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How Dianna Cohen, launched her haircare brand Crown Affair from a google doc that went viral

Joining me on the show today is Dianna Cohen, the founder of haircare essentials startup, Crown Affair.

Crown Affair is a company that’s reimagining hair rituals and taking a considered approach for the top of your noggin.


And this story all starts from an unassuming google doc. When Dianna decided to share her hair care routine with some women in her life - and that document suddenly went all over the internet -she saw an opportunity to innovate in a space that she had such a fond personal connection with, and bring her past industry experience in building brands for companies like Away, Outdoor Voices and The Wing into her DTC brand.


Launched pre pandemic Dianna shares the lessons she’s been learning along the way, how she approached her pitch and the importance of community and storytelling.


Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!


Yeah, so hi, I am Dianna Cohen, I am the founder and CEO of Crown Affair, which is a hair care line focused on medical care for healthier hair. I've lived in New York for 11 years, which is where we're chatting and chatting right now. I've worked in Consumer for the last eight.


It's been quite


A journey as this world of e commerce and consumer businesses has evolved quite a


Bit.


And I yeah, I mean, I'm such a consumer nerd and I am truly a hair care nerd up of all. And Crown Affair was


Really born


From my passion of


Just taking


Care of my hair and my daily rituals and the way that you have a skincare friend who knows all of the little details. I've always been that friend with hair.


So that's really


How this journey started.


I love that, and when we were talking about rituals a moment ago, before we before we pressed play on this recording, and I was thinking to myself, brushing my hair is actually a ritual that I really love, too. I read that that you also had that. And it's something that I think is like so important that you take note of those tiny rituals that maybe hadn't considered before. But when I was thinking about rituals before and when I was reading about your brand, I was like, yeah, I actually really enjoy my moments of hair brushing as well. It's so important, but I'd never thought about it before.


It is truly one of my favorite parts of the day.


I mean, I especially


Now spending so much time at home,


All of the


Moments and structures that I have that support my


Well-being, brushing my hair


Every night, being one of them,


Even just the whole ritual


Of how I take care of myself. Shower is like a 30 minute situation with lymphatic drainage and how I oil my hair. But even in the morning, just


Like I write journal,


I do my morning pages every morning from the artist's way. I have to stretch and roll. And I


Think just being so


Aware of the things that make you feel whole is really important.


And this is one that


I was just organically sharing for so


Long.


So it's cool to like bring it into the world and see people


Respond to it and I think really


Reorient themselves around how they care for themselves. And I've been so lucky to work with a range of consumer brands over the last almost a decade that have really


Introduced,


I think, an audience to new ways to think about the way they through the world. So I love doing this every day. It's like truly the greatest gift


I get to do it.


Oh, I love that. I can totally hear it in your in your enthusiasm. I want to go back to the very beginning. I know you have a really interesting background. And like you said, you've worked for so many amazing consumer brands. So can we get back to the kind of like starting way back when where you were working, what you were doing, what was happening in your life that was kind of leading up to this year?


Yeah.


So we can take it one step back, which is where I'm from and where I grew up. Yeah, definitely. So I grew up in a really small town in South Florida called Lighthouse Point. It's like an hour north of Miami, you know, very suburban upbringing.


I played


Sports. I was a total tomboy for a long time. And sometime around eighth grade, I got like very


Into art


History and was a big Templer kid and was definitely the kid in high school who was ripping off fashion magazines and so passionate about beauty and design. And I knew that I wanted to go to New York.


I had no


Idea what I would do. I just knew that I wanted to be around creative people putting things into the world that could inspire someone like me sitting in my bedroom so far away from where the magic was being created. I came to New York and was really lucky. I do.


I had the


Opportunity to intern at a range of places in fashion. I always joke like you watch The Devil Wears Prada and you're like, I just wanna work for an the condo. But, you know, the years that I was I was in university,


Like the world changed


Quite a bit. I mean, the Internet was obviously a thing for a very long time. But I think the implications


Of how the Internet was


Changing our behavior, especially from a publishing perspective, was very clear and


Well, I'm


So grateful to have worked like every attorney for two semesters during


Like Oscar


Seasons and understanding the PR and celebrity dressing


And really like working with so


Many incredible legacy brands to understand what made them such a great foundation. But I also knew that when the time came to actually look for job opportunities,


That I just


Really loved working at smaller places and startups that had a direct impact. And not that I had the language for them,


But I had


Email just called, emailed this woman who had this beauty website that I was obsessed with.


It had like maybe


Her views on it at the time. And it was Emily Weiss when she first started into the class


And I became an


Intern for her. And this is what it was very much a one room office, that it was purely editorial free, glossy ads, but, you know, moderated the comments section, uploaded things to our social,


Transcribed


All those interviews like it was just a


Total education


In terms of storytelling. And I


Think really, Emily


Pioneered


That connection


To real women. I mean, obviously, a lot


Of the women profiled on the


Glass are incredible and fabulous women.


But, you know, we now


Live in a world where you can go to Reese Witherspoon to Instagram and see what smoothie she is making that morning. But at the time, the only access to women like that


Was through People


Magazine or very filtered through the lens


Of journalist.


