Female Founders: Karina Sulzer Of Skin Gym, Skin Camp, Youth Haus & PaintLab On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Not everybody will support you: There’s always going to be people rooting against you, and that says more about them than about you. Don’t let the negativity get to you, but rather surround yourself with positive energy and keep moving forward in your personal and business journey.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karina Sulzer.
Karina Sulzer is the Founder of Skin Gym, Skin Camp, Youth Haus and PaintLab who has always had a passion for beauty and wellness. Coming from a long line of European estheticians, her family ties gave her an inside look into the world of skincare treatments and solutions, along with an avid enthusiasm for helping others look and feel beautiful.
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?
My story begins in Ukraine, where I was born and visit from time to time, which is also where I met some of my greatest role models. My grandmother and mother, who were both estheticians, helped inspire my passion for skincare, beauty, and wellness. I learned from a young age that skincare is self-care, and the best beauty methods should be accessible and easy to use for everybody. You don’t need to spend thousands or go to the spa every single week to look and feel good, which eventually became a basis for our collection of at-home beauty tools.
Of course, my days before founding my brands were filled with stories; some great and some not so great. My mom and I immigrated to the US when I was young, making the decision to chase the “American dream” with only $500 in our pockets. I slowly began climbing the corporate ladder, and had a solid career in advertising and licensing before I decided to leave and start my own brand(s) in 2017. Long story short, I never looked back.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I was pleasantly surprised by how quickly my brands took off. We got into all the major retailers within the first year! I was holding down two jobs, working day and night, as my team, which consisted of my mom and aunt at the time, helped bring these beauty tools to life. It was a surreal experience seeing the products I’d worked so hard on lining the shelves of Sephora, Macy’s, and ULTA — it just made me even more excited for the future.
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?
When we first started meeting with retailers, I was often asked if we were “EDI compatible.” I immediately answered yes to solidify the partnership, without doing the proper research about what this term actually meant. Oops. I laughed, I almost cried, and then I laughed again because it was a funny and an easily avoidable mistake! This taught me to learn the ins and outs of EDI and warehousing, which I now consider myself an expert on, and am always upfront with potential partners.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you are grateful for who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are so many people I’m grateful for in my business journey — my team, friends, and supporters who have helped me launch the most beautiful products with incredible results. However, I’d have to give the most credit to my mom. She brought me to the US in search of the American dream, and she sacrificed so much to help me succeed. The early days weren’t always easy, so I can’t thank her enough.
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?
You answered your own question! The unfortunate truth is that women-led startups received just 2.3% of VC funding in 2020, according to Harvard Business Review. This is a miniscule number that makes me so sad for my fellow female founders, who deserve to have their ideas brought to life with the proper funding, teams, and exposure. I truly believe that the empowerment aspect is already there, as I know plenty of incredibly smart women with the best ideas. The #1 thing that needs to change isn’t these women’s mindsets, but rather public perception of female founders that prevents them from getting the proper funding. That being said, I have great optimism that this will change in upcoming years, and more women will be empowered to begin their own businesses without fear just like I did.
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?
Never listen to those who tell them they can’t start their own successful business from the ground up, because they 100% can. If somebody like me from a small town in Ukraine can do it, there’s hope for all my aspiring female founders.
As for society and the government? Stop telling them they can’t and provide these women with the right resources and support (both financially and emotionally) to achieve their goals. More women than ever are stepping into side hustles as a result of the pandemic, and these can easily become a full-time successful business with the right tools. Of course, they need a bit of help from both the government and society. It’s time to step up!
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?
Firstly, passion. Women who start their own companies typically do it out of a lifelong passion that they’re now hoping to share with others. I know this was the case with me, as I always knew that I wanted to turn my love for at-home skincare into a profitable business for all — and I’ve gotten that and so much more. It’s a cliche, but it’s true… it’s not work when you’re doing something you’re passionate about, and this is one of the biggest reasons to become a female founder.
