76 - Akash Mehta, Fable & Mane
Speaker 1: Explore the minds and marketing strategies behind today's winning brands and businesses. Tap into the power of the creator economy with Earned by CreatorIQ. Here's Conor Begley.
Conor Begley: Hi everyone. Welcome to Earned. Today, I've got Akash Mehte on the show today. Welcome to the show, Akash.
Akash Mehte: Thank you so much for having me Conor.
Conor Begley: Yeah, and Akash has come all the way from the UK.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: And we're recording at KADE LW Studios, which is a public radio studios first in- person podcast in two years, three years.
Akash Mehte: Oh, I'm honored. Thank you so much for having me. It's great.
Conor Begley: And I think my favorite part, what I just noticed is your shirt actually says Tiger Tribe. I don't know if that was an accident, but-
Akash Mehte: That actually, I'll be honest. No, I'm going to lie. It was not an accident. It was very much planned Tribe Dynamics all the way.
Conor Begley: I remember one of our first big meetings, we walked into Make Up For Ever and they had tribe on their bulletin board. Right. Yeah. I assumed they had done it for us. I was like, oh my God, they did this for us. And I was like, no, no, no. That's just what they called their people.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: So Akash, let me brag about you for a second here. Initially how we got to know each other was you were leading the influencer program at Dior. Took that into being a top five brand globally within that category from an influencer perspective. Now I think it's in the top two. You then went on in co- founded Fable& Mane, which went from our 96th ranked brand, past 37 brands all the way up to 59 this year and is growing rapidly from a revenue perspective as well. And then you also have your own podcast Founded Beauty, which is in the top two and a half percent of all podcasts globally, which you haven't invited me to yet, but I'm not going to take personally. I'm assuming-
Akash Mehte: It's coming.
Conor Begley: ...I'll eventually get there.
Akash Mehte: It's coming. For sure.
Conor Begley: Although I didn't technically found a beauty brand, so maybe it doesn't make sense.
Akash Mehte: No, but it counts. It counts. You have done.
Conor Begley: So let's hop into it. So I want to start with you were just telling me that you were at the Sephora marketing meetings yesterday. So what's the latest with Sephora? You were talking influencers. What are the big ambitions for the brand for the year?
Akash Mehte: Yeah, so I think for us, definitely what we're seeing as a trend recently is the brick and mortar business is growing. But that's coming quite interestingly at a cost where I think brands are sort of neglecting online a little bit, especially driving sort of online media to Sephora. So I think one thing we took away as a big takeaway is we got to make sure we're investing sufficient amount into of course social, so our EMV strategy is crucial I think going forward, but also media as well to. com. So that was a really big interesting takeaway. I think post pandemic while online was so big with the rise of brick and mortar back to business, you have to find that 50/ 50 sort of balance and that's what we need to take back from this market is like, okay, are we doing enough online now to balance that kind of mix a bit better? So that was a one big takeaway. It's quite interesting. I definitely see a correlation with brands performing really well on EMV and how much they got mentioned in the Sephora Summit. It's so funny that you're mentioned about rare and stuff. Definitely the ones that are driving good traffic to Sephora and of course their brands and getting the revenues, I think there's a huge correlation with their EMV ranking. So I think one thing that we're looking into and with Fable now is looking to get a Tribe account is just to really start measuring that sort of media spend we're doing with an ROI of the EMV. So that will help us, I think, understand better are we actually investing in this to get the online split better?
Conor Begley: Well the good part is your problem was not marketing the brand was going really fast. Your problem is like-
Akash Mehte: Exactly.
Conor Begley: ...inventory-
Akash Mehte: That is a reality.
Conor Begley: ...Supply chain.
Akash Mehte: And I think there is three things we did, which I would say are opportunities that we need to expand more into and just get a bit more deeper in. One is definitely our inventory. The fact that yes is great, we're selling out, but why are we selling out so quickly versus our replenishment rate. So there is definitely a big work in hiring a more stronger operational logistics team, which we've done finally this year. And that takes time to afford these incredible hires. So we finally have a team there. I think two as well is do that volume to get the labs really interested in you. So make sure you're on the primary list of like, okay, you want a last minute run of production, we got you not sorry, you have to wait until six months because there's so many brands ahead of you. So I think that inventory is one big thing. But I also think what's really important for us is just while we went quite global with Fable& Mane, so we're in a lot of retailers around the world, I think it's about now taking a moment to pause and be proud of what our expansion is, but now be more productive in those markets. That is a key takeaway for us as well is, how do I make the business perform better and not just our hero skew but make the other skews have its moment as well. The reason why I'm full of ideas, and I'm going straight to the point in this podcast, is because I literally had a Sephora Summit, which is for everyone listening, it's like two days of presentations. You have leadership presentations, global presentations, you have these sort of breakout sessions per category. So hair and makeup, fragrance, skin. I obviously hear a lot of talk from founders and what they're doing and then you go back to your teams. I'm like, we should be doing this. And then literally three days later I had my market meeting and the market meeting is usually twice a year and this is where about 20 people come into the room from the VPs to all the divisions, so. com, marketing, merchandising, digital, and they present the revenue to sales and some opportunities. And then you present for about an hour your plan, what you're kind of planning from product to media. And I just finished that literally two hours ago.
Conor Begley: Oh wow.
Akash Mehte: Full of ideas right now.
Conor Begley: I can imagine. Yeah, let's dive into that kind of symbiotic relationship. Because I think retail in general is an interesting topic because one, from what I'm hearing, everybody's rushing back to retail, right? So retail sales are going through the roof, everybody's doing really well. I think when you think about Sephora very specifically, you've got two things going on. So one is if you look at the top influencers, like the top people providing coverage for Sephora, it's the brands like Rare Beauty's the number one influencer for Sephora as an example. But then secondarily, I think Sephora has also built its own reputation as a brand builder. And we looked at this as well where if you look at the amount of EMV that Sephora is generating for its brands, it's like double what say Ulta is right and Ulta's ahead of the other retailers.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: So talk to me a little bit about that relationship. Obviously it's been really critical to your guys' success.
Akash Mehte: Definitely.
Conor Begley: But yeah, talk to me about that a little bit.
