Janine and Aretha are the embodiment of everything #trending. They are the bosses of Floss Gloss, a nail polish company. Their fantastic product and incredible marketing are simply an extension of who they are at the core–ambitious, culture-obsessed, ALMOST too cool, but somehow approachable. This week is chock full of lessons and #realtalk not to be missed.
Janine Lee + Aretha Sack
aka J9 and Riri
Founders of FLOSS GLOSS
Strengths: Hustle, relentlessly being true to self, self-teachers, floss
Unexpected conclusion: Being actually authentic is HARD!! …but motivating
Find out takeaways and more goodies by checking our
Twitter, IG, Periscope @chillambitious
1:47 NY Times article on successful banding
(Consumers see three dimensions to brand authenticity: heritage, sincerity and commitment to quality.)
5:00 Cohn & Wolfe Study
(It is important for brands to act with integrity at all times)
5:26 Ranking of most authentic brands
8:24 OLIVIA, STOP TRYING TO MAKE COCA COLA HAPPEN! IT’S NOT GONNA HAPPEN!
10:19 FLOSS GLOSS Introduction
14:32 Their own focus group (more colors, packaging, formula)
19:10 Getting in with manufacturers and finding their business mom and dad
19:45 He really enjoyed how young and ambitious Janine and I were
20:10 Lesson #1 pretend like you have a bunch of K’s in the bank. So many commas.
21:43 Floss Gloss impacts the larger market with their insights
23:36 Writing the business plan to get the money (this is where the fun stops)
24:09 Google Business School
25:05 Undercapitalized but capitalized
26:04 lady drugs
26:09 Hiring PR
28:25 Hiring a fulfillment center
29:53 Owning your brand and making it an extension of yourself
32:50 Using Instagram such a crucial free tool
33:55 We’re the owners
35:42 Always trying to stay forward
36:21 Competing with the big dogs
38:03 Giving 100% and quitting your job
39:09 “You have to make sacrifices. Janine and I decided… we know, we don’t like it and we’ve know for a while that for the first 5-6 years of owning a small business, we are going to be at the poverty line personally.” -Riri
40:38 20 hats a day
42:03 Rewards of being FLOSS GLOSS
43:17 This is the Devil Wears Prada moment for us you guys
46:09 Winging it and being a control freak
46:42 Treating your customers like peers
49:25 Ethical nail polish–it is tested on us
51:14 Floss Gloss Retailers
0:00 – KRS-ONE – 2nd Quarter Free Throws
0:07 Kendrick Lamar – Real feat. Anna Wise
0:15 Malcolm McLaren. “Reflections on Learning” keynote at Handheld Learning Conference 2009. London.
0:23 Cheryl Lynn-Got to Be Real
0:32 Kanye West – Sin City
10:11 Kid Sister- Pro Nails
11:38 Tyra Banks – ANTM theme song
14:01 Tokyo Vanity – That’s my bestfriend
20:10 Future – Fuck up some commas
23:08 Jay Z – This Life Forever
35:06 Mac Dre- Boss Tycoon
39:32 Kevin Gates feat. August Alsina – I Don’t Get Tired (#IDGT)
44:04 The Devil Wear’s Prada. [motion picture]
53:08 Wale – Ambition
NO: Alright. Fine, I’ll watch Kanye later.
O: What up!? From Chill + Ambitious. The podcast that points out shit you didn’t know was relevant.
NO: Very true.
O: And I’m O.
NO: I’m NO.
O: And together we make
O: So yeah! Today the shit we’re going to get into has both to do with the power of being authentic as well as the struggle to be authentic. It may seem easier to be yourself. Just do it, right? But there’s actually a lot more to it and it actually be easier to copy someone else or put the work into to figure out who the fuck you are. So our life innovators today are actually phenomenal at this, being authentic, especially at a brand level, and you know everyone’s their own brand today. No, who are they?
NO: Our guests today are the fantastic ladies from Floss Gloss so you will meet them later. We will be discussing a New York Times article about what consumers look for in brands and whether branding is successful. According to Julie Napoli, a marketing professor at Curtin University, she recently reported three dimensions of brand authenticity that her and her colleagues identified…
O:What are these…
NO: Well I’m glad you asked. They are: heritage, sincerity, and commitment to quality.
NO: Yeah heritage. I think that heritage is pretty relevant in terms of if you look at anything, even clothing brands, they all say “established”, you know 2000. Or why people purchased Abercrombie and Fitch, it’s actually a historical heritage brand, it has nothing to do with what it is now. It used to be like, the Kennedys wore it- they would go hunting and on safaris. Now it’s just obviously completely different.
O: Heritage was actually, and it still is, such a big thing in luxury, but there’s a lot of old brands that totally went out of business 50 years ago the people are buying the rights to it just to claim that “this is since 1912.” Actually, China is the biggest hole for that.
NO: The whole country?
O: Yeah. China. It’s true though. If it’s American and it’s been around for this long and I don’t know anything about it but I’m going to buy it because it has this established name with it.
NO: Well it makes sense. People are like, if it’s lasted this long, it’s relevant that long, it feels special, right? Or are give the appearance of being something special. That’s where sincerity comes in because you can purchase a 100-year-old, but if you’re not in line with its core message then people can kind of feel that. My friend Patrick says, “even stupid people can feel.”
O: That’s very insightful.
NO: It is true. And obviously commitment to quality.
