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How This Founder Raised Venture Capital -- Before She Built Her Debut Product

Interior designer Nicole Gibbons knew she could create a better interior paint brand. She also knew she couldn't bootstrap the process.

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This story appears in the December 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As an interior designer, Nicole Gibbons was used to friends asking for decorating advice. And in 2016, one needed help selecting paint, so Gibbons consulted a well-regarded brand’s website -- and found it impossible to navigate. The lightbulb went off: She could create a direct-to-consumer paint brand that offered a curated range of colors, an algorithm to point shoppers toward their ideal shade, and a simplified way to sample hues. But her interior design business was already a full-time job, so Gibbons didn’t move forward until, she says, “I woke up on New Year’s Day 2017 and was like, It’s now or never.” Here’s how she went on to build Clare, raising money before she ever had a product to sell. 

Courtesy of Clare

1. Go all in.

After deciding to build a startup, she talked with paint-industry insiders to research the space. “Someone who had spent decades in R&D told me I was onto something,” Gibbons says. “That was the vote of confidence I needed.” She’d been running a successful interior design business (which in turn landed her regularly on Oprah Winfrey’s network and morning talk shows), but she hit pause on it all and lived on savings for a year while she researched and ideated. 

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