By Elana Lyn Gross
Kendra Scott started her eponymous jewelry company in her spare bedroom with $500 from her bank account in 2002. She was on leave from work because she was pregnant with her first son and her doctors put her on bed rest. Scott had always enjoyed making jewelry for friends as a passion project and began designing a collection with her newfound time. Although she had previously started a business that shut down, she was resilient and determined to turn her love of jewelry into a business with a philanthropic mission. At first, she went door-to-door selling pieces from her first collection to local Austin boutiques with her young son by her side.
Now Kendra Scott’s jewelry, home decor and beauty products are sold at fashion retailers including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, hundreds of boutiques and at more than 75 Kendra Scott stores including one in Selfridges in London. The company has outgrown the spare bedroom and has an Austin-based office with a fitness center, cafe and nail salon. In 2016 the Boston-based private equity investment firm bought a minority stake in Kendra Scott which valued the company at $1 billion, according to Forbes reporting. Kendra Scott is accomplishing their philanthropic mission with the Kendra Cares program, which brings their signature Color Bar to pediatric hospitals. In 2017, the company hosted more than 10,000 Kendra Gives Back events across all of their stores, raising money for local causes and donated more than 75,000 pieces of jewelry. We spoke about how she turned her passion project into a billion-dollar business.
Elana Lyn Gross: What inspired you to start Kendra Scott Design? What was your career path?
Kendra Scott: I have always loved fashion, and I was lucky enough to have a family that supported my entrepreneurial spirit from an early age. When I opened my very first business, the Hat Box, at age 19, my family stood behind me and let me follow my dream — even though it didn’t turn out quite as I’d hoped. I ultimately had to close the doors to that business, but the entrepreneur in me was nowhere close to finished. It wasn’t until 2002 when I was pregnant with my first son that I realized I wanted to turn my love of jewelry into a business. And when I saw an opportunity in the industry to create beautiful gemstone designs at an attainable price, I seized it.
Gross: What has been the biggest challenge and, on the flip side, the biggest reward of starting Kendra Scott?
Scott: The biggest challenge I faced was trying to launch my jewelry company with no capital behind me. Growing a business from nothing was a tremendous struggle from the start, but I put my heart – and every dime I had – into the company. Even if it meant forgoing my salary to pay everyone else before myself, failure was never an option. I believe that leap of faith in our earliest days is what has given my company such a strong foundation today.
Gross: What is a workday as Kendra like? Please walk me through a day!
Scott: Where do I start? Every day is so different from the next. One minute I could be speaking at a board meeting, and the next I am sitting with my design team to create our next collection or flying across the country to visit our newest store. The only constants are my favorite green smoothie for breakfast (we call it Kendra’s Green Jade at our office) and sitting down at the end of the day to have dinner with my family.
Scott: My own core values have become the foundation of my company. Our pillars of Family, Fashion and Philanthropy have shaped my business, our culture and the decisions we make every day. Not only do we treat each other like family; we also live out our philanthropy pillar through our dedication to giving back. I am honored to say that last year alone we gave back over $4 million to local and national causes, and this year we have set a giveback goal of $5 million.
Gross: You’ve said that your first business, Hat Box, was the greatest gift that has happened to you. What did you learn from the experience?
Scott: While my first business wasn’t the booming success I’d dreamed, that experience taught me the importance of building a company that gives back. It was my stepfather Rob that first inspired me to open the Hat Box. During his battle with brain cancer, I would spend my days visiting with dozens of women undergoing cancer treatment. So, at age 19 I decided to design a line of comfortable, fashionable hats for women undergoing chemotherapy and was determined to donate the proceeds to cancer research. While that business may have failed, I kept the valuable lesson I had learned from my stepfather Rob: We all have the power to leave this world better than we found it. Giving back truly is the greatest form of success.
Gross: You wanted to create a workplace that supports women — and your team is about 98% women. What are some of the unique ways that your company culture supports and encourages women and families?
Scott: I am proud to uphold a culture that supports a healthy work-life balance for the women – and men – in our office. Everything from our robust benefits package, which includes 100% paid parental leave and matched 401K, to unique perks like our in-house nail bar, fitness center, smoothie bar and paid philanthropy days, cultivate a friendly and inspiring work atmosphere. Down to the design of each of our office spaces, I want to make sure we are constantly fostering a culture that promotes transparency, collaboration and workplace pride.
Gross: What are three characteristics you look for when you’re hiring a new team member?
Scott: It comes back to our core pillars: Family, Fashion, and Philanthropy. We look for people who will be a good cultural fit for our Kendra Scott family, have a genuine passion for what they do every day and have a heart for giving back. If they believe in the same core values as we do, I know they will thrive as a part of our team.
Gross: What is the most important skill for doing your job, and how did you develop them?
Scott: Multitasking. Being both a mom and CEO is a tough job. There are some days where I feel like I am balancing the two flawlessly, and then there are days I don’t know how I can possibly do both. But all of the days spent running from meetings to the soccer field are worth it, because I get to be a mom that is following her dreams. It was important for me to build a company culture that allowed my employees to do the same.
Gross: What’s the biggest lesson you learned at work and how did you learn it?
Scott: One lesson I have learned through this journey is the importance of hiring the right people. People who not only have great talent but also share the same passion and vision for your company. In the beginning of my business, I was hiring strictly based on resumes, even though sometimes I had a concern they might not be the best fit for our culture. I’ve learned that a resume is only part of what makes someone a great fit for your team. The single most important thing is to look for someone who believes in your same core values.
Gross: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Scott: Never take “no” for an answer. I was no stranger to doors shutting in my face during the early days of my business. And I could have easily let that discourage me – too many aspiring entrepreneurs do. But instead, I learned that whenever I heard the word “no,” I would turn on the charm and find a way to engage in a conversation with the person telling me “no.” I would think to myself, “At least we’re still talking!”
Gross: What is your business advice for other young professional women?
Scott: Dream big and be disruptive. If you are doing the same thing as everyone else, you’ve already failed. My advice is to take a look at your talents and what makes you unique and use those differentiators to build a business that stands apart from the rest. I promise you will find success when you dare to think differently.