This month in #WoWWomen, we cast the spotlight on self-made successes.
It never ceases to amaze and inspire us when we hear stories of women who so fearlessly follow their hearts and their guts to do what they love, what they believe in — against all odds, and contrary to the common and popular. From the Brontë sisters and Mary Ann Evans (aka George Eliot), who wrote great classics under a male nom de plume, to Coco Chanel and modern-day entrepreneurial heroines like Sophia Amoruso and Oprah, these women are without a doubt here to put a dent in the universe.
And the rest, as they say, is
IT’S Monday morning. A different sort of Monday morning. At a minute past nine, I am riding the elevator of a quay-side condominium to
Level Cloud 9. Forget the blues. As far as interview scores go, I am standing at the end of one fabulous rainbow 🌈. Flying colours.
“Hi, come on in!” A robust voice emerges to greet me as the unassuming white door swings open, flooding the corridor with natural light from her apartment. There she is: Alexis Horowitz-Burdick — golden girl of local entrepreneurial success, with a gold MacBook in hand. She probably doesn’t have time for such minutiae, but it totally complements her leopard-print shift dress 👌🏻.
For beauty junkies and anyone who’s tuned in to business news, you’d know that Alexis is the founder of Luxola, a beauty e-commerce site that would go on to become one of the biggest — if not the biggest — beauty e-commerce success in Singapore.
How big? Well, let’s see, five years later, the 34-year-old American snagged the ultimate partner in French luxury goods giant LVMH, who acquired her company for “an undisclosed amount”. And last month, the integration was finally complete as Luxola transformed into the brand new Sephora.sg, with Alexis assuming the role of managing director of Sephora Digital for South East Asia. Yup. Like I said.
It’s a looooong interview, so without further ado and alliteration, I present you our next WoW Woman of the month — Alexis Horowitz-Burdick.
Luxola is such a great local success story people will be talking about the LVMH acquisition and its recent transition into Sephora.sg for a long time. Which is amazing, congratulations! But let’s rewind to the beginning when you were hopping onto taxis and making deliveries personally… Those must have been some really challenging days when you were just starting out in 2011. What was that like?
Alexis Horowitz-Burdick: It was fun, exhilarating and also kind of scary. Every day you’re saying to yourself, ‘OK, can we make it through this week? Can we make it through this month? Are we going to make it through this year?’ In some ways, you just have to take it day by day. Start-ups can be a roller coaster, so if you freak out every time you go up and freak out every time you go down, it’ll be tough. So I just tried to keep perspective, fight through it every day (laughs), and take every day as it came. Eventually, things got better and better and better!
So at the end of each day, at the end of each fight, when you have a quiet moment alone, how do you deal with the emotional roller coaster and do it all over again the next day with the belief that you’ll do better?
AHB: I think it’s important to have people around you who support you. I have an amazing husband and a very good group of friends. You know, just talk to those people, and keep perspective. I wasn’t too stressed out about it. (Laughs)
It’s important to have that support system, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty much your journey.
AHB: Yeah, there were plenty of days when my husband would ask me ‘how was it?’, and I just didn’t want to talk about it — there’s too much to explain, right? I don’t mean this in a mean way, but I don’t think being an entrepreneur is for everyone. You have to have the strength of mind to get through every day. And I think sometimes you just have to shut up and deal with it. (Laughs)
So do you think being an entrepreneur is a matter of either “you have the stomach for it or you don’t”? Or is it possible to grow into it?
AHB: I think you can definitely grow into it, and learn. There’s an inherent amount of risk that you take as an entrepreneur — male or female. And I think that some people can learn to accept that risk, or they just don’t care about it, and other people can’t. And that’s fine. We’d have a very chaotic world if every single person in the world was an entrepreneur, right? We’d have no one to work at our company!
An appetite for risk aside, what other qualities do you think are necessary for someone to start and run a start-up/business?
AHB: I think one of the best things to do — and this is what I did (I’m not saying it’s the only path, but it’s a really good one) — is to go work for other start-ups. It’s very dreamy and I think very popular right now to go start a company, but there’s so much you have to be able to handle. If you think it’s the right thing for you, go and work for a start-up. They won’t be
I THINK SOMETIMES
YOU JUST HAVE TO SHUT UP AND DEAL WITH IT.
able to pay you very much, but if you like it, then great!
CNBC and The Straits Times have referred to you as “the poster girl for entrepreneurial success in Singapore”. How does that feel? And what is your definition of success?
AHB: Of course it’s very nice to be called that. But for me, success is more of a long-term thing, so it doesn’t have to do so much with monetary success. On the company side, creating a great place where people work, where people are respected, knowing that we’re
able to provide great opportunities — all that is really important to me.
On the other side, success is about living a fulfilled and happy life. So, the people I think are really successful are people like my parents, who go hiking every weekend and have this amazing life.
Do you think you have achieved the success you just described?
