Eliana is the founder of Kiyomi Beauty, e-commerce, a monthly subscription box that contains an assortment of original Korean beauty products.
Topics covered in this podcast include:
- Her life before entrepreneurship
- Her modeling stint in Korea
- How South Korea influenced her in starting a business
- South Korea’s innovative marketing strategies
- The importance of customer feedback and how to use it
- The value of change in entrepreneurship
- Giving your customers buying options
- Solving the pains of product sourcing
- Harnessing the power of influencers and social media
Resources mentioned in this episode:
Connect with Eliana
A Transcript of our conversation:
Justin: So I’m curious, how did you end up in Hartford, Connecticut?
Eliana: So I came here when I was very young.
Justin: To Hartford?
Eliana: To Hartford, yeah. Yeah. So I’ve been living in the Hartford area for about 20 years. Kiyomi is the name of my company. Kiyomi Beauty came out of me living in South Korea for two years.
Eliana: But I’ve lived here most of my life. My parents came here when I was very young. I didn’t really have much of a choice. It was just kind of a place where my parents brought me to, and so I’d done college here. I’ve kind of created my life here, but I absolutely loved traveling. That kind of keeps me leveled and that I’m here and it’s home and it’s where my parents are, where my family is. But the other side is like me traveling all the time and kind of seeing new places and exploring.
Justin: So two years, you said?
Eliana: Two years.
Justin: So how did that come about? I’m curious to know that story.
Eliana: Yeah, that’s an interesting story. It was not in my long-term plan. It was something that came out of sort of left field. It came because of a family member who used to live out in South Korea. I went to see and visit her. Again, didn’t know much about Asia. And when you think about Asia, you don’t ever think about going to South Korea.
Eliana: You think maybe go to China or you go to the Philippines or Thailand. But she was there and she’s like, isn’t it great that you have someone here that can show you around? I’m like, “Okay, let’s give it a try.” I absolutely fell in love with Seoul. I was there for 11 days, and I thought it was an amazing place. And out of that came the chance to do two things. So everything kind of happened very quickly. So the first one was I met someone that worked for the Department of Education and that’s my background. My background here is being a program director for an education program.
Eliana: In the nonprofit field and then modeling.
Eliana: So my cousin is a professional dancer, so she had connections with the entertainment industry out in South Korea and I’ve been modeling my whole life, so I met an agent there as well. So again, everything kind of happened quickly. They were like, well we can find new jobs teaching, but then you can also model on the side.
Justin: Oh, right.
Eliana: And I taught for a few months.
Justin: English, I’m guessing.
Eliana: English, yes, right. Um, I taught for a few months and then I stopped. I didn’t like it and I continued and modeled full time. So that’s where it kind of all came about. Again, very out of left field. That was not something that I was planning for. It kind of really shook up my life. I left my job, I left my apartment and sort of dropped everything. And you know, friends and family will always be there when you want to do something like this, but it was probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life.
Justin: So what made you decide to come back?
Eliana: Wanted to develop my business.
Eliana: So my business idea came from there. So Kiyomi Beauty is a Korean beauty and skincare subscription box. When I moved to Korea, I knew a bit about what they call K-beauty, which is Korean beauty. So if you think about Korean stuff, you think K-pop, K-dramas, K-beauty – that’s like the three big things happening right now in the Western culture. I knew somewhat of K-beauty, but I didn’t know that much. When I moved there, working as a model and working with a bunch of beauty brands, I got samples.
Eliana: And I got products and I got to try all these things. It is definitely like the beauty and skincare capital of the world.
Eliana: It’s insane. The amount of shops and stores and everything imaginable and it’s everywhere. It’s at the Metro station.
Eliana: It’s at the bodega next door. It’s insane. And advertisement is really interesting. The advertisement is done by men and women.
Eliana: Not like in the U.S.
Eliana: In U.S., it’s mostly just women who do advertisement for beauty.
Eliana: There, the way that they view skin is not a women-center thing. It’s an overall, like it’s a phenomenon.
Eliana: Across all genders. So that really kind of took me aback when I went to visit. First, I’m like, “Why are there males like advertising?” But their skin is so beautiful. Then I kind of really got into it, and I developed some of the routines.
