Welcome to My First Year as a Creator, a series where we ask creators how they got started, and how they have gone full-time doing what they love the most.
Asia Grant is the co-founder of Redoux, a Black-owned business celebrating collective human experiences through vegan skincare and sophisticated scents that evoke feelings of nostalgia. Starting off her post-grad career in corporate finance, Grant has found a sweet spot in her own entrepreneurial journey, having built a small but mighty team of eight at Redoux. The New York City-based entrepreneur describes her brand’s unique story as one of friendship, connection, and growth. She tells us over the phone the importance of making meaningful connections and taking care of existing relationships beyond work.
We spoke with Grant about how she made the leap from corporate finance to becoming a first-time brand founder, leaving her 9-5 to pursue her calling, and why it’s crucial for entrepreneurs to set personal and professional intentions early on.
I understand that you come from a corporate finance background. Can you tell us when you decided to become a full-time entrepreneur?
At school, I studied marketing, and I always knew from college that I didn’t want to work at a corporate job. I always felt rebellious against my school curriculum, as the rigid learning environment was good and bad in itself. But bless my professors that I had, because they were very flexible with me and said, “Yes, Asia, we’ll build something together with you.”
I had a whole bunch of friends asking what I wanted to do [after school], and I felt this imposter syndrome because I knew I didn’t want to work a corporate job. I wanted to do something on my own, but I just didn’t know what that was. So I told myself that I would enter the corporate world, into a job that pays me enough money to live happily in New York, while also being able to save a lot of money.
With those as my goals, I decided that I would go into consulting. I was at my first job for a year, then went into specialized consulting within corporate finance for two years until I left.
Did you know what it would take to start your own brand? How confident were you?
I was highly, ignorantly confident, which I think is the best thing. At the time when my co-founder [Alejandro Cuevas] and I discussed Redoux, I was 23, 24 years old. I said, “We need to do something before we get to our late 20s or even our 30s, because by that time we’re going to be tired.”
At that point, I was hyper-obsessed with the fact that we needed to do something now, because we acknowledged that we’re young, we have energy, and we can burn out a couple of times. We don’t have responsibilities or a family. We need to do it.
I had my business degree, but running a business is very different from learning to run a business in a classroom. There are similarities, but once you’re in it, it’s very different. I was hyper-confident in the fact that I needed to do it, and that I would just figure it out. People can offer advice to a certain degree, but at the end of the day, it’s just having the confidence in yourself that you’ll figure it out.
This career change can be accompanied with lots of different emotions. What were you most scared about? What were you most excited for?
I started the brand while I still had a full-time job. Even though I’m risk-tolerant, there are some things I’m very thoughtful and risk-averse to. I didn’t come from a super wealthy family that would take care of me if I decided to quit my job and give me investment money. My co-founder and I bootstrapped it ourselves. We started while I was at my corporate job, and he was getting his PhD in computer science. We agreed to put some money towards it, see what we’re going to do and do it to the best of our ability, and that took off some of the stressors. We didn’t feel like we’re forced to make money, so it gave us a lot of breathing room to explore and make mistakes.
The most exciting part is being able to have the unlimited freedom of choice. Every day stays the same but pivots slightly — we call it the rollercoaster of running a business. We’re going to do this, or we’re gonna do something else — we can change our minds. That idea we had in year one is actually good and feasible now in year three, so let’s try that. The most exciting part is creating something that you envisioned in your mind and seeing it come to life. It’s kind of a dissonance because we envision ideas for a long time, and you don’t realize it until you’re actually deep in it.
How did you find and create brand identity?
I was studying marketing and writing a thesis on why people make the emotional investments they do and the products that they purchase. It’s very much brand identity rooted in brand equity, looking at Western beauty versus Eastern beauty within the beauty industry. European beauty is very aspirational, very luxurious, very high-end, but so is Asian beauty — it’s done in a way that’s very structured in routine, heritage, and culture. You grow up with this at a very young age, when you start to do skincare when you’re like 5. That’s something that resonated with me because my father did that with me, even though he’s not Asian, that’s some way that we’ve been able to develop a friendship, build our relationship, and build my love for skincare.
In college, my co-founder had terrible skin. Since we’re both very Type A, I was like, “Our friendship is falling apart, so once a week, we gotta come together and you can use all the products that I’ve been researching for my paper. We’ll do ‘friend time,’ do facials, play board games, watch movies, and hang out.” That became a ritual for us. When we graduated, we went into our careers and we found that it was happening again. We decided to start the company, so that we would have a reason to talk to each other every week. Our friendship developed by creating a ritual around taking care of one another. Making sure to take care of the friendship is what we really wanted to focus the company on, and we thought scent would be a beautiful way to tell that story.
