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
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
From my passion of
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
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
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?
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.
Sports. I was a total tomboy for a long time. And sometime around eighth grade, I got like very
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
So grateful to have worked like every attorney for two semesters during
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,
All those interviews like it was just a
In terms of storytelling. And I
Think really, Emily
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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?
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
Other thing that I had was our current creative director, who's been our creative
Director. We actually work
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
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
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,
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.
Created equal. You need to find
Partners who really are on the same page,
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,
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
It's like family
Ones, you just have to show
Up every day and be apathetic. It's like at the end of the
Day, like my goal
Is to empower women and but a lot of our customers are women
And power women and change the way they
Move through the world and whether that's
Through product, whether that's
Through our mentorship program, which has been like one of the most rewarding parts of
This. And our team, like that's the most
Important thing, is that we're taking care of each other. So that was a long winded way to say that like that ladders up to that how you raise money.
And we got really
Terms of the partner
Lead. And we have twenty about
Twenty five investors, a mix of angels and our
Leader, they're really excited
And on the same page, which I think is especially in Iran, so important and
So exciting. When you said you did the two hundred interviews, you went through that process in a really big way. My two questions are when you were seeing, like, the kinds of things that they were looking for, what were those kinds of things that they were saying that they were looking for, whether they did or not invest in you? What were the kind of things they're interested in? And, B, did you have to kind of pivot or change your pitch as you went through that process, getting back to the tail end of two hundred?
Meetings, yeah, so, such a good question,
You know, it was it was
A really interesting process to listen to what people were looking for a year ago, and then we still talk to investors all the time. People reach out to us excited about the brand and they think it's always good to take a beating, even though we're not currently fundraising.
And the the
Thing that I kept hearing, I guess, a year and a half ago
Now was like customization growth at all
Cost. How are you doing these, like, personalization
Really sexy and popular
At the time. And I think that
There's been a
Change around building a brand and making