Schedule downtime: Taking the time to schedule downtime for yourself is necessary. It’s easy to get caught up working long hours because you’re so invested in your business. You want it to do well and be successful, but the only way that can happen is to make sure to schedule time when you DON’T focus on work. Your work will always be there when you get back.
Being a founder, entrepreneur, or business owner can have many exciting and thrilling moments. But it is also punctuated with periods of doubt, slump, and anxiety. So how does one successfully and healthily ride the highs and lows of Entrepreneurship? In this series, called “How To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur” we are talking to successful entrepreneurs who can share stories from their experience. I had the pleasure of interviewing Felipe Vasconcelos.
Felipe is the founder and CEO of Koda Brands, which is a remote-first company that holds multiple beauty brands under its umbrella (Atomic Makeup, Secret Beauty Club, Kapuluan Coconut, More Naturals, and StartBeauty). As a serial entrepreneur, he has started, acquired, scaled, and sold over a dozen of his own businesses. He has also served as a consultant to help other entrepreneurs massively grow their own businesses.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I graduated with an MBA from the University of Rochester, but my entrepreneurial adventures began when I made and sold kites to neighborhood children as a 9-year-old kid growing up in Brazil. When I moved to the U.S. at 12 years old, my first business was selling books that I got for free from estate sales for a dollar each. There were days when I would make 100 a day dollars, and for a kid in the 90s, it was a good amount of money. After that, every few years or so, I would start a new business. I was also in tech for a while, doing web hosting and web development. I then went to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) to become an image consultant. However, I felt like I didn’t have the complete knowledge on how to make that business better and scale it the way I wanted to. So, I ended up going to business school at the University of Rochester. There, I worked with dozens of companies from four different continents doing projects with them. I even worked with a Shark Tank company. By the end of my MBA program, I had to decide whether to take a six-figure offer from one of the major banks or run my own business. I didn’t choose the bank. I acquired my first business right before graduating, and with the profits from that, I bought another business, and then another, and then another.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led to the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
The “Aha Moment” for Koda Brands was knowing that we had the resources and know-how to have multiple touchpoints in a customer’s journey through beauty, wellness, and fashion. Everyone has those needs, so there was no reason that we shouldn’t be at the forefront for fulfilling those needs. So, I created Koda Brands as a remote-first company that holds multiple beauty brands. The customers, our products, and the different brands we have under Koda Brands overlap. We knew from talking to our customers, and researching into our target audience and target markets, that we were in a prime position to have all these different brands fulfill specific needs while being within our wheelhouse.
In your opinion, were you a natural born entrepreneur or did you develop that aptitude later on? Can you explain what you mean?
I would say I’m a natural-born entrepreneur, but not a natural-born successful entrepreneur. Success didn’t come easy. I feel that no matter how well I do, it never feels like it’s good enough. It’s like imposter syndrome, all day, every day. Yeah, I have all these companies, and I’m doing all these things, but I think, “Is that good enough? Am I doing the right thing?” This line of thinking can be good because it motivates me to keep building to make our companies bigger and better. Having a spark for entrepreneurship is essential, but developing those skills is just as important. Many people have that spark; they just don’t have the know-how or have a lot of risk adversity to start. It’s not a matter of just wanting; you have to make it happen. There is a lot of learning with trial and error if you want to become successful.
Was there somebody in your life who inspired or helped you to start your journey with your business? Can you share a story with us?
There was one person who encouraged me, and that was my grandma. I think she mainly was entertained by the thought of me trying to make a little money selling kites. I don’t know if she ever thought that I would turn entrepreneurship into a career, but at least it was something productive that I occupied myself with, and that was a good thing. I’ve always had this fire inside of me, so I’m fortunate that I didn’t listen to the people saying, “no.” I think that betting on myself was probably one of the best decisions that I made.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The main thing that makes our company stand out is that we are always looking to do more to help people. We aim to nourish and cultivate relationships with our clients, customers, and our employees in every brand within our portfolio. As the needs of our clients and customers evolve, so do we in our services. Our vision as a company is to empower people with quality products that reflect our values as a business. We are an entrepreneurial company, so as we invest in entrepreneurs, we employ the same energy and passion to uplift brands, acquire new companies, and scale them for measurable success.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
- Being curious: As an entrepreneur, it’s crucial to have an abnormal level of curiosity. When you are curious, you don’t have to be the best, but that curiosity can lead you to be the best. The search for knowledge and trying to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve have always been instrumental to my success. I think our businesses are proof of that. We recognize and acknowledge whatever we are unsure of or what we don’t know. Then, we try to become experts to learn those new things, which always leads to growth.
- Taking calculated risks: What I do seems risky to most people. But I think what many people don’t realize is that it requires a lot of planning and readiness. It’s essential to prepare for a lot of different situations. While taking a risk might look spontaneous, it just means that I’ve done my homework.
- Using unpleasant experiences as a drive: I think most people fear failing. It’s ok to be scared to fail because failure is supposed to be scary. But I don’t think it’s ok not to learn from those failures. Experience is what you get when you don’t get what you want. Whether you succeed or fail, I believe you always get something out of it. The experience that I get from failure is priceless and is something I embrace because it helps me become a better leader, entrepreneur, and person.
