Kendra Scott: How a small business owner turned $500 into millions
As the chief executive officer of a multi-million dollar jewelry design company and an active philanthropist, Kendra Scott's work never stops. But when you ask this busy woman how she describes herself, she doesn't hesitate in saying, "I'm a mom first."
"I created a company that allowed me to be a mom and that was my number one priority from day one," Scott said.
As the founder and president of Kendra Scott Design, she's a successful "mompreneur." That's a new "slang term describing women, who run their own business while also acting as a full time parent," according to Investopedia. And she's just one of millions.
There are roughly 7.8 million women-owned business in the U.S., according to The National Women Business Council, which based its research on the most recent Survey of Business Owners by the U.S. Census. And women entrepreneurs create a collective economic impact of nearly $3 trillion.
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For Scott, juggling being a mother of two boys and running a business comes with challenges. But she said the balancing act allows her to be the best mom she can be, while doing what she loves—making jewelry.
"The way I work allows me to always be present in my children's lives, even if that means staying up until 1 am working after they've gone to sleep," she said.
Scott eats breakfast and dinner with her sons, drives in their weekly carpool and never misses their games. "I've always done whatever is necessary to make sure that when I'm with them, the focus is on them and them alone," she said.
As if Scott wasn't busy enough, she's also co-hosting "Crowd Rules," a new reality show. Every episode will feature three small businesses that compete in front of an audience of 100 that votes to decide who wins $50,000. "Crowd Rules" premieres on CNBC Prime Tuesday, May 14th at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
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A Multi-Million-Dollar Idea Born on Bed Rest
"Mompreneur" Scott came up with the idea for Kendra Scott Design about a decade ago. On bed rest while pregnant with her first son, she began tinkering with gems and making jewelry. The bold idea struck her to create her own collection.
"I really felt like there was a white space in the market in the jewelry industry. There was very, very overpriced things that I couldn't afford at the time or very inexpensive, cheaply made that kind of fell apart when you bought it," Scott said.
A longtime fashion lover, Scott at 19 launched an online hat company called "The Hat Box," along with two retail stores in Austin, Texas. After five years, the challenges of the business proved too much and she moved on.
She decided to roll the dice again in 2002 with jewelry.
At the time she was a first-time mom with a newborn baby and a husband, who was out of work. Despite those odds, she withdrew $500 from her bank account to buy some stones and make her own jewelry. She bet on herself and created Kendra Scott Design out of the spare bedroom in her Austin home.
"I can't tell you how many times I was told 'no.' I can't tell you how many times people said, 'Oh you'll never make it. There's so many jewelry designers out there,' " Scott said.
She first convinced local stores to carry her designs. After years of pounding the pavement, she gained traction and caught the attention of major department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's.
Her jewelry today is sold at more than a 1,000 boutiques worldwide. Celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Eva Longoria and Sofia Vergara have donned her designs. With seven boutiques across the U.S. including its flagship Austin, TX store, her small business has grown to 125 people.
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Family-Work Balance and Employee Matters
Between running the company and her involvement in charities, Scott spends nearly every moment she's not with her children working. But that's not a bad thing. "Work doesn't feel like work to me because it is my passion," she said. "So working around the clock, while being a mom, is such a thrill and a dream come true for me."
Along with philanthropy, family is a core value of her small business model. Scott encourages her employees to leave the office for dance recitals and soccer games, telling them they "need" to go. And she involves her staff in work for both national and local charities.
"I promise you, if every employer did that, the kind of productivity that they would see would blow them away. My staff, they're on their e-mail at midnight after they've put their kids to bed because they left," she said. "They appreciate their jobs. You don't have to work more to get more out of it. You can be smart about how you work."
Top preferences for working moms include flexibility in their schedules, according to Workingmother.com. And Scott gives her employees that. The Austin Business Journal recently awarded her company one of "The Best Places to Work."
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New Role and Dishing Out Advice
In her latest role as a "Crowd Rules" panelist, Scott helps analyze companies competing for prize money. She also provides specific advice to each business, and general tips that work for all budding entrepreneurs.
"You've gotta figure out who's playing in your sandbox and you have to be unique and stand apart from everybody else," Scott said. "It can be a sliver of a market. But if that market is creating 3 percent, 5 percent, 10 percent of that industry, you could have yourselves a huge business."
And don't forget your business plan.
"Try not to start a business without the proper funding. I started with $500. And I can tell you from that experience if I could rewind and do it again, I would have tried to find some investors in the very beginning to help me to make my start a little easier and to maybe help me grow a little bit faster," she said.
The work-life balance, meanwhile, continues. "Having my children as my number one priority can be exhausting at times as a business owner," Scott said. "But I wouldn't have it any other way."