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Building the Plane as You’re Flying It

A Slice on Amy Parsons, Co-Founder and CEO of Mozzafiato

As a practicing attorney and university executive, Amy Parsons never imagined herself as an entrepreneur. Through her international travels, however, Parsons came to love the craft beauty and heritage brands of Italy. These brands were family-owned and multigenerational with quality as their number one priority. Returning home to the U.S., Parsons saw a “juxtaposition” with the American beauty industry that’s dominated by big brands, influencers and trends. While working from home during COVID, Parsons saw an opportunity to bring the Italian brands she loves to the U.S., and started Mozzafiato as an online marketplace of imported Italian beauty products. 

Parsons brought the idea to her now business partner, who is Italian himself and invests in Italian companies. They began researching and reaching out to companies at the peak of the pandemic in Italy. While this may have deterred others from trying to do business, Parsons found it to be the best time to do so. “Everyone was forced into a mindset of innovation at the same time. Thinking, ‘Maybe we do need to starting thinking about new markets internationally.’ They were open to us and our pitch in a way that maybe they wouldn’t have been, had we not been in the current situation.” In place of in-person meetings, the companies sent over products for Parsons to test and had education sessions over Zoom. They did this with 17 companies, all of whom agreed to sell their products through Mozzafiato. 

With this momentum, Parsons decided to dedicate all of her time to Mozzafiato, quitting her job in September 2020 and quickly putting together a website before officially launching in November ahead of the holiday season. In addition to all of this “madness”, they had to (and still do) deal with the challenge of importing during a global pandemic. It’s an expense they have to incur to make these products accessible to the U.S. market and it isn’t something they have much control over. 

Once the products are in the U.S., there’s still another challenge: visibility in a saturated market. Parsons noted the beauty industry in the U.S. is valued at roughly $60 billion, which “presents a lot opportunity for a startup but also presents a huge challenge to fight for visibility in the market that’s so dominated by big retailers… For us, it’s really just a fight to let people know that we’re here.” The decline in physical retail sales worldwide has also made an impact on their ability to get in front of customers. They have many fragrances, which are difficult to sell online where no one can smell them before buying. In the future, they plan on exploring more of a hybrid physical-digital model to get past this hurdle. “We have to adjust and figure out what’s our best play between online and physical and where those overlaps are.” 

While their presence is all virtual as of now, the Mozzafiato office is nestled in the middle of the country in Denver, Colorado. Parsons and a small team work together physically in their office, with multiple other team members outside the state and country working remotely. She’s found that the forced remote life of COVID has actually made it easier to find talent because no one is limited by their geography anymore. Still, Parsons loves being in Denver and believes it has a very “supportive environment for startups” and is known for innovation. She’s received free mentoring from places like Energize Colorado, which have helped her tremendously as a first-time founder. Though the coasts are more known for startup activity, Parsons has seen a lot of growth in the Denver community, especially over the course of the pandemic. 

One area she does think needs improvement, however, is the support for startups in the growth phase. “Unless there’s also support for growth, for second-stage startups, it doesn’t really matter if you’re a great place for startups if they’re just going to fail.” Parsons has noticed this to be especially true when it comes to women founders like herself. “It’s [Denver] known as a great place for female startups, but there’s a high failure rate for female startups as well. In order for Denver to really be successful in this space, they need to give as much attention to the growth of companies as they do to getting companies off the ground.”

Parsons notes she’s “learned so much from just starting” throughout her experience as a first-time founder. “It’s scary to do it, but there’s a lot to be said for a minimum viable level of preparation, but then just starting. You learn the most valuable lessons when you’re building the plane as you’re flying it. It’s risky because you’re going as fast as you can to keep up with it and not make too many mistakes. The trick is just starting the flywheel, turning, and then learning as fast as you can along the way to make it go faster and faster.” 

She’s motivated by building something new and seeing her idea come to fruition. In the next five years, her goal is for Mozzafiato to not only be a significant player in the U.S. market but also be a global brand while still remaining true to the companies they represent. They also look to begin their fundraising journey (Mozzafiato is currently privately funded) in the near future.

Founder Bio

Amy Parsons got her BA in Political Science and Government from Colorado State University and a JD in Law from the University of Colorado Boulder. She then spent 20 years as a practicing attorney and university executive with the CSU System before launching Mozzafiato with her co-founder in 2020. Connect with Parsons on LinkedIn

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