Female Founders: Sahar Rohani of SOSHE Beauty On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Embrace Your Feminine Side — We must stop operating like this is still a man’s world. There needs to be an unapologetic acceptance for our femininity instead of trying to “prove” ourselves. Women are empathetic, reasonable, extremely present and approachable. Start doing what feels right to you. Send as many exclamation points as you want, wear whatever the hell you want, talk however you see fit.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sahar Rohani.
Sahar Rohani is the co-founder and CEO of SOSHE Beauty, which is set to launch their Refillable Mascara at the end of August. Sahar grew up in Laguna Beach and received her B.S. in Computational Neuroscience from the University of Southern California.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
I started to find my voice in my last year of high school. I woke up to the reality that our world was on the brink of a climate disaster. I began to attend marches, rallies, feeling really frustrated about the damage our parents and their parents had left for our generation. My sophomore year of college, I joined the student-led start-up incubator LavaLab and was immediately surrounded by some of the smartest, most innovative minds at USC. During my time in the incubator, I realized how far behind the cosmetics industry was in innovation and design when it came to sustainable packaging. “120 billion units of waste per year are produced by the cosmetics industry.” I couldn’t get it out of my head. It felt like everyone was talking about straws and no one was talking about industries that actually needed to make a change.
By the time I was 20, I couldn’t even tell you how many tubes of mascara I’d thrown away. I felt so guilty that I kept holding on to them. I refused to throw out more and more un-recyclable plastic. But then I started to have skin and eye irritation, infections, and breakouts. I realized it was because most of my products had lived well past their shelf life. No one really explained to me how long each cosmetic product lasts, and it was so hard to keep track.
I didn’t want to throw away any more products, but I also didn’t want to jeopardize my health and hygiene. So that’s when I decided to try to create a refillable mascara on a subscription basis. It started in my sophomore year of college and we are finally launching several months post graduation.
To me, this is just the beginning for sustainable, clean and hygienic products. We call it the Refill Revolution. It’s time to put pressure on the giants of this industry. I’m so excited for what’s to come and so thankful for everyone who has supported this journey and believes in the cause as much as we do.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
We’re a young team. I started SOSHE Beauty when I was 19 years old. I thought no one would take me seriously and it was pretty terrifying. But people really didn’t care. They believed in me and my passion. I had such great advice and words of encouragement from so many industry leaders. Ask for help and you shall receive, at the end of the day, we are all just figuring it out as we go.
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?
Our NAME! I wish someone had told me how important your name is in terms of SEO, marketing, trademark, the list goes on. We were originally Rheya Beauty but shortly after, we found out about the celebrity dating app, Raya. People thought there was a connection. My co-founders and I were up for hours trying to think of a name that was unique and meaningful. I kept going back to the first Women’s March I attended in January of 2017 and how proud I felt being a woman in society (even though we have a long way to go). I kept saying “so she can, so she will do it, so she is able, so she is enough”. That’s how we landed on SOSHE Beauty.
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?
My roommates/best friends. I lived with eight badass girls my senior year of college. I was a full-time student at USC studying Computational Neuroscience and a full-time CEO trying to get my business off the ground. There were so many moments I just felt depleted, mentally, emotionally and physically. I felt like I wasn’t good enough. They tell you that your true friends are there for you in the good times just as much as the bad times. They were there through it all. My cheerleaders, confidants, beta-testers, shoulders-to-cry-on. I’m very thankful for having such a great support system.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I spent most of my college career being one of the only girls in the class — whether it was thermodynamics, statistical programming, or molecular biology, I always had to do more to prove that I wasn’t “lost”. I had to establish myself early to gain respect from my fellow classmates and professors. It’s easy to see how far women have come, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that women continue to be degraded and doubted. The odds are stacked against female founded companies when it comes to fundraising even before we start a conversation with VC firms. Founders have been historically seen as a man’s game. It’s every entrepreneurial movie we saw growing up (The Social Network, The Founder, etc). As a society, female founders remain outliers. It’s the same with most occupations previously held by men — female surgeon, female investment banker, female athlete. The list goes on.
We’re seeing more women becoming VC’s now than ever before — who are more likely to fund women-led companies. We need to support those women with all we have so they can create a future where being a female CEO is the norm, and that 20 percent gets to 50 percent or more.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Embrace femininity and masculinity as separate and exclusive. For my generation, we were taught that in order to be as successful as men, you needed to act like men. To set aside anything that made you “lady-like”. The problem with that model is that it removes feminine energy, an incredibly powerful contributor to today’s modern society. I believe that in order to overcome obstacles regarding inequality between men and women, we need to drop the expectations and societal standards of male success. Leadership, ambition, and perseverance cannot look the same across the board. To be completely honest, with the way things have been going, we need more women in leadership positions.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Reason #1: We need more products and services made by women for women. From a cognitive perspective, women interact with the world differently than men. More female founders we will be able to identify and meet the needs of women.
