Hana, Founder of Melixir
[Interview] Melixir’s founder, Hana Lee, shines light on how she started the company and where she hopes to see it go in the future.
Hello, Hana! Can you introduce Melixir in one sentence?
Melixir is a skincare brand that inspires sustainable and healthy lifestyles through vegan products.
What does a typical day of work look like for you?
First, I prioritize the things I need to get done within the day, so I make a list. Usually one or two things are always set. Second, I check our metrics dashboard. For example, how many sales we've had, how many people have accessed our website, and how efficient our advertising has been. Then, I have a product development meeting with Tini before lunchtime to plan and discuss new product ideas, test sample products, and discuss ways to improve the brand. After that, I check in with the managers of each department.
The most important part of my job is to create an environment where everyone is focused on impactful work. I think about what culture I should create and how to embed our mission into our daily work. Small companies have limited resources to fall back on, so the team should find a way to synergize. When the team defines the most important problem of customers and focuses on solving that problem as a unit, I believe we create a bigger impact. I am always trying to ensure that Melixir keeps growing while sticking to our original mission of making products and services in healthy and sustainable ways.
After work, I go home, have dinner, and get some rest. Later, I read our product reviews.This has become my routine because I want to understand how satisfied our customers are with our products. If someone tags or mentions us somewhere, I like to follow up with them to learn more about what kind of lifestyle that person has. I rarely make plans on weekdays so I can really focus on growing the brand. If I'm not reading reviews, I'm reading a book instead. A book I recently read was Steve Jobs’s biography. I just read it for the second time.
How did you come up with the idea to start a vegan cosmetics business? What was the first thing you did after you decided to start a business?
I got the idea for vegan skincare in 2014, when I was working at a beauty company based in San Francisco. One customer asked me if the products we sold were tested on animals, and whether or not they contained any animal ingredients. After doing a lot of research, I found out that most beauty products are, in fact, tested on animals. These questions lingered with me, and I kept thinking about them for years. As time went by, more and more people asked me the same questions about the products in the industry and year after year, the answer was still the same. I eventually decided that making skincare products with plant-based standards could be the solution.
I was 27 when I started Melixir. As I reflected over my life, I did not want to have any regrets when I was 40 or 50. I wanted my life to be meaningful, so I decided to start a business, which was one of the biggest decisions in my life. I told myself that if I started a company, it should be something that I could be passionate about for the next 10 years. That was to create a brand that suggests a healthier and more sustainable way of living to help people live in a better way.
I thought about what this brand could do for people. I used to have acne and sensitive skin in the past, but using plant-based cosmetics always helped me. Once I decided what kind of business I wanted to start, I wanted to come up with a special name for the brand. In ancient alchemy, “Elixir" means a magical potion for health and increased longevity, which represents the type of products I wanted to make. I also wanted to include a part of myself in the name - therefore Melixir was born as a combination of the words "my" + "elixir."
For next steps, in order to develop the products in earnest, I visited more than 20 manufacturers and told them that I wanted to make vegan cosmetics. However, since the concept of veganism was novel in Korea at that time, my proposals were all rejected. Fortunately, I found a place that made organic cosmetics and was able to make my first product. To raise funds for the production costs, I opened a crowdfunding project that told the story of Melixir. At the time, the first products that were funded were a vitamin C serum that could be used even on sensitive skin as well as a vegan squalane oil containing squalane extracted from sugar cane. The response was much better than I expected, and that's how Melixir's OG products were created.
Since then, my new team and I really focused on customer feedback and quality production to grow the company and our product line. It was a process to focus on our brand’s essential values and eliminate anything that did not resonate with us. For example, the design of our very first containers was color-coated in 2018, but after our designer, Koeun, joined in 2019, our designs have evolved so that even just the shape of our containers could convey our brand philosophy, part of which is simplicity. The process of establishing the brand identity of Melixir was developed by Koeun, and now our marketer, Jenny, is also involved in this process.
People from all different groups like Melixir, not just vegans and vegetarians, why do you think that is?
Melixir appeals to a wide variety of people because our products have multiple layers which resonate with many people. Vegans, vegetarians, and others love our products because they believe in our eco-friendly standards. Beauty enthusiasts who look for clean beauty trust our formulation because our products are effective but not damaging on sensitive skin. Our simple, natural aesthetic resonates with people who have sophisticated taste. Melixir’s philosophy based on health and sustainability speaks to a wide range of people.
What makes the current Melixir team so special? How do you decide who gets to be a part of the team?
I think it’s the individuals that make the Melixir team so special. Many of our current team members actually first encountered Melixir as customers, and they came to believe in our mission and product so much so that they have come to work with us. For example, our Customer Success Manager was one of our earliest customers and now is a crucial part of our team, working to constantly improve our services and optimize customer experience. Our team is filled with people who are really invested and on board with our vision, which makes us special.
The people who I want to work with are those I would call “Human Elixir” - healthy, trustworthy, purposeful, and honest. People who uplift those around them and try to positively influence their surroundings are always great to work with. Interestingly, we invite customers every month and conduct interviews with them. These interviews have shown that our customers and employees have a lot of the same values. The Melixir team and customers are closely connected.
I heard that you’re vegetarian. Why did you become a vegetarian? Do you have any tips for people who want to go vegetarian?
I am a pescatarian - I don’t eat meat, but I do eat dairy products and seafood. I began this lifestyle change in 2019. I had always been interested in becoming a pescatarian, but I didn’t really practice it until I went on a business trip to San Francisco and one of our customers, Jenn, told me that she felt healthier and more at peace as she practiced vegetarianism. The easiest way to become more eco-friendly is to become a vegetarian. So after many conversations, I decided to become a pescatarian. I used to like meat, but I decided that if I wanted to change the society, I should practice the small things first, even if that means giving up some of the things I enjoy. Fortunately, there are many vegetarian restaurants in the United States, so I still had a lot of options.
Reminding myself that being a pescatarian is very good for the environment helped me stick with it. Also cooking my own meals and being creative with what I was putting on the plate has been really helpful.
I'm curious about your favorite brands. Do you have a specific style?
I love FREITAG. The company makes durable bags while simultaneously creating a close community between its products, team, and customers. I also like Oatly, a company that makes drinks out of oats, an alternative to dairy. I love how they write what they do and why they do it by hand on the packaging. I think the way you attract people as fans of your brand is by being approachable like Oatly. (Plus, their drinks taste good too). I like brands that have a clear philosophy while also focusing on the quality of their products.
Sometimes I don't want to work even if I am passionate about my work. How can I overcome that?
The people who motivate me the most are the people on my team and my clients. My team works together to create good results. When the results of our efforts are good, it is the biggest motivation. Reading reviews from customers who recognize how much effort we are putting into our products also motivates me. I relieve stress by watching Netflix or talking with my friends. I recently enjoyed a series called "Queen's Gambit" on Netflix.
As a young professional leading a fast-growing brand, I'd like to ask you for some advice for people who want to start their own business.
I think it is really important to never hold yourself back. It is okay if someone or something lets you down; the important part is to keep trying things until you succeed. Have ambition and work hard to achieve your goals.
You've talked a lot about Melixir’s past and present. Tell me about the future of Melixir.
My vision for Melixir is that it stands as a brand that inspires people to lead healthier lifestyles filled with confidence, courage, love, and dreams. I do not want to set an end goal right now. I want to showcase our growth and how we achieve it. Nothing is perfect, but I hope our brand can help people move toward somewhere better and healthier in their lives.