I wish someone had told me that everyone struggles, gets stressed out and worries constantly about how they’re perceived. It’s just the nature of the beast, but if you’re really loving what you do, it’s worth it and eventually those things get subdued by how great you feel about what you’re accomplishing.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing…Sarah Devika Sumnauth is the Founder & CEO of Urban Minerals, a growing Toronto-based mineral makeup company focused on creating stylish vegan cosmetics. Sumnauth created and launched the brand in 2013, with a signature line of mineral foundations in 33 shades, and has since expanded to include an award winning contour kit, vegan lipsticks and more. With an academic background in Environmental Studies, specializing in Culture, Philosophy, Arts, Technology, and Education, Sumnauth sees social responsibility and environmental transparency as non-negotiables, and always opts to build products, systems, and dialogues in the cosmetics space around staying accountable to our shared environment. She continues to love beauty trends and is an expert on both creating products that people love, and experiences that they come back for.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
Well my father was an entrepreneur, which I guess is where my natural inclination to start a business came from. I can remember as a little girl, watching him take on business with an incredible work ethic and a special touch when he interacted with his clients.
I always looked up to him and when it came time to decide what path I’d take in life, creating a business somehow became a sole point of focus for me. Why not create something that I could pour my talents, gifts and abilities into that would allow me to continually grow and touch people lives in a way that would bring them joy?
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love, into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I think a love of beauty was inherent for me from very early on.
I was always the little girl who was asking my mom, “please, oh please, put some lipstick on me!” and not much has changed since then.
As a young woman going through my Environmental studies degree, it was only a matter of time before I realized the hugely degrading impact that humans were having on the natural world around us by creating the very products that I loved to use to beautify myself.
At the time, I was very lucky to have gotten a part-time job close to campus in a small “green” department store, where they sold everything from baby clothes to eco-stationary, and housewares to green beauty. It was there that I learned of companies that were organic, vegan, cruelty-free, local and socially and sustainably responsible.
It opened my eyes completely.
My ah ha moment came as I served customers in this beautiful little shop, where woman after woman would walk in to get help choosing natural foundations and makeup for their skin tones, and many had to be turned away because the color choices simply did not exist that would complement and flatter them.
I thought to myself, “this isn’t fair!” — no matter where you come from or what you look like, you should have access to something that is eco-friendly and looks good on you.
So, I set about gathering the tools, knowledge and skills I needed to create a business, and soon enough Urban Minerals was born.
Today, the brand works to show that we care about beauty across the spectrum, and means it by creating natural, plant-based products for diverse skin tones that perform on par with the best conventional brands out there.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
I had two mottos for the year that I spent starting up the business.
- You can do anything you put your mind to (you just have to choose!)
- The two things you need to be successful are Passion and Commitment (which was some very good advice I received from a fellow successful entrepreneur.)
I never allowed myself to give up, even when I was tired, out of money or feeling a bit hopeless.
“You can do anything you put your mind to” puts you into an active stance and asks you to look outside your circumstances to canvas for solutions, which is essential to business.
Passion and the commitment keep that fire burning and remind you why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Plus, I think I always stayed hungry for knowledge because my inner critic kept me on my toes and made me want to prove to myself that I could push beyond where I was to get better at the things where I felt that I lacked, and master the things that I knew I was already good at.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I would ask that person, “if you were to zoom out from your fears and into the birds eye perspective, how do you want your life to look?”
Do you want to look back on all your experiences and have your fears be the tone you set by default? Or are you willing to dip at least one toe into the dream pool to see if the waters warm? If you’re treading water and creating what you love to create, are you possibly ready to swim out into the deep end a bit? If you’re already swimming in that pool and haven’t monetized it, what’s stopping you? Fear around money? Fear around exposure of your absolute genius and gifts?
Go deeper with it and see if you can pinpoint it. If you can do that, then you’re actually doing the same work that all entrepreneurs have to do to go after their dreams.
Get a mentor or a business coach who can help you with the rest, but you have to be the one to do that first initial toe dip.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Because I created a cosmetics business, the natural solution for me was to make it both a products-based and service-based business.
Having an artistic outlet is what keeps things fresh and enjoyable for me, because I’m constantly able to create looks for my clients that light them up and help them to express themselves.
Being able to help create confidence, beauty and memorable moments for people helps ensure that it never gets boring. The icing on top of course is also being able to do so while using my own products as I broaden my line.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
The thing I enjoy the most about running my own business is watching my ideas manifest into form before my eyes. Sometimes this happens painstakingly over the course of months and sometimes it happens within minutes. Creating products is always a beautiful journey, peaks and valleys included!
Conversely, the downsides to running a business are always having to foot the bill upfront. It’s a tough reality to wrap your mind around and along with it comes the anxiety of the what ifs. What if x, y and z doesn’t happen or doesn’t sell compared to what we projected? What if people don’t like it?
I’ve been lucky so far in that what I’ve created has been well received, but its normal to experience slow times, and so the only solution I’ve found is to put in the work to help broaden the scope of your net and to expose more people to your products. The more exposure you get and the more connections you make.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
There isn’t much of a difference between what I thought a CEO was and what it is that I do now.
As the chief of operations, I figured I’d be handling all areas of the business and that is literally what I do all day. From a practical point of view, it simply means that I have to stay organized, on top of how things are progressing, and check back in regularly, which are certainly skills I’ve honed over the years.
But from a personal space, this job has forced me to invest in myself emotionally, so that all tasks can get done to my standards and so that I feel satisfied by what I’m putting out there.
This job is exactly what I thought it would be and so much more.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?
