Step out of your comfort zone. Tap into that grit. If you want to meet successful people in your field, hang out where they hang out. Keep going back until you blend right in. If you’re in need of a business loan, knock on every banker’s door, ask friends to become investors, start a GoFundMe page. Don’t give up until you’ve reached your goal.
As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Vince Spinnato.
When Vince Spinnato was 10 years old watching “Dynasty” and “The Young and the Restless” with his Grandma Serra, he set his sights on developing skincare products to help people look and feel beautiful. His grit kept him on that path through his grammar school days when he mixed essential oils in small vials he purchased at the dime store; to high school when he designed a fragrance bottle that he still uses today; to Beverly Hills where he finagled his way into top salons to learn the trade. Today he is the CEO & Founder of TurnKey Beauty, Inc., VS Vincenzo Ltd., and Vincenzo Skincare LLC where he has developed private-label and white-label product lines for hundreds of cosmetic, treatment and healthcare companies, as well as for scores of celebrities, retailers, and entrepreneurs.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path
As a kid, I was never interested in throwing the football or fishing with my father. I was much happier playing with my big sister Teri’s Easy Bake oven where I created scents using my mother’s essential oils. I was determined to own a perfume company like the fabulously wealthy Abbott family on “The Young and The Restless” and become even richer and more famous (I’m still waiting!). I even picked a name, VS Vincenzo, a combination of my first and last names in Italian, which remains one of my product lines today.
Even though my GPA was not high enough to get into a prestigious college, I was so determined to attend that I reapplied three times. Then, grit kicked in. After the third “We regret to inform you,” I drove to the college and bullied my way into the president’s office. Somehow, I convinced him to let me attend with the caveat that I was on probation.
I’m severely dyslexic and college level academics were grueling. It wasn’t long before I realized that I was on the wrong path if I wanted to own my own skincare company one day. What I needed was hands-on experience. On weekends, my roommate and I would drive to New York City to visit the posh retail establishments of major cosmetic companies. I’d schmooze them up and leave my resume, but despite my perseverance, I didn’t land a job. Ironically, even after all the trouble I had gone through to get accepted at school, I would have quit in a hot minute if one of the cosmetic companies had hired me — even if the job was sweeping the salon! There was no way I was giving up on owning my own business. In my sophomore year, I gave up college instead.
Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
When I was 20, I left my parent’s New Jersey house, hopped in my car and headed West for good. I was determined not to give up until I reached the Pacific Ocean, where, incidentally, I spent my first night.
On the way, I stopped in Phoenix to call a Beverly Hills cosmetician who was famous for creating “kitchen cosmetics” out of ingredients found around the house.
“My name is Vince Spinnato,” I told her. “I’m coming to work for free at the beauty salon.” Of course, she thought I was crazy. But with grit and hutzpah, I blew into Beverly Hills ready to launch my career.
Oddly, when I showed up, the kitchen cosmetician didn’t send me away. For the next 18 months she taught me how to develop products and how to run a salon, in addition to the ins and outs of the industry. The only problem was financial. I was living off my credit cards, including payments for my fancy leased BMW and it was about time to pay the piper.
That was the first time I lost everything — my apartment, my car, all the furniture I had leased. I was literally out on the street and had to couch surf or sleep on the beach until my friend, Amy, said I could live with her until I got on my feet financially.
Even then, did I get a paying job? Of course not! An internship opened up at Vidal Sassoon’s Salon and with a recommendation from the kitchen cosmetician, I got the “job.” It led to my first paying job at Michaelangelo’s Beauty Salon across the street from Sassoon. Tragically, the salon burned to the ground shortly thereafter, but by then I had begun to sell white label products (FDA-approved generic products that can be sold under any brand name) under the VS Vincenzo name. It was a start.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
For some reason, I’ve never been afraid to “go for it.” I even crashed actor Jimmy Stewart’s funeral, and it paid off big time. As I worked the room meeting scores of Hollywood royalty, I ran into Lauren Bacall who was so interested in my VS Vincenzo face cream that she invited me to lunch at The Ivy, one of Beverly Hill’s most famous restaurants. Let me say, the lunch didn’t go as planned. First, I spilled a glass of red wine that splashed onto her designer white suit. Then I accidently tipped the table and sent her plate of spaghetti into her lap. She fled the restaurant dripping noodles taking my dreams of an investment from a famous Hollywood star with her.
I also talked my way into tickets to the Oscars through my friendships with the editors of several beauty magazines. I was even invited to ride in the limousine with movers and shakers of the cosmetic industry and thought, “One day I will be part of their world.”
That expression, “You have to have fake it ’til you make it” is dead on. But it has to be combined with the perseverance to succeed at all costs. Don’t let the rejections get you down. My actor friends all tell me that they get 2,000 “no’s” before they get a “yes.” Talk about grit!
So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?
I truly think that grit is part of an entrepreneur’s DNA. Only when my back was against the wall and I was facing financial ruin again, did I seek a real job. On one interview, the CEO explained the rules. “You’ll report to work at 9:00 a.m.”
“Oh no,” I told him. “I’ll arrive around 10, but I’ll work my butt off for you.” His next mandate was to wear a business suit daily. “No, no, no, no,” I said. “I’ll wear jeans.” I think he was in such shock that he hired me anyway. But the only way I could succeed working for someone else was the opportunity to be out of the office and on the road for extended periods of time.
Although I dropped out of college, I never stopped learning. I studied Selected Topics of
Cosmetic Chemistry at UCLA (no easy tasks for a dyslexic). Then I went to a fragrance house and was trained with perfumers to become a “certified nose,” a designation similar to a sommelier but for perfumers instead of wine experts. It could be considered the equivalent of a BA degree in perfumery. But my most valuable lessons came from on-the-job training and internships with Marie Ardita and Lee Paler who taught me how to develop complex formulas for every area of the beauty industry.