Akash Mehte: We're in quite a few retailers globally, so from Selfridges and Boots in the UK to pure players like Cult Beauty and we're also in Douglas and Nykaa. So we've been in a lot of different retailers and I can tell you nothing really matches the sort of relationship and the way of working we are with Sephora. And it's because exactly to your point, Sephora is an influencer. They are an EMV driver. I think most retailers don't operate in that way either. They don't have an audience, Saphora's at 20 million followers plus great engagement. Most retailers might not have that reach but also might not provide it for the brands. It might be a pay- to- play, right? And that often is the case we've seen with most retailers out there. So I think going to understand the difference between one is a brand builder and one is a distributor. So for us, Sephora is of course it's distributing our products, but they're really brand building in tandem with that. Which means your investment into Sephora definitely amplifies your revenue growth because of that kind of marrying of the fact that they're also brand building you at the same time. So what we've definitely seen is you're seeing this big shift on how brands are starting to launch in Sephora. It can be daunting, you have to make sure you sort of have this recipe for success before you go into it. So sometimes you might even not launch there tactically because you might not be ready for it. You don't want to miss up these opportunities that they'll be giving to you. And often they'll give you these incredible brand building opportunities that have no cost to accept maybe some hard costs like the sampling costs that you've got to suffer and pay for or your team's cost and having the bandwidth for that. So I think I recommend everyone who's got that holy grail mecca of retailers to go to Sephora. I think it's phenomenal, but I think you must be ready for this journey ahead and you don't have to sprint before you walk. I think that's really important. There's different ways to launch in a smart way. You can launch online only, prove yourself, earn your respect, earn your stripes, and then go into brick and mortar. You can launch in a DTC for a few years and then build some revenue, some customer base and then go to Sephora. One tip is don't go too distributed because I think once you go to the doors like Alta and a few other retailers, you become less enticing to a brand build like Sephora because they really do value the exclusivity of brands. But I can tell you, having done a lot of different retailers, nothing is like Sephora. That is where our biggest growth of the business is. It's why our brand is where it is today. And I think that's why we've even extended our exclusivity. We're extending it beyond our need just because we want to still be not only winning with them, but also there's so much more to do that I don't want to dilute my time or budget for other retailers.
Conor Begley: Yeah, a hundred percent. We had Ken Landis on the podcast recently who's the co- founder at Bobbi Brown, then co- founder at TULA, which sold for a ton of money and then co- founder at DIBS, which is growing really, really quickly. And he was a huge advocate, it was his number one piece of advice was you call it narrow but deep and it's not all that different than if, there's a guy named Frank Slootman, who's one of the best software entrepreneurs in the world. Very similar, just increased focus, right? Increased impact. And the thing he talked about is he's like, my favorite thing to do is tell retailers no. And he's like, I wouldn't go into a new retailer until I was the number one skew in every door in that retailer. That was our goal was to be the best performing brand within that category in a retailer before we would even consider new distribution. And that was one of the biggest mistakes was people went too distributed too fast.
Akash Mehte: Exactly. And that's something that I think you have to understand what your goal is. I think for most businesses today, there are some brands that are going for that distribution quite quick. And if their goal is to exit in a few years or get a majority of minority acquisition and get that revenue higher, who's to say that's not a bad strategy, that's a tactic that can get the balance sheet a bit stronger. And now yes, there are some acquirers or conglomerates that will look at that and if it's not done smartly, it could actually be more dangerous because it means they've got to undo the work or you've actually done it in the wrong way, that distribution. But generally speaking, you often see this trend of that. I think for new founders anyway. But let's be honest, we're not looking to exit anytime soon. We're building a brand and we don't know where the brand will take us. It's a journey. So I think for the majority of the listeners that are probably in this boat, I think my biggest advice is balance and the opportunity cost. There is worth in every decision you do, there is merit and there is cons. For sure, I'm now seeing three, four years into the business that maybe we went quite global, not regretting it because I can tell you the amount of founders I've spoken to and they're like, oh my god, I'm trying to get into for Middle East and you are already in there and there's only limited hair care space and brick and mortar and you've taken it and they're loyal to you. So I can't launch in store. If I listened to people, I had merchants at the beginning of my journey saying don't go to global, just focus, focus, focus on US. These brands take five, six years before they break US, then they go global. I went year one global, I didn't really listen. Bearing in mind I'm based in London, in the UK it's a bit different. I'm not a US native-
Conor Begley: It's a global-
Akash Mehte: ...head office or brand, it's a little bit more global. My dad, which is another story, he's in distribution globally for fragrance brand. I've got this global mindset. Yeah, definitely. I will say, I'm going to be honest, I am seeing some struggles today where if we're not productive in these retails in Sephora, Middle East, you will get delisted or you'll lose space. So you've got to make sure you can up stand that demand and that hope that those markets put on you. But it's really interesting. One thing I'm noticing is in certain retailers like Sephora, how globalized they're becoming. At the beginning of my journey, it was very isolated units by country and by market. Now they've invested in building a global head office team, which I think is going to re- pioneer this global vision. I'm really excited for it because I think that's going to strengthen our decision. And we did tactically decide to go to mainly Sephora as globally. Not saying every Sephora is the best in each market. And I think that's something where there is a bit of a struggle. Some retailers want you to be one glove fits all. And I think again, balance, I have to sometimes say like, yeah listen, I know I would love to launch in 18 markets and Sephora, but there are some markets where there is a bigger player and my brand might need to be there first. That's a reality too.
Conor Begley: Yeah, totally. One question I have, so you talked about you want to be productive in those markets and obviously you've been, you started out you were successful within, we'll call it the English speaking, primary English speaking market. So UK, US. How do you go about building demand in say the Middle East or wherever, whatever country it is?
