built by women: melissa lim, founder of beautimy

melissa lim

Since I’ve moved to Los Angeles, I’ve absolved to find smart, passionate women who are building things and breaking ranks. In two week’s time, I’ll host a salon of 15 women who are artists, creators, and founders–all as a means for collaboration and support. As you can imagine, I’m wading in the deep end, far beyond my comfort zone, but it’s worth it. I met Melissa Lim via a Facebook group, and her energy and excitement are infectious. She’s launching Beautimy, a “a progressive, co-creation platform that empowers women by transforming them from passive consumers to conscious creators of their own high quality organic personal care products online.”

I hope her verve and honesty inspire you to build, create.

First off, congratulations on Beautimy! In the past few years, we’ve seen a host of beauty companies come to the market with an eye toward sustainability and ingredients derived from nature rather than in lab. We’ve also seen the rise of apps like Think Dirty, which target an ingredient-conscious consumer. I’m excited for your vision for Beautimy. Can you tell us about how Beautimy came to be, and what you envision as its future?

Melissa Lim: I’m glad you’re excited!

I grew up with technology and I started testing and using a lot of beauty products since I was very young, so it was only a matter of time before I merged the two together.

I was working for a high-traffic woman’s website where I dealt with some of the top beauty and fashion brands like L’Oreal, Chanel, Neutrogena, Mac, Benefit, etc. Not only was my team entrusted with our clients’ big budget to come out with creative marketing campaigns, I was also fortunate enough to have a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how their most popular products are being manufactured from scratch to finish. I learned what most of us already suspected — that most brands use similar manufacturers and ingredients, but invested heavily in their marketing to command mindshare and a different market price.

The two industries I’m most passionate about also happen to be very practical because they’re highly profitable billion-dollar recession-proof industries to play in, but it is precisely because of that, that there is so much competition. It feels very much like a David vs. Goliath situation, and in order to be competitive, I have to create my own blue ocean and make the competition irrelevant if you will. I don’t want to play the zero-sum game; I rather create than to compete. People always ask, “how are you different?”

Here’s how we differentiate ourselves:

1) Mass customization – I believe that mass customization is the future of e-commerce
2) All-natural ingredients sustainably-sourced from the USA
3) Social enterprise – we have something similar to a TOMs, Warby Parker, MyLokai.com model where we give 20% of our profits to charity and also work with human sex trafficking shelters to help women reintegrate back to society by teaching them how to make our products

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It’s so clear from your background that you’ve a passion for start-ups, specifically in the online space. How did you make the leap from working for companies that have such a strong, passionate vision to forming your own venture? What lessons did you learn from OpenRice, CozyCot, etc?

ML: Thanks for doing your research on me! Right after I graduated, I was fortunate enough to gain full-time employment for a large financially-healthy company at a competitive salary during one of my generation’s worse economic crisis while a lot of my highly, if not more, qualified peers were having difficulty finding great jobs.

However, despite the stability and obvious upward career trajectory, I was getting restless with too much bureaucracy, because at my very essence, I’m more of a creative innovator than an operational person. I get daily energy from dreaming up new things instead of managing the nitty-gritty day-to-day affair of scaling up to new heights.

I decided to join a big holding company that owns high-traffic job portals in Asia and they were launching in the country that I was then residing, so I decided to jump at the opportunity. I launched/work with projects/startups backed by much more stable and bigger companies so that gave me the safety net and resources to experiment but at the same time the feel of a startup.

Have you endured any challenges with Beautimy specific to your gender? We’ve read countless articles about the struggle for female founders to secure funding—have you found this to be the case? If so, how have you overcome these challenges? Can you share any specific anecdotes?

ML: Oh, trust me, I’ve read and heard so many gender-related horror stories and have already primed myself for the worse case scenarios – but then I realize that these fears are mostly irrational and I do not want to live with that kind of paranoia, and we make real what we pay attention to. You are confined only by the walls you build yourself.

Sometimes there is a misalignment of intentions when you first connect with the opposite gender. You see them as a professional contact, but they see you as nothing more than a romantic interest – but I believe that you teach people how to treat you.

Don’t let other people’s voices drown your own inner voice. Ever. Mind over matter.

I could definitely recall one specific anecdote that has been etched into my memory. Once, an industry heavyweight obnoxiously uttered this to me and my team of young fresh female members: “If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen, little girl”. For some reason, that comment didn’t offend me but thrilled and amused me. Precisely because I’m not shaken by that comment and continued to surpass all expectations that I gained respect in a pressure-cooker male-dominated environment.

Ellen Chisa wrote a terrific piece about what she learned in her first year at HBS. One of the leadership lessons challenges you to understand your worst self. I imagine that this is appropriate for all leaders, even more so for entrepreneurs since new ventures can be so all encompassing. When it comes to being a leader, what is your worst self and when does it come out? And what do you do to combat it?

ML: Patience isn’t exactly my best virtue and when blood sugar is low, sleep is inadequate, tempers flare and misplaced anger take commonplace.

Everything that Ben Horowitz wrote in this article on managing your own psychology helps a lot because you constantly feel like you’re failing, but it is only by reading other people’s experiences that it makes me feel so much less alone.

What has surprised you most about launching your own company? What didn’t you expect? More importantly, what were you (or not) prepared for?

ML: You will never feel like you’re ever prepared enough. You’re putting out fires all the time. There is a kind of valedictory feel to any sort of creative output but mistakes are the portals of discovery and the best way to get started is to quit talk and being doing and keep doing it until you’re successful. Advice is largely irrelevant because we all have our own inherent biases. This quote from Ira Glass on storytelling:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

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Who has inspired you along the way and why?

ML: I get inspiration everywhere. I believe that if something isn’t beautiful, useful or inspiring, that we’re probably better without it. Kat Cole, Shiza Shahid, the two sisters from Juicy Couture, Ivanka Trump, Elizabeth Holmes, Hillary Clinton, etc.

What are the three things that people who are interested in launching a start-up should know? Are there specific lessons you can share regarding beauty-related ventures?

ML: The age-old adage “just do it” because done is better than perfect. See point number 5. Everyone is different and will go through different experiences. The only way to get started is to quit talking and start doing. Take baby steps. Watch the power of vulnerability by Brene Brown. Feel free to imitate others because we’re all imperfect mirrors.

What are the three essential tools (or resources) you rely upon to get through your day? What are three books you’ve read that have helped you along the way?

ML: The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. “How Will You Measure Your Life” by HBS professor Clayton Christensen.


All images courtesy of Melissa Lim.

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