How Kendra Scott Built a Billion-Dollar Brand and Faced Rejection

  • Kendra Scott is the founder and executive chair of her billion-dollar jewelry brand.
  • Scott spoke at Female Founders Day about overcoming rejection and building her company.
  • She also shared her best advice for founders who are pitching investors. 

When Kendra Scott pitched her business to investors 20 years ago, she was typically the only woman in a boardroom full of men wearing suits. 

Many of them didn’t take the “Texas girl with a fashion brand” seriously, she said. They’d say her company’s financials were “sexy” and ask what the tech component of her business was. She left those meetings with flushed cheeks. 

“It was hard having so many doors shut in your face and feeling like you are being laughed at,” Scott told me, the moderator of the fireside chat, at Female Founders Day on Thursday. The event was hosted by Female Founder Collective, a nonprofit that provides education, community, and grants to businesses owned by women.  

Those moments of embarrassment stretched her perseverance, and she eventually raised two rounds of private-equity funding for undisclosed amounts, with Norwest Venture Partners in 2014 and Berkshire Partners in 2016, according to Crunchbase data.

Scott is the founder, executive chair, and lead designer of a billion-dollar jewelry brand. Forbes named her one of America’s richest self-made women. Her company, Kendra Scott, is based in Austin and has more than 2,000 employees and 100 store locations.

During our fireside chat, Scott explained how she overcame rejection and shared her best pitch advice for founders.

‘For every valley, there has been a higher peak’

Kendra Scott speaks into a microphone sitting in a chair on stage

Scott speaking on Thursday.

Smith House Photo

Scott started her business in 2002, three months after her first son was born, with $500 in capital. She bootstrapped her company for the first 10 years, funding its growth with credit-card debt and, at times, putting her own possessions up as collateral. 

Whether she was asking stores to stock her jewelry or pitching her company to investors, the many rejections she faced taught her that a no is just the beginning of a conversation.

“We get told no a lot,” she said, “but no today doesn’t mean no tomorrow.”

Seeing beyond momentary rejections helped Scott identify opportunities for her business. 

“If I let the noes of yesterday control me, I wouldn’t be able to ever move forward in my future,” Scott said, adding that she continued to face hurdles. In the pandemic, her company had to temporarily close all 100 stores. 

“For every valley, there has been a higher peak in my life,” she said, adding that at the top of each peak, she gained more perspective to understand why the valley was necessary for growth.

“I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t been on the floor in tears many times throughout my career,” she added.

Kendra Scott’s tips for pitching your company to investors

Kendra Scott speaks into a microphone sitting in a chair on stage

Scott at Female Founders Day.

Smith House Photo

Scott has also been on the other side of the pitching process as an investor. When she appeared on “Shark Tank,” many of the founders who resonated with her were those with a heartfelt story and genuine passion for their work. She made deals on the show with the founders of Bootay Bag, Sienna Sauce, and OpulenceMD Beauty.

Here are her tips for pitching:

Tip 1: Celebrate the path that led you to where you are 

While people’s lives can look perfect on social media, Scott reminds founders that the struggles add value to your story.

“Tell the things in your life that maybe haven’t always gone right, but they’ve brought you to the person that you are today,” she said. “Don’t be ashamed of those things.”

Tip 2: Harness your individuality

Scott cautions founders not to compare themselves to other founders or try to be like other companies. Instead, be disruptive by showing investors what makes you unique.

“We are the only person who will ever be us, so utilizing that in your business is a superpower,” she said.

Tip 3: Show your passion to solve a problem that no one else is fixing

If you’ve started a company, it’s very likely you created it out of a challenge you experienced firsthand. That passion to provide a solution should be evident in your pitch, Scott said. 

“If you’re doing it for money, you will never, ever be successful,” she said. “There will come a day when this is going to be too much and too hard.”

Tip 4: Be a good human 

Lastly, Scott looks for founders with good hearts. She said she evaluated any partnership by asking herself, “What do they look like on a bad day?

“On the days when things are not good, and you have to solve problems together, do you have the right people around you?”

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