Episode 333

Kendra Scott on Her Entrepreneurial Journey, Building A Fashion Empire and More

The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Kendra Scott | Entrepreneurial Journey


Kendra Scott is the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of the fashion empire Kendra Scott, which she has grown from a small startup to a billion-dollar brand with over 3,000 employees and 120 stores. Kendra won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year National Award in 2017, was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2019, and has been featured on the hit show Shark Tank. She is also a dedicated philanthropist—on the board of directors of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and founder of the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at UT Austin. Kendra is also the bestselling author of a memoir, Born To Shine, that was published in 2022.

Kendra joined host Robert Glazer on the Elevate Podcast to discuss her entrepreneurial journey, how she leveled up as a leader with no business training, and building a world-famous brand.

Listen to the podcast here


Kendra Scott Shares Her Entrepreneurial Journey

Welcome to the show. Our quote for this episode is from Estée, “I never dreamed about success. I worked for it.” My guest, Kendra Scott, is one of the rare entrepreneurs who has become a household name. She’s the Founder and Executive Chairwoman of the fashion empire, Kendra Scott, which she has grown from a small startup to a billion-dollar brand with over 3,000 employees in 120 stores.

Kendra won the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2017, was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame in 2019, and has been featured on the hit Show Shark Tank. She’s also a dedicated philanthropist on the board of directors of the Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and Founder of the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute at UT Austin. Kendra is also the best-selling author of a memoir, Born to Shine, published in 2022.


The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Kendra Scott | Entrepreneurial Journey


Kendra, welcome. It’s great to have you on the show.

I’m thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me. I sound pretty cool with that intro. I was like, “Whew.”

Impact From Childhood

I had to set high expectations. Thank you. It’s taken us a while to get this together. I saw you speak a few years ago. I am excited to ask you some questions here. I always think it’s interesting to start with childhood. In particular, I want to ask you about your stepfather. You discussed him having a really big impact on your life and purpose. Can you talk a little bit about that?

I was really lucky to have this person in my life as a bonus dad who was a two-tour Vietnam veteran. He spoke five languages fluently. He had the greatest tan you’ve ever seen in your life and a magnetic smile. He was a gregarious person. He was diagnosed with brain cancer when I was fifteen years old. My life at that moment took a very pivotal change. This person that I adored and loved so much was fighting for his life. It was someone that I thought was so strong and nothing could get this guy down, and this cancer got to him.

During that time, I was spending a lot of time at MD Anderson, meeting so many men and women undergoing chemotherapy and cancer treatment. I have loved fashion and design since I was a little girl, so I started creating headwear options that were comfortable. I would sew cotton linings and hats and bring them and gift them to some of the women that I would meet while I was up there at MD Anderson.

He, during that time, said, “You have such a short time on this earth, honey. I want you to use the gifts that you were given to make a positive impact on this world.” With what I was doing with these hats, it really was doing that. I was using the gift of design, which I had, to be able to help people. I had this philosophy of wanting to be able to continue that. That was the goal of my first business. It was a little hat business that I had started at nineteen years old.

I lost him when I was twenty. My company, my little hat store, was failing, so I had to close that business. It stuck with me that if I did have the courage to do something again, I wanted to do something that was going to be able to make a positive impact on the world. He died when he was 47 years old. On my 47th birthday, I had to step away from the table. I sobbed in the bathroom because I thought, “I get another day tomorrow. I get another day hopefully next year. I have to make every day count.” He’s been my North Star since I founded Kendra Scott and our philosophy of wanting to create a fashion-for-philanthropy brand. Without him in my life, I don’t know if we’ve been able to do the things that we’ve done.

That was The Hat Box, right?


You dropped out of college to start that business.

I did. The goal was that I was going to go back. I tried to convince my parents and myself, “I’m going to go back. I’m going to take a little break. I’m going to start this new business.” Fortunately, life took over. My life had a different path. I had that business for five years. When I had to close it, it was the hardest time in my life. I went and I had to get a job, but I had a side hustle. I was making jewelry in my hat store. Customers were calling me not for the hats, but for the jewelry after I closed it, so I started making and designing still jewelry while I was working in this Corporate America job.

I realized that The Hat Box was my MBA. I learned everything about business, everything I did right, and the multiple millions of things I did wrong. I was able to take all of those incredible on-the-job training, learning it myself, these golden nuggets, and put them in my pocket. I had those with me when I founded Kendra Scott. I would not have the successful brand and company I have if I didn’t have that Hat Box store and that business that failed.

Your story is so similar to others I’ve heard in that respect with the failure, the learning, and all the things of, “I’m going to do differently on this side.” I’m curious about your take. It seems like in this achievement culture, we are encouraging young people not to get anything wrong and not to make any mistakes. The real world hits up eventually and they realize it doesn’t work that way. What are your thoughts on this? How do we make it okay to fail and learn? You rose from the ashes of The Hat Box to start Kendra Scott.

It’s Okay To Fail And Learn

If we don’t allow ourselves the ability to misstep or have a failure, we are never going to move forward in our lives. On the other side of fear, it’s very scary sometimes to open those doors to take risks and take a challenge. I keep going back to what I said. Our time here is very short. This is life. There are things in life that work out great the way you planned, but most of the time, whether that’s people who get married who maybe realize, “I thought this was forever,” it’s not.

