Today I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Hunter, founder and CEO of cosmetics company LashLiner, LLC, and its subsidiary, direct affiliate retail brand Tori Belle Cosmetics, LLC, which is named after her daughters Victoria and Isabelle. She serves as executive director of the Ms. World Pageant.
A beauty industry innovator, Laura founded LashLiner in 2018 to bring to market her patent-pending LashLiner System, a magnetic eyeliner and false eyelash system that lets you have beautiful eyelashes, quickly, easily and painlessly. Users simply apply the liner, let it dry, and the lashes softly “click” onto the magnetic eyeliner. The system was designed for anyone who has struggled with false eyelashes and extensions. It is especially meaningful for those who are battling health conditions that cause loss of lashes, as is unfortunately the case with alopecia and cancer.
Laura invented this product when she realized that there simply had to be a better way to apply false lashes. Glue is messy and can get in your eyes, and the magnetic “sandwich” style of lashes that require an upper false lash to align with a lower false lash — with your natural lashes in between — was too cumbersome. Her invention is currently patent pending and her business is growing like wildfire. Another important thing that sets Laura apart, is her intent on redefining what it means to have a direct sales retail strategy by breaking down barriers for success, removing what Laura calls the “ick factor” of the direct sales category, and providing support that makes a difference for each and every affiliate.
Earlier in her career, Laura was a professional photographer, and hair and makeup artist. For 25 years, she ran Beyond Photography, where she specialized in pageantry and modeling, providing her clients with a winning combination of hair, makeup, and photography services. Laura is also an experienced actress and model, with work that has appeared in TV shows, commercials and print ads. She has worked with TLC, The Food Network, Amazon Prime and iSpeak Interactive, and has been featured in national advertising campaigns including Bissell, Microsoft, Avery Labels, Toyota, Disney and many others.
Active with her local community and with charitable causes doing important work, Laura is a big believer in giving back. She supports the American Lung Association in honor of her mother Linda who passed away due to lung disease. Through her individual work and the Ms. World pageant system, she partners with The Association of Women’s Safety Awareness (NOWSA). Laura was honored to receive the President’s Volunteer Service Award from the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation for donating more than 4,000 hours of her time to charity.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Ihad an “aha” moment while trying to apply sandwich-style false eyelashes. I knew there had to be a better and simpler way to apply lashes, and that if I could identify that better option, it would be a game-changer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
The most interesting experience I’ve had so far was trying to find a manufacturer for my invention. I really wanted to have the product made in the USA. I expected American cosmetic manufacturing partner prospects to be excited about what I created and want to work with my company immediately. I was mistaken. In reality, it’s incredibly difficult to even reach someone at a cosmetic manufacturing company. I finally found a company interested in working with me but my excitement was short-lived. When I flew to the east coast to teach the chemist how to formulate the product, he refused to use my formulation, without explanation as to why, and told me that “I was just a soccer mom who makes things in my kitchen and I don’t understand how things work.” That was the end of that relationship. At that point, we had presold $100,000 of product, had no manufacturer and were back to square one.
Soon, I realized that the only way to get the product made was to go to China. I had been talking to a few manufacturers there when I first started the process of looking. I called the one that I had a good rapport with and asked if I could come and see them in person. They said yes and I was there less than 30 hours later. I did not have a Chinese visa and had never been there but I figured that I’d work it out when I got there. I do not recommend that anyone do that but, fortunately, I was able to get a visa when I landed. To do so, I had to also buy tickets to Thailand or the airline wouldn’t let me board the plane. They wanted to make sure that I had somewhere to go if I wasn’t able to enter China.
