female founder feature: divya gugnani, founder + ceo of wander beauty

female founder feature: Divya gugnani, founder + ceo of wander beauty

it’s july, which means we’re officially less than 6 months away from 2020 (*what*) and we’re spending the month going back and forth between home and the closest body of water. between the constant travel and hustling to crush those 2019 goals, one thing is for sure: not one of us has time for a 20-step beauty routine. divya gugnani, founder + ceo of wander beauty…..just gets it. like her brand name suggests, her mission is to keep us gorgeous on the go. in her own words, “less time spent in front of a mirror, and more time doing”. can we get an amen?!

your background is in tech… how on earth did you go about breaking into the beauty industry? 

i’ve always had a strong interest in beauty, especially as someone who loves to cook (i went to culinary school!) who can be found concocting a face mask with the ingredients in my kitchen. after my last company ‘send the trend’ sold to qvc, i joined the qvc team and led digital innovation where i spent a lot of time on their beauty brands and business. i had the opportunity to work with some amazing brands, but none of them were speaking to my lifestyle. most brands were advocating artistry and 20-step routines, but i was a mom of two working full-time, getting ready on the subway each morning. i didn’t have time or space for that type of routine. i needed products that multitasked the way i did and kept me gorgeous on the go – so my co-founder, lindsay and i created them.

 

being a serial entrepreneur, disrupting industries is in your nature. tell us how you’ve disrupted the beauty industry with wander.

most beauty brands tell you that you need more, more, more: a separate cream for your body than you use on your elbows, five brushes to do a full face. wander beauty is saying the opposite. we’re giving you fewer multitaskers that streamline your routine, without compromising on performance or ingredients. all of our multitaskers set out to solve a problem, whether it’s a our dual-ended dualist concealer that allows you to both conceal and brighten with a two-in-one formula or our play all day translucent powder that eliminates the traditional mess and waste associated with a translucent powder by storing the powder inside of the puff. 

   

talk to us about your marketing ‘message’ to consumers? who is your target customer and why does she value your product? how do you communicate your value prop to her?

our target customer goes beyond sociodemographics – we are catering the time-starved woman who is living her life in motion and doing her beauty routine beyond the bathroom. we are offering her less time spent in front of a mirror, and more time doing

we work to socially co-create all of our products with our community so that we are not just giving her something that she wants, but something that she is asking us for. we are always asking ourselves how we can innovate, from packaging to formula, to give her the best solution to the problem she presents us with. 

 

you serve as ceo of wander, but co-founded the company with former victoria’s secret model lindsay ellingson. how do you divide + conquer in your roles?

lindsay and i come from such different backgrounds, but shared the same problem of not feeling spoken to in the beauty space as women living life on the go. we both have different strengths, which complement each other. she is our creative director and spearheads all of our creative. i’m our ceo and a data junkie and work more on the business side. we overlap on product development, which we are both so passionate about and bring our own unique perspectives to. 

 

wander is currently in it’s last month of it’s pop-up shop on the upper east side. can you tell us a little bit more about that experience and why you decided to do it? is this the store’s first pop-up?

yes! this is the brand’s first-ever pop up store. being a predominantly direct to consumer brand, we rely on our own digital storytelling and content to bring the brand to life through a screen, which is why we own the process internally rather than outsource. beauty is such a tactile experience, and we wanted to bring the brand alive in real life – and what better place to serve an on-the-go consumer than new york city? since our inception, we’ve seen the most growth from owning our own branding and storytelling, and having that then drive our own .com’s growth as well as having a halo effect on our retail growth. by owning our retail experience, our goal was to drive brand awareness while continuing to foster that personal relationship with our community.

 

what challenges have you faced with the pop-up vs. your online direct-to-consumer platform?

if you’re not challenged, you’re not learning! the entire pop up has been a learning experience – especially since i had never launched a pop up space myself. we’re lucky that we are still small and agile enough that we can still experiment and learn from our mistakes and adapt in real time. for example, we tested several types of our daily classes in our first few days to see what topics and times resonated most, and adjusted the following week to better accommodate our consumer and continued to adapt throughout the pop up as we see patterns. at the pop up store, it’s all about human interaction and bringing the brand to life through our ambassadors once they’re through the door. 

