This Founder Turned $5000 Into a Wildly Successful Business Without a Plan—Here's How

September 23, 2020
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We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do, but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their story in our new series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life. We’re getting down to the nitty-gritty from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves, we’re not holding back.

We cover a lot of founder journeys at Create & Cultivate HQ but every now and then one story will stand out above the others and inspire you to step into your creative power and take the leap, too.

Lesley Thornton is one of them. While working full-time as an esthetician and skin care educator, Thornton saw the significant impact that clean, well-formulated products had on her client’s skin health. So, in 2010, with $5000 of her own money (which she saved by renting out her apartment on Airbnb), she made the bold move to create her own skincare line, KLUR, and year over year as her clients saw results, the demand for her product grew.

But this isn’t just any skincare line. KLUR reflects the values of clean, ethical, sustainable, and inclusive beauty that treats people with a complete approach to skin health; prioritizing minimalistic regimens that deliver multiple benefits and long-term results. For Thornton, KLUR is about so much more than quality products with a conscious ethos—it’s about a human connection. And her products and approach reflect that.

KLUR Is also a 100% independent, self-funded, women-owned, and operated company. As she explains in our interview; “I saved, scrapped, and saved dollar by dollar until I had enough for another formula and so on. I don’t know if bootstrapping is for everyone. Still, it enabled me to do things my way. It came with personal freedom and freedom of choice for every decision within the business.”

Read on to learn more about this incredible founder and why it’s okay to launch without a plan as long as your “why” is strong and your heart is fierce.

On not having a plan…

I didn’t have a plan, it all happened organically, one thing led to the next. I couldn’t have planned for KLUR to happen the way it did. From service provider to consumer products, one business naturally transitioned into another.

On the name…

In 2010 while in esthetics class, I recall playing with various names. I eventually landed on Klurskin Aesthetics. After a while, I realized long names are confusing, hard for people to remember, and make online searches more difficult. I changed it to Klurskin and eventually rebranded to a refined version, which is KLUR. This was simple and intentional.

Klura is a Swedish expression for thought out, pondered, or given a second thought and fit perfectly around my ethos and skincare philosophy. Personally, I knew an eponymous company name didn’t fit my vision of creating an inclusive brand. By no means do I meet the typical beauty standard so I couldn’t brand my likeness. Indeed, building a brand is very personal, but you don’t always need to name your company after yourself. You can have fun and be creative, just make sure it’s memorable. 

On setting up the business…

The first thing I did was buy the domain, register the business name, secure social handles, and finally trademarks. I would highly recommend they all be done simultaneously; this isn’t a terribly difficult process. 

On the research she did…

I didn’t do an extensive amount of market research for KLUR however, collecting data was an essential function of my job as a skin expert. The research that did come in handy was the data I had acquired over the years, from every skin analysis and hands-on treatment I had conducted. I don’t think of this as the typical research needed to start a business. Still, for me, it all was incredibly useful. All the research I did daily for 10 years became the foundation of KLUR, helping me create a strong point of difference in my approach to formulation and brand philosophy.

On finding the right manufacturer…

I spent years attending beauty trade shows and skincare conferences. I made relationships with anyone who I thought might know someone in manufacturing. This was over five years, so I made a lot of good connections. If I didn’t know something I asked if I didn’t know the source of an ingredient, I had a contact that did.  

When I first started making KLUR products, I worked with several labs. Through trial and error, I eliminated the labs that I didn’t feel connected with, even if they were great manufacturers. I built a strong personal relationship with my existing lab based on our ethos, commitment to sustainability, appreciation for science, and quality ingredients. 

As an educator, my criteria for a formula isn’t easy to meet. They understood that and still worked to exceed my expectations. Nurturing this relationship took immense trust, time, and effort. My best advice to anyone working with product manufacturers is to not settle for the first one and make it personal. At the end of the day, this company manufactures the final product and can make or break your reputation. Ask around for references from trusted sources and other brands that have also worked with them. 

