How a skin condition and not pivoting led to a million dollar beauty biz


A self-proclaimed beauty-addict herself, then-financier Victoria Tsai ended up giving herself acute dermatitis by testing too many beauty products on her own face. It was so bad that she needed topical and oral antibiotics in addition to antihistamines to treat it. With all the bleeding and blistering she was limited to using Vaseline as a moisturizer and subsequently looked greasy all the time.


Her experience made her take a more serious look at what she was putting on her skin and the chemicals that all these products contained. When she became pregnant with her daughter, she became even more dedicated to looking for non-harmful alternatives.


Tatcha Founder & CEO, Victoria Tsai
Tatcha Beauty Founder & CEO, Victoria Tsai


The trip that started it all

After getting her MBA from Harvard, she was working for Starbucks to help launch its consumer products business in China. Every two weeks she flew from headquarters in Seattle to China with a layover in Japan. While on a layover she discovered Japanese blotting papers – a lightweight paper women use to blot the oil off their skin. With her skin condition they were the only thing that didn’t irritate her skin and unable to find them anywhere in the US, she wrote to the small company in Japan that made them and told them she was interested in bringing them to the U.S.  The owner wasn’t interested but agreed he would meet with her next time she visited Kyoto, the city where they were based.



Going to the source

During her visit she learned that blotting papers were actually a by-product of the gold-leaf beating process and it was geisha who actually figured out that they could use the paper as a beauty tool. She wondered if Geisha were even real and was soon introduced to a real geisha, Kyoko.


Victoria Tsai of Tatcha skincare and her muse Kyoka
Victoria Tsai of Tatcha skincare and her muse, Kyoka, a geisha in Kyoto. Photo credit: Miki Chishaki.


She says in an interview with Inc. that recalls thinking, “Kyoko had no makeup on yet her skin was flawless.” She asked what she uses and geisha proceeded to show her various “jars of powders and waxes” which Victoria immediately bought and took back home to the US along with 10,000 packs of blotting paper. After four weeks of using the products under the instructions she’d received from her new geisha friend, the smoothness of her skin returned, and after eight weeks her skin was almost back to normal. The doctor had told her this would never happen.



Launching Tatcha Beauty


She soon went back to Japan with a translator to learn more launched Tatcha Beauty (more on the name) later the same year. But it wasn’t easy. As for the 10,000 packs of blotting paper, to buy them she had to sell her car and work several jobs. She also sold her engagement ring which fetched a much needed $30k.

Victoria Tsai at the airport
Victoria Tsai at the airport in Japan on one of her many trips. Photo credit:


She started sending samples to editors, celebrities and the TV shows etc. After getting some press and meeting with a number of potential retail partners she was eventually rejected by all of them and was told her product was not ‘hi-tech’ enough from a retail angle.
At that point she thought it was over. She thought about doing a pivot but what made her product great is that it was simple, pure and natural – there was nothing about that that fit with what the market was telling her it wanted. She didn’t think it made sense to pivot but she was quickly running out of money without a retailer.



Not pivoting was the right answer

Based in San Francisco, she tried to meet with all the VC’s she could get a meeting with but they weren’t interested and she was too small at the time for private equity funding from a bank.
A meeting with an angel investor turned out to be the big turning point. One of them believed so much in her and her product that they went to her dream retailer and asked them to give the product a chance and told them they would buy them all back personally if no one bought them. ‘I will never ever forget that, it’s the only reason we got our chance, and I’m glad we stuck to our guns and didn’t pivot’.

Tatcha blotting papers
Tatcha Beauty blotting papers – what started it all.

By 2014, Tatcha Beauty sales were $12mm+ and the company was #21 on the Inc 500 list of fastest growing companies in North America. Tactcha Beauty products are sold at Barneys New York and Sephora stores across the US, Joyce Beauty stores across Asia and online on QVC and their own website at



What can we learn from Victoria’s story?

When asked what her goal for Tatcha Beauty is, Victoria tells CNBC:


“The ultimate dream is to have a brand that is around for the long haul, a brand that in 100 years outlives me.”


What’s interesting is that if you believe you have a good product and believe in what it can do for people, changing it to meet ‘market demands’ is not always the answer to making it a success. Tatcha Beauty is an example of this in practice. Why change something that has worked for hundreds of years? maybe it just needs a fresh introduction.


More with Victoria Tsai:


Success stories are great but they often leave out the information we really want to know. The How They Did It series is dedicated to stories about entrepreneurs that have succeeded but with a focus on the failures they experienced,  the obstacles they overcame and the tough decisions they had to make along the way.