Akash Mehte: I think there's loads of different ways and that's the beauty of it. It shouldn't be as daunting as people think. Number one, you can distribute into these markets directly. Now the barriers to entry to distribute have changed hugely. Before there was mainly certain, retailers wouldn't take on small accounts, it was too much of a risk and a big bet they would rather big accounts only go direct, the rest are distributed and then you'd have to go via someone that might not, A, take a margin, makes it really expensive and B, might not brand build in the right way, might discount, might go to some retailers you're not interested in. So that's why people have often been scared about global distribution. But I'm talking selective strategic global expansion. So for me, I've realized by exploring these avenues a bit openly, bear in mind my dad is a distributor, so he goes to hundreds of retailers. So I didn't utilize his brand book and building Fable, I kind of went in open- minded naivety, let's see what the market's like. And I was surprised that all these retailers except for Middle East, Nykaa in India, they were willing to go direct with us. I didn't have to use a distributor. That was really crucial because they are literally, I mean it's so funny you have these stories of Sephora Middle East where they're even getting visas for employees. They are literally so involved with your brand that they will help you. They will help you in how to market best and listen to them because they have the know- how of that market. And that has been crucial for us because they've helped us with PR, they've helped us with the right influencers locally to advocate your brand in the local language if relevant, they've helped us with translation if needed, we send them the master doc and then they translate all the product pages. So I think it's as if you are launching in your key market, just utilizing a strong brand builder. So often it can be a retailer, it could be a distributor, don't get me wrong, there are some amazing distributor that are very niche and boutique and they can do that really well for you. Or you could hire local part- time help or field staff or help maybe a consultant. Now we've done that initially at launched into these markets. We've hired consultants for six months projects to help us launch with a select retailer. And that's been really helpful. And they know the market and the relationships they have, the relationships with everyone locally, which I think is so crucial. So in India when we launched, we did our couple of months targets in the first month in Nykaa, we smashed our targets. And so for Middle East we had this huge Dubai Mall window and we're now doing really well, really productive. So I think those are strategies we've really relied on going in, not knowing and listening more than telling. That's been really crucial.
Conor Begley: Talk about India for a second because I was just talking with Felix, the CEO of Pixi Beauty.
Akash Mehte: I met him in the wedding of Nykaa, Anchit.
Conor Begley: Oh wow.
Akash Mehte: He's at Nykaa as well. And we both were partying at this wedding in Rajasthan, so it's crazy.
Conor Begley: Yeah, he likes to party, but he was talking to maybe about India and I had, I think MAC brought it up recently, MAC cosmetics. And I was talking to them, they're like, yeah, India's growing super, super fast. Is that what you're seeing? Is it like of scale? Talk to me about it a little bit.
Akash Mehte: A hundred percent. I think people know India is a huge opportunity. I think people don't know where to start. I mean the amount of people that come to me and hey and I'm like hi. And they're like, I have a question. I'm like, I bet it's by India and it's just because I'm Indian and had to be fair, I do know a thing or two about India market, but generally speaking I'm not the most adverse. Right?
Conor Begley: Yeah, yeah.
Akash Mehte: So my experience with it is I read an article like a few, I don't, so I don't want to quote where it's from, but it said Indians and South Asians had the highest purchasing power, even more than Chinese people.
Conor Begley: Wow.
Akash Mehte: And this was really interesting and it kind of reflects what I know. My aunties and my mom's friends, they spend a lot of money. So I knew there is a community, and these are in India that really buy. Initially for a brand like ours, we have this stigmatism that retail in India is price discount, it's promotional and this is how it is. And the retailer landscape is a little bit like Misks of masstige and prestige. So you go to a store like Nykaa and you'd see a$ 5 product next to a Dior cream. And that was very common India trend and it still is. But we were nervous, okay, as an Ayurvedic brand, that's more than the premium haircare sector. Is it going to resonate when India's a land of Ayurveda and people can just get the organic ingredients that they've been growing up with for centuries. But actually we were so shocked that there was a modern consumer that wants our products that is obsessed with Sephora in the US for example, wants the newest and is willing to invest. I think some pioneering brands like Charlotte Tilbury and MAC for example, have really built that kind of affinity for westernized beauty brands into the market. And there is a sense of loyalty, a bit of maybe efficacy that people are perceived to be higher by these products and a bit of desirability. These brands are a bit more sexier, exciting for the modern Indian consumer to spend their money on and invest in. So we have found ourselves positioning selves into this realm of people. And because the population in India is so big, even if this is a very subsection of the population-
Conor Begley: Very small percentage. Yeah.
Akash Mehte: ... it'sstill huge. Yeah. So definitely India's been huge growth opportunities. I think it's only going to get bigger. I think that's the exciting part. So I think brands that want to bet on a very sustainable future, go direct with India. I get frustrated a little bit when I worked at Dior in all these markets and these companies that still order, often India is worked into Middle East coming out of this region or even Singapore or Hong Kong as Southeast Asia, never do they have a direct relationship into India and never do they have a team within India. And I think that's a huge missed opportunity. I think India deserves its merit as a standalone country because the size is huge, the potential is huge and it needs nurturement, it needs a specific type of marketing tactic and merchandising tactic. We do need to do-
Conor Begley: Well, and frankly, even within India, we kind of group it all together. But it's a huge diverse set of culture.
Akash Mehte: Huge diverse-
Conor Begley: Even as you split that, right?
Akash Mehte: Exactly.
Conor Begley: As you start splitting it up.
Akash Mehte: In areas, and obviously the country is huge, and I think one thing I noticed, which was really interesting in India is we don't do the best job to understand those different, as you said, ethnicities, different languages. The most, a hundred plus languages are spoken in India, so you can't operate it from Singapore or Dubai. You have to have local team. And that frustrates me a bit to this day. And I think hopefully that will shift in the future by brands. Yeah.
Conor Begley: Yeah. Absolutely. Let's talk about influencer marketing for a second. Yeah, so I think you're one of the best influencer marketers in the world. So I think you-
Akash Mehte: I used to be, I change it so much, honestly kind. I speak to my team and I'm like, who's trending now? What is new? What is that like? But you know what, it's good to pass the bat on because I don't have necessarily the full energy to, it's a full- time thing. And being a CEO, I came into this company thinking I'm going to lead it by influencer strategy because that's what I knew from Dior and Estee Lauder. But I'm really glad I'm hiring amazing Gen Zs that are just so into the know- how of these new talents, the rising talents. Yeah, that's what you want to bet on, right?
Conor Begley: Yeah, I feel like, I don't know, I've been in it for a very long time and I don't think there was ever a time where I felt confident, there was always a new name. I have no idea who that is and they have 10 million fans. But let's talk a little bit about what were some of the learnings you had in that space within Dior? And then how have you seen that change too and what do you think if you're to boil it down to a few core philosophies, what are those?
