Live Purely with Amy Liu
Amy Liu of Tower 28: Authentically Building a Beauty Brand with a Cult Like Status
It’s all about good, clean, fun this week as Elizabeth welcomes Amy Liu, Founder and CEO of Tower 28, a fast growing make up and skin care company that is also 100% clean, vegan and dermatologist/allergist tested. Amy first shares how her experience at huge brands in the beauty industry like L’Oreal and Smashbox shaped her as a founder today. She talks about how she got the confidence at 40 years old to launch Tower 28, with some help from great friends and a strong team along the way. Amy touches upon a few of the viral moments that made Tower 28’s products like their lip oils and SOS sprays popular, her “we’ve made it” moment of getting in Sephora, her own struggle with eczema and how Tower 28 products have helped her heal, and what makes Tower 28’s mission and ingredients stand out in world of beauty.
Beauty is an expression of a lifestyle, and you want to feel like it's fun.- Amy Liu
Podcast transcript below:Elizabeth Stein 00:00
Hi, everyone. I'm Elizabeth Stein, founder, and CEO of Purely Elizabeth. And this is Live Purely with Elizabeth, featuring candid conversations about how to thrive on your wellness journey.
This week's guest is Amy Liu, founder and CEO of Tower 28, a beauty company inclusive of all skin tones, skin types, budgets, and beauty philosophies. Tower 28 is the first beauty brand that's 100% clean, vegan, and free of every known skin irritant. Everything is rigorously dermatologist and allergy tested adhering strictly to the National Eczema Association's guidelines. In this episode, we chat about Amy's journey in the beauty industry over the last 20 years as a beauty executive at some of the fastest-growing prestige companies including Smashbox, Kate Somerville, and Josie Maran cosmetics, and how that experience gave her the confidence to start her brand. Amy shares how as a longtime eczema sufferer, she couldn't find any clean alternatives, so set out to create Tower 28. We talk about the challenges of starting your brand, balancing work and family, how she's authentically built the brand and so much more. Keep listening to learn all about Amy and Tower 28. And if you want to try out their products, which you absolutely should, I highly recommend the lip jelly and the cream blush and bronzer. Use code LIVEPURELY15 at tower28.com. Enjoy.
It's officially oatmeal season and I'm so excited to share that you can find our purely Elizabeth oatmeal products at select Walmart stores just in time to get cozy with a warming breakfast. You can find our blueberry flax, oatmeal multipacks, and dark chocolate chunk oatmeal cups in the cereal aisle. Our gluten-free instant oatmeals are made with organic oats combined with five superfood grades and seeds for delicious taste and texture. Our packs and cups make for an easy breakfast, snack, or dessert. And they're also perfect to take on the go. Click the Store Locator in the show notes to find a Walmart store near you. Happy oatmeal season and happy shopping.
Amy, welcome to the podcast. Thank you so much for being on here. I'm such a huge fan of your brand.
Amy Liu 02:34
Same by the way. And thanks for having me.
Elizabeth Stein 02:37
Yeah, absolutely. So let's start with the beginning of your journey. I know that you were not always in beauty. So what did you want to do when you first went to school and got out of school?
Amy Liu 02:50
I went to UCSD for my undergrad. And right out of undergrad, the first thing I did was get a job in consulting because I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. But I was trying to not make a wrong decision. And I felt like going into consulting made it so that I could be exposed to a lot of different industries. So, I worked for Accenture. I enjoyed it. But I wasn't fulfilled. It wasn't checking all the boxes for me. I went back to business school to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. And I read books. I don't know if you've ever had that moment in your life, but I read all these books like what should I do with my life and I spent all this time with my career counselors trying to figure it out. And I honed in on really wanting to be a little bit more attached to the end user, to the actual consumer. And the things that I was thinking about every day, wanting to relate to it. As opposed to consulting, I was doing systems integration and things that felt a bit more nebulous to me. At the core of it, I wanted to think about things that related to women, and I narrowed it down to like either fashion or beauty. And at the time when I started doing informational interviews and thinking about it more, it was fashion is much more subjective. It's much more based on what's happening in the creative world and what trends are. Beauty is a bit more linear where it's like pink lip gloss is always going to be in. You can be a little bit more analytical and straightforward about it. So I was like okay, well then maybe it's beauty. And that was it for me. So while I was in business school at USC, I got my internship with L'Oreal. Then my second year in business school, I started working full-time for Smashbox. And now it's been 20 years that I've worked in the beauty industry. I have had one other job.
Elizabeth Stein 05:02
So for that first job at L'Oreal, what was that like? Did you immediately feel like this is the right decision and this is the path that I want to go and what was that process for you?