It’s so important that we really think about how we are going to be able to position ourselves when those things happen, and they will happen. Instead of going, “I don’t want it to happen. I have to do everything to prevent it from happening,” you don’t want to fail, but you will. There are going to be some times in your life when you’re going to fall down and scrape your knees. We have two options. We pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and go, “What did I learn in that moment? How am I going to be able to take this thing that happened that didn’t feel good and isn’t what I had planned and be able to keep it with me?”


The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Kendra Scott | Entrepreneurial Journey


“When the opportunity arises,” and it will arise if you’re looking for it, “I’m going to be able to know something that I wouldn’t have known before that is going to allow me to be successful in the next thing that I do,” whether that’s in your personal life, your professional life, your business life, or whatever that looks like. We’ve got to, one, also be loving and kind to people when they do go through those moments.

After I ended The Hat Box, I was so humiliated. I was so ashamed of myself. I felt like the biggest loser on the planet. The person I had started this business for, I had lost to cancer. I was a college dropout with no degree. All my friends had degrees. They were going to these big jobs. I felt like the lowest person that you could ever imagine. When I started to think about doing jewelry as a full-time job and trying to start another business, I didn’t want to tell anybody because I didn’t want people to laugh at me and say, “Here she goes again. Good luck. She’s the one with the failed hat store.”

I thought this was what was going on, but what I realized is I was making these voices up in my own head of what I thought the perception was. This was my internal voice telling me that I wasn’t good enough, that I shouldn’t do this again, or that I was going to fail again. It wasn’t the world saying these things. It was my own voice that I was projecting on the world. If we can get out of our own heads, that’s the biggest thing. We have to get out of our own heads and say, “I am courageous. I am brave. I am not afraid to fail. I’m not going to let you or the voice in my head tell me any different.”

I first heard your story in this program called EMP that we were both in. I’d love for you to tell it from the lens of that program because I  thought it was fascinating. EMP is a program within the Entrepreneurs’ Organizations where people commit to go to school for three years. It’s for people who really want to scale and grow their company. If someone did a case study on it, the business growth that has come out of this program is extraordinary.

How Kendra Scott Started

You came back as an example to talk to our class. This is a picture in a picture telling the story about being in the back of that same room in your class and someone saying, “A billion-dollar business is going to come out of this room.” You almost walked out of the room because you felt like you were in the wrong room. Can you tell the story about how you started Kendra Scott, where you were when you walked into that room, and then what happened after that room? I love that story.

I founded Kendra Scott in 2002. I was strictly a wholesale business, so designing, manufacturing, and selling to other retailers. After The Hat Box failed, I was like, “I will never be in retail again. That was scary stuff. I am not doing that again.” I felt like I needed this business brand. I was trying to read books and learn what I could. I joined an organization called Entrepreneurs’ Organization so that I could start to meet other entrepreneurs. I was in this period where I wanted to be a sponge and try to learn as much as I could from people that I admire and respect.

I was encouraged to apply for this program at MIT. I thought, “There’s no way I’m getting into this program. It’s people from around the world. It’s not just people in the United States.” Maybe they get a quota for women or something. I don’t know. I’m going to be honest. I got in. I’m sitting in this room with 64 other entrepreneurs. I took a seat in the very back. I did not want to be noticed. I felt like, “I don’t belong with this group. These people are way at a different level than me.”

For context, how big was the business at the time?

$2 million in sales. It was big compared to zero sales, but not at the levels of most of the people in this room. They went around. First, our guy said, “One of you is sitting in a billion-dollar seat.” I’m looking around the room and I’m like, “It’s got to be either that guy from India or this guy over here.” I’m trying to think of who it is. I was like, “Who is it going to be?” I was not even remotely considering that I could be sitting in the billion-dollar seat.

We went through and we introduced ourselves. Everyone goes through and they say, “I’m a Stanford MBA. I’m from Harvard.” Here I am, hearing all these resumes. They were like, “I built this business.” They were all puffing up and saying they were big guys on campus. I was dreading having to be the one who had to stand up and say, “My name is Kendra Scott. I’m a college dropout. I’m a single mom to two little boys.” I was horrified, but I was like, “I’m going to be honest.”

I stood up and said exactly that. I said I was very intimidated to be in this room and that I was really hopeful that I could help my business. With my vulnerability, I teared up while talking, and it led to everyone in the class all of a sudden starting to feel that they could be vulnerable. They started sharing their fears in their business, what they were scared of, and why they wanted to be part of this program. All of a sudden, those walls of like, “I’ve got to be this,” it was like, “Let’s be honest and real.” I thought it was a beautiful moment for our class.

They embraced me. They all stood up and applauded me after I spoke, which was the opposite of what I thought. I thought, “They probably are going to laugh me out of here,” and they didn’t. I still have those friends in that class. We graduated in 2009. If you look at Kendra Scott, the business, when we had lightning-in-a-bottle growth was 2009 and beyond. That class gave me so many tools and the ability to learn how to have the entrepreneurial mindset and business acumen to run a successful company. I’m so grateful that I had that opportunity.

Part of the story was you started the business with your son in tow in a Baby Björn going door to door, right?

