My favorite ways of building businesses are to handcraft something that works first, and then challenge myself and my team to scale it. There is an amazing Masters of Scale episode where Reid Hoffman talks to Brian Chesky about how they did this at Airbnb. So, yes, you can build a large company this way. But not everyone does it. So many founders want to think about SCALE first. That can work too. But I don’t know how to build something that way.
I think part of this goes back to my experience as an author. You have to think about writing for one person (even if that’s yourself). You can’t let everyone else who might read this crowd into your head or you’ll try to please too many people and fail.
This is very much what we are doing all day every day at Chairman Mom when it comes to our virtual Zoom dinners. We know we’ve built something amazing—it’s very distinct from what’s out there and has somehow scaled the highly vulnerable intimate IRL events we’ve done that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. Now how do we scale that?
Fortunately, in the middle of the challenge, I read Leslie Blodgett’s new book Pretty Good Advice: For People Who Dream Big and Work Harder. Leslie built bareMinerals, taking it public and selling it for a whopping $1.8 billion.
The book is a quick read. It’s broken into 97 one- or two-page bursts of advice from her life and career. It’s funny, and there are so many beautiful lines that stay with you. Like this one from the intro: “The most compelling story of beauty is its generosity. It’s not restrictive, not exclusive. The more you see it, the more you understand it. And understanding leads to caring about other people and their journey. It also leads to caring more about yourself.”
This is why Leslie built a very different and very disruptive beauty company. That is not the definition of beauty that we usually have promoted to us, is it? Most beauty brands have to talk this up as something specific and exclusive and something you don’t have, so you’ll buy it from them.
Some other favorite moments from the book:
- When Leslie first appeared on QVC: “And then…I was on. Paralyzed with fear. Not wanting to be there. Which is the nature of risk: Risk makes you afraid. You don’t choose whether or not to be afraid. Only whether to dive in, given your fear. If you wait for the fear to go away, the opportunity will go away too.” That is one of the best things I’ve ever read about entrepreneurship.
- She writes at length about the handcrafted way she built the community around her product. Doing things that sound crazy, like inviting strangers to your hotel room. They spent their marketing dollars not on ads in magazines but on connecting people: “Communities are made of people. People are human. Humans have physical needs.” Most of today’s online communities have forgotten this.
- This excerpt from a letter to her son about a friend who went off on her, mom-shaming her, for having a career and how to respond: “Throughout your life you will run into people who want to hurt you or put you down or make you angry. You may fantasize about payback. That’s your inner jerk temping you which is totally normal….Revenge sounded good to me—for a moment…I was able to resist the temptation to be a jerk and behave in a way that was consistent with my values. And as sweet as revenge might feel, feeling like yourself is the most AWESOME feeling of all.” (This is also an articulation of why being a mom makes you a better leader…you filter things through the lens of “how would I explain this in a letter to my kid?”)
- Staying grounded once you have success: “If you think you’re too big to remember who you serve, you’re gonna get small, fast. Being successful is never about you. It’s about what you do for others.”
Today’s new questions on Chairman Mom:
- Fearing I’ll never see my elderly parents again.
- Has anyone experimented with co-isolating with other families?
- How has quarantining changed you?