Akash Mehte: So it was really interesting. I think the best thing Dior gave to me, and I think also I think if people work in corporate then go to create their own brand, is the relationships I had with these influencers. They follow me on Instagram, I've bonded with them on work trips, influencer trips. So I can sort of DM them, say, Hey, got this new launch on my brand, can I send it to you? And then they'll often post because they're loyal and they're going to support you. Not everyone, but some. It makes sense. They might have contracts and exclusivities and stuff. So I get it. I'm not expecting them to. And the most thing is I hope they just use it and don't throw it away, but can't guarantee that. What I really noticed is, and I think this is a trend with the many influencer marketers, is you have to unlearn each time and refresh and reboot. Because what I knew at Dior worked really well for Dior, and let's be honest, it's Dior, it's got the brand equity and recognition. Two, you had the budget and while I was coming in there to streamline it up whip it up, get some ROI, make this a less gray area, if we spent on an influencer 20K and it didn't work, we're not going to cry about it, we move on. Whereas for me, I'm like 20K, oh my god, that's a big budget. So I think that was the hardest part. And I think the third thing as well, which I had to sort of unlearn is we were still very, very heavily depending on these celebrities and VIPs, I was going in there trying to build the nano micro influencer, but it wasn't brand building enough, it was just campaigns. It was one off moments, but it was like, okay tick. Whereas the nurturement was really only with the top tier. There's the ones that get invited to all the events and all the runways and fashion shows and everything. So creating my own brand, I realized a lot of that isn't really applicable for most beauty startups and even mid- size companies and even-
Conor Begley: Most brands aren't Dior.
Akash Mehte: Most brands. Most brands aren't Dior. And I think Dior is even not Dior. Even Dior is probably really doubling down on this now more than ever because what you're seeing is there is a huge trend on the top influencers, the macros and the VIPs. They have agents, I call this influencer fee inflation. Their fee has gone up, but maybe their value hasn't increased or their ROI definitely might not be there, but they might not be gaining that kind of initial engagement and reach that they had before. And especially in platforms like TikTok. So the case, because you look at the last 10 pieces of content and they might have not been performing that well for that influencer. But also it depends on many things. On the influencer's case, in their defense, it depends on the product, it depends on that piece of content, the transparency, they have to be authentic with it, the brief they have. There's a lot of factors that are involved. So it's not as simple as me saying that, but in a generalization it's getting very expensive. And I can tell you when I speak to half of these agents because you're paying their 20% fee, some of these quotes I'm getting, it's just not viable. 70K for a post and a 100K, it's like-
Conor Begley: I heard 180K the other day
Akash Mehte: It's really, it's hard because you're still betting on this. And then to make it even work better, you want to get media rights and then boosted, it's another budget. So you're investing a whole campaign from one shot of one influencer. It's really difficult. And then the micros and the nanos, while they're so crucial, there's a lot of them. But again, you want to bet on the ones that are rising. It's still expensive because I think now every brand is working with nano and micro influencers and they also get agents, the amount of nano influencers. I have agents now, I'm like, what? So it's crazy. It's shifted so much to five years ago.
Conor Begley: Yeah, yeah.
Akash Mehte: I think for brands today there is a lot of choice of amazing content creators to work with. But there is also a little bit of this unknown fact that still remains this gray area. I own today still Dior's affiliate program. So I have all the data, I see all of the conversion of these influencers that Dior works with because I built it when I was at Dior, when I left Dior, they made me continue it. I don't even use it. I think for brands listening, don't go ask your friends or your founder friends for a list of amazing converting influencers and don't, just find them yourself organically. And my biggest advice by doing this is three ways. One is monitor your own socials. If you're seeing a little up rise organically or someone posting that you even paid and you're seeing that sticks, get on a Zoom call with them, nurture that relationship. Try to lock them in for a 12 month, which they would prefer a longer term partnership. I don't really believe in exclusivity. I think at our stage you don't need to say you can only work with us. I mean they need to talk with multiple hair brands and multiple brands. But a longer term brand building contract is crucial on those. Two, don't be afraid of different verticals. We've seen the biggest success with TikTokers and Instagramers that are not traditional beauty influencers. And that's been really powerful for us. I think our biggest sale drivers have been actually not beauty ones.
Conor Begley: Interesting.
Akash Mehte: So that's been really crucial. And I think the third thing for me is don't also think about just using the landscape of content creator out there. Maybe build your own content creators within your team.
Conor Begley: Interesting.
Akash Mehte: Or yourself as a founder. So one of my friends who I'm an investor in DIRTEA, which is a mushroom tea coffee company, their channel, their DIRTEA TikTok account gets millions of views in most videos as them, as the founders being the influencer. They don't spark it, but you could spark your own content, but maybe you build yourself as an influencer, it's cheaper.
Conor Begley: Which you've kind of done, to a certain extent.
Akash Mehte: Kind of done. I think the hard thing for me is it's hard because as a CEO, there's a lot of hats I have on the day. The last thing I can think about is going in front of a camera sometimes when there's flames to extinguish and meetings to do. So it is hard. I do think I need to get better at making a setup that's conducive to me to film better. It's there in front of me and maybe a day or two a month where there's a content day. So I'm working on that this year. Because I think it's important. I also need to rally at my sister in this because she's a co- founder and we have the story together. And in hair, let's be honest, I don't have a lot of hair. I think it's really compelling to see my sister's videos and my videos, but she does not want to do any of that. So I think it's also finding these ambassadors, content creators that are semi employees, but on retainer review, they're really, and then you repost them and they even create content for you that you don't even tell them to post on their channels. That has been really interesting for us, I think. And then you show diversity of hair types or for us textures. Yeah.
Conor Begley: Well let's talk about the podcast side of things. So I think that's something that's really interesting. You started about two years ago, three years ago?
Akash Mehte: Yeah, two years ago.
Conor Begley: And you're now again, top two and a half percent in the globe might be even higher than that kind of more recently. Hundreds of episodes I think at this point, right?
Akash Mehte: Yeah, nearly 175 soon. Yeah.
Conor Begley: Yeah. So talk about one, why did you do it? And then two, what has been the impact for you? What have been some of the positive things, maybe things you didn't expect too, that have come out of it?
