Renée Rouleau, an EO member in Austin, is the founder and CEO of Renée Rouleau Skin Care, whose products and personalized skincare are respected by celebrities, bloggers, and skincare obsessives. As she marks 25 years in business, Renée shared what she’s learned along her entrepreneurial journey.
I cut the red ribbon at 4:10pm on August 17, 1996. It was my 26th birthday, and I was officially starting my company, Renée Rouleau Skin Care, in Dallas, Texas (though I would eventually relocate the company headquarters to Austin).
Why did I choose this exact date and time? They would never teach this in business school (not that I went to business school!), but I wanted all the luck I could get, so I consulted an astrologist named Iris. She chose this specific date and time to ensure success. Fast forward to today—a full 25 years later—and I’m proud to say my company is thriving and better than ever.
Do I owe all my success to the astrologer? No, not entirely. Over the course of a quarter-century, I’ve learned a lot of lessons about how to successfully run a company. These lessons are what made the biggest impact on my business. Here they are, just in time for the 25th anniversary of Renée Rouleau Skin Care.
1. Treat Your Vendors as Partners (and With Kindness)
Anyone with whom you do business and who provides you with what you need to operate should be treated as a valued partner. You need them, and they need you. It’s that simple. I’ve always cultivated respectful working relationships with my points of contact, and depending on the vendor, I would even fly to meet them in person to establish a connection. The importance of treating vendors as partners was confirmed by the Covid pandemic when so many vendors shut down and the supply chain ground to a halt. It was a stark reminder that we don’t have a business without them. Once they opened back up, they put their “favorite” customers at the front of the line to get their goods, which goes to show that it pays to be nice!
2. Manage All of Your Crazy Ideas and Review Them Each Quarter
Like most entrepreneurs, I have no shortage of ideas. With so many swirling in my head, paired with my naturally high sense of urgency, I have a tendency to be all over the place, creating unnecessary chaos for my team. I manage this by keeping an “idea bank” where I write down every idea I come up with. Once a quarter, I review the list with my team to determine which levers are the next ones to pull. Over the years, this has taught me that just because an idea is good doesn’t mean it’s worth pursuing now (or ever). Timing is everything, and it’s incredibly beneficial to slow down and consider all options instead of acting immediately.
3. You Can’t Foresee the Unexpected, But You Can Trust You’ll Find a Way Through It
In business and in life, you never know what’s around the corner. My COO (who was also my husband and partner for 22 years) passed in 2018 after a short battle with cancer. The day his doctor said, “You have six months to live” is certainly one that I’ll never forget. The race was on to get his affairs in order both personally and professionally—which included me finding his replacement in the company.
No one can prepare for a crisis of that magnitude, but I learned that by relying on others for help and support, along with good problem-solving skills, I can get through anything. In those dark days, I would remind myself to simply put one foot in front of the other and trust that, as hard as it seemed, I would find the light to get through it.
4. Identify Three Unique Qualities of Your Company
You must set yourself apart from the crowd. It’s frustrating when I see entrepreneurs jump on the same old business bandwagon with no real positioning as to how their company is different from the rest.
In my company, we focus on three “uniques”:
- Education and expertise
- 9 different skin types
We play to our strengths in all we do, and we consistently make this part of our communication.
Market research and keeping your finger on the pulse of your industry can help identify these for you. Simply ask yourself, “How can I make people’s lives better or easier in a way no one else has?”
5. Bigger Isn’t Always Better
I always knew I wanted to build a great company and not a big company. I have a deep desire to put people over profits and create a healthy and supportive work environment for my employees. This includes having a strategic growth plan while being mindful of how every decision will affect my team. Because I’ve chosen to own 100% of my company, I have full control of every move, which is always guided by my heart and my values.
My beliefs are validated by other entrepreneurs who have grown their companies rapidly and have taken a lot of outside investment, only to experience total chaos and frustration. They often say to me, “Renée, if I could do it all over again, I would do it just like how you are.” Grow slow and remain in control of your journey.
6. When Opportunity Knocks, Scrutinize It
Everyone loves opportunity. When something good comes along, it can be exciting. However, I have seen too many people say yes without weighing the pros and cons. As a result, things don’t always work out like they hoped. That’s why every time an opportunity arises, I ask myself a list of specific questions in order to fully think through it. This list has served me well. It ensures I’m being strategic and remaining in control of my destiny. Here’s my list:
- Is it a “Hell, yes!”?
- What problem are we trying to solve?
- Is it in alignment with our core values?
- Does this align with our 1-year goals, 3-year goals, and 10-year target?
- Is it on-brand, so as not to confuse our brand messaging and offerings?
- How will it affect our core business and focus?
- Will this opportunity make us better?
- Is this where it makes sense to put time and energy?
- How will this affect our team and culture?
- What is the worst-case scenario?
- What is the jump-ship plan if it is not successful?
