Christina Kao is the co-founder of Le Mini Macaron, a vegan and cruelty-free company that offers everything for your nails including polish, treatments, topcoats, polish remover and accessories. After getting tired of the time and money spent visiting nail salons every few weeks, Christina wanted to find an easy and affordable way to recreate a salon mani at home. In 2015, Christina and her partner François founded Le Mini Macaron! Her biggest hope is to help others achieve a DIY manicure that celebrates self-confidence and lets your creativity shine!
Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and what inspired you to start Le Mini Macaron?
I was born in the deep south of Alabama to Taiwanese immigrant parents. I studied at NYU (New York University) for college and then at 28, I moved to Shanghai and lived there for 10 years. Living in these different places helped shape my perspective on who I am and my Asian-American heritage. I went from living in a homogenous culture where I was one of a handful of Asians at my school (and feeling like an ‘other’) to living in one of the most diverse cities in the world, to moving to another homogenous culture, but one where I suddenly was part of the majority!
While living in China I learned how to love my bi-cultural heritage. I am a very open-minded, curious, and creative person which led me to launch Le Mini Macaron in 2015, with my partner François! When François and I first met, I was regularly going to the salon to get my gel manicures done. I loved the look and lasting feel of gel nails but I hated the price tag, time, and inconvenience of going to the salon. So I wanted to have an easy set that would allow me to do my manicures at home whenever I wanted. François was already working in the beauty industry and I was itching to do something different and get out of the marketing/agency world, so we joined forces to create Le Mini Macaron! When we first started, I was handling the marketing, creative, and sales and François handled the finances, production, and logistics. We were more naïve about it then and just wanted to design some of our own products. I don’t think we thought at the time it would be what it has become today!
Can you talk about your experience living in Shanghai and how that inspired your business?
Shanghai really is everything you imagine it to be and MORE. My time there was exhilarating and life-changing. I was there from 28 to 38 years old, so you could say that I really ‘grew up’ there in terms of my career and business. From 2007 to 2017, the city experienced phenomenal growth and went from crazy, messy, dirty, and rough China…to a cosmopolitan, sophisticated, wealthy metropolis that is beyond most of the world’s Tier 1 cities today. I was friends with expats and locals, and the diversity of the people I had in my life was so eye-opening and fun. Seeing these people hustle, work like crazy, party like crazy, their ambition, creativity, and drive was just incredible.
I worked for luxury brands like LVMH which were launching brands and products in China, holding events for thousands of people and spending massive budgets. I worked for a celebrity Australian chef doing his PR in China and helping him promote 10 restaurants. I visited random places in China that weren’t developed and scoured the cities for products and people that would help me produce the marketing events we needed to put on. Living in China inspired my business by making me truly believe that anything is possible and can be accomplished if you have the drive. It can be such a wild and fun ride when you put in the time and energy, flex your creative problem-solving skills, and nurture your resources and diverse relationships.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My mother is always giving me various pieces of advice, but I would say lately, her big thing has been: “take care of your health!” I think this is super important, though I haven’t managed to totally prioritize it yet because I’ve been working on scaling the business during the past year. But given my age (43) and how taxing the business is these days, her advice is extremely timely and relevant, so I need to listen to Mom!
Did you always know you wanted to start your own business? If not, what did you dream of doing growing up?
Not exactly. I studied French and Spanish since I was 13-14 years old and I also speak Chinese with my family. In college, I studied abroad in Salamanca, Nice, and Taipei, so being connected to other countries, cultures, and languages was always really important to me. If you had asked me in my 20’s what my dream job would be I would have told you, I want to have a job where I travel a lot, and I would love to split my time between Paris, Madrid, and NYC. So I guess I’m pretty fortunate because I run my own beauty brand, I live internationally, and get to travel a lot. We have offices, teams, and fulfillment centers in Shanghai, Barcelona, Lyon, and the US. It’s really fun to work in beauty because of the creative & consumer aspects and it’s super liberating to have the independence that comes with working for yourself (though this is also really challenging as well when the company/team reaches a certain size)!
What tips or advice do you have for other women who would like to start their own businesses?
Personally, I’m obsessed with learning and growing. I’m constantly repeating to the people in my life: “learn and grow”! This is one of my core values and I surround myself with others who also live by this. In the past year, I’ve combined my curiosity and obsession with learning with being focused on developing friendships with other beauty founders. The founder community (especially in beauty) is SO supportive, and I can see that when we nurture these relationships and share our experiences, the amount of learning and growth is truly exponential. I have also invested a lot of time meeting other founders at industry events, connecting on LinkedIn, asking mutual contacts for an intro, and catching up through zoom. The amount of insight is tremendous and has contributed greatly to my strategic thinking and how to guide my business moving forward.If you liked this article, you may also like ... #HerHustle Interview with Kim van Haaster, Founder of Bloomeffects and #HerHustle Interview with Ericka Rodriguez, Founder of Axiology