Akash Mehte: So I think the why there is two main reasons. The first is in launching Fable, starting the journey, leaving that corporate bubble where I was in Estee Lauder, Burberry, Dior in these companies, I felt really vulnerable to, you built your name in these companies by what people think and that's how you get promoted and that's how you grow. To be your own where at the end of the day, the only thing that really matters is what you think of yourself. And it's quite lonely starting this journey and not having anyone who really gets it, even your employees, they get it but they don't feel the burn when it goes down as much as you do. They didn't feel the stress that decision making as much as you do. But I realized the people that could feel the most like me at that stage are their founders. And I felt I often had this feeling and many years ago it was even more the case than today where there was this competition, or especially if it's in the same category or same retailer, it's like don't tell them what you're doing. And I didn't feel that was really exciting for the future of this industry that I felt needs to come together more to make it more fun, more enjoyable, make better change. But what I found was so pleasant surprise. The minute I launched, obviously Sephora does emails and you get all these moments. I had a lot of founders reach out, but the one that really stood out for me was Sarah Lee from Glow Recipe. So she DM'ed me and she's one of my dearest friends today and she was like, I would love to get on a Zoom, huge fan of what you built when your brand love everything about it. Let's catch up. So I had a Zoom with her, Christine, me, I think my sisters joined and the first question I was like, I'm a huge fan of your brand, but tell me about your story. And I heard her story and I was like, oh my God, I want, it was so inspiring. I want my team to listen to it. I want everyone to listen to it. And then it also got me thinking as someone who was in charge of influencers at Dior and building a lot of these content creators where some of them, I didn't want them to be the biggest in the industry because you can tell their incentives are not really right.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Akash Mehte: It was a bit frustrated. People like Heela Yang, Sol de Janeiro, like why does no one know, not know her name? And she's like six, oh how many followers she has now. She doesn't have thousands of followers. The brand does, millions and if she wants to, why can't she have a million? These are amazing people.
Conor Begley: Well this company got acquired for a half a billion dollars too.
Akash Mehte: Exactly. So why can't more people hear their story and learn from these amazing experts and founders and storytellers? So I thought let's create a place where I could basically at that time it was the pandemic where I could just go on these Zooms equivalent with all these different founders, press record, do the same thing I did with Sarah, just hear a story. I will just make that space founded to founder. And eventually that was a podcast. I didn't realize it. I was like, okay, this is a podcast, let's call it Founder Beauty. And then once you had a few of them introduced to others and then I was like, okay. I started going from one a week to two a week. Because I just started waiting list to founders. I wanted to come on and as my ego, I was like, I want get to know as many founders. This is the not only as an amazing networking tool, it's a good friendship builder and I can maybe do more collaboration. So it went from a podcast really quickly to also more than that, a community. I have a saying, more collaboration, less competition. And we really do that into the real world stuff. So we've had multiple breakfast, lunches and dinners. We did this BYOB concept. So bring your own brand. And I get founders in, I've done it in LA, New York, London, we do collaborations. I did one, the British Beauty Council, we invited 200 people at the end of year reception drinks. I've done painting class, I just did a workout before Sephora Summit. So wherever I will see founders in an area, send them a message. If they're down, they're down. If it's five people, 10 people, a 100 people, let's just get together and collaborate. And I can tell you I've seen so many people I've put together that they have now done. I've seen giveaways come from it, they've done collabs and what's so cool, it's like that's the place, just make a space. It's founded by everyone, not me.
Conor Begley: Yep.
Akash Mehte: We are all building our brand. It's build this very non, I don't accept sponsorship, I don't do any that, I spend my own money. This is just a loss for me, but it's a gain from what I feel the industry is getting by bringing these founders together.
Conor Begley: Yeah, totally. And I think for me, the other thing that's really valuable out of it is the learnings. So you talk to these people and you're like, Hey how are you doing this? It's pretty fascinating as a concept. Just be like, here's a list of questions I have for Akash and I start with the things I want to know. These are the things I want to know. So I love that part of it too.
Akash Mehte: And they're willing to help. I just now message Sarah for her VM person and she sent it to me and my sister is like, oh my god, this person have always wanted, amazing. You can just reach out. You don't know what you'll get and people will help you. So I think that's been really, really exciting is just seeing how collaborative people really are. It's easy to say on paper and people might pretend to be, but they really are. And even if they're not, you make the space, they'll become it.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Akash Mehte: I think that's the best thing about it. I've seen people that I actually felt they want that collaborative and I had that inklings, six months later. I'm like, no, no, that's really cool. So I never make a judgment on anyone anymore. There's not one founder that I'm disappointed in. I've recorded over 200 and something founders and that's a big statement to make. There are founders I initially thought were, I felt the vibe at the beginning or they didn't reply to my DMs. Maybe they felt they were too big of a brand. It happens, but then you give them that space, you just be patient with it, they'll surprise you.
Conor Begley: It's kind of shocking there are that many beauty fenders in general. So let's talk a little bit about, I think during that moment you said workout, travel, podcast, this and the other thing. So I've always personally marveled at just how efficient you are. So I think that just the pure volume of projects you're getting done at a very high quality rate. It's really impressive. So talk to about how do you plan your day When you're thinking about your day, how many days a week are you working? How do you organize yourself?
Akash Mehte: It's great for an outsider perspective, it looks really good. In my head I'm thinking I'm doing it all wrong. But I think it's just probably me and my, I always-
Conor Begley: Well that's part of the reason you are efficient. You're constantly thinking about think how to get better.
Akash Mehte: I think as I'm getting older as well, I think my goals are getting a bit less ambitious, bit more calmer. I don't need to prove myself to myself anymore, that kind of stuff or to people. So I think I'm getting better because I'm now strategically doubling down on what's important and shedding certain things. But let's say just top line, how I generally shape and get things done. I definitely am someone who gets excited by newness and new ideas. So I always make extra time for that. So that's usually where I do it. Let's say on my bed at night until 3: 00 AM I'll work on a deck or something new. But I know to compartmentalize those newness isn't work time, that isn't main core time.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Akash Mehte: I did this always at Dior. One of the things I did, I made a weekly meeting with my GM and I was always presenting new things. So I managed to carve this meeting. That's how I got all these Dior Beauty Lovers and all this Dior inside there. So the affiliate program, I built this because it wasn't in my remit but I had these new ideas but I built them out of office hours. So that's something I still do today in my office. I do it as a little quotation thing, but I don't do new ideas in my core time.
