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Bobbi Brown built her makeup empire – for the first time – in the ’90s, at a time when shades often required heavy blending to match skin tones, and bigger looks were favored over subtle ones. Her eponymous brand, Bobbi Brown Cosmetics, was acquired by Estée Lauder in 1995, but Bobbi remained closely involved as Chief Creative Officer until 2016.
After signing a 25-year non-compete agreement, she pastimed her time with a variety of entrepreneurial ventures, from being featured on the Today Show to opening a boutique hotel in her hometown of Montclair, New Jersey.
In 2020, on the day her non-compete clause expired, she launched Jones Road Beauty, a minimalist makeup brand focused on clean ingredients. The brand is the culmination of her decades of entrepreneurship and beauty wisdom, and a physical representation of her personal values. “It’s about feeling good about yourself and looking better. For me, that’s makeup,” Bobbi said. “Make-up is not supposed to be fabulous, [to be] change someone else and you. It’s about being yourself.”
In the early entrepreneurial days, Bobbi was inspired by the lack of color availability in the industry and set out to meet directly with chemists to translate their vision into physical products.
“I could have said, ‘Okay, here’s an opportunity. Let me go home and write a business plan. Let me try to get financing. Let me…’ I didn’t do any of that,” Bobbi said. “I didn’t know what a business plan was. I didn’t know what marketing is. I dipped and just made a lipstick. I saw an opportunity, I dived in and I did it. And that’s probably the difference from how many people today are looking to start their own business.”
Introducing Bobbi Brown Cosmetics
The brand started out selling direct to consumers through a mail order system, but after meeting the right people, Bobbi was able to scale faster than expected. The first major growth step came over lunch with a friend who happened to be a writer for Glamor magazine. “They said, ‘Can I write about this? [your brand] in glamor magazine?’ and I’m like, ‘Why would you do that?’” Bobbi said. The impromptu meeting became a feature, prompting an immediate influx of calls and attention to the company.
You never know who might be interested in your work – sharing your activities voluntarily gives external actors (such as the media, investors or clients) the opportunity to support you. Later, Bobbi attended a party in Manhattan, where she met an employee from Bergdorf Goodman Cosmetics. “I told her about this lipstick line, and it wasn’t easy to snap my fingers, but that’s how I got into Bergdorf Goodman,” Bobbi said. While these interactions weren’t initially strategic, Bobbi’s willingness to say yes and consistently expose herself—and her brand—to the outside world paid off.
But not all of Bobbi’s entrepreneurial steps were so easy. Following your dreams is the ultimate goal, but it’s not quite as easy as quitting your current job to pursue your passion. It’s important to assess your financial situation and have a realistic plan that doesn’t ignore the realities and necessities of life.
“You have to buy milk. You have to pay the rent,” says Bobbi, “a lot of people are stuck in these high-paying corporate jobs for financial reasons. So what do you do then? Do what you love the site – see if there’s a way something could work. If your part-time job suddenly becomes an economic opportunity, Bobbi said, you’ll know when to shift your time and energy into it. Some aspiring entrepreneurs end up quitting their jobs to take temporary evening jobs so they can devote more time to their passion without risking their financial well-being.
There will always be naysayers, so being able to look inward and motivate yourself in the midst of negativity is very helpful as an entrepreneur. “There’s always someone who says, ‘The world doesn’t need another makeup line,’ or ‘You’re too old. Nobody’s going to be interested,'” Bobbi said. “I heard everything. You listen and move on. It’s just noise, and it’s not your noise – it’s their noise.”
Balancing parenthood and business
The conversation about work-life balance is always trending because it’s one of the most difficult aspects of professional and personal development to achieve, especially for moms. Because entrepreneurship is such a demanding path, Bobbi faced a lot of challenges while raising her three children an hour outside of Manhattan.
She didn’t do it alone and shared that choosing a life partner is one of the most important decisions you make, both for your personal and professional life. “It was really tough from the start. If I hadn’t had my husband, who was an incredibly supportive husband when the kids got sick, if they had to do anything, it would have been impossible to do this,” Bobbi said.
It is said that there is no shame in asking for help. If she could turn back time, she would have asked for even more. Sometimes parents have to be selfish to take what they need and be a little lighter on themselves – doing it all is way too much for a single person. “When I was doing her makeup, Susan Sarandon said to me, ‘Hire someone for the weekends, not to play with your kids, but to be at home and clean and tidy your house,’ and I didn’t listen,” Bobbi said. “And that’s one of the things I regret. I sent my kids with my husband and I cleaned and I did the shopping, and by the way, I didn’t get any awards! Try to figure out how you could spend more time with your children.”
As she got older, Bobbi was able to start “hacking” parenting—figuring out the tricks and shortcuts to getting what she needed to do and still feeling fulfilled and successful as a mom. “I made sure I was occupied at home, whatever that meant,” Bobbi said. “I always figured out how to make things work. I think it’s being an entrepreneur, not just of business, but of my life.”
It’s a constant juggling—after all, there’s a finite number of hours in a day. Entrepreneurship requires you to prioritize, take risks, and learn along the way. You need to know what matters most to you because it’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of business. “Your time and energy is precious — know what it’s worth and give up the things that aren’t,” Bobbi said.
“I had a line of glasses that was successful for a while and then it wasn’t. Me [said to myself], ‘Okay, that’s not working right now. I will not do it.’ Luckily I had other things to keep me busy, but I don’t see those things as failures. I see it as an opportunity to learn what doesn’t work and what I can’t.”