A celebration of the powerful female founders who inspire, support and create accessible entrepreneurial paths.
Ready or not, the direct selling industry is changing. Pushy sales tactics, promotions and sales pitches are out. What customers want and expect from brands is an organic feel to all of their interactions and an Instagram-worthy customer experience. Word-of-mouth marketing has always been an essential part of direct selling, but the importance of the referral relationship has dramatically increased in today’s social selling landscape. Customers want to buy from brands and individuals that share their passions and experiences in a way that has mutual benefit. The key to thriving amid this shift will be to lean on the natural social sellers who already comprise three-quarters of the industry: Women.
Leading this charge are driven CEOs who know how to create A company culture that leverages the contribution of women and Understands the needs of their overwhelmingly female audience, who Now makes 70-80 percent of all household purchasing decisions. This year, direct selling news honors 17 women founders from all different backgrounds whose entrepreneurial spirit and drive for excellence in achievement has created companies whose monthly revenues exceed $50 million and impact millions of independent sales people. In our celebration of their triumphs, we also acknowledge the millions of women who fill other equally important roles within the industry—field representatives, mentors, and leaders—and commend the generations of women who went before us for the progress and momentum they set in motion.
Clean cosmetics and safe skincare
What does it take to be a leader in the clean beauty movement? Just ask Founder and CEO, Gregg Renfrew. Rather than tout all-natural or organic, Renfrew has her sights on something even greater: making the entire beauty industry safer. To do that, she puts information in the hands of consumers one distributor relationship at a time, then follows it up with a disruptive omnichannel beauty brand. And disrupt she has. Beautycounter’s 2018 revenues reached $325 million, earning the company a spot on the DSN Global 100 list.
Beautycounter is a direct-to-consumer brand through multiple channels. While they do sell through an incredible network of approximately 50k consultants, it is also available on beautycounter.com, in retail shop locations and also through strategic partnerships.
Through Beautycounter, Gregg has found a way to provide safer products to consumers without sacrificing quality. But the result of her labor that may have an even longer lasting and important benefit: proving to the world that a company can be both safe and profitable at the same time. Formulate, educate, and advocate is the company’s motto. Thanks to Gregg’s vision, beauty may one day be safe for all.
Beautycounter’s 2018 revenues reached earning $325 million the company a spot on the DSN Global 100 List
Beauty products that allow inner and outer radiance to meet
Melissa Thompson built her audience long before she built her company. With a blog and social media content, Melissa wrote about beauty, motherhood and social selling entrepreneurship. Her interactions and surveys with her online community became the blueprint she used to build BELLAME, even allowing readers to weigh in on decisions. “This is not just my company,” Melissa says. “It belongs to our tribe, too.”
Her social approach reflects a trend in successful direct selling companies, and one that comes naturally to many women. “I have been in this industry for over 20 years, and the one common factor that I have seen for successful women in the past two decades is this: they always put their team first,” she says.
Being “beautifully contagious” as Melissa describes it, means leading a company that is not overpowered by egos or drama, but instead heart. With her cosmetics and skincare lines, coupled with her community-driven atmosphere, Melissa pours into her leaders, who in turn pour into their teams “in a way that goes beyond the paycheck and hopefully straight to the
heart,” she says. “When a woman believes in herself, there is nothing she can’t do.”
“When a woman believes in herself, there is nothing she can’t do.”
Clothing that provides connection
Kimberly Inskeep believes women are “relational connoisseurs” who are uniquely gifted to connect with others. That founding belief is what Cabi is built upon—the idea that when people are in relationship, they’re better—and in a highly relational business, those personal connections equal success. Cabi, Kimberly says, meets women “in their sweet spot,” where work and personal lives are built simultaneously.
With a background in finance and international management consulting for what is now Wells Fargo & Company, Kimberly firmly grasps the importance of cost management, but amid the
challenges of growing a business, picking profits over people has never been a shortcut Kimberly allowed. Instead, her leadership style is to show respect and grace to those around her, and to focus on helping the rest of her team to flourish. “Love is smart business,” she posted in 2018. “If it’s business, it’s absolutely personal—and the more personal, the better.”
