Lessons learned

I received the best introduction ever today. I was about to present at the networking luncheon for Work It Girl Networking, when the founder and CEO Teresa introduced me as the “world goddess of skin care.” May I please put that on my business card?

Work It Girl Networking brings working women together during lunch, which always features a female guest speaker. Past speakers have included Pam Sorensen, Kate Michael, Sara Damelio, and more. Today, I spoke, thrilled to be in such great company.

I was going to speak about starting a skin care business, but I have had such a momentous week that I drew inspration from recent events. On Tuesday, I signed a distribution agreement with a fabulous company, putting into place a partnership that will take Alchimie to the next level. (By the way, the headling of the Washington Post that day was the the Great Recession was officially over. Coincidence?)I have been working on this partnership for four years, very intensely for the last six months. On Tuesday, after signing the contract and having a glass of champagne, I thought about how I got there, and reminded myself of the key lessons I have learned over the last 5 years of launching, growing, and running Alchimie Forever. (And I have some new quotes to share – so many of you emailed me your favorites after my September 6th blog, thank you!)

Lesson 1: Be nimble, shift direction when necessary, and don’t get so emotionally attached to your strategy that you can’t change direction. Another way to say it: stubborn is great, stupid is not. When I started Alchimie Forever, I thought the only way to build sales was with an in-house direct salesforce. No one else could be as passionate about Alchimie as someone on payroll. I went down that route, but then realized that it indeed wasn’t the best strategy for us, and instead turned my attention to finding the right distribution partner.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” (Albert Einstein)

“Don’t spend time beating on a wall hoping to transform it into a door.” (Coco Chanel)

Lesson 2: Be persistent. Always follow-up. Never give up. Don’t nag, but don’t forget either.

The first time I contacted this distributor was in 2006. I sent products and our press packet, but the timing wasn’t right. Over the years, I stayed in touch with them, updated them on new developments, paid attention to shifts in their team, developed and nurtured new relationships. “One day…” I thought.

“I do not think there is any other quality so essential to success of any kind as the quality of perseverance. It overcomes almost everything, even nature.” (John D. Rockefeller)

Lesson 3: This is linked to the second lesson, and involves dealing with rejection. When someone tells me “No” I translate this in my head as “No, thank you so much, not today.” Deal with rejection gracefully, and never burn any bridges.

“The only way to deal with rejection is by shining.” (Diane Von Furstenberg)

Lesson 4: Dream bigger. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that the average revenues of women-owned businesses are only 27% of the average revenues of men-owned businesses. The author says “it starts with the goals.” Women need to set bigger goals for their businesses. This reminded me of my favorite business book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, and his concept of the Big Hairy Audacious Goal. One of my BHAGs for 2010 was to land that distribution deal. And to think, we are only in September!

“The starting point for all achievement is desire. Keep this constantly in mind.” (Napoleon Hill)

Lesson 5: To achieve a BHAG, one must take risks. People often say that entrepreneurs love and embrace risk but my tolerance for risk is actually not that high. 16 months ago, I increased my overhead by signing a 5-year lease for our beautiful showroom. I invested in the redesign of the space. I spent many sleepless nights thinking about the insanity of expanding during the worse economic recession I can remember. What if this? What if that? Yet, it was the right decision. It brought new visibility, new credibility to my brand, to my business. And I know the distributor noticed…

“You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” (Wayne Gretzky)

“Leap and the net will appear.” (John Burroughs)

 Lesson 6: Personal and business values must be fully aligned, especially for entrepreneurs whose businesses and personal identities are so linked. As I was working on the mission and value statement for Alchimie Forever, someone close to me asked me “Are Alchimie’s values yours? Are yours Alchimie’s?” That question was the inspiration for the development of our corporate responsibility strategy, which involves donating part of our proceeds to the arts in general, and to the Corcoran Gallery of Art specifically.
“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” (Ghandi)

Lesson 7: This may be the most important one, and a lesson I continually have to remind myself of. Forget about perfection. Women in particular struggle with perfection. We (maybe I should say I?) were raised to be the teachers’ pet. Get the best grades, hand in the best projects, always look pretty. As adults, we try to be the perfect business person; the perfect wife; the perfect mom; the perfect friend. Perfection doesn’t exist, and we should all just admit that and move on.

“Ring the bells that still can ring, forget about the perfect offering. There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light comes in.” (Leonard Cohen)

 

Switzerland, more than chocolate and skin care

Today (yesterday by the time you read this) was both a great day and a sad day. Any day that involves a luncheon at the Swiss Ambassador’s Residence, hosted by the Ambassador’s fashionista wife Ronit is a delightful day. Today was particularly magical, as she was able not only to bring together the crème de la crème of Washington women, new designs by Isabel Toledo, narrated and explained by the designer (and her number one fan, her husband Ruben) herself, but the sun was sparkling and the sky was turquoise – important when the lunch is taking place on the beautiful terrace of the Residence, and when ether-real cloud-like textile decorations seem to hang from the sky.

Favorite quotes

As a CEO, one of my key responsibilities is to give my team, my shareholders, my customers, faith, encouragement, and inspiration. Sometimes, that is a responsibility easily fulfilled. Sometimes, I need to stand on the shoulders of giants and borrow from their words of wisdom. Here are some of my favorite quotes from people whom I admire and wish I knew, or had known. Funnily enough, compiling these made me realize they can be grouped into themes… themes of my life.

Why I love the beauty industry

When asked about what I love about the beauty industry, I usually point out three main factors: that I get to work with and surrounded by women, that the industry is populated by smaller, personal businesses, and that the industry works to make the world a better place by making people feel better about themselves. Now, I have some data to back up my claims, from the GCI May 2010 issue (yes, I was catching up on my reading Saturday on my way to our Geneva offices, where I am writing from):

Rituals

When I was growing up in Geneva, there was a certain rythm to the week. One of the things I knew for sure, no matter what, was that Sunday night was family dinner night. Spaghetti with home-made tomato sauce, more specifically. My mother would cook the tomatoes on low heat all Sunday long, then peel them, add rosemary, salt, pepper, cook them some more, and then finally boil the water for the spaghetti. Any family member, immediate or less immediate, who was in Geneva on Sunday nights was invited, wordlessly, and would show up. That was our Sunday evening ritual. The sun rises every morning. And spaghetti is served at my Mom’s house every Sunday night.