Eliana: That were being shown to me by Korean friends, and some of these connections that I was making in Korea. And I was like, “Well, these products are amazing.” Like the way that they’re making my skin feel and how innovative they are and how kind of different and the options, the insane amount of options that you have. So when I was thinking, you know, like I’m thinking about coming back to the States and continue my career and whatnot, I said to myself, “Wow, I’m not going to have access to these products anymore because I’m not going to be here.” And I said to myself, “If I’m thinking this way, there’s gotta be other women in the U.S. who are interested in learning more about these new products coming into the U.S.” And for me, when I thought back, I said to myself, “Well, the best way to probably introduce people to these products that they don’t have access to, other than like a Sephora or an Ulta, would it be through a subscription method?” Because again, you are getting new products. Every time you get a box, you’re getting full size items and there’s sort of this endless sort of number of possibilities in a box.
Eliana: So thinking, I develop my business plan with the help of the sole entrepreneurship center.
Eliana: But thinking like shipping and developing something when you don’t know the language and when you’re not a citizen I was like, “Okay, this is probably the right time for me, for me to move back and develop this.” And I chose to come back to Connecticut for a number of reasons. Why? Its proximity to New York. There’s a lot of companies in New York who also deal with K-beauty, so that’s been sort of really helpful to me. Two, the connections that I had here from before when I went to Korea. So knowing people from Reset.
Eliana: Knowing people from, again, all the other spaces around here who, I thought to myself, you know, they could be really great allies and great mentors while I tried to develop this. My background is in no way in entrepreneurship. It’s actually microbiology.
Eliana: If you can believe it, yeah. And so I was like, I need as much help as they possibly can get. And it’s worked out so far.
Eliana: It’s been really good.
Eliana: Yeah, so it’s been a really interesting journey so far.
Justin: That’s interesting. So one of the questions I have, I guess is like– I’m always curious to know, because I’ve done something similar to this before years ago. Originally I’m from Oklahoma.
Justin: And so I did a similar concept of like Oklahoma stuff that people, you know, would move away.
Eliana: Yeah, right.
Justin: Or whatever and they want some local stuff. So I’m curious to know what have you learned over the past– you’ve been back a year?
Eliana: A year.
Eliana: No, I’ve been back a year and a half now.
Justin: Okay. So over the last year and a half that you’ve been running this business, right? Starting this business up. What’s the stuff that you know now that you wish you would’ve known at the beginning or before you started this thing? Surely. ‘Cause that’s really the objective of this podcast and this, you know, shooting these videos is for other entrepreneurs to watch this and be like, “Oh, this is a good little snippet. This is a good piece of advice.”
Justin: Things that they can incorporate into their thinking.
Eliana: For me, I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that, in the beginning when I was sort of developing this idea in thinking about how to bring it to customers, I wanted everything to be perfect. I was so afraid, like, is my website not going to look good enough? Are the products not going to be going well enough? And you’re going to have good reviews and bad reviews at any stage in your entrepreneurship journey. But what I know now is that you pivot and you develop a new change based on the customer’s feedback. So it doesn’t have to be perfect.
Eliana: You just have to put something out there for people to actually give you feedback on. And then based on that, then you can change things. And that for me was really difficult to grasp in the beginning. I thought if I put something out there that’s perfect in my– but perfect for me may not be perfect for anybody else! So in my mind, I wanted the website to be absolutely great and the products to be great and the box to be great and it has been. It was well enough for me to say like, “Okay, I’m ready to do this. But now, again, based on customer feedback, I’ve been pivoting the entire time and sort of changing things around. So not being afraid to take that criticism and make it into something positive, I think it’s one of my biggest takeaways from this whole year. It’s definitely been a big learning experience and you got to understand that there’s going to be changes sort of almost every day, and I think entrepreneurs thrive on that. They thrive on the change, they thrive on the different stuff that happens on a daily basis and it’s not for everyone. You know, there’s lots of great like ups, but there’s also some really big downs.
Justin: Yeah. So what would you say is the biggest win that you’ve had so far?
