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Turning a Big Idea into Big Business: 5 Lessons from a Beauty Entrepreneur

Northwestern MutualVoice Contributor •  June 10, 2015 | Focus on Women, Business and Careers

By Lisa Wirthman

Poshly Inc. CEO and co-founder Doreen Bloch loves data. As it turns out, people who buy beauty products love data, too. Faced with countless decisions about which shampoos, soaps and skin creams are best to buy, consumers are often eager for a little advice.

That’s where Poshly comes in. The company uses data to help consumers learn more about different personal care products—and to help beauty brands learn more about their customers.

Visitors to Poshly’s website can answer online questionnaires that let them anonymously share information about their personal care needs in exchange for free product giveaways targeted to their specific physical attributes, like hair color or skin type. Brands can purchase data aggregated from the questionnaires on how consumers use their products. Anonymity makes it easier for consumers to share feedback on embarrassing problems like acne or dandruff.

“As a beauty consumer, I was always really frustrated that there was no data-driven way for me to find out what product is best for me,” said Bloch. When she realized that there were no other companies in the $380 billion beauty industry solving problems in this way, Poshly was born.

Bloch started the company in 2011 with co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Brad Falk. Today, the company has ten employees and has raised over $3 million in funding. Along the way she’s also learned a few important lessons about how to be a successful entrepreneur.

1. Build a network. The first step to turning a great idea into a great company is to talk to people who have expertise in areas different than your own, said Bloch. Before founding Poshly, Bloch worked for a financial tech company, where she made it a point to network with co-workers in different departments.

Her outreach paid off when Bloch met co-worker Brad Falk, who previously worked for the beauty brand Bare Escentuals.

“Just be bold about asking for advice,” she said. “I’ve learned that it’s okay to reach out to your network and ask for help and ask for funding early on. Developing a network around you will help build success.”

2. Embrace evolution. Although Bloch’s original idea was to create a company focused on helping customers make beauty decisions, she was open to new ideas. And when an investor pointed out that letting brands tap into Poshly’s data was a great revenue opportunity, she listened.

While she’s still passionate about the consumer experience, Bloch was flexible about rearranging Poshly’s roadmap to achieve success. “We never really saw it as a pivot,” she said. “It was more of an evolution of our business and moving toward where the demand was.”

3. Build trust. To convince customers to share personal information, trust is essential. “One of [the] deepest assets of our business is that we do have a humanized brand,” said Bloch. “We talk with our consumers in a very personal way.”

Poshly’s member services team interacts directly with customers through email and other channels rather than providing automated responses to questions. The company also communicates in ways that are relevant to its Millennial customer base, such as using social media.

4. Prove yourself. Successful fundraising starts with a willingness to validate ideas, said Bloch. Poshly’s product giveaways, for example, began as a way to prove to investors that customers would share personal data for the right incentive.

“Once we got 3 million questions answered on the site, investors said: We get it,” said Bloch. “One thing for entrepreneurs to keep in mind is that you’re going to need to use data and metrics to prove your success.”

5. Be agile. The biggest lesson Bloch learned along the way is that agility is critical. “Know that the tactics or the strategy that you use in one phase of the business may not be the same as the strategy that you use the next phase of the business,” she said.

“You might need to change things up,” she added. “It’s okay. Keep going with it and keep creating value for the business.”

By asking for advice and responding to answers, Bloch turned a personal frustration into a successful business that now solves problems for both consumers and brands—a win-win for the beauty industry and a great formula for startup success.

Originally published on Northwestern MutualVoice on Forbes.com.

Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy, and women’s issues. Her work has been published in The Atlantic.com, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.

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