An opportunity to live and model in South Korea inspired Connecticut entrepreneur Eliana Cardeno to found Kiyomi Beauty. Since then, she connected with startup resources to launch her business, including participating in the 2019 reSET Impact Accelerator, a program designed for entrepreneurs in the early stages of business development.
Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke with Eliana about her startup journey.
NAN PRICE: How did you develop the business idea for Kiyomi Beauty?
ELIANA CARDENO: I spent about a year and half in South Korea, which is where I started to learn about Korean skin care.
K beauty is becoming more popular in the United States and I thought: How can I make a product to show people about K beauty? I had heard about subscription boxes and I thought that concept could work and enable me to introduce Korean skin care products as a subscription method where people can see many of the different existing products.
Originally, I was going to start the business from South Korea. I was born in Colombia, but I grew up here in Connecticut and I’ve been here for about 19 years. I thought: Why would I start a business in South Korea when my home is Connecticut and there are so many great resources here?
NAN: Let’s talk about those resources.
ELIANA: I started working on a business plan when I was still in South Korea. I had taken an entrepreneurial class at the University of Hartford, which helped with that aspect. I had saved some money while I was in South Korea, so I knew I had the building blocks to create something.
When I moved back to Connecticut, the business was still just an idea. The more I met with people, the more I realized it could actually become a viable business.
I thought about reSET right away because I had worked with them in the past at a Startup Weekend event. They helped me connect with business advisors at the Connecticut Small Business Development Center who reviewed my business plan and provided feedback. They thought my business concept was fresh and exciting. But they weren’t sure if I would be able reach out to investors because, with subscription plans, you don’t see a quick return on investment in the beginning.
My business really took hold when I decided to participate in Cratejoy’s free one-month accelerator, which is designed to help people start subscription box businesses. Out of the 60 people in my cohort, I was the only one who only had an idea and a business plan. Everyone else was a little further along.
The program helped me get to a point where I felt like I was ready to launch. In one month, it broke down everything you need to do—building a website, creating a tagline, writing a mission, reaching your target market, and choosing a company name. I chose “Kiyomi” because it means “cutie” in Korean.
I completed the Cratejoy program around the time as the reSET Flight Night Pitch event last November. I wasn’t going pitch, but Ojala Naaem, who was Managing Director at the time, encouraged me. She told me: You have something. This is an actual business. Just go for it.
So, I went for it. And it turned out great. Everyone loved the idea and it was a big push for me. It really gave me the confidence to say this business is real. I launched January 15.
NAN: How are you marketing?
ELIANA: I’m taking a very holistic approach using social media, doing giveaways, and offering coupons. I haven’t invested any money on ads but, as I continue to grow, I think that will be the next step.
NAN: What’s your biggest startup challenge? Anything you wish you’d done differently?
ELIANA: There’s a challenge in getting people to invest in a product they don’t know anything about. It was important for me to think of the education behind it. That’s one of the biggest things I want to add to my website and company mission: information about how to use the products and what the products entail to empower individuals and help them feel more confident.
Another challenge was the idea of wanting to be perfect. I was so afraid of how the website would look, if I was using social media effectively, or if I was doing the blogs or the newsletter correctly. It would take me forever to finally get something accomplished.
I finally realized, people are just happy to see something different and new. All you need is a platform where people can see what you have, buy the product, test it out, and then from there you can continue to grow. Instead I was bogging myself down with minutia: Is it perfect? Are people going to like it?
And I’ve gotten a lot of encouraging feedback about the website, my social media posts, and how much I interact with my audience. Looking back, I wish I told myself: Just do it, it will be fine!
NAN: How did you connect with a supplier in Korea?
ELIANA: Working in the modeling industry in Korea I networked and connected with Korean beauty suppliers and different companies. From those connections, I met with wholesalers and some suppliers, which enabled me to build the first few products for my subscription boxes. The only thing is, because the products are coming from Korea, it can take a little while for them to get to the United States.
Since beginning this whole process from the United States, I’ve reached out to more companies. And now that I have built a brand with a website, they’re more open to working with me. Also, a lot of K beauty companies want to reach American audience, so they’re interested in working with new and up-and-coming companies.
NAN: What do you see for the future of your business?
ELIANA: I hope to continue to grow the company. Ultimately, I’d like to bring this box all over the world. My current focus is ensuring there are a lot of subscribers and increasing the educational portion of the company, so it’s not just products people are getting but also information and education about them.
I also want to tap into my nationality and give Latin American and Spanish speakers in the United States an opportunity to try my products. My next goal is to increase content on the website so people can access it in English and Spanish. I’ve been doing my social media that way, and I want to do that for the educational materials as well.
I feel like I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset. But it took a long time for me to finally decide on a project I really wanted to pursue. I had so many ideas and I found something I truly love, which is why I finally went ahead and did it. This is my passion project.
Along the way, I’m grateful to have met a number of community leaders and entrepreneurs in the area who have provided feedback and support. Many are willing to provide resources about marketing, finance, or legal issues at no cost.
There are a lot of resources out there for people starting new businesses in Connecticut. All it takes is for you to go out and try to find it. Network. Go to events. Really put yourself out there.
Learn more about Kiyomi Beauty