Fear Factor: Indie Beauty Brand Founders Share The Scariest Business Moments They’ve Faced

In this edition of Beauty Independent’s ongoing series posing questions to beauty entrepreneurs, we ask 12 founders and executives: What’s been the scariest moment you’ve encountered at your brand?

Inger Ellen Nicolaisen Co-Founder, Eleni & Chris

One of my scariest moments as an entrepreneur was when I could not pay my bills. In the beginning, the business costs piled up faster than the revenue came in. The bank called me and said we would have to move out of our house. It was scary because I had two young children. Fortunately, I was able to borrow money, and we did not lose the house.

Matthew Stillman Founder, Primal Derma

It would be pretty great if the scary times were just moments. Orchestrally speaking, these moments are more like movements, sustained periods where certain items and themes are put into relationship and learned about.

Certainly, when my co-founder had to drop out of the Primal Derma venture within weeks of launching the brand because her husband was diagnosed with one of the rarest kinds of brain cancer, [that] was scary for her, her family and for me. She was and is a dear friend. That suddenly put me on the hook for all the funding for the company and trying to learn everything that a brilliant Columbia MBA knew about business, marketing, finance, branding and the like on the fly. That movement is still happening, but we are making our way.

Lauren Bilon Founder, Plume

One event that really comes to mind was the first television appearance Plume made with me as the spokesperson. It was Breakfast Television in our hometown of Calgary in the spring of 2016. This was early in the life of the company, just six months after launching, so I was not accustomed to being interviewed and, on top of that, I am terrified of public speaking.

We all arrived at the studio – the entire Plume team – and that was a confidence booster for me, just knowing that I had the support of my team. My husband was there, my brother-in-law and our marketing manager, who was doubling as our on-screen lash model. That was the entire company back then.

My anxiety was through the roof as we put on the mics and arranged the set. I was so worried that, when it was my turn to speak, no sound would come out.  Then, action, suddenly the host was talking to me, and it was surreal. I felt so nervous those first few seconds, but then it got better, and I felt better. In the end, it went quite well. Once you begin, things are not a scary as they have been in your mind.

Manny Barbas Founder and Director, Alya Skin

The scariest part about being an entrepreneur is the fear of the unknown. When investing heavily in a new idea, product or business, there really is no guarantee that it's going to work. However, you need to visualize a clear path and have an end goal. Tunnel vision will allow you to reach that goal, which helps eliminate fear. This is how I eliminate the fear of the unknown. Set goals, work towards those goals and, most importantly, never give up when things seem to be down. Being an entrepreneur has its risk and its rewards.

Julie Levin Owner and Manufacturer, Leaf People

Leaf People is a self-financed venture and, about four or five years into it, our country experienced the major economic downturn of 2008/2009. This created big challenges for the retail market and small entrepreneurs. Yet, I was at a point of no turning back with my business. I had invested everything, burned the candles at both ends, working a full-time job in order to have enough money to build Leaf People. It was a make it or break it time. I had to succeed otherwise I had sacrificed everything for nothing.

I was scared because those were incredibly stressful times. I was exhausted and didn’t know what was going to happen from one day to the next. Thankfully, with the support of my Buddhist teacher and meditation practice, along with strong relationships with my mentors, I was able to keep going, continue producing top quality products and push through.

Instead of giving into fear, I steadfastly focused on my intentions for the business, which were and continue to be making charitable contributions and environmentally-friendly products to truly benefit people, their health and their skin. I knew that, as long as I stayed on my path, combined with working harder than anyone I knew, we would thrive.

Erin Williams Founder, Erin’s Faces

Staffing! I had been running Erin’s Faces on my own for about five years with minor help. In the fifth year, it became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to sustain the company by myself any longer and that I had to hire people to help jar, label and process online orders. I had no idea how to interview people and made a couple of mistakes along the way with some hires that weren’t the right fit, but learned what is important to me in an employee: positivity, work ethic and a strong sense of team.

I also realized that they couldn’t absorb everything at once and weren’t mind readers, so I had to put systems into place, labeling things clearly, creating an employee handbook, setting expectations upon hire, to help them with everything. It had just been me for so long, and I knew how to do everything, so a lot wasn’t terribly user friendly. Handing your baby over to someone is hard, but has helped us to grow tremendously, and I don’t know what I would do without my wonderful team.

Ashley Ocampo Knowles Founder, HALEYS

Taking the leap and deciding to be an entrepreneur has been the scariest moment, hands down. It’s really unsettling to transition from the steady corporate world to something unpredictable and unstructured. I questioned whether or not entrepreneurship was the right move for me, even though I always dreamed of having my own business since college.