6 ways to get really good at managing expectations

If you’re someone who is good at managing expectations – those of your client, your team, your boss, maybe even your family – you’re going to be better off in any situation because you’ve made everyone else part of the situation better off as well.

Dilbert on managing expectations
An amusing perspective only possible from Dilbert. Credit:


What ‘managing expectations’ really means


What managing expectations really means is making sure there are NO SURPRISES.  Outside of birthday parties, wedding proposals and maybe winning the lottery, surprises not usually good things. And remember, for those examples of good surprises we just mentioned, they were only surprises to the people who didn’t know about them So the point of managing expectations is to reduce the number of surprises. People don’t like uncertainty.


It’s important to keep expectations in check.


As much as humans like to be interested in different things, we all work with some sort of life/work routines. It’s been proven that routines help us focus on what’s important by reducing the number of decisions we need to make each day just to survive when each day is different form the next.


That they all happen to start with ‘C’ is pure coincidence. Here are 6 ways you can work on your ability to manage expectations and get better results in whatever situation you might find yourself in.


1. Be cautious

You’ve probably head people say ‘don’t over promise’. This doesn’t just apply to project deliverables but every aspect of a project or relationship. If following a presentation your client asks you, ‘so can setup another meeting in a couple days from now to review those changes?’, DON’T OVER PROMISE by agreeing. You should agree of course, that meeting will definitely happen but a couple of days from now might not work best for your team (who are the ones who need to do the changes in question). The best answer when a Client is trying to get a commitment from you on the spot is


“Sure, let me check with the team and I will get back to you by (______).”


No can fault you for wanting to confirm with your team first so you’re sure.  After all they’d rather know that they won’t have to rearrange their schedule either. The most important thing here is to make sure you get back to them by when you promised them.



2. Be consistent

The easier you make it for people to know what to expect from you, the easier you’re job will be to manage expectations . If you always send out notes and action items following meetings, the people who receive them will come to expect it. They may not necessarily acknowledge the effort because, ‘thanks for sending me more action items Tara!’, said no one ever.


When you do something consistently, it helps to provide some stability to whoever, Client, team etc., that you’re working with. It also communicates (without you having to say anything) that you’re serious about this project and that they should be too.


Now if you send notes and action items after some meetings and not others, this isn’t good. If there’s nothing worth noting at the conclusion of a meeting, it pretty much means it was a complete waste of time and that you should work on managing expectations for what you want to get out of meetings in the future.



3. Read the contract

If you don’t know what the contract says then you’re kind of ‘up the river without a paddle’, or rather ‘heading down to whitewater with no life preserver’. Maybe it’s called a ‘Scope of Work’ or maybe ‘The Brief’, whatever document it is that outlines what you’re doing for who, for how much and by when is the contract I’m talking about. Read it once and then read it again, slowly if you have to, don’t skim it. Skimming leads to ‘oh i totally missed that before’, a.k.a. budget and schedule over-runs aka. mad client.

comical illustration about contracts
No matter how much you don’t want to do it, make yourself read the contract. You might start to like it! Photo credit: Fran Cartoons


Know exactly what you’re on the hook for and if the contract is unclear in any way, which i’m quite sure it will be, schedule a quick meeting with whoever wrote it so you’re both on the same page as to what it means, what you’re doing and most importantly, what the client is expecting.



4. Over communicate

Everything is always going great until it isn’t.  That once friendly client contact now wants to know where you are all the time, and would quickly take a spot sitting on your shoulder if she could. Remember that as soon as you give a client, or anyone for that matter, a reason to doubt you or worry, it’s a very difficult thing to undo.


It’s a good thing to keep in mind that your client usually has a full-time job to do in addition to being your point-person. It’s not their job to manage you and you shouldn’t need them to. So over-communicating doesn’t mean share every possible detail, it means emphasizing the the most the information that is most relevant to obtaining an outcome that is beneficial for everyone involved.


Let’s use an example for this one. Say you’re setting up that meeting your client was asking about earlier to go over those revisions. Since this would be the 2nd meeting you might follow a process where after a certain number of revisions, you require a client’s approval or sign-off to proceed to the next stage of the project. If we assume that this is a meeting where you will be looking for approval, you’ll want to make sure you’re client is well prepared to give you what you need.