Amy Liu 05:12
Yes and no. I was so in awe of working in the beauty industry, I remember showing up in New York and working on Fifth Avenue, going up into a high rise, and getting out of a cab once in a while. I just felt like such a hillbilly coming from Inland Empire, like LA, like not having had that big city experience in that same way. So I think I was enamored by it. But at the same time, L'Oreal, when I look now back at my history, it's the only time I've worked at a big company. So the thing for me was working at a big company felt like a trade-off. It's like, you can work at a big company and have a very small job as a young person. Or you can work at a small company and do a lot of different things and have a big job and a much broader view of things. So I went from L'Oreal, in which I was on the lip team, and within the lip team, I was on the lip liner. You know what I mean? the size of the business is pretty big. But my focus was narrow. Where when I came back to LA, and I started working in Smashbox, we had just launched internationally for the first time. And so I had a VP above me, I was a director. And I was in charge of all of international and it's very much like being a general manager, because he was the one going out and getting the contracts and figuring out which distributors and which retailers we should work with. And then I would come in and do everything else. So I would do assortments, pricing, marketing, and market plans. It felt entrepreneurial. And I think that was where I got the bug. And I was like, this is what I want to do. And so I went from Smashbox, which was entrepreneurial. In the sense that we open international for the first time. Then I went to Kate Somerville and Kate Somerville was right when the private equity group came in. And we took the brand into retail for the first time. We've been in clinics before that, and hotels. And then I went to Josie and I was the first executive, they had the first VP. And we were very small at the time, we were maybe like 8 or 9 million, and then we grew to 50 million in like three years while I was there. So that has been the trajectory that I've enjoyed being a part of, which is like a small team that can do a lot and grow a lot and wear a lot of different hats. And I think that's what gave me the confidence to want to do something on my own because I felt like I'd seen it. And it also gave me passion because I felt like that was what I was interested in.
Elizabeth Stein 08:07
I would certainly imagine that being exposed to that environment, especially having come from L'Oreal to see that other side that it's like that, it's so invigorating that energy of that startup entrepreneurial, and sure they were startups, Smashbox. But that agility and ability to make decisions.
Amy Liu 08:28
Totally. They were but compared to a L'Oreal.
Elizabeth Stein 08:35
Sure. So do you remember at what point or if it was not till really at the end, at what point did you start to think in the back of your mind, like one day when I started my brand?
Amy Liu 08:45
To be honest with you, the entire time when I was at USC, I majored in marketing and minored in entrepreneurship. And the whole time, I was like, I think this is what I want to do. I was the Co-president of the entrepreneurship management club or whatever that was. And so in the back of my mind, that was always something I wanted to do. My dad, growing up, was an entrepreneur and I think I saw him with all his highs and lows, but he was so into it. He was so passionate about what he was doing. And then juxtapose with my mom. She had a job that was like nine to six every day and she left and she came back at the same time every day, but she never talked about her job. It just didn't feel like she seemed as attached to it. And I was like, I want the version my dad has. My dad was a property developer and we would go to Vegas and he would just be not gambling but looking at all the hotels and paying attention to the elevators and the railings and everything. And on the weekends, he would take me to see spec houses and things like that. And I wanted that level in it. So I think the whole time that I was working for other people, the thing that I was trying to do was learn on someone else's time and pay attention. And I did do that. I think the funny thing is I got to 40 and it was like, well, am I going to do this? And the harder thing was leaping thinking about it and wanting to do it to do it. Gratefully, I had a friend who offered to kickstart the funding side a bit. And was like, you've been talking about this for such a long time. Like, if you don't do it now, you're not going to do it, because I was 40.
Elizabeth Stein 10:49
Well, thank God for this friend of yours.
Amy Liu 10:53
I think thank God for anyone who like, just gives you a little bit of that tough love in the moment. Yeah. And makes you realize you should just get out of your way.
Elizabeth Stein 11:06
Absolutely. We all need to get out of our comfort zones and need that little push. So what was it then at that time that you decided to start to move forward? Was it always, hey, I have this idea for not necessarily called Tower 28, but this concept, or what was that like for you?
Amy Liu 11:26
So I started three other companies before this with other people, which is something I haven't talked about that much previously. Not that I'm embarrassed by it. But it wasn't necessarily related to me. It was more like the three different companies I started were more like somebody else I knew had an idea. And I thought well of them. And they were like, do this with me. And I think I believed in somebody else, almost more than I believed in myself where I was like, I can do the work. I know how to do the work. So I'll attach myself to somebody else's idea and not for any wrongdoing of anybody, but all three of those businesses didn't work I think ultimately, what I realized and that was not until I put myself in it in a way that I could feel passionate about it, but I don't know. I think even working for other people, I think so much of it felt like I was a really good number two, I was good at telling someone else's story. Like I used to write all of Josie’s and Kate's speeches, I did all their press for them. I was good at being a hype woman for someone pretty hard for me to like, come into this and be like, okay, well, what is my story? What is my truth? And how do I own that? And even when I first started to get back to answering your question, even when I first started Tower 28, this is so funny, because I never really talked about this. But the original name of the company that I wanted, the deck that I circulated to raise money from friends and family, the original idea was I wanted to name the company Tribe because it was this concept of like, oh, what if I could bring together my favorite people working in beauty my tribe, and we could all come together and we could do this thing. And it wasn't about me, it was about everybody else. And that didn't work for several reasons when my friends all needed jobs that paid well.