Next, I realized that I didn’t have a proper non-disclosure agreement or established contract with the manufacturer, and I knew that I couldn’t tell them about the product until I did. During the 20 hours I was in transit, my partner Bob found a Chinese contract lawyer that would take the job, and the contracts were ready by the time I arrived the next morning. Once I met with the chemist, we had the formulation worked out within hours and we were able to ship product to our customers within six weeks, just in time for Christmas!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Just over a year ago, I was going to a seminar to learn about marketing my product. I planned to show people my invention, and wear the lashes. The problem is that we did not have bulk production yet so I had to mix up small batches when I sold it. I had never traveled with the product and didn’t realize that the container I had it in was not sealed well enough for a flight. When I got to the seminar, I arrived with dried out liner. At first, I was very upset. Luckily, I brought some of the materials to make the liner but the iron oxide had spilled in my suitcase. Thankfully, it was in a Ziplock bag and most of it was salvageable. I had just enough to mix up the liner in the bathroom sink. I spent the entire time praying it would still work. It did! I held my head up high and went to the seminar as if I had a finished product ready to ship out. No one knew that I had just mixed it up in the sink. The experience served as a great reminder to always be prepared and reminded me of the old saying, “Be like a duck; calm above the surface and paddling like crazy underneath!”
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think that we really stand out because we are truly innovative. There are very few real innovations or inventions in the cosmetic field and we pride ourselves on our differentiation. We also stand out a disruptor. We are disrupting both the cosmetic industry with inventive new products, and we are disrupting direct sales with new ideas to improve this sales channel for everyone involved.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Yes, we have a number of new products that we are working on! Without giving out too much information on our new product launches, I can say that our new products will make looking great even easier and they will give our sales people a real boost in sales, leading to a greater income opportunity.
What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?
In my experience, the most important thing you can do is to believe in your vision. When I launched my company, I had a picture of the entire business spanning one, two and five years from the day I started planning the launch. Every day I follow that vision and make sure that everything I touch matches that vision. I also steer all of our people to that path and do all I can to make sure they see my vision, too. Your vision needs to be made of individual goals. These goals need to be more than financial benchmarks or mission statements. They should be concrete visions that seem as real as a memory. When you think of your expansion goals, there should be a clear picture in your mind of the day you reach each goal. Think of it like writing a novel and write the chapter where you attain your first big goal. Describe the what, when, where, why and how. Then fill in the details that you would have in a novel. What does your office or environment look like? What did you touch that day? How did it feel? What do you eat and drink? How does it taste? What were you thinking about? How did the room smell? Was it a sunny day or was it cloudy? When you’re done, you should be able to see the goal as clearly as if it has already happened. When you can see a goal that clearly, two things happen. First, the path to it becomes much clearer. It will seem like the goal almost pulls you toward it. Second, you become motivated because the goal becomes real and personal to you.
Before I started Tori Belle Cosmetics, I went to a seminar and watched the keynote speaker talk about her startup that was one year old and had revenue of over $3 million dollars. I told one of the seminar arrangers that next year I would be on that stage and that my company would have revenue of over $3 million dollars. At that time, I had no product yet and nothing but an idea that I believed in. From that moment on, I could see that moment vividly in my mind. I knew how it felt and what it looked like. I could feel the energy of the crowd and the distinctive smell the conference room. I could feel my anxiety and excitement as I stepped on the stage. I could feel the dark blue carpet under my feet. I “remember” my words and the questions from the crowd, who look up at me and hope it will be them next year. I could see the longing in their eyes to go to the next level, too. That “memory” that I created for my future was a driving force for me. I thought about it all the time. That was October 7th of 2018. On October 8th of 2019, I was the keynote speaker at that conference and my company’s revenue is well over $3 million dollars now, only 16 weeks after our soft launch. It really was exactly as I imagined it and one of my proudest moments.
That “memory of my future” pulled me to the reality of it so strongly that all I had to do was keep following it. To me, having a goal that is so real that you can literally taste it is the most compelling factor to success when you want to take your business to the next level. In case you’re wondering, I have a few more “memories” of my future that are pulling me forward just a strongly.
