Refresh on BU Today

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banner-joanna-shuJump-Start Your Job Search: Refresh Skin Therapy Founder


In our series “Jump-start Your Job Search,” BU Today brings you short interviews with BU alums who are leaders in their field, such as banking, advertising, tech start-ups, journalism, or nonprofit organizations.

They talk about how they got to be where they are, mistakes they’ve made, and what they’ve taken away from those mistakes. They tell us what they look for when hiring and offer advice for those just embarking on a career.

This week our featured alum is Joanna Shu (CAS’04, Questrom’12), who with Yaniv Ophir (ENG’06) cofounded a boutique skincare company called Refresh Skin Therapy.

The three-year-old cosmetics company’s product line includes moisturizing creams, cleansers, and acne peel kits, all made in the United States. They use USP-grade ingredients (meaning they are inspected and approved under the US Pharmacopeial Convention), and all ingredients are botanically derived. The company promises on its website never to test products on animals or to use animal-derived ingredients.

Prior to launching Refresh Skin Therapy, Shu sold bonds at Fidelity Investments. After she was laid off, she decided to open a spa, which soon morphed into a skin care business that now sells its products on its website and on Amazon’s worldwide sites.

  1. BU Today: When you went to BU, did you have an idea what you wanted to do for a career?

    Shu: I was an international relations major, and my dream was to take the foreign service exam and work overseas in an US embassy. But while I was waiting for the exam to come around, I got a job in finance and was fascinated by capital markets.

  2. How did you come to start Refresh Skin Therapy?

    I’ve always had trouble with my skin and allergies, which made it hard to use any skin-care products. When I left Fidelity in 2011, I really wanted to pursue something I was passionate about and decided to create beauty products, originally just for my personal use.

  3. What mistakes have you made during your career, and what lessons have you learned from them?

    It took me a long time to really learn the value of follow-up. I would go on interviews or network with people and not send a thank-you email. If I didn’t hear back, I would think, oh, they hated me, but most likely they just forgot about me. I’m somewhat shy, so I felt awkward emailing strangers, but now I realize you need to stay in the front of someone’s mind and make the sales pitch for yourself.

  4. What qualities do you look for in the people you hire?

    I look for people who are different from myself. I want different life experiences and skills—since we’re so small, I need everyone working here to have totally different skill sets so we can cover as much ground as possible.

  5. What are some typical questions you ask an applicant during an interview?

    I think interview questions are BS. I like to the person being interviewed to just spill whatever they want me to know. I also like to leave lots of awkward pauses in the conversation, because it forces the other person to reveal more about themselves than they might to a specific question. They feel like they have to fill the dead air, and you end up learning a lot more about the person.

  6. What advice would you give to someone interested in your industry?

    Try to get some experience at a big company and a small one, so you can figure out what you like. Big company resources are amazing, but the start-up life can be more exciting.

  7. What is your big-picture advice for a recent graduate starting out in the workplace?

    Have a close friend pick out jobs for you to apply for. Sometimes we pigeonhole ourselves, like, “Oh my degree is in accounting, I can only look for accountant jobs,” but maybe you’re very outgoing, and could be in business development. Sometimes only an outsider could see that.

  8. Who has had the greatest influence on your career, and why?

    Both of my parents have successfully pivoted later on in their careers, leaving big companies and working for themselves. They kept me going during my career reboot, since I saw that success is not always a straight line.