Create & Cultivate 100: Entrepreneur: Moj Mahdara

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“You don’t need lipstick; lipstick needs you.”

This is just one of the quotes that hang on the walls of the BeautyCon HQ, but it encapsulates a lot of Moj Mahdara’s attitude. The BeautyCon CEO is steadfast in her mission to redefine the beauty industry and how consumers feel about beauty.

BeautyCon is more than a conference—it’s a festival celebrating a new generation of self-expression. Under Moj’s direction (she took over the company in 2015), the event has transformed from an invite-only YouTuber meetup to a massive sold-out festival with crowds of 15,000 makeup- and YouTube-obsessed fans. The platform enables the trifecta of beauty industry stakeholders to come together—the brands, the influencers, and the fans under one roof.

If you’ve ever been to a BeautyCon event, you know firsthand the kind of energy that pulses throughout. Complete with neon signs, 360-degree photo booths, keynote speakers and panels, hundreds of brand booths, celeb appearances, and influencer meet-and-greets, the festival feels like a bazaar for the cult of beauty. While events are mostly held in LA or New York, the beauty festival has also held its signature events in Dallas, London, and Dubai, proving there is a global audience who co-signs the movement to redefine what beauty means to them. And Moj Mahdara is hustling behind the scenes to ensure it continues to scale.

You’ve been named a serial entrepreneur. Where do you get your business momentum?

I probably get my business momentum from our fans. I think BeautyCon has some of the most contagiously enthusiastic fans in the space, and I get momentum from fellow founders who I find to be super inspiring. I'm also biologically someone who's just incredibly ambitions and really likes to push things to the extreme next level and constantly innovate.

In the early stages of your career with the Beautycon team, you took the company to new levels. Change isn’t always easy for people to adapt to. Did you face any criticism and how did you move past it?

Criticism is a part of leadership, which is not fun. It's not the sexy stuff. But I think when you get criticism, you have to balance by thinking, "The truth is somewhere in the middle." Initially, I used to be really hurt by criticism, and I think now I’ve come to understand that sometimes those criticisms are about me, and sometimes they're not about me. And when they are about me, I take that feedback as a opportunity to innovate, iterate, and better the product and process that we're working on.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of my job here at BeautyCon is getting to work with hundreds of thousands of young people who want to redefine beauty and think about beauty through the lens of expression and power and creativity. I'm super inspired by the overall energy of our audience.

It’s incredible to meet someone who feels like they've been particularly touched by BeautyCon's mission. How they've had a moment of insight into themselves around what beauty really is, or when we're able to work with talent and have them have sort of a breakthrough around what beauty means for them. Because beauty can be such an amazing thing, but can also be very vicious. And I think beauty being redefined is really important to a generation of people that were raised to be very hard on themselves.

What are some habits or routines you’ve established that you’d say contribute to your success?

Well, exercise is super important to me. I'm an avid boxer and I like to swim at Equinox. I eat really well and I don't drink very much alcohol, if at all. I have a bit of a CBD habit that helps with anxiety. I have a lot of anxiety at times. Meditation and prayer help too. I believe in faith and a higher power can be a well-balanced practice. Also cuddling my new baby is also really grounding.

When you get a new idea what’s the first thing you do with it?

Oh my gosh, when I get a new idea, I like to tell someone else about it, talk about it. Start to research it, Google it, look on social about it. I do a lot of research when I think about a new idea.

It’s incredible to meet someone who feels like they’ve been particularly touched by BeautyCon’s mission—how they’ve had a moment of insight [about] what beauty really is.

When it comes to building a strong team, what qualities or personality traits do you look for?

I feel like that's an always-building process. I think the qualities and personality traits are changing on a yearly basis, but I would say I'm always looking of people who are better at different projects and tasks than I am, that I can learn from. I don't like "yes" people, I like working with people that can be direct and honest about what can or can't be done within a certain amount of time or budget. I like people who have a good sense of humor, because working in a startup you have to have really thick skin. So people who have a strong emotional constitution is something I also really look for.

What are the common challenges you've seen among female business owners and entrepreneurs?

Pretty much every single thing that we have to do is going to be about ten times harder than it would be for a man. I sometimes have fantasies about, what would my life be like if I just could be a boy Monday through Friday, and go home and be myself on the weekends and evenings.

Because I feel like, frankly, there's a lot of things that would be a lot easier. I don't know if society is ready for female CEOs to exist the way we want to exist or the way I want to exist. And there's still such intense gender disparity, especially when you fold in sexuality and ethnicity and faith, that I don't know that people are quite ready to deal with a queer, Iranian-American, butch CEO. I think it's still something that society as a whole is still adjusting to, but it doesn't change my ambitions or the things I'm interested in.

I think women in general need to learn to be more comfortable talking about money. I think we need to be more comfortable with being stronger leaders and personalities, and I think we need to lean into our instincts more, because I think that's one of our greater gifts.

Being self-reflective and keeping detailed track of decisions you made is important to move forward and not make the same mistakes over and over again.

When you hit a bump or hurdle in your career, how do you find a new road + switch gears to find success?

I think I hit bumps and hurdles every day. I think I am constantly switching gears. I mean, look, when you're an entrepreneur, you're constantly auditing and analyzing your behavior to see where you can alter outcomes. And so being self-reflective and keeping detailed track of decisions you made and how you made those decisions, are really important factors moving to moving forward and not making the same mistakes over and over again.

What’s the best piece of #realtalk advice you’ve ever received?

You need to give more than you take in terms of your network and your relationships. Just because an idea has never been done, doesn't mean that it should. Your marriage and your significant other is probably the most important business decision and co-founder you could ever choose in your life. Those are all three things that I really do believe.

What are two qualities you think every entrepreneur needs in order to be successful?

The ability to lean into the sharp edges of failure and to not personalize those failures. To move forward and use them as insights and education. And then, I think you have to have really strong instincts, and I don't know that you can learn that. I think having really, really strong instincts is one of the most important things an entrepreneur can hone-in on themselves.

If you were stranded on a deserted island what beauty products are you bringing with you?

Well, obviously some sunscreen. I've been using a lot of True Botanicals, and its clinical face washes and cool serums and night creams. I also love this new product Bite. It's in my pocket. It's an agave lip-mask and just something I've been using a lot.

Who inspired you the most in your life growing up?

Bob Geldof, Steve Jobs, Jimmy Iovine, Oprah Winfrey, and Hillary Clinton. Those were some folks that I was very inspired by as a young person.

Whose career is inspiring you today?

Oh, gosh. I think Whitney Wolfe is super inspiring with what she's done with her bounce back from Tinder. And Bozoma Saint John is also someone that I am really inspired by. Oh! And Mindy Grossman, the new CEO of Weight Watchers. Those are three boss women that I really think are amazing.

What are you most excited for in 2019?

I feel like I'm always excited for whatever's next. 2019's going to be a big year, and I'm excited to continue to explore the boundaries of what health and well-being mean to me. I'm excited for my baby boy's one-year birthday on March 17th. And for BeautyCon New York and BeautyCon LA. We have three big formats we're announcing, and then we have a bunch of new team members joining, so stay tuned.

Photography by Annie McElwain Photography

Photoshoot skincare provided by Dermalogica