Issa Rae and Hannah Diop share the motto: “When you know better, you do better.” That’s exactly why their cosmetics brand, Sienna Naturals, is focused on providing their customers with clean, vegan textured hair care that’s healthy and environmentally friendly. The duo officially partnered together to become co-owners of the company in late 2020. Diop, who founded the company in 2012, has maintained a deep commitment to providing clean ingredients to customers, and to making products that work. Rae, who would frequent Diop’s home when in New York, would test various products and act as a focus group to understand customer needs and the effectiveness of the products.
In a recent live Office Hours with host Suneel Gupta, the co-owners of Sienna Naturals described their journey in the cosmetics industry and how they navigated partnering in business with a friend. In a bonus Q&A, they revealed their work routines and some organizational tips that keep their business growing.
Workspace & Routine
Assuming that you’ve spent more time than usual at home this year…
Do you have a workspace or office at home? Tell us about it. Did you have this space before the pandemic?
Issa: I've always had a home office, but I never fully decorated it. Luckily, we were building our HOORAE headquarters during the pandemic. Once my headquarters office was furnished, I couldn't wait to start working out of there. What a difference it made.
Hannah: I do have a home office, fortunately. Although, this wasn’t the case at the start of the pandemic in Spring of 2020. My husband took over the in-law suite, so I had to get creative. I quickly emergency-converted my daughter’s bedroom into an office for a period of time, and was working from a rocking chair for a while, before my desk arrived.
If you had a choice, would you prefer to work from home, or do you enjoy working among others in an office space?
Issa: I absolutely love working in an office space for business work, but for writing, I need to be in a new space that's not my own.
Hannah: I really enjoy being with people. On the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, I’m on the extreme end of extrovert, which means I get inspiration and energy from being around people. In Los Angeles, we now have a small office space that myself and some of our local team members can work from. This has made a huge difference in my productivity and happiness. That being said, I recognize that not everyone is able to do this, so I have worked to create a culture where we can all work in a style that is most productive and rewarding. Our day-to-day team spans three different time zones and so we have to be thoughtful about when we schedule meetings and manage working hours.
What bad work habits (if any) are you guilty of & how have you overcome them?
Issa: Procrastination. I overcome it by succumbing to it for a half day or a full day, and then I'm a work machine after that. I'm also always thinking about work, which I think is a terrible habit, so I've been trying to set aside hours that are focused on other things.
Hannah: I think there are areas of the business where I get energy and naturally have a passion for - that I could do morning, noon and night - like product development. Then there are areas that are not really that for me, like demand planning and logistics. But as the CEO, I need to be on top of all tasks and make sure I still understand what’s going on.
I think I overcame this in two ways: 1. Where I have the luxury, I bring on talent that naturally is energized about those areas of the business, and then 2. I force myself to understand the key metrics for that area. This way, I can get a quick read on the health of that particular part of the company without having to go deep.
Do you thrive in hyper-organized work environments, or do you prefer being more spontaneous?
Issa: Both. I love structure and I love organized spontaneity.
Hannah: I prefer to be organized, but I don’t like to be too rigid. I believe hyper organization can cause micro-management and create inefficiencies that really kill a team’s motivation. I prefer to make sure the organization is structured in a sound way, and to try to get everyone’s roles and responsibilities clear, then give my team autonomy to make things happen. We are a small team, so everyone’s input and output are critical to the business. The market and environment around our business is constantly evolving so we have built in processes to keep us on track, but try and have enough flexibility to pivot or take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
Time & Organization
How do you approach time management for a workday? Is it one solid block of time that’s over at 6p.m.? Or is a workday a few blocks of scheduled tasks with personal time interspersed?
Issa: I like to have blocks of time dedicated to back-to-back work. I hate when my schedule is too spaced out. It makes the day feel longer. At most I'll schedule time to eat between chunks of meetings.
Hannah: I prefer to have a consistent schedule during the week so I know exactly how much working time I will have every day. As the CEO, my 9-4ish hours are dominated by meetings, so I need to block hours in the evening to actually think and get “my” work done. I am not productive late at night and need my sleep, so I try to block longer workday hours and stay in the office for that time.
What are three things you do to gear up for your workday?
Issa: Walk or exercise in the morning, journal before my day starts, eat an amazing breakfast (or have an almond milk latte at minimum).
