Small business owner lands in Ulta Beauty stores thanks to TikTok – Business Insider

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Austin-based Aliyah Marandiz, the 27-year-old founder and CEO of Sugardoh. It has been edited for length and clarity.
I never planned to be in business. I studied sociology at Santa Clara University because I’m fascinated by people’s behavior and I come from a multicultural background. But never in a hundred years did I see myself building and owning a company.
In my first job after graduating, I worked as a marketer for emerging tech companies in the Bay Area and learned how to translate complex information into messages people could absorb and enjoy. Eventually, that became the basis of Sugardoh — educating people about sugar wax and how to use it safely for hair removal.
In the world of hair removal, a lot of people say they’re scared to wax themselves at home because they’ve had bad experiences.
While debating my options for waxing as a college student in 2016, I found sugar wax, basically the number one do-it-yourself hair removal option on social media. I tried it and it was the first time my skin wasn’t irritated – it felt exfoliated and smooth.
I also realized that sugar wax was more sustainable than other options. Yet, I didn’t see it in stores – you had to make it at home using sugar and lemon juice. I asked myself, “where is the innovation in this space?”
Over the next four or five years, it was the only hair removal product I made, and in 2020, I sent samples to 50 friends and family for feedback. That year, I founded Sugardoh in the summer while still working as a freelance marketer. I was running my business out of my garage, and sales were slow.
Then, a viral TikTok video in November 2020 changed that. That’s when it all ignited. There was viral video after viral video, and sales flooded in. It helped that people weren’t really going to waxing salons at the height of the pandemic, so this was an at-home option.
By August 2022, Sugardoh was on shelves in hundreds of Ulta stores across the US, and we did it without investors thanks to our success on social media.
A lot of people think working with a retailer just means increasing the business you already have, but it’s not like that at all. It’s like learning a new language, and your business operations have to be really solid.
I wasn’t a business major in school. Sugardoh helped me realize I was good at it, but there was still a lot I needed to learn, including supply chain details, and demand and financial planning.
It was very chaotic because the process of getting onto Ulta’s shelves moved quickly. There were so many supply chain issues that it was just all hands on deck in the six months before the August launch. There were various points when we didn’t think we’d make it.
It’s different than selling online because we can’t just tell our customers we’re out of stock, we’re expected to keep stock in stores or we lose money. It’s a partnership, so your goals have to be super aligned.
I connected with a buyer from Ulta’s emerging brands division through my network in the Target Accelerator Program, which helps prepare businesses that Target believes in for mass retail, in 2021.
The Ulta buyer fell in love with my pitch. They were so excited Sugardoh was resonating on TikTok, so I knew it was going to be a great partnership.
Buyers have people pitching at them left and right. You have one chance, and it takes a lot to get a second conversation if you fail the first time. Through social media, I was hearing about customers’ experiences with hair removal, so I used that to educate buyers on what I was seeing.
I know there’s a possibility of a TikTok ban, but I’m not worried. People love to engage with short-form videos, so if it’s somewhere other than TikTok, then I’m excited to grow our audience there.
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