Secondly, empowerment. Both for the female founder in question and all those after them. Just look at how many women business owners are in the public eye compared to ten years ago, and remember that this number can double or even triple in a decade — maybe even thanks to you and all those you inspired!
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
That it’s a 9–5 job. It’s definitely not! Your business really is your baby, and you’re working every second of every day in some form or another to bring your vision to life. I love it, but it’s definitely something to consider before starting your own brand.
Another one is that it’s the fastest way to get “rich”. I’m not saying that you can’t build a profitable business and support yourself, you can, but most businesses require a lot of time and effort.
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?
Being a founder is tough, gritty, and often grueling work. There will be days where you ask yourself, is it worth it? And the answer depends on a variety of factors. I’m very hands-on when it comes to my brands and am always thinking about my next idea. That being said, I love every second of it.
A few traits that I find to be important in a founder? Passion, ambition, resilience, a clear vision, and perhaps most importantly great communication skills. You need to communicate your vision to not only retainers and other potential partners, but also to your team of brilliant employees that help upgrade your brand each day. As for the rest? You must maintain your passion while having the resilience to remind yourself that building a business is a marathon, not a sprint.
Ok super. Here is the main 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.)
- The amount of work that being a founder entails:
Don’t get me wrong, I always knew that being a business owner would require tons of work on my part. But it was even more difficult than I expected. I went from a normal, 9–5 job to a 24/7 role that required endless amounts of mental, physical, and social energy. I powered through because I was passionate about my goals, and it’s the best decision I’ve ever made.
2. You don’t have to stick to one thing:
Why have only one brand when you can have two, three, or even four? Many of your favorite female founders are able to leverage the success from their main brand to create a slew of other companies related to their interests, and you should never limit yourself. For instance, I help run a website dedicated to skincare and self-care tools, a facial workout spa, and a med spa with more advanced procedures, and I’m deeply invested in every one. Don’t let your creativity be limited!
3. Not everybody will support you:
There’s always going to be people rooting against you, and that says more about them than about you. Don’t let the negativity get to you, but rather surround yourself with positive energy and keep moving forward in your personal and business journey.
4. You’re nothing without your team:
I can’t thank my team enough for the hard work they put in to perfect my brands each day, and I make sure they know it. Be sure to invest in your team with the proper praise, compensation, and work-life balance, as it’s a reward for everybody involved.
5. The emotional rewards I’d receive:
I knew that creating a beauty brand would be empowering, but I still get emotional when I see the effect that these self-care tools have had on our community. I’ve gotten messages saying how our facial rollers have improved their TMJ and facial tension, how our Gua Sha has restored natural radiance (both inside and out), and a face mask after work each day has elevated their self-care routine. I have struggled with TMJ in the past and one of my favorite tools is our Skin Gym Face Sculptor, so I know firsthand that a bit of self-care can go a long way. I also just love seeing our community receive the physical and emotional benefits of our beauty tools.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Being from Ukraine, the war currently happening in my home country is heartbreaking, particularly since my family is still there. I have been able to donate proceeds from our sales in addition to being able to send supplies overseas through the partnerships we have.
We’ve also donated proceeds to a variety of other causes over the years, supporting everything from women’s leadership to racial equality. I can’t wait to do more for the world in the coming days, months, and years.
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.
PEACE. What is happening in my home country of Ukraine is absolutely terrible. I think kindness goes a long way for everybody. Showing kindness to not only your family and friends, but also coworkers, acquaintances, or even strangers who may need a pick-me-up in the form of a compliment or gracious act. Kindness is at the center of our social relationships, and the world would be a much better place if we could just pay it forward.
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.
Bobbi Brown. She created and sold a successful beauty business, and she’s a fabulous female entrepreneur.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Female Founders: Karina Sulzer Of Skin Gym, Skin Camp, Youth Haus & PaintLab On The Five Things You… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.