As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Vera Oh, CEO/Co-founder VOESH New York.
Prior to starting VOESH, Vera Oh and Co-founder Joseph Chu both came from the world of consumer electronics before they started their journey in the beauty industry. They came up with the name VOESH by combining both their names to be fresh and original. The basic principle behind this brand, that is in countless nail salons and spa’s throughout the US and 30 countries all over the world, is to create a hygienic , easy, luxurious spa experience for all. Their mission is to empower their community by giving them access to clean, effective skincare-selfcare they will look forward to enjoying every day in and out of the spa!
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
As a child I had a strong imagination and loved to draw and play make-believe; so it was natural that I would pursue a career as a creative. Reflecting back further on my childhood, I was sensitive to the environment and digestibles, specifically unclean ingredients and pollution.
Early in my career, I worked for a machinery and electronics company doing design, design strategy and product marketing. I had success, including increasing revenue for one company from $0 to $80MM, by creating hand drawings during a business trip flight.
Combining my interest to innovate and create products with my passion for clean beauty I decided to leave my career in machinery and electronics. After speaking with Joseph Choi, my partner, about what to do next; we started VOESH.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Starting a new business, especially one where you are disrupting the marketplace means falling on tough times. After spending about a year working on product development, patents and product inventory, we discovered our financials were running short on funds. Despite high interest in our revolutionary products (single-use, hygienic manicare and pedicare solutions) we only had a few customers. Seasonality high for our products is typically in the summer months, and; then autumn was upon us. On a crisp, fall morning, Joseph declared, “Give me one week. I need to go somewhere where snow never falls.”
With a trunk full of samples Joseph headed to Florida, full of determination. He stopped at every beauty supply store along the way to meet potential customers and make connections. Fortunately, he met many respectful business owners and salon technicians who were excited about our products and believed in our mission. This is how we started distributing our products to all the major states, not just to local business owners. The saying“When one door closes, another door opens” it is absolutely true.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Before we officially launched our products, we acquired a tiny booth at our very first trade show in Chicago. We were faced with tough questions and tougher critics. We did not know what to expect and we were unprepared for basic technical questions. One customer asked me, “Which preservatives do you use?” I had no idea and I could only answer with, “I do not know.” That moment really struck me, I realized that I needed to focus on self-education. From that day forward, I ate, drank, slept and dreamt with a pile of chemical research. In addition, I had daily meetings with our labs. The “I don’t know” thirsted my ambition for knowledge. My goal was to leave no question unanswered.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
We are grateful to all of our customers, who are our best critics. They helped in many ways to improve our products and services. I started my daily routine by carefully reading our customers’ feedback about our products and our services.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
As a Korean-born American, I believe one of the strengths we have here in the United States is diversity in race, gender, and religion. Having a diverse executive team is important to build a solid company foundation with different perspectives. It allows for open communication and a greater ability to relate to employees, customers, and our partners, which is critical to grow our business in the long run. It’s obvious and simple: diversity a cornerstone for success.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
As a business leader, it is important to adopt inclusivity and diversity into the hiring process. Clear definitions and guidelines are necessary for the whole team to be on the same page at all times.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
Overall, setting the leadership foundation for collaboration, hiring quality people, establishing a healthy work environment, open communication for feedback, and improving workflow and processes. This truly falls into the executives’ plates and is our responsibility for the overall success of the business.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
We have lives outside of work. Our brains may work longer, but we’re regular people, too.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I never thought I needed to learn so many things on a deeper level to make informed decisions. Every task requires some kind of self-learning. Just knowing the surface-level information may mislead or misguide teams. I need to share what I know and learn with the team to hear their thoughts to learn more. Learning never ends.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
From my experience, many successful executives are insightful. Business environments, customers’ behavior and business tools are evolving on a daily basis. Without continuous learning, it will be hard to lead the company in the right way. The successful executives learn not just skills, but they understand the deeper level of the information. It gives them the confidence to make proper decisions with flexibility.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
My partner and I spent the whole week thinking about the company culture we really wanted to create. After several long conversations, we realized we wanted to create a culture that embraces, accepts and encourages. It’s most important to know what you want to create in your company culture as a business leader.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Several years ago, I was invited by one of the board members to be a part of a foundation called Binchae. I had the opportunity to contribute my time and money to help feed hungry children in developing countries. They recently reached 54 million meals that they have provided to children in Nepal, India, and Africa. VOESH New York constantly donates 2% of our e-commerce sales to the foundation. In the last year, we started supporting Charity: Water, an organization that helps bring clean drinking water to impoverished areas by building biosand filters to eliminate harmful bacteria.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
You will pay the tuition fee. Your mistakes are the tuition fee you will pay. It’s better to experiment earlier rather than later.
Competitors are not your enemies. Good competition is actually a blessing for your business.
Finding good people is hard. You should invest your time and effort.
It’s okay to make mistakes. But never leave them unfixed. Also, try to learn from every experience and don’t make the same mistakes twice.
Never assume people understand how your brand can change their lives. Tell them. This is something I learned from the book “Building a StoryBrand” by Donald Miller. Sometimes, we are busy making new products and assume people understand, but it doesn’t work that way.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
If I could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, it would be “Believe in yourself.” Love yourself and accept yourself as you are. Just be authentic.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“When one door closes, another door opens;
But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” — Alexander Graham Bell
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
Tim Cook! Steve Jobs is one of the most famous CEOs. After Steve Jobs, many people thought Apple’s innovation would be gone. However, Tim Cook showed his leadership by trusting people around him and he truly understands the core of Apple (not just about the products, but more about the customers and his team). He has shown his leadership very differently from Steve Jobs in such an amazing way!