Stella & Dot has become a household name among women who appreciate beautifully designed, high-quality jewelry that won't break the bank. I had the opportunity to talk with founder Jessica Herrin about her prolific jewelry brand, social selling and what it means to be a strong, female founder.
LM: Let's start with the origin story of the brand.
JH: I had been an entrepreneur previous to building the Stella & Dot brand, and when I started the earlier business, I did it the textbook way. That experience made me realize that when you lead a business with all "head," you can create a winning strategy and great commercial success, but not feel successful because you've created something that is not what makes you feel totally connected to your core mission and purpose.
LM: It's amazing that you recognized that 10 years ago. Back then mission-driven entrepreneurs were not as prevalent.
JH: Exactly, so I had to ask myself what I wanted to do next and make a commitment that I was going to pour my lifeblood into starting a business, but I didn't quite know what that was going to be yet. I had run into some direct-sales teams for Arbonne and their excitement could have shot a building to the moon. They totally fascinated me because their passion was palpable. It became very clear to me that their company was about a lot more than makeup. It was really about empowering women in the workplace. So I decided I wanted to iterate on that idea and create an opportunity for the modern woman, one that was product-driven and really utilized technology to create a social-commerce driven, next-gen business model.
LM: Did you have kids at that time, was that part of the drive?
JH: That was definitely part of the drive. I was thinking of having kids, but I did not know how I was going to reconcile my desire to be a great mom and my professional ambition. I knew I had to find an alternative path, one where I didn't have to give up creativity and work could co-exist with my personal life, which meant creating a new business platform.
LM: So you basically created the job where you could have it all and created that for so many other women as well.
JH: Honestly, it meant I could have what mattered most to me, and I saw this opportunity to change the traditional sales model. Too many businesses promised unrealistic results or required inventory and quotas. We did away with all of that, and we backed it up by investing in the products, the brand and the technology that make it possible for a lot of people to create success on their own terms.
LM: Initially, you didn't want to be venture-backed, but eventually you needed exponential growth and the right partners to help you level up. What did that look like?
JH: We brought on Sequoia Capital in 2010 because they understood us and our model, and would not require us to venture outside of that mission-driven foundation. Many businesses say they're mission-driven, yet they go out and raise a tremendous amount of private equity, which changes them because their investment partners require it. So we were really picky when we decided. We would not compromise, and they knew that and embraced it.
LM: What's next for the brand?
JH: First, foremost and forever, we will continue to focus on customer experience. Our goal is to continue to build a multi-channel model that creates a better customer experience, more value in the product, better design and guarantees quality. I'm glad that social good is becoming such an important piece, and I'm honored that we can give back to our community in big ways.
LM: My last question is for the entrepreneurs just getting into the game. What do you wish you'd known when you started?
JH: I think the biggest piece of advice I would offer is that great businesses are created out of passion and evolve over time, but the foundation must be authentically and totally connected to your core purpose. My purpose was to give women the ability to write their own story, have multiple sources of income and have more confidence, so they can give back to their community. That's what drives me every day. Make sure that you have a great idea and then set the bar so high and so purposeful that you know you were put on this planet to make it real.
Giving women the space to write their own stories is definitely a mission I can get behind.