Indie Beauty Brand Founders Share How They Overcame Major Business Obstacles

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 12 founders and executives: What was the worst day at your business, and how did you recover from it?

Nadine Artemis Founder, Living Libations

A few years ago, my home and business burned to the ground in the middle of the night. My family escaped unharmed, but we lost everything else. It was a devastating loss. In an instant, the fabric of our lives flamed into the filaments. We walked through fathomless layers of letting go.

Yet, merely days after the fire, after fire trucks, foot traffic and high-pressure water from the hoses had destroyed the plants and trees around the house, wildflowers and grasses started sprouting. The powerful rebuilding drive of nature, its steadiness and adaptability awed me and gave me strength. In the same vein, we witnessed the strength of our Living Libations team and business rising out of the ashes remarkably quickly.

Through this, I learned more about trusting life, about the glory of gratitude, counting your blessings, and blessing life back. Appreciation is a true lifeline and rose-colored glasses are an essential beauty accessory. And going through something so momentous makes mundane stressors feel completely irrelevant.

Anthony Davis Founder, iON Performance

The worst day of my business was when what I thought was our first real investor ended up revealing they did not have the capital they expressed they had. It was tough because we were so enthusiastic about the opportunity to finally execute our game plan that we had set into place to hit the ground running as soon as we obtained the funding.

When the check didn't come, it was quite a disappointment. I would think most founders know how hard it is to raise money, so you can imagine the wind that was let out of our sails. I honestly wanted to give up and start shopping my resume for a job. I had to pause, reflect on the opportunities that we did have, and decide how committed I was to the true mission of our brand and decide whether I could best help people by giving up or sticking at it.

Ironically, I remember getting a notice for an order as I was sulking. I kept looking at the name on the order because it seemed so familiar. It was one of those, "Where do I know this person from?," moments. A Google later, I realized it was an order from one of the Olympic athletes I had admired for years! It was a great surprise and a reminder that one setback is not a set up for failure, but can be leveraged as a penultimate step to greater heights.

Sebastien Tardif CEO, Veil Cosmetics

Getting our website red-flagged as fraudulent due to a shared network fraud attack and seeing our sales plummet. We had to find another online sales platform and quickly rebuild the website. We are still in the process of building our sales back to where they were prior to this unfortunate event.

Unfortunately, customer service on retail platforms such as Shopify is practically nonexistent for smaller e-tailors. It is impossible to reach anyone when a problem as such occurs on their platform. Deplorable.

Natasha Jay Founder, Pump Haircare

I would have to say my worst day in business was when I realized someone had completely copied my entire product range and business model trying to pass off as my brand. It was shocking, and I felt like I had been robbed, like someone ripped my purse right out of my hands.

After a while of feeling those emotions, I realized that I can't control what others do and, as long as I have a great business, there will be lots of copycats out there. All I can do is keep going, keep creating and keep doing what I love. Since that day, I have never looked at that copycat's site or brand again, and it hasn’t bothered me since.

Jesseca Dupart Founder, Kaleidoscope Hair Products

The worst day in business for me was when my hair salon caught on fire in 2013. We lost everything. I felt as though I was reliving the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, there were no casualties, but we suffered the immediate loss of everything.

As the owner, I definitely felt that it was my responsibility to take care of all the other stylists that worked with me, even though I had no idea how I was going to do this. By God's grace, we received donations from many in the community, which gave me the hope to keep on going.

MICHELLE VIDAL Founder, Alkaglam

We had a reality TV star approach our business and ask for product as a gift in exchange for an Instagram post. She wanted a percentage of sales if people used her code and we agreed, not knowing how controversial the person really was. Most companies know that working with influencers can be expensive and when an influencer who has a million followers wants to promote your product for free, then it seems like a big win for smaller indie companies.

I would advise to always look at who you are gifting your products to. We received tremendous backlash for gifting the product. People thought we had paid for the advertisement, and it created a PR nightmare. I really didn’t know how to deal with something like this, and I became very stressed. All we could do is apologize and make sure that we vet anyone we gift our product to. We decided to post about all of the positive press we received to let it die down. I had to learn to become stronger mentally because of it.

Laura Stearn CEO and Founder, Just Pure Essentials

We have had a couple really hard days that we had to overcome. Fortunately, they were not devastating, just extremely disappointing. One was when our very first account and PO came from a chain of nine high-end natural grocery stores, Central Markets out of Texas. We had already shipped all our agreed upon free product (50% of the order) with free testers and samples at our expense when we got an email from the buyer saying she was being forced to cancel the order.  

The new CEO heard she was bringing in an "edible massage oil,” our discreet and elegant Just Love Sensual Pleasure, Massage & Moisturizing Oil, and became indignant just sending her a one line text, “Not in my stores!” Little did he know that he was carrying KY Jelly on their shelves. We were only able to get 60% of our product back. They kept the rest. It was really unfortunate. It was a bit disheartening as it was our first order, but only the first of thousands of orders to come later.

