Yesterday marked ten years since I started my first company. I spent the day enjoying my family, indulging in a long bath, a pot of fresh ginger tea and a long walk down Memory Lane. I realize it’s cliche, but I could not possibly have imagined this journey when we flipped the switch on the first Bella Lucce website on September 1, 2003.
At that time, I was standing at strange crossroads in my life. I’d just walked away from a fantastically destructive marriage with a toddler on each hip. I’d left my hometown of Memphis, TN and 21 years of friendships and memories behind to move into my parent’s basement on the opposite side of the state. I was broke and scared and defeated. I’d graduated high school with so much promise: near the top of my class, a nationally ranked speech + debate champion with a full-ride scholarship at university.
And just a handful of years later, I was standing in my mama’s driveway unpacking a car that contained every last thing I owned. I’d gotten pregnant sooner than expected. Was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant. Spent a year getting healthy. My husband had been diagnosed with a small handful of mental illnesses and had run our credit card debt up so high that I was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. I was grateful for the warmth of my parent’s home and my mama’s chocolate pie, but I was bloody petrified.
I started my business after being turned down for a job waiting tables at the local steakhouse. Oh, how I wish that were a joke. But it wasn’t and on that very day I realized that no white knight was on his way to save me. My mom was the first to suggest that I turn my hobby of making soap and lotion into a company and I started in earnest, just trying to keep us fed until I found a “real” job. Something better. I found something better alright… except that I built it myself.
Ten years later, we are still plugging away at Bella Lucce. I now employ a staff of amazing souls who love that company as much as I do. We create our products by hand in a 7500 square foot workshop in South Carolina. Those products have traveled the world and I have, too (thirty countries & counting!). We’ve been featured in magazines and on television. I’ve been hosted in the homes of Middle East royalty and taught business skills to women in African mud huts. I’ve walked the halls of DC and met with legislators to advocate for small business protections. I’ve designed products and spa programs for top-tier, international hotel chains and it’s not uncommon for the Bella Lucce team to be working on an order of 30,000 lip balms for a private label client in Colorado or a pallet of product to be shipped to Dubai or Italy. Most days, I’m neck-deep in one task or another, but when I finally step out of it, I’m simply awed by it all. And really, really humbled. I still don’t have that college degree. I’ve turned down more than one seven-figure investor and a reality TV deal. But the education I’ve earned in this decade of business has taught me much. Here’s what I’ve learned thus far…
1. Passion is the great equalizer.
Oh sure, trust funds and supportive husbands and fancy college degrees provide a nice advantage upon inception. As do a network of monied + connected friends and plum media connections. But with enough grit, your company can thrive without any of those trappings. Once upon a time, I marveled at those blessings and lusted after them, too, but I’ve since learned that passion is the great equalizer.
I had none-of-the-above and, in retrospect, I think my lack thereof was an even bigger blessing. I had nothing to fall back on. No plan B. I’ve noticed a phenomenal pattern among successful people: many of them had absolutely nothing to lose when they started their ventures and that mindset has propelled them farther + faster than many of their MBA friends from Cape Cod. Don’t let your lack of ANYTHING keep you from starting.
2. You’re going to have to put yourself out on a limb.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
THIS. So much this. You can’t expect success to be delivered to your doorstep neatly wrapped with a sparkly bow. No, it doesn’t generally work like that. You’re going to have to get out there and pursue success with every breath. Pitch to that account you’re certain will say no, approach your business idol at a networking event, throw your hat in the ring for that small business contest. Take a risk. The worst that can happen is that they say “no,” right? No’s aren’t fatal and I’ve discovered that a glass of wine and a hot bath mitigate 99% of them anyway. And that remaining 1%? Well, I’m half-drunk and squeaky clean and there are worse things to be.
3. Tenacity is your greatest weapon.
You’re going to stumble. You’re going to make fantastically bad choices. You’re going to be ridiculed. You’re going to be exhausted and confused and phenomenally tired. Those who ultimately enjoy success are the ones who push through each and every obstacle.
(…says the girl who’s been sued for a million dollars in a trademark dispute, torn apart on internet forums, had her biggest client go belly up on a 6-figure deal, gone mostly deaf and endured bone reconstruction surgery on her inner ear + skull, and endured a few employee ordeals that could easily be parlayed into TV movies.)
4. Let hunger be your fuel.
Entrepreneurial journeys are not for the meek of heart. This journey has been more challenging than that cancer, that divorce and that bankruptcy. But I’ve continually tapped my hunger as fuel to propel me further. Once upon a time, that was a hunger to get off food stamps (did it in 12 months!), other times it’s been to prove my naysayers wrong. On more than one occasion, it’s been to pursue a deal that I have absolutely no business nailing as a pint-sized business. Whatever frustration, anger, and obstacles lay in your path, use them to your advantage.
5. Isolation is the kryptonite of success.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- African proverb
One of the greatest joys that I’ve known as an entrepreneur is the network of peers and mentors I’ve established through my business. For years, I slogged through this journey alone until I discovered that isolationism was slowly hamstringing my company + draining my passion + hamstringing my decisions. Build a community of support around yourself. Interact on social media, attend conferences and workshops and fairs, comment on the blogs of people you admire, join a trade group. Masterminding together energizes my business and these women lend an understanding ear (and a soft shoulder) when I’ve reached my tipping point.
Those are the lessons of the last ten years in a nutshell. Bella Lucce has been nothing if not a fantastic learning experience for me. I look back at that tender 26 year old standing in her mom’s driveway- so broken and scared- and I hardly recognize her. The journey has not always been easy but it has sure as hell been worth it. Every. Single. Step. And I can’t wait to see what my next ten years as an entrepreneur has in store…
I’d love to know what being an entrepreneur has taught you!
P.S. We’re having one hell of a month-long party at Bella Lucce and you’re officially invited.