After 30 years in advertising, culminating in a CEO position at a prestigious Madison Avenue firm, Lynn was ready to build and promote her own products. She recently launched MASAMI, a clean haircare brand that nourishes and hydrates while gently cleansing.
Tell us a little about your background.
I spent 30 years in advertising and marketing, most recently as CEO of J. Walter Thompson NY. I wasn’t planning on getting into advertising; in fact, I wanted to get into the FBI. But in 1989 there was a hiring freeze, and I met a lovely recruiter who encouraged me to interview for a receptionist job as an ad agency. From there, I was hooked. I’m from Chicago so that’s where I started my career, but I moved to NYC in 1994 with my then-boyfriend, now-husband. And I think I can finally call myself a New Yorker now.
I worked my way up the “corporate ladder” so to speak and first was President of Arnold NY for 5 years, known for being a creative boutique, In 2014, I moved to J. Walter Thompson as Co-Managing Director and became CEO of NY in 2015. Here’s a podcast interview where I was featured in 2017.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
I had a “big” job—CEO of a large ad agency headquarters—but by 2017, at age 50, I found that I wasn’t loving what I was doing anymore. Our agency was also embroiled in a very public “me too” lawsuit which was quite painful. When I started in the business, I loved using creativity to solve business problems. As CEO, I was just dealing with problems all day long, with very little creativity involved. I spent my days in meetings with HR, Finance, and Legal. So, I decided it was time to get back to doing what I loved, which was building brands, but ideally, for myself this time.
What is your next act?
I am the CEO and Co-Founder of MASAMI. We set out to create clean haircare products that are good-for-you and also luxurious and salon quality but without any bad ingredients: no sulfates, parabens, or phthalates. Our products are made with Mekabu, a Japanese ocean botanical that’s all about hydration. The name MASAMI has two meanings: First, it’s a reference to our muse, James’ husband, Masa who grew up in Otsuchi, Japan. It also means truly beautiful in Japanese. We launched with shampoo, conditioner, shine serum, and styling cream.
We also set up the MASAMI Institute to help fund research and education to rebuild the ocean ecosystem in northeastern Japan, where we get our hero ingredient, Mekabu. We donate a portion of our sales to this cause.
I met my business partner, James Hammett, in 2018. He had worked on creating high-performing clean haircare formulations for about 10 years but wasn’t sure how to bring them to market (which is what I do well), so we make a great team.
We just launched the brand in February 2020 so it’s been a bit of a wild and unpredictable ride with everything going on in the world, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
After 30 years of building brands for other people, I felt well prepared to do it for myself. I surrounded myself with great people and the capabilities I knew we needed. I’ve found that because of our age and experience, James and I are fast decision makers and that has helped tremendously. We know what we like.
How supportive were your family and friends?
Our friends and family were incredibly supportive. But then again, we dragged many of them along with us. One of my friends from high school, Kristyn Terpinas, works with us and manages a lot of our content. And my brother, Jeff, does our fulfillment. I’ve even dragged my 17-year-old daughter to a beauty trade show. And my husband is our investor. So pretty much everyone gets involved at some point.
What challenges are you encountering?
We are a DTC brand (Direct to Consumer, so e-commerce focused) but we rely on salons for people to truly be able to experience our products. The salons shut down in March 2020, so we had to postpone our partnerships until things opened up again in June. We are now in Spoke & Weal nationwide (8 locations) and DreamDry/BLVD. But now, as Covid is resurging, salons are facing additional challenges, so we will continue to focus on what we can control (our content and our online experience).
What did you learn about yourself through this process?
I’ve had to be much more flexible and take things as they come. Many people want to be able to plan everything out but these days, that’s just really hard to do. So, you have to learn to go with the flow.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
I probably should have left the advertising world sooner instead of being miserable for my last few years. But it’s also about serendipity—finding the right situation at the right time, and embracing it.
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
Leverage your network and build out an even bigger network of supporters, advisors, mentors, peers. This has been invaluable for me as we are launching in unprecedented times. Just being able to compare notes with other founders and being able to support each other has been amazing.
What advice do you have for those interested in launching a beauty product direct to consumer?
Talk to other founders so you really understand all of the various things you’ll need to succeed. It’s easy to forget about the boring stuff (like insurance, QuickBooks, etc) but it’s all part of putting the business together. And there are lots of “hidden” costs.
Then, make sure there is actually a viable market for your idea. Many founders fall in love with an idea but it’s not very scalable. You can talk to consumers, friends, colleagues, etc. but make sure that your idea isn’t just one you love, but you can scale.
Spend time putting together your brand story first (don’t wait until after you have launched – I’ve seen that happen a lot!). Hone your brand positioning, your voice, and your imagery and spend time defining the “chapters” of your story. This will make it a lot easier to execute down the road.
What resources do you recommend?
I’m a member of BetaWorks in NYC which is a maker community and a great resource for just about any question you might have: https://betaworks.com/
There are also many great tools and platforms these days for small businesses. Some of my favorites:
Videoleap App to edit your own videos on your phone: https://videoleapapp.com/
TalkShopLive to live stream shows about your brand: https://talkshop.live/
Zigy is an influencer meets affiliate meets e-commerce platform: https://www.zigyshop.com/
DojoMojo connects brands together for promotions and giveaways (a great way to build your following as well as find like-minded partners): https://www.dojomojo.com/
What’s next for you?
We are embracing sustainability and making a large size refillable bottle but there is so much more to do. We have a lot of ideas and new products in the pipeline. I am having so much fun that I think this will be the focus for the next few years. But after that? You never know. I like being productive, so I don’t see myself retiring.