Read Part 1 here
Maridonna is the Founder of Truly Naked Soaps, a Hult MBA alumna.
What challenges are you currently experiencing?
I had spent some time curating the Truly Naked Soaps Instagram content, using Canva and other tools. Still, it lacks the inviting warmth and has this distance in the commercial feel.
Also, some people would be happy with Truly Naked bars of soap, but perhaps I am not showing enough of the journey to get more sales. I will not change the recipe or add colors that do not come from plants as that is against the ethos, but I want to get more creative. As it is a vegan bar, I will not be adding any animal derivatives.
I loved soap classes because they were not just about revenue generation, but about a chance to teach the process of soap-making and interact with others. It has not been possible since I left Mustique, especially in this pandemic. I would make soap in advance and provide the goggles and gloves. On the day of the class, I would have no more than six people in attendance. Nic would be taking photos and troubleshooting while I did most of the talking and take them through the process... With lots of sangria [laughs].
What advice would you give to Hult students that may want to start a business?
I would say, treat your business like a baby. You have to give it a lot of time and attention. Because you are in your business and you are probably thinking about your idea for a while before you start, it seems as though the company should be way ahead. In reality, the business is still a baby. The day that you start putting your product out there is when it's born and all that time before is the nine-month gestation period. For humans, it is nine months. But for other animals, it is an even longer time. With a business, you have to be patient, experiment, and go through the growing pains, build trust with potential and actual customers.
How do you juggle everything and what was particularly difficult as an international student?
Arriving here, I thought the market would be saturated. Sometimes you think, "The market is saturated, but why is Fenty Beauty doing so well?" But one must consider the start of Rihanna's gestation period and how she built trust for her audience. I want to teach entrepreneurship eventually. And on the first day of class, I'm going to ask, "What do Reebok, Fenty Beauty, and Truly Naked Soaps have in common?" We're all selling the same thing. My philosophy is that we're all selling trust. We're selling it because we need our clients to trust that when they put the soap in the water, it's going to lather up. Or for Fenty Beauty, that the makeup is going to work well. Or for the Reebok, that shoes will fit well and be durable.
Once that trust is broken, the brand is dead. To build that relationship, I have to make calls, be active on social media. There are so many things that you have to think about in the background. For example, questions that people may have.
When you are at the head of the table, you have to be juggling the marketing, the procurement. I do have people on my team who are helping me. Still, without my foresight and approval of all these things they have in their mind, or that I may ask them to execute, then the process cannot move forward. Time is of the essence. That can be stressful with school or work and other commitments.
Yes. You are working for EF right now. Tell me a little about your first role after completing the MBA this summer.
I'm a part-time Enrollment Coordinator. I call candidates who are interested in US Masters programs. I tell them about Hult and qualify them for the desired program. I then set an appointment for them to speak with an Enrollment Director. And then they may continue with the application process. Sometimes, I have some exciting conversations as I have to make a certain number of calls per week. Yet, it allows me to have time to make soaps, grow the business, learn more about skincare and the sustainable soap industry.
How has the MBA helped you personally and professionally? Earlier you mentioned that a summer elective helped you to execute the idea for the Limited Edition box.
When I first started Truly Naked Soaps in Mustique, I knew that I did not learn the vocabulary to take the conversation from a soap-making hobby to a business. I wanted a one-year MBA to get exposure to a wide range of business subjects and spend the least time away from developing my brand. From the first week, leadership skills were being built. It was precious as I was stepping into the shoes of a CEO. The hard skills and knowledge from accounting, operations, change management, talent management, economics, and finance allow me to have a foundation on which to understand and manage all of my resources carefully and even helping everyone with the pandemic.
This has been a wild year. How has it changed you? Are you doing anything that you never did before? What are some highlights?
A highlight of the year would be rolling out my Limited Edition box which included the beauty bar. The response to that was a lot better than I expected. It sold out within three weeks.
I have been playing my violin more.
Stay tuned for a podcast!
What's next for you?
I am thinking about doing a certification in cosmetology or skincare. I enjoy that side of me- the creative mind- a lot. Managing a business is nice, but when I find out how skin behaves, I get excited, especially as someone who did not perform well in chemistry class.
I would love to arrange internships for Hult students in the future. If I were a Professor of Entrepreneurship, I would run training every year.
Would you do the cosmetology course online or in-person?
It would be video classes through an online platform. I've seen some offer a 4-week trial, but it is quite an investment, so this would be when we are more financially stable. I will have to be patient. I have to set priorities right as we have new items coming out soon.
You mentioned prioritization. What are the most important attributes or skills for your roles at Truly Naked Soaps?
I think passion for the product is fundamental. That passion translates into the very high credibility and integrity of the product. Time management and cost management is very vital. Then foresight, the ability to adapt, and understanding all that is happening in the world is a big thing. Right now, I'm talking about Mother's Day and Father's Day. We just had an election, and the economy is going to be flowing a different way, we need to understand what is happening with COVID-19 and what is valued. People want to give practical gifts. Think about where we are spending most of our time.
Speaking of the holiday season, do you have any advice for those who may be spending their first Christmas away from loved ones, unable to gather with friends?
Zoom helps. It's not perfect, but it helps. Apart from that, lovely products from Truly Naked Soaps make sure that people know that you are thinking of them [laughs]. Video chats, perhaps, are getting people together for half an hour. In my team at EF, we have a Skype group, and we chat with each other while working, so we don't feel alone. Also, the team meets weekly on Zoom. If it is not available to you, introspection has been placed in your life at this moment for a reason. And I would recommend using it wisely. Because you might be thinking 'oh I'm all alone and sad', but you do not know when these moments of being in solitude would be gone? So, cherish it while you have it. A lot of people try to rush out of it. But contemplate and love it while you have it.
That was deep. Let's lighten up with a rapid-fire round of questions to end this. What did you want to be when you grew up?
A teacher. Even though it can be harsh.
Inside joke! What's one thing you don't leave home without? Other than a mask!
Petroleum jelly. The things you can solve with petroleum jelly...
Dropping wisdom there. Ok, the last one: If there was anybody in the world that you could meet, who would it be?
Oh, that's a tough question. I'm so into the depth that I don't just want a conversation. I want a relationship with the person. It is probably going to shock you. But it would probably be Kevin Hart. He does not seem like someone who gives platitudes. He looks like he takes action, keeps it real, and puts his money where his mouth is as long as he believes in something.
While networking in San Francisco, I met a lovely lady that works at Impact Hub. I would walk by Impact Hub every day to get the bus. One day, I ran into the lady, and she said that tomorrow at 9 AM, they are going to have an outstanding speaker, and I should come. We had a class at that time, and I decided to attend class and guess who I see on Instagram walking the streets of Oakland after speaking at the event?
Was it Elaine Welteroth? She's from the Bay Area.
It was Kevin Hart!
Oh no! What are the odds?
I thought that it was going to be a really good female entrepreneur. The lady could not tell me the name of the speaker, but she said I would not want to miss it. Instead, I went to class... When I read his book, I was so impressed with his ability to come up with great things. If I am a little demotivated, I think of him. He says things that can offend people, but he seems so authentic. I love authenticity!
Thank you for your time. Before we wrap up, where can Truly Naked Soaps be found?