Eugene He Founder, Ceramiracle

I think everyday in our first year was the worst day in business! We had no money, poor conversion, and we burnt half of our cash flow with a marketing agency that brought us literally no returns. We were also struggling to find our identity since our story is rather unique.

But what kept us going was our shared belief that we are doing more than just beauty with Ceramiracle. We are retelling stories of our families and people we love to inspire everyone around the world. Like I told my team, whether we make it or not doesn't really matter, but what matters most is we tried and did it together.

DANUTA DUDEK Founder, Cotarde

The worst day was when we got a big order with a very short deadline, and we physically struggled to make it happen as we ran out of one of the components due to a problem at the printer.

It was a wonderful thing with the order, but, then, we didn’t get much sleep for two weeks, spending days and nights trying to organize things around it. It was a nightmare.

Mehir Sethi CEO, Luscious Cosmetics

In more than a decade as a brand founder, the worst day for me at my business was a trademark infringement complaint filed against us by a bath bomb products brand who, it turns out, has a long history of being combative and bullying smaller brands, knowing they will balk at fighting back due to the huge expense of litigation.

Although there was no similarity found by the USPTO, we still had to hire lawyers and respond. It quickly became clear that, no matter what arguments we had, this was purely a matter of who has more money to burn in legal bills. I went through a series of intense emotions from anger, frustration to helplessness, but luckily found support in my team and mentors, who urged me to consider not only my own hard work, but also more than 600 people whose jobs I was directly responsible for.

Initially, the demand was that we completely change our brand name, which meant losing 10 years of hard earned brand equity, social and media mentions, and so much more. It was looking like a death sentence, and it took everything I had to keep my focus and judgment on track to make sure my business and everyone employed in it would survive.

Calls to other business owners who had been bullied by this brand, none of whom wanted to speak openly about it, led me to the conclusion that a protracted legal fight was out of the question with our limited resources. It took more than seven months and over $60,000 in legal bills to finally come to an arrangement where we would keep our name, but rebrand by adding another word before it.

Looking back now, I see the positive side and believe a rebrand would do us good by refreshing our logo and messaging. We’re currently underway and things are looking great, current and better than ever.

EVELYNE NYAIRO Founder, Ellie Bianca

There are ups and downs in building any successful business, especially one in an extremely competitive industry like ours. The challenges come in different forms from cash flow management, juggling strategy development and implementation with day-to-day tasks, staff management to keeping customers happy.  

I have not had a day that I will call the worst yet, maybe because my “why” for starting the brand and business in the first place is so strong. Prior to starting the brand, we developed a brand strategy. This exercise was the best investment I made for the business. It is always my grounding point when I feel down.  

Our success to date also plays a role. Looking at how far we have come, the challenges we have overcome makes the future look so promising. I call it trusting the process and keep showing up daily. I am also a firm believer that success takes three key ingredients: Commitment, persistence, and luck.

Theodora Ntovas Founder, YASOU

A few months ago, when I was getting ready to replenish my creams and approving the final formulation for Yasou’s vegan lip elixir, my formulator Nestor, who has been with me from the beginning, informed me that he sold his business to his lab technician and that he wanted to retire. The new owner wanted to move in a week. Nestor did inform me that he would continue working through the new owner for a year or so. 

I went to visit my manufacturer Rose, who also was with me from the beginning and is located in the same location as my formulator, to see if she heard the news, and she turns around and tells me that she’ll be closing her doors as well, but would finish my replenishment run. So, in one day out of the blue, I lost my formulator and manufacturer.

I was devastated. I thought, "It’s over, what am I going to do?" These people had become like an extended family to me, and I trusted them. I stayed in bed with the covers over my head for several days crying. I did not want to fold Yasou.

Then, I thought, "OK, I need to get myself up and find a new manufacturer and formulator." I can do it, and maybe it will all be OK, maybe even for the better. There’s some reason this is happening. I will find people who will sign my contracts, work ethically and want to create quality.

A few days later, I had lunch with Rose and told her how devastated I was and that I didn’t want to fold. She said, “Terry, your dream has been to have a little storefront and manufacture your line in the back, right?” I said, “Right.” Then, she said, “Why don’t you start now? We’ll teach you how to do your own batching. You can start slow and, even by just doing your own filling, you’ll be OK.” To make a long story short, my formulator also volunteered to teach me how to batch my line.  

I have rented a small space, which is now Yasou LLC’s warehouse/manufacturing showroom studio. I built an assembly line and started buying equipment. Nestor and I batched my vegan lip elixir, my first lesson. Nestor will continue working with me on a few new ideas I have for future Yasou additions and is helping me whenever I need it.  

I am getting support from everyone and have never felt more empowered and closer to my dreams. I am nervous, but also so very happy because I am in control of dealing firsthand with suppliers, overseeing the quality of my ingredients, and tweaking my creams during the batching to make sure they come out perfect.

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