In 2015, I embarked on a journey that significantly transformed my life. I was ready to break free from the corporate world of beauty and fashion and set sail into the uncharted waters of entrepreneurship. As a young professional, I had worked with big names like Aveda, L'Occitane, and Patagonia, learning and absorbing everything I could from my experiences. I noticed a significant gap in the beauty and wellness market and wanted to fill it with something uniquely my own.
At the time, the idea of "natural" and "prestige" seemed almost incompatible, but I knew that there was potential for a brand that would challenge that notion.
This passion led to the creation of Sigil, a brand that aligned with my values, strengths, and vision for a more inclusive and diverse world. Sigil married the beauty of natural materials with high-quality, aspirational, and effective fragrance, skin, and body formulas. At the time, the idea of "natural" and "prestige" seemed almost incompatible, but I knew that there was potential for a brand that would challenge that notion.
Armed with the knowledge and perspective gained from my years in the industry, I began to piece together an emerging picture of where Sigil would fit in the market. I envisioned its target audience, how it would stand out, and what growth might look like over a 10+ year span. And so, Sigil came into being – a natural fine fragrance and beauty brand that honored the rich traditions of perfumery through a contemporary, socially- and environmentally-conscious lens.
The early days of Sigil were filled with excitement, anticipation, and no small amount of naïveté. I was 28 at the time, young enough to be somewhat blind to the challenges of growth but driven by a clear vision. This was the golden age of social media, and I believed that with the right mix of organic marketing, earned media, and paid strategies, we could compete and grow without a massive budget.
Our journey began with bootstrapping the company, fueled by a belief in the power of our products and a dedicated community. We reached a multi-million-dollar annual run rate without any outside investment. Our success was a testament to the quality of our products, our precise positioning, our loyal following, and a few well-timed celebrity endorsements.
Running a company without deep-pocketed investors was an emotional rollercoaster. The highs were exhilarating, the lows were terrifying, and every twist and turn was a lesson in resilience and grit. There's something uniquely educational about being at the helm of a startup with full ownership and responsibility for every decision, every win, and every setback. It's a privilege that few get to experience, and one that I am grateful for.
In the early days of COVID-19, our company experienced a period of rapid growth, only to be blindsided by the pandemic's impact on our supply chain. Like so many others, we found ourselves facing a prolonged period of zero inventory, struggling to keep our heads above water as the world around us seemed to come to a standstill.
The challenges brought on by the pandemic were a stark reminder of the vulnerability of small businesses, even those that had been thriving. We didn't have millions in investment funds to fall back on, making the prospect of recovering from sustained revenue loss all the more daunting. To make matters worse, we faced mounting expenses as we attempted to meet the demand of previous years with doubled or even tripled purchase orders and an aggressive product development spend. It was a difficult situation, and we were forced to make some hard decisions.
As we grappled with the supply chain issues and the financial strain they brought, I couldn't help but reflect on the journey that had brought us to this point. At the heart of Sigil's success was our commitment to our North Star – a guiding principle that informed every decision we made, from the people we hired to the external partners we collaborated with, and even the way we talked about our brand, our community, and our products. This dedication to our core values was what made Sigil truly special, and it was what allowed us to forge deep connections with our customers.
Despite the hardships we faced, there were moments of triumph and inspiration that reminded me of why I had started Sigil in the first place. I witnessed the power of community as our customers rallied around our brand, supporting us through thick and thin. I saw the beauty of creativity as we brought new products to life, each one embodying the essence of Sigil – a celebration of the natural world, of craftsmanship, and of self-expression.
As Sigil continued to navigate the turbulent waters of the pandemic, we were reminded of the importance of adaptability and resilience in business. Though our supply chain was severely disrupted, we sought creative solutions to keep our operations afloat. We explored alternative suppliers, renegotiated contracts, and even considered producing our own packaging parts. The experience taught me that persistence and resourcefulness could often lead to the discovery of new opportunities, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges.
It was during this time that I also came to appreciate the significance of having a strong support network. From our dedicated team members to our loyal customers, it was their unwavering belief in Sigil's mission that kept us going. We also forged new connections with fellow entrepreneurs and industry professionals, learning from their experiences and sharing our own insights. This spirit of collaboration and mutual support was invaluable, and it played a crucial role in shaping the trajectory of our business.
Despite our best efforts, however, the realities of our situation eventually became too much to bear. We made the decision to wind down Sigil in 2022. It was an incredibly painful process, but it was also an opportunity for growth and reflection. I realized that success wasn't defined solely by the longevity of a business or the size of its profits – it was about the impact we made, the people we touched, and the lessons we learned along the way.
MY NEW PATH
As I closed the chapter on Sigil, I took with me a wealth of knowledge and experience that I knew would serve me well in my future endeavors. It was time to embrace a new path, drawing on my journey as a founder to help others navigate the complex world of entrepreneurship.
Embracing this new path, I transitioned from being a founder to a consultant, working with startups on brand positioning and marketing. The insights and experiences I gained while building and running Sigil were invaluable, and I was eager to share them with other entrepreneurs, helping them build their own successful businesses.
The importance of developing a tight positioning for a brand in today's saturated market cannot be overstated. With the rise of social media, new marketing tools, and resources, it's become easier than ever for people to start their own businesses with limited resources and budgets. But this has also led to increased competition and a dilution of customer attention. It's no longer enough to be simply "indie" or "cool." A brand needs to have a crystal-clear differentiation and positioning, with a strong identity, defined brand attributes, and a consistent, authentic voice.
The importance of developing a tight positioning for a brand in today's saturated market cannot be overstated.
In my freelance work, I use a layered approach to help brands discover and refine their unique positioning. Drawing on my experience with Sigil, I guide them through a process that involves identifying their core values, understanding their target audience, conducting market analyses, and performing SWOT analyses. This holistic approach helps brands develop a strong foundation from which they can build a successful, sustainable business.
As I work with clients, I'm reminded of the importance of staying true to a brand's values and vision, even in the face of adversity. This was a key lesson I learned from my time at Sigil, where our unwavering commitment to our North Star helped us build a strong and loyal community that supported us through both the highs and lows. By creating a shared universe of play and experimentation, we were able to foster genuine connections with our customers, who became hopelessly devoted to our brand.
This sense of community-building extends beyond the products themselves; it should permeate every aspect of a brand's marketing strategy. Whether it's through a blog, social media, newsletters, or real-life experiences, integrating the perspectives and lived identities of your community members can create a living, breathing universe that resonates deeply with your audience.
As I reflect on the journey of Sigil and the lessons learned, I'm grateful for the opportunity to apply these insights to my work with other startups. My experiences as a founder who led and bootstrapped growth across all functions of a consumer goods business have proven invaluable in thinking both strategically and tactically. Being able to offer a holistic view for growth strategies and diagnose persistent day-to-day problems faced by small to medium-sized startups has become my new North Star.
The story of Sigil may have come to an end, but the lessons learned and the experiences gained will continue to shape my journey as a consultant, helping others build successful businesses in the beauty, lifestyle, and wellness industries. As you look toward launch, growth, or even exit, remember that the key to success lies in finding your unique positioning, building strategies for sustainable growth, and disrupting the industry for good. If you're ready to embark on this journey, don't hesitate to reach out for a conversation.
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