Lisa Price, the founder of the popular hair- and body-care line Carol’s Daughter, hasn’t always been the beauty mogul we know her as today. She came from humble beginnings, growing up in Brooklyn with her family (including mother, Carol). Then, while working in television in the late '80s, Price, who's always loved to cook, started using her kitchen for something else: crafting perfumes and body lotions. Little did she know, her passion project would sell to L’Oréal USA decades later, making her the founder of a multimillion-dollar beauty empire.
Price pulled off what so many of us have only daydreamed about while sitting at our 9-to-5s: transforming her hobby into a full-time gig — and with only $100 mind you. We sat down with her as she dished out the keys to her success, her biggest obstacle, and her candid advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. You might want to take notes.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tell me about how you got started. How did you make the jump from television to the beauty industry?
“I started experimenting and creating my own fragrances and body butters in the late '80s, early '90s. I always loved to cook, so I used to make products on my kitchen stove and give the samples to my friends as gifts. My mother later suggested I sell them at flea markets, so that’s what I did.”
What was different about your body butters compared to other products on the market? How'd you know they’d be a hit?
“All I knew was that I couldn’t find a moisturizer that worked on my skin. So I figured, Why not make one myself? The point of differentiation with my products was that they actually worked. They weren’t just a watery substance. My body butters did have water in them, but they had a higher content of shea and cocoa butters and different types of oils (like almond and corn), so they didn’t leave my skin ashy by midday. They smelled good and felt good.”
And then you also started making hair products?
“I had been selling body products at flea markets and craft fairs for about a year when I noticed women kept asking me for hair products. I learned how to make hair butters and then figured out how to make a pomade — my Mimosa Hair Honey — which is still popular today so many years later.”
How did you get the courage to turn this into your full-time job? When did you know it was the right time?
“I left my job in 1996 when I was eight months pregnant with my first child. I was about to go on leave and realized that if I went back to work and continued trying to do this side business, I would basically be giving my entire paycheck to a babysitter. I decided to pursue my passion of making beauty products while staying at home with my son. It was a very logical decision. I never felt like I was giving up my career because, in that moment, it just made sense.”
Right, but that comes at enormous financial risk. How did you make it work?
“My husband and I had next to nothing. We basically had a checking account that was being used to pay the bills, but there was no savings account, stocks, bonds, retirement, or anything like that. I invested about $100 into my first flea market for the table rental and ingredients used to make my first batch of product. From there, I just kept reinvesting into the company until I started seeing a profit. It wasn't until 1999 that I was able to pay myself a nominal salary.”
Have the financial aspects proved the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
“Getting money is hard — don’t get me wrong — but I think the most difficult thing is maintaining passion, maintaining confidence in your vision, and having courage. As an entrepreneur, you don't get a paycheck for a very long time. You can't be in it just for the money.”
So, how would you define courage?
“Courage means standing in the face of fear and doing it anyway. It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be afraid, but you’re the only person who can tell — and sell — your story. Nobody else can do that for you. For me, my biggest obstacle was always doubting myself. I had to learn how to get out of my own way and stop criticizing every little thing and just accept the times that I screwed up.”
What advice would you give an aspiring entrepreneur?
“You have to really know your own story. Ask yourself what it is that you bring to your brand that makes it different. Your story helps differentiate you from someone who might be doing something similar. Be able to tell your story really well. Everything you need, from getting business to getting a retail space, requires you to tell your story with love, passion, and authenticity.”
Who would you say sparked this passion or had the biggest impact on your success?
“Not only did my mother inspire the name of the brand, but she was also my biggest cheerleader. I used to always confide in her and tell her about everything I’d need to get done. She’d always steer the conversation from a glass-half-empty viewpoint to a glass-half-full position. When she died suddenly in 2003, I had to learn to do that for myself and be positive — for the sake of myself and my business.”
You’re still very involved in the company, but what’s next for you?
“I’ve always compared the business to me having a child. I think of her (Carol's Daughter) as my almost-24-year-old daughter. There’s only so much I can do to influence her life. I don’t have as much say as I did when she was 5, 13, or even 15, but I’m still making sure that she’s in the right apartment, if you will. I can’t change her, but I can watch, observe, and guide. Eventually I’ll be able to step away and she’ll be fine.”