Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D
After launching a lipstick line in her native Australia right out of high school, Poppy King was running a million-dollar business at 21. Six years later, the company was in Chapter 11. Now, at 35, Poppy's created a new line, Lipstick Queen, and has written a book about her rise and fall (and rise), Lessons of a Lipstick Queen. We recently met her at her office for lunch, where we marveled at her determination—and at her crimson lipstick (Lipstick Queen's Red Sinner), which remained perfectly in place through a ham-and-cheese sandwich.
Why she started a business at 18: I didn't have the grades for college, and I didn't want to do nothing while my friends were at school, and I could never find the matte lipsticks I loved, so I decided to make them myself.
Why she was taken seriously as a young entrepreneur: I don't think any prejudice—whether it's about age, gender, race, appearance—stands a chance against strong research and a clear articulation of what you want to do.
Her biggest business mistake: A few years after I started my first company, I let my partners convince me to do a full line of color cosmetics.
What she learned: To trust my instinct. My partners had a rational argument—we'll make more money if we sell more than just lipstick. But I wasn't passionate about the other products. Within four years, we went out of business.
When the failure hit her: I went to see a therapist months later—I'd moved to New York, started a corporate job, had no friends, and everyone else in New York seemed to go to a therapist. When she asked how I felt about closing my company, I said, "Really relieved." But I was bawling my eyes out. I can remember saying, "I don't know why I'm crying." I had never mourned the end of my business.
Why she went back into business: I started writing this book and was thinking about the early days of my first company, and I started feeling like, "Oh God, I think I want to do this again."
The (nonlipstick) beauty products she packed for her recent book tour: My Shu Uemura eyelash curler, to make me look awake; Darphin Soleil Plaisir SPF 30 sunscreen, to protect my skin; Frédéric Fekkai Glossing Cream, to attempt to control my naturally curly hair; and a lot of green tea, to energize me.