The Highs and Lows of Entrepreneurship

The Highs and Lows of Entrepreneurship

Justin Silver is the Co-founder of AAVRANI, a science-backed hair and skin care brand. As an investor turned business owner, he has experience growing digital-first luxury brands through e-commerce, retail, and wholesale. Justin is also a Venture Advisor for Entrepreneurship at the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale and an Entrepreneur in Residence at Venture Lab.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Justin Silver shares the founding story of AAVRANI
  • AAVRANI’s journey from skin to hair care
  • The importance of remaining authentic and transparent with consumers
  • Justin talks about his role as a co-founder 
  • What are the most challenging aspects of building a brand? 
  • Exciting endeavors on the horizon for AAVRANI
  • Goal-setting: the framework for leadership growth

In this episode:

Launching a brand can be immensely rewarding. From transforming ideas into reality to recruiting and building a team, every day brings something new. Yet this endeavor is not without its challenges. How can you navigate the highs and lows of entrepreneurship?

With a background in building and scaling brands, Justin Silver maintains the most crucial aspect of the process is authenticity. Aligning your brand’s mission with your personal values fosters customer trust and propels your brand forward. When executing a vision, ensure you guide your leaders and provide them with information to drive innovation. You must also invest in brand awareness, integrating confidence into your product messaging to influence how consumers view you in the market. 

Join Samir Balwani in today’s episode of Ecom Experiences as he interviews Justin Silver, the Co-founder of AAVRANI, about building a brand with integrity. Justin describes his role as Co-founder, how AAVRANI expanded to hair care, and how goal-setting accelerates leadership growth.

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Resources mentioned in this episode:

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:00

Hey welcome to another episode of Ecom Experiences a podcast where e-commerce marketing leaders who want to grow and scale their brands faster. Join us as we interview some of the smartest brand founders and marketing leaders in the industry. Explore the lessons they learned discover the keys to their success, discuss what excites them most about the future.

Samir Balwani 0:28

It's Samir Balwani. Here host of Ecom Experiences, where we talk to brand founders and marketing leaders about their experiences growing their brands. This episode is brought to you by QRY QRY is a paid media agency that helps brands balanced brand awareness and performance marketing to drive predictable and profitable growth. To learn more about how we can help you visit I'm really excited about our guests today. I've Justin Silver here. He's the co founder of of AAVRANI a venture adviser at the Center for innovative thinking at Yale and entrepreneur in residence at Warren's Venture Lab. It's going to be an awesome conversation and I'm so happy to have you. Thanks for joining us, Justin.

Justin Silver 1:08

Happy to be here. Excited to chat through so many things. That my experience is how we can help the next generation of leaders all the above.

Samir Balwani 1:18

Amazing. Alright, well let's start with the fun stuff. So, Justin, tell us about of AAVRANI, what is it? How'd you get started? Tell tell us a story.

Justin Silver 1:27

Heck yeah. So AAVRANI is a beauty brand powered by science and inspired by tradition. It's really rooted in my co founder erschien Roy's background as an Indian American woman, leveraging all those powerful ancient rituals that she used to create skincare and haircare growing up with her grandmother. But powered by really modern, really groundbreaking science. We've had skincare for the past five years. And we're going to be launching haircare in partnership with Sephora on March 12 2024. If you're listening to this, after that date, go on If you're in the US or Canada and check us out.

Samir Balwani 2:06

That's awesome. And so tell us more about the journey from skincare to haircare I guess, entering a whole new category is a huge undertaking. So you know, it's one thing to start a brand and then it's a whole nother thing to start to pivot or even introduce new elements to its to how has that been? Yeah,