Elizabeth Stein 13:21
Amy Liu 13:23
And two, the tribe was very hard to trademark. So my lawyer was like you can't do that. I was like, okay. So for those reasons, but also when I thought into it, I was like, okay, well, what is true to me? So from the very beginning, the products were always made the way they are today, meaning clean, and safe for sensitive skin. I've had eczema my entire adult life, I was following the National Eczema Association as a guide for myself to figure out what soap should I use. What detergent? All these daily things in my life. And I thought for sure, okay, even just for myself, I'm going to make products this way. So that was true from the very beginning. But the way that I like “sold them” or how I targeted it in the beginning was different. I wrapped it in a different bow. And then as we started trying to sell the products and talking to people about them, I was like, in person, telling them this part about the National Eczema Association. And they were like, wait, that part's really interesting to me. The part that it's safe for sensitive skin. Glossier was popular at the time. And I was like, what if there was like a glossier of the West Coast? And that was a concept, like Glossier of the West, which was like cool, fun, accessible products. And frankly, I don't think we took off until the truth of the product, which was the sensitive skin. Part of it came into it, which I'm sure it's something you can identify with two because I know that so much of what your story is.
Elizabeth Stein 15:02
Yeah, I think that's such an important point. And for anybody thinking about launching a product, or just living their life, it's really like speaking your truth is what becomes most authentic and what people connect with.
Amy Liu 15:16
Totally. I think it's just sometimes hard. As somebody who has not been, even at the beginning of this conversation, talking about how I didn't even have social media before this started. Like, I didn't have an Instagram account. I'm not the type of person who's very self-promoting, in that sense, on my own. And so it was harder for me to step into that part of it.
Elizabeth Stein 15:44
All right, do you consider yourself an introvert?
Amy Liu 15:47
No, I'm not. I'm very extroverted. I like people. I enjoy meeting people. Probably there's nothing more important to me than my relationships. So, I'm not introverted. I'm just not public. You know?
Elizabeth Stein 16:05
Yeah, that makes sense. Totally. So after having your 20 years of experience, and then starting Tower 28, what would you say was the biggest lesson that you were able to take, especially being so high up in a company and essentially being that second-hand person, you had so much amazing experience that I think for so many people starting in brand, they might be coming in with no experience in the industry? So a) what was the biggest experience lesson learned? And then conversely, what was most surprising that all of a sudden, when you were a founder, CEO, you're like, okay, this is different?
Amy Liu 16:43
So maybe I'll pull that apart. Probably the biggest surprise was how little I knew. Genuinely I'm almost embarrassed to say this, but I felt like I had worked for such a long time. I had a seat at the table. Like I had watched, I had been so close to it, that I was like, oh, for sure, I know how to do this. And I think getting into it, I was in marketing, but marketing, I would argue is like a hub, right? So you do see everything else. But I think doing it, I thought, oh, I understand what PD does, because I've been around it, or I understand what the OPs says. And I went to business school, whatever that means, which it turns out, it doesn't mean that much. And I think getting into it, I was like, it's different to understand someone's job than it is to do it. So there were so many times that I just was like, I just don't know what I'm doing. And it was humbling, to be honest with you. So at the same time, I would say it's been surprising to me in some senses. But at the same time, I think the lesson I've learned has been, it's almost like twofold. I'm glad that I've had the experience that I've had. I don't think I could have done this without it because it gave me so much perspective. And I think even the fact that I've spent so much time working, I think it makes me a better manager. I think it makes me a better leader because I understand what it's like to be on the other side, specifically, a founder. To be part of a founder-led business and everybody says, “Take this with no offense, please. Founders are crazy.” And I'm like, “Oh, I get it founders are crazy.” Because I've worked for founders too. And I'm sure I'm crazy in my own right. But I'd like to think that I'm just like slightly less crazy because I can empathize. So at the same time, I would say, the amount of time that I've worked in the industry has benefited me. But I would also agree with the idea that you're never ready. It's like having kids. You're never ready to have kids, you're never ready to start a business. You just figure out what you need to know once you jump in there. But I'm also really grateful that I waited this long, in some ways, because I feel like I don't know that I would have been ready for what's happened if I hadn't had that time to almost grow up and metabolize a little bit what those lessons were and see other people make mistakes. So I'm gonna make my own mistakes for sure. And I have, but I've tried to not make the same ones that I saw already.
Elizabeth Stein 19:41
Well, that's great advice. And I think for people who are in their career, it's also really refreshing to hear your story and be someone who is 40 years old and going after their dream and not like, hey, I've been stuck in this industry forever, not making change.
