What does it take to become a great female entrepreneur? Is it a strong vision? A good idea? Unmatched industry connections? Or is it simply grit, passion and a drive to succeed?
For Shirlynn Brownell, founder of DKT Polish, it’s a combination of things, including a foundation of strong female role models and an appreciation for all the things that encompass womanhood.
With family roots in Liberia, Shirlynn grew up in the U.S., idolizing female figures such as the first African American congresswoman, Shirley Chisholm, U.S. diplomat Condolezza Rice, and, of course, Jackie Bush, Shirlynn’s mother.
“I would not be where I am today without the women in my family.”
What Shirlynn loves most about these women is their desire to achieve greatness and embrace the extraordinary things that make them female - which, for Shirlynn, includes painting nails.
This explains why DKT Polish, a 5-free nail polish brand, is focused on empowering females to “spend a little time” celebrating what it means to be a woman. We asked Shirlynn to share her story, along with a few female entrepreneurship secrets and tips to starting a business.
What gave you the idea of starting your own business? Did you always know you’d be a business owner?
Since I was a little girl, I knew that I would one day try my hand at business ownership. Having a career that I’m passionate about has always been important to me. I’m inspired by images of successful women such as Shirley Chisholm (I played her in a grade-school play), Condoleezza Rice, Beyonce, and most importantly, the women in my family. My mother drilled into me the importance of being able to sustain myself and use the resources I’d been given to build something that would be fulfilling and beneficial to me and the rest of the world. Starting a business would be a great way to incorporate these lessons.
What made you decide to start a nail polish company?
I’ve always correlated nail painting with womanhood, because it was a “rite of passage” for me as a young girl. I wasn’t really allowed to have painted nails until I was 13, unless it was the weekend or a special occasion. In fact, during school, my best friend and I would sneak on fake “press-on” nails and take them off before coming home in the afternoon to ensure our parents wouldn’t find out!
Painting nails is the one small thing I feel women can do to celebrate being female. It’s easy on the wallet and instantly boosts your mood. I get my nails done and within seconds, I feel empowered and pretty. I’m instantly reminded that nothing is more important than making it a priority to spend time on yourself.
On my 23rd birthday, a group of my closest friends and I decided to paint nails at a local nursing home. As we were leaving, one of the ladies gave me the biggest hug and said “Thank y’all for spending time with us and making us feel pretty.” This planted the initial seed for DKT Polish - I wanted to share that feeling with women everywhere.
What were some of the challenges you experienced in the beginning stages of DKT Polish and how did you overcome them?
One of the challenges I experienced was of course securing the funds I would need to start a business. I prayed, saved and sacrificed and had a lot of financial, emotional and spiritual support from my family. I made the decision in the beginning that I would not pursue any loans because I did not want to start my business in debt. It usually takes closer to $10,000 to start a business, but I started this company with $5,000. That’s all I had.
Being creative would be critical. I’m not really a DIY type of girl, but I quickly became one. It’s amazing the skills you develop when you’re strapped for cash.
For example, building a website was also more challenging than I had imagined! Because my budget was so tight, a web designer, like many other things, was out of the question. With help from my amazing brand manager (@thestylemadam on Instagram), I was able to build an amazing website of which I’m very proud.
If I could do anything differently, it would be to start building my site sooner than the month before launching. Starting so close to my launch date was equivalent to me signing my own death wish! I went through so many revisions, just like people told me I would. But it was all incredibly worth it in the end, even the many late-night breakdowns!
What came easy that you thought would be difficult? Why?
Time management. I have a full-time job that I really enjoy and sometimes, my day job can be demanding. I was worried that I wouldn’t have enough hours in the day to do both jobs well. I’m also a perfectionist, so I didn’t want to be slack in any of my responsibilities. Somehow, balancing my two jobs turned out to be easier than I had envisioned. Starting my own business made me a better employee and inspired me to put even more energy into my daytime career. When you understand first-hand what it takes to bring a vision to life and build/run a business, you don’t want to be slack in your role at anyone else’s business either.
If you had to choose to invest in only one marketing/PR tool during your launch, what would it be?
Definitely Instagram. The power of social media is often underestimated. Social media and word of mouth were and still are the main drivers of buyers to DKTPolish.com. Specifically, Instagram was extremely effective in helping me get the word out about DKT and connecting with my target audience. It also served as a major source of inspiration and kept me from reinventing the wheel.
What’s your hardest lesson learned?
First and foremost, I think failure is a prerequisite for success. Through failure, one gains the skills, character traits and experience it takes to reach their goals. The drive and determination it took for me to get this business up and running would not exist had I not dealt with setbacks and failures along the way - and not just the ones pertaining directly to my company. I’m also referring to the ones I had long before DKT Polish existed.
Intentionally surrounding myself with positivity was something I didn’t do in the beginning. Protecting the energy of your vision, especially in the building stages, is very important. I had to learn early on that not everyone realizes what it takes to launch a business and not everyone has your best interest at heart.
I’ve never given birth to a human child, but my business is my child. I created it, I felt every emotion, I lost sleep, and I sacrificed in every area of my life until I finally gave birth to it. Sometimes people say hurtful things, oftentimes unknowingly, and when you’re already in a highly emotional state-as most people are when they’re building a business- it can easily throw you off your game. It makes you doubt yourself and everything you’re doing. Most people have no idea how their words and energy impact those around them.
What’s your “keep me going” quote?
“You’re not tired, you’re uninspired.” I repeat this to myself at least 10 times a day. It reminds me to step away from what I’m doing and find inspiration to keep going. That’s what will keep you going in those moments when you want to throw in the towel.
What are you looking forward to in the future with DKT Polish?
Without a doubt, I am looking forward to inspiring other women through DKT Polish. Of course, having a successful business and growing sales is important, but I want young girls and women to associate the DKT Polish brand with something bigger. I want them to see what I’ve been able to do and realize that they can do it too. This will make all the tears and time I put into this completely worth it - and I can’t wait for that!
What's next for DKT Polish?
The plan is to expand into an overseas market and to have secured partnerships with other brands that fit my vision. I’d also like to see DKT Polish in a few stores, which I’m working on now. We will see what happens.