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The Published Author Podcast

FROM REFUGEE TO SKIN-CARE ENTREPRENEUR AND BESTSELLING AUTHOR

Suhein Beck is the founder of ELAJ, a natural skincare company, and a bestselling author. She’s also a Syrian refugee, hosted an international talk show in the Mideast where she had to literally dodge bombs, has been involved in multiple FBI sting operations, and is now an American entrepreneur.

In this episode we talk about Suhein’s background, how she came to the US, the amazing story of founding her company based on her grandfather’s family recipe for a wound care ointment, and how publishing a book gave her a platform and legitimacy as a skincare expert.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Josh Steimle:

Welcome to the Published Author Podcast where we help entrepreneurs learn how to write a book and leverage it to grow their business and make an impact. I'm your host, Josh Stein Lee. Today, my guest is Suhein Beck. Suhein is the founder of ELAJ Natural Skincare company and a best selling author. But we're just getting started. She's also a Syrian refugee, hosted an international talk show in the Middle East where she had to literally dodge bombs. And she's been involved in multiple FBI sting operations. Now she's an American entrepreneur. Suhein, welcome to the show.

Suhein Beck:

Hey, good morning, Josh. Thank you.

Josh Steimle:

Alright, so Suhein, and I just got connected yesterday. So I don't know a lot about her background. But I've heard these tidbits about FBI stuff and the Mideast and bombs and stuff and we've got to get this story. So Suhein, give us a little bit of background on who you are, and where you came from and your upbringing. Tell us some of these amazing stories.

Suhein Beck:

Okay, do you mind if I talk fast?

Josh Steimle:

Just go Yep.

Suhein Beck:

All right. Born in Syria, I am Circassian heritage, which is from the Caucasus Mountains and southern Russia. So my peoples Circassians were exiles. We fought a 102 year war with Russia. We finally surrendered May 21, 1864. Since then, there was a huge exile and genocide. And so from that generation, which is my grandfather, they pretty much moved out. Only about 500,000 Circassians remained in Circasia and thereafter Stalin took over in the early 20th century. So it was my grandfather's generation, that were the ones that were refugees that came out of there. They landed everywhere from Europe, to the Middle East. My grandfather happened to study medicine in Turkey, and become one of the top doctors, surgeons for the Ottoman Empire and for one of the last Sultan's. And there is where he developed a few medications. And that medication is actually what I am, I inherited, and I launched my company ELAJ with now 10 years ago. So of course, you know, he was in Turkey in the Middle East, and I was born in Syria, in Damascus. And then in 1971, when the Ba'ath revolution took place where the current regime took over in 1971, my father, who had very strong democratic principles, said, you know, this is not going to work for us, you know, and so, this is like our second refuge. You know, actually our third because we were housed in 1967. We were in the Golan Heights between Israel and Syria. And that's where we realized that we were just buffers between two warring factions. And you know, because we are typical warriors.

Josh Steimle:

Yeah,that wasn't a comfortable place to be in 1967.

Suhein Beck:

No, no. And we realized, Oh, that's why they put us here, you know, from Circasia there. And because we were warriors, they expected us to fight, you know, their war. And we're like, ah, you know, they're not been there. We're not into this. So let's get out of here. So in 1967, we went into the city of Damascus. And then 1971, was the Ba'ath revolution, my father had written and published enough work about democracy, that he knew that a socialist regime was not going to appreciate his work. And so he knew that if the regime took over, he would be one of the first ones to magically disappear. So we took off on a midnight train through Turkey into Germany. There we were able to come to the United States through the Tolstoy Foundation, how ironic. So it was through the Tolstoy Foundation that we were able to arrive in New York. We lived there for about 10 years and strangely, and oddly enough, we were the victims and target of domestic terrorism in New Jersey, and so, you know.

Josh Steimle:

Just couldn't escape it.

Suhein Beck:

You just can't escape it. And like, maybe we are the magnet for this chaos. It's kind of funny, because, you know, we don't back down and there were, you know, mafias, and gangs, and it was cute. It was like West Side Story, you know, without the musicals.