“If it’s business, it’s absolutely personal- and the more personal the better.”
DAMSEL IN DEFENSE
Personal protection and prevention products
Empowering women is at the heart of the Damsel in Defense vision, but that empowerment goes beyond financial independence and success. Mindy Lin’s company has become a place of healing where women can process their personal experiences with domestic abuse or assault and move forward with confidence. “Our care of people and their stories has to be at the center of all that we do,” Mindy says. “People find healing and a community here that they wouldn’t have found otherwise.”
For women who are living in the shadow of a painful story, Mindy’s mission and products offer a bridge that crosses the chasm between the identities of victim and survivor. “So many people in my field say, ‘I can’t change my story, but I can prevent what happened to me from happening to other women,’” Mindy says. “There’s such a powerful moment that happens when we can take pain to purpose and allow the tragedy in our lives to be used as a triumph for good in this world.”
Creating security devices and personal protection products has brought the rewards of financial and spiritual growth, but for Mindy, success means one thing: “Seeing survivors find this mission in very broken places and watching them grow into incredibly confident businesswomen.”
“So many people in my field say, ‘I can’t change my story, but I can prevent what happened to me from happening to other women.”
LIMELIFE BY ALCONE
Michele Gay & Madison Mallardi
Professional makeup and natural skincare
Limelife’s roots began in 1952 when Alvin Cohen displayed theatrical products for Broadway showgirls in Alcone, his pharmacy storefront. When Michele’s father purchased the store in 1980, a new family business was born. Michele, together with her niece, Madison, developed Limelife as an extension to the family brand that would allow professional makeup artists to become distributors. Their vision has expanded into 10 different markets, but it’s their small business legacy that defines their leadership choices. “Our sales field operates like a family,” says Madison, who leads the creative internal team while Michele connects with the field.
Working with a predominantly female workforce has given them insight into the array of roadblocks between women and success, like the cost of childcare and financial instability. It’s also the motivation behind their brighter together initiative, which helps female-led startups thrive. “Helping women understand their worth and having a compensation plan that allows them to get paid their worth is our why,” Michele says.
“Our sales field operates like a family.”
Misty Kirby and Chani Reeve
Jewelry and accessories starting at $5
Sisters Misty Kirby and Chani Reeve have spent a lifetime creating together. So, as their living room craft project evolved into the Paparazzi powerhouse that it is today, the two intuitively entwined their strengths. Misty, a passionate problem solver who skillfully rallies the field, and Chani, an efficient leader who has a knack for streamlining complicated processes, say that working together, especially during tough seasons of growth and change, serves to strengthen the team. “The biggest obstacle we have faced and continue to face is growth,” Misty says. “Instead of a mountain of work, I see it more as a stepping stone and an opportunity to think creatively.”
Leading in an environment that prioritizes women empowering women means the sisters understand the push and pull of the work and home-life balance. Chani says finding that equilibrium has been her own greatest challenge. “Ultimately, I realized that there is no such thing as a perfect balance between the two,” Chani says. “You find the best of both worlds and make it work.”
Both choose to mentor in a team atmosphere where no one is an island. “When big risks or small changes are made as a group, the fear of failure is able to shrink,” Misty says. Chani agrees: “We succeed as a team or we fail as a team, there is no in between.”
“When big risks or small changes are made as a group, the fear of failure is able to shrink.”
Inspirational intimacy enhancers and bedroom accessories
Labeling Patty Brisben’s business a sex toy company would be a mistake. While Patty’s product line does focus on intimacy aids, her mission is much greater. Pure Romance empowers women to believe in themselves, and then gives them the resources and leadership training they need to become successful entrepreneurs. “I am incredibly proud of the meaningful work we’ve done that helps tens of thousands of women live the life they’ve always wanted,” Patty says.