On self-funding the company…

KLUR is an entirely independent, self-funded, woman-owned, and operated company. To this day, I have no financial backing, no angel investors, not even a go-fund-me. To be honest, I didn’t even know investors were an option for POC. From an early age, I learned what it meant to be a problem solver, resourceful, and resilient, and funding Klur was no different. I saved around $5,000 of my own money by renting out my apartment on Airbnb. It was just enough to get one formula starred. I saved, scraped, and saved dollar by dollar until I had enough for another formula and so on. I don’t know if bootstrapping is for everyone. Still, it enabled me to do things my way. It came with personal freedom and freedom of choice for every decision within the business.

On the biggest money mistakes…

I’m naturally frugal, my mistake will never be over-spending. It’s quite the opposite. Holding on to money and not reinvesting can be problematic too. I could have grown much faster had I understood how to reinvest much sooner. 

On working full time while creating the line…

Yes, KLUR was my full-time job. I guess my situation is unique because KLUR was an offshoot of my facial studio. It’s a direct extension, a by-product of the services that I once offered–they were two businesses in one. I just realized applying my unique philosophy to product formulation and bottling that experience provided me a greater reach than seeing clients daily. So over eight years, I slowly moved from being a practicing esthetician to manufacturing our products full-time. 

On paying herself…

This must be the greatest misconception in the world of entrepreneurship. Most people believe that as the CEO, you’ll have this colossal payday. Investors will flock, and you will sell your company for a billion dollars. This happens to the 0.1% of people who start a business, and the media loves to prop-up this tiny percentage because it makes for a good story. When the reality is the majority of businesses fail in their first 5 years, and most Black-owned companies don’t even make it off the ground. In all honesty, I don’t take a salary. KLUR is bootstrapped, which means all revenue is automatically reinvested. When you operate like this, the Founder/ CEO is usually the last to get paid. 

On hiring a team…

KLUR is small despite how big we look on social media, there are just a few people on the team. We hire people who believe in the brand, not only those who have the qualifications. Consider yourself lucky if you can find both. Not every enthusiastic person is a fit for your team and not every qualified individual believes in your vision. It’s about creating a team that is based on a balance of both. You’ll need to weigh this all out when bringing on new hires.

On hiring an accountant…

Yes, and I asked around a lot and finally found a friend who gave me an accountant and bookkeeper who helped immensely put things together for me. There is a company based in Los Angeles that offers small business consultation. They are a group of attorneys, accountants, and other business and finance experts called Counsel for Creators. Although they are based in California they also operate virtually. 

On the biggest learning curve…

As an esthetician, I built KLUR around servicing the needs of others first. I had to learn to transition from being a facial studio, maintaining a personal clientele daily, operating solely in the digital space, and working with consumer goods and manufacturers. Adopting a new kind of business model wasn’t easy. That also meant learning to offer consumers the same level of excellent customer service online as I offered in person, and detaching physically from the external space. It was a mental and physical shift I wasn’t totally prepared for. 

On having a mentor…

No. I wish I did have a mentor. I use a lot of common sense and strong intuition. I make mistakes and fail intelligently. If you can mentor alongside someone, I would highly recommend it. 

On marketing and PR…

Word of mouth is still relevant, and in beauty, there is nothing better than the word of someone you trust, this is why online reviews matter. For KLUR, its use of Instagram paired with valuable education and strong aesthetics. This has been our primary source of marketing. Funny thing is we have almost no marketing budget, our revenue goes back into the R&D process. We are formula focused company that means marketing is last, and the research and development of the product are where we invest all our resources.

On the one thing, she didn’t do in the setup process…

Take a branding class or talk to someone about properly crafting your message, this not a graphic designer, but someone who has extensive knowledge in branding and creative strategy. You must know what your brand voice is and stick with that. You can always change a logo or design, but you don’t want to rebrand your company’s voice 2.5 years later after launch. 

On advice for new business owners…

Get ready to struggle. Youll have to find your most authentic source of motivation for starting your business. It can’t be money, because in the beginning you probably won’t make much.

On knowing your numbers…

Go over your books frequently and get comfortable looking at the numbers, they do not lie. Don’t spend what you don’t have.

On prioritizing self-care as a business owner…

You have time there is no rush, take care of your physical, mental, and emotional health. Adopting a lifestyle around optimal health and wellness is more important than you think while running a business. There is only one of you, and you must show up every day to grow.


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