Founder of Superstar Nail Lacquer overcame many challenges starting a business at 17 years old
“Failure, I’m not going to lie, it hurts,” says 25-year-old entrepreneur Ariana Pierce. Her words are tangible and frank. “I’m not going to be that person that says I love it or that it’s nothing.”
She isn’t obligated to state this truth as if it were unbeknownst from the general public. Failure is woven within the fabric of personal growth, and the word is commonplace amidst entrepreneurship. Like wisdom is to a biblical proverb, defeat is the yin to its explicit yang – success.
Pierce, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan, started her first business at age 17, with some guidance from her mother. Her enthusiasm for entrepreneurship took precedent over the standard worries of most teenagers her age. With the help of an investment from her parents and a natural passion for cosmetics, an idea of hers blossomed into a line of organic, environmentally friendly, fast drying nail polish called Superstar Nail Lacquer. It offered the colour palette of the runway at an affordable cost.
Today, this self-proclaimed fashionprenuer’s tenacity for growth has developed into a personality driven brand meant to both inspire and motivate.
IT’S ARGUABLE THAT MOST PEOPLE AREN’T THINKING OF BECOMING A CEO AT THE AGE OF 17. SO HOW DID THIS MENTALITY OF BEING A BUSINESS OWNER COME ABOUT? I had a grandfather who was an entrepreneur and he really instilled some things in me before he passed away. He would always tell me, one, you need a pen to carry around with you everywhere you go so you can sign cheques. The second thing he told me is to always carry a camera to capture moments. The third thing he said is that you need to have a business if you want to make extra income. He was one of the first African American entrepreneurs and real estate owners in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I think his tenacity, and his push for entrepreneurship was given to me.
SO HOW DID YOU BALANCE BEING A TEENAGER WITH MAINTAINING AND OPERATING A BUSINESS? Instead of going to the parties on the weekend, I would stay at home and conduct my business. I said that once a month, or one day out of the week, that would be [my] day to just relax, have fun, have friends over, do what [I] want. The other days were for my business. What made me stick to it and just stay focused was the reward behind it. I started making money; I was able to do what I wanted at a young age, I was able to travel the world because of this business. When I was 19 years old, I was booked to go to the Bahamas to speak to a group of young people – a vacation that was totally paid for.
WHAT KIND OF EMOTIONS DID YOU GO THROUGH IN BUILDING YOUR BUSINESSES? I totally know about the rejection stage and all of that, because it doesn’t matter how much money you have or don’t have. Whatever stage you are in your business, there’s always going to be some kind of rejection. For me, when I started Superstar Nail Lacquer I was 17 years old, and being in the beauty industry, especially with something like nail polish, it’s a very, very mature market. I would have to go into meetings with marketers or other brands that wanted to collaborate. One time I even had a meeting with one of the top TV shows [at the time] because they wanted to use my nail polish. When they saw my product online, they didn’t really see my face, but when I went in there and they saw how young I was and at that time, being an African American woman, they must have wondered what I was doing, thinking I must have just made this nail polish in my kitchen … Many times [people] would blow me off or try to challenge me and trip me up or ask me questions that would try to trick me … So the night before I would meditate and I would think about the meeting and any question that I could think of that they might ask me, I would go research it, look it up, know my answers, so I was on top of my game.
TELL ME A LITTLE MORE ABOUT HOW YOU DEAL WITH FAILURE. I did a launch with one of my products [once] and it totally flopped … The good thing about failure is that it causes you to see where you made the mistakes and go back and change it, if you have the right attitude. I was down the first couple of days, and said, ‘this sucks.’ But I told myself that I had to get over this and that I had to go back and change what failed … Take a day, be sad, be salty, and then after that, brush it off and fix what it is that you failed at.
YOU MENTIONED PEOPLE WERE SURPRISED YOU WERE AFRICAN AMERICAN IN ADDITION TO BEING YOUNG. WAS IT PARTICULARLY HARD FOR YOU TO BREAK INTO THIS INDUSTRY AS A BLACK WOMAN? Yes it was, especially at first. The industry is changing now, thank God for that, but in the beginning, they wanted one type of look. In the beginning, most people didn’t know the face behind the brand. I was [promoting] and I would say that I have this nail polish company, but when people saw my website, especially back in the day, it used more so other types of people, models and European faces. It went over well, but I knew that I had to do those things in order to get into the market, because sometimes people just need to see how good your product is without judging you.
STAYING RELEVANT IS ALWAYS A KEY TO BUSINESS, WHAT ARE THE WAYS IN WHICH YOU DO THAT? I’m always researching and I never get to the point where I think I know everything no matter how big my business has become; no matter how many stores we get into. No matter how many people complement me, and say, ‘you have the best nail polish,’ I never think that I’ve arrived … I know that once I stop learning, someone else will creep up on me with the next product, which will be even better.
WHAT DOES SUCCESS ULTIMATELY MEAN TO YOU? Success is more than my business and just money … After that, it’s having peace in my home, having a great relationship with my parents, brother, relationship with my significant other, it’s having peace and being thankful. It’s being healthy. Success is a combination of all those things put together.
If I could go back I would tell myself that in the future, you’re going to be the one that’s successful because you took the time out to listen to your teachers, listen to your parents, fulfill your goals now and not later.
PEOPLE HAVE THIS IDEA THAT OWNING A BUSINESS CAN TAKE UP ALL OF YOUR TIME. HOW DO YOU BALANCE LEISURE WITH BUSINESS? Especially at the beginning of your business, you are going to have to sacrifice family time or relationship time. That’s what comes with being successful at anything that you do. But the best thing that you can do is to use your planner, calendar to plan and spend time with your family. Other times you should just straight up have a conversation with your family or significant other by telling them, ‘I know you want me to be successful and I want to be successful as well. In these building years there’s going to be time when I’m not going to be able to show up to everything, but just please bear with me in these moments.’ I think if people just come out and have a conversation and keep it real, a lot of that stuff will be taken care of.
IF YOU COULD GO BACK IN TIME, SPEAK WITH YOUR 13-YEAR-OLD SELF, AND GIVE HER LESSONS THAT COULD HELP AVOID PITFALLS, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY? When I was in college, and somewhat in high school, I put a lot of emphasis into what others were saying about me. They would say ‘you’re a goody two shoes’, or ‘you think you’re all that because you started a business’, or [make comments about my weight] since I was a little overweight. I would really take that home with me, and dwell on it for days, and I would be crying or depressed. If I could go back I would tell myself that in the future, you’re going to be the one that’s successful because you took the time out to listen to your teachers, listen to your parents, fulfill your goals now and not later. If I would have known that back then, I’m sure I wouldn’t have cared about what anybody said.
SO WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO OWN THEIR OWN BUSINESS? I would say research your industry and find out why you want to be in it. Is it something that you really love? I know a lot of entrepreneurs who say they want to do this or that because they see a friend doing it and they’re successful. You better make sure you’re passionate about [it] because when the road gets rough, you’re going to have to keep pushing. You want to make sure that you really love it.
Photos supplied by Ariana Pierce