What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
Creating a cohesive culture and making sure that it is well understood by all of your team is incredibly important! I’ve learned that having a mission statement or values is useless until you really apply it. Those statements need to be more than just words. They should be guiding principles that everyone knows and understands. They should help your team easily identify and follow the correct path.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Bob Kitzberger is my business and life partner. He is also the co-founder of LashLiner, LLC, and the company’s wholly owned subsidiary Tori Belle Cosmetics, LLC. Bob’s background is in product management and software. My background is in photography, and as a hair and makeup artist, model and actress. Neither of us could have created this business alone, which is one of the most wonderful things about it.
I’ve always been an inventor and Bob has heard about dozens of ideas that I’ve had but they didn’t resonate with him enough for him to jump on the bandwagon of product development with me. When I invented the magnetic eyeliner, I called a friend of mine first and sent her photos and a video. She was extremely excited and thought it was a million-dollar idea. When I showed Bob he initially said, “that’s nice, baby.” When I walked away he said, “wait, show me that again.” I knew I had him hooked! From that day on, it has been full-speed ahead. He truly is the best partner in every possible way.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
When I invented magnetic eyeliner, I knew I had a huge opportunity to help others. I had a vision of this product bringing in a lot of money and resources, and it looked like a funnel that led only to me. Instead of that funnel, I wanted my profits to be more like rain. I envisioned a sales system where anyone that wanted to could also sell my product and have an opportunity to profit from it also. That’s why Bob and I created a hybrid system to combine the best aspects of direct sales and affiliate sales models. We currently have over 7,000 sales people that can sell our products, without financial risk, and share in what I created. They are an amazing group of hard-working people, and for many, this has been life changing. We are also providing extensive education and training to help everyone in our sales field have the best possible chance for success. I truly agree with John F. Kennedy, when he said, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
The product itself brings goodness to the world by giving people self-confidence and making them feel beautiful. I am also very proud that I invented a product that can help people with hair loss from cancer treatments, alopecia or other medical issues to feel normal and self-confident.
What are your 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started; and why?
To be fair, people did tell me most of these things but I didn’t listen.
- Delegate as much as possible. It can be overwhelming to wear so many hats. It’s imperative that you delegate anything that is outside of your area of expertise as soon as you can.
- Hire an experienced customer support manager EARLY. There is nothing more important than having a quality customer support system. Just having someone answer emails or answer the phone is not enough. You need a professional system and processes to make sure that you can handle growth and any missteps along the way.
- Components take far longer than products. Never take components for granted!
- Take care of yourself! This is a lot of work and it’s easy to get overstressed, overtired and make yourself sick. Be sure to take time out and time off!
- Believe in your vision and trust your gut! There will be a lot of people telling you what to do but this is your company, not theirs. Listen to their ideas but don’t do anything you’re not totally comfortable with.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
My partner, Bob, and I are actively trying to disrupt direct sales. We both believe that there are many amazing things about direct sales as a sales channel but there are a lot of negative aspects that have become common place over the years and have severely tarnished the reputation of direct sales. We call those things “The Ick Factor.”
Our goal is creating a hybrid between the affiliate sales channel and direct sales that removes “The Ick Factor.” Some of those the ways were doing this is by removing the need to invest in product stock, drop-shipping directly to the customer, creating a clear and fair compensation plan, and providing extensive training and education to teach our sales people to be influencers instead of selling to friends and family.
Can you please give us your favorite Life Lesson? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Two of my favorite quotes were popularized by Disney movies. The first is a quote from Dori, in “Finding Nemo,” “Just keep swimming.” I have faced many difficult situations over the years and had to start over more than once. There are few things as important as simply having the strength to keep trying.
The other saying I love is from Edna Molds, in “The Incredibles,” “Luck favors the prepared, darling.” I think this one is self-explanatory. Always hope for the best but plan for the worst!
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to have lunch with Katy Stoka, the inventor of magnetic eyelashes. Like most inventions, mine is iterative. As Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Katy is one of those giants and her invention, magnetic eyelashes, was what prompted me to create magnetic eyeliner.