And it was just so inspiring to be able to be like, oh, she's a. A span of rose water from Whole Foods, that's like eight dollars


And then the comment


Section


Was just like the gold night.


And I think that that was such


A an incredible


Shift in terms of like consumers really starting to take power and connect with each


Other. And instead of like people sitting in


Boardrooms at major companies, which is still happening and that is still across the world. But I think the last decade


Of really putting the


Power in the consumer's hands, having people like me be able to create a character line, I'm not an explorer that I've never sat in a


Boardroom like these.


This information has come from thousands of conversations and my own personal journey as a


Customer and into the glass


Was amazing. And then after that, I was really lucky to meet a woman named Eric Katz,


Who is the current


Co-founder of a supplement company called Seed.


But she is the greatest


Marketer I've ever worked with I probably will ever work with. And she really taught me everything about grassroots marketing,


Which all of those principles


I use to launch and we still use every day. We had


Our holiday


Launch yesterday and just the entire go to market strategy and thinking about all of these launches beyond just the initial launch, but all of these milestones and moments that you have a surprise that she really brought me under her wing. And she's been a mentor for my entire career. And I just kind of the rest of the career. I was lucky to launch Marmol in about five years ago as a consultant when she after selling Jimmy Choo


And really thinking


About rebranding and repositioning her as


A luxury


Consumer shoe


Company, she


Obviously has such a legacy and working with someone who made truly one of the most iconic brands of the 90s and Twins' was an education, to say the least, and was an early employee at the luggage club, the head of partnerships there,


Denyer


Partnerships.


I learned a


Ton. And actually this is why every experience matters.


I mean, at


Crownover now, we actually just did a partnership with MEANWELL, which partnerships with Violet Gray, like so many of those relationships, came from


Three and


A half years ago when I was in a way. So every opportunity really does make an impact, even if you can't see it at the moment.


And then, yeah,


I started an agency


Between leaving away


And launching Crown


Affair, which I had for


Two years


Called Levitate,


And we did Brand Strategy Consulting. We launched


Harrys, the razor


Company at our women's line Flamingo. I worked with the wing. I worked with our voices for two years on their influencer ambassador strategy and a number of other clients, mostly in L.A., New York.


And that was a really fun time.


I got to create my own schedule and work from home. So I pop into the clients offices, but I'm very much here for the like 70 30 remote an office culture. So I'm a big fan of kind of where we are today. And yeah, I launched ten months ago in January. I had no idea I would be in the middle of a global pandemic.


But I think rolling with


It and just waking up every


Day, I think, like all


Entrepreneurs, just need absolute resilience and passion. And I are so grateful I get to do this every day with my team. It's really


A joy.


Well, firstly, what a journey. Oh, my gosh. So many cool things build it in there that I'm like, oh, I want to know about this. What's she like? Oh my gosh. Cool. So many things to unpack. I really want to come back. I'm going to circle back around in a little bit about the grassroots marketing that you really learned when you were with her. So we can kind of understand better, like what you were bringing into your launches now with Crown Affair. But I kind of want to stick with the launch moment and the light bulb moment around Crown Affair. I know that you had this document that you were sharing with people and you were talking about your hair care rituals and people were always asking you about your hair. But when did it kind of switching to you thinking, hang on, maybe the agency is good for right now, but maybe I'm going to launch my own brand.


Yes, so first and foremost, when when launching levitate the agency, I always knew that I didn't want to build an agency as much as I


Love levitating


Innovators, I just I wasn't trying to build a whole team around it. So I kind of always knew that in the back of my mind, even though I was doing it in real time, there were a couple of moments. One was the Google Docs.


So I


As I


Mentioned, I like a full haircare


Nerd. I invest in quality tools and products.


I treat my hair


Like it is so like at night. So you should see my fiance laughs me like the way I position my hair on the pillow, just how I like shampoo it in the shower, like I'm so delicate with it and I and I'm mindful of it and respect it.


And not everyone was doing that.


And I would tell friends like I was traveling a lot and they'd be like, wait,


What are what are you doing? Great.


Like, why do you have this random kov or like how do you get your hair to Erdreich like that? What's happening? So I finally put it into a


Google doc, like


The 16 things that I just do. And it's not necessarily like Stass, but and it varies by week. This is what I


Brush and this is a certain


Oil that I use. And here's why it's important. I kind of wish that I didn't have this ingredient in it, but it's best when I found it, I shared it out


And it was a Sunday.


And like I said on a Friday night, that's Sunday,


I had like dozens


Of people in it. I had no idea who they were. It was like people requesting


Access there was


Commenting on it. And I was just like, this is so crazy.


How how there is


So much content. Right. You can go to YouTube and look at your tutorials or like how to get Chrissy Teigen ponytail at Coachella, but


Like nothing about


Like how to actually care for your


Hair in a way that


Felt really accessible and relatable.


And it was just so


Clear, a little guidances in this category. And then, you know, the other thing to like during when I was traveling a lot for for when I was consulting,


Like I would stay at a


Hotel and I'm like, I would never expect the hotel to have my skin care. Like, why am I doing that for haircare? You know what? I'm here for like two weeks. Like, why am I not honoring that? And really, it doesn't make a difference in how I feel and it does make a difference. So, yeah, those were kind of the two big moments.