O: Unless they’re a sociopath. Then they feel for…
NO: Oh. I think when he says, “even stupid people can feel” he means in regards to the idea of- we both work in fashion, sometimes you purchase these vintage gowns that are like thousands and thousands of dollars and everyone fawns over them, and you try and re-create them exactly and it never works. And that’s because it just feels inauthentic and that’s actually what he meant by, “even stupid people can feel.” Even if you don’t know anything about fashion look at it and tell that something is missing.
O: Is being fake.
O: Faux sincerity.
NO: With all these factors, I don’t think we value as much as a society, of how much purchasing power we have. And so when we’re exercising our purchasing power we’re literally buying into a set of values. Which is why all of those three dimensions are important. In relation to authenticity, there was a study done by Cohn & Wolfe in 2014, where 87% of global consumers said it was important for brands to act with integrity at all times.
O: We love integrity. (4:04) It’s the same thing they say about politicians. The number one thing that people look for in politicians is integrity. What does that mean to people? What does it mean to have integrity?
NO: Well this is funny enough because the study measures the most authentic brands with positions 1 to 20. And number one, Walmart is number one.
O: They’re so sincere at being Walmart.
NO: They actually are though. That’s the thing, their Walmart is so Walmart. Number two is Starbucks, Number three is Amazon. And then Google, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A, Costco, and Bank of America were all on the list. So, in terms of being authentic they actually stick to their beliefs. Like in the case of Chick-fil-A I guess they are super authentic. Bank of America- they’re a bank, they’re going to take your money, they’re going to take all that bailout money, they’re fine with that. That’s actually being authentic in that sense, that’s the perception.
O: Well, they’re stable, they’re across the country. I actually have Bank of America because it’s the only bank that is in New England but also on the West Coast and actually a lot of them stop at New York, like the national banks. It’s literally the only one that I can be pretty much anywhere in America and there’s a Bank of America ready to…
NO: … to take your money?
NO: That makes sense but actually part of that is that they’re nationally recognized, they have such volume of product and services, that that’s why on a scale of 1 to 20, all these huge national brands…
O: I’m surprised Coca-Cola wasn’t on here. Coca-Cola, they we’re really big on- what’s the name of the phrase? They’re the ones about being honest about when people call them out they use it is a great PR opportunity to be like “hey… we’re going to try to make it right.”
NO: Well actually this article, they talk about several other brands who have called out, like Apple who’s on the list, and Target who is also on the list, but it’s mostly about went theft happens, like identity theft they’re like “hey! We got hacked! Blah blah blah.” And it’s like owning up to it.
O: To be fair, I have Bank of America, and every time I have fraud which I’ve had many times, they’re like “here’s the money,” no questions.
NO: It happens like every 30 seconds. Yeah.
O: I asked the guy when he was fixing it for me, “how often do people comment about credit card fraud?” And he’s like, “I literally see at least 10 people a day.”
NO: I also think that people don’t interact with Coca-Cola so much is like most of these places I’m looking at, they’re either restaurants or grocery stores or they provide products that we use absolutely every day. You’re not drinking a Coca-Cola every single day.
O: But it’s a global…
NO: It’s either that or McDonald’s, they’re in the 1 and 2 positions of the most recognized brands worldwide but in terms of you’re not like “who do I really trust? Coca-Cola!” You’re going to be like, I go to Trader Joe’s because I love Trader Joe’s and they always have well priced product. In terms of those being national brands, that’s an easy thing.
O: More people drink Coca-Cola though, than shop at Trader Joe’s. I know you don’t.
NO: Globally yes.
O: Anyways. What were you going to say about Trader Joe’s?
NO: Trader Joe’s is an example of the really successful business that is true to their message, that’s authentic and started out really small. It started as a small chain of convenience stores in the 1950s and the name changed and they grew and expanded and now we all have a Trader Joe’s in our city. And we all wait in that ridiculous line at the one in Union Square to get our well priced organic basmati rice.
O: Good food. Great price. Value is what they’ve always been about. They broke into an industry that was pretty much established in terms of convenience stores and they were able to do that because they were offering something different and when they got there they stayed true to that.
NO: All these businesses started out… every tree starts out at as a seed. So actually our guests today our small business that is competing with the big players out there. Floss Gloss is such an amazing brand of nail polish. Their greatest strength is there authenticity and their marketing. It’s just so true to the brand. The visuals are always consistent. They retain creative control of everything and it’s really what makes them stand out.
O: Totally. It’s the first thing that I noticed when you introduced them to me. So let’s get to it. We are going to introduce to you…
NO: Janine and Aretha from Floss Gloss!! Ladies welcome!
J9: Thank you for having us.
Riri: Hi. Thanks for having us.
NO: Thank you for being here. So Floss Gloss, as I went through is just this bad ass nail polish company, you should check it out cuz they’re the best. And I was lucky enough to go to school with Janine and Aretha but I went to the same program as Janine, I remember she was obsessed with nail time. She would be like “it’s nail time” in the studio. And you guys want to tell us how you got started? How the idea came to fruition?
Riri: That’s true.
J9: That’s right. You were there from the very very beginning.
NO: I been A1 since day one.
J9: You have been.
Riri: Wait, did I ever sell you Wet?
J9: I think you did. I think you bought… you were one of the ones that bought the bottle.
Riri: Maybe Janine middlemanned that transaction.
J9: The turquoise that we did.
NO: The Tiffany turquoise? I actually did not buy any in college because I didn’t know that you were selling them.
J9: I felt like she bought it.
NO: I might’ve used it.
J9: But either way…
NO: Because I’ve used all of your things.
J9: It’s funny that Noel has been around since we are at the beginning, the conception of Floss Gloss.
O: When was this?