Josh Steimle:

And with guns and people chasing you.

Suhein Beck:

Yeah, and killing our dogs and poisoning our guard dogs and trying to set us on fire and kidnapping me and we got bulletproof windows at a young age. And yeah, so there's just quite a bit of, you know, amazing stories on that end. I opened up a YouTube channel about two years ago and my first interview was with my mother and it was the first time ever we even discussed any of this stuff. And it turns out, it's very traumatic and we had no idea you know, a fish does not know it's in water. And as I started with the videos and the YouTube channel, I was inundated with people that were just saying, Suhein, we never knew you had gone through all that. And I was like, What? What didn't you? My question was like, well, what, you know, you didn't go through that where you were being chased down by ethnic gangs and whatnot. And what's funny is that these were American gangs. And because we were the ethnic immigrants, of course, we were the targets, you know. It wasn't anything more than that. And, you know, in the end, we actually befriended them, and, you know, finally found a way to melt their hearts, you know, and, you know, I challenge anyone to hate me, you know, like, I can feed you the best of food, and I dare you to hate me after. I dare you like, it's just not possible. I can feed your heart very well. So then we moved to California, and we bought a 711. And it was in smack dab, LA, it was in Whittier, in the 80s, which was a very tumultuous time as well. And through that, we became very cognizant of how to handle gangs and whatnot. And we learned really well, and, honestly, you know, I say this with, you know, the most benefits at heart, and that is that gangs, and mafias, and any kind of terrorists, what it really comes back to is just respect, you know, like, the whole psychological element of that kind of herd warfare is just to gain some level of respect, and can you see me and that's the common denominator. And because we were able to really on a counter level of that, we were able to penetrate the gangs in Whittier, on a really nice level, and they ended up becoming our protectors, and then there was not a antagonistic relationship anymore. And so in the end, it worked out very well. I later ended up in property management for 20, you know, real estate and property management. There were times where I had to evict actual Samoan gangs out of Oklahoma, Washington, and I did it in a very respectful way. And they became very kind and gentle with me in return. And it became a mutual, respectful relationship. So that's the moral of my story is that you know, through the international dealings between the Middle East and even American domestic terrorism, there's a beautiful element to it, if we could just dig deep enough into the human side of it. And that is just to get to know each other, feed each other. Bring them inside the door, like as courageous as that is, from my Circassian heritage, there's actually a very important cultural protocol. And that is that we honor our enemies the minute they enter our doors and we treat them as the most honored and royal of guests. And whatever they decide to do after they exit our door that's on to them. But it was the moment that they enter our doors, that we have the obligation to treat them with the utmost respect and love and kindness. And so that is my Circassian heritage that has helped pay off, you know, in the long term. There you go.

Josh Steimle:

Wow, that's amazing. And I'm so thankful that you've brought that here to the U.S. It seems like here in the US, we've gotten a little bit soft. I mean, your family has gone through hundreds of years of challenges that have hardened you and toughened you up. And here in the U.S., we've kind of had it easy. I mean, a lot of us some people have it hard, of course. But a lot of us have it kind of easy here. And it seems like it makes us soft and how do you feel like these experiences have helped you as an entrepreneur, as you've been running businesses.

Suhein Beck:

I did an interview for a gal Paula Rosser and she has a podcast called the Fearless Woman and, you know, I also teach classes in business now. And the number one thing that everyone asks me is like, what is the number one skill for an entrepreneur and I say courage. You know, just having the courage to get to get up in the morning. Have the courage to say your dream out loud and create a vision board. Make the intention, you know, it's just the courage. It's the day to day grind of truly doing something no one else has done, whether it's in marketing, whether it's in you know how to deal with the customers. You know, in my case, when I launched my ELAJ company my own family were totally against it. You know, this is the formula that my grandfather created in Turkey for wound care, you know, and it serves a purpose for skin to help heal skin. And the exact words from my family, including my mother, who was the only one that kept the recipe was, no, no Americans are not going to like this, because it's so thick and concentrated and gooey. And, you know, they like a light moisturizer that you know, evaporates quickly on the skin. And ELAJ sits on the skin so heavily that Americans are not going to like it. So I had that to deal with. And so, you know, most entrepreneurs, I think, deal with their inner circle being their first and most critical audience. And they have to jump that first ripple effect outside of them to get to the next level. And you know, that's a survival tactic as well. So courage by far takes it and I think ignorant blind courage would be the adjectives I add to the word courage, but courage.

