Natalie Plain of Billion Dollar Beauty: “Your word must be golden”

Your word must be golden. You say it. You commit to it. You do it. We said we were going to create sustainable products, and we’ve had to walk the walk not only for ourselves but for our consumers and vendors. It was important to us. When we got the deal with Target, we went […]

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Your word must be golden. You say it. You commit to it. You do it. We said we were going to create sustainable products, and we’ve had to walk the walk not only for ourselves but for our consumers and vendors. It was important to us. When we got the deal with Target, we went through a rigorous process to prove we were sustainable, and we had to back up our words with data.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Plain.

Natalie Plain is the CEO/Founder of Billion Dollar Beauty, a company she started 18 years ago out of her one-bedroom Los Angeles apartment using credits cards and a whole lot of tenacity. Today BDB is a multi-million-dollar global company that continues to expand and invests in innovation to make its products sustainable, environmentally safe, and cost-friendly. Equally as crucial to Natalie is her time mentoring future entrepreneurs and sharing her journey with other female leaders, encouraging them to continue to dare to achieve.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

For one, it was not a straight path. I always dreamed of being a White House news correspondent and set my compass directly for that to happen. So I shot for the stars and landed the coveted White House internship under President Clinton.

From there, it looked like I was on the fast track to the White House South Lawn. Upon returning to LA, I had the opportunity to work on the television series REAL TV, not exactly news, but super exciting for a new experience and challenge. That was my first pivot. After REAL TV ended, I continued working in Hollywood, and it was when I was doing a beauty segment, I noticed there was an underserved market when it came to eyebrows.

Seeing an opportunity, I pivoted once again and ended up launching my own company Billion Dollar Brows, to provide those products that seemed missing. Eighteen years later, the rest is history!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When I started the company, I didn’t know anything about intellectual property “IP.”

Our first product was initially called Miracle Brows, and we started with 5,000 units. Two months after we launched, we received a Cease and Desist letter. Unbeknownst to me, another cosmetic company had trademarked “Miracle Brows.”

I had two very distinct choices — 1.

They offer to sell us the trademark for 1 million dollars or 2. Cease all sales and relabel immediately. Since I was broke, I chose to find a new name and relabel the 5,000 units. It was a quick and hard lesson on how important it is to have the rights to your intellectual property. I tell everyone to put their money upfront, minimize their risks and invest in IP for the long haul.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Within in 24hrs of going live with our website, we got an order from NY. We were based in California and hadn’t taken the time to think through or incorporate shipping fees. I was just so excited to get our first order I didn’t want to mess it up. I wanted to make sure it got there, and it got there quick. So, I shipped it overnight via FedEx. It cost me 20 dollars to send a 20 dollars product. Needless to say, I did not profit on that first sale but learned an important lesson. It’s great to come up with a product people want to buy, but if you haven’t done your research, add up the numbers and come up with some efficient solutions on how you will get it into your customers’ hands quickly and with a profit.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Hands down, without the help and encouragement from my husband Bob, our company would not be the success it is today. He always believed in my ability to launch a brand and in my vision. Bob loves to tell the story of the moment he knew he would put his dreams on hold and help me make Billion Dollar Brows a reality. It was noon, and he was in his boxers! Bob was upstairs clicking away on another draft of his screenplay when he heard me rush in the door on my lunch hour break. He heard me running around printing labels, packing products into boxes, and knocking things over in my haste. He came down the stairs and realized I was juggling it all, and he was so in awe of my determination to make this work. Even if it meant I had to work a full-time job in television, run home at lunch to fulfill orders, go back to work, come home in the evening, answer customer emails, place orders, check inventory, and so on long into the night. He no longer wanted to stand by! He was my partner, and he was all in. Bob has helped me build, run, and continue to grow Billion Dollar Beauty from that day on. But, most importantly, he has been by my side through the ups and downs, steadying me through my doubts and giving me invaluable guidance to make informed decisions.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I believe women are often stalled at the initial steps of launching a company when they go to secure funding. Banking institutions do favor males for loans. I’ve experienced it myself and especially when trying to launch a company in the beauty space.

It’s still very much a man’s game, and they are the ones making most of the decisions behind the scenes. I also find women are the primary caregivers and are often in a position to take care of children and aging parents. Finding the time to concentrate and put in the needed work to start a company is challenging. That juggle makes it twice as hard and, if not a billion times harder.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

There need to be more incentives for the banking institutions to be inclusive and maybe more females in the decision-making positions. Women need help balancing it all, and I strongly believe in universal care for aging parents and children. There should be government or privately-funded programs for all families, whether after-school services or daycare programs, to home aids for the elderly. We as women try to do it all, we are expected to do it all, but it’s not humanly possible.