Yeah, I did. He was three months old. I started going from store to store with my jewelry in a tea box because I didn’t even have a proper jewelry case. I had him in my little baby carrier and I’d go into these boutiques and be like, “I am Kendra Scott. Would you like to look at my jewelry?” I say all the time I’m so happy I started this business in Texas Southerner Texans are very friendly. These store owners would be like, “Come here. I’ll hold the baby.” They were so nice.

In the Northeast, you would not have had the same reaction.

Exactly. It’s a good sales tool. Bring a puppy or a baby. It might get you a way in. I started out of my extra bedroom, making the pieces on a card table that my mom had brought over. I was getting to where I was getting more stores interested in the line and having to get an office, and then realizing, “Maybe I have a real business here.” Instead of it being a thing where I thought, “I could make some money for my family,” I had to get back to, “You can start another business. You can do this.” It took other people believing in me and buying the products for me to start to believe in myself.

Standing Out In A Crowded Marketplace

Jewelry is an industry where there’s a ton of competition, both from massive brands and small local businesses. Looking back at your success in the meteoric rise there, what do you think helped make you stand out and grow in what is a crowded marketplace? I’m always amazed, particularly in jewelry, when a brand pops up. Differentiation is hard, but you did something really well there.

Thank you. One, I looked at what I wanted. You hear this so often from entrepreneurs who have been successful. It’s something that they can’t find and they solve a solution for it. There are usually other people that feel the same way. That was exactly where I was at. I loved colored stones, but I couldn’t afford what was out there. The only other option was to use inexpensive materials like lucite, plastics, or acrylics.

I wanted to be able to make an affordable jewelry line with beautiful quality materials that were attainable for women. Earrings were $100 or less. That wasn’t inexpensive, but it was attainable. Somebody could figure out how to afford that. That was one. There was white space between fashion jewelry, costume jewelry, and what we call bridge jewelry.  There was this really great white space that could bridge between there that I saw was open.

The second thing is everybody was using the same materials. They were all the same shapes. No one was identifiable. You couldn’t look at one jewelry brand versus another and know what the brand was, especially in this category. You could in the higher end. David Yurman had some recognizable features to his jewelry that would say, “That’s a David Yurman.” I didn’t see that anywhere else. For me, I knew stone shape and stone material was something I was so passionate about. If I could create using unique methods of how I would show our materials in unique shapes that I could copyright and I could own those shape designs, that would be something that could get people to recognize you.

You were able to copyright the shapes?

Yes. Every single shape that we use at Kendra Scott is custom-made and designed here in our lab. They are then sent to our stone cutters and we copyright those shapes. All of our shapes are that way. In the early days, I didn’t have enough production to do that, so I had to try to build this business of going direct to the vendors instead of using wholesalers, importers, and exporters. I went directly to the stone sources so that I could cut some of those middlemen out to be able to offer a better price point to my customer base.

It took many years to be able to do my first stone cut, which is still our most popular shape. It was called Danielle. It’s now the Lisa necklace. We sell one of those every minute, which is crazy. That was my first stone shape, and that became a recognizable shape. That was one of the things that helped for our tipping point if you guys have read The Tipping Point. It was our crown jewel. It was our thing that was like, “That is her.” It started to put a name with the brand and the, and the products.

From Solopreneur To Managing A Million-Dollar Business

You’ve talked a lot about imposter syndrome. I assume in leading a fast-growing company, you also talked about not having formal business training. You are the exception. Few founders can take the company to the size that you have. Usually, there are 3 or 4 leaders in that time span. To do that fundamentally, and from my experience, I’ve done a couple of those turns but I stopped far before your level, you have to reinvent yourself over and over and become a completely different leader. How did you go from solopreneur to scale up to CEO to managing a multi-hundred-million-dollar business?


The Elevate Podcast with Robert Glazer | Kendra Scott | Entrepreneurial Journey


There are a couple of parts to that. One, the startup Kendra Scott leader is still relevant for me. I’m scrappy. I roll my sleeves up. I get right there in with my team. I’ll be in the warehouse shipping products, I’ll be on the sales floor selling in our stores with our team. I love that part of it. That is so important for so many leaders to hear because they shouldn’t change those fundamental things about leadership in those startup years when you are doing so many things.

The other part is that I couldn’t afford people early on. I had to start to identify, “What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses, what things should I be outsourcing?” I am not great at finance and accounting. Me doing spreadsheets, I’m wasting hours of my time during the day doing something that is not my wheelhouse. I’m great at the design. I’m great at the marketing. I’m great at how everything is going to look, feel, and all of those things. I need people that are great at the things that I suck at, whether that’s hiring them internally or getting them externally through outsourcing.

That’s one of the critical things about how you can scale. Many leaders try to think they can do it all and they end up doing everything pretty badly. I don’t know if you’ve read it, but Marcus Buckingham’s Now, Discover Your Strengths, I love that book and I love Marcus. It helped me identify those things. I started to build a team around me so that we could all focus on what we were great at. We all had an aligned vision. We knew exactly what our goals were and where we were going, and together, not me, we built the roadmap to get us there. It was a collaborative effort and an aligned vision. When you put all those things together, you can have lightning-in-a-bottle growth. We had an incredible synergy. No one can do this by themselves.