Josh Steimle:

So tell us a little bit more about starting this business ELAJ. It's fascinating that this came from a recipe that your grandfather had for wound care. But tell us about starting the business, getting that up and running, what were some of the challenges that you faced, how did you overcome those?

Suhein Beck:

I knew nothing about skincare. I failed chemistry in high school. So full disclosure, okay. Put that into perspective, when I tell you that when the real estate market crashed in 2007 - 2008, I had done real estate for I don't know, 20 something years. And, you know, what the heck do I do, you know, at that point, and I had just come off of this courageous adventure, where I decided to, you know, basically leave real estate, you know, the company was doing well enough that I could leave for a little while and do a creative gig. And that was I wrote a script, that got picked up in the Middle East. And then they looked, they liked the story and my ability to speak to both audiences in Arabic and in English. And they offered me three talk shows in the Middle East. And they had said, we found our Oprah. And as ridiculously absurd as that sounds from the outside it had the potential to be amazing, because I had the perspective from both angles of the East and the West. And that's really what's missing right now there. So I was able to communicate that in a soft, gentle way, which is not like feminine, excuse expression ballbusting way, you know, and the Middle East can't handle that anyway. So we had great potential. We got picked up by great sponsors, like Nestle and Dove. And as I was, we were on the fourth day of filming my pilot series, which was boot camp of young women with Suhein and it's exactly the opposite of what sounds like boot camp sounds military, right. But here I am preaching true peace, which is love. And so we were on the fourth day of filming, it was an amazing day. I had just had a breakthrough with one of the girls that had lost her father 9:30am, July 13, 2006 and bada boom, bada bang, the bombings began.

Josh Steimle:

What year was this?

Suhein Beck:

2006.

Josh Steimle:

Okay.

Suhein Beck:

