We are NOT perfect here, but it is absolutely important to be grateful for the entrepreneurial potential this country offers. For me entrepreneurship IS the American Dream — to be able to start something from nothing and develop it into a successful company with which one can create a comfortable life for themselves and their family is so nearly impossible in most of the world, but it is possible here with the right mindset and work ethic and if you aren’t grateful for these opportunities you will then never encounter them.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Mandallaz, Founder of Meta Skincare.
Nicole Mandallaz has been a licensed esthetician for over 12 years and is the founder of Meta Skin Studio and Meta Skincare products. She has worked with dermatologists, celebrities, resort spas and as a national educator before creating her own business. She specializes in managing challenging acne cases and transforming skin with her expertise. She is based out of Palm Springs and Borrego Springs, California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
Thank you so much for letting me tell my story! I grew up in San Diego, Ca before it was recognized on the map. We started out an immigrant neighborhood of mostly south east Asian families who also came as refugees. We pretty much spoke only Russian at home, and as my parents progressed financially, we ended up in the middle-class suburbs near San Diego State University. We were definitely one of the only Russian families around for a while.
While my sister was born in the former Soviet Union (now Ukraine), I was born here in the US. I was raised with my cousin who is like a sibling to me, and we always went to the same schools. Since our parents worked a lot, we spent a lot of time with our grandparents and great grandmothers, all of whom had either been survivors of the holocaust, gulags, fighting in the war or other experiences of Stalin’s regime and Soviet communism. While I experienced all of their love, I always had an understanding that they expressed themselves and their love in life differently than other grandparents in America and it was not the same type of warmth. Like when one of my great grandmothers went to the nursing home, she always stole fruit or hard candies from the dining hall and would save them for days to give to me and my cousin, but she didn’t really say “I love you.”
For some reason it didn’t occur to me as a kid that my upbringing from my parents too was so different as well as is unique to so many immigrant families here in the US. My parents, while being so happy to arrive in America, had to also manage the heavy burden of learning English, adapt to our new country and make a living to support us and make sure their own parents and grandparents were okay here.
As much as I blend in now, growing up I always felt extraordinarily different from the other kids in school and didn’t understand at the time it was just part of my own immigrant experience. I believe the most powerful thing for me to watch as I grew up was to see what my mother had accomplished through years of hard work and perseverance.
My mom’s first job in the US was where she learned English while working was at Taco Bell. In the USSR, she was a music teacher, so when I was little, she taught lessons and worked as a piano accompanist for local ballet studios. Her dream in the Soviet Union was always to be an accountant. So in between her piano lessons and ballet studio work, she took night courses at the local community college to become a bookkeeper. She worked in bookkeeping and accounting for about 10 years until she was able to open her own successful business, an adult day health care facility in San Diego.
I thought I wanted to be an artist or a painter which was a horrible disappointment to my family, as they had worked so hard to give me better opportunity to have a reliable profession here like a doctor or a lawyer. Unfortunately, I never felt comfortable and was always filled with anxiety at school, so I had a hard time to focus. That caused me to escape into my art and books. All I wanted to do was art, play music and be social. I couldn’t get a grip on college courses unless it was a subject I was interested in, which didn’t suit well for prerequisites. But what none of my family or myself realized then was the most valuable thing my immigrant parents instilled in me was my work ethic. They always said I had to work if I wanted anything, so I had started working as a babysitter and doing odd jobs until I was old enough for a work permit. I had even made my own lemonade, screw the stand, I sold it door to door in the neighborhood. My first real job was at Carls Jr. when I was 15, and I hadn’t stopped working since. When I became an esthetician 12 years ago, I had realized how well I could use all my past work experience to create something for myself instead of going the traditional route through school and having a regular job.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I don’t think many people in the USA realize that many parts of Eastern Europe were living in 3rd world conditions until very recently, and some maybe still are. Even when I went back to visit in the early 2000’s I was shocked at the living conditions of Ukraine compared to the US. My parents had always wanted to get out. My great grandfather even tried to get them out. He tried to organize for them to escape before WWII, but the KGB somehow found out and took him away never to be heard from again and sent my great grandmother to a gulag for “Zionism”. She survived and was the one who saved me fruits and hard candies from her nursing home. My parents were not allowed to go to schools or seek professions they wanted, were not allowed to practice their religion, and were forced to continue living in the same ghettos their parents had been forced into during the holocaust to continue raising our family there long after the war. Their entire apartment building shared an outhouse as their communal restroom.
So basically, they had always wanted a way out, and finally were able to get it when HIAS, local Jewish federations, and other groups lobbied the American government to admit Soviet Jews as refugees fleeing their Communist regime. The only condition was that we had to have a sponsor who was a “first degree” relative, and fortunately in 1968 we had long lost relatives in the US who still remembered our family’s plight and searched for them for many years. They finally found my parents through the Red Cross. In 1977, my parents, sister and grandparents were able to come to America.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I was the first born in the USA. My parents came with my grandparents, great grandparents and sister after temporarily living in the fascist section of Rome before being granted entry into the US. My parents were allowed to apply for citizenship after 5 years, so I was born a citizen the same year my parents and sister were granted citizenship. My dad was photographed on the front page of the San Diego Union Tribune holding me as a baby at the immigration ceremony.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
Our long-lost relative Zelda and her husband Max Stolttland. Zelda was the niece of my great great grandmother. Her mother arrived through Ellis Island at the turn of the century and always told her about our family back in the old country. She never forgot the stories, and actively sought out our family with her husband until they were able to find them and sponsor them to come to the US. It would not have been possible without them. I’ve seen what my life could have been like had we still been in Ukraine, and I’m very grateful fate took its course to have me grow up here in the US.