J9: This was in college. We originally started as just a crew. Like it was just an activity-based group that happened after class, like back at our apartment. We would just watch reruns of ANTM, Tyra, and do nails.
Riri:I was selling this nail polish for $5 a bottle to Janine and other people at art school, because the market hadn’t expanded in 2008. Yeah and I would sell it to them for five bucks and make a little extra cash because there weren’t many colors available and it’s super easy to mix colors together. And then we started doing nail time and then Janine bought a business license.
J9: We were like, we were already friends and she was mixing these colors and I was like “damn, that’s so hot. I’ve never seen Color like that before.” Because this was before anything had really taken off in the consumer aspect or even professional in general.
O: This was 2008 you said?
J9:2008/ 2009 was really when I think we started hanging out more. We also lived really close to each other in San Francisco and then she was already doing that but we started hanging out and it became a part of the time when we would hang out with each other. So win my fashion ladies were like “damn I love that color” I would bring it to school with me and we would just paint nails in the studio because we were there for like hours, our whole life. And so then afterwards, after college, the recession was terrible and I couldn’t get a job, I didn’t even want the internship that I got offered. It was just really bad. She was waiting tables and I started bartending to pay my rent San Francisco which is also insane. Then she finished school in the spring of 2010 and my dad was just like “take this money and buy this business license in California and I’ll just run it for you.” We didn’t even think it was going to be a business, we just tried to buy a domain name to post our nail photos online on our own website because this is when Tumblr was really big. Fuck Yeah Nail Art was like this big blog and we wanted to get on there but we just… wanted to have our own page because we were doing our own thing. And that’s kind how it started and then it just snowballed. Insane.
Riri: Yeah. Janine called me and she was like “I just bought a business license with your name on it for the nail polish.” And I’m like “oh my god. Like what the fuck?”
O: That’s hilarious.
J9: Well I just included her because I felt like if I didn’t include her we wouldn’t be friends anymore. If I didn’t include her in the thing. So I didn’t want to call her because I knew she’d be at work and be like “hey”
O: Whoa. So you originally got the website just to show off what you guys were doing during nail time and then the business part came afterwards?
J9: Yeah. Because it was even more just hobby-based. Everyone was selling on Etsy and stuff, you could sell the stuff and she was already doing it in college. So I saw that and was like, okay we could just try to do it. Let’s just Google some manufacturers.
Riri: Yeah the market shockingly, for color, hadn’t expanded until 2010, like right when we started. But I was mixing colors as a kid in Texas because I hated- I was a tomboy and there was only red and pink, and so I really wanted turquoise and orange and I go to the store and just pour them out. But that was in the 90s and still until 2009 by the time I meet Janine there’s still none of these colors available so we were like there’s a market for it obviously. But then pretty much right when we launched the market did expand. And now a lot of colors are available which kind of sucks for us but I mean that’s what’s gonna happen. And then we get ripped off left and right on our colors either way because we’re niche.
J9: Yeah. We were doing it like writing our business plan, like 800 pages, and we’re just like trying to get out because we have this color ready and we need to tackle that market. There is a space for us.
Riri: There was a big hole in the market we saw where there’s no good colors.
J9: As consumers.
Riri: Yeah it was a consumer based thing because…
J9: We’re big consumers. We both had tons of nail polish, she had way more than me.
Riri: I had 600 bottles in my room. The big thing was all the colors sucked, I had to mix my own to get what I wanted, and then the big thing with us because were in art school was that it’s a beauty product and that packaging wasn’t beautiful. It just seem like such a big no-brainer. Like OPI has this big ugly cap, Essie is just boring, like no offense to them but they’re just not really bringing it with the packaging. And coming from a design background both of us were like, this seems so obvious let’s make it really glamorous, in really good colors, and really good formula because there’s not a brand that I could say that I want that’s from or that I have that from already and that I want to put on my vanity and display.
J9: And price that was also affordable for like a young 20 something, that had no money and tons of college student loan debt.
Riri: If you have 600 bottles of nail polish in your room, they better look fucking hot with a gold ass cap.
NO: Yeah. You’ve seen in my apartment the shelf in our living room, there’s a pyramid of Floss Gloss because it looks so beautiful. And when my roommates try to put other nail polish there I’m like, “that’s not where that goes.”
Riri: That’s whassup.
NO: But it’s because it looks beautiful because of the packaging and then you try to put something else in there and it’s like not gonna happen. You just ruined my pyramid.
J9: It disrupts the esthetic.
Riri: It’s not really that hard or expensive to get beautiful packaging which is the saddest part. They’re just choosing the most boring, basic…
J9: Most commercial aspects as much as possible. But those brands that we named, like those big brands, right? that are the most recognizable brands for nail polish, they’re on a huge commercial level and they have tons of revenue and are making tons of money and were just bought by, you know…
Riri: They’re like doing seven reds with FOXNews and we can barely put out a baby pink.
J9: Well yeah. On one level that’s where want to be even though it seems so backward. Because when we got in the game you wanted to go against everything that was very commercial because that’s not what we wanted as consumers, but now that we’re behind the scenes and the business side we’re like, oh my gosh this is the reason why colors go discontinued, this is the reason why they buy cheap packaging, this is the reason why things go like this, and this is the reason why there are 1 million reds because it sells.
Riri: That sells. Unfortunately.
J9: Because that’s what’s available because that’s what takes less time to produce and put out there. Which turns over more money.
Riri: That’s what everyone is comfortable with because nobody’s really innovative.
NO I’ll say that’s one of my favorite things about your product too, is that I look at the bottle and I know exactly what it’s going to look like when I put it on. Which does not happen with nail polish.
