Entrepreneurial Journey

A Business Love Story: Asara Tsehai, Ancient Treasure

This week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Asara Tsehai, founder of Ancient Treasure. Ancient Treasure is the all-in-one natural beauty formula for ageless skin. In this interview, Asara talks about how she got started and her journey to open her first kiosk this weekend.

What inspired you to start Ancient Treasure?

I used to work for a natural skincare company. That’s where I discovered all the chemicals in our skincare. I did that for about 10-12 years. I was always a health and wellness professional – a healer and African medicine woman. When I learned about the chemicals in our skincare, I began to look for natural skincare for myself. I found that even with the natural products, my skin was so sensitive. It still broke out. I just got tired of spending money and looking for something. So, I decided I needed to create my own. And, I was spiritually nudged, pushed, inspired to do it. I said no for six years, and finally I surrendered to my intuition and said okay I will do this. And, it took me six years of research and development to create Ancient Treasure.

What makes Ancient Treasure so special?

First of all, Ancient Treasure is all natural. The ingredients are safflower oil, shea butter, vitamin A, vitamin E, jojoba oil, and frankincense, and of course, peace and loving kindness. A lot of research went into what ingredients were used in ancient times, and particularly African and indigenous cultures. And, what are the ancient ingredients that are still available to us today.

I wanted Ancient Treasure to not only have a beauty component but also have a healing component. This beauty formula is just that. It will make your skin soft smooth and radiant. You can use it head to toe. It takes 16 other products to do what one jar of Ancient Treasure can do. Because a lot of people have skin conditions – age spots, the dark spots, the blemishes, the stretch marks, sun damaged skin, eczema, psoriasis – so, it has a very strong healing component. That comes out of me being an African medicine woman. Yet, it is so gentle that babies can use it.

I’ve heard you speak about the simplicity of the product. What does that mean to you?

That goes to our philosophy that skincare should be easy and uncomplicated. The simplicity of women being able to have one formula that they can use for everything is really revolutionary right now. Because we have been conditioned to have a product for every part of our bodies and what time of day we’re going to use it. And I said no. I want to look beautiful, but I don’t want to work hard at it.

As an African medicine woman, I was also watching people who were looking for all these complicated remedies. I again went to simplicity. You can travel with this formula. With one formula, you have something for your hair, face, and body. And if you injure yourself in some kind of way or a rash comes up, you can use Ancient Treasure. So, that’s the simplicity.  Along with Ancient Treasure comes the simplicity of life.

Your business model has gone through some iterations. How did you get started in selling the product? What did you learn?

I actually created the formula 10 years ago. I launched it on my 50th birthday.  I had a launch party and a birthday party together. Because of my experience with the first skincare company that I was working for, my first thought was to do this wholesale, business to business. This was around 2008 when the economic downturn happened. Retailers were just not bringing in new products. They would literally have to take away a product to bring in my product. I just knocked on so many doors and it just wasn’t working. In the meantime, people kept contacting me for retail. I decided to go with the flow. Stop banging on the door for wholesale and go with what is working.

Then, came a multi-level marketing opportunity. I created that with a business colleague, and we were very successful. I think we ran it for about a year. However, it wasn’t the business model that I enjoyed. Even though the potential for financial growth with it was strong. It took me four years to surpass what I did in that one year in multi-level marketing. But, I was not willing to build a company using a business model that I didn’t enjoy. It was important that I be passionate about my model.

So, the third model was retail.  What I did enjoy was doing craft shows and conferences and that direct contact with customers. And more recently, the concept of a retail kiosk came out of that love and passion. I thought, “How can I replicate this same model while building it and expanding upon it?”

Even with these changes you have a loyal customer base. This is evident in your VIP loyalty program. How did you come upon the idea for a VIP program?

When I initially created Ancient Treasure, people were using it so sparingly. It was like a luxury item and they would just use it on their face and neck and maybe their hands. I wanted to give them an opportunity to get that luxurious feeling head to toe, so they wouldn’t skimp anymore. I created the VIP program that allowed them to receive it on a regular basis. Because of their commitment to receive it on a regular basis, they would get about a 25% discount on the retail pricing. Encouraging them really to anoint themselves head to toe with Ancient Treasure. They receive Ancient Treasure on a bi-monthly basis. And, as we open the kiosk, they’ll have the opportunity to add the Ancient Treasure traditional African black soap as part of their VIP customer loyalty program.

You mentioned the kiosk a couple of times. Tell us a little bit more about the kiosk strategy.

The kiosk is opening September 1 at the Stoneridge Shopping Center in Pleasanton. We’ll be located between Kay Jewelers and Pottery Barn.

I’ve been working with a consulting firm to help launch the kiosk. I redid the brand and had the kiosk designed. And, I added a whole new product to our line. I added a cleanser to it. Now, I feel like our skincare line is complete in terms of simplicity. You have something to clean your skin, and then you have a beauty formula that is there to hydrate, protect, and nourish your skin. With those two things, you have a strong skincare regimen. I have hired three employees, including two beauty advisors and one store manager.

