Chloe Mortaud: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO of Mademoiselle Provence
I wish someone would have told me that every successful step is something to remember and celebrate — from your product launch, to your first review, to your first retail store, to hiring your first employee. Every step is something to be proud of, no matter where you are in your business or where it takes you. When it feels good, take a moment to pat yourself on the back — you deserve it.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Chloe Mortaud.
Chloe Mortaud is the “miss”, or as the French say, Mademoiselle, behind Mademoiselle Provence, an all-natural beauty line crafted with fine-quality ingredients from the South of France where nature’s best beauty secrets are kept. Raised in Southern France, Chloe was crowned ‘Miss France’ in 2009 and traveled to the U.S. to connect with her mother’s African-American roots, while also working to build the American dream for her son, Matis. Whilst Chloe loved living in the States, the Franco-American entrepreneur felt something was missing. The former beauty queen yearned for the everyday ease of the French lifestyle and her hometown’s natural way of living. Combining quality, pleasure and affordability, Chloe created Mademoiselle Provence to transport consumers to the very heart of Provence with indulgent beauty products.
Can you tell us the story about what brought you to this specific career path?
This would be a long story to share, but to make it short; I was born and grew up in a small village in the South of France from a French dad and African-American mom. My career path has been nothing that people would deem “regular” or “normal.” I never finished college, nor did I ever work at a big company.
However, I did spend a couple of years in the “beauty” business — on the front camera side. It started when I won Miss France in 2009 and then I worked for a couple of years as a model in Paris and New York for Elite Model Management. As a former French beauty queen and model, my friends and family in the U.S. would always ask me about my “French beauty secrets” and how to have the “je ne sais quoi” that (apparently) French women are known for. That idea remained in the back of my mind, and after becoming a mother, I started looking into ingredients more carefully, remaining conscious of what I put on my baby’s skin without harming him.
A couple of years afterward, I was introduced to my associate Helene Marceau — she had all the big business school knowledge and the beauty industry experience. Together we realized that we could, and we should create a beauty line that would answer these questions and fulfill the needs of our friends and family, and make it global.
The idea was simple, create a brand made in France, with our French expertise, knowledge and touch. Make it natural, per respect for families, animals and the environment. Make it pleasurable — we all have experienced a “natural/organic” brand that doesn’t smell good or is just an unattractive lump of “meh” :) — with our brand, we believed we could make it natural/organic without compromising the look and feel. The final, but still very important, point was to make the brand affordable, so everybody could use the products day to day — our families and friends included.
Ultimately, what brought me to that specific career path simply was my personal story. From my childhood in South of France, to beauty pageant, runways, and to becoming a mother. Everything was leading me to become the co-CEO of a beauty brand — Mademoiselle Provence.
Can you share one of the major challenges you encountered when first leading the company? What lesson did you learn from that?
Everything can happen and everything will happen. That is the number one lesson I have learned from co-leading this company.
- We started with four associates, one of whom is now my ex-husband. Lesson one, keep your personal life out of your business life.
- We received so many promises from people around us that did not follow through. Lesson two, always have a plan B.
- The road is long and made of ups and downs, it’s never-ending, and will have you experiencing moments of great joy and moment of doubts and sadness. Lesson three, be prepared for a rollercoaster of emotions and know that what goes up must go down and also that what went down also goes up.
What are some of the factors that you believe led to your eventual success?
I think a couple of factors led or will lead us to our success. My associate and friend Helene Marceau is one of them. You can only go so far by yourself, so knowing that someone has your back and is willing to persevere as much as you is one of the keys to success.
From a product and market standpoint, I believe that we fill a gap — the want and love for French beauty products, the desire of pleasurable natural products and the accessible cost of such items.
We realized it was easy to get nice, natural French beauty products but very difficult to get similar items at reasonable price for everyday use. Why should only a few people have access to that quality? Why should businesses make so much margin for a product that costs the same (or less) for them to do than us? Why not offer French natural quality to all?
Finally, I believe the last factor of our success is transparency. We are in a world where it’s easy to “Google,” a term, an ingredient, a name, or an origin. We want to make it easy — customers know what they are buying from Mademoiselle Provence, from where it comes and who is behind it. Our story, our struggles, our successes, we are here to share it with our customers.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO?” Please share a story or example for each.