Often leaders are asked to share the best advice they received. But let’s reverse the question. Can you share a story about advice you’ve received that you now wish you never followed?
I think one of the worst pieces of advice usually given is, “Follow your dreams.” When you’re at the top looking down, it is easy to tell people who are just starting in any industry to follow their dreams. You see a lot of celebrities, once they’ve reached success, give empty advice. It’s so easy for them to say, “Follow your dreams.” There is so much else in being successful than just “following your dreams.” There’s a privilege, there’s an opportunity, there are resources, and then there’s luck, which is something you can’t replicate. A better piece of advice is “follow opportunity” because the opportunity is realistic; dreams sometimes are not. I think if someone likes to sing, but they’re terrible at it, it doesn’t matter how many classes they take because they’ve reached a cap on what they can do. They’re not going to improve. Do we want to tell this person, “Follow your dreams,” in becoming an international pop star? Probably not. However, you don’t have to pursue your dreams professionally. These dreams can be a hobby, which is an excellent possible middle ground. But the reality is, you need to make a living, maybe with something you are good at doing. Sometimes, following an opportunity that presents itself, or an opportunity you make for yourself, is better advice.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them create a work culture in which employees thrive and do not “burn out” or get overwhelmed?
I would recommend Kaizen — the Japanese word for improvement. It’s this concept that you need to improve your business processes and workflow constantly. This approach also applies to employees. As an entrepreneur and as an employer, how do you improve the lives of your employees? How do you possibly do that? Listen to their needs, try to fill and supply those needs, and try to foresee possible needs that people might have. Doing that makes people happier, makes teams closer, and makes employees want to stick around for longer. At Koda Brands, we aim to empower employees to do fantastic work that they enjoy. By providing substantial benefits, and a flexible work environment that focuses on results rather than hours, we intend to inspire creative freedom. We take pride in each individual’s continued growth and contribution to the team because we know that each team member is essential to overall success.
What would you advise other business leaders to do in order to build trust, credibility, and Authority in their industry?
There’s no simple answer to this question. It’s crucial to know your industry and know the market really well. But, with that, it’s all about being accurate, transparent, and prolific. You need to know a lot about your industry, not only your opinions about it. It would be best if you relied on facts based on your experience and the experience of others and being honest about it.
Can you help articulate why doing that is essential today?
Be open about the information and the ups and downs within your business because people look up to you, whether you realize it or not. To have trust and credibility, you need to be consistent about the messaging you put out there when talking to people inside and outside your industry.
What are the most common you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?
A common mistake is not doing enough research. Even if you know the ins and outs of your industry, there’s always more to learn. I think it’s necessary to humble yourself and admit that you’re never going to know everything, regardless of how much work you do. Do as much research as possible so you feel comfortable navigating your industry.
Ok fantastic. Thank you for those excellent insights, Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about How to Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur. The journey of an entrepreneur is never easy, and is filled with challenges, failures, setbacks, as well as joys, thrills and celebrations. This might be intuitive, but I think it will be very useful to specifically articulate it. Can you describe to our readers why no matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will always have fairly dramatic highs and lows? Particularly, can you help explain why this is different from someone with a “regular job”?
No matter how successful you are as an entrepreneur, you will have to ride out the highs and lows by managing realistic expectations. The main thing has to do with accountability. When you are working a regular job, your accountability is limited because you can still mess up your job and earn a paycheck. Even if you lose your job, the barrier to get another job is usually a lot lower than starting a brand-new business from scratch. As an entrepreneur, when you mess up, you feel it directly in your pocket and in your livelihood. When things go wrong, the weight of the world, and the weight of your entire business, is on your shoulders. Especially if you have employees, you have to think about their wellbeing and their needs before yours. When you have a regular job, you may not necessarily need to do that because the company you work for is doing that for you. But, when things are great as an entrepreneur, the rewards are a lot more significant. For a large company in a corporate environment, many times, the rewards of success trickle down, so even if you do something great for the company, maybe the CEO will claim that success or the VP will claim that success. But it trickles down because If the CEO is claiming that credit, they will congratulate the VP or Director on their excellent job. That VP or Director will congratulate their managers, and when the congratulations get to you, you get a pat on the back. When things are good, you’ll feel it in the bottom line because it will directly positively affect your wealth.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually high and excited as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
I never get caught up or fooled by the high highs because I know that they’re temporary. Because afterward, there’s more work to do. The work doesn’t stop just because we got a big sale or big contract or did something right. Reality usually sets in fast. We received a 50,000 dollars order for one of our brands, which was great, and I let myself be happy about it for a few seconds. But, the reality set in that the supply chain logistics for fulfilling that order in a short amount of time would be challenging, so I let that ground me. Being distracted by the highs can be a trap, especially since entrepreneurship has been so romanticized. When people want to be an entrepreneur, they may only think about the highs and believe that is what it’s like all the time. But it’s imperative that entrepreneurs must be grounded. It is not to say that there aren’t happy moments in entrepreneurship. To be honest, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. I’m happier doing this than any other possible job. My base level of happiness is more significant than it would be if I had another job. However, I don’t let myself be carried away by the highs.
