This Founder Launched Her Jewelry Line With Just $100—Now It’s a Michelle Obama Favorite

February 9, 2021
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You asked for more content around business finances, so we’re delivering. Welcome to Money Matters where we give you an inside look at the pocketbooks of CEOs and entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll learn what successful women in business spend on office spaces and employee salaries, how they knew it was time to hire someone to manage their finances, and their best advice for talking about money.

Last year, ByChari founder Chari Cuthbert made headlines everywhere. After former first lady Michelle Obama donned one of Cuthbert’s designs, a delicate gold chain spelling out “vote,” during her speech at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, everyone from Vanity Fair to Forbes wanted to know more about the designer behind the necklace—and, of course, add it to cart. In just two days, Cuthbert sold a staggering 4,000 pieces, when, on a typical day, she would receive about 200 orders.

But don’t call her an overnight success. Cuthbert has been hustling for years to get to where she is today. In fact, she started ByChari with just $100 in her bank account and didn’t pay herself for the first four years (!) she was in business, instead, reinvesting every dollar she made back into the company. “I started relatively small and would buy enough materials to make exactly what I needed,” the founder tells Create & Cultivate. And it’s safe to say her slow and steady strategy has more than paid off.

Scroll on to learn more about how the successful founder built and scaled her sought-after jewelry brand, including why she urges prospective small business owners to follow her lead and “build a strong infrastructure and scale from there.”

How did you fund ByChari, and would you recommend that route to other entrepreneurs? What advice can you share?

I started ByChari with $100 in my account. I started relatively small and would buy enough materials to make exactly what I needed. For the next year, I would re-invest the profit from my sales back into the company. I wish I would have saved more to start, but then again, I started so small and really wasn’t focused on building a company but more on having a creative outlet. 

How much did you pay yourself in the beginning?

Honestly, very little. One of the first things I did was hire a good CPA to advise me. I paid myself enough to cover my personal expenses and kept as much money in the company as possible. 

Would you recommend other small business owners pay themselves?  

I didn’t pay myself for the first four years I was in business, but it was important for me to take care of myself. I think all business owners should be honest about the time they are investing and commensurate themselves accordingly. 

Where do you think is the most important area for a business owner to focus their financial energy and why?

I think it changes as the company grows. In the beginning, it was inventory, and as the company grew, it was growing a staff and investing in my team. Now we focus on inventory and marketing. 

What was your first big expense as a business owner and how should small business owners prepare for that now? 

My first big expense was digital marketing. I knew it would be a crucial step in growing the business, but it was nerve-wracking making that first payment. Once we had a strategy in place, I made sure that we had ample savings and felt 100% confident in the spend. 

What are your top three largest expenses every month?

Digital marketing, inventory, and employees.

How did you know you were ready to hire and what advice can you share on preparing for this stage of your business? 

When I was working 18-hour days and still not able to accomplish everything I needed to. I knew I would have to watch my overall expenses in order to bring on an employee, but it was so important for my mental and physical well-being to get help. 

Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and set up?

When I started the business in Hawaii, I did everything myself. Once I decided to move to L.A. and focus on growing the business, I hired a CPA who helped me with the transfer and California set up. I now work with a financial firm that oversees all of my expenses, budgeting, and spending. Best thing I ever did!

What apps or software are you using for finances? What worked/what didn’t?

I started with QuickBooks from the very beginning. 

What are some of the tools you use to stay on top of your business financials? What do you recommend for small business owners on a budget?

Honestly, QuickBooks. No matter how big or small your company, being organized financially is so important. You can get the essential version for under $30/month. 

Do you think women should talk about money and business more? Why? 

Yes, now more than ever. There are more women run-businesses. We all have the same or if not similar challenges. There is no shame in making mistakes or miscalculating, but not taking the opportunity to ask for help or advice is an even bigger miss. Women need to support each other in any way possible. 

Do you have a financial mentor? Do you think business owners need one? 

I don’t have a financial mentor, that’s where my firm has come in. They have become an extension of my work family, more than a team that just crunches numbers for me. However, having someone to speak with about money is important, even if it’s a parent or close, trusted relative. 

What money mistakes have you made and learned from along the way?

In the beginning, I definitely overspent on materials without having a proper plan.   

What have been some of the hardest money lessons you’ve learned along the way? 

Managing cash flow. It is so important to constantly be aware of what is coming and going out of your account. 

What is your best piece of financial advice for new entrepreneurs?

Start slow and steady. Build a strong infrastructure and scale from there.

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