Riri: That was a big thing when we were writing. It was true to bottle, that was a huge problem as consumers.
J9: It was very misleading. In fact I feel gypped, I feel duped when I buy and spend $10.50 on a bottle of nail polish and I come home and it supposed to be opaque but it’s really sheer. And it’s opaque in like six coats and it doesn’t dry for like two days and then you’re like, “I have to change my nails. There’s no point.” So there were many things that we… we were our own focus group when we were having nail time. And then we were like all these things have to change, this is unacceptable. I can’t believe this has been going on.
NO: It’s funny that your research kind of came before.
Riri: Well we were the market. And we still are the market.
O: Wow that’s great. So you get all this insight because you’re the market, but how did you actualize that? How did you actually make a formula that met you were needs especially on a mass scale?
J9: That came with our manufacturing. We pray every day and are so thankful for that because…
NO: And it’s made in the USA.
J9: It’s made in the bay area. It’s made in the US, so we’re very proud that we know what our footprint is and the impacts and everything. We’re not outsourcing crazy and going overseas, everything is done in the states except for the packaging is made in Italy but it’s through the US company. Super old school Italians.
Riri: Yeah we got in with some manufacturers and he was really young when he started and he saw and enjoyed how young and ambitious Janine and I were an him And his wife kind of business mentor us to this day. They’re so awesome and we couldn’t be more thankful for that.
J9: They’re our business mom and dad.
Riri: They’re our business parents. They took a huge chance on us. We were 23 and 22
J9: And no money.
Riri: And we pretended we had money.
J9: Oh hell yeah! You got a sell it.
NO: Lesson number one:
J9: Lesson number one:
Riri: Pretend like you have a bunch of K’s in the bank.
J9: A million dollars.
Riri: So many commas.
J9: But either way yeah that was really awesome that they were willing to take a chance on us because honestly if they wouldn’t have been we probably would have just kept getting non-replies. We were calling manufacturers and trying to reach out, we were really unsuccessful with trying to get to these places that we knew were manufacturing nail polish and we knew that was a place to go through and it wasn’t happening. So we did take time in the beginning process to talk to our factory mom and dad about the formula.
Riri: Formula for a long time.
J9: It was like months. Because we really told them and portrayed to them how unhappy we were with the status of consumer nail polish. And they were in the professional nail polish game and they really told us upfront first: either you go professional or you go retail, you can’t do both.
Riri: Salon or retail. There’s no room for another salon one. All you have is OPI and Essie. If you go to a salon and it’s not there it’s like: what is this? I’m leaving. It’s just standard.
J9: Its credibility.
Riri: But it’s funny with our manufactures, we gave them a lot of information from the consumers and told them a lot of things about formula that now they use. That’s fine because we owe them our life but it’s funny because they’ve agreed and they…
NO: So you’ve also impacted the larger market.
J9: Yes. I feel like we have and they run a huge export business with nail polish all over the world, so they definitely are a credible company so we, like Aretha said, are very thankful that they took a chance to work with us, that maybe they also saw it as an opportunity to in turn connect within a younger market that was actively using.
Riri: Yeah they were like, oh here’s our focus group. They walked right in.
J9: That only happened through our glass connection, our packaging connection. Like me taking up breakfast at 8:30… 7:45 in the morning with this 60-year-old woman, 65 year old woman, like at a Marriott, over an omelette. And I was on this weird diet so I didn’t even eat and she was like, “what is wrong with you?” But yeah she was like, “I like you.” But yeah they do Milani, Revlon, Duri, all the big top consumer brands that are available widely in drugstores.
Riri: The glass.
J9: The glass company. That was awesome, so she was like “you should look up this guy.” And so it was all referral, networking.
NO: So important. And then being passionate obviously, because you’re putting your reputation on the line every time you refer someone. So having someone, being passionate and people seeing that and you, they’re gonna [more likely] take a chance on you.
Riri: Also as long as you can pay you shouldn’t turn down a sale no matter what the person looks like. Billionaires walk up in sweat pants at Nordstrom’s. Can’t be judging a book by it’s cover.
J9: We ended up going away from manufacturing, being like great we have manufacturing we have people willing to work with us with no trade history so now we have to get money and we have to get investment, like thousands of dollars to make this happen.
Riri: So we wrote a business plan and a financial plan and sold shares of the company to investors.
J9: Which wasn’t easy.
Riri: Not at all. This is where the fun ends.
J9: The business plan and all that stuff was, like Aretha said, not the fun part when you’re investing. That was the worst thing.
Riri: We were writing it for a year. The business and the financial plan after getting the business license before anything happened. We were writing a business plan for a full year. We sent ourselves to Google business school.
O: You said you went to business school?
Riri: No. Neither one of us went to business school but once we realized that we had to write a business plan and a financial plan in order to get money, we had to send ourselves to business school to be able to approach people and even speak about…
J9: She means on Google.com. We didn’t send ourselves to school and take classes. We were like bartending an waiting tables and then we would be researching during the day on Google. Like basically “Business For Dummies.” How do we structure our business plan, looking at case studies, just doing all that research we knew that we didn’t have any knowledge of. But when you’re asking a 60-year-old man for money, and you’re asking for $10,000 they want to know where that $10,000 dollars is going to go and what the return is going to be like, and all that stuff. We had to self educate. Really a lot to get to that point.
Riri: It’s still really hard. We’re both way more creative and it’s a struggle but after a year of begging people to take a risk, we got not enough. Well we got enough to start. The minimums in cosmetics and big businesses are so high so we got as much as we could cover for the minimums. Starting from the highest minimum was 60,000 for one of our items and then going from there.
