It seems everywhere you look (especially if you’re looking on TV), everyone’s got a fledgling business, plans for a project of some kind. Everyone’s an entrepreneur in search of that one great idea. Where the most glamorous profession in America was once an actor or singer, now it’s CEO of a handbag line, or cosmetic line, or international lifestyle brand.
Nowhere is this aspirational entrepreneurism on bolder display than in the world of reality TV. The formula is clear – establish a threshold of visibility or fame (or social media following), settle on the perfect product to produce, and shill it on your show.
These days, Bravo is a hive of busy housewives with a side hustle about to launch any day now. The low chances of success don’t seem to deter or even occur to any of them, mostly because of the otherworldly fortune of Bethenny Frankel, the scrappy one who didn’t even have a husband or a family but who grabbed the brass ring they’re all reaching for now when she sold her Skinnygirl cocktail line to Jim Beam for a reported $120 million.
Now she’s got more than 100 products bearing her sassy logo and they’re all in a mad scramble to be the next Bethenny. And how hard could it be? Frankel has famously said she had nothing when she was first cast on the show. Now she’s got not only a house in the Hamptons but a much-envied safe for her jewelry.
So sparks flew earlier this season when castmate Sonja Morgan unveiled a “cheater brand,” a Prosecco called Tipsy Girl. It hit the fan and it was fabulous. We got to see Frankel reduce Morgan to tears with her venomous smart mouth. But beneath the made-for-TV drama, there were real business gems to be found.
• It’s not the idea; it’s the execution. It’s so hard to truly accept this, but the greatest idea in the world is worth nothing. It’s the work that happens after the idea – pitching to investors, making decisions about hiring, operating when your runway vanishes – that builds a company. And that work is grueling, dispiriting at times, and plain old hard. “I really do work like a dog,” Frankel explained to Bravo viewers. That’s reality.
• Overnight successes rarely are. “I turned a brand around in, like, a year on television and nobody even knew that I was doing it,” Frankel revealed later. It looked easy for her, like it fell in her lap. Just like the recent sale of Jet.com to Walmart for $3.3 billion. But who knew Jet.com has been around for two years?
• Investors invest in teams, not a founder. No one does it alone. While Frankel’s core team is made up of only six full-time employees, she knew when to pull in heavy-hitting partners along the way, including David Kanbar, a former executive at Skyy, the vodka company, when Kanbar and Frankel went into business together to sell the original Skinnygirl product, the premixed margarita. Know when you need help, even if it means giving away equity and sharing the spotlight. You don’t know it all. Even Frankel knows this.
• Be yourself. Authenticity is key. Don’t just glom on to something that looks like it might make money. Do something you truly love because you’re going to spend a lot of time doing it and, in the end, it’ll be apparent if you’re faking it. “Don’t underestimate your customer,” Frankel says. “They’re smarter than you think.”