In the process of launching this kiosk, I really was a project manager. I had several different teams –design team, kiosk building team, operations, and website. And, timing was everything.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with you and know it’s been a journey to the kiosk. Can you talk a little bit about that journey?

I had created Ancient Treasure 10 years ago, but I didn’t really move into a business with it until 4 years ago. It was initially one of the products I was selling as part of my wellness company. And I knew in building in a business, I didn’t want to depend on my energy, my teaching as a way to support myself. Because I’m 60 years old and I need to look at retirement after putting two boys through college. I was looking at what I could do for retirement. Teaching was not going to get me there.  I needed a product. Well, I had Ancient Treasure.

Where it took a turn is when I became a member of Uptima Business Bootcamp’s Oakland business accelerator. I remember sitting down with you, as the founder of Uptima Business Bootcamp, and you interviewed me to see whether or not you were going to accept me into the program. I just had one question. I just wanted to know the answer to one thing. The accelerator sounded like a huge time commitment and intimidating around business plan and projections. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I knew I only wanted to know the answer to one question for me to say yes, even with knowing all the work it would entail. So, I asked, “Do you think you can help me so I can build my retirement with Ancient Treasure?” And how you answered that question was going to be the deciding factor as to whether I was going to take the program. At first you said, “I think so.” In my mind, I was like “think so?!?” All that and you think so! As soon as you said it, it was intuitive, you went on to say, “No, yes I can.” And because you changed it from “I think so” to “Yes, I can,” then I was in and ready to face my fears around feeling intimidated around writing a business plan and doing projections. Because numbers were my weakness. And, they had been throughout my whole business. I knew intuitively, especially since your background is in investment banking, that I wasn’t going to be allowed to avoid numbers. I was actually glad about that even though I was intimidated by it.  That is how I got on this path.  And 4 years later, here I am.

How did you get over your fear of numbers?

Rani, you just didn’t give up on me. You just kept giving me encouragement and holding me accountable. And, giving me resources and mentorship.  That’s how I got through it.

What were some of the other resources you used in order to get into the kiosk?

Money!!! That was the other thing that has been such a beautiful experience in working with Uptima Business Bootcamp. Because of the business partnerships that Uptima has. As a member of the accelerator, when I was ready for resources I was referred to business partners, relationships that Uptima had.

One partnership Uptima has is with The Runway Project, which provides friends and family funding for African American entrepreneurs. This is another reason for attending Uptima Business Bootcamp – the  sensitivity that this accelerator has for business owners of color, understanding what some of the specific business obstacles that we have, that are unique to us, and then addressing them to give us resources. Uptima realized that we don’t have friends and family to give us money. We’re just trying to survive and build this business and still survive with rent and food and stuff, let alone raising funds from friends and family. Friends and family be like “Girl, you better do something. I pray for you.” So, Uptima’s relationship with The Runway Project replaced the friends and family initial seed money. That initial seed money allowed me to hire a much needed part-time administrative assistant. It also provided me with funds to produce my next batch of Ancient Treasure and not have to put it on a credit card. Because I started my business through credit cards and lines of credit and sustained it through that.  This was the first time I was able to use a loan. The loan was very friendly with a very low interest rate. So, it was very inexpensive money to really give me a strong foundation. That was $20,000.

The second round of funding was $50,000 to build out the vision of the kiosk. This came from the partnership that Uptima and The Runway Project have with Working Solutions. Without that, I would have needed to push out the opening the kiosk.  And, I was not willing to do that.

Both of them were demanding in what I had to have in place. I’m so proud of myself. I had to complete a business plan, three-year projections and one year of historical financials. Woo hoo! I had to do a pitch and a powerpoint presentation. I laugh because I’m a low tech person. The theme of simplicity runs throughout my life. So, I was a low tech, high touch. This process had me build upon my technology skills.

What advice do you have for other people who are starting and growing their businesses?

You got to love this. You got to love what you’re doing.  You got to love your business model. You got to love it. Because with the challenges, obstacles, time, and energy that it requires. Since I started this in my 50s, what has sustained my passion and commitment is I created this business from my heart and from my spiritual life, and I am using it as a tool to teach—which is what I love. To inspire, to heal, and transform people’s lives.

Ancient Treasure does that by helping people feeling more confident in their skin. Because a lot of times, especially with women, how we feel about ourselves is tied to how our skin looks and our body image. Through Ancient Treasure, I’m able to offer a healthy alternative and a simplistic alternative to skincare that might inspire them to continue to go farther and deeper – eating better, making healthier choices. So, it’s making a difference in people’s lives, in particular women’s lives. That is what has kept me moving forward through it all.

You can find and purchase Ancient Treasure online through their websiteand on the shelves at Mandela Grocery Cooperativeand Owl N Woodin Oakland, CA. And starting September 1, stop by the Ancient Treasure kiosk at the Stoneridge Shopping Centerin Pleasanton, CA.