Two years ago, Nicole Gibbons was writing her own design blog, growing an interior decorating business and attempting to launch her own home-décor television series. She loved being her own boss in the design space and had long dreamed of becoming the Martha Stewart of her generation. But one day it hit her: Finding lasting success as an entrepreneur would have to mean narrowing her focus, from doing many things well to doing one thing with excellence.
“I decided I didn’t want to follow the traditional path of building up a reputation as a designer, then licensing my name to another company to sell their product,” she explains. “I wanted more ownership in what I was building. I didn’t want to be just another home décor brand.”
For Gibbons, the staid home design industry was ripe for disruption. She felt that the paint industry, in particular, hadn’t changed the way they manufactured, marketed or sold their products in decades. She envisioned a fresh approach that offered a curated selection of modern paint colors, delivered straight to the consumer with the click of a mouse — no more back-and-forth to the paint store for swatches and expensive sample pots.
Once Gibbons had her lightbulb idea, she dove in headfirst, quickly turning her vision into Clare, a sleek e-commerce business backed by $2 million in venture capital from a team of A-list investors. Here, Gibbons explains how she got her company off the ground, and how you can too.
Step 1: Pick your passion
As a designer, I always understood that color was such a foundational décor element and so transformative to a space. My mission has always been to help people make their homes beautiful, and I couldn’t think of anything more fun than to do that through paint.
I believed wholeheartedly that I was the perfect person to build this business, so I stayed the course.
Step 2: Tackle a problem that needs solving
The paint industry was not speaking to my generation. It didn’t connect with today’s younger customer and the way we like to shop. There were too many color options and too few environmentally friendly options. Plus, the sampling and shopping process was a pain. With Clare, I decided from the get-go that I would streamline the experience with free advice, peel-and-stick color samples and online ordering. Most importantly, I wanted to create products that would be better for our customers, and for the environment, so our paint had to be VOC (volatile organic compound)-free.
Step 3: If you're not an expert, become one
My work on Clare began in earnest in January 2017, when I began researching every aspect of the paint market by attending trade shows, making cold calls to potential manufacturing partners and meeting with chemists. By that spring, I had my supply chain down and the beginnings of my financial model sketched out.
Step 4: Commit
Once I’d decided I was all in, it meant taking a step back from my other work and putting all my energy into Clare. I lived off my savings in 2017, which was scary, but I believed wholeheartedly that I was the perfect person to build this business, raise capital and go to market, so I stayed the course.
If you’re on a similar journey, never waver in your vision and don’t listen to the doubters. I had someone tell me early on that it would be really difficult for me as a solo founder. If I’d listened to that person, I wouldn’t be here today.
Step 5: Fund it
I waited to raise capital until I had a solid business model, including a really strong idea for how I would market the brand. When it comes to fundraising, you’re always going to get more no's than yes’s. And it’s all how you look at that. I chose to look at every “no” as a blessing, because every meeting I had with an investor taught me something — whether it helped me to perfect my pitch, forced me to think about my answers differently or put me one step closer to the right investors.
Of course, I was aware of the woefully unfortunate statistics around black women in venture funding, but I didn’t let that shape how I thought about myself, my business or my ideas. Even if the data shows the odds are stacked against you, just keep sticking to your vision.
Step 6: Create awareness
My background in PR, television and blogging made this part easy for me. When you’re launching a brand, it’s crucial to be able to tell a good story about what you’re doing and why. Understanding brand positioning and how to talk to the media are crucial skills. If you don’t have this storytelling experience, look at brands you love and study how they talk to their audience. You can learn so much from the many great examples out there. But the most important quality you need is confidence. If you’re not 100 percent confident in your brand, your audience won’t buy into it.
Step 7: Launch
Clare launched in August of 2018. We’re still so young and, personally, I’m bringing in less income than when I was operating my other business. But I know that if I keep letting my passion guide my process, the upside will be so much greater.