Sheena Zadeh-Daly, the founder of clean-beauty brand Kosas, describes her entry into the industry as heeding a calling. “I fell in love with makeup at a young age,” she says. The California native and child of Iranian immigrants grew up experimenting with products, a passion that eventually led to a premed degree; she worked as a research scientist until she pivoted to business school. “I had a really strong, specific point of view about makeup and what beauty means, and I felt like I had a story to tell,” she says. “I believe that beauty is a feeling in your gut and makeup is a tool that allows you to reveal and express the beauty that is inside of you.”
Zadeh-Daly envisioned a line of makeup in flattering shades that was comfortable and easy to use yet nourished your skin. She launched Kosas with a handful of lipsticks in 2015 and expanded from there. If you’ve spent any time on social media, you’ve probably spotted Hailey Bieber flashing a yellow tube of cult-favorite Revealer Concealer in a “GRWM” video, or TikTok users pouting their lips with a layer of Wet Lip Oil. Kosas products are available at major retailers like Sephora, Credo, and Revolve; with sales set to exceed $120 million this year, WWD reports the company is also exploring sale options. “Businesses always have to grow, so I have to be on to the next thing very quickly,” Zadeh-Daly says. The entrepreneur lives in Los Angeles with her family. Here’s how she gets it done.
On her morning routine:
I know I shouldn’t do this, but the first thing I do in the morning is check my phone. I check my emails and texts and then Slack; I can’t help it. I’m a creature of habit and I thrive on routine in the morning. It’s really simple: I’ll have one cup of coffee with half-and-half — that’s my treat. Then I drive my daughter to school. When I come back, I have my getting-ready time. I spend anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour showering and doing my makeup. It’s a grounding moment for me. That’s also my thinking time. It’s like I’m on autopilot and I just get in my head.
On a typical workday:
I make all my decisions about the day before the day happens. I work my schedule two to three weeks out; I add everything to my calendar so I don’t have to worry about what needs to be prioritized. With that said, no two days are the same. I’m in the office one to two days a week, working hands-on with my team. Other days I’m out being in front of the brand in meetings, events, and speaking engagements. My favorite days are the ones where I get to spend a lot of time working with products.
I only work weekdays, and I start early — anything can happen in the morning — but I like to end my day at dinnertime. I don’t do any good thinking after 6 p.m. I stay as flexible as I can mentally and emotionally, because it can’t always be like that; sometimes there are evening events, business dinners, or social things I want to do.
On battling self-doubt:
The biggest thing that I had to work on was facing those voices that were telling me, “You don’t know what you’re doing here.” Then I was able to put one foot in front of the other and take small steps consistently over time to get to here. My own voice telling me no is always the loudest; I credit the overcoming of that voice to my longtime therapist. She showed me the difference between what I was saying to myself versus what was real.
On the unexpected challenges of her position:
The biggest challenge of my job is how much personal sacrifice comes with deciding to run a bigger business. There’s a lot of sadness and loss that comes with it because it’s so consuming. The pressure is immense, the stakes are high. You end up spending a lot of time holding space for other people and not as much for yourself. There are a lot of personal things that I missed out on with my family and having play in my life; there’s not a lot of space for me as a person, or time with my daughter. There are certain things that cause such an immense feeling of loss and guilt. It looks like it’s such a fun journey, and it is fun, but it’s not only fun.
I consider myself tremendously ambitious. I think it applies to many areas, not just work life. If you want great relationships, you have to live in a way and do the things that are necessary to get the result that you want, no compromises. Having a child also fueled my ambition. I felt an even bigger responsibility to create the life that I saw in my vision, because I want to be able to credibly show my daughter what it takes to create that life. Oftentimes, my ambition can hurt my personal life because I’m unwilling to compromise when it comes to my business and my goals. It manifests itself in a pretty extreme time commitment.
On not “having it all”:
I haven’t been able to “have it all,” personally. I didn’t understand the meaning behind that sentiment in the early days, and I wish I had not listened to it and that I’d done the work to dive deeper into what it means on an emotional and spiritual level. I think that message does a disservice, because we’ll run ourselves ragged trying to have it all.
On managing stress:
I do a lot of movement. I’m a very physical person. I practice yoga regularly, and pilates, and I walk quite a lot. I stay active because I get a lot of pleasure from that. I also do meditation and I’ll get massages regularly. In the morning, when I ease into the day, I take a handful of supplements that keep me physically well. Feeling vitality and good energy helps combat stress to begin with. If I feel like I have enough to show up in my life, then I feel less overwhelmed.
On the people who help her get it done:
I have an executive assistant and I rely heavily on her. She’s the critical architect of my daily life. I also have some close friendships that go back to my childhood. They really know who I am, without anything coloring their experience of me. Our check-ins can be a phone call or a text conversation, and being able to have some levity and humor with the people who know me the most keeps me grounded.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.