Noël Duan is a former beauty editor and founder/CEO of Argos & Artemis, the global community for good dogs and good humans with good taste, which includes a popular blog and newsletter. It is the first community and lifestyle platform designed to inform and inspire dog parents—helping them live their best lives with their best friends. In 2021, Argos & Artemis will be raising a round of funding and launching a line of pet grooming products in the UK, inspired by Noël’s industry experience in both beauty and pet care.
What is your background? What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
While I was an undergraduate at Columbia University, I was a beauty intern at Teen Vogue, where I worked for both Eva Chen (now head of fashion partnerships at Instagram) and Elaine Welteroth (former editor in chief of Teen Vogue). In graduate school at the University of Oxford, I began freelance writing for publications like ELLE and Teen Vogue, covering beauty, and working as the assistant to the editor of Miss Vogue Australia (the digital issue we launched, which was a standalone app, was named Best App in 2013 by Apple). After graduating from Oxford, I was hired by Bobbi Brown to work at Yahoo Beauty, where she was appointed editor in chief by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer. She became my first mentor and has been instrumental in my career. In 2016, when we were all laid off, Bobbi hired me to be her copywriter at Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, the billion-dollar beauty brand she founded. Since then, I have also been a creative and e-commerce lead for all sorts of companies, from Y Combinator-funded hardware startups to luxury fashion conglomerates to beauty startups. Through my consulting work, I’ve helped launch many direct-to-commerce products in industries from oral care to baby wear. As a freelance journalist, I have written for publications like The Guardian, Ars Technica, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and more.
I grew up in Silicon Valley, but I never expected to be an entrepreneur. I always wanted to be a writer and editor, and I always felt like I was running away from my Silicon Valley background. But I’ve always loved creating and building new things, and I’ve always been very resilient and persistent. Turns out, those are excellent traits for entrepreneurs.
What is your definition of entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is when you’re willing to risk failure as much as you’re willing to risk success. Everyone wants to succeed, of course, but are you willing to work and sacrifice for years and still fail in the end?
How and when did you know your idea was good enough to develop it?
After adopting my first dog and the muse behind it all, Artemis, in 2016, I realized that being a dog parent—not just a dog owner—is becoming an increasingly important identity to people. We were the first-ever dog brand that focused on the people as much as the dogs, because we know that being a dog parent is a lifestyle and identity.
Pet care is a recession-proof industry worth over £200 billion worldwide. More and more people are identifying as dog parents, aka treating their dogs as children. As we know, human society has changed rapidly. And in these tumultuous times, we don’t even know what next month looks like. But the one thing that stays the same, and will be constant as long as we’re around, is our love for dogs. That’s why our name is Argos & Artemis. Argos is Odysseus’ dog, who waited 20 years for his master to return home. Artemis is the Greek goddess of wild animals, but she is also the name of my dog. Argos and Artemis are 3,000 years apart, but the love they share with their humans is timeless.
Since launching, I have tens of thousands of devoted readers and subscribers, I have spoken on panels about pet care, I have been an advisor and consultant for other pet care companies, I have built relationships and friendships with many dog-friendly companies and dog people, and I have an essay about dogs and my journey to Argos & Artemis published in an upcoming HarperCollins anthology. This traction—and the invaluable insights gained from our community—led me to begin working on our direct-to-consumer launch during the pandemic.
What would you say are the top 3 skills that needed to be a successful entrepreneur? Why?
The number one skill that an entrepreneur needs is being honest and self-aware about what skills you don’t have. You need to be resourceful and willing to ask for help because it’s impossible to know all the answers.
I would say you should also develop some confidence around public speaking and develop domain expertise in your industry, if you don’t have it already. You really need to inspire others to believe you, and you need substance behind that vision, too.
What is your favourite part of being an entrepreneur?
Building relationships with fellow dog parents (and aspiring dog parents) around the world and hiring other people to create their best work. I’m not a micromanager—I like to trust people to give me their best, and I haven’t been disappointed yet.
What individual, company or organization inspires you most? Why?
Lately, I’ve been really inspired by Canadian entrepreneur Aurora James, the founder of the slow-fashion brand Brother Vellies—which makes the most incredible shoes—and the 15 Percent Pledge campaign, which asks retailers to devote 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. She was also on the September 2020 cover of American Vogue, illustrated by the artist Jordan Casteel. Aurora often speaks about how all of her pursuits are related and tied together by the same missions and values. She has this steadfast consistency and confidence that I hope to instill into my work and life, too.
If you had 5 minutes with the above individual/ company/organization, what would you want to ask or discuss?
I’d love to speak to her about empowering local communities in the supply chain, and convince her to adopt a dog.
What has been your most satisfying or successful moment in business?
I recently worked with some of the most acclaimed writers of our time—such as Carmen Maria Machada, Meghan Daum, Porochista Khakpour, and Bret Anthony Johnston—and artists like Liz Montague, the New Yorker’s only Black female cartoonist (at the time)—on an Argos & Artemis literary salon dedicated to original writing and art about dogs. This was a project that I ideated and executed on my own—with very limited resources—during the height of the pandemic. It’s been so exciting to see how Argos & Artemis is pushing conversations in culture.
What would you say have been some of your mistakes, failures or lessons learned as an entrepreneur?
I spent an entire year thinking about Argos & Artemis before doing anything about it. I do not regret a single moment of building this company, but I do regret all the time I spent doing nothing about it.
How have you funded your ideas?
We are raising a round of funding for our direct-to-commerce pet grooming launch in the UK in 2021.
If a new entrepreneur or startup came to you looking for entrepreneurship resources, where would you send them?
Right now, I think it’s easier than ever to get information from experts—from webinars to Zoom calls. You no longer have to meet someone for coffee to get 30 minutes of their time, and you no longer have to attend conferences to hear expert speakers. You can reach out to whoever you want, wherever they are located geographically—and I think everyone should take advantage of that. Years ago, I had a five-minute coffee with Emily Weiss of Glossier, and she told me that you should always reach out to people. The worst thing that can happen is that they ignore you, and then you can try again in six months.
That means not just checking out the Enterprising Oxford website, but also reaching out to the Enterprising Oxford team to ask if they had any resources or contacts who could help you.
That said, here are some resources, especially for female founders, that I’ve used to learn more on my own: TechCrunch, FounderMade, BeautyMatter, AllBright, iFundWomen, Lunchclub, Create & Cultivate. All of these organizations have been actively hosting useful (and mostly free) webinars for entrepreneurs during the pandemic, and I’ve learned so much from them just by being an observer.
Any last words of advice?
I tend to overdo my research, probably because of the strong research skills that Oxford helped me develop, as well as my career as a journalist! I love to ask questions and I always know how to find the answer. But when you’re an entrepreneur, there won’t always be a definitive answer, and you will still have to move forward and make decisions. When I was launching Argos & Artemis, I reached out to everyone I knew who could possibly offer me some advice. But investors and founders started offering me opposing advice—for example, one investor would tell me to go in one direction, and the next day, another investor would tell me to go in the exact opposite direction. My friend Meg He, a fellow Oxford alumna and proud dog mom, who co-founded the sustainable fashion brand ADAY, offered me this advice: “At a certain point, you need to stop asking for advice and just start building. You’re going to get confused if you keep asking and not acting.”