Conor Begley: Interesting.
Akash Mehte: That is important because I can prioritize that. I think one thing I've definitely learned about myself is I need a form of physical or stimulation. So doing a workout to start the day usually is imperative. I'm not always that good at it. So I call them intentions. I haven't been in the last few days and then I look in the last few days, that's like my fail in the last few days. I haven't given myself that time for even a 10 stretch or something and so I'm not perfect at it, I'm working on that. But it is something I know I value. I do a thing where I write a to- do list every day in paper and I make it really realistic. I think that's just years of practicing knowing what is my to- do list and I don't finish a day without finishing it. So I scrunch it off my, throw it away. I do it in person, like in writing that has been really helpful. Because I think just making sure all these ideas are compartmentalized with clear goals for that day. That has helped me a lot. And then the last thing, which I think the most important is investing in the right team. I can't do all this stuff without my team behind it. Right?
Conor Begley: Yep.
Akash Mehte: So an assistant, I have an executive assistant now and that's been game changing for me. And it's been really hard because I've had to say, oh my god, I should be emailing. But I know if I was putting myself in there, I don't reply. It's on my back burn of things. So I think having the right team and maybe an assistant if you're someone who does a lot, will really change a lot. For sure. Yeah.
Conor Begley: Starting with the two list, I can't remember there's some quote on it, but basically the biggest life hack is just start the day, write down what's most important that day and then do it, in order of most importance.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: If you don't finish, you start with that list at the top of the next day. It sounds really simple, but I think a lot of people, and I find when I'm spinning or not making the progress I want, it's when I'm just doing whatever's coming into my inbox or whatever's getting on the calendar and I'm not intentionally choosing, these are the things that I want to invest in.
Akash Mehte: Exactly. But I did this test the other day, I'm like, am I feel I have ADHD? Like this is something that my brain goes-
Conor Begley: Same.
Akash Mehte: ...so fast, I have hundred ideas and I guess one of these days I'm like, I do, right? I definitely have it but then I'm like, I don't know. But anyway, so I'm 99% sure I have it. And I think that's where I get days where my head is so headachy. There's so many ideas and that's why I love to go on that newness. Because that's the most exciting thing for me. That's why I do compartmentalize that, you're earning that later. You're not doing that now. You're doing it way later. You're doing, when you're in bed on your laptop, you do it then now you're doing what's important. And I think that's where the to- do list just makes my brain a little bit less fogged and I need to do it on paper because I'm so sick of screens all the time.
Conor Begley: Totally.
Akash Mehte: And I think something about paper and throwing it away physically in the dust bin, it's done is so satisfying. So I have on my desk a to- do list, but it's so bad I've even got a to- do list now for my assistant. But it's important, right? That's an extension of me. So I will say, Hey, these are things I need to do, but maybe you can do them. Do you mind seeing what's feasible? And I think eventually doing it for your team, not micromanaging, we're not saying that here. I'm saying, okay, I need to do all these things in the day. Actually this is for me, but this is for my team. That is really good. And I think it keeps you accountable. It makes you have a clear task to do that day.
Conor Begley: Yeah. I do something similar. So I do it in three month increments. So I have a book, I found one of these books you kind of write out, these are the four things I'm going to work on for the next 12 weeks and this is what I'm really going to focus on. And then each day you write, okay, these are the two or three things I did towards this particular goal. It's a little inflexible in that you could get eight weeks in and be like, I'm kind of done with this. But generally it's super impactful for me. And I have now, their books aren't even in print anymore, but I've bought every single one that's not in print. I've got a shelf of 50 of them and I've done like 20, 25 of them. I've been doing it since the beginning-
Akash Mehte: Three months.
Akash Mehte: That's cool.
Conor Begley: Three
Conor Begley: months increments. So 12 weeks. It's only a Monday through Friday thing. So you don't do it on the weekends.
Akash Mehte: And what do you do when you say three months? Is it like you're preparing the next three months in this book?
Conor Begley: No, it'd be like, okay so-
Akash Mehte: Oh, It's a book that you get rid of after three months.
Conor Begley: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah. So that's why it works.
Akash Mehte: That's actually really good.
Conor Begley: That works. It's a good one. But I mean again, yeah, simply just writing down what's important and then doing it I think is the big hack.
Akash Mehte: It's important. Yeah.
Conor Begley: So I've never done the executive assistant thing, but you think that's a good aspect?
Akash Mehte: Really, I mean really helpful. I think mean she does a little bit of my personal stuff too. So it's not purely, I think executive is just a nicer title for everyone. I find it weird. But actually it was my friend Patricia Bright, who is an incredible YouTuber and influencer and content creator. And she basically told me with her assistant, listen, yes, this person can be a right hand for the big project, but also we'll get you coffee in the morning. That is okay.
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Akash Mehte: So actually when I was doing my interview, I was like, this is so weird, but are you okay if I say get me a oat mocha in the morning on my desk? And she's like, yeah, absolutely. What I realized is things that you would do for yourself if you're so busy, find ways to have that support with your team around you that are willing to do that. So you can focus your energies on building. And I think that's honestly has been so life changing and then they start understanding your way of working and makes it even better. For example, Carlota will go in my diary and cancel things ahead of me canceling and be like, listen, I know you're tired today. You've had four meetings, I've just went ahead and canceled it for you. You don't need to, rest. And I'm like, okay, you're right. You're right. Thank you. Yeah, I knew that.
Conor Begley: Is she virtual or in person?
Akash Mehte: In person. Yeah, yeah, in person. And it's hard to find a good assistant and you want to test before you give them the full keys to your life. My general manager at Dior always said test people three times before you let them in. So there will be some hiccups as things not as always worked out. But what's really exciting me, we've got to that point where she's telling me now, okay, in 10 years time, what are we doing? Or she's thinking so long term. That makes me so happy because I'm also now building it, that she's part of the family, I'm doing everything, but for her.
Conor Begley: Well you're thinking long term with her too, right?
