Samantha Shepard’s a Midwestern girl who loves to shop and who describes herself as always having been a beauty junkie. Growing up in Missouri, that meant drooling over the Clinique counter at the local department store. When she and her husband moved to NYC, she got a taste of Sephora and was hooked.
Samantha and her husband were both moving up the corporate ladder when they started having kids, and a promotion took them to Nashville not long after that. When she got laid off earlier this year, though, it was time for Samantha to take stock and reevaluate what she wanted out of her career.
Desiring a more flexible schedule so that she could spend more time with her family, Samantha hesitated to jump right back into the corporate world. So, instead, she launched an online storefront, Atypical Beauty, born out of a natural passion and a void she and her family saw in the marketplace.
We met up with her to chat about her move crossing over into entrepreneurship.
Where did the idea for Atypical Beauty come from?
After I had kids a few years ago, I discovered that I have an autoimmune disorder called Sjogren’s Syndrome. My doctors recommended that I stop using any products that have chemicals or fragrance on my skin. Also, my kiddos have eczema, so I’ve had to educate myself on skin care products and make sure the ones we use won’t aggravate their tender skin.
With all of the skin issues in our household, I’m constantly on the hunt for products that are safe for us. I have had to really research and get familiar with the labels. It seemed absurd to me that I had to learn all about chemical by-products just to know if I could use this lip balm or that body lotion. Surely I wasn’t the only person out there who wanted a place to buy a variety of safe products. So I opened one—Atypical Beauty! The work has been really fun: It’s like shopping and being a detective at the same time.
Have you always wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Yes—you could say I have entrepreneurship in my blood. One of my grandmothers opened a café to feed the men working at nearby ranches (she employed most of her six sons’ wives) and my other grandmother is a registered parliamentarian—she still works at age 84! My father has owned his own cabinet-making business as long as I can remember. Having those role models in my life has always inspired me to go out on my own. I hope I can make them proud!
You were in the corporate world for 10 years—what did you learn there that’s helped your business?
I learned a great deal about networking and marketing in my corporate experience, both of which are vital parts of growing a business. My communication skills improved dramatically over the years I spent as a corporate trainer.
Most importantly, I learned that I can’t work for someone else and feel passionate about it. Now that I’m on my own, and everything I put into my workday will directly impact my business, my inspiration is at a whole new level. It’s a very different type of motivation to know that your successes, and even your failures, will always be the result of your decisions and actions, not someone else’s.
Atypical Beauty just launched. Do you have any fears moving forward?
Oh, tons! Mostly I fear that people won’t see me, Samantha, in the website—that it will just appear as a somewhat anonymous storefront. I hope to convey my personality and my story and my commitment in all aspects of the business so that my customers come away with a real sense of what it means to be in the Atypical family. I would hate for my customers to find the experience forgettable.
What has been your biggest success so far?
I had the biggest smile on my face when my dad sent the link to the store to his friends. He has no idea what any of the products are—he just knows that the site is mine and he wants his people to support it. It’s completely blind support, but I think he’s proud. It makes me laugh to imagine of all these tough guys shopping for something for their wives.
We are also a finalist in DailyCandy’s Start Small, Go Big 2012 Contest. Being in the top three of the Health/Beauty category was a huge lift, especially since it came so soon after our launch.
What advice do you have for others looking to start an online business?
Write up a business plan and have a mentor review it. This was the first test of my dedication, and knowing a businessperson I really respect would be critiquing it forced me to spend a good amount of time thinking through it. Also, read The Lean Startup. It’s a great, quick read and perfect for someone just starting out.
What is your favorite product at Atypical Beauty?
I can only pick one? I have so many favorites. I think the first one I really loved was Suki Pure Facial Moisture—Nourishing. It’s an oil, so I was a little iffy about it, but once I used it I was a convert. For my dry skin, it’s a game changer.