So this was we were filming in Lebanon in Beirut. We were in the mountains of Black Nook and we get the cut, cut. And the directors came and said, Suhein , we need to evacuate the girls. You can't tell them anything. You need to get them down the mountain and back to their parents. The roads that we were on, were being bombed. And so again, you know, it was quite an ordeal. So that year 2006 - 2007 I was devastated. Like, that was like nothing in my previous life, no matter how extraordinary it was, possibly prepare me for that day, July 13 2006, of losing my dream. I had gotten barely the courage to to leave my business and do my writing my creative spirit. And then I felt like I was being penalised. And for about 10 years, I did no writing. I could not pick up a pen or you know the proverbial pen. Because the ink had dried, because I felt like I was being punished that I had the courage or the audacity to write my true inner spirits and the world was not ready for it. And if you come from the Middle East, you you'll understand what that means, you know, because it was such a courageous thing that I was saying, you know, like the feminine power and peace and non-prejudicial types of philosophies and to discard, you know, those religious socio-political baggage, psychological baggage. So that really stunted my writing for many, many years. And so I needed to dive into something completely different. I go to my hairstylist, and he had, he was the best hairstylist on the planet. And he had horrible infection on his hands, and he could not do the work, but he was supervising someone else to do the work. And I was just and being a woman, you know, like, I have a vested interest in getting his hands back in shape, because I need my hair. And I pulled out my from my purse, the little vial of the goop that my grandfather had created. And I gave it to him as a tip. About a week later, he calls me he said, name your price. And that was my aha moment. You know, and I called my brothers and I said, you know, hey, what if we've been sitting on a lottery ticket, and none of us had done anything? And they laughed in my face, and they're like, haha, good luck. Because we've tried and mom was not cooperative. And the manufacturing procedure is so complicated, you especially you are not going to be able to do it. You know, I caused explosions at Cal High in Whittier, in 1986, and 87. So like, I didn't fail chemistry, like I caused explosions. So yeah, I dove in, and not knowing anything about anything. I didn't even know how to convert, you know, measurements at that point. And so I did, I learned and then I launched the company at the street fair in Palm Springs. I live in Orange County, California. Palm Springs, is the desert community about an hour and a half inland. Why did I launch there, because I knew my demographic was going to be there. You know, older people with health and skin conditions in the desert. These are snowbirds flying in from very cold, extreme weather into the hot, you know, winter climate of the desert. And so the first weekend, I made 200, and I don't know, some $216 or something. And I had no idea what I was doing because I wasn't in direct sales to customers before. A few weeks later, the same customers came back. And this was the other aha moment. They came back and they said, What's in this? You know, why is this working? You know, this is helping my eczema. And some people will come back and they'd say, you know, this is working on my psoriasis. And like, they were legitimately questioning me. And some were angry. Some were suspicions and you know, they said, does this have steroids in it? What, first of all, how do you spell eczema? Is that with an X? and Psoriasis is with a P is that a silent P? I had no clue. So we're talking like this is 2008. I had no idea what eczema was, psoriasis. When they said steroids, I pictured Arnold Schwarzenegger doing his muscle moves. Because I did not know that steroids come in various forms. You know, some are oral, some are animal anabolic. Some are topical. And it turns out that the dermatology industry and I say industry, so hang on to that word. So I had some research to do and that was what is eczema, what is psoriasis? And what the heck are topical steroids and why are they accusing me of having topical steroids in my goop? So that's where it all began. And I went into my cave, my research cave and I started doing the research and the answer is no, I absolutely do not have steroids in my ELAJ skincare products. Secondarily, I dove into the world of eczema and psoriasis and discovered that the medical world, medical industry relies solely on topical steroids. And there is no other alternative and the sad thing is is that eczema is a chronic condition and the medications that they prescribe, specifically state by the manufacturer, do not use more than two weeks at a time. So as I was in the street fair, working every Saturday and Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., the most humbling humiliating experience you can imagine. Now imagine this like this is right after my gig in Lebanon, where I was flying back and forth first class. I had three talk shows in the making. I was the Oprah of the Middle East. And now all of a sudden, I'm pitching attend at four o'clock in the morning in a street fair. So, you know, you want to talk about humble pie. That's the humble pie, you know, as an entrepreneur, like, it doesn't get uglier than that. But man, did it serve its purpose? Wow, wow! Well, it served its purpose on the most amazing way. Week after week I was frontline talking to my customers, and they were educating me. They came back and told me, I've been on steroids for 10 years. I've been on steroids for 20 years. And they only made my problem worse. And look what it's done to me. And they would show me their full body red. And they're like, that's not eczema. And what we discovered at the same time, there was this underground internet community that was just launching and it's called the International Topical Steroid Awareness Network. It was a group of moms that were comparing notes, and talking about how their children had gone through the most horrific process of the actual medication, making their skin and their immune system worse. So this just became a fascinating process for me that it was human. Because I don't come from a medical background. I don't come from a science background. But I was involved from the human side. I had faces, and people crying in my booth. And I couldn't wear mascara anymore when I was working at the booth, because I would bawl crying, listening to their devastation, where people couldn't work anymore, because their hands were wretched with like, open wounds. So meanwhile, ELAJ was doing very well for them. And they would come back and I would take before and after pictures and testimonials, and I had hundreds and hundreds of testimonials week after week. So now the humiliating thing that I hated the most was the thing that was my biggest blessing launching my company, being educated about my product, and for getting all these testimonials, and basically one of the largest databases of a case study research. So talk about listening to your customers, is the biggest gift you give yourself. I wanted to stay on the cosmetic, you know, this is a moisturizer, because that would keep me off the radar of the FDA. But the customers were coming back and saying, Suhein you need to get this as an eczema you need to get this on the market. You need to get this as an over the counter medication. And I was just like, no, no, no. I am an immigrant. I am from the Middle East. If anyone knows this is from the Middle East. They're going to be you know, no, no, no, this is an Arab medication. This is Circassian who is that? What's that? You know no, no, this is witchcraft. And so I really struggled and resisted for as long as I can. And then I got a phone call from QVC, one of the buyers had visited the street fair, her son had eczema, and she said, we want the product. And I said, Okay, I'm ready to fly into Philadelphia, you know. I'll come in and I'll sell and don't worry, I'll keep my you know, legality, you know, liability issues, you know, very careful, I won't make medical claims. She said no, no, no, no, no, no, we don't need another moisturizer. We want this for eczema. So, you know, send me your drug monograph. And I'm like, yeah, sure, I'll send it to you on Monday. We'll go. What is the drug monograph and then I proceeded to get the drug monograph. I hired an attorney that had previously worked for the FDA now in private practice that can help small companies get into the over the counter medication registration. I did that. We changed the packaging, and from that moment, the minute that I got the FDA monograph and the packaging setup, then I got deals left and right to globally license my product. And within three months, we had a national television commercial and within six months we landed the biggest licensing distribution deal. And we were manufacturing 250,000 jars of ELAJ in one cycle. And we were in every Walmart, every Bed Bath & Beyond within six months.

