MP spoke with Lynn Power, who spent 30 years in advertising, working her way up from being a receptionist to being the CEO of J. Walter Thompson NY. She has been fortunate throughout her career to work with iconic brands. Power left J. Walter Thompson NY in 2018 to become an entrepreneur and met her co-founder, James, that summer. They launched MASAMI, a clean premium haircare brand, in February 2020.
The entrepreneurial journey is one of self-discovery. What have you learned about yourself while building your business?
I’ve learned what really matters to me – I’m much more focused on connections, supporting other founders, and creating products that are good for you and the environment versus just growth or sales. I’ve also learned patience because so many things have been out of our control that you must be patient!
The entrepreneurial journey is often lonely. Have you experienced loneliness as an entrepreneur? If yes, what was that experience like, and how did you overcome it? If not, why do you think this is the case?
Yes, loneliness can absolutely be a challenge as an entrepreneur, especially launching during COVID. We have been actively creating a community and have launched the Conscious Beauty Collective, a collaboration of 32+ indie beauty and wellness brands.
We created a pop-up experience in San Francisco that is now moving to the Natick Mall in Boston in September.
But the real value is the community – connecting with other founders who are going through the same thing as you and comparing notes, sharing learnings, and sometimes just venting is invaluable.
The Psychological Warfare
Entrepreneurs generally sleep less, work more, and let their health slip. This combination, combined with loneliness, often results in insecurity, self-esteem issues, and low self-worth. Have you experienced any of these issues as an entrepreneur?
While I can see how all of those things can happen, I had my own health issue – breast cancer.
I was diagnosed in August 2021 and have been undergoing treatment for a year. As a result, I’ve had to focus on my own health and have had to reprioritize work, learn to delegate, and learn to listen to my body.
You don’t need to be like me and wait until you have a problem. As they say, “self-care is not selfish,” and taking time for yourself is a good investment in the business.
Newer entrepreneurs often equate their success with the success and value of their business. If their business fails, they are a failure. If their business succeeds, they are a success. Have you experienced this warped perception of reality?
It’s hard not to feel this way when so much of your life is tied to your business. As entrepreneurs, our business is always on, so it’s easy to get sucked in and lose sight of balance, which makes the successes and failures feel more dramatic.
I also feel that investors and VCs have created a narrative around what successful startups look like, and if you haven’t hit those thresholds, you aren’t “fundable.”
I’ve had to rethink what success looks like, especially in light of breast cancer. For us, if we are growing by even $1, then I’m happy. But if the business doesn’t work at some point, then recognizing that and walking away is ok too.
What are your three biggest fears as an entrepreneur, and how do you manage those fears?
1. Letting My Team Down
I have some great people who I work with, and I want to be successful for them - much more than for myself. I guess you could say that this is what motivates me and drives me forward. I don’t manage this fear as much as acknowledge it and use it as fuel.
2. All of My Effort Is for Nothing
Beauty is a highly competitive business, so if it turns out that we build a business that gets shut out by the big companies or isn’t scalable ultimately, then I will feel like I spent years without anything to show.
I just remind myself that at least I’ll have my best hair and haircare products for life.
3. Managing Cash Flow Is an Ongoing Fear
That we will run out and need to put more money into the business or that we will have a huge unforeseen cost. I manage this by just doing the best I can to get ahead of upcoming costs while at the same time putting as much money back into the business as possible.
What are three mistakes you made early on as an entrepreneur, what did you learn from them, and how can others avoid these mistakes?
1. Bring In Partners Who Were Not As Qualified as I Had Thought
We gave away equity in the company, thinking we were getting key capabilities, when we ultimately didn’t see the value.
Vet the people you are bringing on your team to understand their superpowers and weaknesses, so you can ensure it’s a good fit.
2. Having Unrealistic Expectations for Growth Is Another Mistake
It’s really hard building a DTC+ business in a crowded category, so being as realistic as possible will help ground you, and not lead to disappointment or feelings of failure.
3. Spending Time Talking to Inventors Was Also a Mistake
I did this because it seemed like the thing we were supposed to do. We didn’t intend on taking outside investment, so it was a waste of time and distraction.
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Try to focus on your proof of concept and growing the business initially.
What are three things you see that are often overlooked by entrepreneurs you encounter, and how can other entrepreneurs be aware of these things from the beginning?
1. Many Entrepreneurs Don’t Take the Time To Vet Whether They Have a Scalable Idea
Sometimes, they fall in love with their idea, but they are the only ones. Take time to understand your market, your product’s audience, and appeal and make sure there is a viable business.
2. Lots of Entrepreneurs Focus Much More on the Product vs. the Brand
The challenge is that the communication can be disjointed and tactical, lacking a bigger benefit or reason for being.
Understand your values early on, so you’re not reworking things later.
3. Many Entrepreneurs Also Don’t Get Some Basic Marketing Blocking and Tackling That’s Become the “Price of Entry” These Days.
Having social media accounts, email, SEO, etc. Knowing what you need is essential, as much of the marketing is an ongoing, time-consuming job that founders underestimate.
What are three seemingly insurmountable obstacles you’ve faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you overcome them?
1. How To Grow a Business Without Capital Is a Big Obstacle
We have had to be super scrappy about finding ways to get our message out and attract customers. We do things like podcasts, guest articles, and partnerships with other brands – there are many ways you can grow, but they take time and effort.
2. Retail Distribution Is a Huge Obstacle for Small Brands
Retailers don’t want to bring in small, indie brands that aren’t going to meet their velocity goals or bring traffic to their stores. We got around this by launching our own store – our Conscious Beauty Collective pop-up that’s all about celebrating indie brands. It helps that we are brand-led, not retailer-led.
3. Ageism Is Also an Obstacle That My Co-Founder and I Have Encountered – We Are Both 55 Now
It’s tricky because there’s nothing you can do about your age. But I find that once people understand our passion, energy level, and experience, ageism is less of a factor, at least for some people.
There are always people who just perceive “older” founders as not digitally savvy, not productive, not energetic, and loads of other things – and there’s nothing you can do about that except find other people to surround yourself with.
What are three ways you have managed to boost your productivity without causing burnout?
1. I Love Using Canva
It’s a great way to create quick marketing designs without wasting time.
2. I’m Flexible About Where and When I Work
Sometimes that means taking a walk during the day and working late at night. I can find some level of “balance” but still get things done.
3. I Meet in Person
I find that sometimes, in-person meetings can be far more productive (and fun) than virtual. So I try to schedule those into my calendar.
How can newer entrepreneurs develop a healthy work-life balance even when it seems like an impossible task?
This is hard as what works for one person might not work for someone else.
I’ve found that there are times when your work takes priority, and there are times when it’s your family, your health, or something else.
Just having an awareness of where you are spending your time and how you are prioritizing your life is half the battle.
I’m also a believer in blending my work and life. I now work with friends and family, which makes it more enjoyable.
Plus, I’ve created my work around my lifestyle, not my life around work, which means I can work from anywhere.
What three key pieces of advice would have made your entrepreneurial journey easier, and why?
1. Don’t Get Caught Up With What Investors Think
This can be a distraction and make you feel like you’ll never be able to measure up.
2. Don’t Wait Around for Opportunities – Create Your Own
While launching the Conscious Beauty Collective has been a ton of work, it’s been incredibly rewarding and feels good to take control of our destiny, even just a little.
3. Don’t Expect Everyone To Care As Much as You Do
Most people won’t, so having realistic expectations of what people can give will make your life easier.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
You’re never too old to do what you love!