The Failure Factor: 8 Startup Lessons Learned From Building (And Losing) A $21M Beauty Brand

Image courtesy of Shalini Vadhera.

*Listen to Megan Bruneau’s full interview with Shalini Vadhera on The Failure Factor.

I’m a firm believer that failures are just as important and as good in your journey as your successes.  Every lesson is a gift with something for you to learn.”

Here are the 8 lessons shared by female entrepreneur Shalini Vadhera:

1. Grow slowly and say ‘No.’

Vadhera believes she tried to do too much too quickly, a common error of hungry entrepreneurs whose products are in demand. Scaling quickly generally means needing more capital, which generally means more funding, which isn’t necessarily a positive thing in early stages.

2. Use your voice.

“Through this nightmare I learned to use my voice and stand up for myself,” Vadhera shares. As women (and minorities), we are taught to not rock the boat and not speak up.  “I eventually learned to not care what people think, if it was matter of staying in integrity and doing what was right for my business and brand.” Through the harassment, the rejection, and the bad-faith deals, she learned to speak up and be her own advocate. Everyone will have an opinion, and not everyone will have your best interests in mind.

3. Go through your contract with a fine-tooth comb and protect yourself.

“I [now] truly educate myself on the ins and outs of the deal and every single solitary word [in the contract]…and document everything and protect [my]self,” Vadhera exclaims. She describes the importance of knowing the difference between being “acquired” and “acqui-hired,” a nuance with which many entrepreneurs aren’t familiar. “You do understand they can take your company, and fire you,” she laments, in response to hearing a mentee excitedly describe a deal in which investors would own 51% of the company.

4. Be a partner, not just a vendor.

Vadhera learned the value in strategic partnerships as a way of reducing burn rate and the need for capital. She suggests getting customers to put a deposit down when they issue the purchase order; to leverage the online space to get social media influencers talking about products; to partner with key suppliers, and to negotiate with brick and mortar retailers to waive installation costs in return for press. Get creative and find mutually beneficial ways to partner as opposed to spending carelessly.

5. Listen to your gut.

“I knew in my gut not to take it, and that was the catastrophic mistake I made,” Vadhera admits. We’re taught to disregard our intuition and trust in rationality, yet a consistent theme I (Megan) have heard across interviews is that the gut holds a visceral knowing that transcends traditional logic.

6. ‘No *ssholes’ and don’t be too trusting. 

“I have a no *sshole policy, ”  Vadhera says with a laugh. She admits she’s an optimist who was brought up to trust in others’ good intentions. But since feeling like someone had violated her trust in this experience, she’s become far more discerning when it comes to business deals. Most of her relationships today are extensions of her already strong, long-term relationships. “Life’s too short. I want to work with good people doing great things.”

7. Don’t identify with the business.

When she exited her global beauty brand, Vadhera experienced a loss of identity. In such, she realized fusing her identity with her business served neither the business nor her. She learned to see her businesses as separate from herself, making decisions with the mission (rather than her ego) in mind, and freeing her happiness from outcome. She attributes the rapid growth of her current businesses to detaching from them.

8. Trust it’s all part of your path.

While Vadhera warns us to be hyper-vigilant when it comes to trusting investors, she does encourage trusting in the process–that there will be meaning in the catastrophe. “Eventually you’ll be looking back at it with gratitude…I always wanted to empower women from the get-go, but it was very one-dimensional with just lipstick and mascara…and now, because of everything I’ve gone through, it’s on a much deeper level and on a global scale .”

To read the full Forbes article, written by Megan Bruneau, click here.