Ursula Augustine: “Never Quit”

This is the most important thing to remind yourself of in your business life. You are going to run into obstacles you haven’t even thought of. Things are going to go left, but you need to know as times get tough, you have to get tougher. Never quit if you truly believe you have a […]

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This is the most important thing to remind yourself of in your business life. You are going to run into obstacles you haven’t even thought of. Things are going to go left, but you need to know as times get tough, you have to get tougher. Never quit if you truly believe you have a service, talent, or gift that will benefit the public. You have to keep going. One of my favorite quotes is, “When you feel like you are going through hell, keep on going.”

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ursula Augustine. This 25+ yr beauty veteran is an award-winning makeup artist, founder, and sole proprietor of Ursula’s About Phace Rittenhouse Makeup Studio. A nationally recognized beauty destination in Philadelphia, Pa. Ursula is a board-certified Cosmetologist, Brow specialist, Author, Educator, and brand creator of URS (pronounced YOURS) Nutri-cosmetics.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

My entrée into makeup was totally serendipitous. It may sound cliché, but I did not find this path, this path found me! Growing up I knew nothing about makeup. I did not wear it. I did not own it. I was a computer science major in college when I had the epiphany.

After a freshmen year of disturbances from girls constantly coming to my dorm room to borrow my clothes I decided (totally as a deterrent) to charge them a fee. I never thought they would actually pay me to borrow my clothes, but they did. So, one evening someone was renting my red sweater so I decided to up sell her to renting my red scrunchie that I wear with that red sweater, and for 1 dollar more I could put some red lipstick on you to match the red sweater and scrunchie…50 cents more red blush (lipstick on the cheek) …25 cents more red eye shadow (lipstick on the eyes). Obviously, I knew nothing about makeup or sanitation. LOL

After a while they grew tired of red makeup. So (on weekends) I began to take them down the street to Saks 5th Ave, seat them at an unmanned cosmetics counter and began their makeovers. They loved having a variety of color options to choose from and quite frankly, so did I.

Then one fateful day we had entered Saks (as usual) but this time we were received by the greeting committee: Department Manager Counter Manager, and Store Security. They said had been informed that groups of girls were going to the cosmetic counters in the evening and using the makeup units. I informed them that we weren’t stragglers we were students from Saint Joseph’s University testing out makeup.

I then followed up my admission with a question that gave them pause, “Aren’t these tester units free for the public to use?” Although they had no issue with the position I took, I was still given a verbal slap on the wrist, and that was that- or so I thought.

Fast forward about a week later, I was back on campus and was called to the dean (of sciences) office. When I enter, I see a letter from Saks fifth Ave on his desk. I thought to myself, “This is not going to end well.” I could not have been more wrong! Whatever style of makeovers I had been doing on my friends was apparently good enough for Saks to offer me a job in their cosmetics department.

My first week of work was spent in one of the top hotels in New York City, being trained by Chanel’s top makeup artists, receiving free Chanel cosmetics and jewelry. I even learned a bit of Latin that week, per diem! After my week of training, I returned to Saks for my first week at the cosmetics floor and had received a check for the week I was in New York. I was hooked. The following Monday I dropped out of College (Junior year) to pursue “my career” as a makeup artist.

And the rest as they say is history.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

Hmmm… I would have to say one the most interesting stories that happened to me as I began my business occurred in 2009 just as the country was coming out of the great recession. It involves me, a Vogue Magazine legend, and a plate of tapas.

Fall 2009 my business was new and I was excited (relieved) to get the call to provide makeup for a magazine photo shoot. Early that morning, on the day the shoot I was picked up by the Style Director. The shoot went well. We worked from dusk till dawn. During the ride back to town, we discussed the hottest beauty/ fashion topic of that day. The movie “September Issue” which was premiering in Philly that night. It was a documentary film about behind-the- scenes drama that follows Editor- in- Chief Anna Wintour and her staff during the production of the September 2007 issue of American Vogue Magazine. In conversation I have mentioned how I just finished reading Andre Leon Talley’s Biography, when the stylist asked,” Would you like to meet him? I’m on my way to interviewing him tonight.” I could not believe it! I was about to meet “Mr. Front Row,” Mr. Vogue himself Andre Leon Talley: Fashion Journalist, and former creative director and Editor at- Large of American Vogue Magazine.

We got to his hotel and took the elevator to The Presidential Suite. When the doors opened- there he was in all his grandeur. I was happy to just be there as a fly on the wall during their interview.

Talley greeted us at the door, and even offered us tea. He could not have been more gracious. Just as the interview was wrapping up, his assistant came in the room, “It’s time to leave for your premier Mr. Talley.” With that being said, we thanked him for his time and made our way to the door.

