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 feature. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details of launching a business, from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much founders pay themselves—we’re not holding back.
Yewande Masi knows a thing or two about the benefits of cutting toxic things out of your life. After a particularly painful breakup, she launched Ornami Skincare, a clean skincare brand aimed at inspiring others to eliminate toxins from their self-care routine. “I used to make these products for an ex, and when we broke up, I channeled my energy and passion into leveling up and creating them for my girlfriends instead,” explains Masi. Playful references to the breakup are present in the brand’s punny product names, like Let That Mango Body Butter and No Scrubs Ex-Foliator Scrub.
But Ornami Skincare is so much more than a clean skincare brand. “I started it with the idea of creating a self-care community for women,” says Masi. And she’s done just that by creating a group of “Glow Gettas” on social media. Through Ornami Skincare’s Instagram account, Masi is sharing motivation and inspiration for self-care, wellness, and beauty and bringing women together in the spirit of letting go of negativity, toxicity, and anything that doesn’t serve you. It’s a community that’s all about “zero-toxins, zero-drama, and skincare that keeps it one hundred,” as the brand’s IG bio promises.
Ahead, the clean beauty entrepreneur tells Create & Cultivate all about how she launched Ornami Skincare to empower women like herself, why community has been key to her success, and her #1 piece of advice for founders starting out today.
Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful? If not, what did you use to guide your business instead and why did you take that approach?
When I was getting my MBA, I wrote a business plan for another venture and used that as a template for Ornami Skincare. Having a business plan has been helpful in making sure the business has a roadmap and stays on track, but business plans are living documents so you have to be flexible to bend while maintaining the core of the mission.
How did you come up with the name Ornami Skincare? What was the process like, how did you know it was the right name, and what are some of the things you considered during that process?
I was seeking a name that was unique and spoke to the customer I was looking to connect with. I believe my customers are royalty, but I didn’t want to use “queen,” as the word is used a lot. So, I started thinking about the experience of a queen, or someone luxuriating and being adorned. From there, I researched the term “crown” in different languages to see how it sounded. Finally, I landed upon “Ornami” in the Esperanto language. I especially liked the history behind Esperanto being that it was (is) a language spoken by people living in different countries. It spoke to the experience I was trying to create; an inclusive community of women with different backgrounds and experiences but speaking the same language of self-love and self-care.
What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?
The first couple of things I did were buy the domain name and build the website. I also set up our business structure (LLC, S-corp, etc.) in-state and obtained our EIN (employer identification number) so we could set up our business checking account to accept payment from orders. I immediately followed up by securing my social media handles. The trademark wasn’t immediate as it was pretty expensive, so for the time being, I use ™ to have rights to the name while we wait for the trademark to be approved.
What research did you do for the brand beforehand and why would you recommend it?
As you know, the skincare industry is a very competitive one. I had to do as much research as I could to see where I could be different. A lot of industry reports were free online and I had access to other research reports by visiting the library and learnings from these resources were used in my business plan. I recommend it. It provides insight into the industry so you have an idea of what you’re walking into and helps you to identify how you can be different from what’s already offered.
How did you find the manufacturers that you work with?
I started making skincare products out of my own personal interest for friends and family, but when I got serious about the business I took educational courses on the right way to formulate and create all-natural skincare products. This background knowledge ended up being really helpful when searching for manufacturers so I could have a better understanding of the business. I am a huge advocate of referrals and leveraging your network to help identify trusted providers. Also, many, if not all, industries usually have trade associations that can provide supplier lists on their websites, so I would suggest combing through these lists to help you get started.
What makes a successful partnership, and what advice can you share for fellow business owners on finding the right partners?
Partnerships have been extremely important for the growth of Ornami. The advice that I would offer fellow business owners to take it slow! Do your research in order to find the right partner for you and your business. Try determining early on if the partner understands your mission; you want the people you’re working with to align with yours so they’re able to produce the best version of what you’re looking for. Last but not least, ask for client testimonials. Think about all the research one does for skincare products—reads reviews, looks at customer photos, as their friends and family for their thoughts, etc.—and go through that same process with your potential partners.
Did you self-fund the company? If so, how did you bootstrap it and what was that process like for you?
I have completely self-funded Ornami Skincare. Mostly using savings I earned from my full-time job (which I still have!). At this point, I have not received any outside investments, though it’s not something I’ve ruled out and would likely be open to it if the right opportunity and partnership opened up.
I wasn’t in a rush to get Ornami Skincare up and running because I was funding everything myself. I made small purchases along the way and started out at local pop-up shops to get Ornami Skincare in front of shoppers and as an easy way to connect with the community. Going this route required minimal financial investment other than my time. I would reinvest any money from the purchases back into the business. I also leveraged online freelance services to hire contractors for one-off jobs, which helped to keep my spend low.
Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you determine what to pay yourself?
Most of the money earned is reinvested back into the business. I have experimented with paying myself a 10% commission after hitting a monthly revenue target. This ensures the business meets projected sales forecasts and takes care of me as an employee.
How big is your team now, and what has the hiring process been like? Did you have any hiring experience before launching your business?