Reason #2: Reducing carbon emissions. Women have proved to be pioneers in finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint and placing sustainability initiatives at the highest priority, even if that means taking a chunk out of their profit. We need more women who believe in the current climate crisis and will fight for a better future.
Reason #3: Hire more women. Women founders will not only hire more women, but they will pay them an equal wage. We must close the economic gap between male and female earners.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Myth #1: You are grinding 24/7, no days off, no rest time. Yes, you are constantly thinking about your company, more than any employee, but burnout is so real and at the end of the day, we are human. Your company is as happy as the co-founders. Don’t forget that.
Myth #2: There’s one brilliant moment where everything comes together and you go from there. Hell no. There are a million pivots, and then a million more. These pivots are small, but important. Devil is in the details.
Myth #3: You need to be an expert at everything. You need to have an IQ of 180 to be a founder. No. This is something I initially struggled with. Because of my science background, I wasn’t too familiar with how to work our finances, budgeting, estimating, etc. I thought it made me an inadequate leader. It took me a long time to identify my strengths and capitalize on them. Pinpoint my weaknesses, express them with my team, and work on them together. But once I did, there was such a weight lifted from my shoulders. Release judgement from yourself and realize you are a lifelong learner.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I think if you believe in something enough, you can be a founder. Not to sound so intense, it takes a fire in your soul. You have to deal with an extreme emotional rollercoaster. It’s important to recognize that you don’t need to be in charge of a huge company to be a founder. You can start whatever you want, and if you are the mind and the vision, you are the founder.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Support System — friends, family, partner, mentors, dog, plants. Make sure you know where or who to go to when you’re feeling run down, or feeling absolutely incredible. Both are equally important.
- The Ability to Take Responsibility — oof, this is a hard one, but it’s vital. You are responsible for the highs and the lows. It is okay to make mistakes, they will happen. But the only way to grow, to learn, to evolve and improve on our mistakes is to take responsibility as a leader.
- Establish Ethics — have a conversation with yourself on not only your company’s values, but your values. I do not stray from them. It helps center me when times get crazy and reminds me of my purpose.
- AMP (ambition, motivation, perseverance) — I think my dad would kill me if I didn’t include this. He used to say, always have AMP’s. Ambition is who you want to be, what your destination is. Motivation is what wakes you up everyday ready to put your all into it. Perseverance is crucial. It’s when sh*t hits the fan, everything is not going your way, but you still keep going, that’s perseverance.
- Embrace Your Feminine Side — We must stop operating like this is still a man’s world. There needs to be an unapologetic acceptance for our femininity instead of trying to “prove” ourselves. Women are empathetic, reasonable, extremely present and approachable. Start doing what feels right to you. Send as many exclamation points as you want, wear whatever the hell you want, talk however you see fit.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We’re still building, which is the most exciting part. There’s always more work to do — finding more sustainable solutions, going completely carbon neutral or carbon negative, establishing long-term loyalty and transparency for our community. We know one thing for sure: planet before profit. I hope, if anything, SOSHE Beauty puts some pressure on the giants of the beauty industry like Maybelline, Covergirl, Revlon, to start thinking about their carbon footprint. Consumers are telling us they want transparency in regards to supply chain, sourcing materials and ingredients. They want change, they want action, and rightfully so. I’m proud of my team and I for demonstrating the power of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking. Our planet deserves so much more than the way we’re treating it right now.
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.
The discussion on the climate crisis needs to be integrated into all primary education. We are so unaware of the long term implications of climate change and extreme weather. Population migration, loss of employment and social support, food quality and scarcity issues are just some of the examples of how climate change can have insurmountable consequences on our mental and physical health. Because at the end of the day, every single person will experience the consequences of the climate crisis, and we must depend on this generation and the next to implement radical change for future generations.
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.
100% Kirsten Greene, founder and managing partner at ForeRunner Ventures. When I first started SOSHE Beauty I listened to so many podcasts. Emily Weiss’s Glossier story on How I Built This was fascinating and the most motivating as a woman founder. But the part that inspired me the most was how Kirsten Greene was able to have such foresight on an entire industry of beauty. Greene continues to be a massive champion of women founders and women VC’s and I’d love to thank her one day for being such a trailblazer.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.