Definitely. I think entrepreneurs often suffer from bad bouts of comparison-it is. It’s so easy to fall into that trap, when you look at your friends and family who are doing well and have the benefits of stable jobs or regular pay, and you feel that its glaringly obviously that you don’t measure up. When those moments come, I remember what I’ve built, which I know is impressive, and I remind myself that I’m not done. Success often (and somehow magically) comes just beyond the point of giving up. So, I give myself breaks, do the all-important self-care that I know works for me and that I need to do and come back to the work hopefully a bit clearer and with a plan.
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?
It’s hard to even know where to start, because I’ve made more mistakes than I can even count. I’ve made mistakes as an artist on bridal clients, I’ve made mistakes with my deadlines, or appointments, website or online presence. I’ve even made mistakes in front of important people and felt foolish because of it.
No one starts out perfect and at some point you just have to laugh at how horribly bad you are at it, cry if that’s what you need to do to move through the very real human emotions of trying and failing, and work to figure out how to handle your clients with care and yourself with courage and compassion.
I look at everything as an opportunity to learn and if you’re not winning then at the very least your learning. When you learn something by trial, you get the benefit of actually owning that knowledge and then you’re given the opportunity to refine it into something better and more aligned with how you want to present yourself to the world.
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
Early on I found online business coach Marie Forleo and signed up for her program B-School.
Her motto, which has helped me along the way, is “everything is figure-outable.” That has kept me on track when obstacles and challenges come up, because it keeps me grounded in reality. If it’s been done before, which most likely it has been, then you have a multitude of options to figure it out. You just need to pivot and keep moving forward.
Her tenacity in sharing this wisdom with the world has helped me so much as an entrepreneur, and when I feel low, I know that the content and resources she’s created are things I can fall back on and refer back to when I forget the inspiration that I started with.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I think I’ve only just gotten started, trying to help make this world a better place.
One of the first charitable things I’ve been able to do is donate 15% of our proceeds from the Holidays last year, to a local woman’s shelter — Sistering.
Having grown up with domestic violence in the home, and simply listening to and hearing women’s stories, I know that supporting women, and those who are in some of the most extreme times of their lives, is something that I’m so happy to funnel positivity and support towards. We never know when we can be on the other side of life and having those kinds of social programs in place is something that I’m so glad to align myself and my company with. This year I want to expand the scope of how we’re going to give back by including both a socially purposeful and environmentally aware component to how we give, so that we can continue to support others through the beautiful work we’re doing.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- I wish someone had sat me down and explained to me what accounting was and how it can be used as a tool to create profit, so a business can become a self-sustaining entity.
- I wish someone had told me that allowing myself to really build my unique vision and owning it meant that I should allow that vision to pivot and evolve and grow on par with me, and that it’s not going to look in the end how I originally thought it would, and that’s okay.
- I wish someone had drilled it into me that asking for help and delegating are not signs of weakness, but signs of strength, resourcefulness and the means to peace of mind.
- I wish someone had told me that everyone struggles, gets stressed out and worries constantly about how they’re perceived. It’s just the nature of the beast, but if you’re really loving what you do, it’s worth it and eventually those things get subdued by how great you feel about what you’re accomplishing.
- I wish someone had told me that it’s okay to disappoint people sometimes, to not be perfect and to bring your very real humanity with you to work so that you can show up as the best version of you, which the world needs to see, through your gifts, products and services.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire any one movement, it would be to help more people find inner peace through considering themselves and their experiences of life as valuable and beautiful.
Maybe the connection to beauty isn’t so apparent up front, but vipassana meditation has been incredibly important for me in my life, and it’s something that I hope more people are able to experience, even if just once, in their life. Vipassana is simply a silent meditation where you train your mind to scan the physical body for subtle sensations and allow yourself to observe whatever comes up, mentally, emotionally or physically without judgment or falling out of balance. If more people could learn to do this, I think they’d learn to love their experience of life more, instead of reacting to it by having an aversion or craving for things. My hope is that more people can find peace and balance, and really the only way to do that is by going within.
In a way, creating beauty in the line of work I’m in, ties back into this, because it’s only from within that we can find true beauty — and just like Roald Dahl said “If you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.”
Seeking for and creating that inner peace first is the key to those sunbeams shining out.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I don’t have any one life lesson quote, because life it seems likes to layer lessons upon lessons, kind of like a compound effect. The things I’m learning in life right now have everything to do with leveling up, and that means I’m applying the formative lessons I’ve learned the hard way, through mastering my methods.
So, I guess the only thing specific I can share is that in life it’s been most important for me to protect what aligns with my heart the most, (myself, my child, my business, my family, my true friends) by drawing firm boundaries around them, so that I can weed out what doesn’t serve me from what does, and keep clarity at the forefront when making choices involving them. If I blur the lines and allow just any old thing into my world, I lose my potency to create. I’ve had to learn the hard way to protect what I love, so I can continue to keep my focus and energy high whenever I wave my magic wand.
We are very blessed that 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 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.
As a person who loves artistry that brings together both form and function, I’d have to name Beyoncé as someone I’d love to sit down and have a private brunch with. The way she brings together sound, storytelling, feelings, visuals, everything, always inspires me to keep reaching for my visions and to not give up until I achieve them.
I’ve heard so many times that people often consider her to be a very hard worker and while I think that’s absolutely true, I also believe she’s a smart worker, a person who knows how to get things done without necessarily running herself into the ground. I really look up to her for, as a mother, a performer, an artist and a visionary. Her input in the world shows by example that you can do anything you put your mind to, you just have to choose.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.