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Small Business | LEARNING CURVE: HARD CANDY INC.

Polished by Pros : Nail Shop Taps Executive Talent

December 31, 1996

Dineh Mohajer was a premedical student at USC when demand exploded for her custom nail polish, which comes in shades such as baby blue and mint green. After her company, Hard Candy, grew beyond her control, she hired professionals to serve as CEO and as marketing director. Mohajer was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

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I started mixing nail polishes in my bedroom to make colors like lavender, baby blue, mint green and sunshine yellow. Those colors were not available in stores, and people would stop me and ask me where I got it. Finally, my sister suggested that I sell it.

My boyfriend brought the bottles into stores and girls' eyes would light up. No one had seen anything like these colors before. We started getting a bunch of accounts. After nine months we had so many orders it was ridiculous. We had six phone lines and they were all ringing off the hook.

The business took over my house. I took a couple of semesters off from school and now it's all on hold. I liked the challenge and the idea of creating something. That's not what I had been doing, and it seemed exciting. I was so sick of studying and memorizing everything.

That kind of success we were having was thrilling but it was also overly exhausting. I couldn't keep up with it anymore so I hired a chief executive.

I found my CEO by networking through an entrepreneurial program at Ernst & Young. They introduced me to 15 people. All of them were experienced and had huge resumes but only one of them really got what my company was about. He had the vision.

Executive search firms are very costly, and I didn't want to put that much money out right then. Plus, it could take months with an executive search firm, and I didn't have months. I knew I would be dead soon if I didn't get things under control. This way, it only took me three weeks to find a CEO.

It's very hard to choose someone to run your company. You have to go based on their resume and how you feel about them. If they just don't get what your company is about or they're not enthusiastic, they're not right for the job.

Hiring a CEO has freed me up to focus on things I'm actually good at as opposed to things I'm not. He deals with the boring business stuff that's not as fun. Now I can focus on expanding our line to other makeup and perhaps to clothing.

I was concerned about giving up my company to someone else. But you have to be careful not to let those feelings overpower your decision. But it's not like I handed the company over to someone else. I just brought in a new team player. If you don't have a team player you can delegate to, you'll lose. It's very simple, but people lose sight of that.

After our CEO came on board, we jointly hired a director of marketing. There are people out there who are better at marketing and better at accounting than you are. If you're not doing the things you're best at, you'll lose.

This company is still a lot of fun but we get stuff done much more efficiently now, which is what I care about. It was not worth it to kill myself for this nail polish.

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AT A GLANCE

Owner: Dineh Mohajer

Nature of business: Cosmetics company

Location: Beverly Hills

Year founded: 1995

Number of employees: 25

Annual sales: $10 million

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