Startup founders are by definition, folks who see a white space in a given market and create something to fill it and make it colorful. I started PRÊTE because I wanted to support small businesses and be more efficient with my own personal routine, Sofia Amoruso started Nasty Gal because she knew how to shop for vintage clothing and "flip it," Sarah Blakely started Spanx because she needed stockings without feet, and Emily Weiss launched Glossier because her blog, Into The Gloss, saw tons of trends and products that weren't quite right for her millennial reader.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across Ellis Brooklyn, a New York based sustainable fragrance company. I didn't make the connection right away, but its founder turned out to be the Bee Shapiro, a popular New York Times beauty writer. You would think that I would have made that connection quickly given my PR background (I blame lack of sleep), but I digress...

Ellis Brooklyn is not only sustainable, but trendy in the classiest of ways. Their branding is simple and sleek with a little personality -- catching the eye of women and editors everywhere. Bee even called it "farm to fragrance" because of how closely she works with her product manufacturers. One would assume that the press coverage of Ellis Brooklyn was due to its founders connections and PR contacts, but when I spoke with Bee, turns out, she's not represented by anyone and her coverage and growth has been organic.

Not unlike Glossier, who has a similar story.

The blog, Into The Gloss, started as a side project that gained major popularity and attention from millennial women. It grew to be so huge, that brands across the globe were trying to pitch their products to their editorial team for coverage. The Into The Gloss team got an inside look at what beauty brands were working on and were able to do intensive market research, without doing market research.

But how does one create a successful brand that everyone wants to talk about if they don't have that experience?

That's the fun part.

Like an editor, a founder/CEO's job is to find out what their customer wants and give it to them.

For example, an editorial brand like Inc. has a readership that is very different from, say, Refinery29. Their stories, contributors, and brands they cover will be different and catered to that of their individual audiences. They both measure their articles on a daily basis to see what is performing, and then they quickly iterate, make editorial changes, and do better the next day.

Brands must do the exact same thing. As a founder, your only job is to listen to your customers and iterate as fast as you can to serve them. What are they saying about your brand? What do they love? What do they hate? Where is there hesitation or where do they drop off the sales funnel?

That feedback, if you listen, will shape your brand into a success that grows completely on its own.

The key to success for any brand is to see where there's white space, decide what color you think it should be, make it, listen to your customers, move quickly and always be authentic. 

And, if you do it right, like Ms. Shapiro has, you can still do other things, like write for the Times.

Published on: May 15, 2017