Justin Silver 2:24

so yeah, like a rewind a little bit. I'll take you back to 2017. I had been working as an investor for the past few years in the early stage, consumer space, touching food, beverage and beauty had some really great investments and some not so great ones, but we're not gonna talk about both. You know, some of the hits included bonza, that chickpea pasta, and a Japanese inspired skincare brand that ended up selling to Unilever for $500 million. So as an investor, I saw from the outside in what it was like to build these companies. And I knew that I was so inspired by these amazing founders that that's what I wanted to do. So I ended up going to business school and I'm at Wharton, I'm a second day of school. There's this woman in front of me at Taco Tuesday and the lunch line, we were in the same cluster. And I'm like, Hey, do you want to grab lunch together? And in that conversation, we came up with the idea for AAVRANI. And at the time, my experience had been skincare skincare was a rapidly growing category. And so we began building this skincare brand. But as time went on, we saw a couple of factors come into play. Number one, the number of skincare brands that launched between 2017 and 2022 was insane. Yeah, massive influx of companies of products of really great, qualified, talented founders into that space. And so it became hyper competitive, even more so than it was in 2017 not only for consumers, mindshare, but retailers, mindshare. And it just became a place where we knew there was a business and we knew that there was going to continue to be an opportunity, but we wanted to make sure we were maximizing and we were providing it we were making sure that we get AAVRANI into the most number of hands as possible. And so that was where a partnership with Lilly Singh kind of came into play is she's mega celebrity comedian, actress, YouTuber. Host is so many multi hyphenate. So we began to talk with her about potentially recommend us and that's what sparked this idea of air. So we had Lily and we had some conversations early but Sephora where they were really excited about hair being one of their fastest growing segments, having so much opportunity and for there not being a ton of really powerful players. So we knew that we can take all the work that we had done in skincare and beauty into build products that were really science driven, that really had, you know, they were just efficacious at their core. And then you layer on all this beautiful inspiration, background branding, all these amazing pieces of the puzzle. And that's really how we came to off Ronnie hair. It was not set by accident. This has been crafted over multiple years.

Samir Balwani 5:25

I love it because I think it also speaks to the power of the AAVRANI brand, right, where the brand is not skincare, the brand is science and traditional ingredients meeting together, which allows you to easily enter into the haircare market, because you already have permission to do that. It's a new addition of your ingredient list. So I think whether by design or by accident, I think that that is an awesome structure for a brand to have to allow you too have a lot of legs and growth ahead of you. So I think, you know, kudos to you guys for being able to see it see that through the forest. I think the other piece of it, which I think is awesome that you guys are doing is you didn't jump into haircare because it was, Oh, I think everyone else is doing it like we should do and it was really well thought out. And you recognize that there's demand in the market. And whether that being from a partner like Sephora who came in said, Hey, we need this kind of support or from your consumers themselves. I think that that just sets you guys up for success.

Justin Silver 6:32

Yeah, I think that reminds me really of authenticity. You know, it's become clearer and clearer. There's so much transparency. Consumers know and understand authenticity. And it's pretty easy to spot in authenticity, you know, and you see, founder missions that don't align with who they are, you have celebrity brands that don't have the true backing. And the flip side celebrity brands that really have that true backing, like Fenty beauty with Rihanna, and others, you just see this core alignment that moves the brand forward. And that has been one of the things that has made us successful along the way is always remaining authentic to who we are. And once you get off that path, it's pretty hard to get back on

Samir Balwani 7:17

it. Yeah, for sure. We talked about bringing community pretty often here and recognizing that you need to know who your core customer is, but also your core customer is not. And make sure that you are true to the ones that matter the most for you. And scale from there.

Justin Silver 7:34

be everything to everyone often means nothing to know the

Samir Balwani 7:38

100% I love. I love that for sure. Just as that's awesome. So So tell me. You know, I am curious about your role as co founder of AAVRANI I know is, you know, as a founder myself, it is a really interesting role to be in. I'd love to hear from you. What are your favorite parts about doing that? Like? Like, how has it been five years is a long time.

