“When you google my story, you see Denny’s waitress built billion-dollar empire, you see the highlight reel,” says Jamie Kern Lima, the founder IT Cosmetics.
Those parts are true: In college Kern Lima worked at Denny’s, and in 2008, she and her husband both quit their jobs (Kern Lima was a local news anchor at the time) and started a makeup company. Kern Lima wanted a foundation that would cover her rosacea (a common skin condition that causes redness on the face), so she created one.
The makeup line expanded from there, and eight years later, L’Oreal bought IT Cosmetics for $1.2 billion in cash. Kern Lima pocketed roughly $410 million from the deal, according to Forbes, and for about three years she stayed on as CEO of IT Cosmetics, which made her the first female CEO in L’Oreal’s history.
But the rags to riches story is not the whole story. The truth is that Kern Lima experienced years of rejection, setbacks and was down to her last $1,000 at one point before her “fairytale” success. To move forward, Kern Lima learned she had to take it all in stride.
Kern Lima remembers one male investor told her that he didn’t believe women would buy makeup from someone who looked like her, “with her body and weight.”
“That one hurt,” says Kern Lima. “I went to the car and cried.”
QVC declined to sell IT Cosmetics for three years and Sephora said no for six years. Today both sell the brand.
“Learning how to not take rejection personal, it’s so critical,” Kern Lima says.
Every time she received a no, Kern Lima would respond to the merchant as if it was going to be a yes one day. “I would literally follow up with an email thanking them and saying I can’t wait for the day that we’re in your stores.” Then she would follow up any time IT got press or had a new product launch.
“Often experts who mean well haven’t actually created or built anything themselves. And, though they may believe they are visionaries, they often aren’t able to imagine the success of something they haven’t seen before,” Kern Lima says in her new memoir, “Believe It: How to Go from Underestimated to Unstoppable.”
Kern Lima says if she had known that earlier as a young entrepreneur, she would have saved herself many sleepless nights.
“To venture into unmapped territory, sometimes we have to take the experts off the pedestal we’re created in our minds for them, and put our intuition onto one,” she writes.
The key to success, says Kern Lima, is being still and listening to that “small, clear voice inside of us telling us what to do.”
Though it is human nature to feel hurt or resentful towards someone who rejects your idea or product, holding bitterness will never work, she says.
“If I’d held grudges against against anyone who one rejected me, I’d never have turned these Nos into glorious YESes,” she writes in “Believe It.”