Have a vision. More than one person took me aback when they asked me where I saw my company going. Did I want to pass it down to my daughters or did I see myself licensing or did I see myself selling to a larger company down the line. I had to do some soul-searching to come to that answer
As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Barbara Lampugnale. Barbara always set her sights high, from the time she was six years old when she started her own line of Barbie clothes from old knit socks. After attending Fitchburg State College, she became a Trans World Airlines flight attendant. Determined still to own and operate her own business, she continued her education with the National Association of Interior Decorating of Washington, D.C. While still a young, new mother, she launched “Barbara’s Interiors” in 1994 before joining her competitor, Aram Kaz Commercial Interior Design as a sales, design consultant. As her family grew to include six beautiful daughters, Barbara’s motivation, skills, and business acumen also grew. Her energy, tenacity, and incredible desire to succeed propelled her through a difficult divorce and devastating financial consequences. Within a mere two years, Barbara had overcome all the odds, and bought her first home on the beach in Madison, Ct. Barbara demonstrates an admirable skill set, including strong organizational and marketing expertise. She believes in not only getting things done on time, but getting them done right. She is unafraid to ask question, and she is equally unafraid to ask for help. Barbara understands her limits, and will delegate tasks but chooses her employees and consultants carefully. Keenly focused on the objective, Barbara manages her business passionately but firmly. The Nail Pak, the first line product of Grace Nail Company, Inc., previously known as Duality Cosmetics LLC, was created to serve the needs of busy women, on the go like Barbara who “do it all.” Other multi-functional products will follow. Barbara’s goal is to be an inspiration to her daughters and other women. She successfully balances her home, family, and career. Barbara’s motto is “to manage it all with a firm hand, a sense of grace, and a dash of humor.” Not only does she provide such a remarkable role model, she is actively involved in charities that serve the needs of community, children and women. Barbara believes that honesty, fairness, hard work and dedication are the keys to success in business. She is confident about her ability to manage it all… and she is ready for more.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?
The oldest of 3 siblings, I grew up with loving parents and a very large extended family ( 20 sets of aunts uncles and many cousins) in a small town in Massachusetts about an hour outside of Boston. I was raised to be a politely mannered young woman who was to get married, have children and live happily ever after, which is wonderful however I knew I wanted more, there was more to me. I felt an innate need to create and travel and discover outside of what was expected of me. I left home at 18 for the big city via TWA . I was hired as a flight attendant having never set foot on a commercial airplane. I think that was so unbelievable to the talent acquisition team that they hired me out of curiosity. I then landed in NYC and started flying around the world opening my eyes, mind and heart to things I’d only read about in books and saw on tv or in the movies.
Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?
I had dabbled in a few businesses, all having to do with being an entrepreneur and creativity. I had worked in interior decorating and loved transforming ooms and spaces. I eventually ended up in a commercial interior design company where I met the owners brother in law who I eventually married. We settled down in Connecticut and I had been a stay at home for a few years. I had 2 dynamic female friends who were in the media and marketing business. All 3 of us pregnant with girls, we met every month for dinner and would exchange ideas about family, life and business. I was always “pitching “ a new idea or invention that would ignite some interest and solve a problem for women, moms or girls and children gener. Sometime later, about 100 weeks pregnant with twins, sitting at home doing my nails, I had the lightbulb moment to simplify the nail polishing process. At our next dinner, I shared the idea of the Nail Pak with girls and I’ll never forget Paula’s reaction. She nearly leaptacross the table and exclaimed “ there is your million dollar idea”. The next day I called my brother , who was at the time an engineer at a manufacturing company , and told him of my idea. Pencil paper drawing in hand, we met and before I knew it, with Cad drawing done, I was on my way to Patent attorneys and prototype.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Definitely a culmination of all the interesting people I have had the privilege of meeting . Once you put it out there, what you want and are interest in, the pieces started to fall into place.I met industry leaders from Estée Lauder, NARS Cosmetics, ElizabethArden and Bliss Cosmetics simply from introductions and talking to people. I was amazed at how many people were willing to share there stories and insight with me, a novice, an outsider of the industry.
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
When I first started out I was doing things almost as if it were a checklist of How to start a business. I was reading evr I could and listening to anyone who would talk to me about starting and running a business. So I developed a business plan with the help of a friend. From there ithought I could walk into a bank and ask for a loan with well written, professionally bound 75 page plan. I chose a big bank because in my head, they had the most to lend. In my outlet store Donna Karan suit with my hair pinned back in the perfect french twist and heels not so high as to look like going to a club but not so low as to look dowdy, I walked into the bank to attend my meeting with Mr. Business Loan Officer. He looked at the plans first page, scrolled through to the financial pages and looked at the amount. He smiled politely, told me I had a “nice” idea and a well written plan, thanked me for coming in and the dismissed me saying this bank was not a good fit. I picked up my dignity and deflated ego and strolled wondering what I had done wrong. I followed all the rules. I was only asking for just under $5 million .In my head, I had to finance my entire five-year plan at once.
