One of the biggest myths about entrepreneurship is that people who’ve been successful in corporate careers don’t have the mindset to run a startup. In reality, corporate America is a hotbed of future entrepreneurs—and many end up launching thriving businesses by tapping what they’ve learned on the job.
That’s been the case for Sonsoles Gonzalez. At age 52, she started Better Not Younger, a Miami-based brand that sells shampoo, haircare formulations, and nutritional products designed for older women, after 28 years at senior roles in corporations such as P&G and L’Oreal. She knew from her work that almost all new beauty and hair products targeted women age 25-40. As she entered midlife, she would often joke, ruefully, “What happens to women 45-plus? Do they die?”
But she saw that brands were leaving money on the table by ignoring women in midlife and beyond who were seeking products to address changes in their hair. “With very few exceptions, there was an assumption that women have habits that never change,” she says. “That might be true for toothpaste and deodorant, but not for makeup or skincare.”
She knew that many women were, in fact, on the hunt for products to address conditions like dryness and thinning—and willing to invest money in solving these challenges. “It’s the perfect storm for everything that’s happening with your head,” says her business partner and COO Augusto Moronto.
After Gonzalez retired from corporate life for six months, she got bored and, armed with the know-how she’d built up during her career, started Better Not Younger in 2018. She tapped her savings and about $600,000 she raised from friends and family. Then she raised another $1.5 million from private investors.
Almost from the start, Better Not Younger has been growing at a clip. The first year in business, the brand brought in $400,000 in revenue, with Gonzalez operating as a solopreneur the first nine months. By 2020, revenue hit $2.5 million and in 2021, the company was projecting $10-12 million in revenue from its 14 core products sold through its website, stores such as Sephora, and HSN. Along the way, the company has expanded to six employees and 15 freelancers. “We’re as lean as we can be without being stupid,” says Gonzalez.
Here’s how the tiny company grew from a solopreneur startup to a fast-growing brand.
Get your product and packaging right. The beauty industry is very competitive. To stand out, Gonzalez invested heavily in R&D for her products, as well as branding, packaging and web design. With her eye on building a major brand, she looked for experienced partners who knew what they were doing and, in one case, provided equity to a top-notch agency in exchange for work. “I knew they would probably be around for the long run,” she says.
Don’t go it alone. Gonzalez was an industry veteran but there was still a lot to learn about running a startup. She wasn’t shy about asking for help. “I reached out to a lot of people I’ve found on LinkedIn who have started a business or who have been my colleagues and moved onto something else,” says Gonzalez. “I’ve always been super impressed by how everybody responds and wants to help. I’m about to hire an advisor—someone whose profile I saw on LinkedIn.”
Find the right talent. Whether you’re a solopreneur relying on freelancers or building a tiny team of employees, every person involved with your business is important. Gonzalez has been able to tap into a deep global talent pool by working with her team virtually. “We are trying to find talent in the areas where we are going to find growth fastest,” says Gonzalez. “We’ve brought in someone for innovation, as well marketing people, designers and web developers—people who can help us drive the business.” To stay organized, she communicates with her team via Slack.
Set clear goals. Gonzalez has kept her team focused on growth by setting specific benchmarks for growth and breaking them down into smaller key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help the company hit its growth goals. “From very early on—it’s part of my P&G training—you always do KPIs,” she says. “We always said ‘You get what you measure.’” The team reviews progress toward the goals every Tuesday. It’s paying off—in sales growth and repeat business. “We’re happy with the repurchase levels,” she says.
Keep your finger on the pulse. To stay close to her customers, Gonzalez reads all of the reviews customers post about her products. “I think it’s important to keep on top of what they are saying,” she says.
Protect yourself from burnout. Growing a startup into a sustainable brand isn’t a sprint—it’s more like an ultra-marathon. Gonzalez has had to train herself to break away from the 24/7 demands of running her business to recharge. “I lived my whole life running to the shower, putting makeup and heels on, starting the day in my office with coffee,” she says, reflecting on her corporate life. “Now, I don’t have an alarm. I try to go to Pilates every day. I also try to wrap up by 6:30 p.m.” That way she wakes up refreshed and ready to innovate the next day. She’s in it for the long haul.