“I honestly didn’t even know the word entrepreneur. I was in my late thirties, and I didn’t know the word ‘brand,’ nor did I know the word ‘entrepreneur,'” Bethenny Frankel, founder of SkinnyGirl, told Sharon Epperson at CNN’s Virtual Summit NBC Small Business Playbook on Wednesday.
Now, just over a decade later, Frankel is a massively successful, self-made entrepreneur who has sold her prepackaged low-calorie margarita, Skinnygirl Cocktails, for $120 million, and continues to delve into a series of ambitious business ventures with her Skinnygirl brand. Trendy, which range from niche food to branded apparel.
While she may not have always envisioned a life in business, she always envisioned her next big idea, and what it would take to turn it into a reality, she told Epperson.
“I was always an idea person,” Frankel said. “I could only carry out the crazy ideas I had.”
The Skinnygirl brand was one of those ideas – the simple vision of owning its own cocktail. “Quite simply, I think, I wanted to have a cocktail for myself, and I wanted to drink it, and that could be a signature cocktail that I’ve always had,” she explained.
That personal need wasn’t an idea that she immediately knew she would pick up along with millions of others.
“I had no idea I was making the first ever low-calorie margarita or creating a class in ready-to-drink cocktails,” she said. But once she realized how popular this concept was, she realized she had the opportunity to turn it into a successful business.
This transition to business building is where Frankel stresses that having a good entrepreneurial idea isn’t what made her story exceptional. “When you’re young and you think you’re smart, everyone thinks they’re smart. You think you have a good idea – everyone has a good idea,” she said.
A good idea may be the beginning to tell them apart, but motivation and motivation are more important in the business.
“I really realized that these people have this drive, this determination, this passion, that unstoppable nature — that really is the real ingredient to success,” Frankel said. “Because a lot of people have good ideas. The world, technology and what’s popular changes all the time, so if you have that constant — being an old school hard worker, you’ll be successful. People around you will see how valuable that is, because it’s so rare.”
Frankel says that in addition to a strong work ethic, personal investment and originality are key components of a successful entrepreneurial venture.
“Business is lonely, you are alone,” she said. “You sign that dotted line on your own, it’s your reputation, it’s all about you,” she said to Epperson. “…no one cares as much as you care about your work.”
It also rejects the idea that work and personal life should – or can – be separated.
The line between work and personal life has become increasingly blurred, especially since the onset of the pandemic, with many workers beginning to work from home, and decisions made in one area having new significance in the other.
And at a time marked by inflation and rising interest rates, and business owners increasingly concerned about supply chain issues and labor shortages, business choices have proven to be inevitable personal choices as well.
“Work is very personal. The way I spend my money in my personal life can affect the money I will or will not have to invest in business ideas. The way I work in my working life may affect the types of schools my daughter will go to, or the way in which I treat my work to how I spend my time — which is very personal,” Frankl said.
New company formation numbers have been high since the pandemic began, and Frankel said uncertain times also present an opportunity.
“I think people keep looking at the equation one way and keep trying the same key in the door, but now is the time you have to stumble and try a bunch of different keys and see what works for you. Because when you have times of chaos, when you have times of chaos, when you have times of chaos Crazy, there is also a positive side. There are other opportunities,” she said.
Frankel, who had bought and sold real estate over the years, switched to suburban real estate at the start of the pandemic, which proved to be a smart business move.
However, even in the midst of an evolving business, staying grounded in your core mission is essential, according to Frankel. “You have to be able to pivot and transform, but also stay true to the base and core of what your business is,” she said.
For any entrepreneur facing a recession, Frankel advises focusing on their own needs and interests, rather than worrying about what others are doing. “Think about what you interact with. What do you consume, what do you ingest, what are you interested in, what are you drawn to, what do you like, what do you dislike? And put that into your work,” she said.
Frankel’s personal desire for a low-calorie, ready-to-drink cocktail turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise.
This internal transformation, prior to market expansion, is what makes a business, at its core, intrinsically personal.
“It has to come from within. What really speaks to you, it’s probably something that speaks to a lot of people,” she said.