get frustrated with the little things that you’d never think about; but I had to learn along the way. Now, I feel confident in what I do and it feels amazing. Sometimes you can be the person that gets in the way of yourself, but you have to put your head down and just get it done.

"Sometimes you are the person that gets in the way of yourself, but you have to put your head down and just get it done."

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Natural skincare and skincare products are definitely having a moment. How do you continue to stay out in front of trends and make sure that your business has legs? 

Naturally, coconut oil lends itself to so many versatile uses which give our products endless multitasking possibilities. The versatility helps maintain a steady stream of innovation and the ingredient itself paves the way. Our use and knowledge of cutting-edge technology and complementary ingredients keeps us in front of the trends and our competitors.

You’ve attracted some high profile investors like Karlie Kloss and Ashton Kutcher. What was it like in those meetings? Have you seen a benefit to bringing on big names? 

I actually didn’t meet with them personally. Most of the relationships are through my co-founder James Brennan's connections from working with brands like Suja Juice. Although, I am excited to be meeting with Shay Mitchell at the end of the month! 

The benefit is providing Kopari with clout, and lending greater recognition to the brand. It’s validating to have some of the biggest, most recognizable names in the entertainment and beauty industries supporting and investing in our brand. It’s just another sign that we’re on the right track!

What platforms have been the most helpful in spreading the word about Kopari?

Definitely social media, and Instagram by a landslide. Consumers really connect with our lifestyle imagery and our packaging lends itself well to visuals. We recently did a big micro-influencer push that was extremely successful, but we also prioritize cultivating and maintaining relationships within the industry. 

How do you continue to utilize digital even as you’re set to launch into 340 Sephora stores? 

We use our digital channels to have a direct line of communication to our customers. We use our ecommerce store not only to sell our full line of products that aren’t sold in Sephora stores, but to also further educate the customer on the products - how to use them, their benefits, why they’re different, etc. Having a digital presence through our online store, as well as through various social media channels allows us to communicate directly to our customers for feedback on what they like or don’t like about our products, how the packaging could be improved, as well as what they want to see next.

What accomplishment are you most proud of in the past year? Or, what has been a standout moment for you as a business owner?

The growth of Kopari and where we are now, hands down. Knowing that the products and all of our success is real, and recognizing people’s awareness of the brand, combined with the overall growth of Kopari has been my biggest source of pride this past year. Additionally, I am extremely proud of where I am personally, today, compared to where I was when we started Kopari. I think that rings true for the team too!

Is there anything about your leadership style that differs from your male colleagues?

We’re all so different and I don’t think it’s a gender thing. I like to jump into things, make mistakes and figure things out through trial-and-error. As a leader, I know what I like and what I want, but I’m also very easy-going and laid-back.

Is there anything you were super intimidated by that you jumped in to learn? And what kind of difference has that made?

I was really intimidated by everything; the whole business. Starting a company is like drinking through a firehose all the time. From building a team and brand, to managing the marketing, social and public relations piece, it’s all super new to me and I just jumped right in to learn everything. I’m continue to learn something new every day.

"Starting a company is like drinking through a firehose all the time."

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When you are having a crazy day, what is your go-to for winding down?

I love to do power yoga. It’s enough of a workout that I can’t really think about anything else while I’m doing it, and yet it’s still relaxing and calming.