Cents and Sensibility

Starting Your Own Business – An Interview With a Young Entrepreneur

I’ve always wanted to be a small business-owner. I’d have a bakery specializing in savory and sweet pies, like Mrs. Lovett, but with normal ingredients. All the pies would be individually-sized. I’d even have a savory-sweet pie combo!

There are only two things standing in the way of my dream. First, I’ve never actually made a pie. Second, I don’t know the first thing about starting my own business. To tackle the latter, I turned to my dear friend Celeste Perez.

After receiving a Bachelors degree in Broadcast Journalism and a minor in entrepreneurship at USC and working for both Disney and True Religion, Celeste started Nectar Skincare. She is also the Brand Manager and an integral part of the development of Six Taste, a highly-reviewed food tour company based in Los Angeles with a 5-star rating on Yelp. Soon, she will launch her own accessories boutique, Vesterie. I had a chat with Celeste about the challenges and triumphs of being a small-business owner today.

Me: What spurred you to open your own skincare line?
CP: I graduated into one of the worst economic environments in years. Nobody was hiring. It was incredibly frustrating and super-stressful. I was tired of waiting for some corporation to take the risk and hire me, but I was also really tired of having bad skin.

As an aspiring broadcast journalist, I was extremely self-conscious about my face. I tried everything from drugstore brands to $250 skin creams, and even last-resort prescription solutions from my dermatologists. Nothing worked! I began researching natural ingredients and formulas, and ended up with the opportunity to create my own with a lab. After testing my products for months, I knew that I had something to offer. So, Nectar Skincare was born. I honestly thought it would just be a project to pass the time between “real jobs”, but I fell in love with the fact that I didn’t have to work within the limits of corporate structure, and decided to dedicate more of my time to make Nectar a viable business.

Me: Did you ever have any doubts?
CP: Absolutely. In fact, I would say overcoming self-doubt is one of the biggest challenges to opening your own business. Being an entrepreneur is a huge risk and it comes with little security. Sometimes you want to give up and just take the easy, secure way out— do the interviews, get the boring job with the great salary. But I didn’t want to go back to that, where someone else could decide how successful I could be. I may not have an MBA, but I do have the drive to learn. So with the skills I picked up from being involved in school and through my internships, I was able to build up the courage to start my own business. In college, I was planning events, throwing benefit concerts, coding websites, and writing—for fun! I learned how to use design programs, fund-raise, operate on a budget and connect with people. My experience outside of the classroom proved especially useful to the start-up and development of Nectar Skincare.

Also, I really believed in my product. It was daunting at first – there are so many other skincare companies out there and many of them have been around for decades. But after countless hours researching, consulting with dermatologists, working in the lab and even testing the product on myself, I knew I had something that worked. It was just a matter of finding my niche in the market and then making that connection with potential customers. I had to keep reminding myself that Nectar products have what it take and that I was the one who could make it happen. Confidence is key. You have to believe in yourself, you have to believe in what you do.

Me: Describe the process of starting Nectar Skincare.
CP: First, I did a lot of research about anything and everything related to beauty and cosmetics. I interviewed a lot of business owners from all backgrounds, joined forums, took classes. Then, after I had thought long and hard about what I wanted to do, I did more research! I interviewed labs and chemists, went to trade shows, and sent out surveys to my friends and tried to figure out what kind of products weren’t yet available. I didn’t have a lot of resources, so setting up a physical storefront wasn’t a viable option. I decided to set up a store online and a little shipping operation out of my parent’s garage. I was selling after about 6 months of product and web development.

Me: Would you say, then, that technology positively changed the entrepreneurial environment?
CP: Definitely. Technology has created so much opportunity for small business owners like myself. I take all my photos on my iPhone. My online store allows me to lower overhead costs. Social media makes it possible for me to engage my customers, promote my business and stay on the pulse of what people want. The technology available today has allowed me to bootstrap it in ways that would have been impossible before.

Me: Tell me more about how you used social media to develop your client base.
CP: On top of being a great promotional tool for sales and updates, social media has been an amazing way to interact with my customers, which is important given that my business is almost exclusively online. I blog and highly encourage my customers to send in questions. I also try to involve people in the business. For example, when I was designing the packaging for my products I turned to Facebook. I polled my friends for their preference between glass and plastic. Apparently people like the look of glass, but prefer the durability of plastic packaging. I went with plastic. I felt that this was more truthful and honest than just sending out a survey. Staying current with what people want has never been easier, as long as you’re plugged in.

Me: You mentioned that overcoming self-doubt was a big challenge for you. What are some of the other challenges you’ve faced?
CP: Honestly, I think naming things was hardest for me! I wanted names that would resonate with people and reflect the essence of the brand. It’s like naming a baby! You want the perfect name that nobody will make fun of! Still, my boyfriend was trying to get me to name the whole line “FIX YO FACE”. Not my style, really.

Day to day, I think the hardest part is the discipline it takes to get everything together. Starting out, I was working 18-hour days. I just had to work through it and motivate myself, which is a lot easier when you love what you’re doing.

Me: What do you know about making pies?
CP: I’ve made a few! Why?

Me: Nothing. Another discussion for another day. What advice would you give to people like you who are looking to start their own business today?
CP: As long as you are passionate about your business and committed to delivering your best, people will notice. The rest will follow. And it won’t even feel like work!

More in career advice:
>>Performance Reviews – A Professional Growing Pain
>>Networking for Introverts

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