At the core of every successful venture, there's one thing: a brilliant idea. The best entrepreneurs manage to spot an opportunity, recognize its potential in the marketplace, and position it as something we want—no, need. But how did those lightbulb moments come about?
"Knowing that there was a good opportunity was instinctual," says Ju Rhyu, co-founder of beauty brand Hero Cosmetics, who first thought of her business idea when she got a pimple, of all things. While that scenario might be unique to Rhyu, it became a common thread among the female co-founders we interviewed. Regardless of industry or product offering, it's clear that inspiration can strike at any time, and it's how you act on it that counts. Ahead, five smart women share the lightbulb moment that sparked success.
Corinna and Theresa Williams, Co-Founders of Celsious
Celsious is a modern, eco-friendly laundromat and cafe in Brooklyn, New York.
The light bulb moment: "It was shortly after I [Corinna] had moved to New York from Germany. I was at home with my roommate, who was scheduled to fly back to Germany the next day. She was packing and set aside one entire suitcase for all her used white towels and sheets, so she could get them really clean in her German-made washer back home. I remember thinking: Cross-continental airfare cannot be a sustainable laundry solution!
"I knew it was an idea worth pursuing when so many friends and acquaintances in New York complained about their laundry situation. And after stepping foot into hundreds of laundromats in the city, I couldn't find one that could make laundry day better."
The first step: "Getting in touch with other laundromat owners across the U.S. and the world who had opened concepts similar to what we were envisioning and asking them straight out for advice on how to do it."
The setback: "We approached the planning phase with a very rational mindset and weren't, at least initially, open-minded enough to see that so many aspects of building a business are not black-and-white or linear. [It] requires a fair amount of flexibility, negotiation, and finagling."
Alex Friedman and Jordana Kier, Founders of Lola
Lola is a reproductive care company, selling subscription-based period and sexual health products.
The light bulb moment: "Lola was born out of a seemingly simple question: Have you ever wondered what’s in a tampon? We were getting drinks in the summer of 2014 when Jordana asked me this question, and if I’m being honest, it had never crossed my mind. But as we started connecting with women to seed the idea for Lola, we quickly realized that was the norm—many of us had never stopped to question the ingredients in a product we use every month."
The first step: "Getting our initial idea out there and fostering relationships with people who had different expertise and experiences was an instrumental first step to building the brand. It was immensely helpful to have a network of advisors and mentors to turn to for gut checks on everything from product design and development to the way we talk to our customers about Lola. We're fortunate to have continued fostering an amazing support system, from investors like Lena Dunham and Serena Williams, to our day-one customers who have helped us reach more women and navigate our expansion into new reproductive health categories, to our families—who are probably sick of talking tampons by now!"
The setback: "One mistaken assumption we made in the ideation phase was thinking that the biggest feminine care issue was inconvenience. The initial concept for Lola focused on a monthly delivery service that offered convenience and prevented those last-minute runs to the drugstore. However, as we researched, we realized that the more pressing issue was this lack of transparency about the ingredients that went into these products and the lack of regulation by the FDA. How could this market be so opaque?"
Alyce Tran, Founder of The Daily Edited
The Daily Edited is a direct-to-consumer personalized leather and lifestyle accessories company.
The light bulb moment: "The Daily Edited (TDE for short) was started as a passion project by my co-founder Tania Liu and I as a fun side hustle! We were both working as corporate attorneys and just wanted something to do on the weekends that was a bit more creative and interesting to talk about. (No one wants to hear about your work as an attorney!)
"I have always been into personalization, I received my first designer personalized bag for my 16th birthday and loved it, but I knew that not everyone could afford a designer-priced bag and wanted to create something that every customer could attain. I took photos of our first products and put them on Instagram and the reaction by our followers at the time was overwhelming—it was really exciting to receive our first orders."
The first step: "TDE actually started as a blog where we posted our favorite daily inspirations covering fashion, food, and lifestyle, and in August 2014, we launched a small accessories line offering personalization services. [The first step was] putting it out there. Testing the product among friends and family and seeing their reactions also made it very real."
The setback: "Probably by not doing any planning at all—we never set out to create a global business with TDE, and as a result, we do have a lot of growing pains going from startup to proper international retailer. We've grown so quickly it has been hard to keep on top of all of the aspects of our business including recruitment, marketing, logistics, and physical expansion."
Ju Rhyu, Co-founder of Hero Cosmetics
Hero Cosmetics is a skincare company best-known for its innovative Mighty Patch acne product.
The light bulb moment: "I was living in Seoul, Korea, which has become a beauty mecca over the years. Koreans are very ahead of the times in terms of their beauty knowledge and product usage. I struggled with some acne while living there due to pollution, change in environments, and stress [and] came across acne patches, which are available in every pharmacy. They worked so well and didn't irritate my sensitive skin. I was amazed! Then, I wondered why they weren't available in the U.S. I knew they would do so well since they help with a skin problem that so many people struggle with.
"Knowing that there was a good opportunity here was instinctual. A lot of entrepreneurs tell you to trust your gut and I did. I will say that I think there will always be doubts and questions, but I think that's healthy and normal. If you're too overconfident, that could be problematic."
The first step: "Immediately after I initially had the idea, I started working on it. I created a brand name and hired a designer to come up with the branding and packaging. I sourced manufacturers who could make the product I wanted. Then I stopped. I was doing it by myself and it was getting expensive and, not to mention, lonely. Looking back, I think it was lucky that I didn't launch back in 2013. The market probably wasn't ready for it, and it would have taken me much longer to achieve what we've achieved now."
The setback: "One mistake was not planning for the future. It's hard because you don't even know if you will have a future when you're still in concept and ideation mode. But we have had to change our packaging many times because of things we didn't plan for. I do wish we had thought more about other products and how they would look together and had done more thinking around the larger product portfolio."
Hien Nguyen, Co-founder of Function of Beauty
Function of Beauty is a direct-to-consumer haircare line that offers fully customizable shampoo and conditioner tailored to your specific needs.
The light bulb moment: "It was really [co-founder] Zahir’s 'lightbulb moment,' and I helped him bring the concept to life. We had worked together on a previous venture, The Argan Tree, while I was working at Cosmetic Labs. My experience there is where I became an expert at cosmetic ingredients, custom formulations, and the benefits on skin and/or hair. When Zahir presented the idea to me, I believed instantly in the concept and knew it was possible, but that it would take years of R&D work and testing.
Many thoughts were running through my mind: Was I ready for this? Am I capable? Ultimately, I decided to believe in myself and take the journey."
The first step: "The first step was to begin research and development in all hair types, textures, and needs, and then understanding haircare ingredients and technologies to address these precisely. Developing a stellar product that is stable and performs according to the consumer’s need is one of the key essentials to drive the business forward."
The setback: "The biggest mistake would be not taking the time for rigorous evaluation and testing. Today, I tend to over-evaluate the products I develop to ensure high quality and performance for our consumers."