The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Bethenny Frankel, Entrepreneur, Author and Co-Host of CNBC’s “Money Court,” from the CNBC Small Business Playbook event, which took place today, Wednesday, August 3rd. Video from the interview will be available at cnbc.com/small-business-playbook-events/.
All references must be sourced to the CNBC Small Business Playbook event.
SHARON EPPERSON: Bethenny, thanks so much for being here. I just want to get right to it and talk about how you got to start becoming an entrepreneur. It’s not easy but what really drove you to create Skinny Girl?
BETHENNY FRANKEL: I truthfully didn’t even know the word entrepreneur. I was in my late 30s I didn’t know the word brand. I didn’t know the word entrepreneur. I just always was an idea person that wanted to execute that not even wanted – could not help but execute on crazy ideas that I had. I just always have been a person who kind of moves, is acting, is executing. So, I think very simply, I wanted to have a cocktail for myself that I wanted to drink that could be a signature cocktail that I always went for. And once I realized how popular that concept was, I decided that I had to take it all the way and execute it into something that everybody could drink in their homes. I had no idea that I was creating the first ever low-calorie margarita or creating a category in ready-to-drink cocktails. I’m just an ignorance equals bliss kind of entrepreneur. I just move with the ideas and some work and some don’t. You just – it’s really about the execution.
EPPERSON: You knew you could execute. Did you also know at that moment that you were going to be successful? You were going to make sure of it?
FRANKEL: I definitely didn’t know I would be successful. I didn’t – I have overshot the mark. The way that other people see me is – it’s now not surprising, but when you’re young and you think you’re smart – everybody thinks they’re smart. You think you have a good idea. Everybody has a good idea. I really realized that it’s those people that have that drive and that determination and that passion, that unstoppable nature, that’s really the true ingredient for success, because so many people have good ideas, and the world and technology and what’s popular is changing all the time. So, if you have that constant in being a hard old school worker, you’ll be successful. You’ll just – people around you will see how valuable that is because it’s very, very rare.
EPPERSON: It is very rare to take certain tools to make sure that you are successful and that’s what your tenth book is all about. You’ve written so many books, but the tenth one, Business is Personal, talks about the toolkit kind of that you need to be successful. I don’t want you to give it all away. What are a couple of the things that you definitely need to have, particularly in this very challenging environment?
FRANKEL: Well, the reason it’s a toolkit is because I give different examples of situations that I’ve been in that were really challenging and how I navigated them. And so there could be terminology like pros play hurt, which is about you pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, and those moments when it feels like you’re in the 18th mile of a marathon and you just can’t go. That’s when you really have to find whatever’s inside, grab it and keep going. That’s what entrepreneurs have to really face. Or things like never connect the dot. They’re very tempting in business because people are networking and it’s important to connect and let people know other people that you know. But that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to let everybody know everything you’re doing, everybody you know, and connect all the dots. You have to keep some things close to the vest – your cards close to the vest. So, the book is non-traditional because my come up is non-traditional, and there are just so many different things that I had to draw upon to get here and none of them are things that you would expect happening and none of them would you learn in Harvard Business School. So, it’s all just listen to these stories because you will have your own situation that you’ll have to navigate and these tools will help you when the rubber meets the road and you have difficult decisions to make and you’ve got to figure out what tool you’re pulling out. Because business is lonely. You are alone. You sign that dotted line you are alone. It’s your reputation. It’s all about you alone. And so, while we can crowdsource and while we can listen to other people’s stories, you will be alone in that foxhole trying to figure out what you’re going to do next. No one cares as much as you about your business.
EPPERSON: And because you are alone, because it is your business and because it is so often your personality behind the business, is that why you say business is personal? Because I have to tell you as someone who covers personal finance, I’m always listening to experts saying your business as an entrepreneur, your personal finances, they never should mix. So business is not personal when it comes to finances. But you say business is personal. Why?
FRANKEL: Well, it’s funny that you say that because I do charity, which is very personal to me because it’s life and death for people. And I’m often asked to do some business connected to charity like “oh, do this business thing for us, but we’re not paying you but we’re going to donate to your charity.” And that’s where the world’s really do not need to meet. Business is business in some ways and business – and personal is personal and other ways. But business is very, very personal. How I spend my money in my personal life could affect the money that I would or wouldn’t have to invest in business ideas or if things do or don’t work. How I operate my business life could affect the types of schools that my daughter would have gone to or how I treat my business affects how I spend my time, which is so personal. So, you know, I’m working right now. I have a photoshoot at my house. But my daughter is here and I’ve got a TikTok influencer at my house and they’re in bathing suits and so we’re doing business. We’re doing a photo shoot, but it’s feeling personal because my daughter is here, and I want her to be happy also. It’s the summer. So, my business and personal collide a lot and I find that this post-pandemic life where people are home a lot and are figuring out how it can work for them in a way that we all have to adjust. It’s just the way that it is. We have to change with the way things have changed. People want their lives to be happy and I think that they should not choose between happiness and work. So that’s very personal. It’s become more and more personal in the last two years.
