In this series called Member Showcase, we publish interviews with members of The Oracles. This interview is with Tiyana Robinson, founder of Makeup Mogul University, the world’s first “business” school exclusively for makeup artists. It was condensed by The Oracles.
Who are you?
Tiyana Robinson: I’m a makeup artist and international beauty educator based in Washington, D.C., best known for my “wearable glam” look for women of color.
When I first started in the beauty industry, I noticed there were very few makeup artists in the District who offered high-glamour, red-carpet-quality makeup for women of color. I knew there was an opportunity to fill that void, so I spent several years training with top celebrity makeup artists whose clients included A-list women of color. Within three years, I built my business to over six figures annually.
This year, I launched Makeup Mogul University, an online school for makeup artists with business courses taught by experts, as well as ongoing support through community and coaching.
Share an interesting fact about yourself that not many people would know.
I originally wanted to be a cosmetic chemist so I could formulate makeup for women of color. But as a Division 1 athlete on the track and field team at The University of New Mexico, I struggled to balance the demands of my chemistry major and an athletic schedule.
I decided to major in political science and psychology instead, and spent around two years working in the legal sector before deciding it wasn’t for me. So I moved to Denver to work for a beauty startup on a whim. I was offered the position on a Friday, and had packed my Honda Civic and was on the road by Sunday.
I did a little of everything there, from customer support operations and fulfillment, to marketing and sales. I even spent some time in Cambodia with the company. This experience taught me how to solve problems, use social media to launch a beauty product and build a community of raving fans around a luxury beauty brand. All these skills have accelerated my career as a makeup artist.
What excites you the most about your business right now?
We’re in a beauty renaissance! More women are watching YouTube tutorials and experimenting with makeup than ever before. Hiring a makeup artist was once a luxury reserved only for wealthy women and celebrities, but now it’s much more accessible to everyday women who want to feel like the most beautiful versions of themselves on their special occasions.
Makeup artistry has also become a viable source of income, even for artists who don’t live in a city like New York or Los Angeles. There are many paths in the industry, and it’s truly an exciting time to be a makeup artist. Your career is only limited by your imagination.
What’s your favorite quote?
I love Marie Forleo’s quote “Everything is figureoutable.” Focusing on solutions is a core value in my life and the North Star that guided me through some of my darkest moments in business.
Makeup artists wear many hats. We’re wives, mothers and students, and often work full-time while building businesses on the side. It’s a balancing act: You have to be bold enough to fight for your vision, creative enough to solve problems and resilient enough to dust yourself off when you’re rejected.
Being solution-oriented is a skill to be cultivated and nurtured. Most of us are raised with an “employee mindset.” When you try to use that frame of reference in your business, you hit mental roadblocks. I’m teaching women how to be forward-thinking and “solutionary” in their businesses and lives.
What was your biggest, most painful failure?
I hosted an eight-city makeup masterclass tour in 2018. I had over 50,000 followers on Instagram and a Facebook group with over 2,000 members, so I assumed it would be easy to sell out.
I was dead wrong. On the day tickets went on sale, I sold only eight. It was a devastating and costly blow, but that’s when I learned some of the most valuable lessons of my career: A confused mind won’t buy, and failure is feedback. After bungling the launch, I spent several weeks identifying an offer that my audience was actually excited about.
In the end, there were over 100 artists at the last masterclass on the tour, which turned my most painful experience into my proudest.
How do you define great leadership?
Great leaders lead with empathy. They understand that people just want to feel seen, heard and understood. When you’re called to be a leader, you have to understand that our past experiences shape our perspectives and dictate how we’re able to show up.
A great leader meets others where they are, builds trust and inspires them to believe that they can be the greatest versions of themselves.
How do you prevent burnout?
Clarity and focus. Admittedly, I’m still working on this, but now that my business is expanding beyond just applying makeup, I delegate tasks like answering booking inquiries and customer support. That gives me time to focus on growing the business.
I recently got crystal clear about my vision for the business. Since then, I’ve committed to being disciplined and saying no to opportunities that don’t move me closer to my goals. It’s not always easy to pass on awesome opportunities. But if I want to scale, I can’t chase every opportunity that comes across my desk. In this phase of my career, I have to shift from MUA to CEO.
What are you working on right now?
Growing Makeup Mogul University. As I mentioned earlier, I scaled my business beyond six figures within just a few years. But the average salary for freelance makeup artists in the U.S. is $34,500. I want my story to be the norm, not the exception.
My mission is to completely revolutionize the way makeup artists do business by focusing on entrepreneurial education. You can go to school or even watch free YouTube videos to learn how to be a good makeup artist, but how do you learn to be an entrepreneur? Even if you study business in college, most don’t teach the nuances of a service-based beauty business in the social media age, where your next client might be just a hashtag or great photo away.
What do you want to be known for, or what do you want your legacy to be?
Women have always used beauty as a catalyst for their economic freedom — from Madame C.J. Walker, the first female African American millionaire in the U.S., to Kylie Jenner, who recently became the youngest self-made billionaire on the planet, to your local Mary Kay lady. Having a beauty business has certainly changed my life in ways I never imagined.
There’s a new generation of artists who are ready to grow into makeup moguls — confident, empowered and getting paid. Helping them change their lives and build wealth with just a few strokes of a brush is the beauty mark I want to leave on the industry.