Josh Steimle:

Wow, what an amazing story. So let's connect this to the book. What became the inspiration for the book? Why did you feel like I need to write a book?

Suhein Beck:

Okay, so as I was educated by my customers, and a plethora of you know, consumers from around the world, who all had the same experience, and that is the doctor prescribes topical steroids. It doesn't work. They keep using it, they keep using it. And there's a lifetime of side effects that occurs that no one talks about. So this underground community on the internet, ISTAN had started documenting it as well. Meanwhile, I'm documenting it on the other side. I contact them and we start partnering on things. I wrote a music video. It's on YouTube called topical steroid side effects. And it's a music video because I really wanted to educate people about the side effects. And I found myself repeating the same story over and over again. So if I had somebody that came in, and they're like, Oh, what does ELAJ do And I would ask them, What are you using? And they would say, Oh, I have medication? And I would say, okay, do you know that the topical steroids could potentially be causing other side effects, including exasperation of the eczema furthering it? No, I didn't know. What does that mean. So I was repeating my education platform over and over and over again. And that was exhausting, because I was there to make sales. But I love education. Because it was always a human, the human side of it was, you know, so I didn't want to neglect or just serve my customers. And it's almost like, I don't want people to buy my product until they're fully educated on to what they've been using, how to wean off of them carefully, because there's a procedure that they need to do. And the long term effects. I mean, the long term side effects of topical steroids can go up to 5-6-7 years. It is full adrenal shutdown fatigue. So to educate them gently, softly. It's a therapy book, because now they have this, like very angry, you know, how could my doctors have done this to me? Yeah, you know what I mean? So I had to put it in perspective of history that steroids serve in a fabulous purpose. And there was no alternative. Certainly, there was no natural alternative. So doctors didn't have a choice. Let's not be angry at them. Let's focus on the solution. So that was what my book was about. So the name of the book is Topical Steroids Side Effects. And honestly, it was just, it was going to be a pamphlet, ended up being a book. And the number one dermatologist that teaches about this condition of red skin syndrome is Dr. Koushik Lahiri. He's from India. He's published textbooks, and he is an international speaker now for the medical industry to teach, you know that doctors need to re-educate themselves about this, you know, this medication that is not working. So he wrote the foreword of my book. And let me tell you, that was just the most amazing thing to have the number one dermatologists on the planet, agreed to write the foreword of this book of me who I don't have a college degree, I failed chemistry. I knew nothing about skin 10 years ago. But he read the book, he approved it, and wrote the foreword of it. It was the ultimate, ultimate honor. And that was the ultimate compliment for me that wow, listening skills paid off.

Josh Steimle:

How did you get that connection with him so that he was willing to write the foreword for your book?