AHB: (Laughs) I’m working on it, sure! I think it’s a journey, right? I don’t think anybody wakes up one morning and thinks their life is perfection. So I’m still on a journey to create what is ultimately ‘success’.
Have the last five years, since you started Luxola, changed you?
AHB: Oh gosh. I think it’s made me more patient, more able to deal with uncertainty, and I think I’m more gracious to the people around me — that are willing to put up with me. (Laughs)
Everybody felt like they were coming to work every day and building the company, not just doing their own job.
What have been the greatest lessons learned?
AHB: There’s a lot. I learned that it’s really all about the people. I think the natural pattern of a start-up is to hire people who are like you. But at Luxola, I decided to hire people who are different from me, and it’s turned out really, really well.
What kind of boss do you think you are?
AHB: I think that we have some core values at Luxola, and it’s a lot about trust — that’s a huge one. And respect.
I do expect a lot out of people, but we’re very lucky to have attracted people who expect a lot out of themselves. I don’t know if I’m a particularly great boss, but I think I’m pretty good at identifying great people, so I’ve put a lot of effort and time into that over the years, and I think my team is really why we’re here today — it has very little to do with me. So if you’re starting a company, look for the people who are going to complement you the most, people who have great strength where you have weakness — it goes a long way.
Diane von Furstenberg famously said: “You don’t have to be a bitch to win.” Do you agree that it’s possible to be nice and successful?
AHB: Of course! (Laughs) Who’s going to disagree with that? Look, I think the more we talk about ‘can women do this?’, ‘can women be nice?’, ‘can women rule with their head and not their heart?’, we perpetuate stereotypes. For me, it’s looking more at the different types of leaders and less at gender.
There are examples in the world of people who are successful and don’t have the reputation of being fantastic; there are people — of both genders — who have a reputation for being incredibly nice. I think there are all types of different paths to success and different leaders. I would like to think that I’m a nice leader. (Laughs) Yeah, I don’t think it has to do with gender, I think it has to do with personality.
What kind of qualities do you look for when you interview people for your team?
AHB: I look for people who are willing to take on more than just what we’re talking about. I love people who are curious and ambitious. A great example is my COO, Ronan (Hurley) — who’s phenomenal. He was really my partner in building the company. He was hired to do the finance and operations, and he did so much more — he was interested in customer service, built up some of the marketing pieces for our company.
So I look for someone who’s interested in and qualify for the role, but is also ambitious about the whole company. For us, in the first few years, we had only 20 people so it was really small for a long time, but I think everybody felt like they were coming to work every day and building the company, not just doing their own job. So, ambition is a big one that I look for, ability to deal with the unknown, willingness to take risk, people who really wanted to contribute to what we’re doing.
A big no-no for me is people who just wanted a stable nine-to-five because that’s not what we were at the time.
So, you are one of our WoW Women this month, but who are the WoW Women in your life?
AHB: The women I work with are incredible. We have a lot of amazing ladies on the team, I will say. My mum is super inspiring to me. And erm, who else… Elizabeth Warren! She’s a senator in the US. Look her up — she’s incredible. I think she’s probably the smartest person in US politics right now, and an incredibly inspiring leader, an incredibly inspiring woman — in a time when I don’t think there’s very much that’s inspiring in US politics. I’m like a big political news nerd! (Laughs)
Starting a business — it’s just non-stop and pretty darn stressful, right? So, when you need some motivation or encouragement, who, or what, do you turn to?
AHB: Oh, my friends, my family. And I read a lot. I think literature is extremely helpful. There’s a great quote — I forget how it goes, you can Google it. Basically it says there are very few people who are good at what they do who don’t read voraciously.
(That’s putting it gently as compared to one
Look, the more we talk about ‘can women do this?’, ‘can women be nice?’, ‘can women rule with their head and not their heart?’, we perpetuate stereotypes. For me, it’s looking more at the different types of leaders and less at gender.
Jane Austen, who pulled no punches: “The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.” 😳)
Ok, now I have to ask what’s at the top of your to-read list?
AHB: Oh, it’s totally awesome, I’m going to recommend it right now. It’s called Antifragile. (And off she goes hotfooting it to her bedroom to retrieve the book.) It’s about how disorder and chaos build strength — which I think is the story of many start-ups — so actually, things that are perfectly ordered, are very, very fragile. It’s a super book, you should read it.
Do you like things to be perfectly ordered? Are you a control freak?
AHB: Nope. (Laughs) Like I said, I expect a lot from both myself and people who work with me, but I’m not controlling. As long as people come out on the other side with really good outcomes, I don’t really care how they get there. I get there in weird ways, so who am I to judge? But ask the people on my team — they might tell you differently, haha!
☝🏻 I WOULD LIKE TO THINK THAT I’M A NICE LEADER. 😐
How to do you unwind?
AHB: I’m super boring. I like to watch movies with my husband, go out with friends… lots of wine.
No meditation, yoga, all that?
AHB: No. I work out, I really like running. That’s very meditative for me, it’s very calming.
