Huda Kattan never wanted to be the CEO of her own company, Huda Beauty.
Although the company that she’s built from a single blog into a multi-million-dollar empire bears her name, Kattan was loath to take the reins at first.
“I’ve been put in multiple boxes as blogging and as an influencer and not really perceived as a businesswoman, and that’s something that I’ve really had to grow into,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily plan initially to be the CEO of the company. This transition of being a woman and a breadwinner–it took some time for my dad to get used that. It took some time for my husband. I was like, gosh, I’ve worked so hard to be here, and then all of a sudden I don’t know if I feel comfortable being here.”
Kattan has been running her company for the past five years, supported by her two sisters Mona and Alya Kattan as global president and chief Instagram officer, respectively, and her husband, Chris Goncalo, as COO. Kattan says she’s still developing as a leader–a journey that’s at the center of her new Facebook Watch show, Huda Boss.
Born and raised in Tennessee to Iraqi parents, Kattan, 34, graduated from the University of Michigan–Dearborn and was struggling to find direction in her life. She had a degree in finance but didn’t have the passion to pursue a career in it. Her sister Mona convinced her to go to school to study makeup since it had always been a passion of hers. In 2010, two years after Kattan and Goncalo moved to Dubai, she started her blog Huda Beauty, which developed a considerable presence on social media and YouTube. By now, she’d started creating products of her own for fun, including false eyelashes, which Mona encouraged her to start selling. With a loan from Alya, Kattan launched her lashes in 2013 to a booming success. They sold out across Sephora Dubai and made waves stateside when Kim Kardashian wore a pair.
“I told my sister when I borrowed the $6,000 that if I don’t sell the lashes, I will use all of them and pay you for them eventually,” Kattan says. “And luckily, they sold really fast and it was successful. After that, we knew we had a lot of work to do.”
Huda Beauty has since upped its offerings to include foundations, concealers, lipsticks, eyeshadows, setting powders, highlighters, and brushes. In this year alone, Huda Beauty did more than $250 million in retail, with the goal of expanding beyond their Dubai headquarters to offices in the U.S. and the U.K.
“It’s so scary because this means I need to grow again to become the CEO who can manage offices across the world. I’ve been trying to prepare for all of this, but it’s really challenging,” Kattan says. “You don’t think about those things when you’re first starting. You’re just like, I’m going to figure out where to get this supplier, this manufacturer, and just put everything together. And if I have to package it myself, I will. We’re now selling millions of units on a monthly basis. As [the company] continues to grow, I find I’m a different person completely year on year.”
Part of those growing pains has meant making tough decisions–sometimes to the tune of $2 million.
One of the main arcs across the first two episodes of Huda Boss is a failed batch of Huda Beauty’s concealer. The orders had already been made when Kattan noticed how streaky the formula was and that it oxidized to an orange hue on her skin. Kattan had to choose between releasing the product to the market or eating her losses and starting over from scratch. She chose the latter.
“I got a lot of pushback,” she says. “It was me going against everyone, but I just didn’t feel it was right.”
The problem, Kattan says, was that even though her team had been trying the concealer for months, they were applying it lightly for a natural look, as opposed to full coverage, which is the Huda Beauty style.
“When I first got the concealer, I was like, I think it’s ok, but it needs work. I should have trusted myself,” Kattan says, making clear that she doesn’t blame her team, which she calls “phenomenal” and “beautiful,” in the slightest.
“This sounds really weird, but I feel like God has given me so many beauty dilemmas so I can help people,” she says. “[The concealer] didn’t cover enough. Our brand is known for full coverage. For me, it didn’t feel like a Huda Beauty brand. It felt like another brand. It wasn’t bad, but it felt like a more natural brand and our brand is not natural.”
Challenging as the $2-million mistake was, Kattan has no regrets because she says she’s not in the business for money.
“Don’t get me wrong. I’m so happy I have people around me who are motivated by money because they’ll make sure that we make money,” she says. “But if it was up to me, I just love giving away product. Anybody I meet, I’ll just give them product. You spread beauty. We’re always focused on that. That’s ultimately our goal.”
Whether or not that sounds too Pollyannaish to be true, Kattan is connecting with consumers. Her cult following on Instagram (26 million followers) and on YouTube (2.3 million subscribers) is a community of men and women who want to feel included in an industry that has been dictatorial in its beauty standards.
“It was always really important for us to make [makeup] more accessible. As a kid, I never felt attractive at all. For me I felt like I wasn’t a part of the conversation,” Kattan says. “I really want to make sure that the beauty industry is challenged. We are giving people better product. We’re making people feel beautiful. For so long, big corporations were disconnected from people. They told you how beauty was. I feel now it’s like everyone is beautiful and everyone has something unique about them. It’s such a great time for beauty.”
Kattan is open about her goal for Huda Beauty to be the No. 1 company in its class, but she doesn’t want to be at the top alone. Kattan says there are rumors floating around about private equity being pumped into other influencers to create a challenger to Huda Beauty.
“I’m flattered,” she says. “Hopefully the influencers that they grab will understand it’s not only about making money and they’ll actually have purpose and they’ll have a very clear idea of what they want to create because this is not a sprint. This is a marathon. This is not about just the next three years or four years. This is about how we come together to make the industry better in any way.
“We love competition, but not in a way where I’m trying to take people down,” she continues. “You’re going to make me better, but I’m going to beat you. And then you’ll come up and you’re going to be better and then I’m going to beat you again. You’re going to make me discover things about myself I never even knew. And I’m going to do the same to you. I’m excited to see all these new players.”