Growing Carol's Daughter in a Brooklyn Kitchen

04/22/2014 10:57 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2014

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In the early 90s, Lisa Price was working as a writer's assistant on The Cosby Show while mixing up fragrances and creams as a hobby in her Brooklyn, N.Y. kitchen.

When the sitcom ended, Price decided to turn her pastime into a business -- not realizing she'd soon create a multimillion-dollar beauty empire. She began selling products at local flea products and set up shop in her living room as word-of-mouth spread.

Today, Carol's Daughter -- named for Price's mom -- has nine locations, 80 employees and a new line in Target stores. Celebrity investors include Will and Jada Smith and Jay Z.

I recently caught up with Price at the Center for Women in Business' annual summit. Below is an edited excerpt of our conversation. (Watch a video of the conversation here, starting at 1:50.)

The Story Exchange: When did you first realize you had a business?

I was in my bedroom -- and a lot of my bedroom had become boxes and storage of essentials oils and herbs and flowers that were going into my ingredients. So I was working and listening to Oprah, and she had women on her show who had started businesses, and they were talking about how you know you have a successful business. There was a checklist, and I was sort of half-listening....I realized I was saying yes to a lot of the things they were checking off. I had an "a-ha" moment. I thought, maybe when I decide to have children and my television production career is going to be hard to maintain, I could do this at home.

The Story Exchange: What was on that checklist?

"Do you know your customer," "Is your business a repeat business or do you have to keep getting new customers," and "If you have to get customers, do you have a way of doing that." But the most important thing on the checklist was: "Are you passionate about what you do." One woman in particular said "If someone woke you up out of bed in the middle of the night, would you do this thing?" And that really resonated with me because I love to sleep. So I realized that I would get up in the middle of the night to play with perfume and flowers. I love watching cocoa butter melt on top of the stove. And I love when oil and water come together, and whip up into cream.

The Story Exchange: You started out selling at flea markets. How did you develop a national reputation?

A lot of time, and a lot of hard work. My husband calls it the "sister girl" network, because it was one woman telling another woman, and they'd bring their friends. It was people shopping in my home, and my home having to get bigger, and then bigger still, and then I had an opportunity to open a store. It was really one person telling another person. And then Halle Berry bought a gift basket for Oprah, because someone told Halle Barry about me. And that's how I ended up on the Oprah show [in 2002, which Price says launched her company on a national level.] It's a lot of hard work and doing your passion and being consistent.

The Story Exchange: How did you get celebrities to invest in your company?

Initally Will and Jada were customers. I found out later that DJ Jazzy introduced Jada to Carol's Daugher [because] he knew how much she loved body care products. So they were users first. I met a gentleman named Steve Stoute in 2003 and we became business partners in 2004. Steve was in the music business and he knew Will -- so he was the one who went to Will and Jada about being investors, and Jay Z as well. Jay Z wasn't familiar with the products but I was very happy to find out that Beyoncé was. Jay Z's mom knew my products as well. So he felt, "well, she's from Brooklyn, I'll support her."

The Story Exchange: Did you have any role models or mentors along the way?

I did, and not necessarily people I knew. Oprah has always been a role model, but I only met her the one time I did the show. We've never had lunch, we don't email one another. Her being open with all of us, showing us her successes and her failures -- she's a very good role model on leadership, how to be powerful and how to be a work in progress. Another person that I use as a mentor is Martha Stewart. Very early on in my business I would go through her catalogs because I loved how everything was merchandised and I loved her branding.

The Story Exchange: You're also a wife and a mother. Do you have any personal tips for how you make it all work?

You don't. You mess up a lot. It's a juggling act. People ask, 'how do you find work/life balance?' There isn't such a thing. We think we have to be perfect. We think we have to get it all done -- but we don't. My children have had breakfast for dinner, many times throughout the years. I'm the only one who has an issue with that. They're fine with French toast.

The Story Exchange: What's your best advice for female entrepreneurs?

Know what it is that you bring to your business that makes it unique. There are a lot of beauty companies out there, but I bring something to mine that Bobbi Brown doesn't bring to hers, and Bobbie brings something to hers that I don't bring to mine.

Want more inspiration? Take a look at TSE's other interviews with enterprising women.

- "Sheela Murthy: 'Just Believe in Yourself. Magic Happens'"

- "Jeanette Prenger: A Tech Entrepreneur's No. 1 Tip For Success: Deliver"

- "El Brown: Military Mom's 'KinderJam' Program Inspired by Autistic Son"