This story is part of the Behind the Desk series, where CNBC Make It gets personal with successful business leaders to learn everything from how they got where they are to what gets them out of bed in the morning. to their daily routines.
Huda Kattan was determined to build a successful business doing what she loved. So, with a $6,000 loan from her sister Alya, Kattan turned her beauty blog into a billion-dollar cosmetics brand, Huda Beauty.
Kattan, now 37, graduated from the University of Michigan in 2008 with a degree in finance and moved to Dubai to be with his family. She got a job in recruiting, but lost it a year later during the recession and was left with no income.
Although this is a setback, Kattan also sees it as an opportunity.
“When people go through situations where it’s a bit difficult, they quickly want to patch them up and get back to where they’re comfortable,” Kattan said. CNBC do it. “It’s really important to lean into that discomfort and see what’s there and pursue something that you never thought you could pursue.”
So Kattan decided to focus on a career she really loved. She went to makeup school in Los Angeles, moved back to Dubai, and started the Huda Beauty blog in 2010. Kattan began to generate an audience that loved her makeup tutorials and her candid personality.
To capitalize on his growing clientele, Kattan took a chance and launched a line of false eyelashes in 2013 with his two sisters, Mona, now 36, and Alya, 48, who agreed to loan Kattan those 6 $000 to create the product.
“Honestly, it was a risk,” Kattan says, as she didn’t have a stable source of income to pay off her sister and wasn’t sure her business would take off. But “it was really successful”.
Her lashes won praise from Kim Kardashian West, and the line was taken over by beauty retailer Sephora Dubai in 2013. At the time, Sephora Dubai expected to sell 7,000 units lashes in a year, but instead the 7,000 units sold in one week. Retail sales hit $1.5 million that year and $10 million the next, according to Forbes.
From then on, Kattan was determined to expand her brand internationally – in 2015, Huda Beauty was launched in the United States and continued to grow.
In 2017, Kattan sold a undisclosed minority stake in the business to TSG Consumer Partners, which valued the company at $1.25 billion, according to PitchBook.
As of 2020, Kattan has a net worth of $510 millionaccording to Forbes, which class her as one of the richest self-made women in America that year. In 2020, Forbes estimated that Huda Beauty makes at least $250 million in annual sales.
Although Kattan announcement she had left as CEO of Huda Beauty in September, she has since returned as CEO. (Huda Beauty declined to provide further details.)
Today, Huda Beauty offers over 140 products, from foundation to concealer, lipstick, eye shadow, brushes and more. In June, she launches a new makeup collection called GloWish.
In keeping with its roots, the brand has also maintained its strong social media presence – Huda Beauty currently has over 48 million followers on Instagram and over 4 million subscribers on YouTube.
“It’s so important to find something that really, really fuels your passion,” says Kattan.
Here, Kattan shares her experience of being laid off, following her passion, building her business, being inspired by her family, her routine and more.
Honestly the best thing that ever happened to me was that I got fired [from my job in recruiting].
I worked on weekends. I was in the office first, out of the office last. I was obsessed, and I got fired.
My boss said to me, “Why are you here? You don’t belong here. Why don’t you wear makeup?” And I thought, “You moron, don’t judge me.” I will show you. I will work harder.
I remember thinking to myself, “I know it’s for the best, and I know it’s for a reason. I know I’m going to look back and say to myself, this is the best thing ever. never arrived”, but it was hard to see as I walked through it.
I called my friend…and I said, “The next thing I’ll do, I have to agree to wake up every day, work on the weekends, and want to dedicate my life to it.”
Thinking about what I could do to make people feel more beautiful and trying to change the beauty industry – that was my calling. I had fun doing it. I love playing with makeup, so this was so fulfilling.
If I wasn’t fired, I would still be working at this company and probably doing the same thing.
At first, the Huda Beauty blog was not taking off. It took off in Dubai, and it was cool, but outside of Dubai, it didn’t really work for the first 12 months.
After the 12 months, I felt like it was starting to hit. In fact, I was just using Facebook Ads because it was cheap. You could advertise for $5, and I used my credit card. I was investing in this thing, hoping it would pay off.