Akash Mehte: Exactly. And realizing an assistant is an extension of you, right?
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Akash Mehte: So I think that's helped me realize how I utilize assistant to the best. You empower them as if I was going to do the work, would I enjoy it? So of course I have to give her projects that she can get her hands on and get really excited by and completely own. And I might want to do that. I might be like, oh that's such a fun thing for me to do. I want to go and handle that project. But I think my dad has been my biggest inspiration from that. He's got hundreds of plus of employees, big company. And I thought to myself, this is a test now for Fable& Mane. Eventually I might have a conglomerate or might have multiple business, I might have new ventures, but I need to still keep everything tagging me along. I can't close one thing and not the other. You need to delegate.
Conor Begley: Let's talk about your dad for a second before we get, we'll do one fun kind of end of show question.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: This is going by so fast. It's crazy.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: It's your dad. Very successful fragrance distributor and manufacturer. First, what are some of the things that you've learned from him? And then second, I think the thing that's really interesting for you with Fable& Mane is you don't necessarily have an urgency to sell the brand. You can think really long term. And so what are the ambitions for the company and then how has he influenced those ambitions as well as your sister who you co- founded the brand with?
Akash Mehte: Definitely I think so whatever I say now kind of mimics me and my sister think because we're really unified in our vision for the company long term and how our dad's involvement is. So Dad, just to paint that picture, he came from Uganda, Idi Amin time. So I think when he was 13, 12 in 1972 I think or something, all Indians, South Asians were kicked out of Uganda. Everything was seized. So my dad had a big house car, everything that was taken. So they're literally in the airport their luggages were open. So when I say 50 pounds in their pocket, it literally is that. So they had a few options to go to India, but UK opened up as a refugee place. So then my dad went there and then three brothers and a sister and parents went into a refugee home. They shared one bed and it was a struggle. And then my dad had this culture shock of being bullied, a lot of racism. He went to university in Portsmouth and the only person of color. So it was a big struggle and shift from what he knew. He built his fragrance, I call it empire now. It's always fun to say because he went to Calais, the border of France and England overnight in Laurie, stayed the night and started buying fragrances like a secondary distributor and selling it in Wembley in a market on the floor, on the street. And from that he built a very big company today. What's been really interesting is he built it from his hands, built his reputation with these inaudible PNGs, started becoming a secondary distributor. So they started trusting him to manage the secondary market, not the primary market. So secondary market of anyone listening is sort of like you're not direct retailers, but you want to also control because you don't want it to be on a bottom shelf, 17% off and it ruins your Sephora distribution for example. And then over time he started buying brands because there's big conglomerates who hey, we're selling this license, do you want to buy it? Or he started making licenses. So he does from the Ariana Grande, Jennifer Lopez to Playboy and Formula One, these big license fragrances names he's made and has. So I think what's been really interesting is he's in all of that, but I've sort of been trained my own corporate way and he's never influenced me. It's so odd he could think this is written in a book, but he did electrical engineering, either electrical engineering, he did beauty and I'm in beauty. But he never once said, you need to do this. This is your path. So I don't know why I somehow was inspired by everything. It is a very different model today what I'm building, this is a brand building. This isn't distribution, right? So dad might focus more on profit and those licenses have a year, lifetime. Mine is brand building, no plan to necessarily exit anytime soon. And really focusing not on profit necessarily, but evaluation and bits and stuff-
Conor Begley: Growth.
Akash Mehte: So for me that is really important that I listen but don't listen too much. He's actually listened to me more. He's like, okay, I need to learn how to social media, TikTok and influence and brandville like so he's coming to me for help. There is going to be a future I think where I'll, not out of expectation, but out of want. Find a way to take over what he's got, diffuse it into what I want to build and have some ideas with going back to distribution. I don't think I want to be an incubator building brands. There's too many brands out there. I think I can really help distributing brands globally into the right way, into the right places. And this is something I want to eventually take over and work with what he's doing.
Conor Begley: Cool.
Akash Mehte: Build my case study in Fable, my know- how. And one thing I am for sure is what I do is all about purpose. I'm very fortunate that I haven't necessarily needed to focus too much on profit because I have an amazing father who's built an incredible life for me. And mom, of course I'm not just saying my dad, my parents, but my purpose is really with helping India, Africa, wildlife, humans, conflict and really just working on nature and the planet. So if I ever sell in the future in 10 years, whatever, I think majority of our exit and funds will go to our own charity. Me and my sister are building our fund. So it's sort of like a Patagonia story. I don't want to put it in my pocket. I think it needs to go back on the planet.
Conor Begley: Very cool.
Akash Mehte: So that's good. Yeah.
Conor Begley: Well let's do just one fun end of show question.
Akash Mehte: Perfect.
Conor Begley: So you and I have talked a lot over the years and we've talked a lot about business, social media, et cetera. I don't think we've ever talked about fun, which is kind of surprising. And for me, my wife thinks I'm crazy. I'm like, I don't know, business is fun. It's kind a game.
Akash Mehte: Yeah, it is.
Conor Begley: It's competitive. You've got this whole thing. But I'd love to know, this is actually the first time I've ever asked this question on the podcast. What is something that you do for fun that's totally unrelated from business?
Akash Mehte: Some people probably hate this stuff. I do two things. I do escape rooms. I've done over a hundred something escape rooms. I'm obsessed with escape rooms. I would even do them alone, but they often don't allow you to them alone. So I have to lie and pretend. I think I've done one on my own, which is I think that's maybe a bit mucked up. But I love it. And I'm so bad. Even my team, my poor general manager from Barcelona in New York, when we came a few months ago, bearing in mind I made them on the landed at 11:00 PM do an escape room bearing in mind that's like six hours ahead of Barcelona. So she's like 5: 00 AM, forced to do an escape room. And it was a Jurassic Park themed one. It was fantastic. They hated it, but I loved it. So escape room and my tactic is just pay for the room and then people have to come. So that's my way to bribe people into escape rooms. It's like, I got it. It's on me, it's on me if I need people. Because I need people to come in the room, but I don't want them to operate. I'm like, if you're not good, stay in the corner. Don't get in the. So Escape rooms is my number one. And then puzzles.
Conor Begley: Oh, okay.
