Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Emily DeLapp, Founder of EXOH, located in Riverside, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
EXOH smells like good times. It's scent-therapy, minus the pretense — or as I like to refer to it, "A gender-neutral, reimagined Bath & Body Works." We create practical products that smell so good that it'll make you smile. Our customers know that life is about small pleasures, like sharing s'mores with your friends around a bonfire, savoring a chai latte on a rainy day, or dancing to Jimmy Buffett songs in a tropical paradise with a margarita in hand.
We believe in ethically and sustainably sourced products made in the USA from clean ingredients. We believe in trying to be good people and committing to evolving. And we sincerely believe in finding something to smile about.
Tell us about yourself
I launched my first company, a clean beauty brand, in 2009, during what we could call the "wild west of e-commerce." Few had heard of Shopify, Facebook wasn't quite monetizing their platform as an ad beast just yet, and when you posted to Instagram, every single one of your followers saw it. I was 24 years old, and like so many before me, I started in my kitchen. I learned everything the hard way — how to import products into other countries, how to scale without the wheels falling off, how to handle PR nightmares, and what to do when your supplier stiffs you on a shipment that you desperately need for Black Friday. The brand finally blew up through a creative partnership with a marketing agency. It was the missing piece of our puzzle. We almost immediately earned 10x our monthly sales and built the brand into a force to be reckoned with over the next two years. I redesigned our in-house production and fulfillment to accommodate the growth and simultaneously worked on a rebranding to prepare the brand to launch in major U.S. retailers. We had buyers clamoring to stock the products, and we were about to solidify our own little spot in the marketplace. And then it all started rolling backward.
Our business, valuated at several million dollars at this point, started to slip through my fingers. We were so close to the finish line. Showcasing our products on the shelves of Ulta's across the country, launching all of the fun new things our fans had been asking for over the years — turning this amazing brand into what I always knew it could be. I ran numbers and then ran them again. I tried raising last-minute capital. I spent days and nights in the office running through seemingly endless possibilities to plug the hole in the boat to keep the water from gushing in. Even after cutting out nearly all expenses and letting my employees go (one of the hardest things I've had to do as a business owner), we hemorrhaged debt and were quickly digging a hole that was hard to see a way out of. And then, one day in December 2018, like exhaling the longest sigh, I finally said out loud what I had known in the back of my mind… "It's time to find a new home for the brand." I was done. Not for lack of affection for what we had created, but because someone else could love it better than I could at this point. I was ready for the next chapter of my life. Less than a year later, I found a wonderful buyer and took an exit.
The truth is, for a while, I believed I'd never start another brand. I spent a year soul-searching and traveling — and then, oh yeah! That whole pandemic thing hit… what timing! I found myself saying more than once, "it really is a shame I don't have a desire to start something new because few people on this planet have as much knowledge and real-world experience as I do." Felt like kind of a waste, ya know? And then something strange happened: I had a business idea several years before selling my first brand started to pop up. And I didn't hate it. I actually kind of liked it. And I kind of liked working on a new business plan (totally theoretical, of course!) and workshopping new products. If I'm being totally honest, I felt pretty inspired by this idea. Eventually, I had to admit — I wanted to create this new brand. Who would've guessed?
In fact, there are a lot of things I'd still like to create. I dream up new business ideas in my sleep and sometimes panic that they might not all get to see the light of day before I die. And that's silly. But it's just what I do. I'm an entrepreneur, and I'm incredibly durable, and I am so excited to share what's next finally.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
Taking a successful exit before I lost my mind. Next is creating something that so many people feel connected to and see themselves in. That feeling is second to none.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Keeping your confidence. Plenty of things will kick you in the gut and cause your confidence to reasonably waiver. Take a deep breath, find that confidence, and keep pushing forward.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- Be willing to adapt.
- Stop complaining about it and learn how to read numbers! A big chunk of the story is laid out in front of you in your P&L and KPIs -- don't get stuck not speaking a language that tells the rest of the story.
- Fake it 'til you make it, but work your ass off to learn how to be honest with yourself. That will always be your strongest compass.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
I've come to understand that entrepreneurship is a terrible, awful compulsion that plagues you at every waking moment. It's beautiful, it's heart-wrenching, and it's one of the most incredible ways in which to experience life.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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