“I didn’t even know the word entrepreneur. I was in my late 30s and I didn’t know the word ‘brand,’ I didn’t know the word ‘entrepreneur,'” Bethenny Frankel, founder of SkinnyGirl, told Sharon Epperson at TBEN Small’s virtual summit Business Playbook on Wednesday.
Now, just over a decade later, Frankel is a highly successful and self-made entrepreneur, selling her prepackaged low-calorie margarita, Skinnygirl Cocktails, for a reported $120 million, and continues to delve into a range of ambitious business ventures with her Skinnygirl lifestyle brand, ranging from specialty foods to designer clothes.
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 reality, she told Epperson.
“I was just always an idea person. I couldn’t help but execute the crazy ideas I had,” Frankel said.
The Skinnygirl brand was one of those ideas – the simple vision of having her own signature cocktail. “I think very simply, I wanted to have a cocktail for myself, that I wanted to drink, and that could be a signature cocktail that I always went for,” she explained.
That personal need wasn’t an idea she knew immediately would resonate with millions of others.
“I had no idea I was making the very first low-calorie margarita or creating a category in ready-to-drink cocktails,” she said. But once she realized how popular the concept was, she knew she had a chance to turn it into a successful business.
That transition to building a business is where Frankel emphasizes that having a great 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 have been the start to set her apart, but drive and motivation are more important in business.
“I’ve really realized that it’s those people with that drive and that determination and that passion, that unstoppable nature — that’s really the real ingredient to success,” Frankel said. “Because so many people have great ideas. And the world and technology and what’s popular is constantly changing, so if you have that constant – being a hard, old-fashioned worker, you’re going to be successful. People around you will see how valuable that is because it’s very, very rare,” she added.
Frankel says that in addition to a strong work ethic, personal investment and authenticity are essential elements in a successful entrepreneurial venture.
“Business is lonely, you are alone,” she said. “You’re just signing that dotted line, it’s your reputation, it’s all about you alone… Nobody cares about your business as much as you do,” she told Epperson.
She also rejects the idea that business and private life should or can be kept separate.
The line between business and personal life has become increasingly blurred, especially since the start of the pandemic, as many employees started working from home and decisions made in one area took on new meaning in another.
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 inevitably turned out to be personal choices.
“Business is very, very personal. How I spend my money in my personal life can influence the money I should or should not invest in business ideas. How I work in my business life can influence the kind of schools my daughter would have gone to, or how I handle my business affects how I spend my time — which is so personal,” Frankel said.
New business start-ups have been high since the start of the pandemic, and Frankel said uncertain times also present opportunities.
“I think people keep looking at the equation one way and trying the same key in the door, but this is when you have to mess around and try a bunch of different keys to find out what suits you. Because when you have times of disorder, when you have times of crazy chaos, there’s also a silver lining. There are other opportunities,” she said.
Frankel, who has bought and sold real estate over the years, switched to suburban real estate at the start of the pandemic, which turned out to be a smart business move.
Still, even in the midst of business evolution, it’s essential to stay grounded in your core mission, says Frankel. “You have to be able to pivot and shift, but also stay true to the foundation and core of what your business is,” she said.
For any entrepreneur facing stagnation, Frankel recommends focusing on their own needs and interests, rather than worrying about what others are doing. “Think about what you react to. What do you consume, what do you digest, what are you interested in, what are you attracted to, what do you like, what do you dislike? And bring that out in your work.” she said.
Frankel’s personal wish for a low-calorie, ready-to-drink cocktail turned into a multimillion-dollar venture.
It is this turning inwards, before expanding to the market, that makes things essentially personal at their core.
“It has to come from within. What really appeals to you is probably something that appeals to a lot of people,” she said.