When you feel overwhelmed, it's easy to focus on the past: What went wrong? How did that happen to me? Lisa Price, founder of multimillion-dollar beauty products brand Carol's Daughter, has a suggestion.
"You have to lean into 'What do I do now? What's the next step?'" Price said on Friday, during an exclusive Inc. Your Next Move virtual event. "Focusing on what's wrong doesn't help you get to what's right." Price has weathered countless ups and downs since launching Carol's Daughter from her home kitchen in 1993, from opening her first storefront in 1999 to selling her company to cosmetics giant L'Oreal in 2014 for an undisclosed amount. The acquisition came roughly a month after Carol's Daughter's retail arm emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Carol's Daughter is particularly well known for helping popularize beauty, hair, and bath products made for people of color. Price's 2003 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show particularly helped launch Carol's Daughter to household-name status, and helped Price, who is Black, land her products in more than 2,000 U.S. stores by the time of the acquisition.
Today, she remains under contract at L'Oreal and deeply involved in her brand's operations. On Friday, she shared a few of her top battle-tested strategies for launching a new business, scaling it, and guiding it through an acquisition.
1. Go big with your vision.
For years, Price said, she'd joke to friends about meeting Oprah Winfrey one day. "Well, you know, when Oprah calls," she'd say. The actual experience of receiving that call--and appearing on the show--was deeply validating. "It wasn't the financial success that people assume," Price said. "It was that validation. It gave my spirit that permission to push harder and dream bigger and go for more."
Price said it was her first moment of willing an experience into existence--an admittedly unreliable strategy, but one she highly recommends to other entrepreneurs, using tools like vision-boarding or journaling. "Being an entrepreneur takes a lot of courage, but that doesn't mean you're not afraid," Price said. "The more you can arm yourself with that confidence and drive, the better it will be for you. Dream out loud, dream big, and write it down. It's a corny saying, but if you can see it, you can be it."
2. Curate your social media carefully.
In your early days, you might not have much of a marketing budget. Price said that's not a problem, because social media can help you find your voice and audience--if you use it carefully. "Consumers don't just like using the product," she said. "They like that they know the person who made it, and that the person who made it has a dog, and a son, and a daughter just starting kindergarten."
Some founders run into trouble setting appropriate boundaries, inviting customers a little too deeply into their personal lives. Price recommends using a physical space to manage that balance: For example, if your product can be made or used in a kitchen, then the video camera can always stay in the kitchen. Your family can appear in the background--just enough to give viewers a flavor of your life--without delving too deeply into the personal details of the people in your life.
3. Know when it's time for outside funding.
Price bootstrapped Carol's Daughter until 2001, when she took out a business loan to help open a new warehouse. She could have accepted more investment after appearing on Oprah, but she waited until the following year, after her company's rush of newfound attention began to stabilize.
Her willingness to accept funding, she said, was tied more to whether it would help strengthen the brand's internal operations than to any external pressures. "You get to a point when you realize there just isn't more that you can do," Price explained. "Even though I had insurance, there was this feeling that I was one mishap away from all of this falling apart. At the time I decided to take on an investor, I felt like I had done a lot by myself--and I couldn't do any more [without help]."
4. Find the right partner before you sell.
The sale of Carol's Daughter to L'Oreal came with some backlash, especially from Black women who made up a significant portion of the company's customer base. "They felt that I took something that belonged to them, and I gave it to someone else just to get a check," Price said. "That's not what actually happened, but I understand that perception."
Rather, Price felt confident that L'Oreal would help keep Carol's Daughter on the same customer-centric path due to a simple phrase she kept hearing during the negotiations process: "Let's not L'Oreal-ize Carol's Daughter." Even now, Price said, she still functions in a creativity-first entrepreneurial role for the brand--while also getting to learn the finances and processes of a successful corporation.
If you're interested in anything more than an acquisition paycheck, finding that type of partnership is crucial--especially, Price noted, for Black-owned businesses. "As Black people, we don't have a history of being able to own things and keep them," she said. "But for us to build wealth, we're going to have to build and sell businesses to build that wealth within our families, and then ultimately within our communities."