Winky Lux Founder Natalie Mackey on Understanding Your Strengths and ‘Outsourcing’ Your Flaws

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

Winky Lux founder Natalie Mackey
Image courtesy of Winky Lux

On this episode of the Behind Her Empire podcast, Winky Lux founder Natalie Mackey talks about rewriting the rules for women entrepreneurs, and how she created a successful, new beauty brand in a competitive market.

Mackey spent five years working as a “lackey analyst” in the finance world. But when she realized the difficulties women in the industry faced, she decided it was time to leave that behind.

“Even if I’m killing it at my job, this is not a place where I see a true path,” Mackey said of her thought process at the time. “I realized that I was going to need to carve my own path, and I was lucky enough to have analyzed a lot of consumer product companies, and I knew just enough to be dangerous.”

After a brief stint as a consultant, Mackey set out with a small team to create a tech-focused marketplace that would advise consumers on what products to purchase based on a quiz. It only took one focus group to completely change the direction of the brand—from a marketplace to a product-driven company.

“We did this focus group and we interviewed about 200 women,” she said. “Our idea with the focus group was to hone in on what the best UX and UI would be, but what we found out was that people didn’t really care about the marketplace.”

The women in the group were more interested in the bright, colorful branding and the idea that skin care products could be combined with makeup. Thus, Winky Lux as it exists today was born.

Mackey said everyone advised her against building a new beauty brand in a saturated, competitive market, but she did it anyway. She attributes much of her early success to “blind confidence.”

“The whole idea was really powerful — the idea that a brand would be centered all around joy,” she said. “It would be extremely maximalist, and at the time, nothing really existed in the market like that. None of the new brands coming out had that kind of commitment to the aesthetic of the product—especially not in our price point.”

Mackey said garnering interest from venture firms was difficult in the beginning, because at the time, “beauty just wasn’t that exciting for VCs.” She knew the process to raise capital would be slow. In her experience, there is no right or wrong way to raise capital or grow a business. She said it all depends on your goals and how you want to grow as an entrepreneur.

“In essence, you are going around and kind of showing people your baby and they’re telling you, ‘Your baby is ugly’. And one out of 50 people is like, ‘I kind of like that baby, I want to buy that baby’,” she joked.

Mackey’s advice when it comes to building a product-based business: never just stick with one supplier.

“That, I think, is a mistake I’ve seen people make before,” she said. “They go to one supplier and not every supplier is great at everything. I always recommend no matter what you are making to try and at least visit 10 factories. And you do want some diversity there, too, because as we saw during COVID, if you only had one supplier and that supplier was backed up…”

In Winky Lux’s early days, Mackey said they once had to email angry customers and explain that the reason their orders hadn’t arrived was because the FedEx truck caught fire.

“...Which they probably thought was a lie,” she laughed. “But we made sure the customers were well taken care of.”

Mackey said one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned as a woman in the beauty business is understanding her strengths, outsourcing her weaknesses and not putting so much pressure on herself to be “perfect.”

“I need to let go of this idea that every little thing needs to be perfect,” she said. “Sociologically, we don’t always give female founders as much grace as we should. They’re kind of expected to be gorgeous…and be amazing wives and mothers, and run big companies — I think you can probably do like three things well at a time.”

Social and Engagement Editor Andria Moore contributed to this post.

Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radioor wherever you get your podcasts.

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