Eliana: All of the amazing press I’ve gotten, it’s been really amazing to see people kind of not understand what this K-beauty world is and then come to me and say, “Well, because of you, I’ve tried some new stuff or because of the press that you’ve had and then seeing you on TV or seeing you on the news or seeing this like we wanted to try it out and we wanted to develop it.” And that was my biggest thing. My biggest thing was like I wanted to bring this products, not because I just wanted to bring these new products because there’s an insane amount of skincare products out there, but because I knew the kind of changes that they made for my skin and the people around me and that sort of like in sort of building that confidence on the outside definitely kind of creates that confidence on the inside. So it was really great to hear people who had tried it – people, friends, and family, and then others who I didn’t know kind of come to me and say, “We love this, we love this concept, and we want to see you kind of continue to do it.” So that’s been pretty amazing.
Justin: So then the counterpart to that question is what’s the low point?
Eliana: Oh, I still and I know this is one of the biggest things you need to understand when you have a business. It’s like so hard for me to take the negative comments ’cause I am a one person kind of – I do everything. I do the customer service, I do the fulfillment, I do the curating of the product. So for me, the customer service and when you’re getting something and then somebody says to you like, “I didn’t like this, or I didn’t like the box, or this isn’t worth my time or my money.” Those are like sort of like really crazy blows, and I need to understand that again, you’re not going to always make everyone happy. Right? So somebody may say, “I absolutely love this box” this month, or “I love the products” this month, but the next month it’ll be like, “I absolutely hated it.” Right? And I’m still learning how to kind of take those in strive and be and understand that you’re not gonna make everyone extremely happy all the time. So that, and then again, it’s still a learning process for me. And I will say once I make enough money, the first thing I’m going to hire is somebody to take care of the customer service.
Justin: Okay. That was going to be sort of that raises it. That sorts of answers another question that I have.
Justin: Which is like, what’s sort of the next step that you’re hoping to do?
Eliana: Yeah, other than customer service, which is extremely important for me. So right now, again, based on feedback that I’ve gotten from customers and friends and family, there’s a few things happening. So the first one is I am changing my website to a new platform.
Justin: What are you changing it to?
Justin: Okay. What is it now?
Eliana: Yeah, but I’m not a web developer, so that has been, again, another learning curve for me.
Eliana: So changing over to a Shopify platform because I want to– so two things. So right now what I’m doing is a subscription box that is a seasonal box that comes with full-sized products, but people have been asking me, and this is something that has become extremely popular here in the U.S., it’s the concept of face masks. And so I’m launching a new product line that is going to be a monthly box with face masks only.
Justin: Smart idea.
Eliana: Yeah, yeah. So again, a more affordable price point for people and easier way to get introduced to these products without feeling like, “Wow, what am I going to do with something full size that I may not possibly like?”
Justin: Right, right.
Eliana: “Or enjoy or know how to use.” So again, getting people’s feedback on like, “I don’t understand K-beauty or I’ve never even washed my face at night.” So taking all of that and trying to incorporate more education, more products that are easier to use, things that people can use for a long time, right? So if you’re getting a full size, like face wash, you can use that for a long, long time, right? Or if you get a full size moisturizer that you can do that for a long, long time. But the idea I think of face masks is, it’s again, a lot more affordable. And then two, it’s something that you can do with friends and family. So I want people to get into the mindset that if you get four face masks a week, you could use one once a week and then by the time you get to your next box, then that’ll be ready for your next box, right? Or if you wanted to share it with your friends or family or your significant other, you could do that as well.
Justin: Right. Yeah, that’s a smart idea. It’s like the tip of the spear. That’s what I talked to a lot of clients about.
Justin: So they have this like huge thing. I’m not saying that this is super expensive necessarily, but like you know, you want to sell thousands of dollars worth of stuff.
Justin: And I’m like there is no entry point.
Justin: You know what I mean? For someone to be like, “Hm, I’ll try this thing out.” You know? Without like buying a whole car or something.
Eliana: That’s a really good point. Yeah, like an entry point.
Justin: Yeah, right.
Eliana: That’s a really great way to think about.
Justin: And the thing too is like, another thing that I’ve thought a lot about recently is having multiple entry points like that. You know what I mean? Not just like one, not just the mask, but is it like a little sample pack or is it like some other, you know what I mean? Because people would want different things.
Justin: And would all funnel up to the same objective.
Eliana: Exactly, yeah.
Justin: You know?