Amy Liu 20:00
I feel like when you look back on it, everything makes sense. Everything happens for a reason. And then at the time, there are times in my career that certainly in career has been important to me. It's been a big part of my life and my identity, I would say. But there were so many times that I felt very uneasy, that I was on the wrong path. And I'm like, should I be doing something else? Is this the right thing for me, or whatever it is? And now I look back on it. And I'm like, oh, of course, that made sense that I had these experiences, relationships, whatever it was. And it's almost like, now that I have kids, I think so much of it is like, I'm telling my kids, I'm like, work on the thing in front of you. Like, don't be so stressed out. My 15-year-old son recently said to me. He's like, “I just worried that when I get older, I'm not going to be able to afford having like three kids.” I'm like, I get it. But like, maybe you should just worry about waking up for class. I think sometimes we get so ahead of ourselves. It's like trusting the process. Really. I feel like our society does such a bad job of glamorizing success at a young age that it gives people pressure to do that. And I think it's okay whatever happens. It happens when it needs to.
Elizabeth Stein 21:38
Absolutely. And also curious about you, because so you do have three kids, I don't know all their ages, one is 15. But that has certainly made a difference in your life and the ability to have them and not be a startup mode, and rally be a mom for them as much as you could be versus maybe being different and starting the company back when you were 25 years old.
Amy Liu 22:04
To your point, part of the impetus for starting Tower 28, was really when my third child went to preschool, and I was like, oh, wait, I think I can try now. Because that's an option for me. I think it's really hard. And actually, I run this mentorship and education program. I talked to women all the time about this. And it is really hard. The cost of childcare, certainly in America is very hard. And I think often it makes it difficult to make that trade-off between even working, honestly, a job and investing in a career. At a certain point, you're like if it costs this much money to send my kid to child care or have child care. And then I can make this much and then you think about the differential amount, and the fact that you're missing this time, I think it's a big problem for us as a society that that's the case. And it takes women out of the workplace. But I think at some point, and it's easier for me to say because I got funding, you just have to take a leap and invest in yourself too and hope that it works out whether it works out in a big way or it is just a career thing. Because I think there are like a few years that make a big difference in your career. So for me, I did take some time off, which is something I wish more people would talk about, and feel less scared about doing. That said, I did it after I established my career. I worked for a long time. And then I took four years off where I just consulted because I wanted to be more present for my children. I wanted to be available when they were really small. I felt like I wasn't good at anything I was doing. I was working, I had small children. I don't know if you've ever felt like that. But I felt like I was doing a lot of things but not doing anything well. And that was when I came home and I told my husband and I still think this is the greatest gift anyone's ever given me. But I was really unhappy. And he was like, “Wait, why don't you just quit? And I was like, wait, that's an option. Like, we can quit and he was like, that's it. He was like a very frugal man. And he's like, that's why I have been encouraging us to like live below our means so that way we can have choices. So I took four years and I worked. I consulted, and I took care of my kids. And then I was ready. I was like okay, well, I've had that experience which I'm grateful to have had. They know that that's a privilege in and of itself. And then I started Tower 28 when my youngest was in preschool. Mean frankly the timing is never perfect, but it worked. It worked out well for me I felt. And I'm glad I was able to do it.
Elizabeth Stein 25:02
I think again, that's so refreshing for people to hear that if you can do it, like being able to take the time you can then have the next part and next chapter and it's not just going to be the end of a career perhaps. Well, let's dive into the brand and the products. And for someone who isn't familiar with Tower 28, which I'm sure most people are, but if you're not, what should people first know product-wise? What do you always recommend people to start with? And tell us a little bit about the brand and the products.
Amy Liu 25:36
Yeah, so the easiest way to talk about it is we talk about the products have to be good, clean, and fun. So the way that I think about that is good is really about performance. I think especially before I think things have changed a little bit. But in clean beauty, the idea of products being good was less plausible. So it was this idea that if you wanted a clean product, meaning void of toxins, and things like that, that you had to be okay with some sort of a sacrifice around performance. As somebody who's worked in traditional beauty where products had to work, and I'm friends with a lot of makeup artists and all of that, I knew that the performance part of it had to be there for me. So for me, good has to be just high performance, it works. So whether we're talking about the product being long-lasting, having high pigment, being not blotchy, like all those types of things, good. The product has to be good. For us, cleaning means two things. The clean part is we follow the Goop, the Credo, and the Sephora guidelines in terms of what it means to be clean.
Elizabeth Stein 26:49
Do they all have the same guidelines?
Amy Liu 26:52
They are all different. So we pull all of them and we just use that as our study. Like for instance, I would say Sephora is probably the least stringent and then Credo’s and Goop’s are quite strict. And so we're just like, for an insurance policy, I'm just going to follow all of them. I am not a dermatologist, toxicologist, or any of those types of things. And I don't study these ingredients to the level that they do. But they study them regularly, and they maintain them and they update them. And so I would rather follow somebody else's third-party credibility than try to make that up on my own. So we do follow their guidelines. And, I dislike the greenwashing aspect of it and the fear-mongering, it's just like if we know better, then why wouldn't we do better? Why would you make products with all these terrible ingredients? Or even just like synthetic fragrance? Like why do it if you don't have to? And even on the vegan side of things, it's easy to avoid beeswax and easy to avoid Carmine. So like I don't know why you wouldn't be cruel or vegan. So that's the clean part of it. The other part to clean for us is we lump in safer, sensitive skin into that same conversation. So like I said, I've had eczema my entire adult life. Have you ever had troubled skin, Elizabeth?
