Julie Fredrickson is the Co-founder and CEO at Stowaway Cosmetics, an e-commerce and digital marketing expert, having worked with clients like Ann Taylor, Gap, Equinox, Nike, and Coach.
Julie is a well-known entrepreneur with a passion for bringing about change through dedication and hard work, and has founded companies specializing in everything from helping marketers build branded games to fitness for people on the go. Her first company, Coutorture Media, was a pioneer in the fashion blogging and affiliate marketing space, and was acquired by Sugar Inc.
Before Stowaway, Julie constantly hoarded sample-sized cosmetics, which were the perfect size to fit in her gym bag or carry-on for last-minute getaways. The samples were usually difficult to find, impossible to purchase regularly, and rarely the items she wanted, leading Julie to the realization that market for smaller make-up that fits into modern women's lives wasn’t being met by existing brands.
In this interview, Julie shares her mission when pioneering her new startup business—a cosmetic product line. She likes to ask the dumbest question and is not afraid to make mistakes. She is determined to make Stowaway Cosmetics a part of women's arsenal, who are always on-the-go, in facing the challenging workforce with confidence.
Her biggest piece of advice to entrepreneurs: "Google, start, make mistakes and move on. Nothing simplifies a process like good old fashioned hard work."
Get to know more about Julie's daily insights and product updates by following her on Twitter!
Can you tell me a little bit about Stowaway Cosmetics? When did you first get bit by the entrepreneurial bug?
I grew up in a family that was very entrepreneurial. My father likes to joke that he didn’t have a job when I was born as he was pitching his latest venture. Which means when I graduated from university, I got myself odd jobs to pay the bills and began my first company basically right off the bat (and got lucky enough to sell it to Sugar Inc who publishes PopSugar and owns Shopstyle 18 months later). Since then, I’ve had a lot of mixed agency, brand (I spent a few years in house at Ann Taylor which I loved) and startup experience. Stowaway is actually my third startup!
Stowaway Cosmetics is right-sized cosmetics. It is designed to be finished so that women can carry prestige caliber makeup they love that is designed to be carried wherever their day takes them. It is half the size of your typical cosmetic (and retails for the half the price as well), so it fits into pockets, clutches, purses, diaperbags, gym bags and of course your suitcase!
What does Stowaway Cosmetics do that makes it better than the rest? In other words how did you find your competitive edge?
We are the only cosmetics brand designed around a modern woman's lifestyle. Behemoth makeup conglomerates have built their products, packaging and formulations for an age that has past when we did our makeup at home in our boudoirs.
Our focus is squarely on the woman who works and is balancing family, professional aspirations and her own personal life. Makeup used to be done at home and is designed for a time that no longer exists when women weren’t out of their home and on the move (we are now half the workforce and half of all business travelers). Our formulations are simple, safe and easy to apply wherever your day takes you so you can feel beautiful anywhere.
What does a typical day look like for you? Is there something you make a point to do each day?
I’m sure every entrepreneur says this but no day looks typical. I wish I had more consistent routines to be honest. But I’m generally up early and get in a few hours of work before I walk about a half mile to my office in downtown Manhattan.
From there, it’s a matter of keeping the team organized, pushing forward our latest and greatest and generally keeping all of the balls in the air. I try to go home at a sane hour, spend some time with my fiancé and then of course, get in a bit more work before I head to bed. If I’m lucky, everything on my burndown list gets done and I don’t cry.
And I mean that in a positive way as seriously I’m such a crier. I tear up at every big accomplishment or milestone we hit. I’m s0 proud of my team and what we get done in a given day and I like to own that part of me. Work hard and let the emotions flow.
Did you run into any roadblocks when writing a business plan for Stowaway Cosmetics? Are there any tools or resources you used to simplify the process?
I have a fair amount of experience in the basics of building a business plan and the financials. Thanks to not only my university (UChicago is not too shabby when it comes to economics which help a lot when understanding the macro trends that will impact your business) but I’ve run a P&L before, so it’s not a huge mystery how things get spent and how budgets can get out of whack.
There are so many resources out there to help you learn so my best advice is Google, start, make mistakes and move on. Nothing simplifies a process like good old fashioned hard work.
What is the biggest business mistake that taught you a powerful lesson? Would you mind sharing how it changed your business?
I always say never be afraid to be embarrassed. When I got started, I had no idea how ANYTHING worked from a product perspective. So I just asked questions and did dumb things (and got hilarious “is she crazy” looks from our manufacturing team). I never let it phase me because I probably was crazy.
I was never going to get any better if I didn’t ask the dumb questions. So for me, I’d say getting more and more comfortable with saying, "I don’t know" and teaching my team to let go of their egos and get comfortable making mistakes. Unlearning a lot of bad habits we get from school, and trying for perfect and never make mistakes is really hard. If you can’t make a mistake in front of your boss, you need a new boss.
For keeping your business finances under control, do you have an accountant, accounting software, or both?
We work with Indinero as I don’t have the experience to really do it on my own as we have a lot of complexity around inventory and the like.
When times get tough, what would you say motivates you to keep going? To not hit the snooze button and to keep fighting for your goals.
Sometimes, I wonder! Honestly, I’m really motivated by negative and extrinsic factors. If someone tells me I can’t do something or it can’t be done my response is always “well then I will show you”, which might not be healthy but it’s definitely motivation. But ultimately, I’m very motivated by the mission of Stowaway which is to make women’s lives easier.
Everything we do goes through that lens. Because women are still working at a deficit to men in society and the libertarian capitalist in me says “that’s just wrong” because we need to fully leverage our entire workforce and economy in order to grow. And makeup is the first tool in virtually every woman’s arsenal to feel prepared for the day.
The average woman carries between 4-6 items with her at any given time. Cosmetics are such a constant in women’s lives and men are barely even aware of it (and if you tell me well my wife, girlfriend, women I know don’t wear makeup. I say, “sure buddy?” because chances are we are just good at applying it so it looks like we aren’t wearing it).
Because women do face double standards and a lot of cognitive biases that we aren’t even aware of when we walk into the workforce. And if I can ease just a little bit of that burden by making a woman feel more confident and more like herself when facing the day, then I will have done my job.
Did you have a hard time starting your business? How did you handle time and resources constraints?
I have a friend Pranary who is the CEO of a company called SourceEasy (great if you need to get swag, something manufactured, or just generally need something done in the soft goods space but need it automated and seamless) and he loooooooves this quote from some football movie about how time is a constant but the great ones always find a way to find more time.
And I’d say good entrepreneurs find a way to make that true. I always find ways to fit in a little more work, get a little bit more insight, push a little bit hard. Life is hard. And then you die. So you may as well live your life on your own terms.
So it is always hard but that will never ever stop me. The most extensible resource any company has is the willpower to win. And no amount of money can buy it. Though, I’d love more money so please feel free to to write me a check ;-)
I strongly believe in reading. Do you have a book that you highly recommended Startup Savant readers and I grab a copy of?
I LOVE the Five Dysfunctions of a Team. I normally can’t stand business books but this one is written in such an easy parable. I found the lessons it teaches about trust in particular to be quite valuable.
What are the top 3 pieces of advice that you would give someone starting a business in New York? What do they need to know from the beginning?
- You will make mistakes (don’t worry about it).
- Just start the thing (there’s always an excuse, start small with a minimum viable product and keep going).
- And don’t worry about anything but your customers.