Eliana: And I do have a couple goals as far as like I think like how you’re saying like entry points on my first one that we’re hoping I’m hoping to launch by January or February at the latest is this idea of this monthly box – face masks that you can try, you can kind of share with your friends and family and then seeing whether you want to get the seasonal box. The other one, and hopefully later next year is offering the products that you get on the box in my website. So being a reseller point where if you really like that moisturizer.
Eliana: Or you really like that face wash, then you can go back.
Justin: You just go back to your website and order it in the store.
Eliana: Exactly, right.
Justin: Yeah, that’s a smart idea.
Eliana: So that would be another entry point, yeah. So hoping to develop all those different things in the next year.
Justin: That’s interesting. So well the question that I have then is like, you really think it’s going to take a year to do that?
Eliana: I don’t think it will take a year.
Justin: But that’s just sort of the goal?
Eliana: Yeah, exactly. And that’s sort of the goal as far as like funding goes as far as understanding shipping process.
Justin: Okay, gotcha.
Eliana: As far as knowing how much can I give of my time.
Eliana: I am doing this full time, but it’s still just one person, right?
Eliana: So fulfillment of things and people expect things to be faster and faster nowadays.
Eliana: So my seasonal boxes, I think people understand that it’s a seasonal thing, so it takes a while. A monthly box, again. But if it’s just a one product thing, how long are they willing to wait for something like that?
Eliana: if that makes sense. So sort of understanding those things and like making sure, again, not so much the idea of being perfect now, but understanding that you still need to meet a standard for people, and when it comes to things like Amazon for example, you get next day, right? And I can’t do that. I’m not Amazon so.
Justin: Right, right. So then, having done something similar to this before, how are you sourcing these products? Because for me, when I was doing that, it was hard to find–
Eliana: And they are, yes.
Justin: Enough stuff–
Eliana: They are.
Justin: To put in that.
Eliana: Yeah, they are. I think that’s one of the reasons why it’s seasonal. One, it gives a chance for people to try the product, kind of go through them and see if they enjoy it or if they don’t enjoy it. Secondly, a lot of them are coming from Korea so it takes a while.
Eliana: Like it’ll take maybe like two to three weeks for me to get the product itself. How am I sourcing? out Again, I was very fortunate to have lived on South Korea. I don’t know if I could’ve done this if I hadn’t lived out there. Meeting brands, making the connections – so that was at the beginning. Now that my brand is a little bit more established, I get companies coming to me and saying, “Hey, we would like to partner with you to get some of our products out to U.S. customers.” Or I’ll reach out to them through Instagram or Facebook and say, “Hi, this is something that I have. This is the kind of customers that I can offer. These are the numbers. My company compared to some of the other ones out in the world already – they’re not the same, but it’s growing.” So those are sort of the way that I’m sourcing the product. It’s definitely not easy.
Justin: Yeah, it’s like super scrappy, like getting in there and trying a bunch of different things.
Eliana: Yeah, and you’re working with a bunch of different brands because they’re not, I mean, again, the products are not all coming from the same company.
Justin: Right, right.
Eliana: So you’ve gotta be working, I mean, if I’m offering six products per box.
Eliana: I’m working with six different brands–
Justin: Right, yeah.
Eliana: To create one box.
Eliana: So people don’t see like that behind-the-scenes.
Justin: Right, they just open it up and it’s in there.
Eliana: Exactly, right. It was late, and what is this? And yeah, so.
Justin: So how are you marketing this thing? Is it mostly like organic marketing? Are you doing any paid stuff? Like, talk to me about that.
Eliana: It’s been all organic advertisement. Again, my customer base isn’t extremely huge. It’s definitely been a growing process and it’s taken some time, but it’s all been organic. Originally, it was just mostly through Instagram and Facebook. And now, I’ve been fortunate enough to have been invited to podcasts or gotten a spot on TV or we did The Current recently and there was a magazine who reached out to me and said, “We want to do an expose on you and like K-beauty and all these things.” So that has again, all been organic. But I will say, I think one of the biggest ones will probably still be Instagram and Facebook and sort of like creating interesting content, educational content. I think people here in the U.S. – the idea of skincare is still very new concept to them. So implementing these educational videos and like informational and educational posts, I think makes a big difference for them.
