Painting The Town

Counter Revolution

Today, the Dineh Mohajer who speaks to you from her Beverly Hills office is the picture of poise. She isn't frazzled. She isn't scattered. And, despite a much-publicized tendency to speak like the Generation X-er she is (I mean, totally), she definitely isn't clueless.

But then, Dineh's been through the crash course. In 18 months, she's seen the concept she originally conceived of go from a hectic, homebased concern to a serious contender in the competitive world of cosmetics.

Hard Candy's beginnings were fairy tale enough. At that fateful lunch, the sisters came up with a company name, a strategy (hit the local boutiques), and some rudimentary ideas on packaging. Dineh made up sample bottles of her four signature shades: Sky (pale blue), Sunshine (yellow), Mint (green), and Violet (lavender). She had been blending the colors using ready-made polish (in decidedly uncool shades like dark blue and white) and adding thinner to create the right consistency. "It's not hard to mix nail polish," says Dineh. "I learned how in my bathroom."

Dineh and Einstein took the prototypes to the ultratrendy Fred Segal store in Santa Monica, California. They were in the process of presenting their wares to the owner at the cosmetics counter when a teenager dining in the adjacent cafe came over to check out the goods.

"We were talking about how much we would sell it to [the owner] for, and how much the store would have to sell it for, and then this girl who was, like, 16 came running over and said, `Oh my God, I love these! I have to buy these. How much are they?' " Dineh recalls. "We didn't know, but a salesgirl immediately said $18 a bottle. The girl's mother's eyeballs practically dropped out of her head, but the daughter was having a fit and the mother bought them. Four of them cost, like, $75. The owner turned to me and said, `OK, bring me 200 more tomorrow.' "

Dineh and Einstein left the store elated and more than a little panicky. They had no inventory and no production facilities. They didn't even have adequate supplies. "We bought bottles [of polish] at beauty supply stores, went home and started mixing," Dineh says. "It was just crazy."

Early retail sales were brisk. Einstein began venturing out on sales calls to some of Los Angeles' hipper boutiques, and many signed on as consignment accounts. For a few glorious weeks, everything was groovy.

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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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