Balanced Hustler: Meet Tara Foley, Founder of Follain
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.
I remember walking into Follain on Dartmouth Street in Boston, and Tara Foley, founder of the clean beauty boutique, greeted me. We chatted about why she started Follain and why I started my first company, Organic Bath Co. She was the person who got me to switch to natural deodorant, after just a quick conversation—and that was five years ago! Tara is now leading a growing national brand with six locations, 75 employees and a hectic travel schedule. Follain’s rise to becoming a trusted name in clean beauty made me certain that we had to chat with Tara for our latest Balanced Hustler interview.
Fast Facts: Tara Foley
When did you launch Follain?
In one sentence, tell us why you started Follain.
To get as many people as possible to find and experience the best clean and nourishing beauty for their skin.
How much did you invest to get the business started?
I didn’t want to take outside capital before opening in 2013 so I sold my car, and used winnings from a business plan competition. Once I saw there was a real opportunity, we raised a small round from angel investors and by now we’ve taken in additional rounds from private and financial investors.
Are you growing your business to sell? Or this is your dream job and you want to be doing this in 10 years?
How many hours a week do you work when you started versus now?
I work the same number of hours, but the hours are spent on very different tasks. I’ve always had the same title, but it has meant such different things over the past five years. It started as a little corner shop operator right out of grad school. Now it means leading a team of more than 20 in an office, and many more people in our stores across the country.
What two business goals do you have for 2019?
1) Grow awareness of our unique clean beauty matchmaking capabilities, through our in-store clean consultations and online skin quizzes. 2) Grow our Follain product line to include more products not available in clean beauty currently (due to formulas, packaging or price).
How Tara Balances the Hustle
You used to greet the majority of your customers and have hands on interactions with them. How hard was it to step away from the day to day realizing you needed be more focused on larger picture?
It’s the same amount of time, love and energy–just a very different day to day now. 🙂 I still get into a store at least once a week to greet and learn from customers. Those interactions are important to me and shape the vision for the entire business.
For entrepreneurs who are looking to take their business to the next level, what would you say the top three hires are?
That’s entirely unique to the business, and to the person at the helm. Obviously you should find people that complement your skill set. If you come from a creative background, then yes—operations and finance folks might make the most sense to start. More importantly though I recommend that you make sure to find people who not only complement your skill set, but who also truly support your vision and share your passion. That sounds obvious, but could actually be the most difficult part.
How did you begin the process of scaling? Was it reaching out to investors? Researching which cities needed Follain?
Before any of those things it was making a plan. I know you hear plans are meant to be broken—and I agree with that—but they’re also crucial to have every step of the way, to track what you’re learning, how you’re growing, and where you should go next.
How has scaling changed the corporate/headquarters work environment? You’ve added employees—what impact does has that had on the culture?
We’ve been through ups and downs like every growing business but honestly today, culture is better than ever. Everyone is on the same page about growing the business, and about the smart work it takes to realize big goals. The team is also having more fun in the office and stores, and that makes all the difference. You shouldn’t have to go out after work together to have great culture (though we do that too!)—people should be able to have time after work for their families and hobbies. You should be able to smile and laugh and learn from each other, enjoying time during the workday together! That’s certainly becoming the case more and more at Follain.
The clean beauty space has changed so much in the past five years. How does Follain maintain its competitive advantage?
Seriously—we actually have competitors now! When we opened in July 2013, none of the other growing clean beauty retailers even existed. Now that they’re out there, our competitive advantages shine even brighter. The biggest and most important one is our longstanding evangelist Follain community. Another one is our assortment. We don’t have the biggest selection of clean beauty; we test and edit down to the best selection of clean beauty, to take the guesswork and plain work out of it for customers. Then when we “match” women to the best clean beauty for them, we can be confident in our selections.
Is there anything you wish you’d have done differently as you’ve grown?
Too many things to count! But I decided a while ago that I can’t dwell on those things so much anymore. As a founder (the business feels like my baby), I used to spend so much time dwelling on regrets, and then realized that that was time I should’ve been spending plotting and preparing for the future. Much better use of energy!