Elizabeth Stein 28:27
I’ve had my fair share of acne in my 20s, but not eczema or anything like that.
Amy Liu 28:35
Eczema is similar to acne actually, in the sense that it's an inflammatory issue that gets, I think, stoked by bacteria. But it's chronic, and it doesn't go away and you don't know why you have it. And I got it on my face and my hands. So I used to get it on my legs. So in very public areas that are hard to cover. And specifically working in the beauty industry, I think you also feel like you need to know how to wear makeup and you feel like you need to have perfect skin. Because all day you're talking about like how I sell this like skin perfecting product or whatever it is. So for me, it was all over my face. And I felt self-conscious about the fact that I had the issue but also like I wanted to cover it up. And I think when you're talking about putting makeup on, I worried that I was just perpetuating my same issue and I was gonna make it worse. So when I started working at Josie, she was a pioneer in the clean beauty movement. And that's when I started learning about all these toxins and that type of thing. Ad I think there's a widely stated statistic that what you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream. I don't know to what degree that is true. And they say it's like 80% of what you put on your skin goes into your bloodstream. For me, I felt as if my skin barrier wasn't even functioning, and my skin was open, much like if you would ask me honestly. Because for me, my eczema was like Wiebe sometimes and then it was like crusty, and it was always open. Then I felt like God, everything was going into my skin. So I should be even more careful than somebody else would be. So that was when I was like, okay, I need to be able to both use. It was very hard for me to find products that were both clean and safe for sensitive skin. So for instance, a lot of the clean products, to avoid synthetic fragrances, would use essential oils. There is nothing wrong with essential oils. And also they're different. Some essential oils are easy for your body to absorb. Some, if you're sensitive can be sensitizing. If you think about the citrus ones or the peppermint ones. Essential oils are very small molecularly. And they're also harder to control in terms from batch to batch, in terms of how strong they are. When I tried to make the switch to clean, a lot of those products just didn't work for me. And then when I tried to make the switch to safer, sensitive skin, I was like, okay, I went into Sephora, I went into drugstores, and I'd be like, okay, what can I use that is just going to be safe for me? And I didn't feel like the performance was there. And I also felt like it was quite boring. Everything had a big red cross on it.
Elizabeth Stein 31:38
You didn't want to put on your beauty counter there.
Amy Liu 31:41
No. And I think for some people, it's fine. Because the oatmeal bath is like something you do when you're in a moment. And then you get better and you go back to your regular life. And that's fine. It's probably the same way with a lot of your customers. If I had some sort of an issue that was like, I need to be gluten-free, that's just my lifestyle now. So for me, it's eczema. So I wanted to marry those two things. So products that were not only clean, safer, sensitive skin, but wrapped in a bow our third pillar, which is fun, right? Like, I think beauty is an expression of a lifestyle. And you want to feel like it's fun. So fun to me is the packaging. It's the messaging, it's the branding of it, it's colorful, it's something I'm proud to take out of my purse and have everybody see. But lastly, it's also an accessible price point. Even as a mom and having younger kids my daughter is now 13, I wanted younger people to be able to make that trade-off to a product that was better for them, but feels like it was accessible. And so my goal has always been for us to be in a prestige environment. So we're sold at Sephora, US and Canada. Revolve, Credo, Goop. We're in a prestige environment but we're always at the entry-level price point in those environments. And that was really what I wanted. I wanted you to still be able to shop there but I wanted you to get the highest quality product and also be able to access it. So our lip gloss, for instance, which is the best-selling product…
Elizabeth Stein 33:27
Which I have like seven colors of.
Amy Liu 33:31
Right? It's more like a lip oil. So it's made out of a bunch of different oils. But that product is $16 which we tried hard to get to keep the price down. As opposed to most glosses at Sephora are upwards of 20. I would say like 22, 26, 28 type thing. So that was the thing. So in terms of you asking about what our best selling products are, our best selling products are the lip gloss, which I would say, is probably number two. We have a lot of different shades, people love it. It's never sticky. It was inspired by really, back in the day, I loved those Lancome Juicy Tubes. I wanted like something like lots of colors and collectibles and just easy to put on. Our number one selling product is SOS spray. Have you tried that one?
Elizabeth Stein 34:24
I just got it. I started like just started using it last week.
