Ask people what they hate about your company.
Majella Mark, the Connecticut girl who moved to the big city to put her stamp on the world has numerous years of global experience working within the fashion, television and publications industry. With ballooning beauty frustrations while living abroad, she came up with a unique solution and created the e-commerce marketplace Beau Exchange with her two co-founders Stephanie Fortunat and Esther Obanero. Beau Exchange helps the global market understand the definition of beauty from different countries, cultures and communities through an open communication platform that provides access to beauty products produced by entrepreneurs from around the world.
Where did the idea for Beau Exchange Inc. come from?
From my personal experience living abroad and needing products specifically for my hair and skin type, I saw that there was a lack of attention to the ethnic beauty consumer. What started as simple consulting firm for entrepreneurs trying to gain market share in the industry, turned into this e-commerce concept, joined by my two co-founders Stephanie Fortunat and Esther Obanero within a year. We want to create strength in numbers by gathering the small beauty companies around the world onto one platform and reaching the target market all at once. The beauty companies could focus on making great products with love, while Beau Exchange focuses on their operations within the global market.
What does your typical day look like?
A typical day for me looks like me waking up, getting to work, eating something with coffee, checking my list of goals for the company and then taking a step toward at least one of those goals. I really focus on maintaining the inventory on our platform and discover cool new companies brewing around the beauty world. By the end of the day Stephanie has maintained our customers’ happiness. Esther has made sure our site didn’t implode. At the end of the day, we regroup to discuss what we’ve learned, accomplished and what we need to do to move forward.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I write the idea down, weigh the pros, cons, alternatives, numerous outcomes and whatever else that may impact this idea and then bring it to my partners to get a second and third opinion. My mind works like a mental mind map where I am literally trying to draw out the idea to its fullest capacity before even considering it worthy to bring up to anyone else. Then, since there is already a detailed outline in place, we just build a blueprint and go to work on it.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Startups by females in foreign nations. I am really excited to see more and more women from less developed nations putting their hands into the entrepreneurial pot for a change. Business diversity is something I myself encourage as well as our company as a whole. Melinda Gates mentioned it brilliantly at the 2013 Glamour Women of the Year Awards – that to truly help societies thrive you need to start with the women.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Meditation because I truly believe in mental clarity. Trying to run a business is not an easy task and you have to constantly put the pieces together. We are human and could do so much, hence one strategy I have is to stay in the moment to really clear my head and then, piece-by-piece, look at the problems faced and gradually begin to see the solutions.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Bar tending at a restaurant near my old high school in Connecticut, while I was in undergrad was something I really dreaded doing on a regular basis. One evening my old high school teacher came in and I was bar tending to witness a man drink all his problems away. I knew some people didn’t always enjoy their job, but to see someone who works with vulnerable teenagers five days a week get piss drunk on a Thursday, made me realize that I needed to move to New York City as soon as possible and live my dreams no matter what.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I honestly wouldn’t, because doing so could have brought me a completely different result and I am happy where I am right now. I truly believe in most cases that things happen for a reason, either to teach you something or to continue the ripple effect of your life line.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Embrace your surroundings. My friends think I’m bizarre for randomly walking around Manhattan, but I get inspired. I learn history. I meet interesting people and discover new places to hang – all from just embracing what New York City have to offer. Just take an afternoon, sit in a park and people watch. You will learn so much about your customer, about yourself as an innovator and about living life.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Ask people what they hate about your company.
People telling me how great an idea or how happy they are with Beau Exchange does nothing for me. I always look to improve so after they tell me something positive about the company I ask, “So what do you hate about Beau Exchange?” That way I get great insight on what we need to work on from different perspectives.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
We sponsored a charity event before even launching the platform that led to a big ordeal. Money was spent, people were invited and I realized later that we were trying to force our brand down people’s throats before we even existed to the public. So that left us having to answer the question “where is the website?” We had to constantly explain why we were delayed and really started fizzling before we even become buzz worthy. We learned that the product has to speak for itself and we should let whatever exposure we receive come as a blessing. We are trying to make sure the company doesn’t get ahead of itself and not grow too chaotically where we can’t enjoy the journey or handle the expansion.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
This is something that I thought of after the sad incident that perspired with the autistic child, Avonte Oquendo who was found dead earlier this year. There should be some type of electronic bracelet that every special needs child wears (especially if they do not have a school aid), which could track them via pings on the telephone poles. It’s something that could look cool, is durable, comfortable and effective with coordination with the government to support.
Tell us something about you that very few people know?
There are many things a bit odd about me, but one thing is apparently I snore a little. It’s very faint according to my boyfriend, but compared to his I’m practically silent.
What software and web services do you use?
Asana for project management.
Google Hangout and Helpout for conference calling and powwowing.
Olark, which is a great customer serve messaging system.
Email Me Form, which is really great for getting customer testimonials.
Mailchimp, which I married in 2008/2009 for anything email marketing related.
They easily connect people, which is something I enjoy experiencing. I like seeing others communicate, relate to and condole in each other.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman because as an entrepreneur or anyone else, you need to put yourself in the mindset of how our human existence is influenced by the things we create and vice versa. It is a really smart take on how we are affecting the continuity of societal make up, which is a huge deal and great responsibility to business owners, inventors and even tech entrepreneurs.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
I was blessed to be acquainted with Stacy-Marie Ishmael from the Financial Times who gave me really impactful advice and got me off my behind and hustling harder than I ever did before. Our mentor Angela Benton of NewMe Accelerator, who has such insight about the tech industry and being a woman of color in the industry. Elizabeth Mwanga who founded Winning Diabetics is someone I’ve known for years and again has great advice as a business woman. Our ball buster, Atim Annette Oton from the Huffington Post who we could listen to for hours talking about the black community’s part in fashion, beauty and overall consumerism on a global scale. Liz Ngonzi is our tech godmother, who has hosted SXSW panels and did TED presentations, really stays on top of us to reach our fullest potential. Liz Bacelar, who founded Decoded Fashion thankfully stopped us from launching our poorly executed site before and really gave us the honesty we needed as a brand and a fashion tech company before anyone else.