I work with an amazing team of six passionate women who are not just my team members, but who are also invested in Ornami’s success. Many of my team members were referrals. I have experience hiring having previously been a manager at Verizon Wireless. One thing that I’ve learned over the time of being an entrepreneur is that you cannot do it all. Pull in the experts and ask for help when you need it. For example, for a brand like Ornami, which is fostering a community, an authentic Instagram presence is essential—but I really can’t do it all myself. I work with a team that believes in my vision and can help carry it out and make sure that I do the things that really fulfill me, like hosting Instagram Lives to foster the community.
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup, and what advice can you share?
The first two professionals I hired for the business were an accountant and lawyer. The lawyer was recommended through a friend from my MBA program. When I searched for an accountant, I was looking for someone who was personable and was qualified to work in different states in case I ever wanted to expand. I received a lot of help from my alma mater and my MBA program with regards to my financial decisions and set up. They helped me to look beyond any short-term decisions and to think about how these decisions would affect the company long-term. I would recommend people to reach out to their alma mater and get in touch with their alumni communities. Many colleges and universities are investing in their grads by connecting them to programs to get support for their businesses.
What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing your business?
Digital marketing has been my biggest learning curve, but what I’ve learned is you don’t have to be an expert at everything, and you especially don’t have to become an expert all in one day. Having an understanding of the fundamentals and learning as you go can still help to keep your business moving forward.
How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?
Ornami Skincare is more than a business or a skincare company. I started it with the idea of creating a self-care community for women, and I always keep that in mind when I’m thinking about how to reach our audience. So, for example, I started Ornami after a breakup. I used to make these products for an ex, and when we broke up, I channeled my energy and passion into leveling up and creating them for my girlfriends instead. Being honest about that story has really resonated with and empowered the women in Ornami’s community, and helped to provide a story behind the brand to really capture people’s attention.
Similarly, I have a lot of fun with our products. The names, like “Glo Getta” and “Let That Mango,” have really helped set us apart from traditional skincare products and have created a bit of buzz around who we are and what we do. It’s all about being memorable. We’ve built a loyal following by being active on Instagram and being creative in the ways people can share the love. For example, we did a #letitglow campaign in the new year that encouraged people to tell us what they were going to let go of in 2021. It’s on-brand for us, but it also generated a bit of social buzz. We even have a special edition of “Let That Mango” packaging that’s labeled, “Let that ____ Go” and comes with a Sharpie so people can fill in their word and make it a daily affirmation.
It’s all about being creative and authentic, and I’ve found that doing those two things have moved the needle for me in terms of brand awareness.
Do you have a business coach or mentor? How has this person helped, and would you recommend having one to other entrepreneurs?
I have a few mentors and I definitely would recommend having one. Even if you aren’t an entrepreneur, I think it is important to have mentors for your own personal growth and development. My mentors have been so helpful. They provide different perspectives, give advice and connect me with people in their network. I found my mentors by being connected to entrepreneurial communities and asking if they would like to be my mentors.
How has COVID-19 impacted your business operations and financials? What tactics and strategies have you put in place to pivot and ensure your business is successful through this period?
I launched my first product in April 2020, so we have been operating in this space the entire time. I do think people have become increasingly focused on supporting small business owners and Black-owned businesses during the past year, and that’s helped to get Ornami some additional attention where we might otherwise have been competing with huge national brands for it. Since we’re so new, I don’t have a “before” to compare things to. Of course, if we were in “normal” times there would be a lot of opportunity for face-to-face events, sampling, and that type of thing. The pandemic has forced us to get very creative with making people understand what we are about without being able to experience it in person.
What advice can you share for small business owners, founders, and entrepreneurs who are also reeling in response to COVID-19?
COVID has been a tremendous challenge for businesses of all sizes, but having founded the company during the crisis, I also think that there are silver linings for business owners. I’ve noticed that people are more conscious consumers over the past year, so if you’re a small business owner or creating a product that’s sustainable, non-toxic, or socially responsible, I think there is a lot of opportunity to make noise now that maybe wasn’t there before.
Also, people have really become accustomed to convenience and e-commerce, so leaning into that is a great idea. We sell online only on our Ornami website and that’s been a blessing over the past year as we are where consumers want us to be.
COVID has also made it easy for people to become isolated, even unintentionally. Try to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs you trust to provide feedback, perspective, and general support. Sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone who understands what you are going through.
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?
Set up reminders to file your state’s annual business reports to prevent any potential issues in the future. Some state timelines are different from the general fiscal year so it’s important that you put these in your calendar. I would also add to make sure you understand all of the documents and timelines needed for government filings.
For those who haven’t started a business (or are about to), what advice do you have?
Create a community! It’s so important to have the support of others as you start up. Find other entrepreneurs who are at the same stage you are to commiserate with and mentors to learn from. Make connections with people in other parts of the business who can give you advice and who you can provide value to as well. Be authentic and make it a two-way street and you will find that you can foster a great community that will help you along the way.
What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new entrepreneur and why?
Create a budget early on for how much you plan to spend on the business. Have someone in place to report to who will hold you accountable. Without spending controls in place, things can gradually pile up.
If you could go back to the beginning with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give yourself and why?
I would emphasize to myself how important establishing the right mindset is to growing a business. As often as possible, to nurture myself with healthy positivity and eliminate fear. I would also “make the asks” more often for things I needed to push myself and the business forward. It was surprising how many people were ready to say yes and support once I began to ask, that I wish I started asking sooner.