Amy Liu 34:29
So doesn't seem like you have acne anymore. But if you did, it's good because it is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. So it works well for people who have acne, people who have eczema, basically any source of inflammation or redness where you're trying to calm your skin, and then the antibacterial part is just keeping it clean. So even if you're talking about post-workout, sweat is essentially a toxin and it's sitting on your skin. So a lot of people have heard times when they sweat, and then they don't immediately wash their face because it can be sensitizing. Whether it's that or like we hear people use it for piercings, for aftercare, we hear about people using it for tattoos, it's funny. Sunburn? Great. Redness, inflammation, anything, we call it like the happy solution for angry skin. Because it's like anytime your skin is angry, it just works for that because it has an ingredient in it called hypochlorous acid. Hypochlorous acid is something our bodies make. So when your body experiences anything, like if you get a cut, your skin wants to heal itself. If you spray this on topically, it mimics the same response that your body makes when it has a cut, which is like it sends the white blood cells. And it tries to protect itself. That's the whole point. We want our skin to look beautiful. But the number one job your skin has is to fight elements, to not let things inside your skin. So it mimics that same thing where it's like when it sprays it topically, your brain is like, oh, we're making hypochlorous acid, let's make more, let's send the white blood cells, let's defend ourselves. It will calm and soothe and at the same time keep everything clean. So if you look at the reviews, it's astounding the experiences people have had. People love our makeup products. And they're like, oh, it is nice. But the thing that is a game changer for people has been our SOS spray, where people I don't know come up to me. They're like, “I've had this rash my whole life.” They tell me the weirdest stories. And it makes me proud because it is exactly what I hoped it would be in terms of just changing people's skin.
Elizabeth Stein 36:53
Yeah, I was gonna say that must make you so happy to hear those stories. And that's what makes it all worth it when you hear, and comment with the community like that.
Amy Liu 37:01
Yeah. And I'm sure you get that too. It is one of those things where finally you're like, oh, I don't have to make trade-offs the same way. You're making someone's skin much better.
Elizabeth Stein 37:14
That's amazing. So you've done such a phenomenal job of creating this fun, approachable brand. And I feel like as we were saying at the beginning of recording you're everywhere, you've got an end cap in Sephora feels like, and just a lot of social buzz. What are some of the tips that you can share as far as building your brand? And was there a moment where it took a different trajectory and took off?
Amy Liu 37:44
I would say this probably in the beginning. And I'm sure you can probably identify with this too. In the beginning, there are these moments where we were at dinner, my family, and we saw this girl pull out a lip gloss and use it in the wild. And we were all staring at her. And we were like, I don't know her. You didn't buy it just because she was my friend like there are these moments that are so meaningful, right? Where it just feels like it's real. And I think in the beginning, the thing that helped us was awareness, right? So just trying to get it in the hands of the right people. We got, I don't want to say lucky, but at the same time. I think it's because I'd like to think it's because we made really good products. I am not an influencer. I am well-connected in the industry. But I am not connected to influencers necessarily. So I know other people who are employees and work at other brands. But it wasn't like I knew people on TikTok and Instagram. And so we just compiled a list on our own. I had two interns at the time who were still with me. And obviously, are not interns anymore for their hard work. But collectively, in the beginning, we compiled a list of I think, maybe 100 or 150. And back then I don't know if this is still true, but people would just leave their addresses on their YouTube profiles. You would be able to look at someone's Instagram profile. And then you could go to them on YouTube. And then on the Information tab, it would be like if you want to send me PR, here it is. And we would take your addresses or sometimes we would DM them and we'd be like, oh, we're new brands. Like we'd love to send you some free PR if you'd be willing to accept it. And now that I think about it, I'm like, maybe you can't do that now because it's so much more crowded. Because we had 50 people liking our posts. It was like anything. And people would say yes, we would send our packages to people and that made a big difference. Like people opening boxes, I remember there's a woman named Nicole Guerrero, who I still am not friendly with, by the way. She opened up the box. She tried our lip jelly. She posted it. And then she showed herself buying 10 more, because she was like, wait, I love this. And you know that she's an influencer. And she doesn't have to buy anything. I thought there was something wrong with the site. Our Instagram following started changing a lot. And we were like, Wait, there's something like it broke. There's something wrong here. And it was because of her. And I sent her flowers. She didn't respond. I tried to give her more products and it's fine. It was just a very funny thing. I don't even know, she knows how much that meant to me in that early moment. But there are these moments of lift where you're like, wait. And the one thing I always try to tell other entrepreneurs, because somebody else gave me this advice is like, in the beginning, I was really like, what should I pay attention to? Is it like LTV or CAC? What are like the metrics? Like, what does success look like? And I how do I get my gold star. And I remember this mentor of mine said to me, he was like, “Don't worry about any of that, all you need to worry about is momentum because you as a founder need to feel it so that you can keep getting up in the morning, you need to feel like the work that you're putting out there is making sense and you're going in the right direction. And that's all you need to pay attention to.” And I think that was such good advice because it's been true for me like the other stuff will work and stuff out. But you have to feel like what you're doing is making sense. More recently, I would say the thing that has made a big difference for us is we've been on multi-branded ad liners at Sephora. And now this year is the first year. This past year, we went into our own branded end cap and 160 stores. And then this year, we'll go into the balance of them. So another 500.
Elizabeth Stein 42:17
Congratulations. That's awesome.
Amy Liu 42:18
Yeah. So that part, I think has made a huge difference for our business.
Elizabeth Stein 42:19
That's amazing. Well, I think like what you said at the beginning of that is also that you have an amazing product. And at the end of the day, you can do all of those things, and you can send it to the right influencers, but it's all about having that foundational, amazing product at the end of the day.
