Having built and sold three companies from scratch on my own, with no outside funding and little outside assistance, you would think I knew what I was doing when I decided to funnel $1.5 million of my own money into starting the luxury body care company Coastal Salt and Soul two years ago. Well, not so much.
June 1, 2017 marked two years since the first Coastal product was manufactured and sent to the warehouse, ready to be sold. And now, after 24 months of the ups and downs of owning my own company, I have to tell you I’m beaten, broken and bruised. But, like any good shieldmaiden, I’m still ready to keep fighting the good fight to make my startup succeed.
Beating the 96%
As a result of having a house full of teenagers who introduce Mom to new shows they love, anyone who knows me knows I am obsessed with the TV show The Vikings and its resident shieldmaiden, Lagertha. In Scandinavian folklore, a shieldmaiden was a woman who chose to fight as a warrior alongside the men of her clan. As a business owner, I think the way Vikings approached the world—preparing for battles they will win and lose—is a smart way to run a business, especially a beauty start-up.
We all know that beauty startups are high-risk, and entrepreneurs have to be very comfortable with the greater-than-not chance that their new company might fail—even in spite of all the hard work, due diligence, competitive analysis and creative gusto. Inc. Magazine reminds us that 96% of new businesses fail within 10 years.Forbes points out that nine out of 10 startups will fail. But most entrepreneurs ignore these statistics and numbers. Honestly, I always did.
The reason why leads back to my shieldmaiden. I believe that entrepreneurs are more like warriors, who believe they will win every impossible battle, more so than buttoned-up business people on a new money-making venture. When I start a new business, I am the shieldmaiden Lagertha. Her tale, like the story of many a startup, is full of splendid bravery, matchless spirit, an inclination to never waver even while losing battle after battle and a deep determination to win the war.
But, no matter how skilled, dedicated and brave they are, at some point, every shieldmaiden loses a battle. Those brave enough to be a beauty entrepreneur? We are the same.
Battle of the Beauties
The sexy side of starting a business usually gets all the glory, but it’s how entrepreneurs react to hardship that makes the difference between beauty success and industry failure. Every new company we start is a battle, and most of us believe we are going to win each and every one.
That’s part of what makes starting your own company so exciting—having the gumption to actually take the step and put yourself in line for some hard losses. Even more so, I think, is having the gravitas to not just take a beating, but to take it and then keep getting up, however many times it takes, to win the battle.
Out of all the businesses I’ve owned and helped other entrepreneurs get off the ground, Coastal Salt & Soul has been my biggest and hardest battle to fight and win. I’ve had to get up from more than a few losses—things I’ve trained for and know how to handle and have counseled others on how to navigate—and started over, and that’s a kick in the pants.
The challenge isn’t only in making a mistake or losing a battle that, by now, you would think I’d know how to win. It’s also the fact that the beauty business changes fast, and having the tenacity to keep seeing things through that aren’t working can be tedious. In fact, it’s downright gut-wrenching. But, like I said earlier, it’s also essential to becoming a better entrepreneur, or a world-class shieldmaiden.
10 Startup Battle Facts No One Really Wants to Tell You
1. Cash is king, and running out of it is the end of the battle.
Seriously. This fact sounds obvious and should be one every entrepreneur lives and breathes, but I’m here to tell you it is not always the case. Even if your brand has all the right armor—great consumer reviews, killer social media buzz, lust-worthy products and editorial exposure—you will lose the battle and the war if you run out of money. This is always what keeps me up at night.
2. Long days are required.
So the question is, “which 18 hours out of the day do you want to work?” Long, long days (or nights) are part of the experience, like it or not. Some days, you may decide to work those hours while your kids sleep. Others, you may not have that luxury, but you must be comfortable sacrificing your time to your business, even if you want the day off. For an entrepreneur, there really is no day off because who knows what situation might pop up on Saturday night at 11:30 pm that has to be dealt with right away? I can tell you—too many such situations, that’s what.
