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Entrepreneur Chat

Beautycounter's Gregg Renfrew

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News flash! We've teamed up with skincare and cosmetics company, Beautycounter, for the holiday season. Stop by any VB stores—or check out our Gift Guide— to shop our favorites from the collection, whether you're pampering yourself or on the hunt for sure-fire gifts.

The best part? You can feel good about the products you put on your skin; not only is Beautycounter a truly clean brand, free from harmful ingredients and chemicals, but its founder Gregg Renfrew is a passionate advocate for greater regulation of the cosmetics industry, going so far as to make her voice heard with lawmakers in Washington D.C.

Here, we chat with the entrepreneur, who previously founded The Wedding List—which was later bought by Martha Stewart—about the start-up life and what it takes to be leader. 

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Q&A

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I've read about the inspirations behind Beautycounter—An Inconvenient Truth; 10 Americans—but what inspired you to take that spark and decide to build a business from it? And enter an industry you had never worked in before?
An Inconvenient Truth was really a wakeup call for me. I started connecting the dots between things that were detrimental to the earth and how they were also detrimental to my health. I was tired of seeing the people around me suffer from a variety of health issues. Our nanny was diagnosed with cancer and died in my arms a few months later, my friends were having fertility issues, and children had significant allergies and asthma. I decided to take a look at why this was happening, I read the labels of my personal care products, and I did my research. I started making sweeping changes in my home: I traded plastic for glass, started using vinegar and water to clean, and changed to organic mattresses. When it came to beauty products, I could not find any that met my high standards of performance but were made with ingredients that were significantly safer for health. I could find products that were made with safer ingredients, but they didn’t last all day or just didn’t work. At the other end of the spectrum, I could find all the luxury brands I was accustomed to, but they were filled with ingredients I knew to be harmful to health. There was a hole in the market for high performing products that were also significantly safer—so I decided to do something about it.
It was never about the industry—it was always about the mission.

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Most exciting part about owning your own business?
Walking into a room and hearing people talk about the brand, or having strangers walk up to me on the street to thank me for the work we are doing. It’s those little moments in time when you know you’ve built a business to stand the length of time, and makes me so happy.

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And the greatest challenge?
Managing people. Their desires, needs, differences of opinions, and work styles. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in—you’re always in the people business and that is the hardest part.

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What do people misunderstand about being an entrepreneur?
That you work for yourself because the reality is, as an entrepreneur—you’re a servant leader and you serve the needs of your team, your investors, your mission. Success doesn’t happen overnight—it’s 24/7. People don’t see the whole picture and don’t understand the full timeline.

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The strongest leaders today are those that believe in servant leadership—putting the needs of others first, and realizing that you are there to serve them, they are not there to serve you.

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What are the top lessons every would-be entrepreneur should know before starting a company?
1. It’s hard.
2. You’ve got what it takes to be successful—don’t let other people convince you otherwise. All the people surrounding the idea are not as necessary as they may seem.
3. In order to be really successful you have to have a high level of self-awareness. Know where you’re strong and know where you’re weak. Find the support around you for those areas in which you’re weaker.

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And when it comes to branding…
1. Consistency is king.
2. Have confidence in your point of view.

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This isn’t your first time building a company. Does it get easier? Or harder?
Some things are easier, some things are harder. It was certainly easier to raise capital the second time around, but the consumer market is more complicated and demanding now than it was when I started the Wedding List.

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Resilience is such an essential part of being a founder. Can you tell me about one of your most memorable rejections—and what you learned from it?
When I got fired by messenger in front of a room full of people. Getting back up and just staying the course—even though it was so humiliating. Being fired as CEO in front of my team and via messenger was for sure the most humbling moment of my career. At the end of the day, you need to have your glass of wine, pick yourself up, and get on with it.

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You've worked for quite a few "strong-willed women," as you once put it. What do you think it takes to be a good leader?
Humility. I think you can be strong, but still lead with purpose and with the needs of people in mind. I think the strongest leaders today are those that believe in servant leadership—putting the needs of others first, and realizing that you are there to serve them, they are not there to serve you.

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Is there another founder you look to for inspiration?
Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia.