Name: Sara Alter
Job Title and Description: Founder & Chief Polish Officer at Pretty Please Nail Polish
College Name/Major: University of Delaware/Apparel Design
Twitter Handle: @prettypleasegal
Instagram Handle: @prettypleasegal
Sara Alter: I am the founder and Chief Polish Officer of Pretty Please Nail Polish. With Pretty Please, you pick a nail polish shade you love and name it yourself (yes, YOU name it!). As the head of a small business, my day involves doing many jobs, all at once. In a given day I take on the role of a CEO, an accountant, a customer service rep, a business development strategist and everything in between.
There is no such thing as a typical day. Depending on the time of year (holidays, wedding season, etc.) some days have more focus on outreach (i.e. social media, public relations and marketing) where other days are more focused on behind the scenes work (i.e., picking polish colors, ordering inventory and website maintenance).
What is the best part of your job?
SA: Being able to put all of my time and effort into a company that I love. When you have a vision and you make it come to life, it doesn’t feel like work. Also, making my own hours (although they are long hours!) is great!
What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?
SA: After graduation I got an entry-level marketing and public relations job in Maryland, where I grew up. At the time, I wanted to use my education and interest in fashion to open up a clothing boutique, but I also knew I needed to learn how to promote a brand first. I started by asking family and friends whom they knew in the PR industry. If you can get an introduction, take it!
My parents suggested that I meet with a woman who ran the PR department of a bigger advertising and marketing agency, just to get some advice about the industry and next steps. I reached out to set up a meeting and by the end of our breakfast she agreed to hire me as an entry-level PR assistant. It was a foot in the door and I took it!
What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?
SA: If I had to choose one thing (I can’t choose “everything,” right?), I would say I wish I had thought more about the potential for competitor growth in the nail polish industry. When I started Pretty Please, Essie and OPI were the two big names in nail polish. Fast forward 10 months and everyone from pop stars to clothing brands started carrying their own nail polish lines. Even if you are the only business in a particular space today, you can never assume it will stay that way. Competition can turn up overnight and you want to be prepared with a plan so that your brand can stay relevant amidst a growing and changing industry.
Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?
SA: My mom. I grew up watching a strong, independent woman, and that made all the difference. She earned two masters degrees, one while working full-time and raising a young child. She worked hard to fulfill her professional goals, showing me by example that anything is possible. When I came up with the idea for Pretty Please, she was the first person to tell me to follow my dream and has supported me in every way since day one. A strong role model, whoever that may be, is a powerful asset. I wouldn’t be the same person without her.
What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?
SA: I love the quote by Robert Frost, “The best way out is always through.” When challenges arise, your first instinct might be to put it off, place blame or avoid the situation. I say don’t delay the inevitable. You have to grab the polish by the wand, take responsibility and push through. If you’re lucky, you’ll walk away with a great story, an invaluable lesson and the confidence that you can handle anything.
What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?
SA: Hands down my biggest start-up mistake was signing on to work with inexperienced web developers. Through a friend, I found a couple who were starting to work on websites as a side business. They were enthusiastic, believed in my brand and most important, they were cheap. I thought I had hit a home run.
As we continued to work together, I realized that they were in way over their heads. Months behind schedule, thousands of dollars down the drain and with little to nothing to show for it, I had to find someone new to come in and basically start from scratch. From this experience I had two big takeaways:
First, prioritize what is most important to your brand and put your money there. As an online retailer my website is crucial to the well-being and success of my company. I should have allocated my money here but in trying to be savvy, I made the mistake of skimping where I shouldn’t have, and my business suffered.
Second, referrals are helpful when making a hire, but a positive reference shouldn’t be the only factor. Interview more than one person for a position to get different perspectives and to see what each person can bring to the table. You can even learn more about what you need from an interviewee. I was impulsive and excited to get my idea in motion when I should have taken the time to meet with more people and get a better understanding of the scope of work and the commitment (timeline and otherwise) that my web developers would bring to the table.
What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?
SA: After two and a half years of running the business out of my New York City apartment, Pretty Please was growing to the point where I needed to take the next step and start working with a fulfillment center. Looking around my empty office after all the inventory had been picked up was such a surreal moment. I was nervous to lose the control, sad to see the first chapter of the business come to a close, but also thrilled to have a great team behind me and excited for all that was yet to come. It was a milestone. A surreal milestone.
What do you look for when considering hiring someone?
SA: I look for smart, detail oriented, inquisitive problem solvers. I want to work with people who speak up, make suggestions and want to add real value. I find that people who ask thoughtful questions are usually the most engaged, excited and interested in the brand (not just a job), and that goes a long way with me.
What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?
SA: If you want to be an entrepreneur, surround yourself with other entrepreneurs. They have been in the trenches, and only there can you fully learn and understand what it takes to run your own business.
Having an awesome idea and a profitable business are two very different things, and any entrepreneur knows that. Your family and friends will be there to cheer you on, but building a network of like-minded, knowledgeable and experienced small business owners will be priceless.