Leadership

How this self-made millionaire and Instagram star built her billion-dollar beauty brand 

Huda Kattan is a self-made millionaire with a beauty company Forbes recently valued at $1 billion. At this writing, she has more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube and 28 million followers on Instagram.

This founder and beauty influencer never planned to become a businesswoman. In fact, nearly a decade ago she was like a lot of recent grads, working hard at jobs that didn't always reflect her true passion.

As she made her way, she would make an important realization: Success wasn't just about working hard, which she had always done. Success was about finding fulfillment.

Kattan was a good student who studied finance in college. She chose the major when her parents urged her to study "something serious." At the University of Michigan-Dearborn, she joined a host of activities, became an honors student and was a speaker at graduation. Still, she knew something was missing.

After graduating in 2007, her fiance sensed a financial downturn would hit Michigan hard. He suggested the couple move to Dubai where he'd be starting a new job. Kattan asked the recruitment company she worked for to transfer her to its Dubai office.

The couple moved in 2008 but could not escape the crisis' global reach. She lost her job within a few months of moving. While she briefly worked in PR, she soon realized that that wasn't her passion either, quitting in the first two weeks.

"I was like, screw this," she told USA Today. "I'm not doing anything unless I love it, because I've already given my life to so many jobs. I need to love what I do, because I'm going to give 110 percent. I'm going to be working from 6 in the morning until 10 p.m., so I need to make sure I like it."

By 2009, Kattan reached a turning point. Michael Jackson died and she realized, "He did what he was passionate about," she said in Harper's Bazaar Arabia in 2016. It was one of several moments that prompted Kattan to think about her impact on the world. "If I do something I'm not passionate about, how am I going to impact the world? And if I am not changing the world in some way then what the hell am I doing?"

Not sure what direction to take, her sister urged her to study makeup, a longtime interest. Kattan returned to school for a certificate in makeup artistry and began practicing her craft at Revlon. Soon she began Huda Beauty as a blog, working as a makeup artist by day and a blogger by night, growing a following by creating makeup tutorials and sharing expert tips.

Her beauty empire was just starting, but even then she knew she was closer to finding that sense of fulfillment she'd been missing. As she explained at a TedXDubai Woman talk in 2010, "The minute you decide to do what you love to do, you have made a life plan for yourself and a career choice."

Still, she didn't see herself selling products. When her sister Mona suggested that she start her own beauty company, Kattan blew off the idea. "I wasn't making any money out of [the blog] I was really more of a makeup artist. I was definitely struggling financially, but I just did not want to start a beauty brand," said Kattan to CNBC Make It. "I thought I wasn't the person to have a business."

With an extra nudge and a small loan from one of her sisters, Huda Beauty began selling false lashes in 2013. These lashes would receive early praise from Kim Kardashian West and later secure a coveted spot on beauty retailer Sephora's shelves.

Kattan and her co-founder sisters pushed the brand forward, learning everything from manufacturing to packaging as they went, with Kattan's apartment doubling as her warehouse in the company's early days.

In the five years since, much has changed. The brand offers 140 products and the company expects revenue for 2018 to reach $400 million, doubling last year's numbers. By the end of the year, Kattan's brand will be in 900 stores across the U.S. and an additional 600 around the world, up from 200 at the start of 2018.

"Sometimes you don't know what you're capable of until you try it," Kattan told CNBC Make It.

Her followers span the globe and have been key to her success. "It's rare for one person to be relatable across so many countries and cultures," said chief merchandising officer at Sephora Artemis Patrick said of Kattan's brand.

Patrick added, "Obviously, it's the power of the internet, but it's a testament to her business acumen that she can translate and harness the power of her followers."

Committing to her fanbase has sometimes meant making tough decisions. Earlier this year, while filming her Facebook Watch show "Huda Boss," Huda Beauty scrapped a new concealer because of imperfections in the formula — a decision that cost the company roughly $10 million in potential revenue, according to Kattan.

"It wasn't a financial choice, it was a choice that we made for our community," said Kattan. "When you're asking people to save their money and to buy your products, you're giving them a commitment and we need to stand for that commitment."

Kattan has an estimated net worth of $550 million and landed on the Forbes list of America's richest self-made women in 2018 alongside Oprah Winfrey, Meg Whitman and Kylie Jenner.

Kattan has said that she would like to build Huda Beauty into a business that can compete with top beauty names such as L'Oreal and Estee Lauder.

And though Kattan has been called one of the "most influential beauty bloggers in the world," she wants her legacy to be one of inspiration.

Her fans have already started to follow in her footsteps and start their own brands. "They're going to give a piece of themselves to the world," she said in Harper's Bazaar Arabia. "That's what I would love to show people how to do."

In 2017, Huda created HB Angels, an early stage investment fund to help new entrepreneurs get started on their own businesses.

"I realized that my purpose really is to inspire people," she explained in July. "It has nothing to do with money, it has nothing to do with anything material. It's really to prove to people that the little guy can make it."

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