Justin Silver 8:09

Yeah, and if we start back in 2017, when I first met Rishi, it's really seven years. Yeah, by far the longest job I've ever had. And actually, we're getting to the point where it's the longest, I've been anywhere for my entire career. So that's a very exciting milestone, I'd say, being a founder is the best job if you're the right fit for it. I get to wake up every day and do something I love with people who I've helped recruit to the team, and really building something building something that didn't exist before we have ideas, and then we turn them into realities. And man, how much cooler is that than being a cog in a wheel? If that's your jam, you have to be somebody who, who thrives on that, because there are high highs and equally low lows. But you know, that's that's the fun part. I'd say, you know, I recommend if you're sitting in that job, and you're thinking to yourself, Man, I just have so many ideas, I want to start doing something. Don't just quit and go full time. I think we're in an amazing world right now where there's a ton of tools and resources where you could start something you could start to work with an agency, worrier. Others, you can get a lot of leverage with a lot of resources that you might not otherwise use. Shout out to websites like hire my where you didn't have stay at home moms helping you build a company remotely. There's so many resources out there, you can just start before you need to leave your full time. And

Samir Balwani 9:50

I think that that's actually a really valuable insight. It's interesting. You said something about the high highs and low lows and a tell People being a founder. So I've worked enterprise, I've worked startup, and I've been a founder myself. So I've seen like all three levels of it at this point. And I like to equate it to kind of being a sine wave, right? Like, you get the up and you get the down. And when you're an enterprise, the sine waves there, and you have a lot of them, but they're just like, small. And then you get to a startup, and the time between them gets further away. So you have less highs and lowest lows, but they're bigger. And then you get to being a founder. And they get a little bit further away, but they get exponentially higher, exponentially lower. And I think the one thing, you said it really well, if it if you are excited about it, is the best thing you can do. But you have to be ready to take risks and be extremely resilient. Because I don't think very few businesses go out of business because they ran out of money, or they had a major fall through most businesses go out of business because the founders couldn't continue on. And they just stopped. And there's a level of persistence that you need, even when it's all against the odds. But you need to be able to see it and be like, No, yeah, that's definitely it's, as my team likes to call it. It's unrealistic optimism sometimes.

Justin Silver 11:22

We'll talk and we'll talk about that in a little bit.

Samir Balwani 11:28

So So Justin, told me, you know, we've talked about the highs and the lows, and kind of I do want to continue on through that. So like, as you're looking ahead, what are the major challenges? Like what are the things that you know, cliche keeping you up at night?

Justin Silver 11:42

You know, I think the number one thing that we're always thinking about is people. And that answer has evolved over time, I used to say people was like the core team that we were building. And I think that's tantamount. But it's still not, you know, it's something that we've worked on, I think we've built a really incredible team filled with a plus players. And that has always been my number one. And then it's like, Okay, we have these eight plus players coming into our office in a hybrid schedule. You know, they're they're working on all these things are doing it so well. And then we have third party support. And this isn't just one or two people, you know, there are an extra 1015 plus people who are part of our third party support from the marketing and digital ads perspective, from operations, from shipping from every single angle, there is one to five people on a team supporting AAVRANI. And that is where it's really easy to let mediocre performance slip through the cracks. Because you're not as a, when we're looking at team members who are coming in and we're seeing them we're getting updates, we know pretty quickly if it's not working, or if we're not getting the things that we need, or if we're not hitting the goals that we want to hit. But with a third party, it takes much longer. And it's much harder. And so when I say people, it's not necessarily the people who are on our core team, I think we're in a really good place. It's more about looking to those third parties, the kind of people around the people, if you will, and making sure that they are in a prime position to ensure that we're thriving. It's

