Balanced Hustler: Meet Indie Lee, Founder and CEO of Indie Lee Skincare
Being an entrepreneur can seem glamorous. We own our schedules, build our companies based on work we love—and sometimes we can even work beachside. But the glamour is second in command to the hustle.
The hustle is what really defines the ups and downs of the entrepreneurship journey. And to shed some light on the work it takes to build a business, I’m interviewing fellow entrepreneurs who are ready to get real about their journeys. I’ll ask them how they manage to balance the hustle with the passion of what they do, and they’ll share what they had to overcome to get where they are today. It’s all in service of inspiring, supporting and illuminating the path for you, and we’re calling it the #BalancedHustler.
Indie Lee is the kind of entrepreneur who turns lemons into lemonade with her dedication, passion and excitement. In 2008, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor that her doctors told her could be related to someone as simple as the products she was using on her skin (what goes ON your body makes its way INTO your body). She took that as an awakening, which I completely admire. After surviving a successful surgery, she embarked upon a new journey by launching Indie Lee Skincare—a clean beauty line dedicated to educating and empowering others to live their healthiest lives. The line is a powerhouse in the green beauty industry, and Indie herself has become an icon for teaching consumers about ingredients. I couldn’t be more excited to share this interview with her (and to welcome her to WELL Summit in Brooklyn in October 2019!).
Fast Facts: Indie Lee
When did you launch Indie Lee Skincare?
After surviving successful brain surgery in 2009. The company became official in 2010.
In one sentence, tell us why you started Indie Lee Skincare.
I wanted to educate and empower others to live their healthiest life, and ultimately create change in the beauty industry.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
Oh wow, that was so long ago. I think I started with about $10,000. I started out very slowly and we grew the brand gradually. The first places I started selling was at local fairs and farmers’ markets.
How did you get capital to start?
In order to get started back in 2009 and early 2010, I sold my jewelry and tapped into (okay, emptied) my 401K.
Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
This is more than a job, it’s my passion. I wake up every morning and can’t wait to start my day. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
How many hours a week do you work when you started vs now?
That’s such a difficult number to quantify. I don’t think I’m working any less than when I first started, in fact I’m sure I’m working more, but in different areas of the business. Like most other entrepreneurs, I also don’t work five days a week. I’m constantly thinking about the company, jumping on social and brainstorming on the weekends.
I think the important thing for me to mention is that it doesn’t feel like work. If I could invent more hours in the day to dedicate to the brand, I would do it in a heartbeat.
How many employees do you have?
We have nine employees on our Indie Lee team (and counting!).
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
We are working hard to expand internationally so we can continue to educate and empower on a global level. As a result, we are securing more speaking opportunities to discuss what wellness and empowerment mean.
How Indie Balances the Hustle
You are a brain tumor survivor and you launched Indie Lee after a battle with a rare brain tumor. Tell us how that experience contributed to your skincare business.
In 2008, I was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor and given as little as six months to live. Doctors felt it could be environmentally derived and attributed it to something as simple as what I was putting on my skin. That was my awakening. I began heavily researching the personal care industry. I was floored by what I learned—suspect ingredients and little regulation. I knew that if I survived, it would be my mission to provide healthier skin care options, and the brand was born.
How are you making the Indie Lee skincare line stand out in the sea of natural and organic products that are now available?
We are among great companies in the clean beauty space; I love that so many brands are seeing success. For us, education, empowerment and community are where we shine. Every decision we make is to help our customers make more informed, educated choices. We want people to feel like this is their brand, too.
You began with a simple skincare line that’s now expanded into treatments, bodycare and beyond. How do you decide what to bring to market?
We are constantly listening to our community and trying to create products that address their needs. This has never been solely about skincare for me. In fact, when I first started, the products were primarily body care. What’s exciting to me is that clean ingredient technology is now allowing us to bring new innovative products within the wellness category to market.
Your line has a more affordable price point than some natural skincare on the scene. Is accessibility important to you? How do you maintain ingredient quality with an eye on pricing?
Thank you so much for noticing. It’s something that is incredibly important to me. I feel that you should never have to sacrifice your paycheck for healthy skin. We’ve worked hard to keep our products at an accessible price point while increasing product efficacy. It’s not always easy and as a result, we do have some higher priced products. My hope is that our customers understand our commitment to them and therefore know we aren’t charging a higher price for the sake of it. We will charge a higher price because we will not sacrifice ingredient quality and product efficacy.
As an entrepreneur with a family, what’s your mantra for managing both?
I try to keep balance when I can and I don’t beat myself up when I can’t. Some days, I’m 80 percent mom and 20 percent entrepreneur, other days I’m 90 percent entrepreneur and 10 percent mom. Trying to stay grounded through the ebbs and flows can be difficult for the best multi-taskers. My daily meditation practice has been the most helpful for me.
When things are very busy and stressful, what’s the first thing to go and what’s a must-do to maintain your sanity?
First thing to go is exercise—truthfully it’s been easy to just cut that out, but now I’m realizing that for me, it needs to become a top priority. I need to make the time for it and skip the excuses. A must-do is my daily meditation, I make time for it twice daily even when I’m traveling.
Indie’s Advice for Entrepreneurs
What’s something I didn’t ask you about being an entrepreneur, about the journey/hustle that you wish I had?
Passion is everything. You need passion to keep you going through the tough days and late nights. Believing in your mission is more important than any work experience. It’s also important to know there will always be “nos” and there is no such thing as perfect. Never allow someone telling you “no” to derail you from your life’s mission. The “no” may actually be a hint to pivot and look for a better alternative out there.
As far as perfection, it doesn’t exist—learn from mistakes, they will happen and are an incredible tool to find your perfectly imperfect result.
What failure have you learned most from?
Trust your gut. It’s cliche, I know. We once had someone do language translations for us. We had this feeling something was off, but didn’t trust our gut. Turns out we should have—it was an incredibly expensive lesson after we had to reprint boxes and bottles on most of our products.
How did you overcome it?
I now trust my gut when something seems really off, both personally and professionally.
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
Know what you know and be honest with yourself about what you don’t. Then, surround yourself with a team that are the best at what they do that might not be your strength. Also, ask for help—it is not a weakness.
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you?
To me, it means understanding and honoring my limits. We all need sleep, time to play, a personal life, downtime, etc. As an entrepreneur, we often think that by sacrificing those needs, we will be more successful or get to the finish line faster. I find that when I honor those limits and take moments for myself and personal life, I’m way more productive and a happy #BalancedHustler.