Interview with Founder Layne Gray of Gray Lane Beauty

Can you share more about your work background and what you’ve done prior to launching GrayLane?

Most of my career has been in technology product marketing. When I first started out most computer software was developed on proprietary operating systems (the core software) and I was one of the first in marketing who understood, trained and marketed the UNIX Operating System which was open source and ran on most all computer platforms. Oracle hired me away from another computer company because they wanted that ‘expertise’ as they transferred their primary software development platform to UNIX.

I then started an event production company that specialized in external-oriented marketing events for technology-industry clients, including conferences, product launches and seminar series. Sure, we did party planning within the context of a larger event i.e. multi-day conferences, but that wasn’t our focus (I had someone on staff who solely focused on parties; she was a master at creating incredible experiences, from themed food, décor and entertainment to special, luxurious toiletries in the women’s restrooms). Rather, we provided quantifiable success metrics to our clients that dovetailed into their overall marketing goals which was one of the differentiators that set our firm apart and contributed to our success of reaching over $20M in revenues and over 30 full-time staff.

For the past several years I’ve focused on angel investing in the B2C space (consumer products). I’ve had one exit (the company, This Is L, was acquired by Procter & Gamble) and I’ve got some others doing well such as Rothys ( and Rae Wellness ( With respect to how I invested in Rothy’s, in particular, I was one of their earliest, and one of only a handful of individual investors. How it happened is that I was introduced to their super-comfy flats and bought a pair and fell in love. I learned they were going to have a pop-up booth at the Ferry Building Market in San Francisco one Saturday and after a bike ride from SF to Tiburon I took the ferry back to the Ferry Building and showed up at their booth. I asked them about investing and one of the co-founders responded that they were only taking ‘strategic’ investments to which I responded “perfect, I’m your gal.”

I started a company called ModaVive which helped raise money for nonprofits by gathering designer-quality clothing from volunteers and selling those clothes online and giving 40% of the proceeds back to the charity. I loved our model and we got reasonable traction but that was as TheRealReal, ThredUp, ThreadFlip, Poshmark and every other second-hand clothing company was launching. I had an incredible mentor who was an angel investor and venture capitalist who really loved what we were doing and tried to get other investors but there just wasn’t any capital out there that wasn’t committed to ‘competitive’ brands.

What other beauty experience did you have (if any)? Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to start a beauty brand?

I have beauty expertise as a consumer. What I do have professional expertise in is the following:

1. Discipline to do the tough work. Product, product, product. One must have a stellar product. One that people love and fills a need. This happens through painstaking processes in evaluating all the options and then testing on those who would consume the products.

2. Fill a void that others haven’t. Covid-19 has made many of us aware of the importance of keeping our products free of bacteria. So leveraging the Dollar Shave model it’s an easy concept for customers to throw out throw previous mascara when their new mascara.

3. Think outside the ‘beauty box’. Growing up the Avon Lady would call on my mother and bring me and my sisters a bunch of those tiny lipstick testers. We LOVED them! Analogous we offer visitors to our website to take a quick quiz and based on their answers we recommend one of our Discovery Sets of three travel-size mascaras to try at home; retail value is $30 and the first time someone purchases they get it for just $10. The reasoning behind this is that many of us fall back on old habits. Who wants to buy a $20 mascara that we may hate?

4. The aha moment. Before starting GrayLane Beauty I was putting mascara on one morning and it flaked and started to smear. I looked for an expiration date on the tube and there was none. I figured there had to be a better way.

5. Barrier to entry. It used to be, maybe 10 years ago, that to launch a beauty brand it cost a minimum of $1,000,000. Not true anymore. Indie brands are hip, clean beauty is important and transparency is paramount.

For those not familiar with GRAYLANE BEAUTY, can you share a brief history and the concept behind this quarterly Mascara Subscription services. What is the price point of the mascara’s (full size, travel) and the quarterly subscription.