I’m always learning. I wake up every single day and I’m running a company bigger than it was the night before. Think about that for a minute. I have to have great mentors, advisors, and people on my board who have walked in these shoes in other businesses and other companies that I can lean on and say, “What are your thoughts about this? What do you think we should look at when we’re looking at this next opportunity? I know that you’ve gone through X, Y, or Z. I love your input. When you went through this, what would you have done differently?”

You have to be able to ask for help. You have to be able to be vulnerable. You have to be able to understand that you will never know everything. The only way to do that is to bring people around you that truly are smarter and brighter in those areas that can help you achieve the success that you’re looking to do.

I want to pull two things from what you said there because one is important and probably is a big answer to the question. That is you quit a lot of those other jobs early on. A lot of entrepreneurs hold onto them and try to do everything. They micromanage and make the business all about them. It sounds like you settled very comfortably into things and probably the creative and marketing is your zone of genius. The other thing is you said aligned vision. I’m sure one of the things you took out of the EMP program was the vivid visioning. Can you talk about that? Can you also share about sketching the headquarters building? I remember you sharing that story.

In my book, Born to Shine, Cameron Herold, came in and talked to us about vivid vision. I worked with Cameron to have this included in my book because it is such a big part of my success and the company’s success. My personal happiness is really being able to look at a three-year plan. As Cameron says, anything beyond three years, we can’t figure out. These ten-year goals are ridiculous. In a three-year plan, what is your business? What is your life? What is your family? You have to put it all together because your business is a portion of your life. It is not your whole life. If you can envision exactly how you want things to work, run, and operate in your whole life, you can start to live in that person.

Your business can destroy your family for a lot of people.


For me, part of it was I was a mom first. Before I’m a CEO and a designer, I’m a mother. I wanted to create a company and a business that allowed myself and the other parents in this company to be able to be there for their families first. That was part of my vision of, “What will that look like? How can we create that?”

It was then to put in the world the Big Hairy Audacious Goal, the BHAG. I was going to put something so crazy. I was like, “I could be a billion-dollar brand and a household name.” It was laughable even for me to write that down on paper. It sounds so silly to even put that down on paper, but once I put it down and the other folks on my team saw the BHAG, they started to believe in it. If you can see it, you can believe it.

You started to think, “We do our three-year, and then we’d make this goal.” All of a sudden, we started stair-stepping to this billion-dollar dream. It got there a whole lot quicker. I never even thought it would be possible to say that, but it really is. It’s such an important exercise and something every single person in a company or starting a company should do.

For those who don’t know BHAG, it is Big Hairy Audacious Goal. That came from Jim Collins’ book. What is the crazy thing that your business is going to achieve? On the flip side, you had this BHAG. I know you started the business in 2002. About six years into it, we hit the Great Recession. I have to assume that’s an existential threat for a lot of companies. How did you navigate through that? Did you think there was a good chance that you wouldn’t make it through to the other side?

It was really great because I was in EMP, that program, at MIT during the Great Recession. 2006 to 2009 was our last year. In 2008, the world was already starting to show signs of a decline in our economy. By 2009, so many members of my class, their businesses had failed. Our class was getting smaller by the minute. We started with 65. We did not end with 65 people who had survived even at that point in 2009. I was a wholesale business. Remember. I was too afraid to get into retail again. I said no to that. I was like, “No way, Jose. I am not doing this.” That changed.

Sometimes, with our failures, the scars heal, but the wounds are deep.

The wound was deep. I was growing, but not growing fast. I was doing well. I was able to pay my rent. I was able to keep my kids in school. I was doing those types of things, but I wasn’t growing by leaps and bounds. I was very conservative. I was risk averse. When the recession hit, so many of the stores that I had worked with for years were shuttering.

Many of the buyers at the big department stores that I had built relationships with were getting laid off. Many of these businesses wanted to start going direct and doing private labels on their own. I was like, “All of my eggs are in this basket. I 100% have allowed the power of the pen to be in the hands of these store owners and these buyers, and I have been not focusing on what was most important,” which was my customer.

I did not have a direct connection to my end consumer. I did not have an eCommerce website. Everything was wholesale. I did not have my own retail stores. I had no way of communicating with her directly. I knew that if I was going to survive this recession, I had to change my business model. At that moment, and I call them in my book a shake the snow globe moment, the recession was a shake the snow globe moment for me. It forced me to have to do my business differently. I went to my team and said, “We are not going to survive this if we don’t change our business model. I know this is crazy.”

Your customers were probably going under, right?

Yes. Every day. We had shipped orders where companies had filed bankruptcy and we never saw the money for those orders. It was crazy. It was kinda the Alamo story. For us Texans, we know this one.

We’re about to run into the burning building as everyone’s running out of it.

There’s a line in the sand. It’s like, “Those of you who are with me to cross over the line and go into the burning building, raise your hand if you don’t, I get it.” I said, “We’re going to change our model. We’re going to go direct-to-consumer. We’re going to still have our wholesale business, but our entire focus and energy is going to be to connect to our customers directly. If she wants and loves the brand, she’s going to yell for it in the other retail stores she goes to. She is going to get our power back. The way we’re going to do this is we’re going to open a retail store when everyone is closing them in Austin.”

The good news is real estate was probably cheap.

