Cocktails, popcorn, supplements, sunglasses. If there's a licensing deal to be done in the business of launching lifestyle products, Bethenny Frankel likely has struck it -- and this is how she does it.
1. Establish your own code.
Every deal Frankel does must check two boxes: She needs to enjoy the work and to drive most of the decisions. "If things are not enjoyable to me, no matter how much money I'm making, I don't want to be doing that," she says. Case in point: She recently ditched a months-long project that offered a paycheck in the millions. She realized, "I don't like the dynamic with the partner. It feels hostile, it feels like a dictatorship, and I don't love it. And there's no price on enjoyment."
2. Pick the partner that moves at your pace.
Trust and shared values ought to ground every partnership, Frankel says. But from there, pick a partner that can work at your speed. "I've had the small partner that can hustle with me and be in the mud, and...the Conagras, the AriZona Beverages, the SodaStreams that have big muscle and big distribution," she says. The smaller partners are, of course, small. And the bigger guys? They take longer to move on a new idea. "Often, the middle partner is the good partner," she says. "They've got some strength, they're making money. They're not going to fold tomorrow and not be able to meet your needs. But they still have some hustle."
3. Be upfront with your own flaws and weaknesses.
Frankel is nothing if not straightforward in every negotiation. And that means she'll outline her deficiencies -- her tendency to be too in-the-weeds, for instance -- to potential partners. "I want them to understand truly what the business is and what the flaws are, because I want to get engaged only with them," Frankel says. "I want them to give me the ring only if we can be a good partnership."
4. Define what you won't do as well as stipulate what you will do.
When Frankel sold Skinnygirl cocktails to Beam Global, she intentionally left out of the deal any commitment to market future Skinnygirl-branded alcohol products. So when Beam eventually did develop additional beverages and came back to Frankel for marketing support, she struck a second deal to get paid per case. "I told them, 'You own the brand. If you want me to promote it, you have to pay me,' " Frankel says.
5. Master the care and feeding of your partners.
The success of the mushrooming Bethenny Frankel empire, with SKUs in the hundreds, rests in part on her ability to maintain strong relationships with the companies that handle the manufacturing and distribution of each product. So Frankel has developed a habit of sending weekly brand updates and a monthly newsletter to all of them. "I treat my partners as if we're all on the board of the same company," she says. The transparency has a dual purpose: She aims to celebrate their mutual successes, and to inspire partners to study what worked well with other product launches.
Michael Callahan contributed reporting for this article.