How Melissa Butler Overcame Failure
Melissa Butler, CEO of skincare and cosmetics company The Lip Bar, had her first brush with fame when she appeared on a 2015 episode of “Shark Tank.” But it was almost her last. The “sharks” not only didn’t like her idea — they mercilessly skewered it.
Butler’s journey began in 2012 when she decided the beauty industry needed more diversity and natural ingredients. So, she started mixing her own lipstick shades in her kitchen. But when she presented her bold and beautiful creations on “Shark Tank,” the experts called them “clown makeup.” Kevin O’Leary, also known as “Mr. Wonderful,” was particularly harsh. He told her the cosmetics market was oversaturated and that she should quit while she could.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Butler did no such thing. She knew Black women and other women of color wanted cosmetic options that better suited their skin tones and continued making her vegan, cruelty-free, and affordable lip products. Butler did not find success overnight, and it might have seemed the sharks had a point.
But she began to make headway into retail outlets, and in 2022, The Lip Bar closed $6.7 million in seed funding. The company now has a flagship store in Detroit and sits on shelves in over 500 Walmart and 750 Target stores. Butler announced in early 2023 that The Lip Bar is now the largest Black-owned makeup brand on Target shelves. Former first lady Michelle Obama and actress Taraji P. Henson have both worn the company’s shades.
As her company continues to expand and roll out new products, Butler doesn’t shy away from her less-successful past — she actively celebrates it. The Lip Bar CEO regularly tells her story and even placed a billboard in her hometown of Detroit, noting how she beat the odds. It read: “‘Shark Tank’ told me to quit. 10 years and 2 million units sold. Thanks, Mr. Wonderful.”
These days, even Mr. Wonderful is on board. In a 2022 interview, O’Leary admitted that he got it wrong. “They were facing an almost impossible task,” he said. “They pulled it off, so you gotta applaud them.”
Impressed by how she beat the odds, MarthaStewart.com asked Butler last year what advice she had for other entrepreneurs. “Keep working towards your goals,” she responded. “Because your idea will never become reality if you don’t do it.”