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The BoF Podcast | Why Entrepreneurial Success Is About More Than a Big Exit

When Ben Gorham of Byredo and Monique Rodriguez of Mielle Organics sold the businesses they spent years building, the financial milestone was just the culmination of more meaningful professional journeys that began with a clear sense of purpose.
Ben Gorham of Byredo and Monique Rodriguez of Mielle Organics.
Ben Gorham of Byredo and Monique Rodriguez of Mielle Organics. (Matteo)
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Background:

Beauty founders Ben Gorham of fragrance label Byredo, and Monique Rodriguez of hair care brand Mielle Organics, both took their businesses from indie beauty darlings with cult followings to high-profile exits to major conglomerates: Byredo sold to Spanish luxury giant Puig for $1 billion in 2022, while Procter & Gamble bought Mielle Organics earlier this year.

But the two founders didn’t start their businesses with the sole focus of cashing in quickly. “We live in a climate where expectations are that you start a company and you build it to great heights, and then you sell it, and you make lots of money. And this is how we define success stories,” said Gorham. “For me, for many years, it was really about just the craft. It was really about the product. It was really about learning how to operate a business.”

As Rodriguez learned after building a loyal customer base, a sale impacts many other stakeholders. “When you build a brand in the Black community, it’s not my brand, it’s their brand,” said Rodriguez. Yet she doesn’t downplay the personal importance of the exit. “It’s a true testament to — especially as a Black woman, a woman of colour — what we build is very valuable… I didn’t grow up seeing this. So to accomplish just having a conversation [with investors, including P&G] was rewarding for me,” she said.

This week on The BoF Podcast, Gorham and Rodriguez sit down with Priya Rao, executive editor of The Business of Beauty, to share how they navigate entrepreneurship and success in a conversation from The Business of Beauty Global Forum 2023.

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Key Insights:

  • Rodriguez started Mielle to fill a void in hair care that she and other Black customers faced. “As a consumer myself, I saw that there was a lack of relatability. I thought that there was a lack of education. I felt that there was no brand that understood my needs as a natural hair consumer,” she said.
  • Gorham also sought to fill an underserved market with Byredo. “The idea of luxury and the culture of luxury didn’t speak to people that looked like me or grew up like me or came from my culture [with a Canadian father and Indian mother, growing up in Sweden]. So I set out to kind of redefine what that could mean as a brand,” said Gorham.
  • When her start-up was ready to explore being part of a larger company, Rodriguez said it was important that she was clear what she wanted — and didn’t want — from Mielle’s suitor. “As you find a partner, it’s like a marriage, right? And you don’t want to get divorced… So it was really important that my partners understood where we were trying to go and did not want to disrupt what we knew we were already good at,” she said.
  • Being part of a larger company and maintaining an entrepreneurial spirit are not mutually exclusive… My mother grew up in a garage in Mumbai. To say that the financial milestone or the monetary aspect wasn’t important… would be a lie.” said Gorham. “Selling kind of implies that I wouldn’t be there or that I would exit… even though that’s the mechanical trigger of the transaction, my role is still intact. I continue to work night and day as I’ve done over this journey,” he said.

Additional Resources:

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