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Anisa International: Starting a Business Out of Adversity

How were you able to make the business successful?

Telwar: I realized that I had entered into an industry that was very much commoditized, and I was going up against a lot of male-driven businesses that were coming out of New York and I was not located in New York. I needed to be very, very creative. I started focusing on how was I going to stand out, what was going to be my niche and what was I going to do to make sure that I could be competitive, but still be able to make money.

What did you come up with?

Telwar: Marketing. It was all kinds of ways of communicating about the product in a way that had not been done. People had never looked at pairing product -- the cosmetic itself -- with the actual makeup artist tool. They always did it separately. So when I started talking with the different product managers, asking, "How does the brush perform that you currently use?" They were like, "We don't know. It's really soft. That's all that matters." I said, "Not necessarily." Because [the industry] was so dominated by men at the time, who didn't use the product, I was looking at it in a very different way.

Now the adversities that we deal with are, of course, growth. Every company needs to grow to survive. And looking at infrastructure in China, looking at our processes, looking at our culture, not that it's adversity, just that it is a constant [concern]. We cannot stand still.

Where are the brushes sold? You have private-label products that you design for other companies, but then you also have your own proprietary line?

Telwar: We create for other brands. We're partners to them in manufacturing and design. My brand adesign brushes is a really small pipeline that I use for innovation, where I incubate new ideas and deal directly with makeup artists and some consumers. But it's not meant to be a substantial investment. It's mainly so I can get information quickly, do my launches quickly because the larger companies like Mac Cosmetics, it takes them longer to launch, and then I can bring them data. I can show them the ROI (return on investment) in certain types of innovative heads or fibers.

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So then who, exactly, is your target market?

Telwar: Our target is more business-to-business. My true target market is the creative directors and the visionaries of these very big brands -- the founders. They have vision, they can create the strategy, they have the distribution and their consumers are the everyday woman and the makeup artists. It is very connected to fashion so you have lots of movement and it's very dynamic [especially with] the changes and the innovation with skin care and color.

As CEO, what did you find as the company was growing that you needed to keep into perspective in order to lead well?

Telwar: Good question. I cannot tell you the difficulty it has been for me year to year to elevate myself, to mature myself and to grow myself up and to put the right kind of people around me since I wasn't formally educated in a corporate environment. It has been a very intuitive process for me. It has been a lesson of hard knocks. Sometimes I make pretty good decisions, but most of the time I have had to learn from a lot of mistakes.

Where I am in my life 20 years later, I'm much, much more open to collaboration. I get it that I don't have to know it all, and I get it that I don't have to be the smartest person in the room anymore.
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