And then, you know,


My my friend, my fiance's best friend


Is in such a


Part of this journey. He's a bioengineer and terrorist. And I actually sent him and his wife to Google doc


And they saw their


Hair transform over time after they started to take care of


It. We just started


Working on stuff. We're like, OK, can we take like our favorite two hundred dollar hairbrush


And like, reverse engineer it and like, well, can we


Make better about it and how do we find vendors that are like sustainable and can do this in a more accessible price point. And the truth is, is like the category is just a really dated, it's very Cirlot driven, it's very wholesale driven. There hasn't been a ton of innovation on the ingredient side


In the way that


Skin care and color cosmetics have been democratized over the last ten


Years. The same thing


Is just not really happening with hair care.


So that was


Really the spark of the journey. And I was very much working on this like nights and weekends while I was doing levitate.


And then the inflection


Point very candidly, it was like I either needed to raise money to keep doing this, like I had put I had


Put a bit of money


Away to allocate samples and product development, but that I was just like, I can't keep funding this on my own.


So that was my moment


Of like, I think there's something here I'm going to go forth and do this.


Wow. So exciting, and so at that point, did you raise straight away or do you go out and start trying to meet with people? What were those kind of next phases that you went through to actually get the brand developed and get the products that you were happy with?


Yeah.


So the first two things that I did was we actually had samples that people had tried and had died like small focus groups and had some product out to get feedback on what we were doing. So they were if you look at these samples, you would laugh. Now they look nothing like what is the situation?


But, you know, it's


Just great to actually a physical product that people


Could give give real time


Feedback to.


And the


Other thing that I had was our current creative director, who's been our creative


Director. We actually work


Together


Away. He is one of the


Most talented graphic designers that I've ever worked with. And hopefully it will be one of the only ones I work with for the rest of my life. I'm not in


Love with it, collaborating


With him and his work.


And I had told him about


My vision for Crown Affair. And we had really early stages


Of what this brand


Felt like and what the universe that we're currently building felt like. And that felt so different for a hair care brand. I think so often


It's such an


Afterthought or it's very careful or like good hair days.


And this is like


Really selling perfection or I don't know, I just


Had for all of the brands I'm


Loyal to is skincare in other categories and lifestyle like hair care was not one of them. And truthfully, my favorite ones are often rooted in professional and fashion and Erbey or Kristofer of it. And it's like they're great,


But they haven't innovated


Their ingredients in a very long time. And it's


Very like celebrity


Stylist, which I love. But I just I wanted something different that I could connect to


And visually was a


Universe that I wanted to live in.


So I started there and then I was really


Fortunate coming from consumer, a lot of Fetcher backgrounds, I was able


To get some early meetings to share the


Vision.


And, you know, raising


Money is what I think. I look back on it now, our reason for our seed round. And it


Was one of the most


Valuable experiences of my life.


Like I over two


Hundred investor meetings and you just become


So you just know how


To do it. And you learn so much about how to take a meeting


Like, you know, listening


And understanding what they're looking for and


Then really


Positioning and building this narrative around what the brand could be and what the opportunity is. Also like a lot of these people are so brilliant and so interesting. So whether they end up going forward with the deal or just to be able


To have these


Conversations, I think is again, like measuring the journey and not the end result is such an important part of being an entrepreneur. So but I got really lucky. I mean, my philosophy with fundraising,


I think I think I counted


It the other day. I think I've been a part of 12 fundraisers as an employee.


So not by the way, not that I was like you also had some some base experience.


Yeah. I mean, I was like not an important part, like I might have helped with like a slide on the deck or something like that.


But, you know, as an employee


And as a team member,


You understand


The implication of what it means to raise money and what a valuation is and how much money you want to raise. And I think my takeaways were like raise enough to do what you need to do.


This is a


Relationship. It's like getting into a marriage, like you need to fight.


Not all


Money is


Created equal. You need to find


Partners who really are on the same page,


Whether


That's a paid marketing. For example,


Like most of


Us, everything we do is organic. We spend we have a very, very, very small marketing spend every month


And, you know, coming from


Brands that we usually spend a million dollars a month, if not quarter of, it's just a different way to fundamentally build a business, acquire customers. So, you know, their voices and investors who prefer that and they're like go for it, growth at all costs.


And I knew that that


Was not how I


Wanted to run my


Business, because I think


Great brands take decades


To build and more importantly, build my team. I was coming from a


Place of like every Monday there


Were five new people on the team who were like yours and you might be eight people in a room or one of the first employees. And then a year you look up, you're like one hundred thirty people. You're like, you know, I think right now it's five people.


I would love for the


Company at most to be like twenty people and every person


Feel like very


Intentional with the work they're doing.


Internal culture is so


Important to me. And I think that when you do grow at all costs, it's much easier to break things and maybe not really


Think about your team.


And I mean, this year more than ever,


The


Harmony of finding balance in your personal and professional life is so important


Because we are living


Where we work and you know, and everyone is experiencing


With the.


In particular,


It's like family


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