In Summary

  • Australian beauty businessperson Poppy King shares key lessons for entrepreneurs from her 27 years’ experience
  • Ms King was a guest speaker at the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship (AGSE) at Swinburne, where she studied a Bachelor of Arts
  • In 2019 she plans to launch her third business, Poppy King Projects, and wants to return to Australia to teach entrepreneurship in high schools

Australian beauty entrepreneur Poppy King’s reason for starting her own business is surprisingly simple.

“I couldn’t find any lipsticks I liked and was looking for an alternative,” she says.

Fast forward 27 years and New York-based Poppy King – the ‘Lipstick Queen’ – is a household name. She’s now preparing to launch her third business, Poppy King Projects, a self-funded venture.  

Ms King delivered Swinburne’s Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship (AGSE) annual oration, returning to where she studied a Bachelor of Arts – and where she says she “started to think about going into business.”

What are some of Poppy King’s top tips for entrepreneurs?

Recognise the moment

Ms King’s cartoon lightbulb moment came as an 18-year-old wandering the beauty counters in David Jones.

She asked a sales assistant if they had vintage matte lipsticks in reds or browns, and the sales assistant replied: ‘If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me that I’d be rich.’

“It was about recognising the moment when I saw it.”  

Know your ‘why’

When Ms King started her first business, Poppy Industries, she says most people told her she was making a mistake by focusing solely on lipstick.  

But, she attributes her success to not following the mould.

“It gave me an incredible point of difference. The specialty factor has been so unique to retailers and has made them more interested.”

“The fact I named it ‘Poppy’ and didn’t hire models or celebrities showed it was an unusual and personal quest…that was something people could really pick up on.”

Her advice for being heard in a competitive landscape is to “have something simple, something true, something consistent and something with a point of view in what you’re doing.”

Imagination over aspiration

Ms King’s business inspiration is a bit out of the ordinary.  

“My motto is don’t do anything Willy Wonka wouldn’t do…in terms of the magic and the colour.”

One of her most successful lipsticks is ‘frog prince’, a green lipstick that turns pink when it touches the lips.

“I do things in a different way…I come at colour in a different way.”

“Imagination takes you much further than aspiration. Aspiration is about going where someone else is, imagination is about the alternative.”

Be an optimist

Entrepreneurs experience a lot of self-doubt, says Ms King.

“When you need to, remind yourself that no matter the obstacles, it could work…even if it sounds outlandish.”

At the same time, she says to always expect surprises, no matter how well you’ve planned.

"Surprises are just part of the entrepreneurial journey…good or bad.”

Failure and success are not binary

Failure is inevitable, says Ms King.

She quotes Dolly Parton who famously said: ‘it costs a lot of money to look this cheap.’

“By that I mean it takes a lot of success to experience failure. Just trying something is a success, whatever the results are.”

“Failure and success co-exist. While the results may have failed, were the choices I made the best possible ones I could have made? To me the results aren’t the indicator of failure and success.”