Entrepreneur of the Week: How Lulu Liang, CEO of Luxy Hair, Got Promoted from Assistant to CEO at 26
Many parts of Lulu Liang’s life are typical to the experience of people of colour and families that immigrate to Canada. Unique to Liang, is her ability to use lived experiences to reinvent and redirect her career in her pursuit of authentic happiness. Now at age 26, Liang is the CEO of luxury hair company, Luxy Hair, and is just getting started.
Growing up in China she declares herself a ‘stereotypical Asian nerd’. Education was highly valued in her family, and reflected in her ability to memorize her multiplication table to 12 by the time she was six.
From there she had it all figured out. After immigrating to Canada with her family, Liang set her sights naturally high achieving each premeditated level of success she intended to. After attending Queen’s University her dream of working her way up to become an executive at a fashion house began. While working her first job out of University, Liang realized her dream was not all what she expected it to be.
“It became clear early on that I was miserable in that role. I disliked the obvious ways that consulting was more about the politics than the value or connections you made,” said Liang, “For the first time in my life, I felt completely lost. It was hard to have worked towards a North Star, only to find out how unhappy it made you.”
In the middle of a life crisis and in search of a new project she could put her passion behind, Liang found Luxy Hair and its co-founders Mimi and Alex Ikonn. Going with her gut, Liang quit her job, took a significant pay cut and demoted herself from a managing consultant to an Operations Assistant at Luxy Hair. “I had immense belief in myself that it didn’t matter what my title was nor how much I was making, I would go in and prove my worth,” said Liang.
A pivotal moment in Liang’s career, the leap of faith exposed her to the fulfilling role she had always craved.
“I acted like the CEO of the business and treated the business like it was my own. That was four years ago,” said Liang, “Fast forward to now, I have grown the team from two to 20, quadrupled the revenue of an already significant multi-million dollar business, led the successful sale of the business, and currently remain as CEO leading the growth of the brand.”
Despite the growth of Luxy Hair and the milestones she was able to carry the brand through, in 2018 Liang continued to struggle with mental wellness, feeling of purpose and what could be next in her career. Out of that uncertainty, another venture was born, The Habit Journal.
For this week’s Entrepreneur of the Week Spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with LuLu Liang about her journey with Luxy Hair, her newest venture The Habit Journal, and how her learned life experiences have chartered her unconventional path.
Q & A
Not only are you the CEO of a multinational million dollar company, but you have achieved all of this before the age of 30. As a young entrepreneur how have you been navigating the current pandemic? How have you been leading your team?
The first couple of weeks of the pandemic were super hard. Business was down, we were worried about cash and had to make some budget adjustments. Ben Horowitz coined Peacetime vs. Wartime CEOs and it was definitely the time to step up and be a Wartime CEO. Leadership is always important and especially when times are hard.
My team has been absolutely fantastic throughout this and we’ve bounced back strong and hard. I’m obsessed with Trello and have developed a specific way to use it. It has made the team super efficient, eliminated internal back and forth emails, and kept everyone accountable. This made the transition from in-office to work from home seamless.
Our sales and morale is at an all time high. We’ve really focused on content, product launches and being fast and adaptable when it comes to our marketing calendar.
My leadership style has always been to lead with transparency and authenticity and that has helped us during this time. We also have weekly gratitude calls where we share what we’re thankful for.
Luxy as a brand has pulled the attraction of some major names in entertainment. What is most essential when building a brand and how important has social media and collaboration been in doing so?
Content plays a big part in our brand strategy. We invest in content and ensure that it is always relevant, high quality, value-driven and consistent.
Social media and partnerships have always been a big part of our marketing strategy. We are the largest CPG channel on YouTube with more than three million followers and over half a billion views. For the first couple of years of the business, we grew completely organically just through YouTube. We currently have a large presence across all social channels beyond YouTube including 600K+ followers on Instagram, 300K+ followers on Facebook, 500K+ monthly visitors to our blog, and over 10 million impressions per month on Pinterest.
Tell me about your newest venture and what inspired the product?
2018 looked like a great year for me. I got engaged, promoted, had lots of amazing travel plans, and finally closed on the sale of Luxy Hair. I achieved so much of the stuff I had been working hard for, but truthfully, on the inside, I was experiencing my own reality of anxiety, burnout and depression. What was the point of setting and achieving all these goals if I wasn’t feeling good moment to moment? Why wasn’t I happy when there was so much to be grateful for?
