Real Talk is a series of candid conversations with women leaders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Marcia Kilgore revels in the fact that she's never had a "real" job--at least, if one doesn't consider building five successful companies over nearly three decades to be hard work. In 1991, the former aesthetician founded her first company, Bliss Spa, out of a single room in downtown New York City. Eight years later, LVMH bought a majority stake for $30 million. In 2006, the Saskatchewan native launched Soap and Glory, which reportedly sold for $50 million to the British drugstore giant Boots. Footwear company FitFlop, now in 64 countries and profitable, came next. In 2016, Kilgore launched ecofriendly bath and beauty company Soaper Duper in the U.K., and debuted Beauty Pie, a direct-to-consumer luxury cosmetic and skin care company. Now, the fast-talking and sarcastic beauty innovator talks serial entrepreneurship, why she doesn't believe in mentoring, and how starting her latest company, e-commerce startup Beauty Pie, isn't any easier than launching her first.
This company is your fifth startup. Does it get easier every time?
No. When you get to a certain point in any business where a company is running quite well and you've sorted out the systems, you expect to operate it at a certain level. Then when you have a new startup, you've got to go back and figure it all out again. With that new business, it's like being an ant trying to find a way through a labyrinth of sand. You're still an ant.
Consumer products are getting harder all the time. The attention span of the average person is splintered into millions of small points: Instagram, Facebook, advertising, television, their friends. You would think it would be easier to wave a flag and get people's attention, but actually it's worse than it's ever been.
What led you to create Beauty Pie?
With so many direct-to-consumer companies cutting out the B.S., I thought, if there is an industry that is ripe for disruption, well, beauty is an obvious choice. The retailers take 60 percent right off the bat.
Why do you insist your customers pay a monthly fee, rather than simply charging more for the products?
With any other model, there could be a temptation to start to mark the products up, or to try to engineer products so that the cost of goods is lower. Obviously, in any normal business, you make a profit on what it costs you to make something versus what you sell it for.
As the company gets bigger and you have more investors, the drive is to reduce the cost of goods sold so that you can improve profit margins. I've been in rooms where you have so many stakeholders involved, and they're all thinking, if we can just get 10 cents out of this lipstick, and we are selling a million, we can make $100,000 more a year.
We never go into product development thinking about how we can make it cheaper. It's about making it the best it can be.
You mentioned investors. How is Beauty Pie funded?
All of our companies so far have been self-funded. I sold part of Bliss in 1999 and the second part in 2004. I sold Soap and Glory. FitFlop is very profitable.
When you start a business, who is the first person you hire?
Normally, the first person I would hire would be a very high-functioning, efficient assistant. I can throw them any ball, and they will figure it out.
By the time I started Beauty Pie, I had sold Soap and Glory and I still had FitFlop. It was a bit of a cheat because FitFlop has a legal department, a finance department, and all that. So if I needed to borrow people just for a day, I could. I did bring in an incredible assistant--someone who has worked for me for 11 years. Then I brought in my favorite product development person. She was really integral in thinking through all the different labs we could work with.
Was there a particular moment when you knew Beauty Pie could be big?
I always thought that, of course. But when Bobbi Brown signed up, and then she emailed me, that was a great moment.
Do you mentor other entrepreneurs?
I don't believe in mentoring. I tell people, go read these 100 books, and once you've read them, get some experience. If you still have a question, call me.
I've been asked to mentor people, and it becomes more of a therapy session. When you mentor for free, people feel they can take or leave the advice you're giving them. If you're not going to take the advice, how can I mentor you? I mean, I can watch you drive your truck into a wall, but how is that helpful?
Of those 100 books, what are your favorites?
Ray Dalio's Principles. That book is so good. I'll go out for a hike and put on the audiobook and find myself stopping and nodding vigorously.
There's The Road Less Traveled, by M. Scott Peck. He says you are in control of your choices, and your choices are your destiny. Obviously, I'm not talking about war-torn places. Otherwise, everything is a choice, especially in business.
And Radical Candor, by Kim Scott. If I can take one thing out of that book, it's that the successful people are the ones who can say, "I can appreciate the 30 percent of what you've done, and you've done it to the nth degree. We also need this 70 percent of things done." You show that you care about people, but you can also coach them to become better. That is the trait of a successful leader, because you can push people to improve without demotivating them.