The exchange between us and Andre Leon Talley went as follows:

Talley: Where are you going?

Us: Home.

Talley: No, you are coming with me.

And off we went in his stretch limousine to the red-carpet premier of September Issue. Afterwards we thanked him profusely for an unbelievable evening.

Talley: Where you going?

Us: Home.

Talley: No, you are coming with me.

And off we went in his stretch SUV limousine to dinner.

Talley: So, where are you girls taking me for dinner?

Ursula: To a tapas restaurant.

Talley: You ladies are taking me to a topless restaurant!? He exclaimed in shock.

Ursula: No Tapas!!! LOL

Dinner was great. He loved the tapas which I was tasked with ordering for him. His friend and director of the movie joined us. It was truly a magical night. After dinner we thanked him yet again, for an unbelievable evening.

Talley: Where you going?

Us: Home?

Talley: No, you are coming with me.

And off we went! We took him on a limo tour around Philly that evening, showing him all the local landmarks. We returned him safely back to the hotel where he took photos with us to commemorate this once in a lifetime experience… and we finally went home.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

The funniest mistake I made as a founder was arriving at a business luncheon early. This may not sound too bad, at first glance, but I arrived 24 hours too soon! It was not until I called my client to check if everything was ok, that I realized I was a day early. You could hear the confusion in their voice as they answered, Yes. Then they said, I am still good for our meeting tomorrow. I gulped and had to tell them that I was already at the restaurant waiting for them, a day early. They found it amusing and felt good that I was anxious to meet with them. So, my little mishap worked for me and my businesses’ benefit. It was a good ice breaker for when we finally met, and I learned to always confirm at least 24 hours in advance of a meeting.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Yes, from 2008 to 2010 170,000 small businesses shut down as a result of the great recession. I had reached out to the SBA for help (to no avail) but they did put me in touch with Mr. Mark Maguire, the President of SCORE. (https://www.score.org/) The nation’s largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors dedicated to helping small business get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals.

We hit it off immediately. He was a huge help and assisted me in resolving my issue. 12 years later, he is still my mentor. What makes Mr. Maguire an exceptional mentor are the qualities he possesses naturally: His willingness to share his genius, skills, knowledge, and expertise — at a level that’s not condescending or confusing — in a concise manner that makes it easy to understand.
 He demonstrates a positive attitude even at times when I am having less than positive experiences with aspects of my business. He values ongoing learning and growth in the field, and he takes a personal interest in our mentoring relationship. For these and a million more reasons, SCORE and Mr. Maguire will always have a special place in my heart and Mr. Maguire will forever be a member of the About Phace Phamily.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

In my opinion one of the main things women have to contend with is managing to juggle the many balls and keep them in the air: Being a parent, partner, and an employee. The responsibility of work and personal life often doesn’t allow the time and dedication necessary to start a business.

The “Boys Club” which is the unfortunate gate keeper of connections, information, and funding that are not privy to women. I also feel the internally driven limitations we put on ourselves can also hold us back

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

The good news is the world is becoming more and more aware of the need to fight gender inequality. Government could help overcome some of these obstacles by eliminating the wage gap. Research shows that bringing all U.S women’s workers earnings to the same level of men in equal positions would boost the country’s GDP by nearly 3%.

As Individuals we should maintain and equal division of labor in our homes. The work of caring for children is still done primarily by women around much of the world. As a society we should reject all chauvinist and racist attitudes. We should speak up if we hear comments that ridicule demean or humiliate women, black people, indigenous people, members of the LGBTQ community, and any other marginalized groups.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I strongly believe more women should become founders because we serve as motivators for other women that may have their own goal of starting a business. Women founders also have the opportunity to spark inspiration for those who may not have considered the possibility. As a black woman founder I believe it creates additional diversity which fuels innovation and breaks more glass ceilings for women choosing to do what they love.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

The biggest myth I would like to dispel is that the founder is their own boss and doesn’t have to answer to anyone. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The founder always answers to someone, whether it’s the board, the investors, or most importantly, in my case the customers. Let’s face it, the founder doesn’t keep the lights on. Customers do. Yes, you could choose to start your workday at noon and close in time for happy hour, but just like any other employee, your boss — the customer — is eventually going to fire you.

Next I would say the myth that starting a business is the best way to get rich or the only way to achieve “financial independence.” False. There are much more reliable and less risky ways to achieve financial independence than becoming a founder. Being a great networker and leveraging that to get a well-paying job that allows you to save more earnings will put you on a more certain path to financial freedom than most founders. Do not get me wrong, you can get rich as a founder, but it’s definitely not the easiest-by any stretch of the imagination- or the most guaranteed way.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

NO. not everyone is cut out to be a founder. One of my favorite quotes is, “The Dream Is Free, But The Hustle Is Sold Separately.” In my opinion it is having an entrepreneurial mindset that sets successful founders apart from the rest of the pack. A positive attitude and outlook is a must for the founder it sets the tone for the rest of the company and influences the company’s culture. Part of what gives entrepreneurs the fortitude to whether the business downturns is positivity.

