What Red Aspen has discovered as they’ve moved from startup to stand out—and how it can help you grow at any stage.
When we launched Red Aspen in 2017, my sister Genie Reese and my long-time friend Amanda Moore and I had to muster an immense amount of courage to get the company off the ground. There were months and months and months of sacrifices, investing not only our resources but ourselves and putting our whole hearts into this company we love.
Today, with 15,000 Brand Ambassadors and Affiliates at our side, 200 branded products and hundreds of thousands of customers, our need for courage hasn’t subsided. It still takes a heaping dose of bravery every day to wake up and make the sometimes difficult decisions that are necessary to lead an effective, growing and healthy organization that prioritizes the empowerment and flourishing of women.
We’ve discovered, however, that the courageous vulnerability necessary to launch a startup is always worth it when you’re building something you passionately believe in. For us, Red Aspen is our passion.
In the earliest days of Red Aspen, Amanda and I both had two small children; we were all leading busy lives; and none of us had a ton of resources to fall back on. Red Aspen was a dream we believed in, but it would be dishonest to say that building it wasn’t a challenge for us and for our families. It was during the fog of those frantically busy days when it became clear that there are two non-negotiables in startups that create success.
One, you must know your business partner. This is the best startup advice I could give anyone. A partnership should never be started for the sake of having an extra pair of hands to help, solely for financial backing or because someone has a specific skillset you need. When you choose a business partner, you need to know them on a personal level, having seen them at their highs and their lows, and you must have seen firsthand how they handle conflict. I knew I could trust Genie and Amanda to make sound judgements; that I would trust them with my family; and that all three of us had what it takes to weather whatever storms we would face.
Second, you must be 200 percent committed. You hear people say that a startup is going to command all of your time and energy—and you believe them—but you don’t fully understand until you are in it. If you have one free second, you are working on that startup because something will always need your attention. We didn’t have the money to farm out any of the work or decisions. And balance was not something that existed. Balance is not even plausible in the startup world and there will be days when you feel only half as committed as you did on Day One. If you start off 100 percent committed, you will only be 50 percent committed on your worst days. You have to be as passionate at one in the morning when you’re inputting product codes as you are working on something that energizes you at ten the following morning. The sacrifice is hard, but if you’re 200 percent passionate—go for it. Anything less than 200 percent, and it’s probably not the right idea or the right time.
Red Aspen Path to Success
There are no shortcuts to launching a startup and, in fact, there are more road blocks and obstacles than we could have even imagined. Our first and most memorable one came during our planning stages, when we had a name and a mission but no product yet. Our dream had been to launch with a nail product, but we just couldn’t get it right. We worked with a number of manufacturers and spent countless hours trying to perfect it, but we were never content with the end result. Instead, we pivoted and launched with a line of luxury faux lashes—something that no other direct selling company and very few indie companies were doing at the time—and found a niche goldmine.
In retrospect, the decision to switch to lashes was an obvious one but, in the moment, walking away from all of that time and money invested in a nail product that would never go to market was painful. We debuted Nail Dashes a year later, a product that we absolutely love and one that was exponentially better than our original prototype. And that’s how we discovered the value of failing fast. Today, if something isn’t working, we don’t dwell on the investments made. We strip the idea down to find the nugget of success and keep moving.
Remove the Veil
We didn’t begin with the intention of being in the direct selling space, but once we formed our mission and vision, it was the only channel that made sense for us. Since that day, we’ve leaned into a culture of transparency. Our distributor resources and training materials, digital branding assets and an extensive collection of videos explaining how to build a Red Aspen business are all out in the open. We don’t put anything behind a paywall because being mysterious in business feeds skepticism. I’ve had distributors tell me that the reason they signed up was because they knew what they were getting into. Secrets make me nervous, and they make younger generations suspicious.
We’re also learning how to better speak to our newest generation of distributors, which is why our Treehouse is in the process of getting a major upgrade. Soon, distributors will have access to an even easier way to learn about and share the business through quick Tik Tok-style videos and Instagram trainings. And—as always—all of it will be public.
Build a Legacy
The struggles we had to go through as we built Red Aspen from the ground up have made us who we are. They made us better leaders, stronger as an organization and more capable overall. Grit and determination are the keys to success for entrepreneurs, and Genie has been integral in casting that tenacious vision for us.
We want to be a legacy company that people grow with their families and pass down for generations. And I know that this dream, too, will come with its own set of challenges. But Genie, Amanda and I are convinced—200 percent committed—that we are profoundly responsible for the growth opportunities presented to the women who decide to join us.
Building and growing a startup and then staying to make sure it remains true to your original ideals requires a mentality that is prepared for and devoted to making the continued sacrifices necessary to empower and support the distributors who choose to walk alongside you. I’m so proud of our wins as well as the failures we’ve overcome along the way. And as we use our unique positioning in social selling to accommodate and attract the future leaders of this channel, I know that those experiences—as well as our vision founded in courage and grit—will give us the fuel necessary to inspire and ignite a renewed passion and purpose for the Red Aspen women we feel called to serve.
Jesse McKinney is the Founder and CEO of Red Aspen, a social selling beauty company. Their mission is to inspire women to stand up, stand out and stand together by uniting passion and purpose. Red Aspen combines e-commerce, social networks and social selling with playful, fun and imaginative products and marketing.