3. Funding your company is like going on 100 really, really, bad blind dates.
You’ll take meeting after meeting with one funder than another, all of whom looked good on paper but who fail to impress in person. It’s critically important that you get this from the beginning: Not every investor will be a match to your business needs, so don’t try and force a connection where one doesn’t exist. Believe it or not, it’s ok to say, “No thanks,” and keep searching. Having said that, don’t forget point 1.
4. The vast majority of new beauty businesses fail—maybe even yours.
When you look around at other brands or businesses that started when you did or that inspired you to try your hand at a beauty business at all, chances are many are gone. This knowledge can be both terrifying and exhilarating. Spend some time reading up on Nasty Gal and you will get a feel for why this point is so pivotal to every new entrepreneur, and why you cannot assume it will not happen to you.
5. Big liquidity events, i.e. big payoffs, are rare—like a unicorn.
Yes, there are success stories of brands that famously cash-out to great fanfare and industry accolades, but those stories are virtually fairy tales. Counting on a big payoff or liquidity event is not a sound business strategy, and a good way to get to point 4.
6. It’s lonely, and the buck starts and stops with you.
Yeah, being the owner/boss/founder/creative guru can be sexy as hell, but it’s also lonely at the top. In many cases, your company is just one person (you), and that can be a hard burden to bear—particularly when that means coming face-to-face with a decision the CEO made (again, you) that didn’t pan out and now must be triaged.
7. Whatever you planned won’t work.
How does that parable go—woman plans, and the universe laughs? Never was that truer than for a beauty startup. For all the charts, graphs, reports, methodologies and analysis you throw at a plan, the more epically it (seems) to melt down. You must keep planning, but it’s wise to cultivate a healthy respect for plans failing right up front so you are ready when it happens—and ready to bounce back with yet another new plan.
8. It takes childlike energy.
Not just because you will be working long hours, but because nurturing a new startup through to fruition can take years of immense time, energy, commitment and the kind of enthusiasm a child exhibits when running around the playground. With all the other responsibilities pressing on entrepreneurs, mustering up this enthusiasm day after day can be a bit of a grind. It’s a worthwhile grind, but a grind nonetheless.
9. The runway is shorter than you think.
In most cases, growth supersedes profit, and most new startups rely heavily, if not entirely, on outside capital, which means there is something called a runway (i.e., how long your money will last). Much like an actual runway, it has an end. Healthy companies—ones that have either recently raised funds or mix funding and revenue—will have 12 to 18 months of runway. Normal startups have between six to 12 months of runway. That means there isn't much room for error. You need to be sure you have a long enough runway to withstand the amount of time it takes for your business to truly succeed—which will be years.
10. There is no “end result.”
Here’s the secret of all secrets: After all your hard work, you are hopefully left with a rock-solid beauty business that has weathered many trials and tribulations with grit and determination and a little twinkle in its eye—just like Lagertha. That is why I keep fighting and why I enthusiastically keep going strong with my own small brand, Coastal Salt & Soul. Two years into the battle, I am still figuring things out along the way.
To win the battle, you have to stay in the battle. So keep doing what you’re doing. Mind numbers 1, 4, and 5, and think like a Viking. It certainly can’t hurt.
Alisa Beyer is a successful entrepreneur with a passion for creating products and brands that women love. The founder of Coastal Salt & Soul, a luxury bath and body care company dedicated to healthy, hydrated skin, Alisa is a proven beauty authority. She has worked closely with brands at every stage, from indie startups to 13 of the top 15 global beauty companies, and she has an award-winning track record in skin and body care, color cosmetics, hair, nail care, bath and body, fragrance, devices, and wellness. In addition to her time with Coastal, Alisa is in the process of starting a new venture, where she will work directly with companies to help them establish and strengthen their ‘business’ emotional IQ and help people reveal the how, the what and the why behind what they do.