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Entrepreneur and Makeup Guru Bobbi Brown Shares Her Road to Success


When Bobbi Brown first arrived in New York right out of college, she had one goal: work in the makeup industry. Of course, it wasn’t as easy as all of that.

She read an article about a freelance makeup artist and tried to contact her. The artist’s agent gave Brown a sage piece of advice about building a career in the industry: “There is no job. But this is what you have to do. You have to create the job.” Brown took that to heart and started dialing anyone and everyone related to makeup in the Yellow Pages. She started landing small gigs as a makeup artist, and moved onto bigger and bigger jobs. After seven years, she finally got a Vogue cover with Naomi Campbell.

But Brown also had some other ideas brewing on the side. Unlike a lot of the outrageous makeup of the 1980s, she liked a simpler, sophisticated style. She set out to produce a lipstick that wasn’t greasy or smelly and provided a more matte look. And it sold like crazy, starting out at one single table in Bergdorf Goodman.

Here, Brown shares her tenacity and the techniques that helped to put her cosmetics business on the map and her products on faces around the world.

When you first arrived in New York, you started cold calling to try and find contacts in the makeup industry. How did you keep at it, even in the face of rejection?

I had no other choice, because I didn't want to be a waitress again. I didn't have a clue what kind of job I would get. But I knew I needed to just keep doing what I was doing. Yes, there were times I felt like I was in a funk. You wake up, have nowhere to go, and worry about how you're going to pay your rent.

I also learned that some lifestyle changes made a difference in getting out of that funk. Things like remembering to drink water (sometimes I was just dehydrated). Going to the gym was also really important. When you're done at the gym, you have a clearer mind and can just start making calls again. "Hi, it's Bobbi, I'd love to come in and show you my work." Once I had the appointments, I felt good about myself and I made it my job to fill my datebook.

How did you keep growing your network?

Early on, I was lucky enough to finally get hired for a magazine shoot. At the time, magazines paid $150, so the pay wasn’t going to change my life. But from that one magazine shoot I met the photographer, his assistant, and the editors. These were the people I needed to stay in touch with. They didn’t just call me and say, "Okay, here's a whole bunch of work."

You always need to be in touch, and you always need to ask if there is someone they think you should meet. I learned it was about relationships and you never know who you're going to meet.

Who did you meet that was unexpected or made a big change in your career from all of that networking?

This is one of my favorite stories. I was in Florida doing a book signing for my first book. An elderly woman in the back of the room asked me a makeup question. I went over, I answered it, and she said she had seen my one appearance on the “Today Show.”

“You’re great,” she said. “Is there anything else you’d want to do? You’ve done so much.”

“You know, I’d love to be a be a regular on the ‘Today Show,’" I said.

"Honey, my grandson is Jeff Zucker, who is the executive producer," she said.  

And that was on a Friday. Monday I went on the show and I was a regular for 14 years on the “Today Show.” It was all from that one meeting. You never know who you're going to meet.

That’s an amazing story. Some people say success relies a lot on luck and opportunity versus hard work and relationships. What’s your take on that?

You know what? It's both. I am so grateful that I've had these opportunities and experiences. But I also have worked really hard for everything, and I've been tenacious in getting what I wanted. Sometimes that means you might have people who don’t  exactly believe what you believe in. You have to stick to it. If it doesn't work to go through it, you have to go around it. Yes, I'm lucky, but I also don't give up. It's easy to give up and retreat, but you can’t if it’s something you believe in.

You always need to ask if there is someone you should meet.”

Bobbi Brown | Entrepreneur and Makeup Guru

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