Do you feel comfortable sharing a story from your own experience about how you felt unusually low, and vulnerable as a result of your business? We would love to hear it.
The most disappointing things that have happened to me as an entrepreneur are partnerships going sour. It’s very easy to take things personally and feel very crummy about it. As someone who has owned more than a dozen businesses, there are times that partnerships don’t work, even worse if that partnership is with a friend. What I try my best to remember during those times is that a lot of times, it’s not personal; it’s just business.
Based on your experience can you tell us what you did to bounce back?
I bounce back by thinking of the business first and putting my feelings aside in order to really focus on the needs of the business and what I can do as a leader to keep moving forward. That focus has helped me get back on track.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Things You Need To Successfully Ride The Emotional Highs & Lows Of Being An Entrepreneur”? Please share a story or an example for each.
- Schedule downtime: Taking the time to schedule downtime for yourself is necessary. It’s easy to get caught up working long hours because you’re so invested in your business. You want it to do well and be successful, but the only way that can happen is to make sure to schedule time when you DON’T focus on work. Your work will always be there when you get back.
- It’s not personal; it’s just business: Put your feelings aside and focus on what’s most important for the business. Partnerships can come and go, so it’s important to keep moving forward to stay on track with your goals.
- A good support system: Sometimes, this is as simple as having a business partner, a domestic partner, a mentor, or even an employee to talk to about what’s going on in the business. Even though it may feel like it, you don’t have to be alone in your work. Connect with the right people to support you and your business goals.
- Take care of your health: It’s crucial to take care of your physical and mental health. Exercise daily or multiple times a week. Remember to also eat well because having solid health is what keeps you focused and stable, especially when riding the highs and lows of everyday entrepreneurial work.
- Be aware of your accomplishments: If you decided to be an entrepreneur, you are farther ahead than most people who are just dreaming about it. As with anything new, starting is usually the most challenging part. Then once you already have been through the ups and downs, acknowledging how well you are doing and giving yourself a gold star on your wins can put things into perspective.
We are living during challenging times and resilience is critical during times like these. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
The best way to remain resilient is getting knocked down nine times and getting up 10. Resilient people understand that going through failure does not mean in any way that they’re a failure. They learn from that experience, and they use that experience to push through to success.
Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Would you mind sharing a story?
I grew up in Brazil, very, very poor. I grew up with my grandma because my parents weren’t around. There was usually very little to eat. There were days that the only thing we had to eat was rice and eggs. I didn’t have many toys, so I had to make my own; I had to use a lot of imagination, creativity, and resourcefulness, even at a very young age. Coming to the U.S. and growing up, things were still very tough because we were still very poor, but on top of it, I was also in a very abusive environment. It took a powerful mind and determination not to break down. But what all those experiences taught me is that I can be resourceful because a part of success comes from resourcefulness. Sometimes, it is not accepting no for an answer either from other people or the world, specifically in terms of opportunities. I was able to make my own opportunity for many different things in life, and that’s what part of being an entrepreneur is: it’s creating an opportunity for yourself.
In your opinion, do you tend to keep a positive attitude during difficult situations? What helps you to do so?
I like to keep a realistic attitude, and I try to base my attitude on facts as much as possible. Although, there are times that my feelings do sway me. I can’t fake how I feel, but keeping a realistic attitude keeps me from having a bad attitude towards problems. I try to know exactly what’s ahead and think about different possibilities of how to handle various situations. In that case, it keeps my perspective realistic because I understand what adversity looks like and the rewards.
Can you help articulate why a leader’s positive attitude can have a positive impact both on their clients and their team? Please share a story or example if you can.
Good and bad attitudes are contagious. When you are communicating with people, if you are doing it with a smile, even if they do not see your face, they’re bound to pass those good feelings along if they have a good experience communicating with you. Unfortunately, the same things happen with bad attitudes and bad feelings. We see this every day. If you have a bad experience, sometimes you can pass it on because it’s contagious. Trying to keep positive vibes always helps because it’s something that you can pass along.
Ok. Super. We are nearly done. What is your favorite inspirational quote that motivates you to pursue greatness? Can you share a story about how it was relevant to you in your own life?
Follow opportunity, not passion — Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs. I’m passionate about a lot of different things. I love music; it’s a passion of mine. But I know that my chances of being a famous musician are very slim. However, there was an ample opportunity in the market for entrepreneurship in cosmetics, wellness, and fashion. There are always opportunities for that. The beauty industry is a multibillion-dollar market that is just there for the taking. I think that doing that is more fulfilling than the potential stresses of trying to get music gigs. But when I want to express my passion for music, I can just sing karaoke.
How can our readers further follow you online?
Our kodabrands.com/brands page has a list of all the brands we have in our company for people to learn more about who we are as a business. We are constantly building our portfolio and are always interested in new growth opportunities.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!