Today’s career profile features Katharine Contag, the founder of Color Clutch, an innovative nail polish storage system. If you are like me, you have an unorganized makeup case filled with nail polish. Color Clutch lets you store and organize 18 bottles of nail polish in just 2.5 inches of shelf space. I asked Katharine about her experience building a company and her role at popular companies such as Walmart, BaubleBar, and Nordstrom. Katharine has great advice for anyone interested in working in fashion or beauty.
What inspired you to take the leap and start your own company, Color Clutch? Was this something you always planned on doing?
I’ve always dreamed of running my own business. I grew up in Silicon Valley where everyone is starting their own company or launching something new. It’s an exciting place to be, and the energy in that part of the country just makes you want to take a risk and make a name for yourself.
What were the first steps you took to starting a company? What logistical advice do you have for other people who want to start a business?
I made my first prototype by hand. I knew I wanted a better storage device for nail polish, and I had this vision in my head, so I decided to grab some foam and a box and see if I could craft it myself. It wasn’t that pretty, but it was incredibly functional. And when I showed it to friends, they loved it and wanted me to make them one. By having a prototype that cost me about $5 to make, I was able to go to manufacturers with specific measurements and save a lot of back and forth in the process (and a lot of money!).
How would you describe Color Clutch in a few sentences?
Color Clutch is a compact storage solution for nail polish. It allows you to store up to 18 bottles of nail polish in just 2.5 inches of space. It’s a great way to de-clutter your shelf and stay organized!
How did you decide to use Kickstarter instead of Angel Investors?
When I started this business I told myself I would only spend $5,000 of my savings to get it started. I wanted to be really smart about how I spent this budget and only use it for prototypes and early samples. Using Kickstarter allowed me to gauge interest in the product and collect pre-orders before spending tens of thousands of dollars to get product made and shipped. What if no one wanted this? I needed some sort of financial protection!
I did not seek angel investors because the cash required to start the business was relatively low and because I wanted to maintain 100% equity in the business.
You have your MBA from Harvard Business School. Do you think going to HBS has helped you develop the business acumen you use today?
Harvard Business School was an incredible two years. The courses I took there definitely influenced my business decisions for Color Clutch, but perhaps more important than that, the people I met at school have been incredibly helpful to me as I get this business off the ground. One of my friends has extensive experience writing patents, and he was incredibly helpful as I started to navigate that part of the process. Others have already started businesses, and they have been open about what they’ve learned from starting a company.
But even more important than where I went to school were the jobs I held before starting Color Clutch. My work at both Walmart and BaubleBar has tremendously influenced the decisions I’ve made for Color Clutch.
You were previously the Director of Offline at BaubleBar (a company many of my readers know and love), what was your role there?
I joined BaubleBar when there were about 20 employees – it was such an exciting time! I was hired to help think through BaubleBar’s strategy regarding owned-retail and wholesale retail relationships. In other words, how could we most effectively get product in front of customers – either through pop-up stores or by wholesale partnerships with retailers like Anthropologie and Nordstrom.
It was an incredible experience – I worked with some of the smartest, most energetic, and hard-working people during my time there. We were all focused on growing the business as quickly and thoughtfully as possible. Amy Jain & Daniella Yacobovsky were great to work for because they really instilled a sense of ownership in each of us, and gave us the freedom to grow our part of the business in a way that we thought made sense for the overall vision of the company.
Do you think that the skills from your role at BaubleBar have helped you launch Color Clutch?
Absolutely. At BaubleBar I learned that you have to be scrappy and hard working to get things done. We would brainstorm crazy marketing ideas and then jump on the phone to see how we could make it happen. I realized you didn’t need to be an expert to pull off a great marketing stunt – you just needed to figure out who to call and get creative to accomplish it within budget.
What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting your own business?
The biggest challenge starting a business has been getting comfortable with not being able to plan that far in advance. This concept goes against the very core of my being (I’m very type-A haha), so it’s been hard to get used to this. But when you’re just starting out you don’t know how sales are going to perform or what hiccups might pop up.
Don’t get me wrong – having a business plan when you’re just starting is very important—but you need to be comfortable changing that plan weekly and sometimes daily as you get more information.
The biggest reward is hearing from customers. So many have emailed to tell me they love the concept, or that they have ideas for other products. Others have asked for international shipping or alternative colors. I love hearing people excited about the product and passionate about Color Clutch’s future – it reminds me why I started doing this in the first place.
What is on your desk right now?
It’s embarrassing – I wish my workspace was prettier. Right now there are foam samples, graph paper, calendar print outs, and a cup of coffee. One day I’ll have a large white desk with perfectly stacked notepads, freshly cut flowers, and bright colored pens…one day.
Where do you turn for inspiration?
It might sound cheesy, but I love watching YouTube videos of my favorite entrepreneurs. Sara Blakely (the founder of Spanx) is so inspiring– she’s given a lot of great interviews that are on YouTube. I hope she writes a book soon!
Ted Talks are also my go-to when I need a quick dose of inspiration (Diana Nyad’s “Never Ever Give Up” is one of my favorites.)
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
“Quit early and quit often.” One of my professors in business school gave a great speech about having the courage to quit a job or a career path that you don’t enjoy. Growing up we’re taught to keep working hard at something, even if we don’t enjoy it, because “it’s good for us” or because maybe one day it will bring happiness. Don’t wait for that day to arrive – have the courage to take a chance and forge your own future.
What advice do you have for other young professional women?
Be bold and brave enough to wait for the right life partner. Hold out for someone who shares your dreams and goals, but also values your insecurities. Make sure they are as passionate about your success as they are their own.
And when you want to look your best, make sure your nails are polished 🙂
Images via Katharine Contag.