How I became a makeup mogul: Beauty influencer Huda Kattan talks about business, life
With more than 26 million followers on Instagram and 2 million-plus subscribers on YouTube, a makeup artist and founder of billion-dollar cosmetics brand Huda Beauty, Huda Kattan has transformed a beauty blog and YouTube channel into a thriving career and business. Kattan has been described as "a Kim Kardashian West of the beauty influencer economy" and was declared one of the "10 most powerful influencers in the world of beauty" by Forbes magazine. Her first season of "Huda Boss" just completed on Facebook Watch and averaged about 7 million views per show.
By Susannah Hutcheson, USA Today, 21 August 2018
USA TODAY caught up with Kattan, 34, to talk about everything from taking leaps and managing company growth to remembering the importance of your own creative side and the realities of running your own brand.
Question: What is your coffee order?
Huda Kattan: I drink bullet coffee, and I make it myself because I hate coffee. I get a shot of raw coffee, mix it with butter from grass-fed cows and coconut milk. It’s amazing!
Q: What’s the last book you read?
A: I’m actually reading an amazing one right now – my head of HR gave it to me. It’s called "The Founder’s Mentality: How to Overcome the Inevitable Crises of Growth." It’s about how small companies start up and can sometimes move to corporations and lose their magic. That’s something I’m terribly afraid of, and I’m trying to make sure that doesn’t happen, so I’m kind of obsessed with that one right now.
Q: Who has been your biggest mentor?
A: One of my biggest mentors was – is – an incredible man in charge of internships at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. He just gave me so much wonderful advice while I was at school, and it still impacts the way I do business today. He was really into making sure that students would make a difference in the world after school. Going to school and formal education wasn't all that impactful to me, but it was the people that I met at school that really made such a difference. His name is Mike Callahan, and he is just so wonderful.
Q: What does your career path look like, from college to now?
A: Out of college I started working in recruitment, because I realized I hated finance (her major). I became a recruiter in Michigan for an HR company called Robert Half. Then my husband (Christopher Goncalo) – my fiance at the time – (said he could) see this financial crisis was about to hit Michigan. He was working at Ford and he just knew. He said we should get out of Michigan, and he said, "let’s go to Dubai."
I contacted Robert Half headquarters to see if they had any positions open in Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates), and they did. A few months after I moved, the financial crisis did hit, and it actually hit Dubai really hard (even worse than I think it hit Michigan actually), because Dubai was going through such growth at that time. I lost my job shortly after we moved and decided I would go into PR. And then realized that I don’t actually like PR. So, I quit within two weeks. I was like, screw this. I’m not doing anything unless I love it, because I’ve already given my life to so many jobs. I need to love what I do, because I’m going to give 110 percent. I’m going to be working from 6 in the morning until 10 p.m., so I need to make sure I like it.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, and my sister was really encouraging me to study makeup. I finally decided to do it, and I was like, "I don’t know how to do makeup, I don’t know how to do this." So I needed to take it seriously. I told my family. All the guys in my family were like, "ah, no, I don’t know if this is like … another hobby," and all the girls in my family were like, "no, go do it!"
I kind of wanted to prove to my husband and my father that I really could take this leap – that it wasn’t just a hobby. I went to school in Los Angeles and then came back to Dubai and started working really aggressively right away. I became a blogger and then a makeup artist at about the same time and then an influencer shortly afterwards. I got pregnant and decided to only become a blogger. I stopped doing makeup full time and I kept just a few clients, like the (UAE) royal family and celebrities when they would come into town. The blog had become this marketing tool that had allowed me to get into this new wave. When I started blogging, all the makeup artists around me were like, "you’re crazy – you’re giving out free advice." But a few years later, when I got pregnant, it was a good thing because I was able to pick and choose (clients) and charge more money and work less and save up for what would later become our makeup brand.
In 2013, we launched our lash line, which did really well, but we were kind of just stuck in the Middle East. A year or two later, we launched in the U.S. And then just 2½ years ago, we launched color cosmetics and, since then, our company has just exploded.
I’ve worn pretty much every hat in the beauty industry, from blogger to makeup artist to YouTube influencer to Instagram influencer to journalist. I definitely understand a lot of what I want and what I don’t want. I’m very clear on that, and I think that’s been very beneficial.