1. I wish someone would have told me that I would feel lost, tired, and in doubt almost every day for two years. The past two years, took a toll on me, emotionally and physically. When you create a company you start with a business plan that is supposed to lead to the realization of your dreams. What you don’t know is that your business plan will probably change five or ten times. You will stop counting the sleepless nights in bed wondering how you will make it tomorrow.
2. I wish someone would have told me that that the best feeling ever, would be as simple as receiving a great review from a customer on one of your products. Yes you always believe your product is good, but receiving the approval of a stranger is just the sweetest thing ever — take a moment and enjoy it.
3. I wish someone would have told me that when you become a CEO, you will travel; it is expected when you launch a business, but you are not prepared to travel east coast/west coast or overseas for a 10-minute meeting with a retail buyer that could change the future of your company. You will get that world-class travel status!
4. I wish someone would have told me that every successful step is something to remember and celebrate — from your product launch, to your first review, to your first retail store, to hiring your first employee. Every step is something to be proud of, no matter where you are in your business or where it takes you. When it feels good, take a moment to pat yourself on the back — you deserve it.
5. I wish someone would have told me that as a CEO you learn every aspect of your company. Don’t think that because you are a “the boss” you will not do accounting, packages, social media plans or presentations. You will start by doing everything, and by the time you will finally “get it” you will have to leave it to someone whom you must trust hoping that they will do as well or better than you. In your mind you will always think “do they care as much as I do, will they do their best?”
What advice would you give to your colleagues to help them to thrive and not “burn out?”
Understand that a business is not a straight road. A no now doesn’t mean it’s over, a yes now doesn’t mean you are the winner. Some businesses thrive at the beginning and suddenly file for chapter 11, others take longer to start and then the owners sell them for fortunes. My personal approach is sports, family and friends. Find a way to escape, a place where you can run to if you feel too much pressure. Sometimes taking a step back is needed to take two forwards and that is ok!
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?
I would not be telling this story without my associate Helene Marceau. As the quote says; you have to be two to Tango. We are complementary to each other when one is down the other one brings her up. When one doesn’t know the answer, the other knows or finds a way to get the info.
I remember we had one meeting in Boston with a national retailer. Helene was sick, she could barely talk and stand up. She was nervous, and I was nervous.
We were getting ready in a Panera before our meeting, I could see she was struggling just getting her thoughts right. I was worried; she’s my counterpart and I kept thinking how will we get through this? As we went into the meeting, she looked at me, smiled, and said “Chloe, you can do it.” At that moment, I knew she trusted me — she trusted to seal the deal! I took a deep breath and took the lead during the meeting. We were selected to move on to the next round, and, while we didn’t make the final cut, the meeting still went very well. Today, we remain in contact with the buyer for an upcoming opportunity. I am grateful to Helene for offering me that extra push that day; she made me feel confident enough to “take over” and trusted me to push the brand forward!
What are some of the goals you still have and are working to accomplish, both personally and professionally?
Personally, I need to learn how to manage other people. As the company continues to grow, I have to learn how to give tasks and how to share the values of the brand. My associate and I have been working “alone” for two years now, so we have an easy understanding of who is good at what, and who needs to do what. With more employees on the way, we have to learn to new roles.
Professionally, our goal is to enter major US retailers. The brand has been thriving on Amazon, it’s time for it to hit the shelves. We also need to develop or community, we want to interact more with our customers!
What do you hope to leave as your lasting legacy?
I hope to leave a good ethic as my legacy. I don’t want to be remembered as someone who had to step on others to get where she wants to go. I believe you can achieve while staying true to your values and yourself.
The other goal, and most important, make a positive impact on society by utilizing and respecting our environment. From formulas to packaging, we are looking for an alternative to plastic that would be sustainable and also affordable. We want to stay true to our first values: quality, pleasurability and affordability.
If you could start a movement that would enhance people’s lives in some way, what would it be? You never know what your idea can trigger!
I wish we could create of movement that highlights small companies — maybe create a logo to unite us all. I personally like to support small brands, and small business owners; however, sometimes a brand that I think is “small” is actually owned by one of the big players in the game. I wish we could have more transparency. I want to buy to help someone realize their dreams. I want to buy something that is true and ethical; I want to buy to help that mother put money in her pocket so she can buy new shoes for her son. I don’t want to buy to reinforce Goliath, I want to buy to make David stronger and more confidant.