No country is ever perfect, but the USA has always changed for the better and has always been the world leader in everything it does. From humanitarian causes, science, research, space exploration… it always leads, and the world follows.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashwin Sokke. Ashwin is a co-founder of WOW Skin Science. WOW is a 100% vegan hair care, skincare, face, and body grooming essentials brand, born in India. Free of animal testing, parabens, and sulfates — WOW offers holistic care options to balance the mind, body, and spirit.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up? –
I grew up in India in a middle class household, and I finished schooling and college in Bangalore, India. I was a typical Indian kid with big dreams in a highly competitive world in India. I just wanted to do the best for myself, and for my family. Cricket was a passion of mine, but eventually I found a great interest in E-commerce when Dial-up connections came over to our homes in the late 90’s. I started dabbling in creating blogs and websites, plus some freelance work. My mother gave me a loan for my first business, and I haven’t looked back since!
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
Even though I have a degree in computer science, my passion was towards the idea of E-commerce. E-commerce wasn’t a big thing in India (yet!), so I decided to explore opportunities further ashore. I left home telling my parents that I was going on a business trip for 3 weeks… 14 years later, here I am in North America! I have enjoyed and loved the experience of living in different parts of the world, and learning from some of the smartest people in the world.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I came to the USA as part of a call center business, but ended up getting involved in a few great opportunities with affiliate marketing where thousands of micro affiliates would help small brands scale their business online. I learned a lot during those early years! The experience of moving to the other side of the world is a humbling one, but also very exciting. I’m proud of that little boy from India with big dreams who is now a co-founder of a Number One Amazon brand!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
I have made a lot of good friends from inside and outside the business over the last decade living in the USA. Many have opened their homes and families to me, and many of them are essentially my extended family now. I always say I have two families — one in India and one here in the USA!
So how are things going today?
Things have been wonderful! We have gone from strength to strength over the last 3 years and WOW Skin Science has become a great success story. We are looking to expand our team here in the USA and also make moves into big box stores in terms of selling our products not just online, but also in offline stores.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
WOW Skin Science has always had an ethos of bringing great quality clean ingredient products to the world at affordable pricing.
We are trying to do our part in many ways, some call outs:
1. We aim to be 100% Carbon Neutral by end of 2025
2. Elevate more women into leadership roles in our company. Our team both in India and the USA is 75% women. We hope the future of our company is led by all the bright team members we have!
You have first hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
I personally feel the USA immigration has done the best it can to bring skilled individuals into the country. Is it perfect? Nope. BUT, it’s one of the greatest countries in the world that provides a great opportunity for all types of immigrants to succeed. As long as you put in the hard work, and are patient, keep faith in your long term goals — you’ll get there! The speed of immigration can certainly be improved, and to make things less repetitive in terms of paperwork for immigrants who have lived here for 5+ years. Not having to resubmit applications/work permit renewals every few years too.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Be patient with your goals and don’t give up easily. Success isn’t easy, and when you are starting in a new country with a new company, you have to be patient and be ready for a few failures. In the initial few years of WOW, we have had to take small failures. We learned from them, and continued to improve to get to where we are today. Having a positive attitude towards your goal helps a lot in building confidence in yourself, and also to your team members.
2. Make an effort to know your neighbors/community and try to assimilate into the American culture. Many times, it’s easy for a new immigrant family/individual to be a little hesitant to adapt to a new country and it’s new culture. But having assumed that you came to America for all it’s glory, it’s important to adapt to the American way of life.
3. Provide a product/service that is unique and different from what’s available in the market. There are many copy cats in this world. It’s easy to get tempted when starting a business to be just another player to ride the success of another popular product/service. But if you aim for your company to be a truly world class player, invest in providing unique value to your customers; not just in pricing — but also in providing your customers an experience that they will cherish.
4. Build a diverse team and take feedback from every member of your team to make your product/service great. Building a diverse team has helped us in the USA to make products that are truly loved by the American people. When we first launched our products we realized, for example, there are so many diverse hair types in the USA compared to India. Also, more people color their hair here in the USA compared to India. Having a diverse team helped us understand the market better, we take feedback from our teams here in North America to improve our product offerings for the US market.
5. Truly believe in Freedom of Speech/expression and value every kind of opinion, even if you don’t agree with it. It’s so important to understand that we shouldn’t take for granted all the great things that this country provides, including free speech and expression. The USA was built on a great set of founding principles, that when applied, can truly change the world in an unique way.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- It still is the easiest country in the world to start a business — as long as you are willing to work hard for your success.
- It is a highly vibrant and diverse society.
- No country is ever perfect, but the USA has always changed for the better and has always been the world leader in everything it does. From humanitarian causes, science, research, space exploration… it always leads, and the world follows.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
I would love to catch up with Elon Musk , Lebron James, Jeff Bezos, Ryan Cohen (Founder of Chewy.com) — they’ve all changed the world for the better, and have continued to focus on making big bold bets on what the world would look like 15–20 years from now. I would like to brainstorm with them on what they see as the TOP 3 challenges for the world, and how they look at helping the world in meeting these challenges.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
LinkedIn is the best — https://www.linkedin.com/in/ashwinsokke/