Ariana Pierce | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ariana Pierce

Background:  

Serial entrepreneur Ariana Pierce is the founder and owner of Florida-based Superstar Nail Lacquer, which she launched at age 17, and an online accessories company, Style Shoppe. She's also the author of "Skip the Party, Start a Business."

The Mistake:

I was so excited at an opportunity that I overlooked a contractual issue.

I had a deal with a large TV network that does a lot of reality TV shows. They wanted to do a deal with my nail polish brand, Superstar Nail Lacquer. This was around five or six years ago, just a couple years into my business while [I was attending] Michigan State University. I was excited. I was about 21 or 22 years old. And any opportunity that came my way, I was like, “Yes!”

They wanted me to create a nail polish brand for this TV show. Once the show aired, they were going to do a commercial after the show that promotes the nail polish, and it would be specifically based off the characters and the show. I was so excited to get this going.

With just a few months to air, we needed to come up with the name and the colors to match the show. And then I get the [legal] agreement, and here’s where the mistake comes in. I think that, because they’re a big network and they know what they’re doing, the contract is perfect.

I read the contract, but I still didn’t have an understanding. And they want you to sign things fast. And sometimes they want you to sign things fast because they don’t want you to really think about what’s in there or to add any of your own requirements.

I did show it to an attorney, but the attorney wasn’t used to reviewing these types of contracts. I knew not to sign anything that would keep me in a bad situation, but what I didn’t do was put in [the contract] any requirements for cancellation. I skipped over that, so they could just cancel on me at any time. That was the part that I missed.

So just a few weeks before launch, we’d had our polish made – thousands and thousands of bottles of polish. The names on the bottles fit with the names on the show. But a few weeks before we’re about to announce the collaboration, they call and say, “You know what? We’re going to cancel the agreement. We’re going to go in a different direction.”

And we had all these bottles of polish, and I was like, “This can’t happen.” And they pointed out that the contract said that they could cancel at any time with no consequences.

If it doesn’t fit what’s right for my business, then I am not going to sign it.

The Lesson:

I told them I was going to have to sell the polish, and the network said I couldn’t use the [show] name on the back of the polish. Of course, I felt foolish. I should have put something in the agreement about them having to pay me a certain amount if they cancel. But being 20-something, I had tried to take care of everything myself. That was my lesson. Sometimes you need to go to people who care about you, whether it’s your parents or other people, and not try to do everything yourself.

My parents said, “You can either sit here inside this problem or you can get up and keep going and try to make something out of it.” So I got a ton of my friends to come over, and we created our own labels and we put them on the back of the polish. It took weeks and weeks and weeks.

The other lesson I learned is to not get so excited that you go against your best interest. Sometimes when you’re working with other companies or brands, they will try to intimidate you into signing a contract by making you think this will be the last deal that will ever come your way. And I’ve had that happen many times.

If it doesn’t fit what I’m doing or what’s right for my business, then I am not going to sign it or work with you until ... we both can have a win-win situation.

Follow Ariana Pierce on Twitter at @AriTheHeiress.

Photo courtesy of Ariana Pierce

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