As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle Cohen-Shohet.
Danielle Cohen-Shohet is the CEO and Co-Founder of GlossGenius, a leading business management and payment solution provider for small businesses in the beauty and wellness industry.
Over the last few years, Danielle and her team have emerged as one of the industry’s cult-favorite software brands, getting named the “Best Industry Software” by popular trade publications as GlossGenius empowers small business owners to be more successful. Danielle is a self-taught mobile and web engineer, hobbyist makeup artist, former Goldman Sachs analyst, and graduate of Princeton University, summa cum laude.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I grew up mesmerized with beauty products. As a 5 year old, I’d sneak into my mom’s makeup drawer and color my sisters’ faces with makeup. Later I did freelance makeup artistry while at college at Princeton and saw how limited the tools were for running a business. They were expensive, complex, clunky and not purpose-built for the industry. I graduated from college and went to work as a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs but kept thinking that I wanted to apply the programming skills I had in an industry I loved (beauty). So I left Goldman and started working with my friend (who is now my co-founder), on what would later become GlossGenius. When we started, there were several interesting trends in the beauty industry, such as the shift towards salon suite and booth renter ownership, that gave us a chance to focus and nail a niche. We both knew how to code so that helped us develop a beta quickly. When we started receiving inbound emails from beta users asking if their colleagues could use the product too, we decided to double down and go for it. We’ve evolved the platform quite a bit since then and we now help tens of thousands of businesses and professionals run better businesses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
We had just launched our product out of beta and my co-founder and I were wearing all the hats: engineering, design, branding, customer service, marketing, etc. The customer service phone line had been set up and the first incoming customer call came in. I took it. I remember awkwardly answering the phone; I answered it so quickly that I hadn’t even thought of what I would say and I was scrambling to open applications on my computer to help this customer. I stuttered as I announced myself and the company. I’m certain that the customer on the other end didn’t think I was trained well. The call was just a few minutes but I learned two important lessons: 1) always be prepared, and never underestimate the value of practice and 2) every single customer impression matters; what you do is who you are to customers.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
One of the best business books I’ve read is “Business Adventures” by John Brooks. The book details twelve stories from the business world, mostly occurring in the 1950’s — 1960’s. While one may think that these are dated stories, they’re actually not because history is cyclical. The book made me draw parallels to my own experience, and clearly shows why character and morality in business matter above anything else.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our purpose has always been to “make others successful”. It governs everything we do. We started the company to improve the livelihoods of business owners in our industry because we believe in them. Every decision we make is a consideration of how much more successful our customers would be because of it.
From the beginning, we’ve been deliberate about involving key stakeholders with our purpose, whether that was investors, team members, partners or customers. On the customer front, we are always listening to their feedback and feature requests, and our Customer Support team even invites customers to consider their requests in the framework of “how will this feature make you more successful”? Involving key stakeholders has helped both our team and customers have confidence in the decisions we make.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
Putting customers first is the only way to create long term value in this world as a business. If your organization can truly put customers first, managing the ups and downs becomes a lot easier.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The biggest personal challenges have been trying to maintain balance and separate work pressures from personal life. The beginning of covid-19 was a difficult, all hands on deck time for the company as we navigated the effects of our customers being forced shut. We reprioritized features on the product roadmap, accelerated their development, branched out into financial solutions for customers and doubled down on customer support. With many late nights, it was difficult to maintain balance in the beginning. As covid-19 went on, what helped me address those challenges was being deliberate about regular meditation, increased exercise, and hard stops in the evenings. Organizing more virtual activities with friends helped, and always left me feeling more positive to tackle the large demands in my life. This crisis has given me an eye-opening perspective on the importance of prioritizing my physical and mental health. It’s not obvious when you’re in the thick of it, but prioritizing my physical and mental health is one of the highest ROI actions I can take for the company, and for myself.
Fortunately, my family has been in good health over this crisis. While I’m grateful for that, it has been hard to be far away from them. We started doing more family FaceTime calls and Zoom chats, and the beautiful thing is that now we’re sharing a lot more about our everyday lives than we were before the crisis. In a way, I feel more connected to them.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Our company serves tens of thousands of small businesses and sole proprietors across the beauty and wellness space in every US state. When covid-19 began, the shutdowns deeply affected our customers. As a result, we were navigating big changes to our operations and roadmap to better accommodate customers, in addition to internal changes such as a shift to fully remote work.
One of the biggest work challenges during the crisis was making decisions with many more variables than usual. When you’re running a startup, there are always hard decisions to make but during the crisis, none of the constants in a normal decision making framework were present. Many new variables made decision making harder: how long will this last? How bad will it get? Will there be a surge in new infections? When will states reopen? How will they reopen? How will consumers feel? We navigated these decisions by 1) doubling down on our commitment to customers and 2) approaching decisions with the framework of “how will these decisions make our customers come out of covid-19 stronger”.