So how are things going today?
Up until the pandemic things had been amazing, but I’m remaining optimistic we can pivot. My mom’s facility had been shut down due to the pandemic, but she has still managed to send meals delivered to their residents’ homes and therapies through a telemedicine type application.
I had become Palm Springs leading skin expert and first acne specialist in the area through my office Meta Skin Studio. Fortunately, I had also developed Meta Skincare, my product line and was able to move my acne program to a virtual platform and grow my brand presence online during shutdown.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I don’t know if I’m quite successful just yet, but definitely getting closer to it. 80% of people with acne experience significant depression due to their skin condition. I know what it feels like to be depressed about something in yourself you feel you can’t control. Fortunately, with acne, I have found ways to help clients manage it without drugs and stay clear long term. This feeds my soul, knowing I can help people feel better about themselves long term, and in turn helping the health of their biggest organ.
I also realized during the recent protests and social change in our country, that most of my vendors I order from for my product line are women of color and or immigrants. From my labs, to my packaging, to even my content coaches. I feel weird thinking about “particularly seeking out” women of color owned businesses to support, as I want to support other businesses for also just being awesome, not because of the color of the owner’s skin even if it’s for a positive motion. But somewhere it did feel good to know that somehow my business has been helping to support other minority owned companies by being a long-term regular customer anyway and will continue to do so.
As an esthetician I feel my profession has so much to offer women and immigrants, and as I grow, I dream that I could create some sort of nonprofit programs to help mentor new estheticians navigate solo businesses, or scholarships to help immigrants or 1st generation people get licensed in esthetics.
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?
So, I’ve seen the immigration system through the refugee system my parents and sister went through, and then I also navigated the marriage way of gaining citizenship when I met my husband (he’s from France). I don’t really know still if I’d be qualified on how we could improve the system, but I do see potential win-win situations that don’t exist here that I know would benefit our country and immigrants if they did.
I understand it’s unrealistic to have open borders, but I do feel there could be a better way to help refugees and asylum seekers to find legal status here. Their legalization would help them have refuge, and it would help our economy with more income and business taxes. Perhaps if it was more attainable to become legal, there would be less illegal immigration and problems associated with it.
I also think there should be some kind of programs like in France, where they have the French Foreign Legion. It is open to foreign recruits willing to serve in the French Armed Forces. After serving they are granted citizenship and membership to certain support and social services even through retirement. It’s brutal military training but they become proud citizens of their new country. Thousands of potential recruits apply every year in France. A program like that in the USA could be of huge benefit to the armed forces and to immigrants.
Also, certain entrepreneurial visas with options to become citizens. If someone comes here to run a business for a decade, they should absolutely be able to have some sort of path to citizenship. It’s unfortunate and a loss for our country and for potential successful entrepreneurs to not have a more viable program like that here.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- We are NOT perfect here, but it is absolutely important to be grateful for the entrepreneurial potential this country offers. For me entrepreneurship IS the American Dream — to be able to start something from nothing and develop it into a successful company with which one can create a comfortable life for themselves and their family is so nearly impossible in most of the world, but it is possible here with the right mindset and work ethic and if you aren’t grateful for these opportunities you will then never encounter them.
- Believe in yourself! I know this sounds cliché, but it is so easy to doubt oneself when things seem daunting. Nobody can achieve success if they don’t believe they can do it. I never started seeing success until I started believing in myself and trusting my gut instincts.
- Do what you love — This is an opportunity also very unique to the US. Most people in the world are not allowed to study for or pursue a career they can somewhat enjoy. Nobody said it would be easy, but the opportunity is definitely there, just like my mom finally becoming an accountant to owning her own successful business.
- Study hard — I was never good at traditional school, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t study hard on my own time to be the best at what I do. I researched skin, it’s functions, histology and diseases like crazy after I got licensed, and continue to do so today. I now also study business, entrepreneurship and digital marketing. Never stop learning.
- Being a “big fish in a small pond” can sometimes be better than a “struggling little fish in the big pond”. I moved to Los Angeles after I got licensed and really struggled to take off in business. There were amazing estheticians on every corner, and I was just another one. Once my husband and I followed our hearts to move to a smaller city like Palm Springs, CA it was easier to grow my network and develop business with the more unified support from a smaller community. I was the first acne expert to the area, and the only esthetician offering my types of services, so it was easier to build a supportive, quality clientele. Their support from getting my services funded me to create the product line and grow from there. That would not have been possible had I stayed in Los Angeles. My husband also found greater success with his coffee shop and bar in our smaller city than he did in L.A.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Our opportunity to create business is again my American Dream. It’s the opportunity to be self-sustaining on your own terms. That is true freedom. While that opportunity exists, our country’s future can be bright.
- While I am all bootstrapped, I have been researching grants, loans and Venture Capital for some future ideas. I’ve been seeing so many new opportunities for minority female business owners. Historically, this has been the most marginalized group of Americans from being funded in business. I’ve never seen more grant opportunities and VC’s looking to fund female entrepreneurs of color than now. This is amazing for our country’s future.
- Empathy — everyday I meet someone or see someone offering empathy towards others rather than all the virulent divisiveness we see on social media and the news, it gives me hope and makes me optimistic towards our country’s future. The more empathy people have towards others, the more understanding there will be instead of ignorance.
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. 🙂
If I could meet Kirsten Green of Forerunner Ventures that would be quite the success story for me! She is a shero in the VC world which is so male dominated, and as a beauty entrepreneur she is who I look up to the most. I know if I had her backing for a business idea we would make it successful. If I just met her for breakfast or lunch, it would be an educational opportunity of a lifetime.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
You can find me on Instagram or LinkedIn under @MetaSkinStudio
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you so much for having me!