Mented Cosmetics co-founders Kristen Jones (KJ) Miller and Amanda E. Johnson met at Harvard Business school, from which they both graduated in 2014. Prior to founding the brand, KJ worked as a management consultant in Deloitte’s retail practice and as a jewelry buyer for Sears. Amanda worked as the head of business  development for Barney’s New York and as an investment banker with Goldman Sachs. As beauty consumers, the duo were disappointed with the limited beauty options and shades for darker skin tones. Thus, the two created Mented Cosmetics (which is a take on the word “pigmented”) as their solution to the problem of inclusivity in the beauty industry.

Here, we caught up with KJ and Amanda to talk about how they’re weathering the storm during COVID-19, why their team is a priority and their advice to startups navigating this strange and challenging time.

As told by KJ Miller

When the pandemic really started taking off in early March, Amanda and I made the decision that the most important thing to us was keeping our team healthy and intact. Having that as a primary goal has helped us make a number of difficult decisions, and in many ways has allowed us to adopt a new normal. We made the switch to work-from-home two weeks before NYC declared shelter-in-place, because we knew that was the right thing to do for the health of our employees.

We also immediately started looking at all ‘nice-to-have’ expenses and made cuts, because the one line item we didn’t want to touch was payroll. Because we put team first, it made it easier to zero in on the costs that we could trim. One mistake I’ve seen companies make too often is starting cuts with payroll because it’s their biggest line item. Payroll is a big line item, but our team is our growth engine. So we looked to other costs like marketing, rent, SG&A and vendor payment terms.

We’ve also tried to be thoughtful about how we stay connected as a team — the full team does a short touch-bases twice a week, and a longer meeting once a week. It was important to us that we feel plugged in, but also that we not overload everyone with Google Hangouts. I believe our team-centric approach has allowed us to continue to move quickly, meet our customers’ needs, and keep some sense of normalcy in the midst of this crisis.

Much of our business hasn’t changed. We’ve always been a primarily DTC brand, and we are blessed to be in a position where customers are still shopping for beauty online. The biggest change for us has been from a supply-chain perspective. Some of our main factories had to close in April, which really made things difficult in terms of staying in stock on our best sellers. But our customers are being patient with us.

Regarding working remotely, I think every team has to decide what works best for them, but Amanda and I discussed what would make sense early on and decided two quick rundowns a week, plus our typical hour-long, full-team meeting would be sufficient to keep us plugged in without overwhelming anyone with meetings.

My biggest piece of advice would be to find your North Star and stay true to it. For us it’s team, for another company it may be something else. The worst feeling in the world (for me at least) is feeling like I’m flailing – and it’s easy to feel like that in the midst of a crisis. So if you’ve got something you can hold onto that’s most important to you, it gives clarity to all of your other decisions.

As told by Amanda Johnson

As for fulfilling orders, fortunately, our New Jersey warehouse is still open and working regular hours with a slightly leaner crew. We’re following all CDC health and safety guidelines and checking on all warehouse workers to ensure stable conditions. We couldn’t do this without the essential workers who come in every day and still pick and pack our orders with care, we very much appreciate their dedication during this difficult time.

Our content strategy has always been to provide entertaining and educational content to our consumers that ultimately creates a connection between them and the brand. That hasn’t changed. The opportunity in these stressful times is how we creatively adapt our content to be more relevant and personal. For example, we’re doing more IG Lives, more makeup tutorials with team members, and more blog content that highlights our new working conditions to show how the brand is still consistent and relatable in the midst of everything.

We think the new normal is going to be about constant change and flexibility. We review all financial, marketing, and operational plans daily and weekly to see how we can optimize and find a new way forward.

Every challenge is an opportunity if you change your perspective.