It was. It was great. I was like, “We’re going to start an eCommerce website. We’re going to do this.” At that point, I had no investors in my business. I did it on what I had left in our line of credit. I did it on credit card debt. We made a huge shift. We moved our office above the new store so we would all be there to be able to work the store and also learn from our customer.

We’d have to walk through the store to get to our little desks upstairs. It was our laboratory. We were learning everything about our business, our customer, what she loved, what she hated, and what she wanted more of. We saw this incredible response and our business blew up. That was this pivotal move. We grew the business we have out of one of the scariest financial crises our country has ever seen. That goes to prove to all of us that sometimes, we get so on our own, like, “It has to be this way,” that we’re not seeing things from a 360 perspective until our snow globe gets shaken. You’re then like,  “We got to do something different.

It’s also better for you to shake the snow globe than a lot of times for someone else to shake the snow globe.

I wish I had shaken the snow globe three years earlier. We could have grown even faster then, but I was too afraid to do it. Our fear can get in the way of our success. Having these examples of the recession, when I feel scared, I get excited. I’m like, “This could be big.” I had to experience it to know it.


Our fear can get in the way of our success. We have to push through that.


You mentioned investors. I know you struggled to get investors. I’m sure it’s better now, but it was probably mostly men. They didn’t understand how it was different. At the end of the day, it probably allowed you to hold onto the majority of the business. Many people, the world, and the 37signals Basecamp guys have talked about how there’s so much around this culture of Silicon Valley and getting investment. I’m sure it sucked at the time, but looking back, it was probably a blessing in disguise.

I’m still the majority shareholder of my company. People can’t even get over this. It was not a choice. I would walk into these boardrooms in Austin. It was very much a tech town back in 2003 and 2004. Fashion in Austin was not something anybody was thinking about. I’d walk in and it didn’t matter that I had Nordstrom and some of these big-name customers. These guys would look at me like I had three heads, like, “You’re not doing a software or a tech company. I don’t understand.” I’d be like, “No, but I’ve got this great business and this is what we’re doing.” I would get laughed out of these boardrooms.

It was so hard. I remember going to my EO friends and saying, “What do I do? I need to get investments.” They’re like, “You need an angel.” I’m like, “Where do these angels hang out?” You have to remember. We weren’t in a time when we had all this connection. I don’t even know if I had Facebook back then or if that was even a thing in 2005 or 2006. We didn’t have access to people and hearing about investment funds for women. That wasn’t something we had access to.

They also didn’t exist as much, right?

No. I remember I brought in an advisory board because I didn’t have a typical board and I wanted to have the discipline to have quarterly board meetings. I wanted to have people look at what I was doing and be critical of things I should be doing differently that had experience in areas that I didn’t, whether that was in web development or some of the things I needed as we were building out our retail stores and real estate development.

I remember one of my mentors saying, “If you build it, these investors will come. Keep your head down and build the best business you can build. I know that’s hard to say. I know you have everything you own for collateral right now on loans. I know you’re signing personal guarantees on these leases. I know you’re stressed, but I promise you. What you’re doing will bring investors.”

It took me ten years to get the phone to ring, but then when it started ringing, it wouldn’t stop ringing. It was then, “How am I going to bring in the right partner?” At that point, money became easier to get. It was, “When strategically can I bring in the right partner who has that aligned vision that shares my core values, sees what I’m trying to do, and will allow me to be able to grow this to the next place?” That was an exciting point. In 2013, I sold 20% of the company with about $110 million valuation. That was the first time in my life I had any money. I was living my life afloat.


Finding the right partner who shares your core values and vision is crucial for taking your business to the next level.


When you’re growing that fast, and people don’t realize this, it is like doubling down at the casino. You have to keep more inventory and the money doesn’t come out.

I hired a COO who I couldn’t afford. I remember my controller saying, “You can’t afford this person.” I said, “I can’t not afford him. I’ll pay myself nothing.” I was barely enough to pay my basic bills so we could get him. It was those types of decisions that helped us get to the point we are. It is so exciting to be able to still be in this control space.

Three years later, we brought in another investor. The company was then valued at $1.1 billion after 3 years. That investor who came in at 20% at $110 million was very happy. It was exciting because I was able to still maintain control. That was so important for me. My name’s on this brand and I care so much about this. This is like my other child, this company.

I realized I asked the question before and then we skipped it, but can you tell the story about drawing the headquarters?

Yeah. I drew this image of what it would be. I had it that it was going to have a fitness center, a kid’s playroom, and a nail salon. I drew this big dream of what would my Google be. It was the Kendra Scott Google. I drew it out. I remember when we moved in the headquarters and I brought all of these things to the table of how I wanted to design our office and how I wanted it to be this work-friendly environment with nursing rooms for all of our working moms who had babies and all these crazy things.

I was driving and they were putting the name Kendra Scott on a big building. Kendra Sco was up, and they were about to put the TT up. I’m at the stoplight, watching this crane, and I start bawling. People are honking at me. I’m supposed to be turning left. I stopped. I froze. There were tears streaming down my face. I was like, “This is real.” This was such a farfetched dream. This was so far away. It was playful to think that this could ever happen. To see it happening was such a moment that if you dream it, it can happen, and I never thought it would. It was one of those pivotal you-had-your-breath-taken-away moments of like, “This is real.”