 

we spend a lot of time talking about what works in starting + growing a business, but as you know a lot of entrepreneurs live and breathe what doesn’t work (the hard way). tell us something that has worked really well for your brand and something that hasn’t worked for your brand that maybe you expected to?

i think our focus has really worked for us. we want to be something to someone not everything to everyone. we are two modern women who are more time-starved, busy and active. we are always doing beauty beyond the bathroom ™, and we focused on that lifestyle across all age groups, ethnicities and geographies. we are inclusive yet focused on our clients and their lifestyle. we create multitaskers that serve a purpose in their lives and save them time and space. with regards to what doesn’t work well, we thought that being in traditional retail channels would allow new clients to discover us. what we realized is that many retails have a vast array of brands and with limited space both in stores and online we don’t have chance to highlight our innovation and differentiation. so we learned from that and decided to pursue our dtc business and truly own our conversation with our clients and our community.

 

our signature question, how did you come up with the name ‘wander’?

we’re all about staying gorgeous on the go, so travel inspiration is the thread that runs through all of our branding and imagery. ‘wander’ came from the idea that even if your life is busy, whether with the day-to-day of life or a jetsetting adventure, your beauty routine should wander with you.

 

editors note: visit the wander beauty pop up store through july 31st at 787 lexington avenue (between 61st and 62nd street) and mention the fill to get 20% off of your purchase

favorite piece in the wander collection: this is like picking a favorite child! right now, i can’t stop using our trip for two blush and bronzer duo. it’s makes me look like i spent the weekend at the beach without having to go anywhere.  

 

female founder who inspires you: sarah kauss at s’well. at wander we create multitaskers so you can do more with less products. we care about sustainability and that mission lives through our product and packaging decisions. sarah has taken it to the next level with s’well and i admire that.

 

favorite me-time activity: swimming. i call it my “vision time” – completely device-free, and i can be truly alone with myself. 

 

favorite restaurant: novikov in miami- the fish is fresh and spectacular and i have yet to have a less than outstanding meal there.

 

go-to brands (other than wander): obe fitness for home workouts, tamara mellon for comfortable well crafted shoes, giapenta for intimates, primary for my kids clothes, inkbox for when i’m feeling adventurous and want to make a temporary bad decision. 

 

personal mantra / favorite quote: “i do not fix problems. i fix my thinking. then problems fix themselves.” -louise hay

 

fun fact about you that most people don’t know: i love to travel. i went to 18 countries during my two years doing my masters degree.

you know what they say….we have the same 24 hours in a day as beyonce. divya and lindsay, thank you for letting us use less of that time beautifying and more of that time….becoming beyonce. or as close as possible. 

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of divya gugnani and wander beauty
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real

all images are property of respective companies

nearly newlywed jackie courtney - blankbox female founder feature the fill

female founder feature: jackie courtney, founder & ceo of nearly newlywed

female founder spotlight: jackie courtney, founder & ceo nearly newlywed

it’s officially the start of wedding season, and you know what that means!!! crying ugly tears while your best friend walks down the aisle, bridesmaid proposals [with blankbox, duh] and spending at least a month’s worth of rent on flowers. most of all, it means gaining a new appreciation for the people in the wedding industry who live to make it easier. jackie courtney, founder + ceo of nearly newlywed, is that person. from shark tank to having her company nicknamed ‘the amazon of weddings’, jackie’s story is extra sparkly… and so is her style.

for our readers who aren’t familiar with your business… what is nearly newlywed + why are you different from the rest of the bridal industry? 


first & foremost because we were founded on the premise that resale should be embraced and destigmatized; not that it is for everyone, but if someone wants to pass their dress along or wear something worn one time by someone else (by the way like almost all movie premiere and oscars gowns) then it is their choice and it should still be an amazing experience. second nearly newlywed is a digital company, so we endeavor to create products and tools around digital discovery, service and commerce. as we have evolved to be a larger destination and marketplace, we both want to help customers transact and have access online as well as help physical retailers have an online presence and to ultimately help smooth out some of the pain points that exist for wedding stores and designers that are very unique to the process. 


so, basically, women can buy and resell their dress, jewelry, accessories, everything for their wedding and designers/stores can sell and market on our platform as long as they adhere to our quality, transparency and sustainability standards. 


