Priscilla Tsai cocokind

Entrepreneur Profile: Priscilla Tsai, founder & owner of cocokind

Certified organic products were something the natural skincare aisle was lacking until Priscilla Tsai, founder of cocokind, decided to do something about it. After leaving her job on Wall Street, she followed her passion and created a line of skincare products that are clean, high quality, effective and most importantly, USDA Certified Organic.

What was the inspiration for your business? What inspires you daily?

I created cocokind because I wanted to provide a skincare line that was not just “free-from” harsh chemicals, but “full-of” pure, nutritious, and organic ingredients. Through a lot of discovery and trial, I found that organic ingredients such as virgin coconut oil, virgin avocado oil and pure rose hydrosol were the most gentle and effective method to treat my skin. I produced some amazing blends and I knew that at a reasonable price point (sub $20), I was creating something that was currently missing from the grocery shelves. I used ingredients that are individually good for you, and when I found a blend that was effective, I stopped there. I refused to add anything else since I have extreme conviction about each of the 13 ingredients in my line.

I’ve been inspired by the organic industry for a long time. I’ve watched several new companies develop, mature, and solve problems for shoppers looking to eat or consume more healthily. Even more inspiring, this industry really cares about helping other people, and I have always wanted to create a product that gives back and inspires others to do so as well.

What’s been your road to success and critical success factors along the way?

We’ve knocked on doors, put one foot in front of the other, and been really involved in the nitty gritty of the business. Of course, we started with our home region (Northern California) and we visited retailer after retailer. Once we got in a store, we put a huge emphasis on doing in-store demos. I’ve demoed almost every weekend for the past six months—we all do it! 

The key thing is finding great retail partners, such as the team members at Whole Foods who are passionate about cocokind and express this to their shoppers. I emphasize staff education, and I view the people at every store as an extension of the cocokind family.

We also listen to our shoppers. We take the time to read every comment on our social media channels and every email because we really care. We listen to both the good feedback and the constructive criticism, and we adapt accordingly. I am a firm stickler about a couple things about our products and brand—and I don’t change my view on these core characteristics. However, in terms of other things, we are always listening to our consumers and figuring out how we can be better. I don’t think our products will ever stop getting better, whether it is becoming more sustainable, more functional or more fair trade. There’s a lot of room to improve which we view less as a challenge and more as an opportunity to increasingly give shoppers what they are looking for. 

What inspired your decision to become USDA Certified Organic and how did you know this was the right move for cocoKind?

I knew from the very beginning that we weren’t going to launch our product until we were certified organic. It was as big of a deal to me as any part of the product development phase. There are a lot of products that tout organic in the personal care products space. I wanted to make sure our consumers knew that we were organic and that our products have integrity.

Being certified organic is more expensive, more work, more time, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s like a symbol of trust between cocokind and our vendors and shoppers because the certification lets people know that we use high quality ingredients. 

Describe a mistake you made with your business. How did you fix it?

In our initial launch, we had a lip balm that used crushed organic hibiscus powder to provide a nice tinted color. The problem is that hibiscus powder is actually pretty coarse, and in our product development phase, I was spending a ton of time crushing the powder so it could dissolve more easily. Sometimes it worked (and it really was an amazing product), but sometimes it didn’t work at all. We still released this product to our initial round of retailers. This was a mistake, as we found out that it was nearly impossible to consistently create the same color or texture. We then had to tell our first retailers that we were pulling the product, which didn’t look great.

The lesson here is: don’t commit to something that you can’t confidently do well over the long-term. I hate that we put something out there that we couldn’t deliver on, but we learned from the experience.

What’s your best piece of advice for fellow entrepreneurs? 

  1. Ask for help and say “thank you.” I’ve had a few really amazing, done-it-before entrepreneurs in the natural/organic space help me out. I don’t bombard them with emails and day-to-day questions, but I do ask for their opinions when it is crucial to receive a second or third opinion, especially from someone who has done it before. Then I always say “thank you,” repeatedly.
  2. Don’t be afraid to start small. It’s ok to dream big, but when it comes down to actions, it’s all about setting small, focused goals. If you dream big and try to act big, things can get overwhelming pretty fast. Set very frequent, measurable, smaller goals for yourself, and then constantly make new goals.
  3. No idea is a great idea without action behind it. It doesn’t matter how great an idea is without someone behind it who can put one foot in front of the other. Alternatively, maybe you have an idea that sounds boring, but if you can act creatively to bring that idea to life, you can bring the “innovative” quality to the equation. 
  4. Have (emotional) support from your family. I sounded a little crazy when I told my parents at the age of 25 that I was leaving a nice paying job in finance to start my own organic company. After a round (or two) of questions, I received their full support. You need to believe in yourself, but it’s a really good thing when the people closest to you believe in you too. 

Where are you going? What is the vision for your business?

We want to help grow the certified organic skincare category so that it is considered the norm, not the exception. This means that cleaner personal care products have to dominate not only organic supermarket shelves, but also those of conventional grocers too.

I want to continue to build a team of people at cocokind that enjoy creating something together and are always proud of what we are doing.  Of course, we want to increase our work with non-profits and be able to see firsthand the difference we are making.  My dream would be to take my team somewhere and be able to present a month’s worth of food and/or lifetime supply of books to a town in a third world country.

How did you land your first retail account?

We walked in, gave our pitch, and walked out with cash for our first order. It was the definition of “door to door.” They definitely did not know they were our first store… 

Has anything surprised you about working with independent retailers?

Our independent retailers are very supportive of us. Our friends there bring a lot of passion about cocokind to the table when they are recommending products to their shoppers. That’s a pretty amazing way to build a brand.

How do you position your products in mass, natural and online?

Pretty simple—we are a certified organic skincare line with extremely clean, nutritious, and simple ingredients. Our price points are affordable—our best seller is $12.99 and our most expensive item is $16.99. This message hits home with most consumers these days, regardless of where they are shopping. 

How do you develop relationships with retailers and educate them about your company’s story?

We put ourselves out there. We learned early on that as a new brand, we need to tell our story to retailers and customers. Our company’s story is all about our personal experiences and personal goals for cocokind, so it’s our responsibility to share this when we first develop a relationship. 

What helped market your product in the beginning?

Our partners in stores who love our products and aren’t shy to tell their shoppers about us. 

What’s a guilty pleasure of yours?

Where to start? TV, chocolate, peanut butter, chocolate + peanut butter together, TV + chocolate + peanut butter all together? Doesn’t happen often, but when it does…

What's the inside scoop on yourself? 

I have no middle name. When your parents decide to name you Priscilla, they call it a day.

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