How many years from that initial sketch that you had in that notebook to the building being built?

Eight years.

It’s powerful.

Those eight years went by so quickly. Also, it never seemed like that would ever be a possible thing. It was more of a fun playful thing to do.

You alluded to some of the values before. I know your company’s core values are family, fashion, and philanthropy. I’m curious. Are those your personal core values? How did you decide on those for the business?

When you’re a founder of a business, you’re the first DNA of what that brand is going to be, so what matters to you? What are the things in your life that are so critically important to you? When you can form a healthy, happy culture is when birds of a feather flock together. The way that you can create that is by sharing your core values. You have different expertise and various things, but this is the heart of your soul, your brand, and who you are.


As the founder of a business, you lay the groundwork for the brand’s core identity. You embody the brand’s DNA.


For me, being a present mother while starting this business was critically important. I wanted to create a family-first environment in my company. I wanted to be allowed to be a mother and not be ridiculed for being a mother. I wanted others in my organization to have that same feeling that we had a village of support for one another. I wanted to treat my employees like my sisters and my brothers, and I wanted them to treat me the same. I wanted to treat our customers that way. This family value was everything to me. When you walked into our stores, how you were greeted was like you would be in my home. All of those things went around this family value.

The second was fashion and design. I wanted to make products that made people feel good, not just look good. If I could get people around me that were passionate about that, that they loved that idea of creating products that made people feel good. Beyond that is creating products that could be a fashion for philanthropy. That gets us into our third core value after saying, “I want to make sure that I’m going to do something good with my short time on this earth. If we can create a successful company that also is making a positive impact on the world around us, that will be success.” It was also getting people that felt that same way around it.

Those three core values were my core values, and they became the company’s core values. What I realized is birds of a feather flock together. That is what has drawn people to this organization. That is what has drawn people to the brand as customers because they, too, are customers who have a heart that beats for their community. They love fashion. They love to feel good and look good. They care immensely about their community and their family. They share it. That’s why we’ve created this incredible culture within the walls of Kendra Scott but outside the walls of Kendra Scott as well.

Let me ask you. I’d love to dig in on the family part and try to play devil’s advocate. There are a lot of contentious discussions about whether people should talk about family in the business context. I’ll give you some of the arguments I’ve heard, and then I’d love to hear your counter-arguments. I’ve heard a lot of people say you should talk more like a team because a team understands that we have these goals together. If the person is not scoring any baskets, then they’re probably going to go on the bench.

You might have a different way of handling this. Sometimes, families are not good at holding each other accountable. The drunk uncle embarrassing everyone at the wedding, we brush that aside. How do you hold that line when you have a family core value? I assume you have performance issues. You have to deal with stuff and people are like, “I thought we were all family.” That’s the trap that I’ve seen a lot of leaders run into who try to adopt family as a core value. A lot of people aren’t good at holding the line with their family around things.

At the end of the day, I will hold my family accountable. I hold my children accountable. They have to go to school. They have to do their work. They have to do their homework. My boys have jobs. They pay for things. That is how I lead my life. I am going to give all of this understanding and leeway to be able to say,
“I want you to be present for your family at home first.” Your work family is different. You have a real family. Those are two separate things.

It’s really about treating people with a family-first mentality.

Exactly. I’m still saying, “Let’s communicate what are your needs to be able to do that and how I can support you here in this business to be able to make sure that you’re being present for your family. I know that is going to inevitably help you with your work here. When you’re feeling balanced and feeling like, “I’m not letting my family down,” you are able to bring more into the office and the workplace.

In addition to that, how do we also be kind and thoughtful to one another and say, “If you’re going through a hard time at home or someone in your family is sick, you know that you can come to us. We are going to support you through that. You are not alone in this. This is a moment in time we are going to be there for you.” I can promise you. When you treat your people with that type of love and respect, they will love, respect, and work harder for you because you care about who they are and their happiness in their lives. They don’t take that for granted. To me, an empathetic leader is the most powerful leader in the world.


When you treat your people with love and respect, they’ll reciprocate and work harder for you.


With that said, it sounds like your definition of family has a lot of accountability. It doesn’t stop you from calling people out who have demonstrated bad behavior from their point of view.

I’m lucky because I have the greatest team on the planet. I have very rare of those circumstances, quite honestly.

Maybe you screen very well for that.

We do. You should see the interview process people go through to become part of this group.

What does that look like? I’m curious.

You go through probably about 5 to 8 different interviews minimum in some cases depending on the role. Even if you’re in a leadership role as a management director, vice president, or above, the people who will work for you are the ones also interviewing you. This is a collaborative decision on, “Do we feel excited about this leader that is coming in to lead us?”

I believe in this whole up approach to how you hire people. You want to bring people into your organization that exemplify your core values every single day. They are these shining stars and lights. They could be an entry-level position, but they have everything right. You want to have those types of people interviewed because they will smell a rat in a minute. They sniff it out.

You’re going to also be meeting with your boss and going to be going through all these other things, but we are giving a very holistic approach to interviewing. We want the actual real feedback, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s such a powerful tool because then when we are hiring people, the people that are going through this are also seeing our culture and seeing it through a diverse background of people within the organization. They get to understand, “Is this something that will be a good fit for me as well?” We really want them to have that exposure because we don’t want it to be a mistake on either side. The worst thing you can do is like, “We got to fill this position. We got to get this person. We’re all overloaded. Hire. Get it done. They seem good enough.” You are going to regret it.