- When will we know if it’s not successful?
- Lastly, WHY?
7. Be Grateful for Your Horrible Bosses
I only had two jobs, and therefore two bosses, before starting my first business at the age of 21. One boss was great. The other was not-so-great. I’m most grateful for the time I spent with the not-so-great one, because it showed me how I don’t want to be treated (well, that, and watching The Office. Michael Scott isn’t exactly an ideal role model, but Dwight on the other hand…LOL).
I remember when the not-so-great boss announced that no one would be getting a holiday bonus. The business was struggling, so bonuses simply weren’t feasible, and that was that. I understood that times were tough, but I remember feeling like she could have shown her appreciation in another, non-monetary way (even a nice card could have done the trick!).
The last thing you want to do is skip the opportunity to show appreciation for the people that played a part in your success. My philosophy is that I work for my employees, not the other way around. It’s about serving them, treating them with respect, and providing them with a healthy work environment that comes with growth opportunities. We were deemed a “Best Place to Work” by Austin Business Journal in 2020, and I owe it to keeping my ego in check and never losing sight of what has been built—together.
8. There is No Blueprint on How to Run a Business
In business, you dive in and either sink or swim. If you happen to stay afloat, you still have plenty to learn about how to swim more efficiently. Business requires a lot of pivoting, as well as tremendous communication. The truth is that there’s no step-by-step guide or how-to manual that shows you how to run and grow a company. The closest thing I’ve found is the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). It’s a proven process that I brought into my company after its 17th year. No matter if you’re running a start-up or an established company like I was, it provides tremendous value, helping you navigate with clarity and focus.
9. Be an Infinite, Open-Minded Learner
Entrepreneurship forces you to be an infinite learner. You’re constantly breaking new ground, innovating, and building upon your ideas to stay relevant. However, you must always be willing to adapt to new information. Never get stuck thinking you know it all.
To keep my mind open, I tap into my team for brainstorming sessions. Everyone has different views and their own unique experiences. I recognize that others have a lot to teach me. That’s why “learn and grow” is one of my company’s core values.
10. Entrepreneurship Can Be a Lonely Road
I started my entrepreneurial journey at 21years old. My friends were partying in college, and I had the responsibility of owning a business that required 24/7 focus. When they came back for summer, they had all the freedom in the world, and that just wasn’t my life anymore. I knew I needed to find a new tribe.
Many years later, I found “my people” through the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). I’ve been a proud member for 12 years. These people get me, and I get them. We don’t clock out at 5 pm, we can’t go on vacation and be out of office, and we can’t always be present with the people we love, because business pulls us away. Everything falls back on us. While we wouldn’t have it any other way, it’s still a lot to manage and difficult for other people to understand. Life is easier when you surround yourself with like-minded people. They’re out there, and they can offer tremendous support.
11. Ask Yourself, “What Problem Are We Trying to Solve?”
This is my go-to question in business and in life. Ideas and decisions can become convoluted, and this simple question gets them right back on track. If there’s no clear answer, then you might be trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. That’s when I turn to my other favorite, “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”
12. Take Resumes with a Grain of Salt—Hire for Attitude and Train for Skills
Any company can offer the greatest product or service in the world, but it can only be executed by having the right people on board. When hiring, I take resumes with a grain of salt, as I do references, too. I can’t tell you how many people didn’t have anything necessarily impressive on their resumes, but they presented the right attitude to support our company’s core values. Some of our best hires didn’t stand out on paper. That’s why I’m always searching for the “diamond in the rough.”
13. Define Your Company’s Core Values and Live by Them
I was first introduced to the idea of core values as a 20-year-old. I took a personal development class in which I was tasked to identify my personal core values. These were essentially guiding principles for how I wanted to live my life and show up to the world. It made such an impact on me that I’ve continued to establish core values ever since. Every couple of years, I re-do the exercise. Sometimes my core values change, sometimes they don’t. It all depends on my experience and my view of the world.
Because core values are so important to me personally, I decided to introduce them to my business. My team and I established five that best represent the company, both as it is now and as it is in our vision for the future. We live and work by these values, and we use them as guiding principles in all our decision-making.
14. You Can Be Rich or King, But You Can’t Be Both
I once saw Noam Wasserman, a Harvard Business School Professor and start-up researcher, speak at a conference. He teaches the idea that entrepreneurs must make a deliberate choice to either optimize for financial returns (be “rich”) or keep control of their companies (be a “king”). Each one requires different decision-making, which is why it’s so important to know which one you desire.
15. Ideas Are Easy, Execution Is Hard
For entrepreneurs, a shortage of ideas is never the problem. Finding the bandwidth to execute them all is the problem. I have certainly been accused of being a workaholic, but the key to my success is simply that I put my head down and get to it. Less, talk, more action.
