When it Feels Impossible

I haven't written in a while because the last weeks disappeared into building awareness (check us out on the cover of Silicon Valley Mag!), setting up a new channel on Anchor.fm, trying to wrap up a book—it comes out in September with Penguin and it's called...wait for it...Give Work 😃—and, well, freaking out.

Read on if you want to learn about social entrepreneur hardship (or just want some tips to build your consumer business).

Finally, a breakthrough

Things finally got good with Samasource, my first business. We just completed an impact audit, something I recommend all nonprofits undertake, and received 8 of 9 stars (from tough-cookie development economists). And last year we became profitable from our earned revenue (a milestone in the social enterprise world, because it means you no longer depend on donations).

It would have been great to just enjoy this, and focus on the next chapter of growth for Sama. But I'm sick.

The sickness of starting stuff

Entrepreneurs often have this sickness, a crazy need to start a new venture when they see a problem that needs fixing.

That's why I started LXMI, and now just when one business is finally really solid I have another one to try to grow.

Selling in retail channels like Sephora is SUPER FREAKING HARD. We are in 300 stores in the US, and are trying to get more brand awareness because we don't have the cash for splashy marketing campaigns. No one knows about us in the beauty world. My base is among social entrepreneurs and philanthropists.

We tried a new tactic, getting more eyeballs with campaigns like #LICKME. But the hashtag was banned on Instagram (oh the irony! A do-gooder brand gets blocked for trying to push the envelope).

Now we're going to influencers. We hired a cool firm called Tribe that uses software to curate influencers, and they're helping us find the folks who are most likely to resonate with LXMI's message.

Organic growth

Slowly but surely, we're growing. But it's not easy. Every day I check our Shopify sales and fret about growth. Every week I comb through our Sephora numbers looking for patterns.

One thing I've noticed: just as in a B2B business, retail sales grow via relationships. Sales reps on the floor care more when they feel invested in the people behind a brand. To wit: the stores I've personally visited sell more LXMI - and those I've hosted an event in outsell the others 10:1. But there's only one of me. So the real win is building up an education team that can carry our message out there in stores.

Another thing we learned: GIVE PEOPLE FREE STUFF and it just might reduce your CPA. We launched a free sampling program and got 800 orders in 24 hours, overwhelming our tiny team. But now we have people loving on us all over Instagram, and much more brand awareness.

So I guess the lesson is this: doing anything worthwhile feels impossible. And if it doesn't, maybe you picked the wrong thing.

I write regularly on Leila's List about social impact, technology, and entrepreneurship.