Hannah: 1. Enjoy coffee - oat milk lattes can gear me up for almost anything. 2. Workout - 30 min with strength and cardio mixed in does wonders for my energy. 3. Set my intentions for the day.
What’s one thing that motivates you to get to work?
Issa: Everything. I love it. But if you're making me choose one thing, it's achieving a daily accomplishment.
Hannah: Our customers. Hearing reviews of how Sienna Naturals has impacted someone’s life in a positive way fuels me and makes me so grateful to be able to build this company every day
Can you name a few ways that you keep yourself organized during the day—an app, a planner, a physical to-do list?
Issa: My calendar is my work bible and I'm very meticulous about it. My journal also includes my to-do list. Lastly, the e-mails I leave in my inbox are also an extended to do list.
Hannah: All of the above. I have a physical calendar that I use to write higher level goals for the month/week, then I have my whiteboard where I keep an exhaustive list of everything I need to get done on a granular level. On top of this we keep project plans in a software system.
How do (or don’t) you separate business tasks from personal ones?
Issa: Personal tasks are color coded on my calendar and usually reserved for early mornings or evenings. Or weekends.
Hannah: My business takes up so much of my day that I try to carve out time and prioritize some personal tasks as well. My husband is also very busy with work, so we usually have 3-4 text message exchanges or brief phone calls to check-in throughout the day and they’re usually related to what needs to get done on the home front. I used to try and save personal tasks for the weekend, but then I just spent my entire weekend working for the household and that is not the point of a weekend - so now I’ve adjusted.
Many business entrepreneurs say hard work and luck are the main ingredients for success. Can you tell us about a time when things didn’t go your way, and how you responded?
Issa: Could not agree more with that statement. I remember wanting a project to be greenlit in the window that I wanted (desperately needed) it to be, for validation and for financial reasons. When I found out it wasn't going to happen, I walked away from everyone, to a secluded corner, cried, vented to a family member and then went back inside and came up with an alternate plan to figure things out. When things don't go my way, I rarely react in the moment. And if I do, I tend to regret it. I usually take time to process it, be mad, go off in my own space and vent, and then try to find solutions and/or a Plan B.
Hannah: I remember really wanting to get into big retail from the onset of Sienna Naturals. I approached many retailers and was well down the path to launch in a national lifestyle store at one point. I was so excited - I updated my manufacturing processes, updated packaging and really invested a lot to get ready to expand. In the end, that retailer ended up falling through at the last minute and it gutted me for a while. However, fast forward to now, we have expanded the business on our dotcom, and moved into omnichannel at the right time, and I think we are in a much stronger position because of it. We understand our core customers and have relationships with them. Failure is inevitable with entrepreneurship, but I believe where there is a painful lesson, a blessing usually follows.
Are you a goal-setter, and if so, what are some goals you’ve set for yourself lately?
Issa: Yes. To make a movie that I've written. To open a lounge in my neighborhood. To get more directly involved in my community.
Hannah: I love to set goals and create vision boards. Another thing I like to do is try and take stock of where I am periodically against my goals, adjust and recalibrate. I would love to continue growing and expanding Sienna Naturals into the products and channels where our customers expect us and/or would be delighted for us to be.
Just for Fun: If My Phone Could Talk…
So much of our lives—business and personal—are administered through our phones. Please tell us…
- the last thing you looked at last night (e.g., email, texts, news, etc.).
- Issa: A text from a friend showing me that people have been asking why he hasn't been on Insecure yet.
- Hannah: First two episodes of the Naomi Osaka documentary on Netflix 13. the First thing you looked at this morning.
- the first thing you looked at this morning.
- Issa: My alarm, to hit that nine-minute snooze seven times (I am adjusting to jet lag).
- Hannah: Work calendar, then Instagram.
- something you recently listened to (e.g., podcast, music)
- Issa: Twelve'len's new album.
- Hannah: Cleo Sol’s new album, Mother. It’s so beautiful and touches on all the feels of becoming a mom.
- a call you recently had lasting more than five minutes.
- Issa: Catching up with a friend to bail on his birthday festivities so I could focus on work.
- Hannah: One of my best mom-friends from the kids’ school, talking at-home COVID testing, after-school sports planning, and confirming a beach playdate.
This interview is part of Office Hours, a series that connects you with entrepreneurs and experts and tips for running and growing a business right now. Find other can’t-miss conversations by visiting our Events page.