Four Lessons from Running A Small Business

Original Axiology lipstick boxes with cover-up stickers

Running a business is hard — almost every day my stomach ties into knots, and my mind is constantly spinning with ideas, worries, and anxieties about Axiology (thank you meditation for the reprieve). I became a beauty entrepreneur without really knowing what I was getting myself into. I had no experience in cosmetic chemistry and had no background in the beauty industry. Truthfully, even if I had experience in these fields, it probably wouldn’t have prepared me for the extreme ups and downs of entrepreneurship life.

First, I want to say that I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else. The reason I continue to work tirelessly for Axiology is because I strive to create a business that cares. Our whole thing at Axiology is that we care about animals (no cruelty in our cosmetics), people, and the planet (zero waste Balmies, woot woot). 

Even though I love what I do, it does not mean it doesn’t come with some seriously hard moments. There have been many, many, many sleepless nights thanks to Axiology and in the spirit of inspiration and honesty (I know there are some entrepreneurs out there who need to read this), I thought I’d talk about some of the rough patches and how we got through them. 


Name Change 

I did a really silly thing when I first launched at Axiology. I chose a name that was already being used for another company — and a beauty company at that (I was young, you guys). 


The Lesson

Entrepreneurs out there, this is the first step you should ALWAYS take when starting a business: Make sure the name you want to use isn’t already taken and trademarked, and that the domain you want is available. I was super duper naive and way too excited to get my business off the ground so I ordered 10k tubes and 10k boxes made with a name I wasn’t legally allowed to use. Serious OOPS!


How We Fixed It

Because I couldn’t afford to buy all new tubes and all new boxes (this was my first order, ever ever) I had to figure out how to work with what I had. 

Here’s what I did: I ordered stickers! I got custom gold stickers and we had to sticker every one of those 10k tubes so that the old name didn’t show through (thank you, Chloe). We did the same thing with our boxes — ordered custom stickers that we wrapped around the box to hide the original name. This took so much patience (we had to be careful wrapping so no one could tell) and when it was finally time to order new boxes and tubes, our hands were aching! If you look closely you can see the stickers in the photo at the top of the page and in the one below. 

 

Original lipstick tubes with Axiology cover-up stickers


White out Phenoxyethanol

We try hard to stick to our philosophies about ingredients: Only include ingredients that are safe and non-toxic. We made a mistake and added a “controversial” preservative. We followed the guidance of a chemist who suggested that in order to increase our shelf life we should add the preservative, phenoxyethanol, to our products.

So, we started adding phenoxyethanol and again, had all of our boxes printed with this ingredient. When we launched our new, longer-shelf-life lipsticks, my email inbox flooded with complaints (I was honestly expecting happy emails but, boy, was I wrong). We lost retail partners and customers in the blink of an eye. I’m not going to go into the specifics about phenoxyethanol and, actually, as the years have passed, there has been new information that does prove it’s safe under certain levels. More info here, if ya care. 

The truth is, we want to make sure you folks are comfortable with what you’re putting on your skin. So if this ingredient was a no no for you, it should have been a no no for us. 


The Lesson

Talk to your customers before making any big changes, and consciously choose your trade-offs. We were trying to fix a problem we didn’t have; we don’t need a heavy-hitting preservative because we make our lipsticks in small batches so they don’t sit in backstock for ages. Stick to what sets your brand apart.


How We Fixed It

So, here’s how we fixed the mistake of our boxes all including the phenoxyethanol ingredient: WHITE OUT. That’s right, we bought bottles and bottles of white out and I invited all my friends, ordered pizza, and had a white out party (sorry you had to be my friend at this time, Lisa, Taryn, Amelia, and Kirsten, haha). 

 

In the process of whiting out phenoxyethanol on Axiology lipstick boxes
The white out phenoxyethanol pizza party

Broken Tubes

This issue of our tubes breaking was the worst of them because the consequences of faulty tubes meant 2 things:

  1. We had to spend way too much time on Quality Control — as in, someone had to sit down with a box of tubes every day and bang the tubes to make sure they wouldn’t break once they were in our customers hands.
  2. Even when a tube “passed” our Quality Control, we still had breakage issues when they got to our customers. In this case, we were constantly sending replacement products. 

The problem here was that our manufacturing partner in China didn’t deliver quality tubes. The reasons for this are long and far too in-depth to explain here, but let’s just say it took years to get to where we are now. 


The Lesson

Packaging often is more expensive than you expect — in faulty pieces and in labor — and sometimes keeping it simple is the best solution. 


What We Did About It

Our existing tubes being a headache made it really easy not just to look for a new solution, but to create a better one. It took us a long time, but we finally found a new manufacturer to make our post-consumer recycled tubes! Our new tubes are better for the planet and better for us — in a big way!

 

Axiology team member Chloe wearing broken original tubes on her fingers
How broken tubes made Chloe feel

Caroline

This was our first big social media catastrophe. The big beauty influencer, Caroline Hirons, put up a post calling us “morons” (see below). This wouldn’t have been a big deal had she not had 400K followers at the time! 

She also made a video where she publicly tried to discredit us and everything we stand for. 

Well, her large following took heed. For forty-eight hour straight, we had people sending us DMs calling us idiots, morons, and a lot of other negative names. My thumbs were so sore after these 2 days because I personally responded to almost every one. I have to say, it’s a pretty devastating feeling when people you don’t even know send hate your way. It’s a public embarrassment and that shame sat with me. 

 

Caroline's Instagram attack
Samples of the Instagram DMs we received from Caroline's followers
The bright side is that this incident gave us even more determination to speak our truth. Here are the blog posts we wrote in response to Caroline’s denigrating content (all of these posts were written with the help of professional researchers and editors): Palm Oil, Beeswax, Squalane, Animal Testing, and Lanolin.

The Lesson

Standing for something intrinsically means standing against something else, and that’s bound to make some people angry. If Axiology is going to make bold statements (and we are), it’s best to have our well-researched, well-thought-out reasoning publicly available to back them up. Even with these resources, not everyone is going to agree with us, and that’s okay. What’s important is to be able to stand with integrity as we keep on fighting for what we believe.


How We Coped

I did my best to respond with kindness, honesty, and transparency, and to stand strong in my convictions.

As you can see, we’re still here, still running our business, and doing some big things! This year alone we won the Beacon Award for sustainability champion, got written up in Oprah magazine and launched in 100 Ulta stores! Even with all these hard hits, our resilience and strength is stronger than ever. YAY to Axiology!