I also think you need to be self-aware. There isn’t a lot of room for ego when it comes to starting a successful business. You have to be willing to do all the jobs from packing boxes and mailing things to high-level strategy work and everything in between. There is nothing that is beneath you, and if you want to make your dream a reality you will do whatever it takes. With iNNBeauty Project, my business partner and I packed every order from our homes for the better part of a year before we hired a warehouse. It would take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours in the morning and at night and then I would bring them over to UPS. Linda, my local UPS woman and I became very close.
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 Jen Shane.
Jen Shane is the Co-Founder and Head of Innovation for INNBEAUTY PROJECT. In her almost two decades of experience in the beauty industry, Jen has developed globally top-selling formulas and designed patented brushes for brands such as Tarte, Bare Minerals, and Tatcha. Jen’s ongoing passion is to continue to create these elevated textures with superior efficacy for a third to a quarter of the price that you would typically find. She firmly believes that the price of effective, clean skincare should be more accessible and not something that is only reserved for special occasions.
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 grew up swimming competitively from age 5 through college. In high school, I would wake up at 4 am to train before school and then immediately head back to the pool after my last class. I’d get home around 9 pm, eat dinner, head to bed, and wake up to do it all over again. I’ve had a strong sense of inner determination since I can remember, but swimming really taught me to focus on that determination. I also learned an incredibly valuable lesson in sacrifice. I had to wake up every day and actively choose swimming. I missed out on a lot of things in high school due to swimming; no hanging out with friends on the weekends, no school dances or parties. It was a hard sacrifice, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I distinctly remember weekend trips to Sephora in NYC with my friend Liz during college. We would both walk around the store together, dreaming up brand ideas and talking about how it would be an absolute dream come true to create a beauty brand that would one day be sold at Sephora. These trips, and my love of beauty, sparked my initial interest in the industry and have led me to where I am today with iNNBeauty Project. I absolutely pinch myself every time I see our brand in Sephora!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I’ve been very fortunate in that my career has allowed me to travel all over the world. One particularly memorable place for me is Japan. The immense attention to detail, cleanliness, and pride the Japanese have for their country and their culture is evident in absolutely every single thing. I had the honor of spending time with some lovely Geisha who took us around and told us about their lives, their training (which is very intense), and their beauty rituals. I was also able to go to the famous fish market at 6 am and had the freshest sushi of my life for breakfast. These were once-in-a-lifetime experiences I will never forget.
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?
I briefly spoke about how my swimming career fine-tuned my focused determination, and I do believe this has been a key attribute to getting me to where I am today. I have a very vivid imagination and often dream up strong, detailed visions in my head. I’m very driven in that I give it everything I have to make that vision become a reality. Your determination and vision have to be strong enough to guide you through the inevitable shadows of doubt that some people will cast your way.
Keeping true to the heart of your vision is also incredibly important, but with that said you also have to remain nimble. You have to be able to objectively take a step back and view what is happening from the outside without taking everything so personally. At iNNBeauty Project we are constantly asking ourselves, “what are our customers telling us?” What is the world telling us?” Sometimes pivoting on execution is essential to your company staying afloat or thriving. It doesn’t mean you are sacrificing your vision; you may just be taking a slightly different path there.
Last but not least, having and maintaining your passion is crucial. Passion for providing innovative, quality skincare at affordable prices and changing the notion that good skincare has to be expensive is what drives me. It is my north star and guiding light with every decision that I have to make, and what pushes me through the hard and stressful times because there will undoubtedly be many ups & downs.
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?
I think we have come a long way in terms of celebrating strong women in various facets of life, but we still have a long way to go.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
Most recently, with iNNBeauty Project, we went through a fund raise where you meet with a couple dozen or so investors to try to figure out who is the best partner to move forward with in order to grow the business. I was legitimately surprised at times with the bias towards women that I felt came through in conversations. It was not the majority of those we spoke with, but even the minority shocked me. I’d find myself saying, “what year do we live in?” I’ve spent almost two decades in the beauty industry working my way up and proving myself, and these men, who had little to no experience in the industry, would speak to us in a very condescending manner. We were very lucky to find amazing investors in both Strand Equity and Beechwood Capital. Not only to do they believe in our vision 100%, but they’re always respectful and treat us as equals.
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
I am a big believer in staying true to yourself and remaining confident in who you are. Powerful women should not have to tone themselves down or change who they are to make people more comfortable. We should be pushing those who feel uncomfortable to level up and accept people for who they are.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
I think the more we elevate & celebrate powerful women in all facets of life, the more accepted it will become.
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?
I touched on this in an earlier question, but fundraising really surprised me in that we came across some men who were very condescending. It’s one thing to not agree with someone’s idea or business plan, and there is a respectful way to handle that, but it’s a totally different thing to treat someone as less than — whether it be because of sex, sexual orientation, or anything else for that matter. Everyone is human and we should all view each other, with compassion, as equal.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Women are constantly challenged in terms of how capable they are. They’re constantly asked to prove themselves time & time again, whereas I feel men are taken more at face value. If they say they can juggle, that’s great. If a woman says she can juggle — oh yeah? Can you show us? I am all for having people prove themselves, but it needs to be an even playing field.
