We’re launching a new Instagram Live series called THE BIZ in partnership with Start Small Think Big where we interview DOPE entrepreneurs from all across America. Check out our first episode where we speak with Priyanka Ganjoo…the founder of Kulfi Beauty who quit her job, flew to India, flew back to NY, and launched a makeup brand for South Asian women with Sephora.
Priyanka Ganjoo is the founder of Kulfi Beauty.
Kulfi was founded by Priyanka after she worked for years in the beauty industry – but no matter how hard she looked, she didn’t see herself or anyone with her skin tone represented. She kept waiting for a brand that celebrated South Asians, but it didn’t happen. So she left the world of corporate beauty and started her own business. We spoke to Priyanka about her journey starting Kulfi Beauty, quitting her job and the beauty of…well, beauty!
What is Kulfi Beauty?
Kulfi brings celebration into beauty with fun and approachable products for south Asian skin tones and undertones. We also have a digital platform where we’re sharing stories of self-expression for south Asians.
Can you tell us what it was like to start Kulfi Beauty?
I’ve been working in the beauty industry for 6 years at Estee lauder and Ipsy. I saw the beauty indie movement and I saw them grow big and scale. What I was always missing was a brand that celebrated south Asians, we were never celebrated or the center of the conversations. At most we were the fifth model in the shade.
I thought that there are a billion of us and no one is really centering us. That felt wrong. I was mixing my own concealer shades and its hard to find products for myself and I’m working in this industry and I’m still not able to create this shade. That led me to think if no one else is going to do this I’m going to do it myself.
What I was always missing was a brand that celebrated south Asians, we were never celebrated or the center of the conversations. At most we were the fifth model in the shade.
You worked in Estee Lauder beforehand. How did you go from there to making your own beauty products?
I actually have a very traditional business strategy background, I used to do strategy consulting but I was working closely with brands thinking on the business side how to make a store more productive. I was not as close to the product and it’s what I was missing. I then made the jump to Ipsy. I was one of the first merchandising hires and it was the most amazing role to be in within the beauty business because you’re at the heart of what the consumer wants. We tested hundreds of products and brands that would be sent to us and we would share the best with our users and subscribers.
How many brands do you think you worked with at Ipsy?
Probably 4-500. Korean beauty was very new and you could actually see consumer sentiment shift and see that evolution of consumer demand. I love the fact that we were able to get instant feedback from our consumers. Being very close to the product and the consumer meant we could keep making them better.
Obviously, you saw a validation model with Korean Beauty, what made you think the same for South Asian women and that it would be well accepted?
I think it’s a mix of having this feeling in your gut and taking a leap in faith and validating it with data. I took a leap of faith and left my job but the next day I was in a Facebook group of South Asian women. I talked to 100 or 200 people, literally off the internet and it was amazing meeting everyone in coffee shops in NY before the pandemic and learning what their attitudes were towards beauty. Being able to understand their challenges, what they were missing, was so helpful. I was getting that data from them, I also did focus groups, I did surveys, I even flew to India for a month.
Can we talk about what it was like to leave your job? What made you decide to leave?
I wasn’t unhappy, I had a great job. It was all going well but it wasn’t making me as satisfied as it used to. With every job, you need to feel like you’re challenged or learning and at some point, I wasn’t getting that from the job. Mostly, I had been thinking about this problem for 2 ½ years and no one was doing it. It was a combination of timing and I had some money saved up…I knew this was a very financially intensive decision and to have the runway for a couple of years. I wasn’t nervous but I was definitely unsure. I was like I’ll give myself one year, and here we are two years later right?
I feel like had I believed in myself earlier I would have had more traction. Perhaps being a person of color I had a lot of doubt and I had a lot of people telling me not to do it…
I didn’t even switch my LinkedIn until one year or more later and I only did it because one of my interns wanted to switch it. Huge imposter syndrome. Calling myself founder and CEO just feels so alien to it.
Beauty standards in America have historically passed over women of color.
Colorism is a really big conversation in South Asian Culture, but then, the patriarchy determines so much of what beauty means. If I would wear makeup, a male friend would be like you look much better without makeup or, you are trying to attract my attention. You get these comments which make you feel like beauty isn’t for you to enjoy, it’s defined by what other people expect of you and I think that was really the relationship with beauty that I had growing up in India.
You get these comments which make you feel like beauty isn’t for you to enjoy, it’s defined by what other people expect of you
I’ve been speaking with more and more people who grow up in America and had a very similar experience of what I had where growing up where they didn’t see people in the media that looked like themselves. I think it really is this global feeling that we don’t belong and that you need to fit this traditional beauty standard to be beautiful. For a long time I didn’t find myself in beauty, and that’s how I wound up working in it.
How long did it take you to actually develop Kulfi’s first product – the Kajal Liner?
It took me about a year and over 10 rounds of iterations. I started a conversation with a lab in September 2019 and we approved it in October 2020.
What is your ultimate dream goal for Kulfi Beauty in 2021?
My goal is that we create a viable business that is financially healthy. It needs to be a sustainable business but more importantly, if we can have a future generation think about beauty differently and feel like they are beautiful and included in the beauty conversation, it will be what I wish I had I was young.