Do your research and be prepared. My boss at Republic Records would frequently call me with an unannounced 3rd party (many times a famous musician) on the phone. Being prepared means confidence no matter who asks for information and when.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Coco Quill.
Coco Quill’s mission is to create a sophisticated ambiance that speaks to all genders. As a member of the British Bourbon Society in the tech sector, she often found herself as the only woman in the room. During a trip from London to New York, her female friends with dogs, were extremely happy with her choice to arrange a meet up with their French bulldogs for drinks at Kings County Distillery. This created the spark to explore and develop the more, what has been deemed traditionally male scents, of musk’s and bourbons for Whiskey and Woof candles. After many trials and testers of all genders, in different parts of the globe, bourbon lovers and dog companions, Coco produced the four candle scents and one unisex fragrance, which speak to those seeking unique combinations, hand poured and created with the best ingredients available.
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 childhood “backstory”?
I’m a middle child of a mixed-race couple who grew up on Long Island. I was labeled the “quiet child” which I never felt good about, so I graduated early, went off to university in Australia with my grandparents. Then I came back and graduated from Barnard College.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
My French bulldog, Elle, is a micro influencer. She is known for her fashion and has done ads for Diesel, Barbour Dogs and many more. People were always asking me when she would have her own fashion line, but I know many artisan designers and that wasn’t for me. While we were living in London, I was a member of the British Bourbon Society. I went through a stage of taking random classes and made a candle. When we moved back to Brooklyn a few years ago, I found myself at an agency that was not inspiring and started working on my own brand development. It was time to put my skill set to use for myself.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Well, I worked with a lot of rock stars, so I’ll pick one of those. I had to have a “come to Jesus” talk in a graveyard at 1 AM with James Blake and his manager at SXSW. It was very cathartic for overall relationship and James performed after it and brought everyone to tears- including himself. As for the candles, I think every week something happens that moves it forward and is very exciting to me.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
When you get feedback, take a step back, a walk around the block — time to digest it. Is there a path forward? What is the solution. Sometimes you don’t have that time and you must remove the emotion and come up with solutions. There was a time when I worked at Disney Channel and a producer no one liked made a 10000 dollars voiceover mistake. He was lazy, left early on a holiday weekend and didn’t come to the office to make sure he had the approved scripts. We had a meeting and I had warned my boss he wasn’t detail orientated. However, we had to air a program in two days. Instead of adding to politics, I took a step back and said, “let’s not be pointing fingers, it’s time to come up with solutions and see what we can cut together to make the on-air deadline.” I’m not interested in work politics, which is part of why I started my own business.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Women are the givers of life. We are generally more emotionally intelligent than men.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
Make sure you are listening. Set up one-on-ones if you have come into a new role so you understand what the dynamics are of the team.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
It takes time to change attitudes and responses daily. Stay informed, run for leadership positions, apply to jobs that you have 60% or more of the qualifications, you don’t have to have 100% of those and ask if you are making your own opportunities. Support other women, read and have knowledge on your side so you can rise.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
When I went to work at a tech giant to run their music video department, I had dinner with my boss before I moved out to LA. He told me he had already told a woman on the team he was going to promote her in six months and not to worry about me. I could have changed my mind about the job after knowing he had undermined me. However, I couldn’t pass on the opportunity. And 3 out of my four direct reports had interviewed for the job so I knew there would be challenges. After a year of being there, it was like a hazing period had ended and working hard, providing a way for everyone on the team to learn more skills and get two underpaid staffers up to where they should be, it got a lot easier. We are labeled things that men do not have to endure. When we do it to each other is even worse, so I try to dissect that energy and channel it into being productive and learning from it.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
The statistics show that 64% of SVP titles are held by males. In a layoff the first to be let go are minorities, followed by women. That’s why 81% of small businesses are started on a daily basis by women taking their careers into their own hands.
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
When you work in entertainment and tech, your co-workers become your friends because you work 80–100 hours a week. It is more than a career, it’s a lifestyle. Early in my career I had friends visiting from Scotland. I dropped them off so I could go to work — on a Sunday. I got to work to an empty floor and asked myself what I was doing when I was the only one putting in that time and my friends were there for a short time. So, I went and spent time with them. It can be easy to struggle with that balance, but you must learn how to prioritize and realize that pressure can come from within. Working as a solo entrepreneur, my co-workers are other small business owners and the people I might hire to help me with various services like my SMS provider. It’s a lot less stressful.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
For me, being mixed race, the phrase “dress for the job you want” has always been drummed into me. During the pandemic, I realized that part of what I wear and how I take care of my body and skin is what makes me feel like I’m in charge. Hygiene is important. A shower wakes up the body and the mind. Extensive time indoors also can wreak havoc on the skin. While I have a lot of zooms and LIVES to be in, I enjoyed letting my eyebrows grow during this time and making sure I was taking care of the internal much better again with vitamins and hydrating. Two weeks into the pandemic I cut six inches off my hair. It had been over-processed in my “pandemic lockdown” prep when I was trying to support my hairdresser. I was trolled on Twitter about it, and it surprised me how much our hair is part of our self-image. There’s a great TED talk on it. I take care of myself for my own mindset.
How is this similar or different for men?
I had a boss who dressed only in black because he didn’t want to deal with those decisions. It has been proven a “uniform” look is one less decision and many successful people swear by them i.e., jeans, button down & blazer. People will tease a guy more gently than a woman when it comes to appearances.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Do your research and be prepared. My boss at Republic Records would frequently call me with an unannounced 3rd party (many times a famous musician) on the phone. Being prepared means confidence no matter who asks for information and when.
- Be able to pivot: your day is not set in stone. In LA I had a change of outfits in my car because opportunities and invitations can pop-up last minute, and you need to be able to be flexible and make the most of them.
- Learn to take time for yourself/when to say no. Rising in your career is great, burning out because of it is not. When I was an executive assistant, my boss went on her first long weekend holiday after almost two years in an SVP role. After we had an hour catch-up on what happened during her flight and then she called her boss for an hour, she went to play tennis. She broke her foot and was in a cast for six months. It is okay to unplug and be unreachable on your vacations. They are there so you can recharge.
- Have a trusted business mentor or group: for a small business I have an honorary board I can tap into and bounce ideas off if I need to, which might not have the exact answer, but they can help you get there. There is a retail store that is “Instagram Famous” I was accepted into but after reading the fine print of the contract, it started to raise a lot of question marks. Talking it through helped me decide not to move forward with it and, instead, put my money into other services to help grow my business.
- Feed Your Mind: never stop learning. I have a subscription to Masterclass and it’s been so rewarding. The first two I watched were from Sara Blakely (founder of Spanx) and Bob Eiger (Executive Chairman at Disney/former CEO.) There are lessons we forget and being open to that knowledge can be very helpful. I think of Sara’s journey when I’m working because the first two years she worked out of her apartment.
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.
I would like to meet Meghan Markle. I have created a candle inspired by her. We lived in London at the same time, and I knew, having experienced a similar personal situation, how hard it was going to be for her and how exciting it is now that she has been able to protect her family. Serena Williams is also someone I’d like to meet because she is such a strong woman. She had incredible inner strength and I admire her so much. I love how she conducts herself publicly and what she is sharing online of her life as a mother.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.