The Journey to Walmart: A Note from tgin Founder and CEO Chris-Tia Donaldson
What Getting into Walmart Taught Me As a CEO
Somebody please break out the crates, and put on Etta James’ “At Last”, because I’m pleased to announce that tgin is now in a Walmart near you!
When I wrote the book Thank God I’m Natural almost ten years ago, I always dreamed that it would one day lead to me creating my own line of products. Now, years later, after many years of hard work, a few setbacks, and building a great team that is just as crazy as they are fully committed to this dream, tgin products officially hit the shelves of Walmart, the largest brick and mortar retailer in the world, last week. To say those words is absolutely surreal and the excitement is indescribable.
Having launched in Target, CVS, Sally Beauty, and Walgreens, you might think that this was easy or that this opportunity came quickly, but it wasn’t either of those things. My team has definitely put in a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and there have been the occasional meltdowns along the way, but we made it. Going through this process has taught me a lot as a CEO, but here are my three biggest takeaways:
Let Go and Watch Your Business Grow
This past year, I realized it’s time to hang up my jersey (or at least put it in my locker and have it ready in case I need to change into it!). When you’re an entrepreneur running a startup, you’re in the game, shoulder-to-shoulder with the rest of your teammates, much like Michael Jordan or Tom Brady. As a business leader, you live for the moment when you are the one to sink a three-point shot across the court with one second left on the clock. As we continue to grow and make progress, I realize more and more, my team needs these moments more than I do. Someone said it best in CEO school, if you want to get to the next level, you have to give up what you’re famous for and teach someone else how to shoot a game-winning jump shot.
Here’s a perfect example of this. We recently had a meeting with Walmart, where we had to give a presentation on our go-to market plan before launching in store. I have done this several times before, and I’m pretty good at it. Actually, as David Chappelle would say, I’m really good at it. When it was time to present this year before our buyer, I struggled with letting one of my teammates (actually an MBA intern from Kellogg) take the lead. It was a huge risk , but it paid off. My other employees saw how I trusted team members to do big things, and it also gave me the opportunity to hear and refine the company’s message, because I was listening instead of delivering it for the first time.
As your company matures, your team grows and gets better and better. As a start-up founder, you’re often moved to the sidelines, where you become a Phil Jackson or Pat Riley, the coach of the winning team. A lot of times, I miss being in the game and the ability to flex my intellectual and athletic abilities, but it can take some time getting used to. Eventually, a time will come where I’m no longer the coach, and I’m the incognito and watchful owner sitting in the sky box that no one ever sees except at championship games.
Timing is Everything
In the last few years, I’ve learned that you have to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. In our business, not being ready can have a huge financial impact on our ability to grow sales, because opportunities literally come our way regularly at the last minute and we operate in a highly competitive space.
In the case of Walmart, we took our time, because we knew everything had to be right. We had to be ready for this massive opportunity and when the time came, we were. We were ready for not just potential problems, but we needed to be ready for the sheer volume of products we would need to produce for this partnership. The temptation was always there to just jump and pursue this opportunity years ago, and just figure it out, but that’s not my personality. I will say that while being a perfectionist has helped me, it has also hurt me. As I always say “My Biggest Mistake is not having made bigger mistakes”. Still, Walmart is not the time or place to make big mistakes. I know from experience, that if we had gone any faster, we wouldn’t have been as well equipped as we are now to handle it. However, if we waited much longer, the opportunity could have easily passed us by. Still it is important to remember that patience is everything, and that in business it’s a marathon not a sprint, so help me God!
Celebrate the Small Wins
Most days it feels like we’re running a never-ending race, but along the way I’ve learned it is important to stop, pull off to the side of the road, break out the picnic basket and a glass of Kim Crawford Chardonnay, and celebrate the small wins. Failure to do so can leave both you as a CEO and your team exhausted, and feeling unfulfilled. At tgin, every day feels like a Category 5 Hurricane with new challenges and obstacles, but taking the time to enjoy our success and express gratitude is critical to everyone hanging in for the long run.
With that said, I want to say I am truly thankful for everyone who has supported us over the years. Whether you purchased our Honey Miracle Hair Mask, took a shelfie in Target, or just liked one of our Instagram posts, we appreciate it. Everything in this game makes a difference. When you see us on your neighborhood Walmart shelf, know that we don’t take any of this for granted. We will always pursue perfection and strive to bring you the best products. So we would love if you could tell all of your friends, family, co-workers, and neighbors we’re at Walmart. Oh and when you spot us don’t forget to take a shelfie!
I want to also give special thanks out to my incredible team who has worked tirelessly to bring this day to fruition. From making sure the labels on every item were straight, to devising and implementing a social media strategy for this launch, every member of the team played a part. Thank you for always being committed to excellence and doing whatever it takes to get the job done.