Baking up cosmetic formulations is nothing new for Kristin Penta. "I used to work on my own formulations all the time [as a kid]," says the 29-year-old. "I was always sending letters to Estée Lauder telling them about my newest formula." Today, she has creative control over and owns approximately 20 percent of Fun Cosmetics Inc., a $5 million Hillside, New Jersey, cosmetics company that sells mass merchandise cosmetics through a wide variety of retailers.
"I wrote to almost every cosmetic company when I graduated from college," adds Penta. "I wanted to work for a company that manufactured cosmetics and didn't just market them." She found her start in the cosmetics industry with pencil manufacturer Pentech International Inc., which private-labeled low-cost cosmetic pencils to a variety of companies. Penta had lots of new ideas for low-cost cosmetic products for teenage girls and started promoting her concepts within her division. When Pentech wanted to focus on writing instruments, Penta helped get her products bought out by investors in 1997, and together they started Fun Cosmetics Inc.
Penta's success points to two valuable lessons for inventor entrepreneurs: 1) There is more than one way for young, underfinanced inventors to make their fortune, and 2) Working for a small start-up is a world away from working for a big company.
Learning the Ropes
Penta was hired right out of college by Pentech because the
company had started to sell
private-label cosmetic pencils and knew little about the industry. Pentech didn't want to invest in an experienced employee, and Penta was the perfect choice, a young woman with an artistic bent, a college degree and an understanding of the process of making cosmetics. Pentech provided Penta with a chemist and a molder (for packages), and she was able to create her own products. Before the line was bought, Penta had put 15 products on the market for Pentech and had sales up to $1.8 million for the four years that the line sold.
And Away We Go
Since being free of the constraints of a big company, Penta has gone to town with new products. She's introduced lip gloss with a mirror on the bottom and a line of temporary tattoos that come off with soap and water. She introduces new pencil products every season that fit the newest colors and trends. She's even introduced a Fortune 2000 product, which is lip gloss and a fortune in a miniature Chinese food container that sells for $2.99. What's really helped Penta in her new company is that she's constantly able to introduce new products into the market, which keeps her one step ahead of the competition. Penta defines her products as "cheap chic, cool but affordable."
Don Debelak (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a new-business marketing consultant who has been introducing new products for more than 20 years. He is the author of Bringing Your Product to Market (John Wiley & Sons, $19.95, 800-225-5945).