How This Entrepreneur Harnessed Her Shyness to Start a Successful Business
You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series called Second Life. Each month, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
"I've learned it's better to take the leap than to constantly ruminate on taking the leap," says Karen Young, the fearless founder and CEO of innovative women's shaving startup Oui Shave. Of course, when the time came to swap her steady paycheck as a beauty and fashion executive for the Wild West of entrepreneurship, she was hesitant (as we all would be with a big career change), but she felt the fear and did it anyway—and it paid off.
Now the Brooklyn-based trailblazer is turning the simple act of shaving into an art and considers it an essential form of self-care. After years of putting up with the many drawbacks of shaving with plastic razors (not to mention the chemicals in the products that go with them), she suddenly had her lightbulb moment while getting a pedicure with a friend. It was seeing her razor-burned legs riddled with ingrown hairs out on display that got her thinking. Why aren't women's shaving products held to a higher standard? she asked herself.
After much research and development, Oui Shave was born, featuring a stunning range of 14K gold and chrome razors you'd be proud to have on display with minimal blades that give a close shave, alongside natural products sans synthetic ingredients. We took five with Young to chat through her recent career change, what her biggest challenges have been, and how she handles the many pivots of startup life.
We're naturally inclined to want safety, so I was definitely gripped with fear at times.
MYDOMAINE: Tell us about your first career path.
KAREN YOUNG: My first career path out of college was as an account executive for luxury Italian fashion brands. I was responsible for growing the brands and wholesale to major retailers and boutiques. It was the career I would never have expected for myself, but I chose it because I was fascinated by the art of sales. Normally a bit shy, I wanted to see if I could challenge myself to the most extroverted career I could think of. I moved from fashion into prestige beauty as I became more curious about design and manufacturing.
MD: How did you make the transition from working for a global beauty brand corporation to starting the women's shaving brand?
KY: Working for a prestige beauty brand, I saw the standards that are placed on the efficacy of high-end beauty products. If it didn't work, if it didn't meet the standards of the brand, it wouldn't be on shelves. Yet major shave brands have produced the same products for decades, causing irritation for me and nearly every woman I've known.
We've succumbed to the idea that shaving is supposed to be uncomfortable, and I knew this needed to change. At the same time, there was a movement happening in the world of independent beauty around transparency and thoughtful ingredients. Like most women, I had never put much thought into the skincare products I was using before, during, and after shaving, but when I started to take a closer look, I was appalled by the amount of chemicals and synthetics I found.
I knew I could design not only better grooming tools for women but also a line of natural shave products that would work to hydrate, repair, nourish, and soothe the skin with each shave.
MD: Tell us about your current career path/business?
KY: Oui Shave launched at the end of 2014 as a solution to chemical shaving products and multiblade razors that result in irritation. We formulate and create products for women that moisturize, soothe, and care for your skin during and after shaving, with an emphasis on all-natural ingredients that are free of phthalates, synthetic fragrances, and skin irritants. We also like to think of ourselves as an educator as we work to teach women the art of shaving with a single blade safety razor, as opposed to multiblade cartridge razors.
MD: What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers and why?
KY: To use startup terminology, the biggest challenges have been the "pivots." Pivots are the times when we decide if something is worth pursuing further or whether we should move on. It's always incredibly challenging to know what's right and why. For me, deciding to walk away from a steady paycheck and take a bet on myself has certainly been rewarding, but it's also been one of the most challenging pivots I've faced.
MD: What triggered your need to change this time around?
KY: I wasn't in a position that offered growth at my last company, and building Oui Shave delivered mental stimulation, greater challenges, and more opportunity than anything I had in front of me.
MD: Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
KY: I'm a design thinker and a problem solver. Building a women's shave brand has helped me to exercise these traits daily. I thrive on thinking backward from the problem to the solution and every facet of the experience from how a shave oil feels to the weight of the razor. It hits all of my design meets psychology buttons.
MD: How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
KY: We're naturally inclined to want safety, so I was definitely gripped with fear at times. To combat that, I started taking action. I created products, gave it to friends to try, built a website, and let the idea fly so that I could test it. I was launching something that hadn't quite been done this way before, so I wanted to give myself time and room to make changes before I worked on it full-time. Leaving my full-time job was still hard but necessary by the time I did.
MD: What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
KY: I think the biggest mistake I made, in the beginning, was underestimating the educational aspect of the brand. Women have been shaving with dull, multiblade razors for so long that safety razors and high-quality shave oils have actually had an impact on the way women shave, from the angles to the pressure. Being closely in touch with our customers and learning what their biggest challenges and questions are has helped us to re-educate them on shaving as a self-care ritual, not just a chore.
MD: What's the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
KY: I've learned it's better to take the leap than to constantly ruminate on taking the leap.
MD: What do you love most about your current role and why?
KY: As CEO, I get to hover over the brand as it develops, but as a small company, I also get to touch every aspect of it, from working with our chemist to talking to customers. It's a precious stage to be in, and I'm enjoying it while I’m here.
MD: When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
KY: I have no regrets. Building a company is one of the hardest endeavors I've ever undertaken, but it's just the type of challenge that helps me to thrive.
Turn Shaving Into an Act of Self-Care:
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