Willa Doss is not your average teenager. With the help from her mother, Christy Prunier, she's launched a skincare and makeup company that goes beyond selling beauty products for teenage girls. Doss understood from the beginning of her startup venture that the greatest asset to her growing company was the girls behind it — and now she's giving them (alongside their mothers) the opportunity to build businesses, build real life skills and confidence, and even save for college.
Her passion for promoting adolescent entrepreneurship, coupled with her steadfast ambition to create products that make a difference, make her a girl to watch.
Check out her Q&A with MAKERS below and learn more about her mentors, what it takes to start a business of your own, and be inspired.
Q. What is willa, and how did the idea for the company come about?
A. willa (the brand) began years ago when I was just starting to become more aware of my role in protecting my skin. My mom, who had several skin cancers, didn’t want me to repeat her story, and really stressed the importance of healthy skin care. At the time though, there were only healthy products out there for adults or babies — none suited my needs as a growing girl who wanted to start taking ownership of her skin.
So, my mom and I decided to do something about it. We began having focus groups with girls and moms in order to pinpoint their needs, and once we had developed the idea a bit further, we started reaching out to various labs across the country which we had learned had similar ethics. Many of the chemists in these labs were moms, who really identified with our story and loved the idea. Flash forward several years, and we were being sold in stores like Target, J. Crew, Henri Bendel, and Harrods in London. But then we realized something — most of the products being sold were a result of girls telling their friends about the products, encouraging them to go buy it. We had this sort of epiphany, and saw that the girls were our best salespeople. This also came at a time when I was starting to ask my mom how I would be able to make money, because in today's world, most of the jobs my mom had when she was my age simply aren't available anymore. That’s when we got the idea to convert to a social selling model — girls would be able to have their own willa businesses, make their own money, and (my favorite part), gain life skills like confidence and public speaking. Score.
Q: Describe what makes a "willagirl."
A: A willagirl has her own willa business, and sells the products primarily through an app on her phone. She not only educates others on the importance of taking care of their skin, but also recruits other girls to become willagirls on her team, and trains and supports them — a willagirl is a leader. willagirls also make a percentage of whatever girls on their team make. In terms of personal traits, willagirls are aspirational, confident, kind, and embrace their individuality. willagirls rock.
Q: What are some challenges you've faced launching the company?
A: In the beginning, it was a little terrifying pulling out of the stores we were selling in and switching into the slightly uncharted territory of the social selling industry — there is a certain amount of legitimacy that comes from being in major retailers. But we had such confidence in the passion of the girls and moms who loved our products, and we knew that there was no better salesperson for the brand than them.
Q: Did you have any mentors who helped guide you in the process?
A: Yes, my mom has been an amazing mentor to me and we have also been lucky to have other willa friends and mentors with diverse sets of experience that have helped guide us through this process.
Q: What advice would you give someone looking to start his or her own business?
A: Go for it, head on. Right now, I feel like younger people are often being told to wait until they’re older to make a change. We have so much potential, so many great ideas, and we shouldn't hold ourselves back because we think we need to be older in order to do anything meaningful.
Listening is also so, so important. Every decision we have made regarding the brand is a result of listening to the girls and moms. Every time we develop a new product, we host a ton of focus groups where we try to understand exactly what they want in their products. We didn't just sit back and relax once our products were in stores — we really observed how willa was being sold and were constantly looking for ways to improve ourselves. We pulled out of stores when we noticed and listened to the girls and realized that they were our best salespeople, and that many other girls and moms shared my need for a job. We gave our willagirls credit cards when they told us that carrying change all the time is annoying, and it's difficult to manage your own money. We teamed up with GiveBack so that willagirls could allocate their earnings into charities they feel passionate about, and created a system in which they can also invest in their own 529 college account, because we want every girl to have the opportunity to go to college if they choose.
The takeaway: start now, pay attention, change is good, and listen.
Q: What’s the number one mistake you think girls are making when it comes to their skincare and makeup routine?
A: I think girls often believe that it is better to pile on as much makeup as possible to create the look they want, when usually it can be achieved with only a few products — or even better, wearing no makeup.
Q: What's one product you never leave home without?
A: Our face the day SPF seriously rocks. It's my dream product. I was tired of my mom always nagging me to wear sunscreen that was always sticky and made my face look like a ghost. Seriously — do you know a lot of teen girls who genuinely enjoy putting on sunscreen? We wanted to create a product that girls actually wanted to use.
Q: So far, what’s been the most rewarding part of being behind the creation of willa?
A: The most rewarding part has been seeing how willa has helped girls become leaders and feel great about themselves. Definitely. We had a group of around 50 willagirls who originally helped us work on the new model. There was this one girl who was really shy when we first started- she would stare at the floor when she spoke, and was generally pretty quiet. I’ve been lucky enough to see how she has grown by becoming a willagirl and joining the community- it’s amazing. She is now one of our top sellers and is so confident in herself. That’s the kind of thing which makes it all worth it.
Q: Aside from empowering girls to feel more confident in their skin with beauty products, what do you hope will ultimately accomplishes as it grows and develops in the years to come?
I hope that willa will be able to spread worldwide, and that girls will put they are "willagirls" on their resume, knowing that whoever sees it will know that this girl is a go-getter, is dependable, follows through, and is kind.