Amy Liu 42:34
Yeah. And I think sometimes people try to skip through that, like I've had, I had someone, a product developer working with me at one point. And this was like a real point of contention, where she would be like, product just needs to be like 70%. Like, it just needs to be 70%. And the rest of it is just selling because it's all the same. And I was like, maybe but if you're a celebrity, you get away with that. But I am nothing like a celebrity. I value people's money. I value people's trust. And I think people vote with their dollars. So you have to sell a good product, full stop.
Elizabeth Stein 43:18
Fully 100%. So as you mentioned, the advice that you had about having that momentum to show up as the best version of yourself, I'm curious to hear what you do in your daily life to show up as the best version of yourself. Any habits that you have, any ways that you manage your kids, and everything else going on in your life?
Amy Liu 43:39
Well, it's funny that we're talking so early in the new year because one of the things I found that has helped me that I'm trying to do regularly is go on a walk every morning. I wake up early, just as a habit. Like five. And I know my team is always like you don't sleep. I wake up early. And I think the reason I do it is because I don't know if I consciously did it this way. But because I don't set an alarm, I just wake up. But I think because all day long, I have three kids, I have a business with employees and people are always talking to me and asking me for things, it's the only time in the day that I'm alone. And what I've been doing in that time is I wake up, and wish I didn't drink coffee immediately. But I do. But I make myself a cup of coffee. And I just take myself on a walk, me and my dog and I put on headphones, I listen to podcasts. I listened to yours. And I will just go on a walk and I found that that it just helps me have a minute before I get bombarded and it makes a difference for me.
Elizabeth Stein 44:52
I love that. Do you find that that's your quiet time where you often think of your best ideas? I know for me, I have a similar way. It's that morning time, quiet time. And it's always like there's revelations come in that moment.
Amy Liu 45:10
Yeah, I think it can be revelations not just from a business sense, but almost like from a self. It's a wild ride. Doing this, and there are days where I'm like, remind me again, why am I doing this? And I think that that's a big question that you have to keep answering for yourself. Because in life, I think oftentimes the goalpost keeps moving, right? I don't know about you, but when I first started this, my goal was just to make as much money as I was making before my job, but to be able to own my time. And I think now, I realize in some ways, I have less freedom in a certain way. I am accountable, right? Like we have 25 employees now, they’re breadwinners, they like to have their own families to support, like, I feel very accountable to them. We now have an investor, like we have a cap table in general that I'm also accountable to. Freedom is probably not the right word that I would use. But then it's like, the money part I've never been super motivated by. So then it's like figuring out what it is that I want out of it. What is success for me? And I think so much of that is like impact. It's a lot of the things that we already talked about. Like it genuinely makes me happy when I see people sending their before and afters. The team also really energizes me. I think it's really fun to be part of a winning team. It is fun. And to show that a small company can do big things. So yeah, I don't know. I think it's just trying to figure that out for yourself.
Elizabeth Stein 47:03
It's so funny thinking as you said that I was just thinking back to like what I thought at the beginning. And my goal at the beginning was like to just get into the health food stores. It wasn't even to get into Whole Foods. It was a being like a small Co-Op and that goalpost is continually changing. All right, we're gonna move into some rapid-fire Q&A. Three things that you're currently loving.
Amy Liu 47:32
Oh. So even though I'm not using them right now, these Air Pods Max, I am obsessed with. I think they're so good. And to the point where I for Christmas gave everybody on my team one. As I said, every year we have a tradition where I give everybody on the team a book that I've read that I like and every year feel like they're like, cool. Thank you for sending me Atomic Habits. To say that this was more well-received is probably an understatement. So this year, I was like, here are some of the air pods I like and I'm going to give you here. These are a few podcasts that have made a difference for me. I don't know if they listened to the podcast. The second thing I would say is I love it and this was a gift that somebody gave me but I've now gifted it to three other people. It is a dazzled Stanley Cup. It feels like an award first of all. I barely even take it out of my house, I pretty much just leave it here. Somebody gave it to me. And I thought it was such a good gift because it's just like something you use every day. And then it does make me drink more water. And because it's a gift, it feels special and looks special which is nice. And a third thing that I love is, that I started taking magnesium for sleep. I feel like it's been a game-changer. It’s an Amazon bestseller. Whatever that is. It's like a white bottle with blue writing on it. I don't even know. It's like the one that has like 50,000 reviews or something. And I feel like it's been a real game changer for me because I don't know if it's age, I don't know if it's stress or what it is. But I was waking up in the middle. I can go to sleep fine. But then I wake up in the middle of the night and I can't go back to sleep. So that has been a game changer for me.
Elizabeth Stein 49:46
I love that. I think a lot of people could use that tip for sure. Favorite words to live by?
Amy Liu 49:54
Somebody said this to me a long time ago and I think it's true that you can have it all, but you can't have it all at once. And I think that's true. I think I am grateful that I've had the chance to have kids, I'm grateful that I've been able to start this business, and I have a loving relationship with my husband, which I think is rare after being together for 23 years. And I think none of those things happens. It's not like, you have to invest in different things at different points in your life. And there have been points where I've been like, much more focused on the job much more focused on kids much more, whatever. And I think that that's okay. And you have to almost give yourself some breathing room for that to be the case. But yeah, I think about that a lot.
