Marcia Kilgore came to New York City from Canada with nothing more than $300 in her pocket and big aspirations.
For a time, she attended Columbia University, but she eventually left school and began a career that included personal training, skincare classes and giving facials to friends in her apartment.
That era sparked a passion for beauty which expanded into several successful companies, and Kilgore is now lauded as a “serial entrepreneur” and one of business’s most creative people(opens in new tab).
In 1996, she opened Bliss(opens in new tab), whose high-end facial treatments are credited with kicking off the spa craze in the U.S. Three years later, she sold a majority stake of the company to luxury goods conglomerate LVMH for a reported $30 million(opens in new tab).
In 2006, Kilgore founded budget-friendly skincare line Soap & Glory(opens in new tab). The company sold to British drugstore Alliance Boots(opens in new tab) in 2014, another deal that reportedly hit $30 million.
In 2007, Kilgore launched an ergonomic footwear line, FitFlop(opens in new tab), which today has distribution across 60 global markets.
In 2016, she debuted Soaper Duper(opens in new tab), a line of vegan, cruelty-free bath products. In addition to developing a suite of naturally derived products such as body wash, scrubs and lotions, the company has donated over 150,000 Euro(opens in new tab) to international nonprofit WaterAid.
- Also in 2016, Kilgore founded Beauty Pie(opens in new tab), a subscription service that allows consumers to buy luxury beauty products directly from manufacturers. Beauty Pie has been called the “Netflix of beauty(opens in new tab),” and publications like Allure predict it will “change the way we buy cosmetics(opens in new tab).”
Kilgore’s entrepreneurialism is uniquely unquenchable. She discussed several elements that fuel it in a conversation with NPR’s Guy Raz at the 2019 How I Built This Summit(opens in new tab).
Below, find her advice for aspiring serial entrepreneurs.
1. Listen to criticism.
"If people criticize your business idea, don't be defensive; listen," said Kilgore.
You can gain a unique perspective on your product by listening to others’ opinions. Kilgore explained that these outside sources might see your business problem differently or shed new light on the pain point you’re trying to solve.
2. Become a problem solver.
Generating ideas is a natural extension of Kilgore's personality, she said.
"I'm a problem solver and … I'm always trying to get more time out of the day," she added. "I always think, ‘Wouldn't it be better if ... ?’"
"I always think, ‘Wouldn't it be better if?’"
This mindset drove Kilgore to develop FitFlop. At the time, she was a new mom running a business who wanted to both get a workout and improve her posture. The realization that others shared this desire spurred Kilgore to move the business forward.
FitFlop makes shoes that help with body alignment based on the principles of biomechanics.
3. Use the “So What?” Test.
"Tell someone your idea in one sentence, and then have them ask you, ‘So what?’" said Kilgore. "Your explanation to the ‘so what’ must be cool, unique and new."
Kilgore noted that if you’ve struggled to sell your product, it could be because the customer does not understand why they need it. Answering the “so what” in a compelling way will help you clarify your company’s message and concept.
4. Put passion before your business plan.
Although Kilgore's businesses have been financially successful, making money isn't her primary goal. Instead, she finds inspiration from a more emotional place.
"If I started with a business plan because my goal was to make money, there just wouldn't be enough passion [to grow the business] …," she said. "I have to do something that I'm super interested in … and builds community."
"If I started with a business plan because my goal was to make money, there just wouldn't be enough passion [to grow the business]."
The notion of improving others’ lives helped Kilgore create sense of passion around each of her business ideas, she added.
5. Give what you hope to get.
"If you can help someone, do it," said Kilgore. "One day, you … can ask them for a favor when you truly need it."
Take the time to help people even if you’re busy or stressed, she continued. The person you generously helped may be able to lift you up later.
6. Think in connections.
"The more dots you connect, the more advantage you have over everybody else," said Kilgore.
She added that entrepreneurs should be constantly learning. She mentioned podcasts and books as her primary fodder.
By gathering knowledge, Kilgore is able to make connections between concepts that others might miss, which leads to advantages in business, she explained. These connections can help you see a new idea or way to conquer a problem.
7. Commit to the long game.
In an interview(opens in new tab) with Vanity Fair, Kilgore explained that it took her 25 years to gain the knowledge necessary to develop her latest company, Beauty Pie. And she arguably didn’t become a “serial entrepreneur” until founding her third company, more than 11 years into her career.
"You will get there," said Kilgore, "but it might take ten years or more."
"You will get there, but it might take ten years or more."
8. Cultivate your sense of optimism.
"Understanding how your mind naturally thinks … under stress is important," Kilgore said.
She recommended taking the Myers-Briggs personality test(opens in new tab), which can help you identify how you tend to react under pressure. If optimism isn’t typical of your personality type, consider making it an intentional effort.
Cultivating gratitude is the main technique in Kilgore’s "toolbox" for staying optimistic, she said. When she needs a dose of optimism, she writes thank-you notes to contacts who have helped her.
"There are a lot of people in your life that are helping you every day," said Kilgore. "Taking time to acknowledge people lifts you up."
Kilgore (left) cites gratitude for those around her as a primary component of success.
9. Only sell products that you would buy.
Kilgore said the best business decision is always the one that increases trust with a customer. In general, she recommends that entrepreneurs rely on a customer-centric philosophy when it comes to tough product decisions.
"If you wouldn't use the product, why should anyone else?" she asked.
"If you wouldn't use the product, why should anyone else?"
10. Get up in the morning to be extraordinary.
We’d say there’s no explanation needed for this one.