What does your day to day look like now, versus year one?
Between the growth of Follain and my family, days today are entirely different from year one—in almost every way. Also in year one, every day was spent in the stores (which served as both our retail and office!), whereas today, every day is different and I’m on the road much more. I’m grateful for all of this change and growth—mainly because I’m continuing to learn so much every day.
You just gave birth to baby number two. Were you able to take off your CEO hat for a bit and enjoy maternity leave? Asking for a friend (me ;-)).
Of course I was! It wasn’t for a full three months, but for the first three weeks, I was almost completely disconnected from Follain. That’s saying a lot for me. And I missed it too much to stay away much longer! That’s the only reason I go back so fast. It’s different when it’s your company. Going back doesn’t mean full time from day one; I eased my way back into a full time schedule for sure. At this point in my life, Follain is a part of me and I want to immerse myself in it. But I’ve also learned to compartmentalize much better so when I’m on and present at Follain, that gets my full attention, and when I go home, I can be on and present with my kids and husband.
What advice do you have for a CEO preparing her company for her maternity leave?
The most important thing for me was to make sure there are decision makers at the company in my absence. There’s no telling what kind of birth you’ll end up having. No matter how much you plan with your team in advance, you can’t anticipate how long it’ll take you or your baby to heal. If there aren’t confident, smart decision makers at the company, a lot of people may end up waiting for you to return in order to make certain decisions and move things forward. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be pretty frustrated if you return from maternity—no matter how long you take—and nothing meaningful has moved forward. 🙂
How has motherhood changed the way you lead your company?
Becoming a mother has helped me learn to be more present wherever I am, whatever I am doing.
Did you ever dream Follain would be this big? What is your dream now?
I’m always dreaming bigger! There are still so many women out there who for various different reasons haven’t even considered turning around the labels on their beauty products. Our dream is to reach all of them. True success will be shifting an entire mindset around feeding and nourishing your skin with wholesome ingredients.
Mentors have been game changing for my businesses. What recommendation do you have for someone looking for a mentor? How do you cultivate that relationship?
Just like team members—I’ve had the most success with mentor relationships where I’ve actively sought out individuals that complement my or my teams’ core competencies. The hardest part for me has been making time to stay closely connected with mentors, and I’m confident we both truly benefit when I do make the time.
Tara’s Advice to Entrepreneurs
What do you want to leave our readers with?
One thing I felt like I heard a lot, was to trust your gut. I never really did anything with that advice for years. I now know how important it is, and really, what a gift it is, to be able to balance data driven decision making with straight up intuition and instincts.
What failure have you learned most from?
There have been many! But honestly the times when I didn’t trust my gut on a team-related issue, are the times I regret most. Whoever said “people are the hardest part” was speaking the very honest truth. Whenever we’ve hired out of desperation—under the gun with timing and having to fill a space immediately—we’ve made bad hiring decisions.
How did you overcome it?
We’ve had to part ways with some folks who we hired under the gun. Oftentimes, it’s a mutual parting of ways and not a right fit. Ultimately, we now know how important it is that people appreciate the unique mission of the business, the start-up culture and pace, and the goals. We’re in such a great place with our team whenever we make sure to hire according to those parameters.
What is your number one piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs?
There is one ultimate goal for your business, yet it’s so incredibly easy to get distracted from that goal. Prioritize things that help you get closer to achieving the ultimate goal, and as shiny as some projects might seem, don’t let yourself be distracted by things that don’t support that goal!
What does being a #BalancedHustler mean to you
Knowing that you can’t have it all. Being okay with that. And being happy with what you do have and know in your gut is the most special and unique. I also think it’s important to build in time to take care of yourself. This is a work in progress for me, and includes everything from going to sleep earlier so I function higher during the day, to taking little, five to fifteen minute increments for yoga, meditation or walks.
Want more inspiro and tactical advice from female entrepreneurs? Check out our full #BalancedHustler series. Or, join us in Boston on June 22 for our Balanced Hustle Summit and learn from incredible female entrepreneurs in person.