Ensuring that team unity and productivity remained high was also another challenge. It was an anxious time for everyone and it was important to make sure we felt unified as a company to weather the storm. We embraced transparency, communicating our plans and knowledge of how covid-19 would affect us early on. We did this through company-wide emails sent out at various checkpoints, company-wide video conferences and Ask Me Anything sessions. Because team members could anonymously submit questions, the Ask Me Anything sessions were a great way to ensure honest communication and address fears that team members were too timid to address openly. In addition, our Director of Talent scheduled frequent check-ins with team members for a pulse check. To ensure the team was productive as we shifted to remote, we leveraged the best practices of our existing remote team (about half of the company was remote prior to covid-19) and implemented daily Slack standups, video-on conferencing, and tighter project management regarding weekly priorities with team leads.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Schedule 20 minutes daily to do something you enjoy. Whether that’s cooking, reading, drawing or catching up with friends, set aside time for yourself every day to do something you love. Since working from home has blurred boundaries between our personal lives and work, you should be deliberate about compartmentalizing time spent doing something you love (no distractions during these 20 mins).
- Focus on positive news. With a lot of frightening news about the pandemic being circulated, my family made it a point to focus on sharing mostly positive news articles and updates instead.
- Write about how you feel. Many of us are holding anxious feelings inside of us with little outlet for expression. When you’re not able to voice them, writing about your feelings is a great way to get them out and reflect.
- Create a standing meeting with a “covid-19 friend support group”. Midway through the crisis, I created a standing virtual meeting with a small group of friends. It was an open forum to express frustration and anxiety that would occur with the same people at the same time every week. Consistency gave me something to look forward to, and it was comforting to know that we are not alone in our concerns about the crisis.
- Learn something new. As things got less busy during the crisis, I started taking online courses on Epidemiology and Astronomy via Coursera. These were subjects that I had been curious about, and learning new things always gets me excited.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
For the most part, covid-19 has reset many businesses. As a business leader, it’s a rare chance to have a time during which you’re compelled to rethink the big picture and put better foundations in place. We will see better foundations across all businesses, and that’s an opportunity for companies, their employees and their customers as they become stakeholders in fundamentally better businesses. Another opportunity coming out of covid-19 will be to maintain an agile mindset that so many companies adopted during the crisis. Many companies (mine included) overhauled product roadmaps and accomplished deployments in days when we had estimated they’d take weeks. If companies can maintain the agility they had to employ during covid-19, they’ll be able to do anything.
And finally, I think one of the biggest opportunities coming out of covid-19 will be to “focus on focus”. The crisis has forced us to focus on initiatives that will really move the needle. Companies have now cut unnecessary distractions out of their future plans and if they maintain that focus, it will be a big opportunity for them.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
While much about the pandemic remains unknown, it may change the way we act and live. It may be the case that how we take risks will change. Taking risks is easier when you have more information available. Covid-19 has created a lot of unusual fear in humans and made us realize there’s a lot we don’t know, and that may change how we calculate risks. Covid-19 may also impede how quickly we can establish trust with others and places around us. When you can’t see, touch, smell or hear the virus, it’s hard for consumers to trust that a place outside their home is safe. We may question others’ sanitization procedures, and be hesitant to trust businesses and people around us.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
As states reopen, we’re actually seeing how our company GlossGenius is helping to rebuild a safer, healthier world and slowing transmission of the virus. Our platform offers scheduling and for many beauty and wellness business owners, scheduling is an effective form of contact tracing. With a system of record that shows which clients came in on what days, a business owner can effectively stop a chain of transmission of the virus by notifying clients seen on a particular day if another client that day reported getting sick. We’re also helping to rebuild safer salon spaces as we help business owners reduce touch interactions through contactless payments. It’s been remarkable to see business owners that were scared of technology before the crisis now be scared to live without it.
Internally at the business, we’re rethinking plans and certain initiatives. We have always been laser focused but it’s a good opportunity to reinstate our commitment to remaining so. We’re reprioritizing many items on the product roadmap since external events have shifted demand for certain features. We’ve seen that many customers are eager for more thought leadership and direction, so we intend to continue to develop high quality thought leadership to help our customers succeed in this post-Covid world.
Personally, covid-19 brought about much personal development, compelling me to rethink my own attitudes towards health and balance. We’ve already started to bring more of that into the business too with more dialogue about the importance of taking care of yourself and team podcast listening events focused on resilience and personal wellness.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
What our company could contribute via our technology to rebuild in the post Covid economy happened to be a perfect match (contact tracing/contactless payments). I’d encourage other business leaders to reach deep into their product offering and evaluate if their core product could in some way help rebuild a safer, better world. If so, embrace it. Communicate with customers about it.
The post Covid economy will be an important time to continue to maintain focus, agility and strong relationships. Remember that building the foundation for navigating the post Covid economy starts with yourself, so focus on that first.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“What you aim at determines what you see.” From a young age, my dad would always talk about the importance of setting high standards and reaching for big goals. Throughout my life I’ve seen that reaching for big goals has always pushed me farther and made me a better person.
How can our readers further follow your work?
Instagram: @glossgenius Twitter: @glossgenius