you pitched your initial business idea on shark tank in 2012. we have so many questions – why did you decide to go on? 


oh geez, shark tank, taking me back.  well, i never intended to do something like that to be honest, the opportunity presented itself to us and we had literally just launched the business with 50 wedding dresses in my bedroom. at the time we took it as something the universe was presenting and decided to go for it (also free trip to la! haha). it was all kind of crazy and happened very fast, we taped our episode two months after we launched, so we were a super baby business at the time. 


you declined the offer from the sharks, why? how do you feel about it looking back? what’re the sharks like irl? 


it wasn’t a good offer! so no regrets there. the feedback was helpful and some of it i really disagreed with, so honestly it spurred me to fight on without the high profile capital (and we raised a substantial angel round at a good valuation 6 months later). 


i am very glad we did it though, and thankful for the opportunity. it allowed us to put the idea and brand on a platform of millions of people and that accelerated our growth in a way i couldn’t have dreamed. i was also very lucky to have thousands of women reach out to me in support and to help me really push forward a grassroots marketing effort to spread the word. the sustainability approach to creating more value and choice in the wedding space and trying to remove stigmas that are often placed on it, especially on women, around the dress and what that is supposed to look and feel like, i think resonated with a lot of women across generations and many we would never have reached, certainly not so quickly, without the shark tank platform. 


the sharks were pretty great. mark cuban was my favorite, i felt like we were really having an authentic exchange about business mechanics and ideas. i mean, it’s a tv show, it’s tv, but it’s all taped live in one session so there are authentic exchanges. in general i liked mark and barbara the best. i suppose if i am being honest, didn’t live for herjkovic. 


editor’s note: follow up question. was mr. wonderful actually wonderful?! 

fast-forward to now, you’ve grown to more than 1 million brides per year (!!!). first off, congratulations! secondly, aside from blood, sweat, tears & sleepless nights, what do you attribute this growth to? 


you hear it time and again, but creating a base of customers that believe in your mission and empowering them to be brand advocates is key. especially in bridal, in which the consumer turns over and isn’t a lifetime one, having people that believe in your mission is priceless. lots of grit. plenty of tears. time, lots of time and waiting and inching the rock forward. some luck too i think. but yea, most of the real progress is the boring stuff, the sweat and such, the day in and day out. shark tank and a few key new york times features didn’t hurt either. and women like you ladies! supporting and sharing! 


let’s rewind a little bit…you have a design & management degree from parsons the new school and worked for numerous luxury brands before launching nearly newlywed. what was the hardest part about starting something on your own? 


i often say the hardest part of starting was, starting. like, i didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur or set out on that path in a traditional sense, so i had a lot of insecurities, imposter syndromes and just, straight up fear about telling people and self identifying as a business founder. i remember someone asking me that i wasn’t super close with after i had left my job about what i was working on, and i got very anxious, skittish, and she thought i was being guarded about my ‘idea’ as if i would be afraid she would steal it. which certainly i wasn’t and if, as most say if, anything is true in business it is that the ‘idea’ and the mythology of the idea is rarely where a successful business comes from. it is a part of it, but it’s execution and timing more than anything. and grit. anyway, telling her and owning that i was going to try to start a business, just saying it out loud, that was the hardest. and leaving a really sexy job in fashion was hard too. that was a very large part of my identity and understanding who i was without that, without the big company and big names to lean up against, was very difficult to push past. i mean, my boss said to me ‘you know most women would kill for this job’ when i resigned, and i mean, she was sort of right, so walking away to start something so unknown was very difficult, because i really didn’t know what i was doing. 


and then, not quitting when things were flat and hard and just, felt sort of like cross-country skiing in quick sand, that’s the other hard part. because shiny things sustain you, milestones anchor you…. but gritting your teeth and getting up and trying day after day, that’s where & how success blooms, in my opinion. man, can i reference the word grit anymore? grit grit grit grit grit, i still need more of it, so i suppose i can’t really say it enough. grit! 😉 


did you have an “aha!” moment that made you start nearly newlywed? 

oh and no aha! moment, ha, really just that i felt the bridal industry was innovating very slowly, much slower than luxury fashion which i had thought prior to getting engaged was behind all other industries (which it was) but then i realized bridal was even further behind, so i figured innovation had to happen at some point and i saw some real problems around value and transparency and sustainability – so i decided why not and went for it.

talk to us about storefront! what was your thought process behind creating this and how can other founders apply that thinking to their own brands? 