Suhein Beck:

It was through ITSAN. You know, I reached out to him directly, and he's in India, and he's always on the road speaking but he's very active with the International Topical Steroid Awareness Network. And he was also in a documentary of Brianna Banos who was a victim of this, and I was in her documentary as well. And it's kind of a small group that is trying to do a public outreach to the medical world and to the public at large, as well. So I published the book I self-published it on Amazon and yes, it was a number one bestseller in three categories. It was number two in dermatology. I never got to number one in dermatology. But number two is pretty darn good for someone like me. And another really amazing compliment came is when a Canadian dentist who is the University Chair of the Orthodontic Department of University of Saskatchewan, Dr. Ken Sutherland. And he had to use my product. He's always supported me. He buys in bulk, and goes back to Canada. And he gives it to his patients. And I am like Dr. Sutherland, what do you do with this? And he said, when I am doing orthodontic treatments, you know, my patients have to come back every month for adjustments, when their mouth is open for a long period of time, they get open cracks, and that makes them more susceptible to cold sores. When they use ELAJ they're not getting cold sores. And I'm like, yeah, that's the thing. So when I published my book, he was so supportive. He was putting a medical conference together in Canada, and he invited me to be a speaker, and teach doctors. Like, I giggle like a little girl when I say this, because it's just so unbelievable that someone like me could end up teaching at a medical conference, an international medical conference, to doctors, and you know how arrogant and egotistical doctors are, especially for a non-traditional pharmaceutical product. You know that that doesn't happen and it happened. But COVID happened. And so I didn't go It was supposed to be in September in 2020. But I didn't, but the invitation is still there. So yeah, so the book opened up so much. It helped my sales, legitimize my company, my product and our mission, that we're not out there just to do the sale that, you know, like, I created a music video on YouTube. I wrote a book, you know, by the same name, Topical Steroids Side Effects. We're on a mission. And that's our mission. And 100% of the proceeds of my book went to ITSAN, the International Topical Steroid Awareness Network. So I had no desire whatsoever to like, make money off of the book. It was a public service announcement, and it was legitimizing my 10 years of slaving away in a hot tent in Palm Springs. Yeah, that's my story, Josh.

Josh Steimle:

That's great. So do you get a lot of people who read the book, and then they become customers because of it?

Suhein Beck:

Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. And, you know, my call to fame, basically, is the fact that I've been able to help coach people out of using topical steroids carefully. And no, I don't get paid for coaching. I'm not doing it like no, no, no, no. Like, it really is a humanitarian. You know, throw it in the ocean and washed up on your shore or someone else's shore in a time of need. And it has. It's done well.

Josh Steimle:

It's great. Thank you so much Suhein for being with us today and sharing the story. I think it's great to hear all this background about the business and where it came from because it really gives human face to the business. I mean, we can see that you care about this. You're passionate about this. And it's not about making the money. It's about helping people and putting this product out there. And it's so cool that it came through your grandfather, and it's kind of a family thing. And it's great to see how the book weaves into that. So for people who want to learn more about you and about ELAJ where's the best place for them to go? Can you give us some websites, some links to go to?

Suhein Beck:

Yeah, actually, my name Suhein Beck on YouTube. I have my channel there which I talked about the whole experience of being refugee, immigrant, entrepreneur, and Cercassian. I've just recently moved back to Turkey and even though I was born in Syria, but I moved to Turkey and I feel kindred there and I want to do some more writing there. So I'm hoping to publish some more books as well. There's my personal website Suhein.com. And then I also have my company website, Elajnaturally.com. So it's Elajnaturally.com Elaj in seven languages means healing.

Josh Steimle:

Oh, great.

Suhein Beck:

Yeah. So Elaj means healing naturally. And yeah, so Elaj naturally or Suhein Beck.

Josh Steimle:

Can you spell Suhein for us?

Suhein Beck:

S-u-h-e-i-n. Last name Beck, B-e-c-k. When we got off the boat, Josh, we didn't know it was I before E except after C? So Suhein. S-u-h-e-i-n.

Josh Steimle:

Perfect. Thank you so much Suhein for being with us today on the Published Author Podcast.

Suhein Beck:

Thank you. Congratulations to you. Your podcast is doing great. I've listened to so many episodes and I commend you good job. Good luck to you too.

Josh Steimle:

Thank you. Thank you so much.

Suhein Beck:

Very good. Thank you.

Josh Steimle:

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