Women in Business Q&A: Aminah Sagoe, Founder and CEO, Emmaus Beauty

Aminah Sagoe is the Founder and CEO of Emmaus Beauty, a natural skin care line. She began her career as a financial analyst before opening an upscale hair and beauty supply boutique in her home country of Nigeria, where she was able to pursue her true passion. After becoming an expert in skincare products but unsatisfied with the lack of effective, all-natural options, Aminah developed Emmaus Beauty to help find a solution for keratosis pilaris (KP) a common bumpy skin condition which she personally battled with following the birth of her first child. The unique combination of ingredients found in Emmaus Beauty products not only help with KP, but also a variety of other skin conditions including body acne, ingrown hairs, uneven complexions, scaly/dry skin and even mild Eczema and Psoriasis. Now a full-time entrepreneur, Aminah currently lives in the New York City area with her husband and three children.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Entrepreneurship is in my genes. My parents owned a couple of supermarkets when I was younger and despite my young age, my mother made it her mission to show me the ropes with the business. I regularly went with her on her trips to meet with suppliers; I helped her with the monthly “stock-taking” (which was done manually back then) and I worked as a cashier during the holidays.

The business started to suffer after my father passed away. Two years later, my mother was involved in a car accident that left her paralyzed, so she had no choice but to start shutting down the stores – ultimately leaving us with just one.

At the time, I was 15 years old and was glad to have all the training my mother had instilled in me earlier in life. I went to the store every day after school. I did my homework there and then helped out as much as I could. I wore many hats – buyer, cashier, manager, and of course, teenager.
I thoroughly enjoyed helping out with the business, and having that responsibility matured me beyond my years. Watching my mom overcome her difficulties and still keep a business running was inspiring, and the experience has helped me immeasurably now that I am a business owner myself.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Emmaus?
In addition to the early years I spent keeping my parents’ store up and running, as an adult I worked at a brokerage firm where I had the opportunity to work across departments – trader’s desk, accounting and treasury. This experience was invaluable, not just because it helped me understand the financial world, which has been a huge help for Emmaus, but also in understanding what I don’t want to do. Sometimes you have to try out a few different careers before you’re able to really follow your passion, which for me was starting Emmaus.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Emmaus?
Emmaus is just a year old, and as a new small business, it’s expected to have various challenges, but there are also so many highlights.

I’m very proud of how far the business has come in our short existence. What started off as a dream is now a reality. Emmaus was created as a solution to my own skin problems (keratosis pilaris, aka “chicken skin”), and it gives me so much joy to know that I’m helping myself as well as other sufferers out there. About fifty percent of the population has this condition, and many people don’t know that there are safe, all natural products like Emmaus to help minimize unwanted skin conditions such as KP. Getting positive feedback from people who have used and loved Emmaus is such a reward in itself.

At this stage in the game, the biggest challenge we face is being a small business with a relatively small budget. I’m not able to advertise as much as I’d like to, and it can be difficult to get retailers to notice you.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?
It’s very important to do something you love. I know we hear it all the time, but it’s even more important when it is your own business. There will be sleepless nights, worry, multitasking, and even tears (which is okay!), but when you really love what you do, that will propel you forward until the business is established.

For me, I waited until my kids were a bit older and less dependent on me before I could launch Emmaus. Since my family is back home in Africa, I don’t have as strong of a support system in the US, but now that the kids are older, I’m free to devote more time to the business.

While it’s important to do something you love, we as women must ask ourselves if we’re ready to take on the added task of being a business owner. We’re known for being multitaskers, which can be both a blessing and a curse. It’s imperative to do your research, register your business and patent, work on your formulations and cover off on the initial, behind-the-scenes work. This will help prepare you for your business to see the light of day. The more work that is done in advance, the better chance you have for success once launched.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?
Patience, patience, and more patience! I’ve also developed a thick skin to the word NO, because NO could simply mean “not now.” I’ve learned not to feel discouraged when I don’t receive replies to my emails. Learning not to take things personally has been a huge benefit to me. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and my company wasn’t either, but it’s important to recognize that in order to achieve success, you must continue pushing and striving for excellence.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I’m always on work mode, but since I love what I do, I don’t really consider it as work. You’ll find me responding to emails at midnight and 5 am, but I will take a few hours off each day to focus on my family and their needs.

My husband is extremely supportive and always ready to jump in whenever I need help with anything. This helps me to keep my sanity when the going gets tough! I try to relax on the weekends as much as possible and spend time with my family as well as friends. I know it’s a cliché, but I believe that “laughter is the best medicine,” so I surround myself with laughter because it works for me!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I believe the biggest issue for women in the workplace is just that, being a woman. We strive to “have it all” with a great job, perfect family, flawless wardrobe, but I believe that to be truly successful, women cannot have it all….at once. To be a wife, mother, daughter, sibling, student and entrepreneur/career person all at the same time is a massive accomplishment, but in most cases, trying to do it all means that something or someone will suffer, and usually that person is you. We need to understand that women really don’t have to do it all at one time. It’s important to take things slow, focus on our priorities and enjoy ourselves while doing them – eventually, we’ll be able to say we’ve done it all!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
From basic life lessons like manners and the importance of being grounded with gratitude to the art of hospitality, my mother has always been my mentor. In addition to learning business skills from her, her guidance in everything from manners to the importance of being grounded with gratitude, valuing and nurturing relationships to the art of hospitality has always stayed with me and contributed to my success in so many ways.

When I was growing up, she would say that it doesn’t matter if you’re married to a billionaire, you still have to make your own money, no matter how much or little. Without a doubt, my drive for developing a successful career comes from her too.

She was also a skincare product junkie. I remember going into her bathroom when I was younger and applying every single cream she had onto my face. I also enjoyed reading the labels on the products. While most kids played with dolls, I was playing with my mother’s skincare products. I never thought at the time that that one of my childhood hobbies would materialize into an actual business!

Which other female leaders do you admire, and why?
I’m always intrigued and inspired by women that started from scratch and take philanthropy seriously. Estee Lauder and Oprah Winfrey at the top of my list.

What do you want Emmaus Beauty to accomplish in the next year?
My goal is to see Emmaus continue to expand, both as a product line as well our reach. We plan to introduce a face line and eventually a hair care line as well. My goal in the next year to get in front of some of the top beauty retailers, I would love to see Emmaus in places like Sephora, Ulta Beauty, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstrom. Right now, it is only available in the US, but I want people all over the world to have access to Emmaus and know that it is helping them to reveal their most beautiful skin and increase their confidence as it has done for me.

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