Exclusive Q&A With Toni Ko, Founder and CEO of PERVERSE Sunglasses

Toni Ko first moved to America at 13 years old without speaking a word of English. Soon after, she built her empire with NYX Cosmetics by noticing that there was a gap in the market for quality makeup at a drugstore price. Making 4 million dollars alone in retail sales that year, Ko went on to become recognized as America's Richest Self-Made Woman by Forbes in 2016. Ko sold the brand to L'Oréal in 2014 at a valued 500 million dollars. She then went on to pursue the next thing: sunglasses. 

Now founder of PERVERSE Sunglasses, she considers herself a serial entrepreneur. Her goal is to sell three businesses. 

MAKERS caught up with Ko in an exclusive Q&A.

Q: You're about making BOLD statements. Define what it means to #BEBOLD and how are you bold in your everyday life?

A: To me, being bold is not being afraid of the unknown. This is especially important for an entrepreneur because every tomorrow is unknown, and you must be ready to jump into the fire without fear of making mistakes.

Q: What is your best advice to young entrepreneurs? 

A: It’s important that young entrepreneurs realize that giving 100 percent is not enough. You must be ready to give 110 percent, and then some, all of the time. When you are passionate and truly love your project, giving it your all does not feel like work, but more like a joyful life journey.

Q: How did it feel to walk away and sell NYX to L’Oréal?

A: Letting go of NYX was an emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions. I felt joyous, sad, miserable, defeated, triumphant, happy, then back to feeling miserable, defeated, etc. over and over again. But, I can now look back and understand why I went through that cycle. NYX Cosmetics was my entire life for over 15 years, and I felt hollow once that transaction was completed. It felt as if I had lost my sense of identity and purpose in life. I found comfort in discovering that many other entrepreneurs experienced the same emotions as I did, and it’s important for entrepreneurs to prepare themselves for the emotional aftermath of their departure.

Q: You’ve already had one giant success, NYX, and PERVERSE is on track to be as successful. What is your secret to driving success? 

A: Working my tail off. Literally!  I am not intimidated by hard work. I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and hit the ground running at any given moment.

Q: What is your take on leadership and teamwork? 

A: Above all else, lead by example. It’s the leader’s job to set the tone of the company, and your team will follow in suit. I have always enforced an open-door policy and encourage my team to participate and offer ideas. Open communication and company bonding go hand in hand, and you must always remember to show your team how much you appreciate them and their hard work.

Q: What / who was your biggest inspiration? 

A: My mom has always been my biggest inspiration. She immigrated to the United States in her mid-40s without speaking a lick of English, with three teenage kids in tow, and only a few dollars to her name, and now she’s built an empire. Back then, the only thing she had was her willingness to work hard and her honesty. My mom is proof that these two principles are essential to building a successful life and business.

Q: What is something you wish you knew before you approached these industries, before you started out? 

A: Above all else, I wish I had better understood consumer behavior. Consumer behavior is unique to each industry, and I quickly learned that consumers are even more emotional about sunglasses than make-up. I have found that many people are very shy about trying on sunglasses, and approach it in a very similar way to trying on a swimsuit. The majority of consumers have a pre-conceived notion that a certain style does not look good on their face and then don’t even want to try a particular shape on, but when they finally do there’s a wow-factor and they are surprised by how good they look. I want to encourage consumers to try on as many styles as they like and feel comfortable doing so.  Have fun with it!

Q: First makeup, now sunglasses — can we expect something to come after sunglasses?

A: I wish I knew, but I surprise myself all of the time! Before I started PERVERSE Sunglasses, even just two months prior, I had ZERO idea that I would be in the sunglass business today.

Q: What’s something no one knows about you? 

A: Most people don't know that I am extremely shy and an introvert. As much as I wish I were a social butterfly, I’m actually a wallflower.

Q: What’s the one makeup item you can’t go without and what’s your go-to brand?

A: Eyebrow pencils!! I am the victim of the 1990’s over-plucking trend. My eyebrows never grew back properly, and I seriously cannot live without eyebrow products.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Toni Ko