Do you make it a point to take good care of yourself? I mean, life, building a business — it’s a marathon — you need to be on your A-game mentally and physically to go the distance, right?
AHB: It’s hard. I’m certainly not the poster child for it. It’s something I wish I was better at.
Do you have a mantra?
AHB: Hmm… Get sh*t done? (Laughs) Bleep out the middle!
Whenever you need an extra boost of confidence, is there a go-to outfit or something you do that works wonders?
AHB: Yeaaah! I do. Actually, it’s funny. People at
work tease me because I own 10 of the exact same dresses, and I’m not kidding. Exactly the same — a plain black crepe shift dress. I’ve learned over the years that I love it, and I feel really good in it. It also doesn’t stress me out deciding what to wear. (Laughs) It’s boring, but I love it. I don’t mean to do it, and they tease me‚ they’re like: ‘You’re like Steve Jobs!’ Well, I feel confident in it, I like the way I look in it.
Let’s talk about power… what do you think is the surest way for a woman to empower herself?
AHB: Confidence has a lot to do with it. Not just women, but entrepreneurs in general. To be able to gain power or respect — whether it’s from investors or from your staff — the biggest thing is really to be confident.
You have to be your No 1 cheerleader. If you don’t constantly exude that you’re 1,000 per cent behind what you’re doing, I don’t know why anybody else would trust you. So for me, even when things are not going well, I have always been being super confident that this is
what I want to do. Be sure of yourself and your idea. I think from that you gain power.
And what’s the quickest way to cede power?
AHB: I think it’s in the same vein. If you can’t exude confidence about what you’re doing as an entrepreneur, why would an investor want to give you money, why would somebody want to work for you, right? So I think if you start questioning yourself, if you’re not consistent in terms of vision, that’s a very easy way to lose your power.
What’s your idea of a power breakfast?
AHB: I’ve been having bullet-proof coffee for a year now. It’s coffee with high-grade coconut oil and ghee, and you blend it all together — it’s super creamy. It sounds disgusting but apparently, the high-grade fat is really good for your brain and your body. I love it. It keeps me full till 2pm, makes me feel great.
How does it taste?
AHB: It tastes really good! It’s just like super-creamy latte. It’s delicious. (Laughs)
You have to be your No 1 cheerleader. If you don’t constantly exude that you’re 1,000 per cent behind what you’re doing, I don’t know why anybody else would trust you.
I can’t possibly talk to you without talking beauty. Go.
AHB: (Laughs) I’m totally spoiled. There’s a lot of stuff in my bathroom. I’m very lucky because I get to try so many cool brands. I actually don’t have an obsession with any one brand. I love trying new things. That’s what’s so great about Sephora — you’re always trying something new.
In the mornings, I’m pretty simple — I wash my face, maybe sometimes I’ll put on a primer, or a lotion, and then an SPF usually in the form of a BB or CC cream. I always wear a cream blush. Right now, I’m wearing Becca‘s Beach Tint. It’s a tinted cheek stain. And then, it’s mascara and pencil in a little eyeliner. That’s it. My morning routine takes like five minutes. This morning, I took 15, haha!
For our photo shoot? Why, thank you! And at night?
AHB: At night, I wash my face… I’m really into face oils right now, but if my skin is feeling really thirsty, I’ll add a cream on top of that. I like to alternate as well. I don’t like doing the same thing every day — it’s challenging for your skin to have a bit of chaos. And a little bit of eye cream.
What are your top favourite beauty products now?
AHB: Right now, I’m loving Edward Bess, which is a cult brand we’ve carried for along time. They have an amazing tinted moisturiser.It’s called the Ultra Dewy Complexion Perfector, which I love —great on a day when you need a
glow and nothing else. Then, there’s Benefit’s They’re Real mascara, the Beach Tint from Becca I talked about earlier and their primer, and the face oil from Balance Me, which I love. It’s a UK organic brand we carry. It’s wonderful.
What’s the ultimate golden rule for living the life that you want?
AHB: Oh man. Stop giving so many f****? I’m kidding. Don’t put that down!
But it’s so true!
AHB: Yeah, it is. Unfortunately, as you grow older, you realise that people don’t care about you as much as you think that they do, right? When you’re young, you’re always worried about what people are thinking about you, like, ‘Oh, did I mess this up?’, ‘How do they perceive me?’, and this and that. The older you get, you realise nobody cares about you! (Laughs) There are very few people in your life who actually do. So when you think you’ve done something, and you think somebody is caring about it, they’re probably not.
I guess what I’m realising is that I’m responsible for the things that I do. Nobody else is going to make me do something. So to live the life that I want, or what anyone wants, you have the agency to do what you want. And if you’re not doing what you want to do, change it. It’s on you! It’s not on anybody else.
I LOVE TRYING NEW THINGS…
IT’S CHALLENGING FOR YOUR SKIN TO HAVE A BIT OF CHAOS.
Photography: Karman Tse // Shoot Assistant: Charlene Monaghan
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