Pulling the trigger takes a lot of courage. With the support and encouragement of family and friends, I decided to get serious and drafted a business plan with near and long-term goals. Once I had a plan in place, I started focusing on the specifics and how to achieve the goals I set for myself. It took some time to get up and running, but everything else started to fall into place. Looking back, there have been many scary moments as an entrepreneur, but nothing quite like starting.

Jeff Smith Founder and Creative Director, Petite Histoire

When I was starting the line, I had huge issues with packaging, which arrived about seven months late. My bottle manufacturer shut down unexpectedly for a month because of the holidays. I had boxes manufactured in the same city to save on shipping costs and logistics, but they ended up sitting on a dock for two months while the bottles were made.

When the bottles were ready, I was told the shipment wasn’t going to happen from the port as I had thought, so I had to find a courier to get everything moved within 24 hours, last minute, from halfway around the globe. Once everything finally arrived stateside, I had another last-minute delivery from New Jersey to New York to coordinate, as my goods had been unloaded at the wrong port of arrival, and I now had to find a customs broker to negotiate with customs agents.

Finally, the labels for the back of the boxes took 90 days instead of the promised seven to arrive. Instead of using the supplied graphics, the printer tried to recreate them, but misspelled our key ingredients, which caused two rounds of printing, further delayed by the holidays.

Overall, the whole process was a complete nightmare, but it was a critical learning experience. Throughout all of the delays, I was upfront and honest with everyone I was interacting with: suppliers, manufacturers, warehouses, couriers. There were a lot of people I had to keep updated and, while it was sometimes embarrassing saying I was yet again going to be late, I felt the honesty was key in maintaining and building those relationships. There’s only so much you can do, but transparency when you’re starting out goes a long way.

Maria Barillaro Vice-President, TōN Cosmetics

As entrepreneurs, the scariest part is putting a new product out there and wondering if consumers will love it as much as we do. It's scary to put your heart into something and, then, be vulnerable to possible negativity. The way we dealt with that was to remind ourselves that the only thing worse than people not loving our product is people never being able to try it. We'd rather try and fail than sit on the sidelines and wonder about we should've or could've done if we'd just tried.

Andrea Taimana Co-founder and Director, Te Mana Skincare

Developing an indie beauty brand in New Zealand with extremely limited resources for the packaging, marketing material and beauty retailers, combined with our own limited funds, has been a prolonged scary journey for a self-employed believer.

In early 2016, I was offered the opportunity by Ag Research Institute to develop two new innovative products based on New Zealand Merino wool and its protein. With no money at the time, I committed almost $40,000 to extensive clinical trials. That was scary, but the trials came back successful.

The second scary moment was committing to the Indie Beauty Expo in L.A. in January 2018, when this expense was far away from the priority in the business because we were still completely underdeveloped as a brand. Again, like the trials, I simply knew we had to do it, and it was one of the best decisions so far.

Truly, nothing in Te Mana’s early development has been done with a secured premeditated budget waiting in our bank account. Yet, money always came along somehow when needed. That’s what I consider living in a prolonged scary moment which brand developers, cosmetic chemists and marketing departments of big skincare companies could never experience and understand.

Valerie Roth President, Fire Brew

The scariest moment was actually deciding to build Fire Brew in the first place. It was taking the leap from working on it as a hobby and committing to turning it into a real business. At that exact moment, I was making a decision to risk failing at the dream of building a brand and potentially having to start all over again if things didn't work. It felt very much like jumping off a cliff and hoping I didn't hit the ground. But, in the end, the knowledge of knowing that I tried, no matter what the end result, ended up being stronger than the regret of not taking a chance, so I made the leap.

Julia Teren Founder, Thesis Beauty

The scariest moment for me was the time when I had to start delegating my responsibilities. Every solo entrepreneur will tell you what a control freak he or she is, and that's because the life of the brand depends on executing your vision perfectly. So, hiring the first employee with that intention was extremely scary. I literally lost sleep for a few days because I was so nervous. That experience taught me that proper guidance, training and constant sharing with your hires can make things go very smoothly.

Also, it was time to realize that no one will execute my vision the same way I would and the execution will vary from one person to the next. It's not a bad thing. The brand becomes more multidimensional because of this. After several weeks of training and delegating, I felt that this was the best move. I suddenly got more time for other things that were crucial for propelling the brand forward.

If you have a question you’d like Beauty Independent to ask beauty entrepreneurs, please send it to [email protected].