More Than Skin Deep: E-Commerce Founder Offers Best Tips For Success

Mandeep Shahi, founder of ZENMED, wither her youngest son.

Mandeep Shahi, founder of ZENMED, wither her youngest son.

Mandeep Shahi tells the unlikely anecdote that she and Pamela Anderson—the actress and reality show star—are both from Ladysmith, British Columbia, a very small town in Canada. The similarities end there.

Shahi is the founder of  ZENMED and a serial builder of 14 brands, overseeing the multi-million dollar skincare product company of 20 employees. It is the company she founded while in college in the early 2000s.

“E-commerce was a buzzword and we were going to school for traditional business models of brick and mortar,” Shahi says.

It was around this time as a student that Shahi unfortunately developed a severe case of acne.

“I was too embarrassed to ever leave my room,” she says. “At the time, ProActiv was on all the tv infomercials and I thought there could be an alternative to this, but the first order was to get mine under control,” Shahi says.

@ZENMED was created by #MandeepShahi who saw the need for alternatives in the skincare market.

Speaking to pharmacologists, she says it took almost a year to get the formula for skincare products figured out, and then she and her colleagues funded it—not through venture capitalists, but on their own.

“We funded it through our earnings from summer jobs,” Shahi says. “We do not have wealthy parents and had no seed capital. I guess we thought we would just work harder,” she says.

By 2003, Shahi had a skin care line of 29 products. The name of the company, ZENMED, reflects the emergence of natural skincare products and an historic reliance on medical efficacy, she says. The company is a PETA-certified corporation.

Read more in Take The Lead on women entrepreneurs in skincare

“We had big hopes. We were in the beginning just looking to make sales to buy more inventory,” Shahi says. They intended to be a natural alternative to brand names such as Clearasil, Clean and Clear and Oxy.

Customers have responded well to ZENMED, according to the site.

“The massive demand for beauty products has ensured that the retail beauty market is now pegged to reach $2.69 billion by 2020,” according to Her Story.

According to Forbes, a trend in skincare and cosmetics is new, natural brands.

“Consumers, mostly women, are on a journey of exploration. They are enjoying new products and finding new brands. This is part of a larger generational shift of younger consumers rejecting the large brands their parents preferred and seeking out locally-made, artisanal, natural products in all consumer categories,” Forbes reports.

Shahi’s ZENMED is part of this trend.

“We wanted to give people the ability to curate their skin care. When I had acne, I didn’t have oily skin. I had dry skin and acne. I needed to customize my skincare, and have medication that stops the cycle,” she says.

“There is a bit of a disconnect n the beauty industry,” Shahi says. “The vast majority of who you see on the front end are females, Caucasian, who are young and pretty. But as I got into it, on the  tech side, it’s all male, and it’s all male on the manufacturing side.”

Read more in Take The Lead on successful women in skincare

She adds, “I thought such a female-involved industry should be run by females, because all these men do not have a clue what women want.”

As a South Asian woman, Shahi says she was breaking barriers as a founder of this e-commerce skincare company. “I had to do a lot of convincing,” she says.

Read more in Take The Lead on women leading companies for women

“This was never a path introduced to me, this is not a path anyone in my family or anyone around me exposed me to. But I find breaking barriers is a very satisfying endeavor,” Shahi says.

#MandeepShahi finds breaking barriers is a very satisfying endeavor. We couldn’t agree more.

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About the Author

Michele Weldon is editorial director of Take The Lead, an award-winning author, journalist, emerita faculty in journalism at Northwestern University and a senior leader with The OpEd Project. @micheleweldon