In recognition of National Women’s Small Business Month, I caught up with Melissa Butler, Founder of The Lip Bar, to chat about her mission to impact the cosmetic industry with products that are unsurpassed in craftsmanship, quality and of course color options.
Jackie Palmer: So Melissa, why makeup and more importantly why lipstick?
Melissa Butler: So, I didn’t start The Lip Bar because I was super passionate about makeup, it wasn’t any of those things. I wasn’t the little girl playing in her mom’s makeup, like most people expect. I didn’t even wear makeup at all in high school. I think that (especially within the African American community) young girls are taught to believe that makeup is promiscuous or for those who “need it.” I didn’t actually start wearing makeup until college. And it became an addiction. So before I even started The Lip Bar, I had about 45 tubes of lipstick from other brands. I know that sounds really sick. But that’s my personality type, if I’m into anything it doesn’t matter if that’s lotion, hair products I go hard on the flavor of the month until I’m super sick of things.
Any who, as I got older I started taking a keen interest in self-preservation and taking care of myself. I found that there was so much crap in all of these products that I loved. Back then, if you wanted natural makeup you had to go to Whole Foods, and those colors aren’t suitable for a 20-something girl that wants to be fun, free and express her personality. So I began this quest and the options weren’t really there. There’s lot of vegan products but those aren’t necessarily healthy for you and that’s really frustrating. Many don’t know that vegan doesn’t mean natural, it just means that there are no animal products included and that’s extremely easy to do within makeup and doesn’t speak to the chemical composition of that product. So, I began to study skin care, and the combinations of natural oils and butters. I chose lipstick because it’s a very easy impulse buy. People are willing to take the risk and try it, because it doesn’t feel super expensive. But, I wanted to create a lipstick that was natural and had great shades that were out of that limited range of lights and nudes you normally see in natural makeup lines. Those were all based on a very linear standard of beauty that didn’t address all women, especially darker shades of brown. It’s such a linear standard of beauty that tries to tell us what is socially deemed acceptable. I wanted to challenge that limited range.
JP: Congratulations on the Shark Tank appearance and Nasty Gal! I know they’re not correlated; Nasty Gal came before Shark Tank. But, what advice would you give to our Empirelistas on whether to seek a financial investor vs. strategic partner?
MB: I don’t think anyone should ever seek out an investor. It’s a terrible idea. It won’t solve your problem. I’m fortunate enough that money has never been the problem for The Lip Bar. Even though we of course could do more with it, that’s not our core problem. Before taking a financial investor you can do a small business loan, at Kiva or Indiegogo (like we did).
But a strategic partner is the way to go. If you select the right person, they can offer great advice on parts of the business and they will care enough to give amazing advice, and put you in the right rooms to grow. They add way more value than someone just throwing cash at you, and that’s what can really help you grow your business.
JP: You started in finance, I think compared to most in the cosmetic industry that’s more than a 180-degree turn. What advice would you give to our readers on making the decision to stop climbing the corporate ladder?
MB: Don’t rush it! It’s a hard decision, but there are no real deadlines. Trust me. No one is waiting for you to break into the industry. Make sure you have a nice cushion of savings and an idea of what your life structure will look like. Once you leave, you realize all the money you have or don’t have will be because of you. There is a true business mind that’s necessary to be able to pivot around all of the parts of an entrepreneurial idea. Don’t rush your practice or product. I personally think I should have waited an extra 6-8 months to launch. And we are doing great things, but we could have launched almost a year later. But I created this awesomely invisible deadline! You don’t launch on a date. You launch when your product or service is ready. You are going to work your butt off, this is not easy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in life, and I love it. Wall Street was a walk in the park compared to running The Lip Bar. I could do my Wall Street job in one hour in my sleep compared to The Lip Bar. My learning curve has been so crazy with The Lip Bar that Wall Street seems like a complete blur. Every day I want to get better. Every day I am trying to find that competitive edge and master it.
JP: Time for my favorite question: What do you want to be when you grow up?
MB: I want to be Richard Branson when I grow up. Everybody wants to be Beyoncé, not me. I’m obsessed with his entire brand. He’s a branding genius and he really knows how to give people what they need. Almost better than I think Steve Jobs was able to.
Remember, give your brand The Good Life, the Empire Life.