Toni Ko on Exiting to L’Oréal for $500 Million and Starting up More than- Foundr

Toni Ko on Exiting to L’Oréal for $500 Million and Starting up More than- Foundr


Foundr Magazine publishes in-depth interviews with the world’s biggest entrepreneurs. Our articles spotlight key takeaways from each individual month’s cover feature. We talked with Toni Ko about exiting her business and bouncing back right after failure. Go through excerpts from that in-depth dialogue underneath. To browse extra, subscribe to the journal.


Toni Ko is a 3rd-era entrepreneur who knocked it out of the park on her very first attempt. In its first year, natural beauty manufacturer NYX introduced in $4 million in retail value. Ko credits this instant results to the appropriate mix of great product or service, packaging, and rate.

But Ko is no 1-strike ponder. Right after providing NYX to L’Oréal for $500 million, Ko took some time to herself for the 1st time in decades. She promptly fell into a deep depression. Craving a new reason, she started off a sunglasses business enterprise. It unsuccessful immediately after 3.5 years—and Ko claims it is 1 of the finest factors that ever occurred to her.

The lessons Ko took absent from that “failure” empowered her to launch her 3rd and present-day undertaking: Bespoke Attractiveness Makes, which partners with influencer business owners on anything from strategy generation to merchandise advancement, marketing and advertising, and success distribution.

We sat down with Ko to master more about her entrepreneurial journey, together with the keys to her achievement, what she is not excellent at (and how she addresses that gap), and what she’s leveraging to grow her subsequent major company.

The Exit

For the initial two many years of NYX, Ko saved factors simple and trapped with her most important merchandise. In Calendar year Two, she included a second product or service group. In Calendar year 3, a third item class. The frequent rollout of new solutions stored the base line expanding by double digits yearly.

“All entrepreneurs are in a regular tension cooker. Which is assured.”

Out of necessity, that “three” particular person personnel staff also grew. But Ko remained at any time knowledgeable of what she calls the infant mortality years—those first 3 yrs when the majority of businesses go under. She held fast to the awareness that businesses that make it past all those 3 years often come across stability and then main advancement.

“At a few many years, NYX started out developing actually speedy,” she suggests. She saw one more big growth spurt at five a long time. And then a further jump at 7 several years. Each individual pair of years, a skyrocket transpired in revenue development. The staff depend went to a dozen, 50, 100, 150, and kept escalating.

With development arrived force. “When you have 2–, 3–, 400 workers, in some cases you are supporting not the 2–, 3–, 400 personnel but their prolonged household associates,” she suggests. “Their wage pays for the children’s school tuition, puts foodstuff on [the] desk. When you have all these variables, you are underneath consistent strain.”

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By 2009, Ko knew she necessary some wise money—investment capital that came from people with information and connections she did not have—to continue to keep escalating. She wanted to get the brand into huge countrywide accounts but did not know how to get in front of individuals potential buyers or extend distribution nationwide. She went hunting and observed an trader team that had not too long ago exited the haircare sector and had marketed to the actual vendor she wished to safe. She sold 20 % of NYX to the team.

In doing so, Ko also knew she’d established a clock on her ownership of the enterprise. The investor team, like most, would be seeking to create an exit in 3 to seven decades.

“In the wintertime of 2013, we started speaking about the idea of possibly exiting the business and commenced interviewing investment bankers to stand for us.”

The upcoming 9 months experienced Ko on a roller coaster of exhilaration and finding out new ways.

On July 30, 2014, she marketed NYX for $500 million to L’Oréal.

Toni ko foundr magazine cover
Toni Ko on the cover of Foundr Journal issue 111.

Optimum Substantial to Cheapest Minimal

The whole procedure of choosing to exit to being entirely out took an “adrenaline-driven” nine months. Ko was at her desk at NYX when her legal professional known as. He mentioned the offer was donecheck your lender accounts. Ko logged in.

“I counted all the zeros, and I’m like, ‘OK, it’s accomplished. It is truly sold. It’s not mine anymore.’”