Then I remember seeing people in different parts of the world start noticing it. I was like, “Holy shit, this really works.” It was such a trip.
I continued to set myself goals. My first goal was to become the biggest beauty blogger in the Middle East. I think without those small goals, I would have really lost a lot of enthusiasm because it wasn’t taking off at first.
I would say it wasn’t until the lashes hit, which was about three years later, that I really realized this was something big. It’s something really big.
When we started with eyelashes, honestly it was a risk. At the time, I had spent $10,000 on my makeup school, so I wasn’t in a position to really try anything new.
I was like, “Let’s just try it with $6,000. Let’s just do a couple thousand lashes and see what happens.” It was kind of like an experiment, but I also didn’t have a plan B if it didn’t work out.
And it really succeeded because I had already been blogging for a few years at the time. Here we try and succeed. How far can we go?
Honestly, my family and I grew up super, super poor [in Oklahoma, then Tennessee]. My family was on welfare. My parents immigrated [from Iraq]. My dad was struggling to make ends meet. It was hard, sometimes very bad.
There’s no reason for me to be where I am. But this prospect of thinking – that I shouldn’t be here – is what held me back years ago. I remember I was about 26 and thinking that, and putting those limits on myself. That was probably the biggest lesson I learned, that I should never limit myself.
My parents taught me the work ethic. My parents, my father in particular, have an incredible work ethic. All they have is work and family. He was forced into retirement [as a professor] because of his age, even though he’s incredibly smart, and he can’t stop working.
But with work and family, I’m trying to understand now that taking care of myself is also very important. During the first years, I didn’t take enough care of myself. It was work, work, work, give yourself to work, give yourself to your team, give yourself to your business, then give yourself to your family. I agree with some parts of this, but not all.
There’s definitely a lot of pressure, especially as a woman.
I think any time you run a business and lead a team, there has to be an element of humility for sure, and that’s not something I got right away.
I think at the beginning, I didn’t have a lot of humility. I probably had a chip on my shoulder, where I was trying to prove something to people. I was a bit afraid that people wouldn’t take what I was saying seriously either. I had to be a little aggressive.
One of our team members always said, “You’re crazy.” Then things started to work, and she was like, “I think that might be genius.” So I think in the beginning you go through your journey as a leader, and I certainly wasn’t that humble. I was definitely more aggressive. My self-esteem issues were probably showing up and not in the best way. And now I think I’ve gotten to a point where I’m fine, not necessarily in the lead. Sometimes I think to myself “Guys, tell me my blind spots that I can’t see” because only I can see what I can see.
I have the most amazing team. They inspire me all the time. I think leadership is a funny journey. There must be an element of humility and self-awareness.
I like to walk around my room and talk to me about something. I like talking to myself – I love it.
I think it’s so great to let go and let yourself try and think. So I’ll go around my room. I pace around my room. I just find it therapeutic at times. My life coach tells me it’s a brain dump – you just throw out whatever pops into your head. It gave me so much clarity. Sometimes I’ll just talk to myself about stupid stuff.
My routine is everything.
I honestly think I have the craziest routine. That changed during Covid, and it was so hard for me to get back on track. Honestly, it took me as long as possible. But I am militant with my routine.
I have a checklist of things I try to do every day in the morning. I meditate for 10 to 15 minutes. I manifest. I try to invest in growth [or self improvement]so i watch youtube videos [on business] or read a very good book. I try to stretch and do a little workout.
I sleep a lot. I get up at 5am, 6am and go to bed around 9pm. I’m really good at my sleep.
I’ve always been a night owl. Nighttime was when I got most creative, and somehow I transitioned into a morning person, which shocks me. I like to get up early. If I have to get out of bed to go straight to work, I’m in a bad mood.
I wear an Oura ring [a wearable that tracks sleep patterns] that I love and wear everyday. I monitor the amount of water I drink per day, the number of steps I take per day, the way I sleep. I’m really into biohacking.
I think the routine is actually super motivating. I think when you know what you’re going to do first thing in the morning, it feels so good. I can’t talk enough about the importance of routines.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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