J9: We were undercapitalized we started but we had enough to start the first run. The whole part was really hard.
Riri: We got like 40,000 bottles of nail polish originally sent to my shitty ass apartment in Oakland. Like stacked in my bedroom floor to ceiling.
J9: It was insane.
Riri: 40,000 bottles.
J9: We had to hire movers in Oakland and they were like, what is this? Because there were just boxes and boxes and it was heavy, they thought it was drugs. Completely. We were just moving in drugs. They’re lady drugs, nail polish. So we had to decide whether we bought all the pieces, we really investing in the product because we have to start with a range of colors. You can’t come out with just like one collection.
Riri: And if you want to do it proper you can’t just mix it in your bathtub and make 100 bottles. Do need it to be quality controlled.
J9:That’s a big deal. We couldn’t go through with making it ourselves
NO: Because you need consistent product.
J9: Because we wanted consistent product. We wanted to compete with the big brands and to actually be taken seriously. We couldn’t been doing that if we were just doing it ourselves and trying to manufacture it alone in our apartment or in our garage.
Riri: But doing it yourself, we could’ve done it with way less money but it wouldn’t have been as professional of a product.
J9: So that was key factor number one: was finding manufacturing. That was the biggest thing.
Riri: So we had to get the money.
J9: And then we hired PR at the very beginning.
Riri: For the minimum.
J9: Which is probably one of the best things we did. For the minimum. Because we were convinced we wouldn’t be able to get the platform or the spotlight on our brand without hiring PR to really elevate that. And we knew that we were new, we didn’t want to sell anything to anyone before we got PR and got it in front of all the publications.
Riri: Yeah. It seemed like…
J9: The best use of our start up capital.
Riri: We have all this product we can’t just sit on it we need to… we did the minimum with the PR agency to shop it around.
J9: Here in New York.
O: You guys were in Vogue, Refinery 29.
J9: We came into desk sides in August of 2012 and after we left the teen Vogue meeting, the desk side, we were on TeenVogue.com four hours later, which was incredible. So that was after we pitched men for their money for the last six months, walking into a meeting with these really influential women at a huge global publication, they were immediately putting us online in their round up for new beauty products, it was like, okay I don’t think this is going to be as hard as it’s been for the last nine months. We were literally crying every day. It was horrifying. But then when you’re selling it to women, it was easier for us because we’d already been through hell so to speak trying to sell it to a man, so selling it to a woman was effortless.
Riri: Selling it to investors, you’re not usually selling it to the market. But then once we got to market, it was chill. But it’s funny because when all the nail polish came to my house, we didn’t have any employees until last April, still. So our “employee” is actually not an employee, it’s a fulfillment center. We were packing all the orders ourselves up until last April, so the first 2 1/2 years of our business. So we’d order things from U-Line which is like business supplies for shipping and they’d be dropping it off at this house, knocking on the door, like where are we? And just be doing it from wherever: her kitchen, my bedroom, numerous places- apartments, still not an office but wherever we could find a desk.
J9: A clean surface. I apologize to all the orders that might’ve gotten cat hair in there, the first orders that we sent out.
NO: My first delivery had a really cute handwritten note.
J9: Yeah we did a lot. We did handwriting all up until January 2014.
Riri: We personally wrote and packed orders with these fucking nails.
J9: Customer service is important.
NO: Their nails are ridiculous, especially Aretha’s. 12 feet long, often with piercings in them, sometimes found on Reddit.
J9: Yup. Sometimes
NO: For the most ridiculous nails you’ve ever seen.
J9: For “What The Fuck?” which is like a weird Reddit category, which is sometimes cool and sometimes really weird.
NO: So you talked about how you hired PR in the first place, at the beginning when you launched, but now you guys do all your own branding, right?
J9: We did all of our own branding from the beginning. We hired PR, honestly, to just get a leg up on the other brands that were out there to compete.
Riri: PR is like buying someone with a Rolodex. You don’t get anything from them except for they have the number to the editor and they give you an appointment.
J9: We also didn’t really want them interfering with any of our branding because we’re like, who is this person? We don’t know really we’re just hiring them and they don’t really know who we are or what we’re about and this is the most delicate time- the first impression of our brand.
O: Well you want to make sure that you’re leading with the three dimensions of authenticity, being: sincerity, heritage…
Riri: Well our heritage is questionable, we weren’t established in 1912.
NO:Well you’re established in the time… you guys are so relevant because you’re so of the time. Even your branding is loud, it’s really fun, it’s really kind of like if you hung out with Janine and Riri, it would be…
J9: That’s basically what it is. That’s what I’m saying, we didn’t really want them touching that, the PR team.
Riri: We didn’t let them. We did a minimal plan where they could only schedule appointments for us.
J9: No Facebook posts, no tweeting, no nothing. We just wanted all control over what we were saying and how we were presenting ourselves from the beginning. We didn’t want just seem really cookie-cutter or already done, you know we just needed to be ourselves. Because that’s really what was selling, we needed to sell authenticity for sure. So that’s how we really started getting this crazy little cult following.
O: Hell yeah. And then you even have the third one: commitment to quality.
J9: That was the biggest thing. Which is why we had to go through big manufacturing, which is why we had to go through mass market, which is why we decided after we bought 40,000 bottles of nail polish, that these were the colors we could die with if it didn’t sell because we were just convinced that if it didn’t sell, that we would just have a rainbow spectrum. That we have someone’s we could deal with. We would joke that we’d be building a house on an island somewhere with all of our nail polish because we didn’t know how it was going to sell AT ALL, right? We had no idea but we ended up really positive with the PR, with the desk sides we did at the very beginning, we had some press at the beginning and some momentum.