Justin: So are there pockets of customers that you have, are they mostly set like geographically, are they mostly here or are they sort of sprinkled out around the country?
Eliana: They’re sprinkled out. I’d say my target market or my demographic is mostly the 24 to 35 age range, mostly women or men who are giving gifts to women. But as far as geographically goes, it’s spread out really pretty interestingly.
Eliana: Across the U.S., yeah.
Eliana: So I’ve gotten some people from California, some from Texas, some from Wyoming, some from Arkansas.
Justin: Wyoming? That’s interesting.
Eliana: Like how did you find me? Or like Virginia. And the most common are probably New York, Connecticut, and Boston.
Eliana: ‘Cause I’m nearby and people see me. And again, like the proximity to New York and the K-beauty world in New York. So yeah, so like New York, Boston, Massachusetts, Connecticut. What do you have? Florida, Virginia, Texas.
Justin: So have you done any work with influencers to like give them this stuff?
Justin: How did that go? So other than organic, I think the only other paid way that I’ve done advertisement is through what people call micro-influencers.
Eliana: So there’s now micro-influencers who are the local influencers who have a big following and they’re very much involved with the people from their towns. So there are micro-influencers, for example in Connecticut, who may have like 15,000 followers, but they’re very much engaged in what they do, commenting. And then there are the bigger influences like somebody like Kim Kardashian, for example. I mean if they put your stuff out there, you may see a big, big return on that. I don’t have access to those people. So I have been working with micro-influencers, I’ve had some good experiences and some not so good experiences. And I think that was another learning experience for me. So in the beginning, understanding like, even if I send my box out to someone, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be positive feedback or that they’re going to put it on their stuff. So what I’ve learned is that now when I talk to an influencer, I don’t draw up a contract because I’m not paying them, but I do ask them beforehand, “If I do send you a box, no negative stuff is going to kind of come out of that. If you don’t like it, tell me. And then that’s it. We can kind of just like finish this partnership.” You know, I don’t expect somebody to lie to their customer or to their fan base. “But if you don’t like it, just please tell me beforehand and we can kind of just end it and you can keep the products. But if you do get a box – that I hope that you do – put it at least on your stories and on your Instagram or on your Facebook.” Because before I’ve had two influencers just to get the box and nothing happened.
Eliana: And when I tried to reach out to them, like never reached out to me again. And thankfully, It was just like two or three that it happened.
Justin: Just like ghosted you.
Eliana: Yes, exactly. I am not only getting ghosted in relationships. Also, with business. It’s like, “Oh, great.” I have seen a return more on followers, like the growth of followers.
Eliana: I don’t know if I’ve seen so much the growth of sales on that.
Eliana: I’ve seen more of the growth of sales come from press than I have from influencers.
Justin: Okay, interesting. Okay. So the one thing is like, when it comes to generating content, like you’re talking about, like educational stuff. Are you doing all that? Are you working with these influencers to create content for you?
Eliana: For right now, I’ve been doing it most of myself. So when the influencers create content for me is mostly what people call unboxing. So they get the box, they open it up, they kinda take the stuff out and they say, “Look.” Or they put on a face mask and they kind of go through the products themselves. Every time there’s a new box, we go through all of the products themselves, and we explain to people, “This is what we have in the box this month and this is how you can use it and this is what it’s good for.” And then again, so creating that educational content from our end so people can understand.
Justin: So, go ahead.
Eliana: No, I was going to say, or all their concept of a routine, like a skincare routine. What’s a skincare routine or the concept of – Koreans are known for a 10-step skincare routine – what’s the ten steps? Is it even doable? Is it necessary?
Justin: It’s a lot.
Eliana: It’s a lot. Even I don’t do it, but giving people options to choose from.
Justin: Okay. So but I’m back to what I was saying before as far as like them generating content for you.
Eliana: Content, yes.
Justin: When they do these unboxings, do you post that on your Instagram? Okay.
Eliana: Yeah, yeah. It’s more of like a story, like you repost the story. Like put it in your–.
Justin: Okay, gotcha, gotcha.
Eliana: Most of the content that I have on my Instagram and Facebook is created by me and it’s sort of curated to go to have a flow based on like, so for example, this whole week we’re doing a giveaway, a six days of Christmas giveaway. So everything is a new giveaway.
