For some entrepreneurs, creating a solution to an everyday problem turns into a profitable business idea. This was the case for Brenda Mierzejewski, Founder of Mizzi Cosmetics, who created her all-natural lip balm to help heal chapped lips her family was experiencing in the winter of 2013.

A Business Concept Develops

Prior to her entrepreneurial success, Mierzejewski wore many hats. She studied early childhood education and has a Bachelor of Business degree. She worked in day care; did supply chain, materials management, importing and exporting for pharmaceutical and chemical companies; and even started a bakery.

The concept for the line of Lip Luxe products came from her kids. “The winter we moved to Portland, CT, my family’s lips were so dry and chapped,” she recalls. “We tried many products, but nothing worked, so I decided to try to make my own stuff.”

Mierzejewski knew she didn’t want her kids using anything that wasn’t natural.

“So I did a lot of research and development to make what I wanted,” she says. “And then I started giving out to friends and family. Everybody really liked it so I decided to open up a business and start selling locally.”

Startup Marketing

Mierzejewski began doing heavy marketing in Portland and East Hampton.

“I was putting out coupons, emailing friends and family. And I did really well just by myself for the holidays,” she notes. “I wasn’t expecting that. I thought this was going to be just a couple hundred dollars a month-type of business.”

Mierzejewski’s success skyrocketed in the winter of 2015. She had connected with a friend who was visiting from Beverly Hills. His sister is a publicist who was working for gifting suites in Los Angeles. The friend shared the Lip Luxe products with his sister, who loved them and wanted to include the products in the Academy Awards gift bags.

“She asked me to ship 250 bags in two weeks,” Mierzejewski recalls. “I really didn’t know what to do. I was used to making batches of about 20!”

Mierzejewski didn’t miss a beat. She taught herself how to make bigger batches and quickly enlisted friends and family to help. “Even my kids were slapping labels on!” she says. “And we got it done.”

Once the local news heard about a Portland, CT entrepreneur whose products were featured in the Academy Awards gift bags, “they swarmed my house,” says Mierzejewski. “I had news trucks and newspapers wanting to cover the story. One minute I’m vacuuming my house and packing school lunches and the next minute I have a makeup artist at my house doing my hair. It was nuts!”

But that’s when she had her “a-ha” moment, Mierzejewski recalls. “I realized I had something good going on when I was going to Hollywood.”

At the time she says she wasn’t really concerned about getting her products to retailers. “I thought: If it happens it happens. Who is going to buy the stuff?” she says. “But after the Academy Awards, the retailers came to me. Within two months I had 25 new retailers within Connecticut.”

Small Business Growth

With the new business, Mierzejewski had to hire help. “I had orders pouring out of the computer because of me going on TV,” she recalls. “There was a lot of Connecticut support. People were ordering this product from this mom in Portland, CT.”

But then the business died down going into the summer months. “That’s common for cosmetics,” says Mierzejewski. “But I was getting a little discouraged.”
At the time, Mierzejewski was doing all of her own marketing and distribution at the time. She decided to try some celebrity promotion. “A lot of people who are in businesses like mine try to reach out to a celebrity because maybe they’ll give you a shout out,” she explains. “It usually doesn’t happen, but you’ve got to try, right?”

Mierzejewski tracked down the cousin of the Kardashians and sent a heartfelt letter. A few weeks later got an email back from the publicist.

“I couldn’t believe she wrote back to me,” Mierzejewski says. “She told me she loved my message and that I should send all the Kardashian girls a hand written note with some of my products. She told me she couldn’t guarantee anything, but she would make sure they opened it. The rest was up to them.”

Six weeks later Kylie Jenner posted a video about what she keeps “Inside her Travel Bag.” The video features prominent placement of the Mizzi Cosmetics Lip Scrub and Honey Kiss Lip Balm and includes Jenner saying she loves the all-natural products.

“My phone started going crazy,” says Mierzejewski. “People were sending me the video. Kylie had posted it on all of her social media—she has about 60 million viewers.”