That’s when I realized that your life is not defined by your highlights. These moments may make up a couple of days, but your life is defined by everything in between; it’s truly about the journey and not the destination. Your ideal life is driven by your ideal day and that is made up of your habits.
This realization gave birth to the Habit Journal which is the the first product launch of my company, Evergreen Journals. With Evergreen, we are on a mission to help you live intentionally and unplug to recharge.
Did you know that habits drive 40-95 percent of your life? For that amount of time, your brain is on autopilot and you are doing things unconsciously.
My best friend Allie Mastoras and I became fascinated behind the science of habits – how do you become self aware and scientifically build habits that last? After years of research, self trial and curating the best of the best systems, we put everything we learned into The Habit Journal. The Habit Journal is a beautiful designed guided journal made in Germany that helps you build lasting habits and live with intention.
I’ve used this method personally myself for years and it’s honestly made me happier and more intentional. We’re very excited to share this with the world as it has been so helpful for us. Especially now, we could all use a little more routine and structure in our days.
Named in Canada’s top 50 Best Places to work, as a leader, what is most important for you when managing a workplace culture and the morale of employees?
To me, the most important thing in culture is core values. It’s so important to define your core values as a company. Culture is core values which is how you solve problems and make decisions rather than free lunches, socials and off-sites (even though we have this too).
We are a very values driven company in the sense that we hire, fire and promote by core values. It’s much easier to teach someone Excel than it is to teach someone how to take ownership and be solution-oriented.
Many young business owners or professionals find it difficult to assert themselves or evolve from feelings of imposter syndrome. How have you learned to stand firmly in your ideas and expertise in your career?
For me personally, confidence has built over time as I’ve achieved “success”. However, I definitely still have feelings of imposter syndrome from time to time. This is natural in humans. I mean, if even Michelle Obama has imposter syndrome, who wouldn’t?
This is a deep rooted human belief of “I am not enough” which usually traces back to childhood. There are many ways to work on this including various self love practices, affirmations, hypnotherapy etc. But it is a lifelong journey.
I believe this is a key differentiator for entrepreneurs. You need to have utmost belief in your business and yourself to persevere through all the challenges and “no’s” to success.
What do you feel has been a pivotal moment in your life that has changed your trajectory?
Getting the courage to leave my corporate job to join a small company/startup like Luxy Hair was definitely a pivotal moment. Nothing in life comes easy and the greater the risk, the greater the reward.
How do you define the integrator vs. the visionary partnership in business leaders and what is the essential difference between the two?
This is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about and very close to my heart. Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman is an absolute must read. The integrator and visionary concept is the belief that if you have a leader in both of these roles, it’ll be the most optimal mix of leadership for your business.
A visionary is someone who is inspirational, strategic and creative who usually focuses on long term vision/strategy, key relationships, sales, marketing and culture. They are usually the owner and take on the title of CEO or founder in a business. They are typically not very organized and get bored easily.
An integrator is someone who is highly operational, organized and a great manager who usually focuses on managing the leadership team, owns the P&L and the day-to-day operations. They usually take on the title of COO, General Manager or President.
At Luxy Hair, the founder Alex was the Visionary and I was the Integrator. Since we sold the business and the founders completely exited the business I’ve taken on the role of both the Visionary and Integrator.
I struggled with this concept a lot as I found myself “stuck” in my Integrator role. The Integrator role is so much work while the Visionary role is a lot more high level and less involved. However, since acting in the Visionary role for Luxy Hair for the past 1.5 years and being the Co-Founder of my own business, I strongly believe that you can absolutely do both roles. To my fellow Integrators out there, don’t get discouraged in the limiting belief that you can’t be a Visionary. You can be whatever you set your mind to.
What advice would you give to other women in business who are working to overcome adversity?
Believe in yourself, take 100% responsibility for your actions, let go of what you can’t control and everything will be okay.
Be humble and a student of life. Books have helped me a lot in building the mindset I have today. The Success Principles is my favourite self growth book of all time and I can’t recommend it enough.
What is the greatest lesson your career has taught you?
Focus on what your actions and what you can control and let go of what you can’t. I used to think success in business came from hard work, but it’s definitely a combination of both hard work and luck. Define your goals and work towards them, but be humble and grateful for all the achievements, big and small. This balance of drive and acceptance is the ultimate key to happiness.