Riri: Actually as soon as we got that we quit because we were undercapitalized and we could only do the minimum and then we just kind of saw what they did try to do it ourselves because…
J9: The PR.
Riri: We’d been doing that for a couple years now, trying to do things we didn’t know how to do and it was working.
J9: So we just divorced our PR company, to their dismay, and then we just started tackling ourselves. It was basically what we were doing before but we were just trying to reach out to these beauty editors and stuff on our own, but you know anything like New York everyone was around, especially in publication people jump around every minute it seems like…
NO: What about social media? The most amazing thing about social media is the unprecedented access to individuals. You can tweet at Barack Obama if you want, he doesn’t have to tweet back.
J9: Well that’s what we were doing.
NO: And your Instagram is crazy. Your own nails and then fans’ nails, so people can be like, who are these girls? Whoa! I’m into this.
Riri: Instagram is so crucial to our brand and I think that if we had been out earlier and it wasn’t around, it would’ve been a lot harder. Because it’s this huge free advertising platform. It’s literally free advertising. Everyone’s got it in their pocket, and we can post for free and people take pictures of their nails with our brand on it and they like us to re-gram it and repost it. And it’s all free and it’s beneficial.
J9: It’s definitely one of our biggest platforms for sure. That and Tumblr because it’s so visual and people don’t read anymore, it’s all so visual. That’s all they need.
O: Yeah. I looked at your shit and there’s this haphazardness to it. It’s clearly been Photoshopped, you don’t even try to cleanup the lines and things like that, the pixelation’s all adding up, I couldn’t really imagine a corporate company signing off on that.
Riri: Corporate companies are like, yeah, I want to do that. Let’s pretend like… Well a good example of that is Mrs. Vickie’s and Frito-Lay. Frito-Lay started another brand called Mrs. Vickie’s to pretend like they were niche, but it’s actually owned by Frito-Lay but it supposed to be some old grandma that’s making these chips. But it’s not it’s Frito-Lay, you see it if you look on the bag.
J9: That’s what you’re talking about with the faux-thenticity.
Riri: It’s hard though. It’s hard to know if it’s a big brand doing it, tricking you or if it’s actually a small business.
J9: Constantly people think that were actually just employed by the brand. We’ll be out at our events and people will be like, “oh you work for Floss Gloss?” We’ll be like “we’re the brand owners we own the brand” and people don’t believe us. They think that we’re lying and that we’re a street team or something because we are young, or we are their age, we’re younger than them. Then they’re confused like, “how could you be?” And then there like okay, and they immediately want to know how it happened and what’s the deal. And I feel like kind of what this podcast is about, sustaining yourself and your business and what you like to do and your passion and honestly it’s just been really hard work and good timing and just sheer luck sometimes for sure.
Riri: And also just being innovative, seeing a hole and filling it.
J9: Yeah. And we try constantly to stay forward. As designers I feel that we are just conditioned to stay that way, like what’s the next best thing? How can we tweak this? How can we change this? How can we make this better? And that’s something that stems from our original education, that’s definitely feeding into what we’re trying to do. So how can we jump higher? Our brand is only really, since we’ve been in the marketplace, four years old, three years old.
Riri: It helps to be your own market, incredibly, because you can’t fake the passion when you are your own market, it’s obvious.
J9: The one drawback is the money. It’s like the biggest thing, not having enough capital to do what you want to do, you have to turn the product to make the sales to get more revenue. But then again, at the same time we are trying to compete with the bigger brands.
Riri: These big brands could kill us in a second.
J9: Because our press elevates us to where we look like we are competing at the same level with the money but we don’t have the same backing or the same employees.
Riri: They’re seeing it, they’re taking all our ideas and registering it. They’re trolling. OPI follows us on Twitter and stuff and they’re not even quietly trolling, there’re literally just getting from us. So every day is really scary because, the big company- we are so little, and they are so fucking big, they’re like $1 billion industry, l’Oreal, and they could just do our entire line in one season. It wouldn’t even cost them and with us…
O: How big is your company now? You said you got an employee…
Riri: No. Zero employees.
J9: She was saying we have an employee because she’s referring to our fulfillment center in San Jose that packs and ships all of our orders for us, which is one of our biggest expenses because we can’t physically run the business and pack all the orders anymore and save on that cost. So you have to make way for that expense and budget for that as well. When we quit our jobs we were paying ourselves completely off the business, we have this big overhead now even though we don’t have a brick-and-mortar or a studio or anything that we pay money to, we have a fulfillment center that’s crucial to our business and then also we have to pay ourselves because we’re the only ones running it.
Riri: At first it was like, how do we pay ourselves? Well we have to sell enough nail polish every month to make this much to pay ourselves. Then every month with fulfillment we’re like this huge thing, but when you have every month big orders of 100 pieces, when the volume takes off you physically can’t fulfill the orders anymore you have to make that money sacrifice and pay for No: It’s kind of more going towards the entrepreneurial side, then just doing it your self so you don’t have to employ someone then that takes away from you growing as entrepreneurs.
J9: That’s why you have to quit your job and you have to commit 100%. Also your investors or like how are you going to commit to this? I just gave you thousands of dollars and you’re still working a day job, you can’t focus completely on the task at hand, which is why we took the big leap. And it’s been really scary, it’s the scariest thing that we’ve done since we’ve been a business is divorcing our food service jobs and our security net because we had to commit.