EPPERSON: Absolutely, absolutely. Your life comes first. And your business or your work fits into that. And I think a lot of people are figuring out what that means and how to do that best for themselves. You know, as we’re talking about the times we’re in, interest rates are rising, inflation. People who have their businesses are concerned about supply chain issues, about labor shortages. As an entrepreneur, many of whom are watching and are just starting their business, how do you get through challenging times like this? And you’ve had many over the course of your business career. How do you get through them?
FRANKEL: I think that, you know, people keep looking at the equation one way and you keep trying the same key in the door and now’s the time when you have to fumble around and try a bunch of different keys and figure out what fits for you. Because when you have times of disarray, when you have times of you know, crazy chaos, there’s also a silver lining. There are other opportunities. Because let’s just pretend you were in the home learning business, let’s pretend you had gone online or had an ecommerce business a couple of years ago. All of a sudden, it was a gold rush. So, there are times when things are challenging for one person and they thrive for another. I did very well in real estate during the pandemic because I thought immediately when it started, wait a second, people, you know, are going to move to the suburbs and everyone is stuck right now. So, I want to make this move and buy property in Connecticut, a couple of properties in Connecticut and invest in them. It was smart because while we were all stunted for a second and we didn’t know how it was going to be and how at risk we were and what was going on, you are a business person, too. And you have to figure out okay, pull myself up by my bootstraps. I have to in the plane while flying. Figure out which way this thing is going. So, you have to be a person as an entrepreneur that realizes it’s not only going to be a straight line. But when there’s not a straight line, that’s how you can really find an opportunity. That’s how you can really do well. You know and cut a few steps ahead of the line where you wouldn’t have been able to have that opportunity before.
EPPERSON: You have to be able to pivot. A lot of business owners say that who have been successful. But one of the things that you say that you also need to do is to be authentic. Authenticity is key you say, even if some people don’t like you, they’re going to trust you if you’re authentic. Do you believe that and why?
FRANKEL: Well, you know it is funny. The word pivot has been used a lot and yes, but people have to make drastic changes. People made drastic changes because of crypto and Bitcoin and people want the you know, smash and grab. You have to be able to pivot and shift but also stay true to the basic core of what your business is because things may come back. I mean, there were things that happen during the pandemic that were very popular that aren’t as popular anymore, because if you are in – let’s say you owned a hotel, and you had the worst time ever for two years, well now it’s a gold rush for you. So, if you totally abandoned your core business because you were afraid and weren’t able to wait out the storm, that’s too much of a pivot. As far as authenticity, that’s a tried and true staple. Meaning phony has worked for a while now – filtering yourself, being you know, being fake and presenting a life that is not really yours has really done very well. But with new places like TikTok and with media being so immediate, and it’s really hard to hide and it’s hard to just hide behind the phone. And authenticity seems to be coming to the forefront a lot now. It sort of was a backseat driver and now authenticity seems to be coming back around to being what people are craving, because we’ve had such a superficial time with the way that social media has risen. The way that it came up and became a narcissistic, superficial place. And now people are reacting to that and the pendulum is swinging in my opinion.
EPPERSON: Absolutely. As you’ve been a serial entrepreneur creating new businesses, creating new brands, growing your brand, how do you learn, develop and continue to grow? I think there are a lot of people watching that have had their businesses for a while. They may have kind of stymied, they may have kind of gotten a little stagnant and now it’s a really challenging time. But you’re constantly learning, innovating, growing. What are some keys to doing that right now?
FRANKEL: I think having good conversations and crowdsourcing. You ultimately make the decision yourself, but I mean, you just learn a lot by the media and talking to other people and seeing what works and seeing what people are reacting to. And truthfully, I think we get – with how crazy the media is and with how we are running around like maniacs on our devices all day and we’re distracted, it’s hard to get centered, and get calm, and breathe, and think about what you react to. What are you consuming? What are you digesting? What are you interested in? What are you attracted to? What do you like? What do you not like? And put that forth in your work. Whether it’s a service, a product, a business, an idea, that sort of – I think we get too complicated because most people are trying to figure out what they should be doing, what everybody else is doing well doing, when they may be just doing something that authentically comes from them. So, it has to come from within. What really, really speaks to you. It’s likely something that speaks to many people.
EPPERSON: Figuring out what resonates with you to figure out what resonates with other people. That is why business is personal. Bethenny, thank you very, very much. I really appreciate you taking the time. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you.
FRANKEL: Thank you so much.
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