That was a reality check in the truest terms.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I have recently rebranded the company from Duality Cosmetics to Grace Nail Company. I think the name itself will resonate with people more and we are working on new color lines.
Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?
Initially, I saw the advertisement for the original season 1 of Shark Tank.I had just put my last baby in school and was planning to move forward with my invention so the timing was perfect. I looked into getting on the show but it had already taped. Hoping there was a season 2 I filled out an application. I was contacted by the casting director and made it through a few interviews, my hopes were very high. I was then told that because I did not have any product that they were going to pass.Then I received a phone call from that very same casting director for who said they were casting for Season 3. Her first comment was “ I love your Nail Pak, please tell me you have product” , to which I replied “Of course”. This was a bit of a stretch of the truth whereas all I had were the prototypes. When I hung up with her I called my parents who floated a loan so that I could have product to show the producers in six weeks. We produced 10,000 bottles in a few short weeks at a crazy cost. I then went to work on developing signage and displays in an effort to look as professional as possible . To quote the old adage “ fake it till you make” was my mantra for the next few years.By the time I landed in Los Angeles with my product, I actually was breathing a sigh of relief and taking a deep breath having felt quite successful to have come so far in such a short period of time. When I arrived, everyone from the producer Clay Newbill to the producers I worked, Laura and Danielle and everyone who took part in making the stay comfortable, wished me nothing but success and were always very encouraging making me feel very positive and accepted.
I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?
We had had a practice run the day before in a near empty hangar in front of people just typing away on their computers, NO sharks, and I completely froze. The pitch that I had been working on for months literally felt like it melted and my brain cells were dripping out of my ears because I could not focus or remember any of the words aside from my opening sentence. Earlier that morning, when I was about to get on the shuttle to go to the studio, I was contacted by the shows attorneys. They informed me that there was a hiccup with my legal paperwork in regards to the IRS. I would not be able to tape until it was resolved. The IRS was located in Boston which was three hours ahead of us and set to close in an hour. I had to convince the agent on the phone to clear this up. She refused to help and told me I had to wait for her boss on Monday morning. It was Friday morning when I Was making this call.SharkTank was only in season three and not well known at this time but I explained to the woman on the phone that this was a life-changing opportunity that I had and absolutely needed this to be cleared up. After what felt like an eternity, in reality about 30 minutes, she was able to get her boss on the phone and help clear it up, faxing the needed paperwork to the powers that be so that I could tape.I am pretty sure this is what rattled me during the dress rehearsaI. I thouht for sure they were going to send me home. They did not and when I taped I did some jumping jacks before walking through that infamous hallway, to get the nerves calmed down.
So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?
I struck a deal with Lori and she had our products on QVC the next morning. At that time I was very pleased
What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.
1)Believe in yourself. Though I was not excepted for Season 1 or Season 2 I believed I had a great product but more than that I believed that I was the one who could get things done.
2)Have a vision. More than one person took me aback when they asked me where I saw my company going. Did I want to pass it down to my daughters or did I see myself licensing or did I see myself selling to a larger company down the line. I had to do some soul-searching to come to that answer
3) Be passionate about your business. I truly love color, design, making people look beautiful and feel good about themselves. That is ingrained in me for reasons I don’t fully understand but what I do know is that it gives me great joy and I believe that shows when you were talking about your product or business. I am often told that I glow when talking about my business/products.
4)Face your fears. I was petrified to go in front of this group of very successful business men and women. I read a quote from Ariana Huffington “Fearlessness is like a muscle, the more you exercise it the stronger it becomes”. This is so true.
5)Be tenacious.When the attorneys called me and told me I was not going to be able to tape without clearing up the IRS issue and the IRS agent told me there was no way she could help me, I found a resolve that I imagine I always have When in times of doubt and unsure of what to , the survivor in you kicks in just when you need it the most. Trust this to be an accurate fact!
What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?
Motivation motivation motivation. I believe this is the most difficult thing to keep going within yourself and for your team. Whether it be a team building exercises outside of the box like going to panic room and working as a team to solve a problem or reading books like Malcolm Gladwell’s or joining a group of other entrepreneurs to bounce ideas of and support each other… its so important to be aware that every person needs to be motivated in different ways , at different times however it is a necessity to inspire ideas, keep morale high and creative positivity. Have fun!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
Within my industry, beauty, combined with some volunteer work I do in my community with the homeless and people restarting their lives, I envisioned partnering with someone like Bottemless Closet, NYC and starting a fleet of trucks that could do makeovers,manicures and outfit women in disadvantaged communities to help them feel confident and give them that needed boost to help them get to a place where they feel better about themselves enabling them to get back on their feet.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have SOOOOO many, on my phone, in my office in frames, in a charm around my neck ,everyday. It’s like asking for my favorite child or movie or food!
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” Eleanor Roosevelt is the one I have engraved and am wearing today. I had it designed after my Hsrak Tan
This is relevant to me because I grew up in very humble beginnings with a supportive loving family who despite staying very grounded within their community, encouraged me to follow my heart and dreams.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
SARA BLAKELY…similar paths, similar industry , similar challenges, she is an inspiration and an amazing business woman!