Many women must choose between following their dream and the gift of motherhood. That’s just not fair, and it’s not equal.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Female pioneers in the beauty industry like C. J. Walker, Elizabeth Arden, and Estee Lauder have proven that women are more than capable of creating their empires. They’ve helped pave the way along with thousands of women out there today who are running businesses big and small. What all these women have proven is without tapping into that brainpower, those alternate visions, and unique perspectives, we are missing out on half the gold. Women are multi-taskers. They are nurturers and think long-term but are quick on their feet by nature. It’s those traits that bring innovation, efficiency, and longevity to products and services across the business landscape.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

One thing that bothers me and I think does a disservice to many is social media’s way of discrediting women in business. They use terms like “Girl Boss or Boss Babe” to describe female founders. The different platforms depict these women as overnight successes giving the wrong impression that it just happened. That is not the reality. It makes many young entrepreneurs out there feel as if you try and success doesn’t come quickly; you’ve failed. The truth is it can take years of hard work, sweat, and determination. These are women, not babes, not girls, who have earned their spot. We need to continue to put female faces and names next to the word success, and we need to continue to tell others our stories. Only then can we break down the barriers and dispel the assumptions that hold women back.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No, not everyone is built to be a founder. And that’s okay. It’s about knowing your strengths and weakness, and we all have them. To be a founder, you must have the stomach for the ups and downs because there are many. Problems cannot deter you. It’s all perspective. See it more as a challenge, another issue that needs to be solved by you. Being adaptable is a mindset you can’t live without as a founder, and you’ve got to be in it for the long haul. These are the traits that are integral to success and weeds out the playing field.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Your word must be golden. You say it. You commit to it. You do it. We said we were going to create sustainable products, and we’ve had to walk the walk not only for ourselves but for our consumers and vendors. It was important to us. When we got the deal with Target, we went through a rigorous process to prove we were sustainable, and we had to back up our words with data.
  2. The Power to Pivot — whether out of necessity or opportunity, don’t be scared to make a sharp turn or go down an unforeseen path. I worked as a producer in television when I was assigned to do a segment on a brow artist to the stars. I found his world fascinating and quickly realized that a vast market of consumers wanted to have groomed eyebrows but had no access or couldn’t afford his services. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. I had an itch to create a product for everyday people at a reasonable price and accessible. I decided to pivot for the opportunity and haven’t looked back since.
  3. Think Long Haul. No company is an overnight success. It takes years to grow a brand and strong financial discipline. When I started Billion Dollar Brows, I went all in. I self-financed by putting all my assets on the line and borrowing on credit cards. I didn’t worry about how or when I was going to pay those debts off. I worried and focused on the road map I created to accomplish what I set out to do: make products that were the best they could be and focus on getting them into my targeted consumers’ hands. With all my attention on building and adapting at every turn, I had no other direction to look at but the future. I also made a decision I was doing this and therefore committed to it long term.
  4. The Right Perspective. It’s all in how you look at things. Don’t look at something as a problem. Look at it as a challenge, a resolvable challenge. The pandemic hit us like everyone else, and we needed to think fast about adapting and pivot. We could have gotten stressed out and started to panic, but instead, our perspective was we’ve got the goods, and the challenge before us was how could they be a solution for our consumers during this unprecedented time. How do our products make their lives better or easier in this new normal? We came up with our “Beauty Above the Mask” campaign. Now that everyone was wearing a mask and their faces were up close on Zoom all day long, people noticed the whole eye area, including brows. All of a sudden, eyebrows were a focal point for many that never really paid attention to them before, including men. We were the solution; our eyebrow kits for grooming and framing and our new Billion Dollar Box containing customizable new eyeshadow shades and highlighters add some pop to your eyes. With that perspective, we achieved our highest recorded sales in 2020.
  5. Posses an Open Mind with the capability to see other perspectives. You are the captain, and the buck stops with you, but you have a team, and they are not just there to blindly do their jobs. They are a wealth of information and insight you’d be silly not to tap into. I started my company alone, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to have a team of people around me who want to continue growing BDB. I value the team and the point of view they bring to the table many times I don’t’ think of. Relying on my team to hear their honest opinions and ideas has allowed my company to grow. We often do focus group meetings with the team and have had fun blindfolding our accounting department so they can try products and tell us their thoughts. Your team is a fantastic resource. Don’t miss the opportunity!

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

I am incredibly grateful for my success and all I’ve learned getting here. After 18 years, I feel like I have so much to share, and I do that through mentoring programs and workshops. Through mentoring, I meet with high school students and show them how many possibilities are out there. At the workshops, I try to share as many stories as possible about BDB and how we got to where we are today. I hope the attendees will have insight that may help them avoid some of the common land mines when you are building your brand. Above that even is the hope that I am encouraging them to trust their instincts. BDB recently sent 50 eyebrow kits to a local doctor’s office to distribute to the nurses and doctors on the front line during this pandemic. We know they don’t have much time for self-care, so maybe something as easy as our products could come in handy. Helping someone find a sense of normalcy even in the smallest ways makes us feel really good.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Inspiring people to get politically active is something I work hard at doing all the time. I don’t have a formal platform . . . just yet! I take every chance I get to remind people, everyday people like me and you, that any of those political seats could be yours if you want to put in the hard work. If you have the passion and a clear vision, there is no reason you can’t shepherd the changes you want to see. You don’t have to go all the way to Washington. Sit on your school board, city council even your state’s assembly. We live in a great country, and it’s a work in progress. The beauty is we can all do something to make it better. My passion is universal care, meaning providing daycare to all families as you would health care. We should be giving parents healthy work environments and the ability to take off when your child or parent is sick without loss of wages. Working and having a family shouldn’t be so hard. We shouldn’t have to choose one over the other.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

A private breakfast with Serena Williams would be amazing. I love her fire not only on the tennis court but also when she owns her domain as a person, mother, celebrity, and successful woman. What resonates with me is she knows who she is. She recognizes she’s complex, and she makes no apologies. As women, we’ve been made to feel we need to apologize for having an opinion, apologize for our success, apologize for wanting more. She has made an impact on me from afar. I cannot imagine how much more inspired I would be after spending an hour with her. What a gift that would be!

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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