BORN IN TRINIDAD AND RAISED IN TORONTO, NADINE THOMPSON CAME to the United States to study clinical social work for her intended work in psychotherapy. But while working as dean of Multicultural Affairs at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire, Thompson was approached by a friend who needed marketing ideas for a cosmetics company he had purchased. "In my practice I had seen a lot of women, both black and white, that were having anxiety issues. A lot of it was that they weren't able to provide for their families in the way they wanted to." Finding a way to alleviate their financial burdens fueled Thompson's interests in starting a network marketing company.
When she presented the idea of revamping his brand into a direct selling company, he liked it and they shook hands on a partnership deal. In 1998, Thompson quit her job to start a beauty company that would be financed by her friend, Daniel Wolf. He would pay Thompson a salary to provide the foundation and business model for what would become Warm Spirit, a line of beauty products primarily for women of color. Through partnerships and touring conferences such as African American Women on Tour, Thompson recruited women who would become top salespersons. She grew the company to revenues of more than $20 million a year and 30,000 sales associates. By 2006, she was awarded Emerging Company of the Year by BLACK ENTERPRISE. The recognition helped spur growth and caught the attention of an investor who convinced her partner that he could drive sales to $20 billion. Although Thompson distrusted his intentions, her partner, who had shouldered the full financial responsibility, was impressed and offered Thompson an ultimatum that resulted in a bitter split the next year.
In January 2008, Thompson launched a new beauty company called Soul Purpose (www.soulpurpose.com). Wolf originally sued to prevent it but eventually dropped the lawsuit and also declared bankruptcy for Warm Spirit. Today, Soul Purpose is one of just two black women-owned businesses that are members of the Direct Selling Association. Soul Purpose currently has 6,000 members bringing in $1.5 million in annual revenues. Thompson admits that it's been a tough journey to rebuild, but she's learned valuable lessons about what it takes to stay focused, stay inspired, and protect her interests.
What advice would you offer to someone interested in starting a business with a friend?
You've got to get your partnership in writing...