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 stories in our series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day-in-the-life feature. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details of launching a business, from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much founders pay themselves—we’re not holding back.
When Atlanta-based esthetician Jasmine Lewis first opened the doors to her salon, Vie Beauty, she didn’t have any intention of pursuing a long-term career in beauty. After graduating from Clemson University with a degree in biological sciences, she enrolled in esthetician school and started her salon as a side-hustle to save money for medical school. However, as she worked toward her esthetician’s license, she discovered the deeper connections between biology and beauty and found that it was possible to pursue both of her passions at the same time. So she pivoted.
Then, last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and COVID-induced shutdowns that impacted her small business, Lewis pivoted yet again and launched Vie Beauty’s first product, 30Roses Hydrating Rose Water. “I had developed my own rose water spray to use on clients and kept receiving requests to purchase the spray—that was my ‘aha moment,’” she told Create & Cultivate. “I had every intention of scaling my business, and the rose water spray seemed like the perfect place to start.” And the pandemic presented the perfect opportunity for her to take the plunge.
Below, the up-and-coming beauty entrepreneur spills all the details behind how she built her blooming business, including why she believes it’s always better to fail fast and learn from your mistakes than avoid taking risks altogether.
Take us back to the beginning—what was the lightbulb moment for your business?
Like many people, I was stuck in a job that wasn’t the right fit for me. My family and I were in the midst of a traumatic experience, and my job at the time would not allow me to travel home to be with them. At that moment, I realized I needed to pursue something different, something I was truly passionate about and could create on my own.
I have owned my beauty studio for several years serving clients as an esthetician, and rose water has become an essential part of my services. I start each appointment by cleansing the client’s face and then applying rose water to hydrate the skin. I had developed my own rose water spray to use on clients and kept receiving requests to purchase the spray—that was my “aha moment.” I had every intention of scaling my business, and the rose water spray seemed like the perfect place to start. And thus the 30Roses Hydrating Rose Water was born.
Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful? If not, what did you use instead, and why did you take that approach?
I had a very loose business plan when I started my beauty salon. The salon started more as a “side hustle” to save money for my then-goal of medical school, and it transitioned into something greater.
But this year, prior to the launch of the 30Roses spray, I spent more time creating a structured business plan. I created an outline of my business goals with a timeline because I needed a road map to see where I was going and the different milestones that I wanted to hit in that time frame.
How did you come up with the name? What was the process like and how did you know VieBeauty was the right name? What are some of the things you considered during that process, and what advice can you share?
Vie means “to be alive” in French. I believe in choosing life in every aspect of the choices you make, to be alive and fulfilled in all things that bring you joy. The skin is the largest organ of our bodies and seemingly is what keeps us alive. This is why skin health, proper skin education, and being mindful of the ingredients we put on our skin is so vital to living. Also:
I knew Vie Beauty was the right name for my brand because it represented everything I stood for and my “why.” My grandmothers were my whole world, and they are now at the core of my brand. I played around with name ideas that incorporated my name, but it just did not resonate with me. Vie really stuck with me and I felt like it would stand against the test of time. I could picture Vie Beauty as a global brand that could expand into something much more. When thinking of a company name, my advice would be to think long term; think of your 10-year goals for your brand instead of focusing on the now.
When deciding on my business name, I took into consideration whether or not the name was taken, the accessibility of the name, how easy it was to spell and search, if there were any other brands working under the same name, how it looked on paper, how easy it would be for others to remember, and the way the name sounded. Be sure to check for trademarks and search social media to make sure no one is operating under the name you want. Make the name unique to you and your story as well as the mission you want to achieve. But make sure it’s not too difficult to remember, spell or pronounce; you want your business to be very easy for customers to remember.
What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business and what would you recommend to new founders reading this right now?
The items at the top of my list were an Employee Identification Number (EIN), LLC filing, a Google listing, my website domain, and my social media handles across all platforms (even ones that I might not have used initially, just for name security purposes). These are all crucial to secure as a founder of a new business.
I also recommend securing the variations to your domain name (i.e. .org, .co, etc.), your trademark, and any other names that you feel you would like to associate with your brand. It’s an extra layer of security for your business.
What research did you do for the brand beforehand? Can you explain how you found and compiled that research? Why would you recommend it and why is it important?
I started by researching my competitors as well as brands I admired that were doing well and creating some sort of impact in the industry. I didn’t just stick to the beauty industry with my research; I looked at brand strategies in other avenues such as tech to see what made them successful. I religiously read and researched trends and created specific verticals in my research regarding my target audience. I primarily used the internet (aka Dr. Google), my network of supporters, books, and podcasts like “How I Built This” by Guy Raz and “Side Hustle Pro” by Nicaila Matthews Okome. I also used platforms like Pinterest to create mood boards for things I liked and didn’t like as I built the brand. And prior to launching the 30Roses rose water, I got feedback on the product through a series of collaborative pop-ups to test the market. Researching is crucial because it can answer questions that you didn’t even realize you needed to know.
How did you find the manufacturer/production facility that you use? Did you have any bad experiences? What did you learn, and what advice do you have for other founders looking for a trustworthy manufacturer?