There are a lot of organizations, and this is one of the things that came out of Silicon Valley that I like and we’ve used, that place a disinterested person in that hiring group for this reason. It’s to slow it down and make sure, “I know this person’s desperate and short-staffed,” and be the company check and balance of not letting them hire too early,

100%. You have to bring in cross-functional folks that will have the interfacing with this person as well. It’s not just the person who’s filling the position. It’s how this person is going to interact with everybody else and collaborate on the team. It’s such an important process. Take your time. Slow it down. The worst thing you have to do is get somebody on and then realize that it’s not working out and your team isn’t happy.

You’ve got to not only go through a firing process, which nobody likes, let’s be honest, but you have lost your company so much more money and time because you’re going back out to the search trying to retrain somebody. Take your time, slow down here, and get it right. Bring as many folks in your organization that you trust and know that they have got it to be another voice of reason and get other perspectives. Be open to those perspectives even if you’re desperate to get this position hired.


When hiring someone, take your time. Slow down and get it right. Bring in as many people from your organization as you trust and know who will be another voice of reason.


I know there are a lot of leaders that want to hire based on core values. They’ve figured out their core values. I don’t think they know how to or haven’t formed the right behavioral-based questions to test that. Without blowing the interview process in general, could you give us a sneak peek? How do you find out if someone is family first? What kind of question would you ask?

One, most people who are coming in at this point to interview know the company culture. They’re going to know that. We ask them, “What has drawn you to Kendra Scott? What are the things about our company versus any of the other companies out there that excite you?” We’re not asking, “Tell us what you think about our family core values.” It’s more like, “What things about Kendra Scott have drawn you to want to apply for this position?”

You then start to hear things. These are the things like, “I love that you guys are philanthropic. I love the work that you’re doing in the community.” I’m like, “Are you involved? What things do you do? Tell me why that’s important to you.” You start to form this conversation of understanding where they are and what they’re about.

If they’re coming in and going, “I heard I can have a flexible work schedule here and I only have to go to the office once a week,” you’re going to go, “That’s not the family value. The family value is different from that.” By giving questions that, one, aren’t, “Are you X, Y, and Z?” and leading them, you may happen to have a broader perspective to question to allow them to come in with their own feedback. That is where you can start to have a conversation.

The other big thing I tell my team all the time is, “When you are in an interview, how is the person that you are interviewing making you feel?” Forget about looking at their resume and going, “I see you went to this.” Who cares? I want to get to know them like you’re getting to know a friend at coffee or you’re meeting somebody for the first time. Get to know them. How do they make you feel? Is that person making you feel warm or happy? Do they have a positive energy about them? Do they feel like their glass is overflowing?

What we do is we put attributes to what family things look like, what fashion looks like, and what philanthropy looks like. We start to look for those attributes. If that person’s making you feel like, “I don’t want this conversation to end. I feel so good when I’m talking to this person. She’s looking at me. She’s listening to me. I feel cared for. I feel responded to,” that is a Kendra Scott person. That is the kind of person we want.

If that person is making you feel stressed at all or your instincts are telling you, “Something’s not right. She’s saying all the right things but I’m not feeling it,” listen to how you feel, not what they are saying. Listen to how they’re making you feel. Every single time that I have gone, “I really like her, but there was something. It’s okay. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was off,” I’ve regretted it.

I have shared a similar sentiment. I’ve made the wrong hires. I’m very good at the red flag. I know when I ignored it, there was something there in terms of getting the wrong people versus the right people. We talked a little bit about family. I hate the word work-life balance. I much prefer the concept of integration because you’re trying to make these pieces work together.

Balance is not having your kid on your lap during a podcast while you’re doing work. If you have this goal of being in balance, you will constantly disappoint yourself. That looks like it has to be synchronous at any one time. Family is important. You’re a parent. What are your core rules or lines for running a billion-dollar empire and being an engaged parent at the same time?

Have you ever seen the Wheel of Life? You put out the pies. You make a circle, cut the pies, and put health and wellness, spirituality, or whatever things that matter to you. It could be money, career, or family. I do a once-a-month check. I check in with myself. How does my wheel look? Is it turning nicely or do I have a huge flat tire in my wheel? Is something completely shrunk down that I’m not doing? What small goals can I start to do to help refill that portion of my wheel so that my wheel will start to turn a little bit more cleanly? It’s never perfect, but it’s not as bumpy.

An example is I was not working out anymore. I used to do yoga almost every day. It made me feel so great, but I was getting so busy. School got back up. I was trying to get the kids out the door. Life had gotten crazy. I realized, “I’m not feeling like myself. What is it that is happening?” I realized that was it, so I had to start to prioritize my day.

I was like, “I have to set boundaries so that I’m able to do this however many times a week. I’m going to do this one thing. I’m not going to try to do 50 different things. I’m going to do one thing. Next month, I’ll try to do something else.” I feel very much that my family is a part of my business. Business is a part of our life. My kids have been involved with me. They have sat on my lap at times in my office with me.

They have, but that’s not your definition of good, right?