Our first scent came out of our first trip together to New York in 2015 as friends, and the mischief and chaos we got into. I’m also synesthetic, which means I hear, taste, and smell in colors. This dictates our scent storytelling — it’s very much meant to celebrate our collective experiences through a medium that we all share. Redoux recognizes that even though we live very different lives, we’re all connected through experiences and feelings that we all go through as we live and go through this crazy, chaotic thing called life.
Sharing our collective experiences is a beautiful thing to celebrate. When was the moment when you realized “this is it”?
I think most founders will [agree] that there are a lot of moments when you’re doing something, and you realize that you feel so passionate about the work that you kind of lose yourself in the work. Then, you kind of step back and you’re like, “Does anyone even care? What’s going on? What’s happening? Let me just get back and be present in the work, and I’ll see something at some point.”
Something that’s been more meaningful for me is when we have in-person, community-focused events. Two weekends ago, we celebrated our [third] anniversary and had almost 300 people RSVP. We packed my friend’s store in New York, and it was just crazy that neither my co-founder or I were in the beauty industry or the fashion industry ever. The fact that we had this event at a New York fashion label with people coming in from the street, a live jazz band, and everyone coming to celebrate us was definitely a “wow, we did it” moment. I was in a state of shock mixed with gratitude, and I’m still processing the shock for sure.
What was the greatest lesson you learned in your first year as a business owner?
In terms of business, I would say learning to respect and be comfortable with the numbers of your business, and not to get in over your head in terms of where you are versus where you want to be. This is a constant battle that we have on a daily basis because we are consistently striving to reach our goals, but we also have to understand what is feasible within the resources that we have, and what makes sense for the business right now.
Internally, the greatest lesson is being able to manage my own personal time and mental power as a resource. As a founder, I’m very much the type that says I can get it done and I can get it done right the first time, which doesn’t leave a lot of grace for me to be able to work with other people and delegate time. Of course, there are things that I can figure out, but that doesn’t mean I have to be the one to do it. It leads to burnout very quickly which I have 100% experienced a handful of times.
How have you been able to manage burnout?
I have my own internal markers that I keep in mind when I feel like I’m close to experiencing burnout. The first marker is when I take a really long time to answer a simple question, like, “When do we need to get this thing done by?”. If I’m unable to answer it, that is the very first sign of burnout.
My team also has check-in points that we try to build into our culture to avoid burnout. If we notice things in each other that are signs of burnout, we let each other know that it’s okay to rest, or we encourage them to go for a walk. My co-founder and I have set a goal for ourselves that two days out of the month, we do not work for the business, and instead use that time to rest and do nothing.
You started your brand with your co-founder, Alejandro. How did you collaborate with each other and how have you grown together?
A lot of people ask me how it’s like going into business with your best friend. I always say — because I don’t want to sugarcoat it — it’s very difficult.
We didn’t want to make light of how hard it could be, so when we first started, we made a commitment to one another: No matter what happens with the business, no matter how big of a deal, check, or opportunity that is presented to us, if it does something to jeopardize the friendship or relationship, then it’s not worth it. We have to choose one another over the business, because a monetary transaction isn’t worth it.
Setting that intention early has really helped us, because there have been very challenging times, and we had to create new ways of communicating with one another. [It’s important to understand] how to approach these situations, like who’s in charge of leading [a project]. It’s being very clear in our communication, and expressing whenever one person thinks something should be done in another way. It’s very communication-heavy. It’s 100 times more intense than just being like, “We should communicate.”
Was there anyone that helped you through the process of starting your own business? Are there any pieces of advice that you always carry with you?
Everyone helped, it really takes a village.
One of the most influential people for me has been my honors advisor in college. She was the one who worked with me on my thesis and became my college mom. I would go to her saying I don’t have a single idea of what I want to do, and I was dealing with imposter syndrome where everyone in college was one with their identity. She always told me, “You aren’t going to be like that, and you don’t need to strive to be like that. Don’t pursue the expectations that someone has of you, pursue your own expectations of yourself. Continue to figure out who you are and what you want for yourself. Commit fully to what your dreams are, even if you can’t fully articulate what they are, fully commit to figuring them out and you will be fine. Whatever you do, you’ll be fantastic at it, so commit to yourself.”
Finally, do you have any words of advice for anyone wanting to leave the comfort of their 9-5 job to start their own business?
You have to be realistic of where you are versus where you want to be. Many people do not see all the things that I did in order to prepare to leave my job. But if you are intent on leaving your job, make sure you have enough runway in order to live and support yourself, because supporting yourself is very expensive. Figure out how your business is going to make money, because that is also expensive. I saved two years of personal savings before I left my full-time job. If you have that call to leave, don’t ignore it. Just make sure you plan accordingly for it and do it with intention.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
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