Akash Mehte: I do puzzles. I have this app called Puzzle.
Conor Begley: Both puzzles. Really? Yeah.
Akash Mehte: Both puzzles. So it's ways of the same thing, but I have a physical book and an app and I do pretty much every morning, 20 minutes of puzzles.
Conor Begley: Interesting. When you say puzzles, do you mean you put the pieces together-
Akash Mehte: Oh, no.
Conor Begley: ...it's like a picture?
Akash Mehte: So this puzzle page is incredible. You have things from Sudoku to crosswords to all these different types of, and a lot of Japanese and Indian puzzles from back in the day. Can't really say the names of half them, but I know them. So yeah, that's what I do.
Conor Begley: Very cool. I've not done a hundred plus-
Akash Mehte: What do you do?
Conor Begley: ...escape rooms. No, no, we don't have to talk about that.
Akash Mehte: That's when I come, when you come on my podcast I got to ask you this question.
Conor Begley: Yeah, no, but on the escape room side of things, there's a really good one in San Francisco you should go to. I've been to, it's pretty cool. And there's another one that we did in LA that was a virtual escape room that was quite interesting. So you put on a VR headset.
Akash Mehte: Oh, yeah.
Conor Begley: You have the whole, it's all blacked out and then you're-
Akash Mehte: Really immersed.
Conor Begley: ...going through it. Yeah, it's pretty cool.
Akash Mehte: My goal is to do, not every single escape room in the world, but in most countries escape rooms. So that's my goal.
Conor Begley: I'll give you an answer on the what do I do for fun. So I got asked this question by an Uber driver in LA and we're going through the hills and I never really thought about it and I just do what you do day to day. And I was like, well, there's kind of three things I like. One, I do actually business and I kind of view it like a competition. I don't know why. It's just the highest stakes game you can play. Right? There's infinite competitors, the stakes are high, it's meaningful, et cetera. The second one is I love both playing and watching sports. So whether it's football, baseball, basketball, whatever. And then the third is I really like games, whether it's a board game or a computer game or any kind of game. And really competition kind of runs through all of them as you'll find.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: So that's kind of what I do for fun.
Akash Mehte: That's so interesting. Yeah. What I love is, is you find that synergy and I think that can maybe open up new things where it's linked to that synergetic feel. Right. Competitions are in a lot of different forms. It's a very friendly competition, which I think is nice. It's lighthearted.
Conor Begley: Yeah. Yeah.
Akash Mehte: I think that's the same. I think that's what I like. I like a challenge.
Conor Begley: I have gotten pretty aggressive in games too though.
Akash Mehte: Yeah. I think it can happen. I think it takes a lot of breath work to calm yourself down in these moments. And you've got to learn who to play with and who not to. I can't play with my sister. She's a sore loser. She'll like leave a game halfway when you're about to win, so you never will win. And that's like the worst.
Conor Begley: My favorite was, I had a friend, this was back when I was in high school, and he's like, Hey, you should come play Monopoly with my family. And I'm sure you know Monopoly.
Akash Mehte: Yeah.
Conor Begley: It's very aggressive, particularly at the end. And he is like, only things are, one, it's really aggressive so people are screaming at each other during the game.
Akash Mehte: Oh my gosh.
Conor Begley: And I'm like, love that into that. Yeah. Yeah. And he is number two, we're very religious, so there's like no swearing. So it's screaming at each other. But with like-
Akash Mehte: I'm going to come there, saying no, like what the hell? But in a way I get it. That's tough.
Conor Begley: It was one of the most unique-
Akash Mehte: Because you've got to be really, especially if it's heated, you say these words and you're like, oh my God, I have to think about what I want to say, but I can't. Like I want to say what's in my heart. Catan is the same effect. You ever play Catan?
Conor Begley: Yeah.
Akash Mehte: Who have, and you play with people and they're really attacking you. I think games where you can get purposely attacked, it can get really personal.
Conor Begley: Oh, absolutely.
Akash Mehte: Can be like, I don't want to talk to you anymore for a while.
Conor Begley: Absolutely.
Akash Mehte: But yeah, there you go.
Conor Begley: Oh my gosh. Well I'm so glad we got to do this-
Akash Mehte: Likewise.
Conor Begley: This was fun to do it in person while you were out here and thanks for taking the time out and I'm sure Fable& Mane is going to continue to kill it, and so congrats on that.
Akash Mehte: Thanks Conor. Appreciate it.
Conor Begley: Awesome. Bye. Akash.
Akash Mehte: Bye.
Speaker 1: Be a friend. Tell a friend and subscribe. Earned by CreatorIQ. CreatorIQ is your all- in- one solution to grow, manage, scale, and measure your influencer marketing program. Ready to unlock the power of the creator economy. Get started with a demo today at creatoriq. com.
In Ep. 76 of Earned, Conor sits down with Akash Mehta, co-founder and CEO of fast-growing, Ayurvedic-inspired haircare brand Fable & Mane. To start the episode, we discuss the resurgence of brick-and-mortar retail, and Akash explains the importance of continuing to invest in both online and in-store experiences. He shares some takeaways from the recent Sephora Brand Summit, including the importance of influencer marketing and the strong correlation between brands winning in Earned Media Value (EMV) and revenue. We discuss why Sephora is not only a retailer, but also a key brand building partner for up-and-coming brands, and Akash emphasizes the importance of a focused distribution strategy. Next, we discuss how Fable & Mane creates demand in non-English speaking markets, and the large and relatively still untapped market opportunity in India. And of course, we talk about Akash’s bread and butter—influencer marketing—and learn his philosophies, learnings, and predictions for the future of the space. To close the show, we talk about what inspired Akash’s own podcast, Founded Beauty, and hear how his dad’s experience in manufacturing and distribution have impacted Akash’s approach to building and growing Fable & Mane.
In this episode, you will learn:
- When and how to approach working with retailers
- How to expand globally in the beauty industry
- How influencer marketing strategies change with brand size and equity
[5:32 - 8:24]: Taking a look at Sephora as a brand builder
[14:24 - 17:50]: The growing beauty industry in India
[22:18 - 24:09]: How to approach content creation as a personal brand
[29:54 - 34:43]: Akash’s work efficiency and how he manages his time
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