Samir Balwani 13:26

so interesting, you say that because I think the best partners that we have as an agency are the ones that hold us accountable to our outcomes, right. And, you know, I look at it as we're, we're queries in media buying agency, we do a lot of strategy work, we do a lot of execution work, and clients come to us to fulfill on to pieces, they want us to be consultative advisor and help them, you know, guide them through their future. And that's what we do really well. And then there's an element of also managing and executing that vision, right. And the best agent, the best brand partners, give us the information and set the vision so that way we can help guide them to the right place. Because the worst is when you get a vision, and you build that path, and then they're like, oh, wait, no, that's not what we meant. And you're like, Well, alright, well, no one's going to be successful if we consistently are moving in this direction. So I think, you know, it is a partnership on that level in terms of making sure that we get the information we need to be able to fulfill on it. And then at the second level, it's making sure that it's no different than like how a leader works and holds certain levels of expectations and accountability, but then also helps drive innovation and openness and transparency. Right. And so the best agency partners are the what are the best brand partners to our agency are the ones that recognize that two way relationship and it is not. Our agency is just bottom of the barrel. Let's just run them until we were on them, and that will switch them out. Those are not partners that we'd like to work with, because we can't be strategic or long term thoughtfulness for them. So yeah, I agree with you in terms of making sure your partners are fulfilling on what you expect from them is no different than what you do for your own internal members and is key for success for sure. Definitely. Amazing. So I really I'm so curious. What are you excited about outside of hair Carolina? Because that is its own level of excitement? What What else? Are you excited about? You know, what are you looking forward to for 24?

Justin Silver 15:39

Man, Samir there's so much good stuff. Well, a fun and exciting person on there that got engaged back in December, and so very excited for all the wedding planning and just spending a lot of time with my fiance Adele, shout out to Adele,

Samir Balwani 15:54


Justin Silver 15:55

Thank you. You know, I think when it comes to the business front, there's just so much awesome stuff, you're talking about the launch of hair, it used to be rewind, maybe 10 years ago, launching and Sephora was success. Very few brands would fail or not be able to, you know, get to the next level or, you know, grow really rapidly, it was almost this golden key, this, you know, a key to the city to a successful brand. I think that has shifted. Now entering Sephora is what I like to describe as the Marathon of an Ironman. And I'll paint this metaphor for you. You know, if people say, Oh, you're running a marathon, you miss the last mile of a marathon, just revenue year. So the marathon the last mile, you're able to just kind of push through and get across the finish line. But with an Iron Man, you're swimming for like two or three hours, then you're biking for like five or six hours, and then you run a marathon. And so to me getting into Sephora is like we've now put on our running shoes, we've taken off our cycling, you know, we've clipped out of our cycle. And now we're getting ready to run a marathon. And it is such a unique place to be we've been working on this business for seven years. And we are just about to start the marathon. And so like all marathons, they come with those highs, those lows, those really challenging moments. But we're about to make a massive push in awareness. And I think as a brand, in certain demographics, we're pretty well known. But in other demographics, we're completely unknown. And I think becoming a more well known brand across the board, that gets me fired up. Because being able to bring what we've built, the power, the depth, the beauty, and the actual efficacious products, man, like we are going to do some amazing things over the course of the year. So I think from the business perspective, it's that awareness, it's getting out there. And then I think continuing to tighten and strengthen the team that we have here. One of the best parts of my role is getting to work with the team that we've built internally. And so strengthening and deepening those relationships, making sure that we're growing our team members, that they're becoming bigger leaders, within the company, all of those things just that get me really pumped.

Samir Balwani 18:30

I love that. Yeah, it's so interesting, because I think you and I have talked about this in the past, but like brand awareness is a key element for growing a brand. Like if nobody knows who you are, it doesn't matter how good your product is. But I think the founders that look to brand awareness and are ready to invest in it, have this level of competence in their product. And the brands that don't invest in brand awareness, I almost always am. My question is always well, do you not trust your product enough, but in my introduce, or your product messaging, or like how you're appearing to the market, because if you have confidence in how you speak and how you deliver, then you should have confidence in introducing new people and be excited about investing and getting new people to the brand. And so I think hearing you speak today around your journey to haircare and the partnerships you've created around it and how you look at your team and the product as you deliver on it. It's no wonder that you're confident and excited to be spreading in brand awareness and be investing in that part of introducing the product to new people because you know, it will be successful. Exactly.

Justin Silver 19:38

That's also very myself.

