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Which Is Right, Your Instinct or Your Customer?

Lisa Price, founder of Carol's Daughter, explains how to trust your gut and innovate--but also give your customers exactly what they're looking for.
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Entrepreneur Lisa Price started Carol's Daughter out of her Brooklyn kitchen in 1993, with little money and zero revenue. Today, the skin and hair care product company has $40 million in sales and 80 employees.

But in order to get where she is today, Price had to conquer her fear of letting go. She also had to make an extra effort to give her customers precisely what they wanted, Price explained on Friday during Inc.'s GrowCo conference in New Orleans.

Price says she liked to experiment with creating nice-smelling skin creams, but what her first customers told her they wanted more were hair care products. These were mostly people she met at church flea markets and local fairs.

Price said she knew from her own experience that hair care products already on the market for people with more textured hair were inadequate. So she created something new. Today, hair care products account for about 70 percent of sales.

"I used to go through a whole bottle of conditioner to detangle my hair, and the lesson 20 years later is to listen to your customer," Price said. "You may be so wrapped up in what you want to do and the message you want to put forward, but if you don’t listen to what she wants, you won't get money from her pocket."

At the same time, you need to be innovative in order to beat the competition, Price said. So, learn to create brand-new products that give your customers more than what they want.

Carol's Daugther was on a steady growth path, but sales really took off in 2002 when talk show host Oprah Winfrey featured Price and her products on one of her shows. Suddenly, visits to her website zoomed to 27,000 a day from 14. With orders climbing, she couldn't obsess about every detail of her business, such as how the labels were positioned on the bottles. As she tells it, Price had to learn to trust other people.

"It taught me to let go of the minutiae," Price said.

Being in charge of a successful and growing business also taught her how to master her fears, such as giving up a percentage of the company to equity investors, who could enable faster growth.

"People think this is scary, and it is," Price said. "But what if I didn't do it? I am more afraid of being haunted by the 'what if.'"

 

IMAGE: Newscom
Last updated: Apr 12, 2013

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




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