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Turning Your Business Setbacks Into Setups for Success


Jamie Kern Lima founded the beauty product company IT Cosmetics, and in 2016 sold it to L’Oreal for $1.2 billion. She also wrote the New York Times Bestseller “Believe IT: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable.” She shared why an entrepreneurs’ instincts are their superpower, and offered inspiration for small business owners facing setbacks.

What is the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs and small business owners today?

I believe the big thing is still the big thing; if you create a product or service that’s better than — or solves a problem better than — what is out there, and you find a way to effectively communicate it before running out of money, you can build something that truly lasts. I believe that when entrepreneurs figure that part out, they can overcome almost any challenge. 

In this moment in time, I believe one of the greatest challenges facing entrepreneurs is distraction. Not just with the impact of the pandemic on businesses and consumers, but also with the changing landscape of digitization and social media. Now more than ever, it’s easier to get distracted by what the competition is doing because it’s all visible online. It’s easy to get distracted by what appears to be successful for everyone else on social media, and to risk getting sucked into the comparison trap. 

I believe the biggest risk to any business isn’t what your competition is doing, it’s getting distracted by it in a way that tempts you to change your own authentic mission and dilute your own secret sauce. Having total clarity around your own mission, and making sure your team is clear on it, is more important than ever to building something novel, to continuing to innovate in a way that gets you a competitive advantage, and to building something that lasts.

What technologies and resources do you believe are the most critical for developing and inspiring entrepreneurs?

A lot of people make the mistake of thinking that if they raise more money, implement better systems, or hire more people, it will solve things. And while each of these is important, being a successful entrepreneur is an inside job first. You have to get your mindset right and protect yourself from burnout. 

I can share applied business technologies all day, long but I believe what truly moves the needle in your business is mindset, mental and physical health technologies, and resources. You can’t go to your employees with your personal problems and deficiencies, since as the leader you have to have appropriate boundaries, generate contagious vision and momentum, and be the one inspiring your teams. 


So as an entrepreneur, the most valuable technologies and resources are those that keep you sharp, well, and inspired yourself. A few of my favorite resources are apps like GrowthDay, medication/prayer practices, a restorative morning routine, assembling a circle of friends who sharpen you, and assembling a group of incredible mentors who have already done what you’re hoping to do. 

Taking inventory of the people in your life who deplete your energy is also so important. Once you do that, you might realize it’s critical to put up a few new boundaries so you can protect your energy, your vision, your business, and your calling. Because if you’re not filled up, it’s almost impossible to pour into everyone and everything else.

Why is it important for companies to digitize their processes for growth?

Technology has literally erased barriers to entry in almost all businesses. It’s also erased barriers to access. Consumers are no longer limited to products and services in their neighborhoods; they can access them just about anywhere in the world. Consumers now shop in a digitized world, and if you don’t find a way to digitize your process, it’s likely only a matter of time before you’re not operating in the world in which people seek goods, services, expertise, and information. 

I remember the years when perfume companies felt no one would buy something online that they can’t smell. Countless other goods and services had the same initial logic that was quickly proven to be wrong. Just about everything is getting digitized, and this has only been sped up by the COVID pandemic. 

Once you digitize, you can also scale quicker; maximize workforce hiring, location, and efficiency; and of course get massive cost savings out of it. One of the downsides as things become more digitized, automated, and streamlined is a decreased sense of community. While working remotely or autonomously might be appealing for many of your employees, lack of community can also have negative impacts on mental health and fulfillment, which is something I believe needs to be a huge focus for all managers and leaders as “best practices” evolve so quickly. 

What advice would you give to an entrepreneur whose business has struggled during the pandemic and is questioning whether to continue moving forward?

This is unconventional advice, but is the single biggest reason I was able to take an idea in my living room, with close to no money, and grow it to a billion dollar business: Get still and listen to your gut. To your knowing. Your intuition. Are you supposed to keep going? If you get still and ask yourself this question, you’ll know the answer. 

See, I believe we all have an intuition, or a gut feeling, and I believe your gut is always more powerful than anyone else’s advice. I went through years and years of rejection and setbacks when launching my business, but my gut told me I was supposed to keep going. I’m a person of faith, and when I pray, I get a feeling or a knowing, and I always listen to it.

I believe we all have access to our own intuition, and I believe the single biggest mistake entrepreneurs make is not tapping into it. And I get it, when you have the weight of hitting numbers, and managing cash flow, investor expectations, and the pressures from the world, it’s easy to listen to all of that (especially when it’s SO loud), and it gets to the point where you literally can’t hear your own gut anymore. 

When you get still and ask yourself, “Are the struggles an indicator to quit or an indicator to reinvent?” “Are the struggles an opportunity to improve an area of your business you didn’t realize was broken?” In my book “Believe IT,” I go into detail about how to build your intuition, as I believe it’s your superpower. When you learn to get still, then ask yourself if you’re supposed to keep going, and then listen for the feeling, that’s your answer. 

You are a big advocate of using setbacks to propel forward into success. How would you encourage entrepreneurs to do the same?

I believe we go through the setbacks and hard times so we can become strong enough and wise enough to carry the weight of our successes when they do come. All successes come with new, next-level challenges that require us to be stronger leaders, visionaries, and momentum-generators. 

When we see our setbacks as setups for greater things to come, it can change our entire outlook and energy. It might seem counterintuitive to say “thank you” to your setbacks, but that simple mindset shift can be the differentiator between you being tempted to give up, or you believing in great possibilities ahead. 

As Jay-Z once said, “The genius thing we did was we didn’t give up.” We all face setbacks, and the most important thing is to not see setbacks, rejections, or hard times as an indication that your dream won’t happen. See them as the development chapter on your journey to great things ahead.

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