Bootstrapped to Billions: The IT Cosmetics Story

Jenna Kutcher 

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May 4, 2020


IT Cosmetics CEO Jamie Kern Lima

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If you want to talk about putting in the work to make your dreams happen, you have to talk to my friend, Jamie Kern Lima. You might be wearing one of her products from IT Cosmetics right now… But before the billion dollar brand was even a thing (YES, Billion), she was a TV news anchor struggling with sensitive skin who could never find a product that worked for her.

She created a cosmetics brand that would go on to be more than just products, but an inspired community of millions of women who share their stories of overcoming their struggles with confidence and self-worth.

Jamie is a powerhouse business woman, an inspiring speaker, and warm spirit who is on the Goal Digger Podcast to talk all about how she built her brand from the ground up. I can’t wait for you to hear the scrappy moves she pulled in her early days, all the way to the biggest lesson she learned when her vision was challenged. Ready for my friend, Jamie Kern Lima? Let’s go.

Starting with a Problem

Jamie remembers always having an entrepreneurial spirit. As a kid, she used to save her Halloween candy and make lists of the items, thinking she might be able to re-sell it later. It reminded me of my childhood attempts at profits with a lemonade stand… On a rural dirt road in Minnesota.

But before she found her true entrepreneur path, Jamie was a waitress at Denny’s (a job that she was actually fired from!) and even sliced deli cheese through college. Through her college coursework, she fell in love with journalism and hearing other people’s stories.

Her early career was as a TV news anchor and she thought that’s what she’d do forever. That is, until she faced a big problem in her personal life and she couldn’t find a solution. Jamie felt this was her entrepreneurial call to answer.

Jamie deals with rosacea and she became obsessed with finding products that would work with her skin condition. She spent her paycheck demoing products and trying to find the fix… But it didn’t exist. So she created one. And that’s how IT Cosmetics was born.

The Product Development Phase

On her honeymoon flight with her husband, they put together a business plan for IT Cosmetics. Jamie was ready to invest in product development and R&D. She felt that once she had a product that worked that retailers wouldn’t be able to resist it!

She poured all her money into developing the first product line and partnered with an old coworker from her news station to design packaging. With all the confidence in the world in what she had developed, she approached retailers to pitch her new industry-changing products. And they turned her down.

“It started getting really real, really fast,” she explained. She realized she couldn’t afford to advertise and no one knew her products existed since retailers weren’t carrying them. So Jamie and her husband set their sights on DIY website design.

The First Three Years

Armed with the HTML for Dummies book, Jamie’s husband built the first version of the IT Cosmetics website. She was so excited for the launch… But day one passed without a single order. And then day two. No orders. Jamie was beginning to think the website was broken until their first sale came in. Turns out, her husband had placed the order to prove that his HTML skills weren’t the issue!

It was a slow boil, with one or two sales per day. It took three years for the business to get to a point where she and her husband could even pay themselves.

Jamie decided to get creative with their PR and marketing strategy. They couldn’t afford to hire someone to handle it, so instead she “invented” a person named Marie (her middle name) and began emailing beauty editors and retailers as the head of PR for IT Cosmetics. Jamie laughed at her early scrappy moves saying, “You what you gotta do, and you figure out how you’re going to stay alive.”

Something Different in Beauty

The next step Jamie made for IT Cosmetics was totally unheard of at the time. These were the days before influencers, and all we saw were airbrushed models in ads and we couldn’t really be sure if they were even wearing the products they were advertising.

Jamie wanted to do something different. She wanted to showcase real, unretouched women. She wanted to show her own skin condition and how the product worked for her. Jamie wants women of all ages, sizes, backgrounds, and races to represent her brand. But at the time, she was shot down. No one thought these novel ideas would work.

“Because I was doing something different and positioning the product differently, it took a long time for anybody to say yes to us.”

Getting on QVC

One of the biggest lessons of her life came to Jamie when she launched IT Cosmetics on QVC. She was faced with a decision — do what the experts say or stick to her gut when everything was on the line.

They had been hearing no from everybody about their no airbrushing, real women ideas. Jamie approached the buyer for QVC at a large beauty trade show, finally able to speak to her in person after many rejections over the years. She wasn’t actually allowed to leave her booth at the show, but she knew it was her moment to connect and she couldn’t miss it.

Being on QVC was her dream, and she knew it was the perfect platform to showcase what her cosmetics could do. The conversation was great and Jamie walked away with a business card. Later in the trade show, a QVC show host approached Jamie and said she loved the IT Cosmetics concealer and she told the QVC buyer that IT Cosmetics needed to be on the network.

Long story short, Jamie finally got her yes from QVC. But it became the scariest moment in her entrepreneurial career.

Her Biggest Lesson

Jamie was given one shot. She had 10 minutes to sell 6000 units of her product on the air. That was the deal QVC struck and Jamie got nervous.

“We took out a loan to create 6000 units of concealer,” Jamie shared. It was directly against her advice to other business owners to never take a purchase order you can’t afford to lose. Anything Jamie didn’t sell in her segment, she had to take back.

The QVC consultants recommended Jamie follow their formula for selling beauty products on TV — A few models in their early 20s with perfect skin. But that wasn’t true to what IT Cosmetics is all about. She argued her case, but it ultimately came down to one decision. Would she follow the advice that worked for other beauty brands, or would she stick to the heart of why she created the company in the first place?

Jamie held her ground. She went live with models that represented IT Cosmetics — real women of all kinds. She showed her own rosacea and demonstrated why she created the products. As the 9-minute mark approached Jamie remembers hearing the host announce, “The deep shade is sold out. The medium shade is sold out.” At the 10 minute mark, all of the product was sold out.

Instant tears.

More from this Episode

Jamie’s story continues and I hope you’ll press play to hear how IT Cosmetics went from their first 6000 units on QVC to the largest beauty brand in the history of the network, and onto their billion dollar brand status. While the numbers are huge and the brand is massive, Jamie’s entrepreneurial journey is rich with advice for standing your ground, getting creative when the time calls for it, and building the exact brand and community you’ve always dreamed about.

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Before you get any further... Hi! I'm Jenna Kutcher!

A small town Minnesota photographer, podcaster, educator and puppy rescuer, my happiest days are spent behind my computer screen sharing my secrets with the world. I'm glad you're here.

I’m an expert at online marketing, a nerd when it comes to the numbers, and my obsession is teaching others how to make a living doing what they love (without it taking over their life). 

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