As alluded above we have adhered to the FDA and Ophthalmologist Academy replacement of eye makeup, such as mascara, to be replaced at least quarterly. Every bit as importantly we surveyed women and found that they don’t want to have to think about replacing their mascara so we’ll do it for them.

Can you also explain how you went about sourcing mascara production? Where does one start when deciding who to partner with, where to produce and to learn about the quality levels of various factories and partners you were considering working with?

That is SUCH a good question. It takes a lot of work and there’s no centralized place to get the info on who are the best ‘white label’ manufacturers. So initially I did a lot of googling; then I looked at industry conferences and which brands showed up the most, if at all, to those conferences. Then I reviewed their websites for professionalism and breadth and depth of product offerings. I then researched their founder(s) and what experience they had as well as a host of other relevant factors including whether they had representation in the U.S. And then I did the outreach. I discovered that most of the best mascara comes out of Milan Italy and I evaluated all the best but I also sampled mascara offerings out of the U.S. and Canada. Then I had to come up with a ‘black list’ of ingredients so the selected partner could formulate to my threshold of what is considered clean.
I’m doing that research all over again as I look to skincare products, most of the best of which come out of Korea. So I started with a trade organization and then perused each participating company’s website. I’ve ended up with the largest who list many of the most prestigious brands as their clients. Also looking at brow and liner – guess where the best pencils come out of? See at the end of this interview for the answer!

What is one of the most unexpected things you’ve learned about beauty as you launched this brand in the Beauty Industry that you didn’t expect?

I’ve learned that even the major brands have issues. For example, of the 11 active ingredients in one of the most popular mascaras ever includes 5 toxic ingredients – that is 45% of the total. The correct answer should be 0%!

Since you launched in 2020, what has been your most popular Mascara type? What does better the full size or the travel? I would assume customer’s buy one of each.

Volume has been our most popular. The patented brush is so unique that it spreads the smooth formula on all the lashes.

What do you believe are your top 3 most successful habits as an entrepreneur?

1. Writing a to-do today and to-do this week list while keeping a longer term calendar.

2. Asking others for their input. I can easily make the final decision but it’s good to get a host of opinions.

3. Putting myself in the ‘other person’s’ shoes; this is especially true when it comes to customers.

What are 3 business tools you can’t live or work without?

1. Canva for simple graphic design

2. Upwork and 99designs for freelancers

3. My Peloton bike to keep me sane

You and I met over Wine (amongst other things such as the San Francisco Jr. League). I ask all of my winemakers this question so thought it would be fun to ask you. You also have your WSET 3 so know a thing or two about wine…. Like me, you taste (and spit) lots of wine. What wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?

Kistler Chardonnay and Robert Denogent Pouilly Fuisse; well, pretty much any wine from Burgundy

If you could have a glass of wine with any other FABULOUS female founder, who would it be?

Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx.

What is one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your career?

Not providing a product that customers actually want.

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

Simone Cox and Maureen Blanc, founders of Blanc and Otus PR firm; they helped launch my technology events firm.

What is your favorite beauty product (outside of GrayLane mascara)?

Fenty Beauty Brow MVP Ultra-fine brow pencil & styler

Which GrayLane Mascara do you wear and why?

Seriously I wear them all. My go-to, though, is Volume on my top lashes and Lengthen on my lower lashes. But I also LOVE Curl on my top lashes. I really love Fruit Elixir for a more natural look.

What is your favorite local spot in San Francisco and Sonoma (your second home)?

For a glass of wine in the city of course my favorite is Cultivar on Chestnut Street. For dinner it’s Frascati on Hyde Street.
In Sonoma my favorite restaurant, although I have so many, is La Salette, a Portuguese restaurant on the Square. I also love Oso. As for cocktails I head to the bar at El Dorado Kitchen.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

I grew up sewing my own clothes so I am pretty handy around a sewing machine. I don’t make clothes anymore (that hit the dust when I started working at Nordstrom to get through college and got that nice discount on super-cute clothes!). What I do make, however, are home accessories – drapes, pillows, shades, etc.

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