How Samara Walker Launched Auda.B While Working Full-Time as a Senior Financial Analyst at Amazon

July 6, 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.

“Balancing a full-time job and a start-up is extremely demanding and requires a different level of patience, organization, and ability to challenge yourself,” Samara Walker, the founder and CEO of the luxury vegan nail lacquer brand Àuda.B, tells Create & Cultivate. “Time is of the essence because every minute counts when you have to delegate between your 9-5 and your startup,” she explains. But Walker was more than up to the task of managing her minutes and balancing her full-time role as a senior financial analyst at Amazon with building her beauty start-up. And for good reason.

Walker launched Àuda.B because women of color aren’t often represented within luxury beauty. “Oftentimes, luxury beauty brands omit the celebration for women of color,” she explains. “I was truly inspired to launch Àuda.B to create a brand that reflected women of color from A-Z. Through product curation, branding, and marketing, I knew that I wanted to build an inclusive brand that kept women of color top of mind,” she adds. And major retailers have taken notice. Earlier this year, Àuda.B launched on Nordstrom, becoming the first Black-owned polish brand to be sold by the retailer.

Ahead, Walker shares when she knew it was time to quit her job at Amazon and go all-in on Àuda.B, what the biggest challenges in scaling her business have been so far, and how she’s pushing the beauty industry forward and making a difference.

You started Àuda.B while you were working full-time as a senior financial analyst at Amazon. Would you recommend starting a business while working a full-time job? 

As I reflect back, I would recommend starting a business while working full time because this allows you to put your passion and work ethic into perspective. Having a stable income allowed me to invest in my business by relying on my paycheck and helped me bootstrap my company to the next phase. Working a full-time job while starting a business put my life into perspective and really encouraged me to go after my dreams!

How did you know when it was time to quit your job at Amazon and go all-in on Àuda.B? What was your strategy for making the transition and what, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently? 

The day I signed my partnership agreement with Nordstrom, I knew I had to prepare myself to leave Amazon. As a small start-up, I had to manage and develop the supply chain strategy for the business and onboard new systems to become compliant with the retailer, which is no small undertaking. The demand for Àuda.B became overwhelming (in the best way!) between the influx in orders and the partnership with Nordstrom. I was tasked with the decision of pouring my energy into Àuda.B or Amazon, and the decision was not difficult at all. I had worked tirelessly for this day to come, and I was prepared to put all of my efforts into it! 

As a founder, I positioned myself from the very beginning to save aggressively because I knew that bootstrapping would allow me to have total control while building my company until we eventually secured an investor. I made strategic moves such as setting up direct deposit from my Amazon paycheck to the Àuda.B business account each pay period to build our business account for expenses and to budget for part-time contractor payments.

It’s important to build out a real plan between personal and business expenses in order to set realistic expectations of what your savings should reflect to allow you to step away from your full-time job. Founders need financial security in order to operate from a healthy mindset—shelter and food shouldn’t be optional. I wish I had the ability to establish this plan earlier on in my career, but I am thankful that I finally had the courage to fully step out and embrace the abundance of Àuda.B.

Earlier this year, Àuda.B launched on Nordstrom, becoming the first Black-owned polish brand to be sold by the retailer. What has been the biggest challenge in scaling your business and what lessons have you learned along the way? What advice can you share on how to scale a business sustainably? 

The biggest challenge in scaling has been producing enough inventory to keep on-hand, as well as implementing systems to scale with limited cash. I’ve since learned how to prepare your business for the next phase and have strategies and plans in place to anticipate the arrival of growth. My advice would be to plan your business for the next phase before the growth actually impacts your company. Research potential partnerships to help scale, whether that’s a 3PL or EDI system to manage your growth and scale effectively. 

How did you fund your business? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend your route to other entrepreneurs? 

I bootstrapped my business by funding through my full-time salary and personal savings. Some of the challenges I faced were not having enough cash on hand or the ability to order new inventory to keep up with customer demand. Managing expectations is important. Having a well-balanced inventory is essential to keep up with customers’ needs and demands. 

At first, we didn’t have the ability to expand our color selection or significantly increase inventory without the guarantee of customer’s purchasing. I would change the way I handled inventory by ordering more to create a surplus for an unexpected increase in sales. I would highly recommend bootstrapping your business until funding is secured via an investor if that’s the route you decide to take. Bootstrapping gives you the grace of building at your own pace and learning all aspects of your business from the ground up.

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

Our first big expense was hiring a lawyer in order to apply for our trademark. Small business owners should create a list and prepare for start-up costs that can be accomplished over time but are necessary for the business’s growth. Putting aside a few dollars that are dedicated solely to start-up costs will help prepare business owners for anticipated expenses. 

What are your top three largest expenses every month?

Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you know what to pay yourself?

I don’t pay myself as of yet. 

Would you recommend other small business owners pay themselves? 

Depending on revenue and personal finances business owners should pay themselves. It’s important that founders sustain themselves while building a business.

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

I knew that we were ready to hire when I couldn’t meet due dates for deliverables and there was an increase in revenue which allowed us to dedicate additional income to part-time contractors. I didn’t have the bandwidth to complete deliverables on time, which is a clear sign that additional help is necessary in order to scale.

What apps or software are you using for finances? Are there any tools or programs you recommend for bookkeeping? 

I personally use QuickBooks to manage our finances, which I would highly recommend. It also has a feature that allows you to manage and pay contract workers, so that way all of the information is synced and saved in one place.

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? 

I set time aside both weekly and monthly to review our expenses and revenue. The weekly meetings are used to review expenses and log receipts. Monthly meetings are focused on reviewing P&L statements and detailing expenses for the month. I recommend that small business owners review their expenses and create a quarterly budget in order to efficiently manage cash flow. 

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

Decreasing expenses upfront and being “lean”. It’s important to focus on increasing revenue without having to increase expenses.

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

Absolutely, I believe women should talk about money and business more. Only 2.4% of venture capital funding goes to women, according to CrunchBase. There is clearly a gap within the industry due to the lack of support and knowledge for women business owners. It’s vital that we share information with one another to encourage women despite the many hurdles we may face.

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

Paying for expensive tradeshows without building a strategy and being under the impression that sales would cover expenses. Tradeshows are very expensive, and it’s not just the booth rent. There are a lot of hidden costs on the logistics side for both the business and the tradeshow. I’ve learned that market research and case studies can come in handy when evaluating new business opportunities. 

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

Build personal savings before starting your business, if possible. Create a budget from the beginning and start using personal funds to save for the desired budgets if your revenue doesn’t cover expenses. Keep all logistics in-house until your business has scaled!

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