After Being Told “Just Quit” by ‘Shark Tank’ Judge — Black Cosmetic Owner’s Company Now Valued at Over $7M
“Ten years and two million units sold. Thanks, Mr. Wonderful.”
Melissa Butler wasn’t going to let a little bit of hardship stop her from achieving her vision — even after getting rejected on national television.
Back in 2015, Butler confidently took her line of vibrantly colored, custom-created lipsticks onto ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch the panel of judges to invest in her business.
Things didn’t go as she hoped, with the judges being particularly cruel.
“The chances that this is a business are practically zero,” Shark Tank judge Kevin O’Leary said to Butler, during the episode. “You only have so many minutes on Earth, don’t waste them trying to sell lipstick.”
Fellow shark Daymond John added, “You are never going to create anything new in this world. It’s lipstick.”
But criticism from the Sharks didn’t stop Butler’s dream.
Despite having her product line harshly rejected, Butler maintained her conviction that her business would succeed because she knew the panel of investors knew nothing about her target market. She understood her customer, so instead kept her focus and pressed forward.
“At the end of the day, if I stopped my business after one ‘no’ — even a public ‘no’ — then maybe I shouldn’t have started,” Butler later told CNBC. “I couldn’t allow someone else to be the authority on my dream.”
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“In business, things obviously go wrong every single day,” Butler said. “That was just something that went wrong that day. But I understand the view of resilience that lots of people have come to admire about us because we could have stopped going when a group of multimillionaires and billionaires are telling you that your idea won’t work. It takes a lot of courage to look within and say, ‘I’m still going to go after this.’ ”
And that’s exactly what Melissa Butler did.
The Lip Bar is now in its 11th year of operation. The business features a shade-matching system that features a tinted moisturizer color that links clients with the rest of the product line that matches that specific shade.
It offers color options for all shades of skin. The Lip Bar also boasts their “Fast Face” model, which promises a finished makeup look in only three to five minutes.
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Butler explained that the idea of being an entrepreneur has been romanticized by the media and that in fact, it’s a struggle of extreme ups and downs. She decided to create a frank behind-the-scenes documentary series that documented her journey from the start and the struggle to get where she now is. The three episodes are now on YouTube.
“I wanted (the series) to tell people the real story behind how The Lip Bar was built, who I am, where I come from, to let them know that I didn’t necessarily do anything magical,” Butler told the Detroit Free Press. “I didn’t come from money. I didn’t grow up in a nice neighborhood. I grew up on the east side of Detroit, near the city airport, which has been completely devastated over the past 20 years. My mom and dad were incarcerated when I was younger.”
“So my life was not necessarily easy, but because I believed in myself, I was able to beat the odds.”
Butler finishing high school in Detroit, Butler moved to Florida to complete a degree at Florida A&M University with a major in business. Butler started her business in 2012 when she was working as an analyst at New York’s Barclays, after coming to the realization that the cosmetics on the market at the time didn’t represent her or her needs.
“I was really frustrated with the beauty industry,” Butler said. “I hated the excessive amounts of chemicals in lipstick and the lack of diversity. I just hated that if you wanted to get a high-performing product, you had to spend a million dollars.”
In the early days of her business, Butler used her kitchen to devise a variety of lipstick shades for her vegan beauty brand. “I was working 55 to 60 hours a week but then coming home and making lipstick.”
Butler decided after a year and a half of moonlighting to focus on her business full-time and quit her day job.
“I didn’t quit at first because The Lip Bar could not support my lifestyle,” Butler joked to CNBC, estimating her first year’s sales at $27,000. “But at the end of the day, I knew that my business would never give me 100 percent if I didn’t give it 100 percent.”
“I was really just thinking about what I could do right now to impact my customers or to make a difference in the beauty industry, to make makeup easier, to create products that are affordable, non-toxic, and easy to use.”
As her business grew, Butler focused on finding cosmetic chemists to help her perfect the formula.
How did she find expert help? Through cold “call” emails on professional networking site, LinkedIn.
“I started “stalking” people on LinkedIn, literally typing in ‘cosmetic chemist’ and saying, ‘I’ve been working on this formula’” and asking for their help. Butler ended up getting far more responses than she expected and from there, connected with Target beauty buyers, also through LinkedIn.
The company has also received an investment from the New Voices Fund, which invests in ventures owned or managed by women of color, and is backed by Unilever.
Butler says that persistence and determination have been the key to her success.
“You really want to pull deep down within yourself and remember why you started your business, and why the world needs it.”