Kendra Scott Started a Billion-Dollar Business with $500 — Here’s Her Best Advice for Working Moms

Entrepreneurship has never been considered a career path for the faint of heart.

Throw motherhood, scarce resources and a recent national tragedy into the mix, and some might call it a recipe for cardiac arrest.

But Kendra Scott — who started her billion-dollar jewelry line with $500, just three months after having her first child and only two months after the September 11 terror attacks — made good with an unlikely formula for business building.

“I think all of it — entrepreneurship — is very hard,” Scott said. “In the early stages, when I was just starting out and had a newborn baby, I had to [work out of] an extra bedroom of my house. I had to be very scrappy and figure out how to make this work for my children. Failure was not an option.”

Scott, a mother of three boys, was one of four fashion industry mavens honored at the National Mother’s Day Committee’s 39th Annual Outstanding Mother Awards in New York on Monday. Jane Hertzmark Hudis, group president at the Estée Lauder Companies; Kate Oldham, SVP, GMM of beauty, lingerie and swim at Saks Fifth Avenue; and Judy Schmeling, president of Cornerstone Brands and COO of HSN Inc., were also celebrated at the event, which was hosted by Joanna Coles, chief content officer of Hearst Magazines.

Past honorees include Coles, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Jessica Parker, Vera Wang and Mindy Grossman.

FN caught up with Scott at the ceremony to discuss how she creates a mom-friendly environment at her company and her best tips for balancing motherhood and entrepreneurship.

On how mothers who want to become entrepreneurs can get started:

“First, whatever it is that you’re going to do, it needs to be something that you’re passionate about, because then you really won’t be working — and those long, sleepless nights will be so much more worthwhile. I love fashion and jewelry design, so for me, I never feel like I’m working, which helps. But you have to find white space in the market — so whatever it is that you’re doing, look for opportunity.”

On why a unique business model is imperative:

“Don’t be afraid to go against the grain, because if you’re doing what everybody else is doing, then you’ve already failed. You’ve got to do it different, and you’ve got to put your own unique fingerprint on it, because that’s what’s going to get you noticed. The most important thing is to surround yourself with great people. Know what you’re good at and also know what you’re not good at, and bring people around you that are great at the things that you struggle with, and build a winning team.”

On how motherhood helped her as a businesswoman:

“I think [motherhood] has helped me tremendously [as an entrepreneur], because once you get this gift of becoming a mom, everything else around you comes into perspective [and you realize] what’s important. I’ve been able to create a company that celebrates motherhood and celebrates women and shows that you can do it all — you can have an awesome career and you can be an awesome mom. Running a company from that perspective — from the shoes of a mom — has really made our company special and unique.”

On creating mom-friendly work policies at her company:

“We offer an amazing extended maternity leave [as well as] paternity leave for fathers. We have a wellness room so that [mothers] can nurse or pump. We have a refrigerator [in there] dedicated to mothers’ milk. We’ve got all of the Kendra Scott babies on the wall. We’ve got a little child’s room where you can bring your kids after school or camp in the summer. We have books, toys, video games and coloring books, and a place for them to study. We want our moms to know that family is first at Kendra Scott. We don’t want you to ever miss a recital or a doctor’s appointment. I trust and respect my employees that they’re going to do what they need to do to get their job done, but they need to be present for their families. When you do that, you have happy, joyful people that are thrilled to work for the company.”

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