Overcome the fear of trying and learning new things. I have had many “firsts” with this business. From producing an ad, being interviewed for a commercial, negotiating deals with buyers, presenting the product to people, meeting with people from the beauty industry… the list goes on! You will learn and face so many different things in this role and overcoming that initial fear is a must.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Priyanka Ramesh.
Priyanka is the co-founder of PAYARU (pronounced “pa-ya-roo”), a guilt-free and non-toxic skincare company based in Hoboken, NJ. She is also doing her PhD in neuroscience at New York University and is a classical Indian dancer, a wife, and a mama to two spirited cats, Soup and Beans.
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?
Thank you for the opportunity! My backstory is quite simple really. I was just really tired of searching for a simple, natural skincare product that didn’t have any harsh chemicals. While it was much easier to switch to a natural wholesome lifestyle when it comes to food and sustainable clothing, I couldn’t seem to find a natural skincare brand with ingredients that I could trust and didn’t feel guilty about. I wanted to be able to read the ingredients list and feel good about the contents. Most of the time, however, I felt confused. I found that a product can claim to be “all-natural” and yet be full of ingredients that are unpronounceable and artificial.
Plus, I was also struggling to find a skincare product without plastic microbeads. These microbeads, when flushed down the drain, usually don’t get filtered out by the water filtration systems and end up in the ocean, where fish and other marine organisms mistake them for food. I wanted to use a skincare product that didn’t have these tiny plastics and was actually ALL natural and good for the earth and your skin. Hence, PAYARU was born.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Oh where to start? Haha! Since leading my company, I have learned so much, from working with big equipment and troubleshooting when something doesn’t go according to plan. Designing our products is always fun and is a tremendous learning experience. PAYARU was recently also recognized as a Green Business by the City of Hoboken — so that was a very cool honor.
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?
Looking back now, I think it was so silly how sure I was about my first product packaging design and photography skills. I was convinced my designs and photo skills were great! When I showed it to my friends and family, they weren’t so enthusiastic about it as I was and I totally took offense. Looking back now, I completely agree with my friends and family — my initial design was not the best at all. But after much effort, we are absolutely in love with our current designs.
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?
I am eternally grateful to my husband, without whose unwavering support PAYARU would simply not exist. He helps me work the machines for our production process, with shipment, and all the other nitty gritty that comes with running a company. Not to mention the emotional support too!
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
I love this question! I am a big believer in taking care of the self first and foremost, as this makes me a more effective person at taking care of others and my business. I cherish my mornings, making sure I take things really slow. I start my day with journaling my gratitudes, meditating, doing gentle yoga and having tea with my husband. This morning ritual keeps my body and mind relaxed and I am able to tackle my day.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
I truly believe diversity of thought is essential to have in any organization. Diversity of thought is what builds bridges, solves problems, and finds new solutions.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
I think it has to start with education. At University, I was a part of a diversity initiative that trained young scientists to succeed in academia. We were trained on our interview skills, presentation skills, scientific communication, and even got to travel to important neuroscience conferences. From this experience, it was clear to me that educating and providing opportunities for aspiring individuals (no matter the field), especially those in lower socioeconomic classes and underserved communities is incredibly important. This exposes them to the real world, shows them how to navigate it, and provides them with useful knowledge of their field.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
An executive or CEO makes the big decisions in their company. In my case, I approve of new product ideas and design, meet with influencers and other collaborators in the beauty industry, co-manage finances and other operations of the company, and essentially make sure the business is functioning like a well-oiled machine.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
The myth that initially worried me about becoming an executive is that I won’t have a balanced life. While it is certainly true that this job takes quite a bit of work and creativity, I think once I mastered time management, I found that I could take time off here and there.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
I think balance is the real challenge. Balancing family with career. Balancing the home with work.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I didn’t realize how many different roles my current job comprises! I wear lots of different hats and I didn’t fully expect that before.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I think flexibility, time management, assertiveness, and creativity are important traits to have to be a successful executive.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
Time management is key to success I think. My job has forced me to manage my time well — I was an A + procrastinator before. Now at the beginning of each week, I write down my weekly goals. I then spread my goals over the five weekdays and I make a to-do list for each day. Every morning after getting ready for the day, I look at my daily task list, and I tackle the easiest thing first. This way, I have already accomplished something. Then I tackle the more difficult tasks ahead.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
At PAYARU, we are all about natural skin care and how that affects our environment. Because of this mission, we are committed to improving the general health of our water systems. We donate a portion of our profits to the Billion Oyster Project, an organization dedicated to restore a sustainable oyster population, and to Project AWARE, which works to reduce underwater impacts of marine debris.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Learn photography because if you are starting a business from scratch and you don’t necessarily have the funds to pay someone to take a picture of your product, then it is best if you learn how to do it yourself. Plus, once you’ve learned it, you always have someone to rely on — you!
- Be social media savvy you definitely need to be if you want to promote your business.
- Overcome the fear of trying and learning new things. I have had many “firsts” with this business. From producing an ad, being interviewed for a commercial, negotiating deals with buyers, presenting the product to people, meeting with people from the beauty industry… the list goes on! You will learn and face so many different things in this role and overcoming that initial fear is a must.
- Have a weekly meeting with your team at least this way everyone is on the same page and nothing slips through the cracks.
- Get a good quality planner or make one yourself with a bullet journal. Why? (See time management answer above)
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 call my movement “Radical Self Love and Personal Responsibility” and in this movement, as the title suggests, we would take personal responsibility for our lives and move past our limiting beliefs of fear with radical self love and acceptance. This makes the mind and body fertile for growth and learning. I truly believe that with these two tools at hand, an individual can truly find fulfillment in all aspects of their lives, both personal and professional.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
- J.R.R. Tolkien
I love this quote because it is about sheer resilience and strength — something we can all cultivate.
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 love to have lunch with The Parenting Junkie (Avital). She is such an inspiration to me and I would love to pick her brain about so many things!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.