While I work for Natural Products and traveled the world acquiring new clients and selling products, the company paid all my travel expenses. That enabled me to sock away most of my sizeable salary and finance my lab without borrowing money. For an over-spender like me, that took grit.
At last, I was able to create my first company, TurnKey Beauty, Inc., that specializes in developing beauty products for celebrities and corporations under their own names. My first celebrity client was Michael Jordan, followed by Jennifer Lopez, Jessica Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and Gwen Stefani. TurnKey was and is, my primary business.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)
I’m not sure “grit” can be developed. It’s inborn. People with a passion to succeed all have grit, so maybe it’s a chicken and egg thing. Which comes first: the passion or the grit? Both are essential to an entrepreneur’s success. If you’d rather live in the street or sleep on the beach than veer from your goal, you have true grit. And, since I’m an over-achiever, I’ll give six pieces of learned advice instead of five!
- Step out of your comfort zone. Tap into that grit. If you want to meet successful people in your field, hang out where they hang out. Keep going back until you blend right in. If you’re in need of a business loan, knock on every banker’s door, ask friends to become investors, start a GoFundMe page. Don’t give up until you’ve reached your goal.
- The illusion of success is also important. When Lauren Bacall invited me to lunch, my car had been repossessed and I had to ride the bus. To make sure she didn’t see, I got off two stops before the restaurant so I wouldn’t spoil the illusion of success I wanted to project. Snobby on my part? Definitely!
- I’ve always had a nose for business, but like millions with learning disabilities, dyslexia made it extremely difficult to run a business. I forced myself to learn how to keep the books and prepare mountains of paperwork for FDA approval. Despite my early years of living on credit cards (which I definitely don’t recommend) and constantly going broke, today I pay every bill, not only on time, but immediately. Use that grit to develop solid business skills. Your company and reputation depend on it.
- Choose your friends carefully. It took me years of heartache to learn not to be so trusting. Today, I surround myself with smart, interesting people who have a positive outlook on life. I actually prefer people older than me because they have had so many experiences and so much wisdom to share.
- Don’t ever believe it when someone says, “You can’t.” Many of the world’s most successful and brilliant entrepreneurs have learning obstacles, including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk. If they had abandoned their dreams, imagine what the world would have missed.
- Find a way to work around obstacles. I’ve had numerous health problems throughout my life, including a burned esophagus, the result of a major fire in my home that landed me in the hospital for months. I also suffer from trichotillomania, a hair pulling disorder that began following the traumatic death of my beloved Grandmother Serra. After seeing numerous doctors to no avail, I found ways to keep the disorder at bay. One of the causes of “trich” is a lack of serotonin so I go to a tanning salon every few weeks to get some extra UVB rays which helps to boost seratonin. I also get waxed all over my body to prevent pulling out my own hair. There is no cure, but these “band aids” have greatly curbed my irresistible impulses.
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 you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?
Throughout my life, I’ve been blessed with a number of people who have been there for me, including Joni Rogers-Kante, owner and founder of SeneGence International and Marilee Davis, my “Mama Mar” who has never given up on me, even during darkest days of my life.
But the person who most shaped my professional life is chemist extraordinaire Marie Ardita, who taught me so much about the industry that’s not found in textbooks. She’s the personification of someone with grit. At a time when male chauvinism reined and women were rarely given the opportunity to work in the labs of major corporations, Marie became the one of the first female chemists at Gillette where she developed numerous formulations. Later, she was named “principal scientist.” At an age when she could easily retire, Marie continues to work in her own lab and we still talk daily.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
To honor my father and grandfather who were both musicians, I established two annual college scholarships for talented seniors at my former high school in Vineland, NJ. Winners receive 20,000 dollars over four years. It’s one of the most satisfying things I’ve ever done.
I recently donated a well to Wells of Life, a provider of clean water in Uganda. A portion of the proceeds from my new product line, Caviar and Diamonds, is earmarked for the organization.
Before Covid-19, I mentored young chemists and entrepreneurs in the beauty industry and invited them to work with me in the lab. By being hands-on, they bridged the gap between book knowledge and actuality. As soon as the pandemic ends, I’ll pick up where I left off.
My friend and fellow “trichster” Joanna Locke and I are poised to launch a non-profit called Tric-Stars to help support others dealing with the disorder.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
My goal has always been to create skincare products that help people feel good inside and out. But how can trichsters feel beautiful with hunks of hair missing from their heads? I can say from personal experience, they can’t! There are several products on the market currently and I’ve tried them all. They simply don’t work. I’m in the process of developing new products that will be both effective and affordable.
What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Read my book, My Pursuit of Beauty: A Cosmetic Chemist Reveals the Glitz, the Glam and the Batsh*t Crazy and don’t do anything I did!
Joking aside, I learned many lessons while working for others to keep a roof over my head. First, be transparent. Office secrets are morale killers. Treat everyone with dignity and respect. Have an open door policy and really listen to suggestions from your employees. Never negate their ideas. One may turn out to be a game changer for your business.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Along with developing new products to help prevent hair pulling, Joanna Locke and I want to launch a campaign to promote acceptance among the approximately 2.5 million sufferers. Even in the twenty-first century, most trichsters are ashamed to “come out” and discuss their disorder openly. Joanna and I were each other’s “first.” Recently, several notable stars have divulged their “dirty little secret,” so hopefully, that will encourage others to do the same.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One of my favorite quotes used to be: “Beauty comes from within — jars, bottles and tubes.” (Anonymous). But after visiting Auschwitz, the infamous concentration camp,
I’ve realized that real love, real beauty, and real self-confidence come from within.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.