Eva Longoria: the Best Word for Her Brand Is 'No'

Award-winning actor and serial entrepreneur Eva Longoria moves between industries, constantly looking to challenge the way things have always been done.
Eva Longoria: the Best Word for Her Brand Is 'No'
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This story appears in the March 2018 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Eva Longoria gets a lot of offers -- to endorse this, to join that. But the actor, producer and entrepreneur (who will appear in the April movie Overboard) has learned that the best word for her brand is no. By turning down most things, she’s able to focus on those that matter -- even if her focus is widespread, spanning entertainment, food, fashion and philanthropy. Over the past 10 years, she says, moving through industries has taught her a lot about making the most of criticism, the power of overpreparing and how to juggle multiple projects…while also knowing when it’s time to walk away.

Related: Do You Need to Say 'No' More? Find Out in 4 Questions.

You started your production company, Unbelievable Entertainment, in 2005. What was it like transitioning from actor to producer, director, boss? 

I’ve always been business-­minded, and I felt like I had so much more to offer than what I was able to give as an actor. I was eventually able to use my success as an actor and leverage it as a producer-director. So transitioning into those roles felt very natural to me -- I knew I had those tools in my head that I wasn’t using as an actor. 

How much more do those successes mean when you have ownership of the final product? 

As an actor, you say your lines and then you leave. You don’t edit, you don’t get to choose the cast around you, you don’t get to write, you don’t get to choose which take gets used. Having control of what actually gets put out there in the world -- that’s what I wanted. I wanted to create art, create a team. I remember when I created [former NBC sitcom] Telenovela, we were in the early stages, watching the set being built, and my friend Shaun Cassidy, who’s another showrunner, said, “Look at this; you had one idea and now 300 people have jobs.” And that’s much more satisfying to me than TV ratings.

Did your experiences on set as an actor influence how you managed a team?

It actually worked the other way around. I’m now a better actor because of my work producing and directing. I’m aware of budget and time and wasteful time and the fact that there’s a machine behind every single decision. So now when I step on set, I’m more mindful of all the work that has already been contributed to a project. 

You launched a clothing line in 2017, the Eva Longoria Collection. I understand you’ve actually been sewing for most of your life. Was this something you always wanted to do? 

At least 10 years ago, people started telling me I should do a clothing line. When I would say I didn’t have the time, they’d kind of wave it off and say, “Oh, just put your name on it!” I never wanted to do that. I knew if I ever did a collection, I’d want it to be authentic to me. I’ve been sewing my entire life, I’m obsessed with the construction of garments and textiles and textures, and I know what goes into it because I’ve spent eight hours sewing a single dress. That work should be valued and appreciated. 

So when did you start development on this line? 

About five years ago -- it’s a long-lead process, and I didn’t know anything about the actual industry. I didn’t know the lingo, I didn’t know the production calendar of a garment, I didn’t know how many people worked on a single piece. I wanted to dive in and source the right labor force. It was a steep learning curve for me. 

How did you play catchup? 

I surrounded myself with experts -- people who have done the trial and error and know what works and what doesn’t. It’s always important to surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. But at the same time, I am a disruptor, so if someone tells me something is usually done a certain way and I have an idea to try something new, I’m always going to say, What if? What if we didn’t do it that way, or what if we tried this new thing? And every business needs that person. It can’t be status quo. 

Related: The 9 Steps That Will Help You Learn Anything

Were you able to make any of those changes that you originally got pushback on? 

Yes, with something as simple as casting real models for the clothing line. I don’t have a big campaign like other brands just yet, but we still wanted to be different, be loud and stand out. And so our sample sizes are a size 6 and a size 8 -- which is not something that regularly happens in the fashion world. 

It’s been almost exactly a year since you launched. What have you heard from your customers, and how do you incorporate their feedback? 

Hillary Clinton had a good quote: “Take criticism seriously but not personally.” That’s been a big lesson, hearing feedback of what customers like and what they don’t like and incorporating it into the next line. The great thing is, with fashion, you can quickly correct. We’re creating new product every three months. That pipeline is ripe for opinion. 

You’ve owned a number of restaurants that have since closed, most notably Beso Hollywood, which was open for nearly 10 years. The restaurant industry is notoriously tough. What lessons have you since been able to apply to other projects? 

Quality, quality, quality. In the food space, there is instant gratification and instant judgment. I learned very quickly that quality of food and quality of experience were going to be judged swiftly and loudly, especially in the social media age. One negative comment about a restaurant travels farther than 100 great comments, so it was really about monitoring quality.

Beso closed in 2017. Was it difficult to walk away from something you’d worked on for so long? 

I was ready to move on. The restaurant industry is very hard. I used to be at the restaurant four days a week, but when I started working on launching my clothing line, I just couldn’t do that anymore. And when I don’t have control, it makes me nervous. The operation was a well-oiled machine, but I’m a control freak.

So you’re a self-described control freak who seems to have more interests than you can reasonably manage. Have you had to train yourself to say no to business opportunities? 

Oh, yeah. I get offers all the time. “Would you like to create your own line of salsa?” “Do you want to create your own line of shoes?” You can very quickly spread yourself too thin as an entrepreneur. I can do anything, but I can’t do everything. It’s about focusing on what’s important: What’s the core of your brand, and how can that grow?

Related: 4 Reasons Why You Should Say Yes to Saying No

Despite your success as an actress, have you encountered barriers in the business world as a woman and as a Latina? 

More so as a woman. Especially in entertainment as a female director and a female producer -- it’s still a male-­dominated industry. So you have to be twice as good and twice as prepared. I don’t see it as a burden as much as a challenge that I rise to. And I think my work ends up speaking for itself. Good work begets work. 

How has that influenced your work with the Eva Longoria Foundation, which helps Latinas build better lives through entrepreneurship? 

Latinas open up small businesses at six times the national rate, but they don’t have the same kind of access to capital. We saw an opportunity to help, and we provide microloans -- which are paid back almost at 98 percent -- to help women start or grow their businesses. We also provide business training, back-office training, bookkeeping -- everything for somebody who wants to start a business. 

Related: The Most Valuable Lessons These 6 Top Entrepreneurs Have Learned

Any success stories? 

So many, but to give you an example, we had one woman who owned a food truck. She wanted to buy another to expand but just couldn’t get the capital to do so. Through the program, she was able to secure a microloan, open up that second business, providing seven more jobs to other women. And she and the business are doing great. Those are the success stories I care about, giving opportunities to women who may or may not have proven themselves but who definitely have the ambition and the drive to accomplish great things.

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