Within a half an hour, orders started pouring in. “I remember thinking: I don’t know what to do with myself! I couldn’t comprehend what was happening,” Mierzejewski recalls.

The celebrity endorsement was monumental.

“It changed a lot for us,” says Mierzejewski. “Since then, we hired five people and I have a sales manager.”

Mizzi Cosmetics has been featured in national magazines including Allure, Cosmopolitan, People, People Style, and OK Magazine. The Lip Luxe line is now available at more 65 retailers and will soon be distributed internationally.

Mizzi Cosmetics is also waiting to hear results from the Shark Tank television series. The company made it through the interview and submission stage.

Giving Back

Philanthropy is very personal for Mierzejewski—and something she thinks it imperative in her business model.

“When he was four months old, our son Brady was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that required open heart surgery,” explains Mierzejewski.

“We are incredibly grateful to Lily’s Kids, Inc. and the American Heart Association for the support and resources they provide.  Brady’s health is great now. But I couldn’t run my businesses without giving back,” she says.

“People think I have this connection with Kylie and I’m millionaire,” she laughs. “That’s not how it works. All this money just goes back into the business. We put in a ton of money and we have to pay that off. And then I have to pay my employees. I’m not even paying myself yet,” she adds.

“But every month after sales come in, I look at what I’m comfortable giving to the organizations, whether it’s $75 or $300. Every month it’s different based on my sales. It’s very important to me to give back,” she emphasizes.

Startup Challenges

Getting investors on board is currently the biggest for Mizzi Cosmetics.

“We’re so young in this business that there are no investors right now,” says Mierzejewski. “That’s my challenge now is to get investors to come on board or get a business loan.”

That income would help with the product manufacturing. “We’re still manufacturing out of my house,” notes Mierzejewski. “I can make thousands of products, but it’s in my home. It’s in my dining room. We need to get that investment so we can get out of the house. We have a manufacturer set up already. All we have to do is say go and they’ll manufacture all my products for me. And that needs to happen.”

She stresses the importance of knowing when you need help as a startup.

“You can’t just have a great idea and just go. You have to be smart about what you’re doing. You have to figure out your finances and who’s going to help you,” Mierzejewski advises.

“You need to ask yourself: Who can help me with pre-seed kind of money?” She notes, “For me, it went from buying about $50 worth of stuff at Whole Foods to buying pails and drums of vegan base from a pharmaceutical company. But we did it all ourselves. We haven’t asked anybody for anything yet.”

A Team of Advisors

Mierzejewski is grateful for the team of advisors she has developed including CTNext Entrepreneur in Residence Richard Guha, who she says is “a total genius.”

“Richard has really motivated me,” she adds. “He gave me a lot of education. He’s just gotten me in the right loop of things.”

Guha also connected her with Connecticut Small Business Development Center (SBDC) Business Advisor Denise Whitford and Jack Hayes, who is in the capital investment business.

“I’m so lucky to have these people’s support because of how well regarded they are,” says Mierzejewski. “They are so involved in my business. They’re probably going to end up becoming part of my business when all of these other investments go through. They have helped me tremendously,” she adds.

“You need to do that when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re starting a small business. You’ve got to do things yourself, but then you need to know when to ask for help,” Mierzejewski emphasizes.

“And I asked for help at the right time,” she says. “I’ve got a lot of people on my support team who really want to see me succeed. I feel like I’m going in the right direction.”

Next Steps

Moving forward, Mizzi Cosmetics will continue to look for investors, but Mierzejewski says her bigger goal is to get into high-end cosmetics stores like Sephora, Ulta, Nordstrom, and Barneys.

“You’ve got to start with one thing, so my goal is Sephora,” she notes.

“We’re working on the packaging to have the Lip Luxe line look more high-end. But it’s still me. It’s still the small business. It’s still us putting everything into it,” Mierzejewski says.

“But I went to school for marketing and management and business, so I know how to do all this. And it’s paying off.”

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