Justin: Okay, I saw that.
Eliana: So that’s sort of the only content that we have this week.
Justin: Okay. So why, why only do that one type of campaign instead of other stuff? Like why limit yourself to that I guess is the question.
Eliana: You mean this week or?
Eliana: Ah, not necessarily that I’m limiting myself, ’cause I am still doing more things with like stories.
Justin: Okay, okay.
Eliana: I’m saying like, so for the page itself is just, yeah.
Justin: Okay, gotcha. Gotcha.
Eliana: And the giveaway is only through Instagram, so on Facebook, we’re doing other content.
Justin: Okay. So talk to me a little bit about like how you use these different channels for different content.
Eliana: Yeah. So when I was thinking back about my business, I didn’t want to like, spread myself too thin. So I decided that my two main forms of social media were going to be Instagram and Facebook. And we do have a Pinterest account and we have a YouTube account. Not the most developed, but it counts. We do have them, but again, I just really didn’t want to spread myself too thin and I wanted to make sure that what we do have, there’s quality stuff in those two things. So our main categories are Facebook and I think Facebook allows for more storytelling, so you can kind of explain things a bit more, put up more videos, and Instagram is a really quick kind of catchy photo. So understanding what works, what doesn’t work, what’s the best way to grow both platforms is extremely important with algorithms and whatnot. Sometimes with Facebook, you don’t get as much traffic on your right, where you have like 35 people saw this, but you have 700 followers and it was like how does 35 people out of 700 see this, right? But the same is happening with Instagram, right? You’re only getting like twelve likes and you have 2,000 followers. And it’s like, how did I just get twelve likes? So it’s a learning curve.
Justin: You’ve gotta pay.
Eliana: You’ve got to pay. You’ve got to pay, I know, I know.
Justin: You’ve gotta pay the piper, man. Zucks wants your money.
Eliana: Yeah, you’ve got to pay.
Justin: Yeah, I’m running ads right now for me.
Eliana: Yeah, right. So I actually met an advertisement executive down in Arkansas. I was out at a wedding in Arkansas recently and we just got to talking, and he’s like, “Let me try. Let me create an ad for you. Try maybe 30 to 40 dollars and see what happens.” And he’s like, “We can try two different ones and see. You can kind of give it a try.” He’s like, “I’m not gonna charge you to create the content. I’ll just kind of walk you through the steps.” So I’m kind of working with him now.
Eliana: To do that. So, stay tuned.
Justin: When’s that gonna launch?
Eliana: Maybe – I don’t know – the beginning of the year?
Eliana: Yeah. So, yeah, stay tuned.
Justin: Yeah, that’s interesting.
Eliana: It’ll be my first time doing paid advertisement.
Justin: That’s interesting.
Eliana: Yeah, but it’s nice. He’s been really helpful about giving me feedback and kinda how to channel the ads and what to choose, what not to choose. And so it’s nice to have that kind of–.
Justin: It’s a big learning curve.
Eliana: Yeah. It is a big learning curve, which is also scary because it’s like, okay, I’m putting money into this.
Eliana: I don’t understand it.
Eliana: Is it worth it?
Eliana: So that has been, I think what’s kept me from doing it.
Eliana: Is it going to be a really good like return on investment?
Eliana: ‘Cause organic, it’s just organic. I’m not paying for anything. Right? Or an influencer, for example. Yes, it is money because I’m putting together the box, I’m shipping it to you, and you may lose money on it, but it’s a bit of a different, I think gamble then.
Justin: How so?
Eliana: I mean, it may not be. I mean, I’m still losing money. I don’t know. I may not be, but in my mind, the way that I see it is like, most people will still put up stuff and they’ll be seen by 20,000 people.
Justin: Okay. You’ll at least get something out of it.
Eliana: Exactly, right.
Justin: Okay, that makes sense.
Eliana: So I’ll get a story out of it. Twenty people will see it. I’ll get some followers. With the paid advertisement if I don’t do it correctly, will I get that kind of traction on what I’m doing?
Eliana: What are your thoughts?
Justin: Speaker –Yeah, the joke I always make is like whenever you’re doing new ads–