Founders / Products / Q&As / Startups

‘Don’t get comfortable’: 10 questions with Subtl Beauty founder Rachel Reid

In this RustBuilt Pittsburgh Q&A, the exec shares lessons from a tough year for the direct-to-consumer online beauty brand.

Subtl Beauty founder Rachel Reid. (Courtesy photo via RustBuilt)
This Q&A was originally published on RustBuilt's website and is republished here with permission.
This startup advice might surprise you, but founders — you don’t actually need to pursue growth at all costs.

RustBuilt Pittsburgh recently caught up with Rachel Reid, the founder of Subtl Beauty, the South Side-based direct-to-consumer online beauty brand.

Reid is a graduate of Duquesne University, and an honoree of’s 2022 RealLIST Connectors list. She’s often called upon to share her insights as a founder at community events, such as RustBuilt’s annual conference. Subtl Beauty was founded in 2017 and is an AlphaLab alum.

Here’s their Q&A:

1. How did you come to do this work and why is it so important to you personally?

I’ve always been passionate about CPG [consumer packaged goods] — the idea of selling a physical product to solve a specific problem just felt very meaningful to me. I came up with a couple of ideas over the years but the Subtl makeup stack, and the problem it solved, really lit a fire under me to go the distance.

2. What was your lightbulb moment for Subtl Beauty?

There have been several but during early customer discovery I learned just how many use cases there were for a makeup stack, beyond just the two I had experienced and assumed. These experiences and use cases ranged quite significantly but they all had one thing in common — convenience. And that’s been our north star from day one.

3. What is the elevator pitch for Subtl Beauty?

We’ve optimized the daily beauty routines for busy women on the go, by supplying everyday beauty basics in a stackable, portable kit that goes where they go.

4. Talk through your strategy in building a team around you.

The short version is that I hire strategics to fill my knowledge gaps, and I hire juniors to train and take over my own tasks as I transition from working in business to working on the business.

Rachel Reid speaks to the crowd at the 2019 Subtl Beauty Kickstarter launch party. (Photo by Max Mirho)

5. What has surprised you most about starting your own business?

The more I learn the less I feel like I know, lol, and almost everyone is winging it.

6. Talk through one of your daily rituals.

I always start my day with a gratitude journal and good workout. It sounds cliche, I know, but as a founder you walk into each day with new problems to solve, and starting my day focused on gratitude really helps me have the right perspective as I’m problem solving.

Fitness has also always been important to me. It keeps me centered, I’ve come up with my best ideas while I’m exercising, and it’s a great way to kick off your day already feeling accomplished.

7. What is a recent challenge you’ve faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it? What lesson(s) did you take away from it?

We started 2022 in a very precarious situation. We were over-inventoried and burning through cash faster than we could bring it in.

We had to do something radically different, or the brand would shut down in less than a month. We formulated a plan to focus on profitability > grow at all costs. This meant cutting back on any/all unnecessary spend and tools. We also diversified our traffic sources as much as humanly possible with the motto of “Be everywhere, all at once.”

It took about three months of implementation, testing, trying and failing until April, and then everything changed for us. While we started 2022 thinking we might have to close down, we finished 2022 having doubled our top line and producing a sizable net income for the year. That’s been my hardest challenge as a founder to date. Here’s what I learned from that:

  • You can’t outspend bad unit economics.
  • Small, unsexy changes in the financials can have just as much of a positive impact as a winning marketing strategy.
  • Don’t get comfortable. Nothing is forever.
  • Ignore market pressures to grow fast.

I had no intention of growing last year, just to produce more cash than the year before. In shifting our focus we were able to achieve both.

As of 2019, Subtl Beauty had 19 concealer shades with Pittsburgh-influenced names. (Courtesy photo via Subtl Beauty)

8. What does the next year look like for Subtl Beauty?

We have a huge launch coming up. It’s been years in the making at this point, so the team is very busy bringing it to market. Targeting Q2 but manufacturing timelines can be tricky so don’t hold me to it.

9. What is a key piece of advice you’ve received that you’d want to share with other founders?

Be careful who you accept advice from. Not all advice is created equal. Just make sure the advice you’re internalizing is coming from your customer and/or someone who has been in your shoes before. For the most part, everything else is noise. Your instincts usually catch on faster than your brain so go with your gut

10. How can our regional startup community help your efforts?

Make the switch to Subtl! Build a custom stack on our website and use code Rustbuilt for 15% off.

Companies: RustBuilt / Subtl Beauty

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