She likes glamour. She’s always surrounded by mirrors. She constantly has makeup and hair accessories nearby. But don’t let that fool you. She’s a fiercely dedicated and successful entrepreneur.
Meet Maxine Tatlonghari, the mastermind behind Vanity Girl. The Hollywood-based brand produces gorgeous Broadway-esque vanity makeup desks and tabletop mirrors. The vanities have been featured in countless publications, blogs and TV spots and are used by the likes of the Kardashian clan, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Love Hewitt.
I had the fortunate experience of hearing her guest lecture last year at my UCLA Extension Social Media class. I remember thinking that her story was inspirational, motivational, but most of all – relatable. Like all of my dreams could be within reach and I too could conquer the world if I worked at it.
What I admired most about Maxine was how she built the company from the ground up, boot-strapper-style, and surrounded herself with great people. She took a risk and brought her idea to life. She leveraged the power of social media to her advantage and seized every opportunity that arose.
Maxine graciously took time out of her schedule to give us a peek inside her Vanity Girl world!
When did you start Vanity Girl?
February of 2009.
What inspired you to start Vanity Girl?
I was laid off from my fundraising job at American Cancer Society, and took myself to a “cheer up spa day” at Burke Williams on Sunset Blvd. As I sat in their vanity area getting ready, I loved the Hollywood luxury feeling of sitting down and brushing my hair out in beautiful lighting. I thought other women wanted to feel that way too – and voila! Literally a light bulb went off in my head and the idea for Vanity Girl was born.
Once you had the idea, how did you go about launching the company?
I sketched it out on the back of a napkin and took it to someone I knew in manufacturing. He said, “I can make that, if you can market it.” I am a PR and development girl in my soul – so I knew I could do it. Especially if the idea was my baby, I knew I would work on it tirelessly and that it would be fun. I can’t lie though…I was really scared. There really wasn’t a market category for a vanity mirror of this size for the everyday girl…and we were in a recession. I definitely had naysayers! But I just knew in my heart that there were other girls out there like me who wanted to feel glamorous everyday, in that little moment before you face the world. I knew I had a community. I just had to find them and vice versa.
Every girl deserves a Backstage Moment.
Had you run your own business before?
I freelanced a couple of times in the PR world, but nothing like this.
How has social media helped Vanity Girl?
OMG. How hasn’t it? I really think as an online company, social media has been a CORNERSTONE of building the Vanity Girl brand. The Beauty Blogger and YouTube guru were AS important to us as traditional media. Kandee Johnson was the first blogger to put on us on the cult beauty map.
Creating my own content on Vanity Girl TV and on our blogs ensured our story could be told. But even more than that, I like to showcase our girls. The Vanity Girl community is such a blessing to me, and when I get the pictures on Instagram or a video on YouTube, it’s like Christmas for me. To be a part of their vanity rooms, and to be a part of what makes them feel special and glamorous is beyond amazing. I’ve also been lucky enough to work with quite a few celebrities, and the one who had the biggest impact for us is a total social media-lite herself – Kim Kardashian. So in short, social media has been super important to our brand.
(Click here to listen to Maxine being interviewed by Social Media thought leader, and my former UCLA instructor, Beverly Macy!)
Being an entrepreneur certainly comes with its fair share of challenges. What are some challenges that you’ve faced, and how do you overcome those?
Hmmm, in the early days, things like spending a lot of money on our first website that didn’t convert (OUCH!) to making sure the mirrors didn’t break in transit! Those are business things. And then there are LIFE things that happen. In these past 5 years I went through the lay-off that prompted the birth of the company, to a devastating break up with someone that I loved very much, to the death of my father in 2012. Lots of huge, huge life changes – like a lot of other women face.
I’d say I got through them with a lot of faith and the good fortune to have family and friends who really, really care. Then there is just the inner-strength that has to shine through. I mean, you can be all depressed…or you can get on with it. We are so lucky to be able to create possibility and opportunity for ourselves here in this country – especially here in Hollywood where people come to follow their dreams!
And, I listen to Tony Robbins when I need a real kick in my pants.
What’s the most fun/ fulfilling part of your job?
Feeling like I get to make women and girls feel beautiful and special everyday. Creating something that has become a symbol of love that people gift each other. Today, a girl just reached out to me on Facebook because she is buying her sister a vanity for her birthday and when I jumped on Instagram, another girl was showing off the vanity room that her husband built for her. I LOVE THAT!
Vanity Girl products have been used by countless celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Mariah Carey, and Jennifer Love Hewitt. Have you ever had an “OMG” star-struck celebrity moment?
YES, all of them! When I learned that the concert teams of Mariah Carey and the late Whitney Houston were using them on tour – I was totally awestruck. Jennifer Love Hewitt was so lovely (and yes, just that beautiful) when I met her at the Golden Globes Gifting Suite. Patti Stanger is gracious and generous, she lent me her vanity room and said amazing things about me on my audition tape when I was trying out for Shark Tank. And Kim Kardashian…OMG…Kim. I will always be so grateful for how generous she was in supporting Vanity Girl and inviting us to be a part of her pre-Kanye Beverly Hills home, DASH NYC and Kim and Kourtney take Miami.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned throughout your journey?
Believe me, I’m still on my journey! I would say that yes, it gets really hard sometimes…but I have to believe that life doesn’t give you more than you can handle.
And fake lashes will always make you more glam in a minute!
If you could take a time machine to go back in time, is there anything you would change?
Hmmm, I know it can sound cliche, but I would say no because lessons learned by getting your butt kicked are the ones that stick with you…FOREVER!
What’s on the horizon for the future of Vanity Girl?
I definitely love sharing and speaking about how I built my Vanity Girl brand using celebrity leverage, social media, PR and Online Fame. I have some other things in mind and I promise to keep you in the loop as they unfold. Let’s just say if this were my Linked In Profile…it would explain that I am open to Joint Ventures and new Business Deals.
Any final parting words for our readers and any budding entrepreneurs?
My mother Virginia would say, “Follow Your Heart.” My father, Maximo (yes, I’m a junior) would say, “Fight for what’s yours.” And my brother Craig, the CPA says, “Get everything in writing and know your numbers.”
And to you Kim, thank you for a really fun blog and a fresh new voice. Keep up the good work!
To all your readers – I say … Follow Your Dreams!
Keep in touch with Maxine and follow the ventures of Vanity Girl!