What’s more, the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health educates more than 10 million women each year about sexual Health and wellbeing, funds important research, and helps women impacted by topics not often addressed, like sexual dysfunction after cancer treatments. What Patty has created is an innovative company that takes the home party experience to the next level of entertainment and fun, while empowering and educating women at the same time. “My hope for the future is more,” Patty says. “More consultants, more sexual health education, more change, more success, and more empowerment for women worldwide.”
“My hope for the future is more.”
RODAN + FIELDS
Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields
Personalized skincare solutions
Teen acne treatment product Proactiv made Dr. Rodan and Dr. Fields a household name more than two decades ago, but it was their line of anti-aging products bearing their names that skyrocketed them to fame. Although the brand began in 2002, and was sold in department stores, the company’s true momentum began when it was introduced to the direct selling market in 2007.
The doctors’ personal wealth has simultaneously climbed. Forbes 2019 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women placed the doctor duo in the 14th spot, well above financial powerhouses like Celine Dion, Donna Karan and Taylor Swift. Even still, the doctors are devoted to teaching at Stanford Medical School and maintain their dermatology practices two days per week.
“ FORBES 2019 list of America’s Richest Self-Made Women placed the doctor duo in the 14th spot, well above financial powerhouses like Celine Dion, Donna Karan and Taylor Swift.”
Wickless home fragrances products
Heidi is the heart of Scentsy—and wears her heart on her sleeve. If you’ve seen Heidi, you’ve seen her laugh and you’ve seen her cry, often at the same time. When she’s not inspiring others
to step out of their comfort zones, or sending hand-written notes of congratulations or condolence, or wading through endless combinations of fragrances to discover the ideal essence of a favorite childhood memory, she’s a dedicated wife and mom of five. Like so many women, Heidi knows what it’s like to juggle it all, seamlessly magnifying her faith, her family and her business.
She is recognized as the leader of the fastest growing consumer products company on the Inc. 500, an Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, and Idaho Business Review woman of the year, but is most appreciated for her extraordinary gift of making people feel important, special and loved. She sees the good in others and knows how to bring out the best in them.
“Try to do the things that you’ve never done before.”
SCOUT & CELLAR
Sarah Shadonix is a risk taker who does her research. After leaving a career in litigation to pursue her passion for wine, she did a deep dive into the intricacies of the wine industry and discovered it lacked something she craved even more than the drink Itself: transparency. Armed with knowledge, she set out on a mission to develop clean-crafted wine and a company that would be built on five core principles: authenticity, transparency, family, passion and doing the right thing. “We came upon those core values because they are inherent to who we are,” Sarah says. “If we have a hard decision to make, we refer back to our core values to keep us consistent and grounded.”
With that foundation, Sarah has built a company that empowers its overwhelmingly female workforce and rewards them with a culture of trust and balance, like the unlimited PTO offered to salaried employees. “We don’t even track it,” she says. “People can come in late or stay home with a sick kid. Just get your job done. We want you to be happy in your personal life so you can perform your job well.”
As the company continues to grow, Sarah attributes persistence—an attitude she describes as “grit balanced by grace”—that she sees in herself and her team for their steady climb. “The people and the impact we’re making through them is my favorite part of the job.”
“We want you to be happy in your personal life so you can perform your job well.”
Anti-aging and long-lasting cosmetics
When Joni Rogers-Kante was a single mother of a toddler, she knew two things: she wanted to devote her life to helping women build security for themselves and their children, and she wanted to create an income that would allow her to be present as much as possible for her son. Out of much research and planning, SeneGence was born. “SeneGence is about empowering women, and that’s true In every facet,” Joni says. “Without a doubt, we’ve proven a culture of likeminded, intelligent, kind women can indeed be inspiring and make what seemed impossible actualized.”
As a pioneer in the long-lasting color cosmetics category, the company has been propelled beyond the small business structure, and now operates globally. Even so, Joni is committed to never losing the personal touch and responsibility her company has with each individual distributor. “We’re here for the long haul—for the next generation of entrepreneurs and our children,” she says. “That is the approach we take at every decision-making crook in the road of growth and development at SeneGence, and it is an important part of my business plan.”
