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We Lift Each Other Up

At American Express’s inaugural OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp event, Mally Beauty founder Mally Roncal shared her insights on the challenges and opportunities facing women entrepreneurs.
Managing Editor, OPEN Forum, American Express OPEN
October 16, 2013

Mally Roncal always thought she’d follow in her parents’ footsteps and become a doctor. But she knew deep down that she had a higher calling—and could help “heal” people in a different way. After years as a celebrity makeup artist, working with clients like Beyonce, Celine Dion, and other stars, she launched her own makeup line to help women feel beautiful and to teach them how to get there. Today, Mally Beauty’s cosmetics are sold in stores across the country and on the airwaves of QVC.

On September 20, Roncal took the stage at American Express’s inaugural OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp event, an initiative to empower and educate women entrepreneurs. With her characteristic energy and infectious enthusiasm, Mally shared highlights from her journey and talked about the importance of confidence and connections in creating her success. Afterwards, OPEN Forum sat down with Mally to dig deeper into her insights on business, beauty, and being a woman entrepreneur. 

Your first big risk as an entrepreneur was putting aside plans to become a doctor. What gave you the confidence to take the leap?

I had always wanted to be a doctor, because my parents were doctors and they were my heroes. I wanted to be a dermatologist specifically, to be honest, because I really wanted to start a makeup line. So I thought to myself, “Hey, why don’t I just quit, cut to the chase, and go for the makeup?” I just had to follow my passion; I had to follow my heart. As much as I loved the idea of being a doctor because I wanted to be so much like my parents, I couldn’t deny my love for beauty and fashion and just making women feel good. That was something I really wanted to do.

So on the fateful day I told my dad I was actually going to quit pre-med and be a makeup artist, it was a really, really special moment for me—because I expected him to be sort of angry and he absolutely was not. He said, “You have to follow your heart and follow your dream.” My mother had passed away that year, so we were very connected to the idea that you have to take every day as if it were your last. He said, “Follow your heart and just do it.” So I wasn’t afraid at all, because I had my father behind me.

Do you think there’s a connection between being a doctor and what you do now—in that you’re both helping people feel better?

Absolutely. It’s kind of a funny story. One time, I was home with my dad when I was working as a makeup artist, just starting out. We were watching TV and there was a story about people who were making all these strides to cure cancer, and I looked at my dad and said, “Well, that’s just great. Look at this, look what’s happening, look at you. You’re healing people’s bodies and minds—and I put mascara on people for a living.” And he looked at me and said, “Melissa!”—which is my real name—“Don’t ever let me hear you talk like that. Because when you are putting makeup on people, you are making them feel beautiful.” Which is, in a way, making them feel healed. On QVC, I have the luxury and the pleasure of being able to teach women how to do their makeup. Not just sell them makeup, but teach them how to use it, which is really where my passion is. I love educating.

Who inspires you?

My mother inspired me. She was diagnosed with cancer when I was two. They gave her six months to live—and she lived for 15 years. And I just watched how she lived every day as if it were her last, how she raised me, how she put everyone ahead of herself even though she was sick. But that said, she also took care of herself when she needed to, and treated every single person like they were a superstar. And from that, I learned everything about the way I treat people, the way I act, the way I live every single day, and how grateful I am.

What would you say is the mission of Mally Beauty?

Mally Beauty, product-wise, is all about high-performance, bulletproof makeup; makeup that won’t come off till you decide to take it off.  We as women need to be able to perform as hard as we do without having to worry, “Is my eyeliner traveling?”

But Mally Beauty as a company is—as an essence, as an energy—about inspiring, empowering and educating. It’s about having women, all of us, as a community—my “Mallynistas,” as I call them—to feel great about the way they look, make it easy for them to get there, and stay looking that way all day. And it’s just really about love. A whole lot of love.

How does your company stand out in such a crowded industry?

We always talk about our meaningful difference—always. That is the one thing. We don’t make a product that doesn’t have a meaningful difference. We don’t release a statement or do a social media post that doesn’t have a meaningful difference. Because, like you said, it’s very a crowded field. It has to come from my heart—everything that is said, everything that we present. It really speaks to my authority as a celebrity makeup artist. We can put out any kind of regular old lipstick, but if it doesn’t do what I needed it to do when I was knee-deep in the trenches as a makeup artist, then I won’t sell it. It has to perform the way I want it to perform.

How do you think social media has changed your business?

Oh my gosh, I’m so connected to the Mallynistas, to a fault. Sometimes, I will be literally posting at night from my bed and my husband’s like, “OK, time to go!” I can’t help it, because I am addicted to them. I love them. We really have a connection. I learn from them as much as they learn from me. And it really does give everyone out there an opportunity to learn to the nth degree. If I present something on QVC and then they tweet me and say, “OK, I get it, but how do I do X, Y, and Z?” I can answer them. So it’s made us closer, it’s made us stronger, and it’s made the community grow at super-quick speeds.

Why did you decide to be a part of the OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp event?

I was so honored and blessed to be here. First of all, I’m a girl’s girl, so anytime there’s a bunch of women in the room, I’m very, very happy to be here. Anytime that we can share and connect, I jump at the chance.

What have you seen here that’s inspired you?

Just all these powerful women and their stories. And everyone is so different, everyone looks different and comes from a different place. The only thing that’s not different is where everyone is going—and I think that’s so special.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a woman entrepreneur?

Oh boy. Well, number one, not only being a woman but being a happy woman. That’s the one thing, too. Business does not necessarily lend itself to a woman that has an effervescence or joy for life. I have a male business partner and I also have my husband, who’s my other partner.  We’ll go places, and even to this day, if we meet someone new—and I’m not saying it’s just men —they’ll look at Don and Phil and ask them questions. And I’ll be like, “Excuse me. Hello?” That is one of the biggest problems, I believe, the double standard. Again, I grew up with a mother who was a doctor. So for me, it was always very, very normal to have a woman in a strong position. And have a woman that is grateful and happy in a strong position. That is a challenge. But I believe we are fighting through that. We can be who we are and still be successful, and not have to always be that tough, angry woman to succeed.

What advantages do you think women business owners have?

Well, women tend to sort of gravitate toward other women, they understand other women. So, even though at times it can seem challenging—anytime I have a moment, I honestly just call one of my girls. And I do have a lot of women working with me, because I feel like it’s important. Especially as a cosmetics company—I do feel like we know it, we wear it, we feel it, and we’re the ones to talk to about it. I have my girls, and when I’m feeling down or when I’m feeling like I can’t do it or when I’m feeling like it’s too much, I just call one of these women and we lift each other up. And that’s a blessing beyond words.

You told the audience at the OPEN for Women: CEO BootCamp eventand they loved itthat, “You have to fake it until you make it.” Was there a specific point in time that you felt you had made it?

It’s a really good question. Because sometimes, you want to go both ways. You want to stay humble and you want to stay very, very focused. You always have to remember when you were struggling, just starting, and you had this hunger and you were just going for it; you always want to keep that as a part of who you are. But in the same breath, you want to smell the roses, you want to say, “Wow, I’ve come this far.” You want to stand on top of that mountain sometimes and look down and say, “Wow, look at what we did!” I have found, in this world, it’s hard to do that. Because we, as women, tend to be overachievers and we’re always pushing and we’re never satisfied and we always want more, more, more. So I am working on that.

For more on CEO BootCamp, visit openforum.com/ceobootcamp.

Photos from top: Landon Nordeman, Courtesy of Celebrity Headliners