Q: What’s been your favorite client experience?
A: (Actress) Eva Longoria, who stole my heart. I get to meet wonderful people, so many celebrities, and I’m honestly the worst person at keeping in touch with anyone. I’m always so busy, and so I always focus on what’s in front of me and on my daughter. Eva is someone who stole my heart, because she’s just to kind to everybody. She was so respectful; not only to me, but the hairstylist completely ruined her hair, and she handled it with grace. She didn’t say anything to them. She was just so kind to everybody who came into her room. I fell in love with her, literally wanted to become her best friend, and since then we’ve become really close friends. I have so much respect for her and just wish everyone was like her because she’s so kind.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
A: So, I’m pretty big on routine. I wake up at 5:30 in the morning. I will either do life coaching or yoga. I do yoga three times a week, and I have my life coach come twice a week. By 6:30, I’m spending a little time with my daughter and, at 7, I leave to go to the office. I like to be the first person in the office – there’s usually one more person in the office, but I like to be the first one – it’s really quiet. I’ll do my makeup, and I will usually listen to an audiobook, and I’m usually sketching notes the entire time. By the time 9 a.m. rolls around everyone’s in the office, and I just say good morning to everyone as much as I can. My day starts from about 10 a.m. From about 9 to 10, I spend time with my sisters (who also work at the company), just kind of talking about work and planning. I spend so much time planning – I find it really makes me effective and efficient. From 10 to 5, I’m in hardcore meetings – like, meeting after meeting. Some of the meetings are 15 minutes, some of the meetings are five minutes, but literally it’s a revolving door coming in and out of my office. I really try to make sure everything is really efficient – that’s why so many of my meetings are so short. I’m really involved with so many areas of the company. I ask my team their opinion on everything, and they ask my opinion on things. It’s really, really a team effort. Everyone’s very, very close. It’s a family.
Q: What has been your biggest career high and your biggest career low?
High: Getting our investors on board was a huge thing for us. They’ve been wonderful partners. To be honest, I’m not really into the private equity world – I’m more focused on magic and (being) creative. I think we’re really fortunate to work with investors who understand that and really accept that, and really want to cultivate it.
Low: After getting the investment, our concealer launch was a disaster and then – boom – we lost almost $2 million worth of product, and we didn’t have anything new to put in its place. It definitely created a lot of anxiety for me. It was the best lesson, and I don’t think I would have done that any other way because I don’t want to learn something like that later on. I needed to learn that at that moment, right then and at that period of time.
Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned in your career?
A: Not to be confined by your own limitations. That is the biggest hurdle holding people back – that they are confined by their own limitations, and that they are only as big as they think they are, and that they are only able to do as much as they think they can. I’ve always said that to myself, and I break down those barriers, but really, really understanding that has been really transformational to the business. I really focus on bringing the right people together and making sure that everyone feels that way, and we have a really wonderful team of people who really believe that and who make those impossible things happen. We’ve had incredible growth, and you don’t achieve that kind of growth unless everybody believes that. You can’t do that on your own. You need a team who really, truly believes that the impossible is possible, and will do everything in their power to make those things happen. That’s what we’ve been very fortunate to have at Huda Beauty, and I think we reiterate that all the time with the team.
Q: What advice would you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps career-wise?
A: It’s a lot of things, really. The most important thing is that this isn’t a part-time job. When you leave the office on weekends, you are always going to be this person – especially if you are an influencer-founded brand, you never get to leave that life. It’s really challenging. It may appear really great on the outside – amazing, peaches and cream – but, you know, once you have a kid you’re thinking about your child, and what school they might go to, and that people may bully them for who you are. It’s really challenging sometimes! I think that you need to be aware of those things, and you need to be ready for the sacrifice — and if you are, then that’s great. I tell myself that a lot, that you know, that this is what I’ve chosen – so, I just need to find the best way to tackle these issues, as opposed to being upset about them. That’s very important, because it isn’t easy to be the face of your brand, and the founder, and be running it. It’s not easy, and you need to be ready for the sacrifice, for sure. And if you are, full-steam ahead.