To over-communicate in this example is to make sure both your team and the Client are clear about what the objective of the meeting is in advance. This would mean speaking to your main Client point of contact to make sure that they know what the meeting  objective is that anyone from their side who should be involved in making an approval attend the meeting. Over-communicating means actually stating these steps and then following them up with an email. An old colleague of mine Nicole taught me this saying:


“If you ASSUME you make and ASS out of U and ME”


Remember, NO SURPRISES. Never assume that what you’re thinking about is what other people must be thinking about too. Everyone has their own priorities they need to get through everyday, respect this and help them by over-communicating what you need up front and in point-form.
5. Be candid


Yes honesty is always the best policy but within reason. Anything information that would cause a client or your team to worry for no reason is usually something you can keep to yourself.


For example, say the Jr Visual Designer working on the project is going on vacation in 2 weeks and another designer will take over any work until they return. It’s likely that the Junior designer is not client facing so that they’re going to be away would be of no consequence to the client. The most important part of this scenario is that the work that needs to happen while they’re out is being covered by someone else, and you already have a plan for that.


Let’s look at another example. Say that if you’re two weeks away from launching a new e-commerce website for a client in a week but something is going wrong with the products database but your engineering team is not exactly sure what it is just yet but they’re working on it. The client has announced the launch date to the press and has sold a lot of advertising that will be nonrefundable so close to the air date. Assuming that your engineering team agree this is a problem that has the potential to impact the site’s launch date, being candid with your client about the true situation is the best plan so they can do whatever they have to on their side to help mitigate the risk.  And remember to over-communicate how the problem was identified and now what you’re doing to fix it to reduce worry as much as possible.


6. Be Clear

Perhaps it’s obvious but I’m including it for good measure as it’s something that I work on everyday to try improve. The easier you make it for the other person to understand what they need to do, the higher the chance of them doing it.


So what this really means is be clear about the call to action. Do you need a response? If so, what type of response do you need? For example, if you need an approval for something say you need approval and by when. If you need the person you’re emailing to follow-up on something to get information back to you, state that clearly. Just remember that most people are focused on doing their job, they don’t have time to figure out stuff for your job. Helping them helps you – before you hit ‘send’, read it out loud to yourself. If you start to feel silly reading it, change it before you send it.

Dilbert cartoon on communication
No one has the time to figure out what you’re trying to say, let alone what you actually want, simplify! Photo credit:


And here’s a bonus!


7. Exercise Clairvoyance (the bonus ‘C’!)

No one expects you to see the future but if you’re doing all the above you should be able to imagine what possible scenarios you might encounter down the line. A big part of managing expectations is being able to foresee potential issues and try to prevent and/or mitigate them early on.



If you can apply these to every situation you’re in you’ll be doing a great job managing expectations and people will be lining up to work with you. Here they are one more time:

  1. Be cautious
  2. Be consistent
  3. Read the contract
  4. Over communicate
  5. Be candid
  6. Exercise clairvoyance (if you can)

Customer service: not just another department anymore

What comes to mind when you think of customer service? Maybe it’s that picture on the ‘contact us’ page of the headset wearing model with a megawatt smile. Or more likely, it’s the memory of your last conversation with your cable company slash internet service provider.


Dilbert customer service cartoon
What having to call customer service sometimes feels like. Photo credit: Dilbert


Whatever the image or experience that’s top of mind for you, the role and importance of customer service for any company has become significantly more critical to a businesses success than even just a few years ago. Technology and the internet has played a large role. In one recent study, over 80% of executives surveyed said that customer expectations were much higher than even just three years ago. Whether it’s through a community generated forum like Reddit, listings sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor, Amazon product pages or social media in general, the voice of the customer travels far and wide.



Customer service is no longer the thing companies can worry after they’ve sold the thing they’re trying to sell. How many bad reviews do you have to see before you start to reconsider  a purchase? There could be 30 five star reviews but if there’s one two star,  I know which one I’m going to be reading first.  And this doesn’t just apply to companies anymore, the same goes for doctors, lawyers, hair salons.


amazon product reviews
Hmm….which reviews do I want to read first?



Customer experience > Customer service


Today, good customer service and customer experiences are something that successful companies given just as much attention to as their product or service itself. Customer service is what can set you apart from the competition. According to a Gartner study, 89% of companies expect to compete mostly on the basis of customer experience – up from 36% just four years ago.


Customer service used to be reactionary, problems were addressed after the fact. Today however, a huge part of customer service is being proactive about anticipating what problems might happen and getting ahead of them. Being proactive meant that a company would need to be able to listen to it’s customers better and use this feedback as an input to designing a better customer experience. The ability to collect feedback in an accurate and timely way can give a business all the info it needs to make the necessary adjustments and improvements to improve and more importantly, stay ahead of the competition.


