In this series, Open Every Door, Entrepreneur staff writer Nina Zipkin shares her conversations with leaders about understanding what you have to offer, navigating the obstacles that will block your path, identifying opportunity and creating it for yourself and for others.
In 1993, Lisa Price had an idea. She wanted to create natural skin-care and hair-care products that would be used and loved by everyone, no matter their skin type or hair texture.
With $100 and encouragement from her mom, Carol, Price started experimenting with formulas in her Brooklyn kitchen. It wasn’t long before her products were selling out at local markets and festivals.
She opened her first storefront in Brooklyn in 1999 and with the launch of CarolsDaughter.com the following year, she built a devoted following in the early days of ecommerce. In 2002, Price found a fan in Oprah Winfrey and made an appearance on her show, gaining a whole new group of fans across the country.
Price’s dedication to making inclusive products with new and interesting ingredients has attracted big name investors including Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z and partnerships with celebrities including Mary J. Blige. She has also been a fixture on HSN since 2008, a leap that was no small feat for the self-described introvert.
In 2014, Price sold her company to L'Oréal and today, Carol’s Daughter products can be purchased at retailers including Dillard’s, Macy’s, Sephora, Target and ULTA.
Price shared her insights about what it takes to stay in business for more than two decades, planting seeds for future successes and how to move past fear and find your voice.
Tell me about a time you needed to create an opportunity for yourself or others?
The business has been around for 25 years this coming May. So we've had to do many new things to stay relevant. One of those was being on HSN. I'm basically a shy person and an introvert. If you had said to me 10 to 20 years ago that I would be selling products on television, I would have told you that you were crazy. The first time that I had to do it, I was totally terrified. I said a little little prayer asking my mom to help me out. But it's a great thing. It's the perfect example of when you step outside of your comfort zone and you do something that makes you more comfortable. In the end it turned out to be great.
What was at stake for you? How did you overcome the fear?
I was nervous about messing up. I was nervous because it was live and you can't start over again. I was nervous that people wouldn't relate to me. The people that I saw doing this have been doing it for a really long time. I thought, how do you practice? But usually when I'm in situations like that I have to think about why I'm there. Most of the time I'm there because I'm supposed to be there. I didn't get there because I forced my way in or pushed my way in. I could see the stars align, if you will. And the door opened and even though I was afraid, all that I actually had to do was walk through the door. In the grand scheme of things that's not terribly difficult to do. It would be much more difficult to bang on the door, convince someone to open the door, pave the way, build the door. I just had to walk.
What personal traits or strategies do you depend on to create opportunity for yourself and for others?
When you're in a difficult moment, you can get lost in that moment and that moment can feel like forever. It can feel like there's no way out. I always have to remind myself this too shall pass because I've been through this more than once.
I sometimes hear my mother's voice in my head because my mother was diagnosed at the age of 22 with an illness called polymyositis. It's a neurovascular disease, but the way that it manifested in my mom was she had difficulty with her legs. They would cramp up, they weren't very strong. If she sat down and crossed her legs, she actually lifted one leg over the other. She couldn't pick it up off the floor and just cross it. But if you didn't know her and you didn't know that that was part of her reality, you didn't know. Because she didn't focus on it. She didn't complain about it. She didn't talk about it and she lived her life to the best of her ability with it. She was like this constant example.
You can have something wrong with you. But you can still function, you can still live, you can still be strong, you can still be powerful. It's not that you're ignoring that there is something wrong with you, you're just not letting it be the primary focus. So when I'm in difficult situations I remember that I came from her and I might not feel it right there in that moment but I'm stronger than I think I am.
When you experience a setback, what do you do to keep going? How do you get unstuck?
I allow myself time to mourn or grieve. Sometimes you don't have that luxury. I know it sounds weird but you kind of have to postpone that mourning and grieving. When appropriate I allow myself the release of crying. I used to think that crying meant that you were weak and that there was something wrong with it. But energy manifests in different ways. Some people cry or laugh or yell, but you can't keep them bottled up. You have to release it, you have to let it go. When appropriate I let it go so that it doesn't hurt me by keeping it inside.
Once I've done those two things then I'm able to look at the situation. What could I have done differently if anything? Did I do anything to contribute to what occurred and what is a lesson that I need to learn from this? Most of the time it just is what it is and it's the cycle of life. It has ups and downs. The goal is to learn as much you can but not let it consume you and not let it defeat you the next time.
People who want to advocate for themselves don’t know always know how. What are actionable steps they can take to make themselves heard? What steps do you take?
I've been in situations where I needed to negotiate but I didn't know how to negotiate. I was afraid of negotiating and I was afraid that negotiating [would make] the deal go away. So I didn't negotiate. The next time I needed to negotiate, I was able to talk to a lawyer, talk to a banker who is a friend of mine, and say OK, I don't want to accept this as it is. I feel like there is room to negotiate. What's the best way for me to do it because I really don't want to piss anyone off? I really don't want to come across as being a difficult person.
The advice that was given to me at that time was really pretty brilliant. They said, it's a good deal but if you feel that you need those two extra points, they're not egregious. You're within your right to ask for them. I would present it in such a way that they understand that this is what makes you happier, able to function on the task at hand better, and not that it's a deal breaker.
It was a good perspective for me because then I said OK I'm not being cheated. That fear you have of, are they low-balling me because I'm a woman or because I'm African American. To hear that it was fair took that emotion right off the table. It's gone, it's not in my way. I was able to go into that negotiation very calmly, feeling confident and feeling fair and I actually got what I asked for and now because of that positive experience, if I have to negotiate I understand how to go about it and how to navigate it.
Has there been a counterintuitive or surprising way you've opened doors for yourself?
I've opened doors for myself by being somewhere and not knowing that six months or a year down the road that it was going to lead to this other thing. In the moment being there was difficult and being there didn't make a whole bunch of sense. But there was something in my gut that said you've got to do this. Then you realize later the chain of events that led you to that point. You trace it back to that moment two years ago. When you went to that dumb party when it was raining and you had a cold and shouldn't have been out. But because you were there, you met that person, you had a great conversation. You connected and then a year and a half later she remembered you and whispered your name to the person who needed to hear it and you ended up on The Oprah Winfrey Show. That is honest to God a true story.
Was there a blind spot that you had about leadership and opportunity you worked to change within yourself?
When we started to have a chief financial officer, an operating person and a packaging person — people that had five to 15 years in the beauty business, I said to myself, I need to be collaborative because these people know a lot more than I do. I don't want to be the leader in the room who really doesn't know what she's talking about. What I discovered after years of doing that was I had lost my voice in my own brand.
I learned that I needed to be OK with sitting at the head of the table and be OK with leading even though I didn't have all the answers. I had to be OK with being uncomfortable but that I knew the answers to the most important questions. Everything else I could learn. But the DNA of the brand, that wasn't something that somebody could learn, that was something that was really within me.