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Painting The Town

Dineh Mohajer and her partners found unexpected success right at their polished fingertips.

In the day Dineh Mohajer painted her toenails baby blue and went out shoe shopping, starting a business was the last thing on her mind. Mohajer, then 22 years old, was just your basic University of Southern California premed student escaping to Beverly Hills for a mindless summer afternoon of retail therapy with her sister Pooneh.

She wasn't looking for new challenges. Au contraire, says Mohajer, "I had decided that summer [in 1995] to blow everything off and do a very unpremed-like thing and just relax before I had to go off to medical school and never have another chance to be a kid."

She envisioned a summer of partying and kicking back with her boyfriend. What she got was something else. On the day Mohajer went shopping--sporting a shade of baby-blue nail polish she had mixed herself--she was accosted by dozens of passersby who simply had to know where she got that polish. A saleswoman at Charles David practically begged Mohajer to reveal her source: The baby blue perfectly complemented Charles David's spring line of shoes.

"That was it," Pooneh recalls. "I told Dineh, `We're going to lunch and put together a business plan and start selling this stuff.' "

The plan they developed over lunch--and financed with a meager $200--didn't seem as if it would interfere too seriously with Dineh's leisure plans . . . until an excited teenager bought Dineh's stock of prototypes from her while she was pitching upscale specialty store Fred Segal. Until Seventeen and Elle magazines put the editorial spotlight on Mohajer's offbeat pastel colors. Until Nordstrom and then Bloomingdale's and then Saks called in orders.

In a matter of months, Hard Candy, the Beverly Hills, California, company Dineh, now 24, Pooneh, 31, and Dineh's boyfriend, Benjamin Einstein, 24, founded, was pushing $10 million in sales. So much for a leisurely summer.

Runaway success proved to be more than a minor crimp in Dineh's relaxation program. Setting up suppliers, distribution networks, accounting systems and corporate structure while managing breakneck growth was like trying to put out a fire with a wildly gushing firehose: There was no catching it. Youthful energy was an advantage, but inexperience was not. Nor did it help that suppliers and accounts lacked respect for the young entrepreneurs. Finally, even 22-year-olds run out of steam. Nine months after starting the company, Dineh nearly ended up hospitalized from exhaustion.

Fortunately, the story doesn't end there. This is the tale of a young, hip entrepreneur who inadvertently lit a firecracker. But it's also about how the same fresh thinking that created an initial spark also enabled this young company to grow into its potential.

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This article was originally published in the February 1997 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Painting The Town.

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