NO: My dad always says, “you can always get another job. You can always earn more money, you just can’t always do what you want to do.”
J9: Yeah. Completely.
Riri: And you have to make sacrifices. Janine and I, we decided, we know, we don’t like it, but we know and we’ve known for a while that for the first 5 to 6 years of owning a small business we are going to be at the poverty line personally. And there’s really nothing we can do about it because it’s a 24 hour job and if we go out waiting tables at night and we couldn’t do the things that night because Europe is ordering at night, or someone to doing this. The world doesn’t sleep word international company.
J9: The Internet doesn’t sleep. So yeah. That’s the biggest thing.
Riri: You have to be ok with ramen.
O: Damn. So your daily lives, is there like a structure?
J9: We definitely try to have a corporate style structure. We are not a corporate, or a super commercial company, we are more of the creative art based company but we have hours and we go to work for certain hours and work the typical eight hour shift for the most part, but it’s always more…
Riri: It’s always responsive. Something will come up and we have to deal with it there’s no other choice.
J9: We don’t turn on our automatic reply if we are going out of town. Like it’s always on. So we are just going all the time. It is responsive.
Riri: We wear eight hats a day. Literally we have like 15 job descriptions a day. I’ll be a photographer, a hand model, I’ll be in accountant,
J9: Finance, an account person
Riri: a salesperson, literally everything.
O: Do either of you have more specific roles?
J9: We definitely have roles. We’re defining that more as those are becoming more defined. We’re working on it because it’s hard to know at the beginning who’s going to be more in charge of finances, who’s going to be more in charge of intake? It’s very
Riri: Who is going to be the correspondent for this person?
J9: It comes up as it comes up. It’s kind of like, personally I’m more responsible for
J9: Business business side. I do more back office, back admin and Aretha does more the creative side. So she talks more with the factories, with our glitter distributors and suppliers..
NO: Which you’ve won awards for, your glitter nail polish.
J9: Yes. Beauty award winning glitter formulas because they’re incredible.
Riri: That was another no-brainer. You buy something in the bottle that looks really glittery, and you’re like, “I want glittery nails” and you put it on and there’s like two pieces of glitter after two coats. So we were like let’s get some denser glitters going.
O: What is the most rewarding thing about all of this for you? You go through all these struggles, what keeps you going when you hit those walls you’ve just got to push through?
J9: The most rewarding thing for me is reading the customer reviews when they’re really like: I’m only using your product because I love the brush and I love the quality. Whatever they say and they’re being honest you’re just like okay, this is why we’re in the game because there someone out there that really has all the same gripes that we had about polish like: it doesn’t dry fast enough, it doesn’t look cute, it goes on really shitty, and it’s really expensive. So when someone recognizes what were really putting out there and they get down with that, I’m like yes. This is why were in the game.
J9: It validates that we are not in here for ourselves or taking all this money that we’re never going to return, those things that you think about on a day-to-day basis, but it’s meaningful when you get that feedback when it’s sincere.
O: They get you. They’re part of your tribe.
J9: Totally. Definitely they’re on our team. For me that’s the most rewarding personally.
Riri: Yeah. That’s super rewarding when someone you’ve been a fan of for years, like Sophie Robson we used to idolize, and she was a big celebrity nail artist. And then when we hit her up she knew about us and was like “I love y’all.” And I was like holy shit that’s so cool. But I think the most validating thing for me personally was when we were at the dollar store the other day and there was Clean Color…
J9: This is big.
Riri: There was a Clean Color, which is the OG Dollar store brand for $.99, and they had a neon green that looked exactly like our Con Limon, and it even had a lime name. And I was I made it to the dollar store. Like all the way to go to the entire bottom. The big guys they already ripped off Con Limon years ago.
J9: This is the Devil Wears Prada moment for us, you guys. We are at some dollar store bin, and we are like “THIS IS OUR COLOR!”
O: That’s hilarious.
J9: We did this!
Riri: We’re the reason people want this!
J9: We are! Two years later and it’s at the dollar store, readily available at Knickerbocker Avenue in your local beauty supply store. But that’s…
Riri: That’s proof that people wanted something other than red.
J9: That is very validating.
Riri: That felt so good even though kind of sucked because they totally ripped us off and we don’t have nearly the distribution. They’re probably making so much more money off our ideas than we are. It’s cool because I feel really good about it.
J9: It’s very true. Because there was no Con Limon.
Riri: Even 10 years ago there wasn’t that, let alone when I was a child.
J9: So when we see it, we’re like “we see you. We see you staring at us.”
Riri: We did that.
J9: So it’s just nice to know that. It’s flattery in a away, but they just have so much money. If we have more money we could be…
Riri: We could be blowing their minds.
J9: But we’re working on it.
NO: It’s a slow climb. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
J9: It’s a marathon. And I feel like I have this crazy drive and I brought Aretha with me. And we’re the crazy pedestrians on the cross sign and I’m the mom and she’s the baby and I’m running through life.
Riri: Janine is the most ambitious, driven person I’ve ever met in my life.
J9: So the plan is to just keep what we’re doing.
Riri: Just retain creative control.
J9: And just keep going. And then find distribution and increase sales.
O: Well right. So you guys can do what you’re good at.
J9: That’s what we want. That’s our strong suit. We’ve been trying but we’ve also been kind of winging it…
NO: But you’re also learning from all of it. Yeah maybe the first time it’s winging it but then…
J9: The first time and now always.
