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    Founding father of $1 billion startup: This harsh money lesson from my mom ‘forced me to start out hustling’

    When Gregg Renfrew was a 12 months out of school and racking up bank card debt, she called her mom for help — only to be told, bluntly, “Well, it is time to get a brand new job.”

    The tough-love lesson in financial independence pushed her to be more mindful of her spending and income, says Renfrew, 55, the CEO and founding father of billion-dollar clean beauty startup Beautycounter. “Living in fear of not having the ability to pay my bills — having literally no idea — it forced me to start out hustling,” she tells CNBC Make It.

    Upon graduating from the University of Vermont in 1990, Renfrew’s mother gave her two gifts, she says: a monogrammed black briefcase and a check for $5,000. The check was enough to cover “first and last month’s rent on an apartment in Recent York,” together with some work clothes and other odds and ends for somebody just starting a profession, she says.

    Renfrew was free to do whatever she wanted with the cash, but her mother was adamant that she would not receive any more financial support.

    Lower than a 12 months after moving to town, she “immediately racked up bank card bills,” owing greater than $1,000 on her American Express card, she says. Her mother, an actual estate executive on the time, “absolutely could have bailed me out,” she adds.

    As an alternative, her mom instructed her to seek out a method to make enough money to repay her own debts. While Renfrew was “frustrated” with that response on the time, she now says she was lucky to get any kind of head start from her parents.

    “I used to be fortunate to have a debt-free education and to receive any money,” says Renfrew. “Quite a lot of people haven’t got either of those things.”

    Learning to hustle

    The truth check worked. Renfrew “immediately sought a [new] job,” leaving her gig at an promoting firm to affix the sales training program on the Xerox Corporation. Soon, she was selling copiers to businesses across Manhattan, paying off her debts and eventually becoming considered one of the corporate’s top salespeople.

    Renfrew was still working at Xerox when she began a side business with a friend selling bridesmaid dresses. In 1997, they partnered with Nicole Hindrich to bring the British bridal registry business The Wedding List to the U.S., landing a $1.5 million investment from Nordstrom three years later. 

    That business, which sold to Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia in 2001, wasn’t Renfrew’s first foray into entrepreneurialism.

    As a university student who desired to enroll in a “Semester at Sea” program, Renfrew was told by her parents she would want to pay for it herself. In the course of the summer, she began a house-cleaning service in Nantucket, Massachusetts — even hiring a team of employees — to make enough money to cover this system’s cost.

    The experience fit right into her parents’ child-rearing approach: They pushed her to find a way to face on her own, independent of anyone else, including any potential future life partner. Growing up, each time Renfrew desired to buy “material things” like a pair of jeans, she needed to earn the cash to purchase them herself, she says.

    Her ability to be self-reliant helped lay the muse for her future profession in business, she notes: “I believe that could be a really good life lesson.”

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