By Veronica Dagher 

Toni Ko was in her mid-20s when she started her makeup company, NYX Cosmetics. With seed money from her mother, the Korean immigrant transformed the business from a solo operation into a company that was eventually acquired by L'Oreal SA for a reported $500 million.

Ms. Ko says the early lessons she learned from her parents about entrepreneurship and money shaped her into the businesswoman she is today. Although she worked hard for it, she found early retirement boring and disappointing.

She recently sat down with The Wall Street Journal for an interview for the Secrets of Wealthy Women podcast. Here are a few edited excerpts:

Q. You worked in your parents' perfume and cosmetics business until you were in your mid-20s and then you decide to start your own company. How come?

A. I was 25 and living at home. My mom never paid me. She said, "You have a roof over your head and you have clothes on your back and food in your belly."

I was at an age where I was having my own ideas of how we should run the family business and we were clashing.

I saw a gap in the market. I saw a niche. Expensive makeup products were really good but they were super expensive. I couldn't afford it. Most of my friends couldn't afford them. But then the cheapies that you bought at drugstores were really horrible. And I just thought, "Hey, you know what? I have learned enough in the beauty industry and I know what I want myself. I could launch a brand."

Q. What did your mom tell you about entrepreneurship?

A. She wrote me a $250,000 check. Yeah, she's a very smart woman. I've paid her so much interest on that money! And now I'm her 401(k).

That woman has guts. She says to me, "You know what? Don't worry about failing. Do whatever you want to do."

Q. You sold NYX to L'Oreal for a reported $500 million. You retired for a short time after that but decided that you didn't like retirement. How come?

A. I realized that money is the least fun thing out of everything. It's not that I don't like money. I like it. I'm an entrepreneur.

The chase is a lot more fun than the kill itself. There was so much adrenaline getting to the deal and once the deal happened, I felt like a balloon that just got popped. I felt very unproductive and I felt like I lost my identity. I didn't know who I was anymore and it wasn't good.

You wake up in the morning, get in the shower and get ready for work, that's a purpose for the day. And when you don't have that you feel like the rug has been pulled out from under you.

That's why I started my second company, which is a sunglasses company.

How to Listen and Get New Episodes

Secrets of Wealthy Women is available on a number of popular audio apps including iTunes, Google Play, iHeartRadio and Spotify. If you prefer to listen directly from, visit the Secrets of Wealthy Women podcast page to play from your web browser.

Write to Veronica Dagher at


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

February 28, 2020 09:41 ET (14:41 GMT)

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