16. To Hell with a Work-Life Balance
Imagine spending your working hours doing something you love so much that it doesn’t feel like work. That’s my life. So, when it comes to a work-life balance, well, I haven’t really had that (especially in the early years of my company). I love what I do, so I never feel the need to stop doing it. With that being said, I understand that, in life, anything that doesn’t get your attention will suffer. It’s all about choosing what to devote your time to.
17. Hiring Friends or Family Is a Gamble
Early on in my company, I needed help wherever I could get it, so oftentimes I would rely on friends. I quickly learned that it’s awkward to be your friend’s boss. The dynamics of the relationship change. If things don’t work out, and you have to part ways, it’s no fun (trust me, I know). However, my husband was our COO for 12 years, and that was a great working partnership. So, ultimately, hiring friends or family is a gamble, which is why it’s so important to weigh all the outcomes before bringing on someone who’s close to you.
18. Depending on The Business, PR Is Crucial
For the first 21 years of my company, we never did paid advertising. Instead, we focused on public relations earned through editorial mentions. Advertising = telling people how good you are. Editorial features = someone else telling people how good you are. The latter gives you way more credibility. For years I did my own PR, pitching my products and services to editors of magazines and producers of TV shows. Now I have a publicist who handles it for me, but it’s still intrinsic to the business.
19. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Risks
Entrepreneurs are born risk-takers. It’s a confidence that allows you to stick your neck out, and if you get knocked down, you don’t retreat. You keep going. I’ve learned that it’s important to take calculated risks and block out the opinions of people who tell you you’re wrong. My instinct has always been my guiding light, and it’s rarely led me astray.
For example, I knew early on that e-commerce and content were going to be the wave of the future in business. So, in 1999, I devoted my resources towards building an e-commerce site. In 2000, I started writing educational skincare content, which led to the creation of my popular skincare blog in 2005. It’s been going strong ever since.
20. It’s Easier to Fix the Leaks in the Hose Than It Is to Get More Water
It’s easy to focus on getting new customers, but don’t forget to pay attention to your day-to-day operations that are critical for retaining them. Is the person answering the phone friendly and saying the right things? Are you asking existing customers for referrals and giving them incentives to spread the word? Are you missing out on opportunities to increase your average order value (AOV)? There are a lot of things you can do to run your business more efficiently and effectively, so make sure to closely analyze all of them.
21. Develop and Maintain Business Friendships
People like to help people they like. Friends like to help friends succeed. For so many years I went alone to promote and build my business, but there is only one of me and only so much I can do. Friends can support your success and help spread the word. You just have to ask them for help. Make it a priority to network, attend events, and attend lunches. It will pay off.
22. Focus on Your Strengths and Delegate Your Weaknesses
Entrepreneurs are required to wear many hats. We are the handymen when things break down, the bill payer, the supply getter, the marketer, the promoter, the trainer, the manager, and the list goes on. No one is hardwired to be good at all these things. I’ve learned how important it is to delegate the areas I lack efficiency in. I do this by listing all the things I must do in any given period. I separate them into two columns and rank them from one to five. I give a one to things I loathe, and I’m not good at. I give a five to things I love and am good at. The goal is to only do the fives and delegate everything below that. Sure, sometimes I must do threes and fours, but it’s a good way to manage a full plate.
23. Accept People for Who They Are and Who They’re Not
There will never be someone just like you. The sooner you accept this, the better off you’ll be. We do personality assessments at our company to pinpoint everyone’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s better to spend time enhancing an employee’s strengths than focusing on their weaknesses and making them into something they’ll never be. Don’t forget to give lots of praise and recognition. They’ll love you for it, and they’ll be loyal if they’re happy.
24. Reinvent Your Brand Every Seven Years to Stay Relevant
So many businesses start out strong but die on the vine. How is it that after 25 years my company is still going strong? Well, time makes things stale. Brands lose their edge after a while—that special quality that made customers love it in the first place. That’s why, about every seven years, I change things up with a new logo, new packaging, and a new website. It gives customers something to be excited about beyond new product launches. In my industry, things are always changing with new technology and findings, so staying current keeps our customers loyal. They know we keep our finger on the pulse.
25. Growth Is Saying Yes to Things That Scare You
Over the past 25 years, I’ve realized that starting a business is a lot like having a baby. You nurture it for so long only to set it free when it becomes mature. For so many years, I held on tight for fear of losing control. When my husband (and COO) got sick, he said, “Renée, you’ve been a tiger in a cage, and I’ve kept you trapped. It’s time to let you out.” What he meant was that he wasn’t encouraging me to hire and take things off my plate. If I wanted the company to reach its true potential, it was time for me to be the visionary, focusing more on big ideas and less on the day-to-day.
Letting go of certain responsibilities and trusting others has been scary, as has navigating a world without my partner in life and business, but I can honestly say the growth—both in my company and my personal life—has opened my world in a way that I never imagined. It could have only happened by getting out of my comfort zone.
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