She organized for movers to get her desk and chair. (The desk, now refurbished various periods, still serves as the helm of her office.)

Packed up the relaxation in a UPS mailer box. Advised the employees goodbye. Walked out the doorway. Drove house. And slept for 14 hrs straight. She woke up in a stress, considering she was late to get the job done. She dashed into the shower. As she labored shampoo via her hair, she remembered.

“Holy smokes. I really do not have a do the job to go to.”

Ko was now on the cusp of 40. She slammed headfirst into the working experience that so numerous founders who productively exit their corporations wade by but never discuss about a great deal: an existential disaster that qualified prospects to scientific despair.

“Because we’ve buried our identification, our every thing: lifetime goal, mission, identity, several hours. You’ve baked by yourself into the businesses that you developed, and the moment that gets removed and then you go wait around a minute, who am I? That’s the initial issue. And then why am I here? What is my subsequent intent? Quickly, you have all these hours. You’re so utilized to working all the time, and you have all these leisurely hrs, and you don’t know what to do with all the time. I fell into a deep, deep, deep melancholy.”

Ko sought treatment, but it didn’t completely tackle her loneliness or her want for objective and exercise. As opposed to other founders, Ko had not built a loved ones though constructing her company. She experienced no little ones or husband or wife to emphasis on. To preserve herself, she started another organization: a sun shades enterprise.

Though she labored challenging at it for 3.5 several years, the enterprise finally failed.

“It was most likely the best point that experienced occurred to me,” she claims, “because it was truly going through my ego loss of life and I’m quite grateful. If I had to do it once again, I would basically do it again. So I could find out from that oversight. Simply because what I discovered from that oversight has taught me so significantly. So I am in a position to start off my 3rd business enterprise, use the learnings that I experienced, and make this business a achievement.”

That 3rd organization is Bespoke Natural beauty Makes.

Go through a lot more: Billionaire Marc Lore Has Large Strategies for the Long term — Exclusive

Round 3

Part of her exit with L’Oréal was a noncompete that required Ko to remain out of the beauty business for five many years. It was a rigorous arrangement: She could not devote, suggest, sit on a board, or have everything to do with the magnificence area for those people five yrs. She was completely locked out of the marketplace she each eaten and helped develop.

“But time passes,” Ko states. “Time solves everything.”

On July 30, 2019, the noncompete expired. On Aug. 1, 2019, Ko released Bespoke Attractiveness Makes (BBB).

“I gave it a 24-hour window,” she suggests.

In all those 5 years, Ko famous how consumer consciousness and conduct shifted. She saw how consumers became informed, knowledgeable, and savvy. They no extended required to be portion of a manufacturer like NYX that had 18,000 SKUS—something to serve every person. Today’s elegance customers want a brand that serves them and them by yourself.

She decided magic could lie in partnering with superstars and influencers to build attractiveness makes for especially targeted demographic customer bases.

On Oct. 18, 2019, the initial Bespoke Attractiveness Manufacturer launched—a makeup line with beloved Korean American drag queen Kim Chi. (For these not in the know, look at out time 8 of Ru Paul’s Drag Race.) Chi features an Instagram adhering to of 2 million. Ko and Chi introduced a makeup line that is in holding with the drag queen’s brand name of loud and very pleased to appeal to Chi’s followers. With the slogan “Pigmented and Happy,” Kim Chi Chic Beauty led with an eye shadow palette of vibrant shades like pink, yellow, and green. The palette was named, correctly, Rainbow Sharts. Nearly 700

Concentrate on outlets carried it for the preliminary rollout. Upon launch, the newly-made Instagram account @kimchichicbeauty picked up 60,000 followers. (At push time, it had 287,000 followers.)

The next BBB rollout arrived via a partnership with trend designer Jason Wu. His 500,000+ Instagram followers invested thousands and thousands on the preliminary solution offering of Jason Wu Attractiveness, which 200 CVS merchants carried for the rollout. The recently-established Instagram account for it, @jasonwubeauty, picked up 12,000 followers at products launch. (At push time, it had 32,400 followers.)

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