“Creativity is the mother of invention” never has this adage been truer than in the world of entrepreneurship. The creativity trait is needed for entrepreneurial success. The mind of an entrepreneur is always looking for novel ideas and innovations. The basic life cycle of any entrepreneurial product stems from the conception of an idea followed by turning that idea into a viable product or service.

The entrepreneur should possess the power of persuasion. This trait is necessary for you to successfully negotiate, close a sale, or score a lower price on your inventory. Not to mention, persuasive people tend to be inspiring leaders, ergo they tend to be stellar bosses. Being self-motivated and tenacious are two traits that will lead the entrepreneur to success, along with a raw determination and true grit. If you are the type to avoid taking the lead, need to be motivated, or enjoy staying in your comfort zone then you are probably best equipped to seek a regular job.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

No matter how much you think you know about your craft, it is important to have a business plan. A written business plan will help you start your business as well as make adjustments as time goes on.

2. It Takes a Village

You need two camps. A professional village of other entrepreneurs and other mentors who can help you network and expand your business. The second village is the personal village, people you know and trust who you can go to for advice and make decisions along the way.

3. Keep Educating Yourself (KEY)

You can always learn something new. You will need to continue to educate yourself to ensure that the information and services you provide are relevant.

4. Do the Hustle

The dream is free. But the hustle is sold separately. Stay on the grind. Have the passion to know more about the industry and business that you are in.

5. Never Quit

This is the most important thing to remind yourself of in your business life. You are going to run into obstacles you haven’t even thought of. Things are going to go left, but you need to know as times get tough, you have to get tougher. Never quit if you truly believe you have a service, talent, or gift that will benefit the public. You have to keep going. One of my favorite quotes is, “When you feel like you are going through hell, keep on going.”

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I like to say that I make the world a better and more beautiful place one face at a time! 😉
 “Service to others is the rent we pay for our room here on earth.”– Muhammad Ali.

This is my mantra. Being a makeup artist, for me, is so much more than just knowing how to do a fabulous face of makeup. It’s not all about working with celebrities or doing special effects for the next blockbuster.
 The best part of the job is my role as a volunteer beauty professional for many organizations, schools, and nonprofit programs. One that is near and dear to my heart is Look Good Feel Better, a non-medical, brand-neutral public service program that teaches beauty techniques to people with cancer to help them manage the appearance-related side effects of cancer treatment. The programs I conduct include lessons on skin and nail care, cosmetics, wig care and turban styling. My success as a Cosmetologist allows me the privilege of helping people with cancer to find some normalcy in a life that is by no means normal. 
 Seeing someone’s face light up when seeing the finished makeup for the first time is my guilty pleasure. No matter who the client is, or what they may be going through, seeing the smile on their face lets me know that I have sent a happier human back into the world who will positively impact the world around them. And for me, that is the true measure of my success.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would LOVE to inspire a movement to not only provide housing for those experiencing homelessness, but to also provide education and job training skills to give them a sense of hope, self-sufficiency, a viable connection to the community, and a real second chance at life.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

The music legend Quincy Delight Jones Jr. (Q) -Hands down!

An American treasure, record producer, musician, songwriter, composer, arranger, film and television producer, philanthropist, father, and all-round Kool Cat. He has worked with generations of some of the greatest artists the world has ever known. The majority of them (Go by one name) of whom I am a huge fan: Frank, Ray, Sarah, Ella, Basie, Dizzy, Dinah, Michael, Stevie, etc. etc. etc. 
 “The experiences I’ve had!” he says, shaking his head in wonder. “You almost can’t believe it.” — Q

I would love to hear every last one of those stories from this Icon whose career spans 70 years in the entertainment industry with a record of 80 Grammy Award nominations, 28 Grammys, and a Grammy Legend Award in 1992.

“I have never in my life made music for money or fame. God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.” -Q

I whole heartily believe that, too. I didn’t become a makeup artist for money or fame. I loved how my gift make others feel.

I equally admire Q’s other great record…philanthropy. He’s worked with Bono and Bob Geldof on third world debt relief.

He has a truly admirable record of humanitarian and philanthropic work, going back to his support of Dr. Martin Luther King in the early 1960s, 1985’s Live Aid charity concerts, and the historic “We Are the World” — A charity single written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson and co-produced by Quincy Jones, featuring a who’s who of 1980s American pop and rock stars. It went on to sell 20 million copies and raised over 63 million dollars in humanitarian aid in Africa.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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