Elizabeth Stein 50:46
I love that. Favorite productivity hack.
Amy Liu 50:52
Oh, God, I wish I was more productive.
Elizabeth Stein 50:57
Or you could say, I don't have any, that could be one too.
Amy Liu 51:00
I am part of this little group chat of different beauty founders. And there's one woman who's always talking about time blocking. And I'm, like, oh, I wish I was like a person who would time block or do those kinds of things. I don't have a productivity hack. Maybe a win, not a win, I finally told my executive assistant, can you just block out time for me to eat lunch every day?
Elizabeth Stein 51:32
That's a good productivity hack. Let's start with the basics.
Amy Liu 51:34
Like, just before anyone tries to claim that time, just give it to me., it seems like such a small thing. But I live by my calendar. And I look at that. I'm like, oh, I get to have lunch.
Elizabeth Stein 51:50
Love that. A favorite book for growth.
Amy Liu 51:54
I have been reading this book recently called The Psychology of Money. My husband introduced me to it because he's now our CFO, but previous to that, he was an institutional investor. It's a lot about investing also at the same time, but I find that it is very much about the way to think about money and the way to think about wealth. And I don't mean in just a financial sense. He talks a lot about his successes. It's a good book. If anyone's interested, he has a podcast that you can listen to. I find it good. And they're short. They're like 8-12 minute podcasts.
Elizabeth Stein 52:43
Perfect. Favorite business moment.
Amy Liu 52:47
So there's a very well-documented moment on TikTok, where my team surprised me. So the first this year in the spring, this past year, in 2023 was the first time I saw our branded end cap in store. And my team was surprised. They did the whole thing., they put a sheet over it. And I knew that they were doing this like I was standing, they kept me outside so that they could film it. But I didn't know that my kids would be there. So my kids were the ones who pulled off the sheets and my whole team was there. Even just now talking about it, I'm getting emotional. We posted it on TikTok and it very organically got millions of views. And it was very much without any pay behind it, which I thought was interesting. But it was a very genuine moment in the sense that I cried, but I genuinely cried. I've worked my entire career.
Elizabeth Stein 53:52
I’m getting teary, like living this for you.
Amy Liu 53:56
Very genuinely, I've worked my entire career at different brands, but it always was Sephora. Like Sephora is probably the only consistency I've had. Sephora was my dream. It was like the thing that I wanted. We went from a half shelf to one shelf to two shelves, and then a branded end cap is like a different thing. And it was at the Century City Mall, it's a huge mall. And it just felt like an overwhelming amount of emotion for me in a way that was cocooned by, looking at all these people in my life, like my husband and my kids and like my nanny became our operations person. You know, all these people who are special in my life, and yeah, it was very emotional for me.
Elizabeth Stein 54:50
I love it. I gotta go look at that TikTok now. And lastly, what is your number one non-negotiable to thrive on your wellness journey?
Amy Liu 54:58
Sleep. I don't know, I mean as much as people are like, how do you not sleep that much? To me, it's not about the number of hours I get. It's about the quality of that sleep. Which as a mother has been very challenging over the years at different points, but I'm now at the point where my kids are a little older. And so that doesn't happen as much where they're waking me up. But having uninterrupted quality sleep, I think is a game changer. That's why I'm like, who knew magnesium? I think melatonin made me a little bit more not feel as good in the morning.
Elizabeth Stein 55:38
Yeah. It's like groggy.
Amy Liu 55:39
Yeah, maybe it's like the Groggy thing. But yeah, I think sleep is really important.
Elizabeth Stein 55:43
Great. Well, Amy, thank you so much for being on the podcast in closing, where can everybody find you? And what's next? Yeah.
Amy Liu 55:53
So you can find Tower 28 Beauty at Tower 28 Beauty on all the socials. So Instagram, TikTok, even Facebook, etcetera. Personally, I'm @amyliu_t28 only on Instagram. I am not on TikTok. I do look at it. I just don't post very much. But I am in there. So if you DM me, I am in there. And in terms of what's next, 2023 was like a banner year for us. 2024 Looks like it will be too which is exciting. We are going into all stores so for anyone here in the West store near you, we're also launching at Mecca and Australia, if you know that is. So we'll be launching in Australia. We're currently already in Canada. And we've got some really exciting products coming out. We just launched today collab with Kung Fu Panda. Which is fun because my kids think it's cool.
Elizabeth Stein 57:01
I bet. Well, Amy, thank you so much for being here.
Amy Liu 57:04
Thank you so much for having me. Bye.
Elizabeth Stein 57:10
Thanks so much for joining me on Live Purely with Elizabeth. I hope you feel inspired to thrive on your wellness journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, don't forget to rate, subscribe, and review. You can follow us on Instagram @purely_elizabeth to catch up on all the latest. See you next Wednesday on the podcast.