I thoroughly researched manufacturers online (aka Dr. Google) and found my current manufacturer through extensive research. I actually had a bad experience with the first manufacturer I used, as they took an extremely long time to develop the product and it still wasn’t up to the quality standards that my customers deserve. Overall, I learned to ask more questions during the vetting process. Get clarity on the scope of work and make sure EVERYTHING is in writing; contracts are essential for every working relationship you have. Get plenty of references, request samples, test and research, research, research before selecting a manufacturer.
Did you self-fund the company? If so, how did you bootstrap it? Did you do a friends-and-family round? Or did you raise seed money or initial investment money? What path would you recommend?
Vie Beauty was completely self-funded—it was primarily bootstrapped through savings, the profits from my beauty studio, and family gifts. The funding route you should choose depends on the rate that you’d like to grow your business. If you are trying to grow quickly, you should aim to raise money and secure investors. But if you are willing to move at a slower, steady pace, it is completely fine to go the bootstrap route. Keep in mind that when you bring on investors, you also lose part ownership of your business; you are no longer the sole owner. On the other hand, investors often provide mentorship and guidance as you grow the business. So it all depends on your goals.
How much did you pay yourself in the beginning?
Like many new entrepreneurs, I actually do not pay myself. I reinvest everything back into the business and paying my team.
How big is your team now, and what has the hiring process been like? Did you have hiring experience before this? If not, how did you learn and what have you learned about it along the way? What advice can you share?
I have an extremely small but mighty team. I do work with contractors for some aspects of the business, but the blood, sweat, and tears are all me (although, my husband does step in from time to time). I had a little hiring experience from previous jobs, but my advice is to thoroughly vet the people you want to work with and make sure they align with your values and goals.
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and set up?
I do work with a CPA, but I make my own financial decisions. I recommend working with a CPA to get guidance on the financial aspects of your business, especially for tax purposes. There are a few websites that provide amazing advice on accounting and bookkeeping, like Bench. You can also find people on Fiverr that will help get your books in order or work on an on-going contract basis.
What has been the biggest learning curve during the process of establishing a business? What mistakes have you made?
The biggest learning curve for me was planning ahead and developing an overall strategy. I did not plan for the extreme level of growth that Vie Beauty has had, and at times, I shelled out more money than I should have. For example, I’ve had to pay almost four times the cost of shipping to get something rushed over from my manufacturer or even paying for rush jobs if I had planned ahead, I would not have had to face that type of situation. Having a plan in place is better than trying to wing everything on the spot. Always plan for the best-case scenario and the worst-case scenario.
Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help. Oftentimes, your network is more than happy to help you and provide the answers you’re looking for. I still struggle with asking for help, so a lot of times, I am not maximizing my time to its full potential. Also, you need to accept that you’re not an expert in everything and learn to be okay with that. Operating in your zone of genius allows you to perform at your highest power. I tried to build my own website on numerous occasions and it was terrible every time. I believe in hiring experts who can fill in those gaps for you. After hiring a professional to design my website, I saw major growth within my brand and also my social presence. So now I am more confident in showing up.
Do you have a business coach or mentor? How has this person helped, and would you recommend one?
Yes, I do have a few business mentors and I definitely recommend having one or two: one in your industry and another in a different one. Business strategies are pretty similar across industries, they are just applied in different ways. For example, the art of maximizing human attention can be applied to any industry across the board that has a social presence. Oftentimes, you can find mentors in your close network that are willing to give you solid business guidance. Look to the people you already know when starting the search for a business mentor.
How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz? What challenges have you faced?
Social media and referrals have been my biggest marketing tools. I actually learned a lot of marketing strategies when running my beauty studio, so I already knew quite a bit about how to promote Vie Beauty prior to launching. About 30% of my business’s income comes from marketing efforts. The biggest challenge so far has been Facebook ads; I wasn’t very well versed in Facebook advertising or creating a paid social strategy. Thankfully, I have experts on my team to assist me. Resources like Create & Cultivate have also been very beneficial as I navigate the marketing process.
What is one thing you didn’t do in the setup process, that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?
The most important thing I could’ve done was getting a trademark and patent. I am in the process of securing those right now, but I wish I had done it prior to launching because it can take a long time to get approval.
For those who haven’t started a business (or are about to), what advice do you have?
Come out strong and don’t cut any corners. You might be hindering yourself from success by not initially presenting the best product possible. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. It’s always better to fail fast and learn from it than to avoid risks altogether. Always aim to be better than you were yesterday, and stay laser-focused on your goals, plans, and brand mission.
What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new business owner and why?
My biggest piece of advice is to secure capital. You have GOT to spend money to make money, so consider your funding options before launching your business.
If you could go back to the beginning with the knowledge you have now, what advice would you give yourself and why?
If I could go back to the start, I would tell myself to create a solid plan and strategy, don’t cut any corners, and start out strong! Also, be patient with yourself and your process. Your journey is not like anyone else’s journey. Use grace as you learn to navigate the entrepreneurial space and always speak life and bounty over your business.