“SeneGence is about empowering women, and that’s true in every facet.”
STELLA & DOT
Jewelry and fashion that empowers women
Jessica Herrin eschewed the advice of family and friends when she dropped out of business school at age 24, but her resulting wedding-gift registry site—which later sold to The Knot for $78 million—proved she was on the right track. She began Stella & Dot as a side hustle while working full-time for Dell and pregnant with her first child, and found herself in an exhausting juggling act that made her eager to reinvent the working life of a modern woman. Women could have both a family and ambition, she believed, and built Stella & Dot around that structure. Relational and flexible, Stella & Dot has continued to build on that early belief, and now includes a vibrant social media presence, including half a million followers on Facebook, and a #11 ranking on the DSN Global 100 List.
The company has seen incredible growth (paying out $500 million in commissions to date) under Jessica’s leadership and now includes two additional brands, KEEP Collective and EVER, but it has not been without its challenges, like its exit from the European market at the beginning of 2019. Through the ups and downs, Jessica’s ability to lead her company to strong growth without checking her opinions or heart at the door has given thousands of women across the world the opportunity to build a career and a life on their own terms.
“Stella & Dot has a vibrant social media presence, including half a million followers on Facebook and a No. 11 ranking on the DSN Global 100 List.”
Personalized bags, gifts and home decor
“It’s about helping these women,” Cindy says, when she reflects on why she founded Thirty-One Gifts in 2003. “I wanted to give women an opportunity to earn extra income while being able to stay at home with their children or have a second income with a flexible schedule.” Cindy’s love for the direct selling model began in college, when she worked as a distributor between classes to earn extra money. But that affection is balanced by her vision. She has made tough decisions—like removing some of the company’s C-suite executives to move herself and the vice presidents closer to the execution of key strategies—in order to prepare for the next growth cycle of the company, whether that includes an influx of younger women or an international expansion.
When she started the company at 28, she surrounded herself with other strong leaders, but admits that some of her early struggles came from her own insecurities. “I will admit that it was hard at times to lead and gain the respect of a mature team when you are a 34-year-old woman,” she says. Today, at the helm of a multimillion-dollar organization and sure of herself, she has watched what she once viewed as a weakness, transform into her greatest strength. “I believe in what we are doing and can share that confidence with others,” she says. “I love that I can empower others to chase their dreams.”
“I love that I can empower others to chase their dreams.”
Without Mary Young, it’s likely that essential oils wouldn’t be the household name they are today. Alongside husband Gary Young, Mary was an influential voice in what became a movement that has attracted more than 6 million distributors across the globe. Her leadership style is team-focused and attacking problems with others to determine new and different possibilities thrills her. “It’s fun to hear all the different ideas as we brainstorm in an environment of creativity to develop new programs and plans for growing our business.”
This collaborative work environment has given Mary a unique insight into what makes a successful team tick, and with an overwhelmingly female workforce, she’s been able to pinpoint the traits that successful women often share. “They have a burning desire to learn, understand, and never let go of the direction they have chosen to go,” Mary says. “They are usually very focused and don’t allow distractions to take them from their goal.”
Surrounding herself with a highly skilled and dedicated executive team has been one of her key strategies for facing adversity. “My greatest strength as a leader is my ability to empower others, to believe in themselves, to discuss their ideas and recognize their value as part of our Young Living family and how important they are in carrying our mission to the world.”
“My greatest strength as a leader is my ability to empower others, to believe in themselves.”
REFLECTIVE OF THE CHANGING CUSTOMER LANDSCAPE, almost all of these leading women would describe her organization as a social selling empire, rather than a direct selling company. While this change may be startling, progress is an inevitable part of a healthy ecosystem, and the direct selling industry is no exception. As these 17 women have proven, visionary leadership and a willingness to navigate changing customer expectations can result in extraordinary results— or, as these successful CEOs experienced, millions of dollars in revenue.