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Behind the Scenes at Sephora Accelerate

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ABLE’s Founder Dana Rae takes the lid off of her experience at Sephora’s beauty business bootcamp

Imagine you are chosen to fly to San Francisco on an all-expense paid trip to work on your business. You are chosen to be one of ten female entrepreneurs and to represent yourself and your brand at the world’s largest beauty retailer. No sweat, right?

Heading into the Sephora Accelerate Program, I had no idea what to expect.  I was intimidated by the thought of being in a room with nine other female bosses. From a distance, each of them seemed super-human. The group was a mixture of women, from mothers, to social activists, to med school dropouts, and even a few tech geniuses! And there was me: a makeup artist from New York City.

When I arrived at the Sephora Mansion, I opened up the front doors and BAM!, a camerawoman was right there documenting my arrival. I was, of course, unprepared for this and froze immediately upon entry. Before I knew it, I was warmly welcomed into the house, which reminded me of the Real World meets Full House meets The Bachelorette (but with even more neon lights and even larger floral arrangements). As I looked around, I saw a picture of my face hanging on the wall, a cafe, a bar, multiple workspaces, and a room where Sephora Pro artists were getting my new roommates camera-ready for the pending on camera interviews. One by one, I met each fellow entrepreneur and I knew almost immediately that I was in the right place. It’s not often that you encounter people who aren’t offended by sending emails mid-conversation, or who are willing to be open about the challenging grind and inevitable pitfalls of owning a beauty start-up. Never in my life did I imagine I would make one new friend, let alone nine, whom I could sit around and laugh with about manufacturing hiccups.

Sephora pulled out all of the stops. As rookie beauty brands, we were treated as though we were just as important and relevant as the big name brands that they already stock. Sephora encouraged us to push ourselves, dive deep, and connect with one another. Their goal was not only to empower us, but also to encourage us to form a symbiotic community. Each woman had her own strengths, whether it was numbers, marketing, PR, creative, public speaking, manufacturing, negotiating, or all of the above. The week was a welcomed exchange of information and experience. Some days were focused heavily on data, during which we would sit in on panel discussions about topics like supply chains and analytics. Which you may think would be a snore but for us was thrilling! We met with head merchants and creative directors, and even attended a cocktail party with Sephora’s CEO. We were provided with eager focus groups and performed “marketing speed dating.” Other days, we were asked to explore ourselves under the guidance of creative powerhouse IDEO. We were exposed to the best of the best, visiting with Facebook, Google & YouTube. The group was encouraged to be human and honest throughout the processes, because being true to yourself and your brand story is not only important for the company voice, but it is incredibly important to the consumer. Being raw wasn’t an issue for us, because I can honestly say each person in the program has a groundbreaking story that left the rest of us with chills.

We were each assigned a mentor to help us along the way. Mine was Aimee Cochran, who runs the education department, and who I quickly identified as my spirit animal. We didn’t even need to speak. I could look at her and she understood what I was conveying, or when I needed her to step in. She was very hands-on, diving into the week headfirst with me. Aimee embraced my strengths and encouraged me to work through my weaknesses. She would forward me notes she had taken at 3:00 am because she had so many ideas for me. The group was also graced with the presence of Pamela Baxter, creator of the iconic brand La Mer. Pamela coined herself our “Den Mother” and was there for honest advice, a shoulder to lean on, and to tell us insider stories that I personally could have listened to for hours on end.

Looking back, my favorite moments from the program were the times we spent relaxed in sweatpants, becoming close friends and hanging out in the kitchen, where we let down our businesswoman hair and could just be present together. Some of us pow-wowed on counter tops, others stood around sharing trade secrets, and I ended up setting up an impromptu hair salon conveniently located near the snacks where we could play and talk shop all at once. Regardless of how exhausted we were, we would all rush downstairs with our products and wine in hand. Looking for feedback, advice, or a willing face to test a formula on. In these moments, we would discover new realizations, form new ideas, and bask in these mini ah-ha moments!

Sephora’s belief in me and my brand has been a real boost of confidence. I can also say that nothing has been more empowering than spending eight days straight with a bunch of female bosses. This short written reflection doesn’t even scratch the surface of my experience at The Sephora Accelerate Program. Corrie Conrad & Lily Xu put their blood, sweat, and tears into designing a week that is truly a condensed MBA program for beauty gurus. I encourage anyone reading this who has a beauty startup or is considering taking a leap into beauty entrepreneurship to contact the program.

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I also encourage you to check out the inspiring business ladies I got to spend time with and I now count as friends –

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