How tragedy inspired Ashleigh Cortes to create her non-profit, the Stay Beautiful Foundation to bring quality makeup products to cancer patients

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Ashleigh reveals how her clean beauty boxes have inspired sick patients get through treatment, why she hires employees based on their willingness to help others, and why she finally took the leap of faith to start her own nonprofit.

Describe your business in a few words?

Beautiful, motivating, inspiring, powerful.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I came up with the idea for the Stay Beautiful Foundation after my grandmother passed away. I was walking along Lake Michigan with my mom and we joked about my grandmother asking us to bring her products from the spa because she didn’t love the options that were being provided to her at the hospital. I reminisced with my mom on the memories of collecting items from the spa and bringing them to my grandmother to make her feel a sense of beauty and comfort. My grandmother felt most beautiful when she looked good, it was her form of therapy. The memories of my grandmother during her journey fighting cancer ignited a fire in me to want to carry out her legacy. I began putting some of her favorite products in boxes and giving them to a few family and friends who had been affected by cancer. Fast forward to today, we now have more than 400 monthly subscribers who are part of our community of women who are conquering cancer with beauty.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I had just graduated college from University of Missouri as a Communications major with a Business minor and I was interested in working in the tech industry. My first job out of school was a business analyst and now I currently work at Salesforce as an Account Manager.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

No, I don’t think it was something I ever really had in mind — the idea to start The Stay Beautiful Foundation really came from a place of just wanting to help women in need and not so much because I wanted to start something of my own. It is a nonprofit passion project that I feel makes a true difference in the lives of many women.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

I initially tried partnering with hospitals to spread awareness about SBF’s clean beauty boxes for cancer patients. However, there were too many roadblocks and hurdles to securing partnerships with hospitals and I quickly shifted to social media and good, old-fashioned word of mouth! I started giving Stay Beautiful boxes to family and friends to pass on to those they knew undergoing cancer treatment, and doing that alone really helped to boost beauty box requests. One thing I learned during this process is that you are in control of your own success — in order to get it done, you have to hustle and not rely on others to help with your success. 

It’s amazing today because we have so much demand for the boxes that our problem has shifted: we now focus on partnerships with the brands that supply the boxes, fund shipping and more. These generous brands and their donations, both financially and in-kind, make it possible for us to supply these incredible products to women who truly need them.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

When I first launched The Stay Beautiful Foundation, my initial delivery strategy was to send beauty boxes directly to the hospital, however, this process came with many leaps, hurdles, and roadblocks, which forced me to shift my strategy and deliver directly to women’s homes instead. Shipping has been a challenge throughout this entire process. Most recently, I updated my shipping strategy by leveraging programs like ShipStation and Salesforce.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

When our team had to upgrade the size of our storage warehouse to a bigger unit to store all of the donations we were receiving from amazing beauty, skincare and wellness brands. This entire organization wouldn’t be made possible without the help of brands that are looking to make a direct impact on women’s journey to healing. We are so thankful we have been able to work with some amazing partners like Dashing Dilva, Milk Makeup, Vital Proteins, and more.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

A go to interview question is how would you uplift a family member or friend who’s having a tough day? Our audience consists of women who are fighting for their lives. We need people on our team that are genuine, compassionate, caring, and those who want to be part of a person’s journey to healing.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

In the beginning of COVID, we were hesitant on shipping beauty boxes due to the vulnerable population we service so we halted shipping for a few months until we could ensure safe deliveries to our customer base.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

We hope to continue expanding our reach and delivering more and more beauty boxes to women battling cancer. We are also working on building out our community by offering a place where women can connect, share their stories and inspire each other.

One of our main goals is to continue activating some amazing partnerships with go-to beauty, health and wellness brands that women in general love. People often forget that just because you are fighting cancer doesn’t mean you don’t want to look good, or work out, or meditate. We want women who receive our boxes to feel amazing and pampered, and that means we want to partner with the go-to, must-have brands they’ll be excited to see when they unbox.

Our reach is limited only by the generosity of the brands that we work with, and we know they see the value in what we do so we look forward to that growth.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Being flexible is key. 2020 taught me how to adjust, pivot and find comfort in uncomfortable situations.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

I wish I knew that it was OK to be afraid to start my own nonprofit organization. I held back for so long because I let fear get in the way of that. It’s definitely scary to start something of your own, but you’ll never know what could happen unless you try — just do it!

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Meditation has been a huge part of my routine. One of my favorite apps I could not live without is the Calm app. I listen to it every morning before I start my day. Meditation helps me get in the right mindset and stay focused. It’s become part of our everyday lives to grab our phone immediately when we wake up and start scrolling through social media. Instead, take those few minutes to be with yourself and meditate. I highly recommend everyone try it!

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Absolutely! Having a healthy work/life balance is essential — it helps to reduce stress, and helps prevent burnout. In order to be your best, you need to feel your best!

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

I am always quoting song lyrics. I quote 5-10 song lyrics in conversations with my friends and family on a daily basis. I find that music is so therapeutic and I love using phrases in songs to communicate how I’m feeling.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

1.) Meditate. I love taking a few minutes out of my day to just be still, since my days are usually very busy.

2.) Hydrate. Staying hydrated is key to help improve brain function. If you’re dehydrated, you can feel tired and unmotivated, causing a lack of productivity at work. Drink that water!

3.) Express Gratitude. Like most people, there are certain parts of my job that I love more than others. Instead of constantly putting off the tasks I don’t love, I’ve decided to shift my mindset by expressing gratitude for the opportunities that come my way. It helps to stay motivated and on track.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It means being unapologetically a hustler. When you have a vision and you need to bring it to life, you will let nothing get in your way of achieving your dreams!

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