I also feel women have to contend with this notion of “having it all” where men aren’t required to. Even if the idea of “having it all” started out as a motivating movement, where it has gone can be all-consuming and feel unattainable. It’s become this mountainous goal that, if not achieved, can leave you feeling less than. What is wrong with me that I’m having a hard time juggling my family, my job, my friends, my home, social media, and everything else? I’m not saying men don’t have to think about these things as well, but it isn’t a globally projected goal that they have to obsess over. They’re allowed to quietly think about these things and on their own terms.
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?
I will preface this by saying that I don’t have children yet, and I think if I did my answer may be different. When we decided to start INNBEAUTY PROJECT, I knew there would be sacrifice and I was prepared for it. Sleepless nights, working late & weekends. Just like with my swimming career, I think with anything truly great comes some form of sacrifice and a lot of hard work. With that said, I will say that a large part of why I’ve put off having children is because I knew I would have a hard time not dedicating 100% of myself to the business. That has been a hard decision for me, especially with each passing year. I do have an amazing & understanding partner who never makes me feel bad if I have to work during dinner or over the weekend. I am trying to be better about work-life balance, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was a struggle.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
When I get there I will let you know! In all seriousness, quarantine and everything that has happened in our world over the last 2 years has really pushed me to take a step back and re-prioritize my mental & physical health. I’m proud at how far I’ve come from that teenage to young twenties person who breathed, slept, & ate their top goal without thinking about mental health. We cannot keep running on empty without consequences. Mental & physical health has become such an important part of how I check in with myself and fill my cup back up. This only allows me to be more creative and the best version of myself that I can be for iNNBeauty Project. We always like to think we have more & more to give, but we have to fill that source back up to stop from being depleted.
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?
I love this question and think it is something we should be discussing more. Five to ten years ago, I would have said that there is immense pressure to look a certain way in this industry which was exacerbated by social media. Botox, filler, facelifts at a young age; how can I look younger, firmer & prettier? But as with everything, I think the pendulum swings from one extreme to another and we are starting to see a rejection of the over-injected culture. More and more people are embracing what was once considered a “flaw” and owning beauty in their own right. We’re also seeing more transparency around the procedures being done, which is helping to re-set realistic expectations around beauty. If you want to get Botox or fillers to feel more confident, that’s totally fine — you do you. But we have to stop letting young girls & boys believe we just woke up like this and that there is only one way to look if they want to be considered “beautiful”. I personally love this movement, and I think there is nothing prettier than a person who is happy & confident in who they are. This doesn’t come overnight and actually takes a lot of inner work to undo a lot of standards we have been taught, but the work always shines through as true beauty.
How is this similar or different for men?
I think there is also a lot of pressure put on men to look a certain way that we don’t always talk about. With the growing evolution of social media, the world is on display. Growing up I had access to new magazines once a month. Today kid’s have access to new content daily. With that content comes comparison and often comparison is the thief of joy. I think everyone struggles with expectations in some capacity, and it is more important than ever to remember that social media is a highlight reel and not reality.
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.)
- From the vantage point of a female entrepreneur, the first thing I think you need to succeed is confidence. Not to be confused with cockiness, confidence in yourself and your vision is crucial. I don’t think I have spoken to one founder who wasn’t turned down or told no a couple of dozen times before they heard one single yes. You have to believe in yourself and your vision to keep going. Confidence is something I work on all of the time. It doesn’t come naturally to me. I used to always confuse confidence with arrogance and felt like it was a negative quality, but what I have learned is that if you won’t stand up for yourself and your idea, then no one will. You have to be your own biggest cheerleader.
- I also think you need to be self-aware. There isn’t a lot of room for ego when it comes to starting a successful business. You have to be willing to do all the jobs from packing boxes and mailing things to high-level strategy work and everything in between. There is nothing that is beneath you, and if you want to make your dream a reality you will do whatever it takes. With iNNBeauty Project, my business partner and I packed every order from our homes for the better part of a year before we hired a warehouse. It would take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours in the morning and at night and then I would bring them over to UPS. Linda, my local UPS woman and I became very close.
- An open mind and an appetite for learning is also incredibly important. No one knows all of the answers, and it takes a lot of learning, trial and error to figure out what works. You can’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something or ask for help. I’ve relied on so many friends, family members, and advisors for help while building iNNBeauty Project. It truly takes a village to succeed.
- In the same vein, but slightly different I think it is important to remember that there is no such thing as failure — there is just learning. With every “failure” you learn countless valuable lessons that are going to help you in your next step or venture. You have to be fearless and not be afraid to take a risk. Sara Blakely, one of my favorite female entrepreneurs, has a mug that says “No Risk, No Story.” I’d rather take some risks and have a ton of stories than sit there when I am 85 wondering what would have happened.
- Last but not least, I think it is so important to pay it forward in any way that you can. Almost everyone has had some help from someone along the way, and if your helping hand or words of advice could be just a small part of what helps change someone’s life for the better it is an absolute no brainer. Our goal at iNNBeauty Project is to build a community that celebrates and elevates upcoming creative individuals who are looking to leave their mark on the world in their own unique way.
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.
Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx and self-professed Cheez-Its lover, would be an absolute dream to meet. I think she is one of the most down-to-earth and fascinating people. She built Spanx from the ground up with 5,000 dollars and an idea and grew it into this massively successful company that has changed the industry for the better and has become a household name. I don’t know one woman who doesn’t own a pair of Spanx! She is this badass business mogul and at the same time, makes pancakes every weekend, taking shape requests from her kids in her pj’s while she dances for the whole world to see. She is always seeing the light and good in everything, continually pays it forward, and has fun through it all. She is someone I truly aspire to be like.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.