3 Things Drew Barrymore Taught Me About Entrepreneurship
A rare chance to see multi-hyphenate celeb Drew Barrymore in conversation left its mark.
It's not every day I have the opportunity to learn about business from a celebrity, but this summer I attended an event for American Express in New York City, where I had the privilege of hearing Drew Barrymore reflect on the progress of her thriving cosmetics company, Flower Beauty.
One of the things that struck me most about Barrymore was her no-nonsense approach to business. She presents herself in a similar way as the owner of any successful enterprise, whether it be a disruptive new startup or a mom-'n'-pop store down the street. If that's surprising, it's only because we tend to think stereotypically of superstars. They're good-looking, talented and living the dream. But Barrymore defies such simplistic explanations. She had to endure incredible hardship at a young age when drug use threatened her life and career.
Personally, I'd argue that the qualities that make Barrymore as dominant in the boardroom as she is on-screen are ones every entrepreneur can emulate. Here's what I learned about entrepreneurship from listening to Barrymore.
1. Many entrepreneurs are self-educated.
Barrymore had a contract with CoverGirl for six years before launching her company, so she'd already received a hands-on education in running a beauty products powerhouse. Then she meticulously applied what she learned to her own beauty empire. And in my own experience, when I opened my first business repairing and manufacturing commercial signs, I was able to hit the ground running because I already knew the space well. I learned it from a great boss and mentor in Utah, who encouraged me while I was still in his employ to start my own company in my home state of Idaho.
The story of the student becoming the master is as old as entrepreneurship itself. You don't need to graduate from business school to found a successful company. Paying close, passionate attention to life as it happens around you can yield a treasure trove of knowledge, ideas and inspiration.
2. You have to be intensely committed.
Barrymore used an in-your-face expression I'd never heard before, and it stuck with me. Speaking to a hypothetical employee whose performance fell short of their capabilities, she promised to "crawl up your butt and build a house there." In other, more traditional, words, she wouldn't leave them alone until they met their full potential.
Based on her business acumen, it seems Barrymore demands no less of herself. Her direct, energetic, won't-take-no-for-an-answer attitude — sprinkled liberally with good humor — is something any budding entrepreneur would do well to emulate.
3. Stick to your core values.
Barrymore talked about pursuing a potentially lucrative deal for her company, which she abandoned at the last minute when she decided that she couldn't square it with her values. Many business owners could relate to the challenging nature of a decision like this, because many spend a lot of time thinking about money. Personally, I remember countless nights feverishly worrying about money: Would I be able to pay the rent? Make payroll? Buy new supplies? Cash is to business what blood is to the body: The second it stops flowing, everything shuts down.
Abandoning your values for a momentary respite from financial worry, on the other hand, is another kind of "death." Even if you don't feel it now, a compromise like this can undermine your confidence and motivation. It can have a toxic effect on company culture and introduce hypocrisy and discord to an environment that requires a unified vision to move forward. So do your best to stick to your guns. If you can't look yourself in the eye, you'll be blind to opportunities that will allow you to advance without sacrificing your principles.
Levi King is CEO and co-founder of Nav.