The two main goals of a customer service strategy usually include these two things:


(1) Companies want their customers to keep being customers and

(2) Companies want their customers to tell their friends about them



Everyone should have a role in customer service


If I’m doing a project with a Client with a business that has a customer support team , I always ask to meet with their customer service team as early on as possible. I can almost guarantee that this is the most effective way to find out very quickly what’s working and more importantly, what’s not.


Giving all employees an opportunity to be on the front lines, even if just for a few hours at a time, has become a proven way to align an organization on customer-focus. Jeff Bezos tells Forbes  that that “everyone has to be able to work in a call center,” and this is why all employees at Amazon are required to do two days of call-center training each year. And what does he say he hopes to achieve by doing this? Larger profits and higher sales? Well not directly, “humility and empathy for the customer” is the payoff he says.


Jeff Bezos
Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon has also said focusing on the customer makes a company more resilient. Photo credit: SMB CEO


We could also stand to learn a lot by looking at industries outside of our own. The restaurant industry in New York is one I’ve always found fascinating. Danny Meyer, owner of the infamous Union Square Hospitality group is probably one of the most successful restauranteurs in the world. He evaluates potential hires using what we calls his ‘hospitality quotient’, which is made up of traits he considers essential for someone to have in order to be successful at any of this restaurants. Similar to Bezos, Empathy is one of them. Another is ‘optimistic warmth’, which very similar to ‘humility’.


Danny Meyer
Danny Meyer, Founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group at Gramercy Tavern. Photo credit: Adweek


Perhaps in way, the digital space is becoming more like traditional customer service operations like restaurants where products and services are delivered in real time. Like being in a restaurant, a company has a window of time of make and impression and the customer will decide whether to return, maybe with a new friend, or look elsewhere for a better experience. I think there’s a lot we can learn from industries outside of our own.



And if time is still money regardless of what industry you’re in, the more you can leverage customer feedback as an input to how the entire organization understands the customer experience, the faster you’ll achieve the results you want to see on the bottom line.





10 principles to deliver your best customer service, every time

As a Project Manager, a successful project is about more than just completing a project according to the contract. A better measure of project success is when a Client is so happy with the result that they’re willing to give you a glowing recommendation at the end of it.


happy campers
You always want the campers to be happy. Photo credit: Mike Erskine via Unsplash.


For every new project I made it a personal goal to do a great job and to make sure that each client felt like they were always getting the best possible result (and indeed they were!). While the goals, strategy and deliverables on each project were different, delivering a great customer service experience is something everyone should be striving to do. After all, more and more data today points to customer service being the defining factor in if a customer decides to buy or use a product or service again.


I found that if I applied a set of specific principles (or steps) to every project, I know that what I’d be providing is the best possible customer service to each client. So without further ado, here they are.


10 Principles for delivering your best customer service, every time


1. Listen – yes but actually listen, and to the things that might not be said. If you really try to listen (and understand) what the other person is saying this is usually half the battle. Make it easier on yourself and really try to listen.


2. Respond in real time – making someone wait for a response is not good, usually because it makes the other person feeling that they’re not special. Even if you don’t perhaps have the answer to a specific question, just say ‘i got your email, and will get back to you _(when you’ll get back to them)__”


3. Do what you say – if you say you’ll get back to someone tomorrow morning, you better do it! Or else the other person will start to feel they’re not special.


4. Follow-up – if someone says they’ll get back to you tomorrow morning and they don’t, follow-up! This shows that you care, and that you were LISTENING when they told you they’d get back to you tomorrow morning.


5. Explain your process – don’t assume everyone is an expert in what you do, after all they hired you to do whatever it is you’re doing. Think of it like being at the dentist, would you like to know the situation before you see a big drill coming at you?


6. Make information accessible – don’t hog the info, have a place or way to share information about what you’re doing so people don’t feel like they’re in the dark. And once someone knows it’s available, they might not even use it.


7. Own your mistakes – if you screwed up, own it. It will encourage others to do the same.


8. Anticipate  – you can’t see the future but as the expert you should be able to look out for situations that can be prevented or averted. In other words, be proactive.


9. Move things forward – some people might call this ‘getting to yes’ but the right answer could be anything. If you are in a situation you you don’t know which way to go, ask yourself ‘what do i need to do to move this situation forward’? ‘What has to happen for us to get to/do X’ – whatever the answer is, focus on that and what you need to do in order to move it along.


10. Be a partner – a Client is a client but everyone wants to feel like they have a friend. Make them feel like you’ve got their back.