This Beauty Boss Turned Her Struggle With Acne Into an Entrepreneurial Success Story

Photo: Courtesy of Priscilla Tsai
It's rare to see the founder of a major beauty brand bare-faced and chatting directly to her followers via Instagram stories—discussing skin-care hacks, her travel-wrecked skin, or recent breakouts. And yet, Priscilla Tsai, founder and CEO of Cocokind, couldn't be more tuned in to her customer base.

This open-book approach is refreshing and unique, and Tsai's desire to help comes from a totally personal place. When she founded her completely organic brand in 2014, Tsai was struggling with acne, just like many of the women who seek out her products now. "If you asked me 10 years ago if I imagined myself with a beauty company, I'd be like, 'No way,'" she says. "My skin was always my biggest insecurity."

Fast forward about four years and Cocokind's a force in the clean beauty industry—one that's earned a coveted spot on the shelves of Whole Foods. And now the brand's giving back to female entrepreneurs via the Cocokind Impact Foundation.

"After an Instagram poll, I learned that our followers are very entrepreneurial and wanted more business advice," says Tsai. "Since we promote confidence, we thought it'd be the perfect way to give back." The program will award financial grants to female wellness entrepreneurs and set them up with mentors in the field.

"There's something interesting about a startup helping other startups," adds Tsai. "Cocokind's goal is really being able to promote other people in the wellness world." Inspired yet? Here, Tsai shares some advice that all aspiring boss babes can learn from—including her tips on managing a crazy to-do list, juggling work with a social life, and why vulnerability is key to standing out in a crowded industry.

Keep reading to find out what it's really like to run a beauty mega-brand—straight from Cocokind founder Priscilla Tsai.

What led you to start Cocokind?

I dealt with really bad cystic and hormonal acne growing up. After three years of taking birth control, antibiotics, and Spironolactone every single day, I had a bunch of gut lining issues, indigestion, and really chronic stomach pains, and my skin was clear but super dry. All of the side effects really took over my life.

I worked in finance after I graduated college, and it was really tough working long hours and dealing with these issues. So I started to eat holistically, and basically someone told me to use the ingredients that I cooked with—like avocado and coconut oil and wheatgrass—on my skin. I'd never in my life put oil on my skin, and it was incredible.

For the first time, I felt moisturized and my scars were going away. I became obsessed with all of these oils, began doing tons of research on them, and made my own products. I could never find anything like them in stores, and if I did, they were expensive. At the same time, I covered food and retail at JP Morgan—so I was getting to know the natural product space pretty well. I met some nice people at [trade] shows, and thought it must be such an amazing industry to be part of. And here I am.

How did you differentiate your company?

If you look at our Instagram from the first year, I hardly showed myself as the founder and I never talked about acne because I was still very insecure about it. Then Instagram stories came, and that's when I really started to own it more. I got so much positive feedback from people who really needed to hear what I was saying. I became so much more comfortable with it, and since then, it's just part of how we are—being very real with the struggle and imperfections and all that stuff. I'd say [skin care] is the one consumer product I'm most passionate about in life, but would have never expected to be the face of.

What are some struggles you've felt along the way and how did you deal with them?

It can feel very lonely sometimes—I don't have a co-founder, so I have to do this journey alone. Thankfully,  everyone in my life is so supportive, even though no one can really understand. Also, time management has been a struggle. I've worn a lot of hats the first couple of years. So letting some things go and setting aside more time for my personal life have been important. Also, we're a bootstrap company, so we won't do the average marketing things people rely on. We just use our organic voice, so we have to be really creative with our problem solving, which can be a challenge.

What's your best advice for career women?

Think big, but act small. Whenever I find myself thinking too big when wanting to achieve something, it's always overwhelmed me and gives me anxiety. You can think big and dream the biggest dreams, but in terms of actions, just lay it down for yourself in very small steps so it doesn't feel overwhelming. Plus, it's easier to act when you have shorter-term goals.

How do you find work-life balance?

I've never been someone who just wants to be all work and have no personal life. Even when I was single, I would force myself to go on dates when I didn't want to. It's key to have close relationships that remind you that balance is very important. Even though you can be so passionate about work, it doesn't compare to your relationships and your health.

How do you get through a day when your to-do list is overflowing?

I do this practice of intense focus on one thing, and then letting that go. I struggle with it because I'm a major multitasker, so even when I'm on the phone, I need to be away from my laptop or walking just to make sure I'm focusing. If I have a super long list, I just try and say, 'Okay, the next hour is dedicated to this.' Then I'll cross that off and move on. It's very important for compartmentalizing—even in your life, it's good to intensely focus at work, and then when you leave you can breathe.

Where do you see the future of beauty?

I definitely see beauty becoming more personalized. It's awesome, because our generation is so vocal—we're tired of wanting to conform, and we want brands to speak to us as individuals. More than ever, the consumer will have power, and that's a really good thing for the industry. It's challenging because you have to keep up, and I'm constantly thinking about how to solve more problems for our consumers in a way that doesn't feel like we're forcing it on them. In the past, the beauty industry was marketing towards insecurity, but now it's different. It's more how to speak to women in a way that makes them feel more confident.

If you're craving more beauty boss inspo, this is how Bee Shapiro turned her side hustle into a cool-girl fragrance brand. And here's how Jamie Kern Lima built the crazy successful IT Cosmetics

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