Samir Balwani 19:42

I love it. Well. All right. So last question for you. You know, you you've been doing this as a leader for seven years, which I absolutely amazing. It's funny because you'll look back on it when you're successful and be like, Oh, we did everything in a year and you'll have forgotten about everything. guests that.

Justin Silver 20:03

Look forward to this moment.

Samir Balwani 20:04

Yeah, exactly. But, you know, I imagine someone stepping in as a new leader or really building out their first startup for the first time and having to hire people for the first time and growing themselves as a leader. What advice do you give them?

Justin Silver 20:22

So I want to talk about goal setting, because I feel like this is something that I have really grown in in a significant way, the team has evolved in the way that we think about goals. And it's just super important from a motivation perspective. So I used to say, shoot for the moon. And if you miss, you'll land among the stars, I would set really big goals, I'd be like, let's kind of do this idea of, well, what can we do in 10 years, let's try and do that in a month. And we'll move a lot further than we would if we just set what we could do in a month. But what that is really motivating for is you is me is the founder, it's a very founder, individual mentality, and thinking in that strategic way. But when you're hiring people, when you're bringing on team members, they're joining your team, because they're not a founder. And if you're asking them to think and act and be motivated, like a founder, either be prepared to be hiring people who are gonna go run and start their own companies within a few months, or be prepared to fail. And so instead of creating these, like super lofty, really high goals that don't give people the ability to hit them, and accomplish them and move forward and track progress and grow over time, we've really rethought that whole process. And now, when we talk about goal setting, it's like, what can we realistically do? Okay, let's put that down. Let's revisit that every week. And let's make sure that the end of the week, the end of the month, the end of the quarter, and the end of the year, we're doing what we say we're going to do. And all of that ladders up to the bigger strategy, the overarching goals of the whole company. And when we've done that, we've seen people be able to thrive with us for a long period of time. So when you're bringing on a team, and you're talking about goal setting, and motivation, it is so so important to really analyze the difference between goals that you set for yourself, and the ones that you set for your company and as a founder, those personal motivations, and then how you're helping to motivate and goal set for your

Samir Balwani 22:35

team. That, you know, that's such a thoughtful piece of advice, because it goes back to kind of what you and I talked about earlier on around how Bounders have this uncanny level of resilience and optimism that most other people just don't I always tell people, our our risk assessment meter is just broken. And so it's like, it doesn't matter. It's like, it's okay, if you fail, right? Like you're used to failing, it doesn't bother you that you missed a goal. You know, it might be frustrating that you missed a goal, but it's not debilitating. Versus, for other people, it can be a confidence killer, and instead, achieving small wins and small goals. And I'm really thinking about, I moved, it's it's the day after Superbowl Sunday, so I'm gonna use a football, it's like the inches lead up to the yards, but like you kick an inch, you get another inch, you get another inch. And people feel that confidence growing in them. And they want to be hitting their goals and they want to it's small. And that's how you see long term growth. And so I think that that is a really valuable and often forgotten piece of advice. And so yeah, thank you for that one. For sure. Yeah, our first class at

Justin Silver 23:45

business school that we describe that thing, and it's called positive emotional contagion. And there's also negative emotional contagion. But like the word contagion, which we're all much more familiar with us 2020. It has the ability to spread very quickly. So if you're creating those positive emotions, with early wins, with good support, with proper goal setting and motivation that can become this positive emotional contagion. And it really resonates with the team.

Samir Balwani 24:17

That's really awesome. Well, Justin, thank you so much for joining us today. If someone wants to find you online, where can people go to learn more about you? Check

Justin Silver 24:28

me out on Instagram @theJustinsilver. You can find me on my LinkedIn, you can connect with me anywhere on the internet. I love to chat. We'd love to talk entrepreneurship. I'd love to talk AAVRANI beauty business. I'm open.

Samir Balwani 24:44

I love it. Thank you so much for being here. Really appreciate it. Thank you

Outro 24:53

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