In 2015, Melissa Butler took her line of custom-made, vegan lipsticks to ABC’s “Shark Tank” but unfortunately she was rejected and criticized. One of the panelists, Kevin O’Leary, said on the episode that there was no way her business was going to survive.
She was subsequently told not to waste her time on earth trying to sell lipstick. “The chances that this is a business are practically zero,” O’Leary said. “You only have so many minutes on Earth, don’t waste them trying to sell lipstick.”
Fellow panelist Daymond John scorned Butler’s business: “You are never going to create anything new in this world. It’s lipstick.”
Sharks Lori Greiner, Mark Cuban, and Robert Herjavec also refused to invest in Butler’s venture because they didn’t see her business, The Lip Bar, as viable enough. Butler was devastated by how her pitch went and even described the panelists’ attitude as cruel. Nonetheless, she did not let that episode kill her entrepreneurial spirit. Rather, she learned the attitude of persistence.
She soldiered on with her business and years later, her product landed on shelves at 142 Target stores across the country, according to CNBC Make It. “At the end of the day, if I stopped my business after one ‘no’ — even a public ‘no’ — then maybe I shouldn’t have started,” Butler said. “I couldn’t allow someone else to be the authority on my dream.”
“When you’re starting a business, you have to have a really strong ‘why’ and a really strong purpose, because you’re always going to be told no, you’re always going to face challenges,” she said.
Butler, now in her mid-30s, started her business as a side hustle in 2012 when she was working as a data analyst at Barclays in New York City. She ventured into the cosmetic industry because she noticed the current brands weren’t serving her needs.
“I was really frustrated with the beauty industry,” she told CNBC Make It. “I hated the excessive amounts of chemicals [in lipstick], I hated the lack of diversity, I hated that if you wanted to get a high-performing product you had to spend a million dollars.”
She started creating lipsticks by hand in her Brooklyn kitchen, melting dyes together with vegan ingredients like shea butter and avocado oil before freezing them in sets in her fridge. “I didn’t come from a retail background, I didn’t come from a beauty background, certainly not a manufacturing background,” she said. “I was working you know 55, 60 hours a week but then coming home and making lipstick.”
Butler eventually quit her banking job so as to focus on her business full time. She further revealed using her savings to support her business in the initial phase.
In July 2018, Butler got her first investor from the New Voices Fund, which invests in ventures owned or managed by women of color, and is backed by Unilever. So far, her products have been worn by stars like Taraji P. Henson. Her company, The Lip Bar, has also expanded to 500 Target stores, as of November 2020.