People 19 March 2018
It takes a lot of strength to go on national TV, face rejection, and then push forward despite it all. But Melissa Butler — a former Wall Street-er turned beauty entrepreneur — wasn't about to shy away from her business goals just because a few sharks told her no. Since appearing on Shark Tank's sixth season, she took the criticism about her vegan, cruelty-free makeup brand, The Lip Bar, and pushed herself, and the brand, to new heights.
From Wall Street to The Lip Bar
Before we get to the gritty details of Butler's Shark Tank experience, let's first dive into a bit of background. After all, it's not every day someone on Wall Street calls it quits to launch a niche-market makeup brand. Butler says she was completely unfulfilled, unsatisfied — un-everything. Instead of complaining, she decided to change her path. She just didn't know that path would lead to beauty.
“I've never been a makeup enthusiast, but I've always loved lipstick. There's something so feminine and powerful about it — one stroke of color can give you enough confidence to take on the day," she told SWAAY. “So here I am, a lipstick lover, hating my job while simultaneously attempting to be more kind to my body by using products that weren't chemically laden. When it came to hair and skin care, it was easy to find more natural alternatives, but that was not the case with lip colors. The only natural items I could find were boring colors or shades that didn't suit my skin tone."
And there's that identified gap in the market: vegan, cruelty makeup that caters to a broader range of skin tones.
A testament to female entrepreneurs: Melissa Butler
“I started making lipstick in my kitchen for personal use," she says. “After a year of experimenting, The Lip Bar launched in 2012 with the goal to 'Challenge the Beauty Standard' through our vegan, cruelty-free ingredients and our inclusive imagery."
The (Painful) Shark Tank Experience
“After binge watching Shark Tank one Christmas Eve, I decided to apply. My creative director and I sent in a video talking about the product while hoola hooping to show our personality. From the very beginning, our goal was to get aired. Seven million people watch the show, so even without a deal, we knew it could be a great opportunity," Butler says. “Fast forward, we go on the show and they're completely closed off to the business. They were quite cruel." Butler confesses that she considered not watching the episode and not even informing The Lip Bar customers that the brand was about to make its TV debut. Though that instinctual reaction to pretend like it never happened at all was strong, she fought through her fears and sat down in front of the television. “I watched it to see how I could have been better," she says. “Ultimately, I used it as momentum to drive the business. After it aired, we got thousands of orders, emails, you name it. If nothing else, it reinforced the fact that I had an audience."
Turning Rejection into Something Positive
After appearing on Shark Tank, Butler took a step back and thoughtfully pawed through the harsh criticism to find something constructive. “As the saying goes, 'You win some, you learn some," she remarks. “I learned to refine my message. We didn't change the focus; instead we got super laser-like in carving out our niche. It worked. We started telling the story and truly communicating with our customer. This wasn't advice from the sharks, but it reminded us of who our audience is."
The Lip Bar is set to have a pretty pivotal year. The brand has officially launched at Target, their first retail partner, where it can be found in over 140 different stores. They're also launching three new collections and the brand is projected to garner $2 million in revenue.
6 Up-And-Coming Beauty Brands to Watch
Want to shop more innovative, industry-disrupting beauty brands? Check out this list of noteworthy makeup companies.
Naked Truth Beauty: This beauty brand has made “an all-out commitment to socially responsible beauty: Good for our bodies, communities, and environment," they write on the website. They take the guesswork out of responsible beauty consumerism by formulating their products with a small, organic list of ingredients, and by using packaging that's made from recycled, 100% biodegradable material.
Chosungah: K-Beauty brand, Chosungah, is based on the principle that "makeup is a fun process of finding one's strength instead of hiding one's weakness." It was founded by Chosungah, a first-generation professional makeup artist and boasts beautifully packaged, high quality products. Fun fact — Chosungah's Chocho Lipstick was MAC Cosmetics' first collaboration with a Korean makeup artist.
Nudestix: Nudestix was launched by two teen sisters and their mother, who each felt like beauty brands were overcomplicating the makeup process. Their products are all in stick form and come packaged in a sleek tin with a mirror for easy, on-the-go application for women of all races.
Reina Rebelda (“Rebel Queens"): “Reina Rebelde was born out of something I share with you — a passion for makeup and extreme pride for my cultural identity as a Latina," Regina Merson founder of the brand, writes on the website. The collection was inspired by strong, Latina women and strives to be versatile, bold, provocative, and unapologetic.
Beauty Bakerie: The Beauty Bakerie brand lives by the words, “Better not Bitter," and strives “to sweeten the lives of others through engaging our social media followers with positive messaging and through altruistic donations via online platforms." It was founded by Cashmere Nicole, who writes, “I overcame the struggles of teenage parenting, and I overcame breast cancer and loss only to arrive at a place of peace. It is the sweetest peace I've known."
Crop Naturals: Crop Naturals is an Australian-based indie beauty brand that sources organic, sustainable, natural ingredients. “The rapid growth of the natural beauty and personal care industry has led to considerable misunderstanding around the term natural," they write. “Due to misconceptions, mislabeling and some outright deception from brands – the interpretation of what is truly natural has become misguided." Their goal is to change that by being completely transparent about their ingredients and sourcing methods.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.