Riri: We’ve learned so much that we’re like, I actually want to do that myself because if we hire this photographer they’re going to cut off the nails and the picture’s not going to be exactly what we see. Or I’m going to write this myself because if we hire someone to do it, they’re not going to write it as well.
J9: We’re slightly control freaks. Just like a little bit.
O: You’ll love it, it seems.
NO: Because the brand really is kind of an extension of you two. Really.
J9: No. It is completely. That’s why I feel like people fuck with us because they would be friends.
Riri: It’s relatable.
J9: It’s relatable and I feel like, honestly customer service is my biggest thing. Yesterday at lunch I said, “I like customer service” because I want to provide the best possible customer service to my customers ever. So I respond ridiculously quick, you can text Floss Gloss and I will respond.
Riri: Janine’s customer service is out of line dude. You can text us at any hour.
J9: And I probably would respond. Just because it’s important to me. That’s a big deal customer service.
O: That’s your edge though. OPI’s not doing that.
Riri: You have the market texting you about it, like “like what does this color look like?” And Janine will be like, “what up? This color’s so cute.”
J9: I know that I can talk to them and if I can talk to them I can probably sell them. Talk to me or text me and then I’ll probably help you out and give you an incentive to keep buying. And I feel like, relating. I always say this, I would never want one of my girlfriends to be unhappy with the product they got so if say Noel was unhappy what the product that she got as a customer and I didn’t know you, I would be like we’ll send you a new bottle immediately, don’t send anything back, keep the old bottle give it to someone, give it to your aunt that you don’t like, whatever. We try really hard to enforce that at all times because customer Service is what will keep people coming back. When they feel like they’re up here and they’re not a customer it’s really beneficial because they feel even more strongly about preaching Floss Gloss to other people and that’s the referral game. Getting our product out there.
Riri: If I knew that certain companies only had two employees, I would try to buy as much from them as possible. I’d like to support that knowing that because everything is owned by… everything is just one big Walgreens.
J9: Aretha’s favorite selling point: we only have two employees.
Riri: I would love to support all businesses that can play with the big players that are that small. I’d love to find a list of those companies because there’s very very few left. And it’s harder and harder. Who is a talking to? It’s scary. Less and less people want to do it because these big conglomerates are buying it all to the point where there’s not going to be anyone that even tries anymore.
O: You guys are fucking doing it and it’s incredible to see that just because you understood a market better than the CEOs of these billion-dollar companies that are so far removed from the actual people using their products, that that was enough of an edge for you guys to not only play ball with them, but you’re influencing these markets. You’re changing the way that product is being made which is awesome because NO was telling me that you guys make nail polish as non-toxic as it can be. You have really high ethical standards for your product.
J9: Yes. We’re definitely conscious about the toxic aspects that come hand-in-hand with nail polish as a paint or as a beauty product in general. Again it was a no-brainer for us to go- also our factory does not test on animals, we are the animals they’re testing on, it’s tested on us. So it’s cruelty-free, there’s no animal byproducts, it’s vegan friendly so it’s not tested on any animals, and then we do it 5-free, so there’s none of the common chemicals, the five big ones that you find in most really low and nail polish. So there’s no formaldehyde, no DVP, no toluene, no camphor, so that’s also a really big plus. So you can use it if you’re pregnant.
Riri: For years, nail polish was notorious for having formaldehyde and formaldehyde resin and it’s obviously not good and it’s on your hands but..
J9: In your mouth, on your face.
NO: I’m like deathly allergic to formaldehyde. I like pass out if I’m near it.
J9: I feel like I remember this from college. Yeah it’s disgusting, actually.
Riri: We are at the market, so…
O: And it smells.
J9: And it smells. We have a professional grade formula, so we have long lasting power but the chemist has somehow come up with this formula to not use any of those bad chemicals but still give you a great product. So we’re really proud of Floss Gloss and we hope that we will be able to maintain that brand authenticity. We will be riding jet skis in the sunset if you buy Floss Gloss.
Riri: Support local business.
J9: Support local small business.
NO: Support your local online business.
J9: But you can also support Floss Gloss by buying it at your local Floss Gloss retailer. And if you don’t have a local Floss Gloss retailer, please email us and tell us where you want it.
Riri: Just text Janine and she’ll meet you. Just literally text Janine and she’ll meet you on the block, it’s been done before.
J9: It has.
Riri: And it will be done again.
O: In a paper bag.
Yeah. That’s the biggest thing though, I want to know where people want it. People are always asking for it in this remote cities and locations and I’m like tell us and start asking for it at your stores so they can ask us and we can sell it to them and we can try to reach out to you and connect and stuff. But you can definitely buy it on flossgloss.com, curated shades on nastygal.com, urbanoutfitters.com, and in store at Ricky’s, Birch Box, so yeah we’re definitely trying to be more widely available because you need to see it in person. It’s hard to pick colors online.
NO: You have to see to believe.
O: You guys are definitely chill, and really fucking ambitious.
Janine like took that motivational poster that said “you can do anything you want if you just try” too heart. And it’s cool. She’s the only person that I’ve met that did that. She literally can do anything she wants. She’ll just watch a YouTube tutorial or Google it.
J9: It’s true with the Internet you can do anything.
O: Thank you so much for coming on the show.
J9/ Riri: Thank you for having us.
O: So for show notes and links to all this fantastic Floss Gloss product check out chillandambitious.com, and also follow us on the social medias: Twitter, Instagram, Periscope in particular, we love to see you interact and tell us what you like, what you don’t like. Follow us @chillambitious.
NO: And thanks for hanging. BYE!