 

i saw that the wedding market was ready for more commerce and discovery online. the customers had been for awhile, i was one of them, but the industry took a longer time to evolve, so i was really waiting for the moment in which i thought there was enough need and appetite on the b2b side to coincide with the already existing demand of the customers (brides). 

there is a lot of chatter about disruption in spaces, and i don’t necessarily see nearly newlywed and our role in weddings as that. it is, in a way, disruptive, but ultimately there are incredible designers and stores in the wedding space and outside of it that want to sell and market to wedding customers. some are very anti-change and sustainability but many, many are open and want to innovate and adapt. i don’t want to disrupt the industry, i want to support and offer the customer what she wants – choice, value, amazing products and i want to help those in the industry that are open to market to the changing landscape and customer, to help fit the pieces together, offer them a digital voice and expertise and hopefully, create prosperity and value for everyone in the process. 

 

you see one million brides a year – i repeat, one million. what is your strategy to make sure you stay engaged with an audience of this size? 

 

i think scale is a tough thing. not scaling fast enough makes you feel like a snail and scaling fast is hard to keep up with. we did a good job of taking it slow, a million is big but seven years is also longoooo. but that is still a challenge. it is very hard for me that i can’t help every customer, talk to every designer, write every message to someone that messages us on social. i try, because that is part of our dna, but it’s a challenge. the biggest thing we do is keep things in house. we don’t outsource customer service, social, any of it. so everyone is part of the nearly newlywed team and brand full-time, [they] believe in it and are just as much a part of building it as i am. so even though, they aren’t me or maybe weren’t here from day 1, they are a part of the nearly newlywed team now and i think you can feel that when you interact with our brand and experience. 

 

best advice to brides or funny bridezilla story? 

 

if you find a dress you love, especially if you buy it, stop looking at dresses. amazingly and also frustratingly the world is full of incredible, amazing, gorgeous things and gowns. the architect of the idea that there is one dress and one look for every bride was a marketer, trying to close a sale. you will see something else that piques your interest and it will only upset your satisfaction with your current dress. that really goes for most things. look, be selective, and by all means, wear two dresses! three! five! but once you decide move away from inspiration boards and browsing to something else so you don’t unnecessarily wage war on yourself with fomo which you just don’t need. 

 

you’re a business owner and a mom…how f*ck do you do it? 

 

ask me tomorrow? haha. honestly, women are incredible. all of them. every single one. we make time and space for things and fight battles that inspire me all the time. motherhood is just another facet to that and it has made me much more measured about my time and forced me to get better at saying no. and i suppose also more bold. not sure if it is because i am constantly tired? or because i want to set an example to my son and think, well shit, if i am not going to be the person i want and set out to be now, then when will i? that definitely helps curb the moments when i want to throw myself out a window. 

i am also very thankful for some of the female founders and networks i have been a part of and many of which are for mothers or are mothers. heymamaco in particular is a great resource and connector for women that are mothers and in business. 

 

now for our signature question… inspiration behind the name? 

 

ah. well, we wanted a play on the idea of new vs used. newlywed was a term i always loved and thought it transcended just the wedding day idea because it speaks to the idea of fresh, fun, happy love. that honeymooning period (which we need to extend and keep reigniting rather than demarcate to the first year, but i digress) but the idea of a newlywed or someone on that path felt fun and light and lovely. and someone that was nearly there was on that journey to lifetime commitment and love. and then the play on nearly new was there, as we started with only used dresses that were ‘nearly new’ and we marketed to ‘nearlyweds’ and ‘newlyweds’ – also so many urls were taken, so we were like, ok it’s a mouthful but we like it.

in other words, jackie is just your average new yorker who turned down the most famous investors in the world, has disrupted the bridal industry to grow to over 1 million brides per year, and simultaneously raised another baby….all while maintaining killer style, confidence + the sparkliest personality you will ever meet. jackie, thank you for being you!

*all product images, press images, and headshot images are property of nearly newlywed
**this is not a sponsored post. all obsessions are 100% real