That’s right. It’s not always what you want, for sure. They know what I do. They see where I work. They understand what I do. I’ve brought them to certain things so they can see where Mom goes during the day and some of the things I work on. I get their insights on things. That’s been so good because we have these dialogues at dinner. They’re asking me what I did about this. They’re like, “How’s that new brand coming?” I’m asking them, “Did the Algebra test work out?” We have these great conversations. We set priorities for things that we know are non-negotiables. What are your non-negotiables?

That’s what I was curious about.

My non-negotiables are that I have dinner with my family every night. That is a non-negotiable. Occasionally, do I have to have a business dinner or something like that? Yes. That happens. Am I going to have those frequently? No. Maybe once or twice a month that I’m not going to be able to have dinner with my kids, I’m going to be like, “Okay,” but I’m not doing it once a week. That’s not going to work for me.

Two, I want to be able to pick my youngest because he’s my baby up from school at least three days a week. I’m not saying I can do it every single day, but I could do it three days a week. On those three days, I ask my assistant to schedule my day so that I can leave at 3:30 to be able to pick up my son and go with him to tennis practice or whatever he has. It is so that I can spend that quality time with him.  You have to start to put these non-negotiables in and have a team around you that is supporting those things happening.

Here is the same way with our employees. They may be in a group. Understand the demographic of that group. Do you have working moms? What are some of their non-negotiables? What are the things that they want to be part of in their family’s life? You then start to build your agenda for your team of what that looks like so we know, “On Thursdays, Sue has to be wherever because her son’s got soccer at 4:00. We are not going to schedule meetings on Thursdays after 4:00 so that Sue can make sure she’s there for her kid.”

These are ways that each team can start to look at their demographic and figure out how the members of their team feel that good, “I’m getting to do some of these things that matter.” On those days that I am able to do that after I put the kids to bed, I am back on email and checking things, but I’ve had that time of fulfillment and joy that has given me this breath to be present with them. I’m ready to get right back into it later on.

That’s great advice. Everyone needs to figure out those bright lines. I know my wife has called me out on them in the past when I tried to make an excuse around one of them. She’s like, “This is a slippery slope. If you go in this direction, all the walls will fall.” Those are critically important.

You have to put them out there so that you can be held accountable. I stay no more than three nights away from my family when I go on a business trip. I’ve had a time when my husband’s like, “Three nights? No. Come on.” I’m like, “You’re right. I’m going to squeeze in 3 more meetings in these 2 days somehow. We’ve made this promise to each other and our family that we’re going to do that.” You have to do that. Otherwise, there’ll be an excuse. It will be a thing. One thing leads to the next. Before you know it, you start feeling crazed, not healthy, and not good. You don’t understand and you feel like you’re dropping things. It’s because you’ve allowed those non-negotiables to become negotiable.

Constraints are helpful. Mine were birthdays. I never missed a birthday. One year, I had this opportunity and I was like, “I’ll fly home in the morning for his birthday.” She was like, “I don’t like this.” She was 100% right and I canceled that thing. Until my kids went to college, I never missed a birthday. I’m glad that I stayed with that. This is my last question for you. What’s a personal or professional mistake that you learned the most from?

When I started opening my own retail stores, I started looking at other brands. You look at where they were located and they were in Beverly Hills. They’d be in Las Vegas and New York City. I opened my first store in Austin and there were lines around the block. People loved and understood it. I’d been in Texas for eight years as a wholesale brand, donating to all these nonprofits, so I had all these supporters who loved the brand. We were incredibly successful.

We opened a tiny little store in Dallas and it was the same thing. Texas went nuts. The store was crushing it. I’m like, “I want to be in Beverly Hills.” I’m from Texas. I went to this street called Rodeo. I thought, “That’s where I need to be.” It wasn’t exactly there. It was on the corner, but I got the address somehow. The building itself was on Rodeo Drive.

I opened a store there and it was a disaster. The rent was high. I didn’t have a customer base built up in California. I didn’t have the luxury of making a mistake because I was funding the business 100% on my own. I had to sign personal guarantees on all of these leases. It was such an eye-opener. During that time, I was also opening a store in Plano, Texas. People were like, “What’s in Plano, Texas?” We could see on our eCommerce that we had a huge customer base buying online in Plano.

I opened Plano. In Plano, it was a 1,300-square-foot store that did close to $8 million in revenue in its first year, Plano insano is what I called it. I realized very quickly the big mistake. I don’t need a vanity store. I need stores that make money. I need to go where my customers are. I was like, “Take your ego aside and go where your customer is. I need to look at my data, know where they’re coming through, which is eCommerce, and know where my wholesale business has been building up.” When those two things align, that’s where we look for our next opportunity for a store.


Set your ego aside and go where your customers are.


Get out of, “Kendra Scott had to be here or there.” Go where your customer is. Fortunately, I only had that one store. I had a nice landlord who helped me sublease it and get out of the lease. He was a nice guy. Thank God. I learned from it and I’ll never forget it. I’ve been thoughtful and cautious. We have 138 stores across the country. We’ve been able to grow the business as we’ve started to balloon outside of Texas.

It’s a very important thing to get out of what you think you have to do or should do. The ego, drop that at the door and start to really focus on where you can have the most success and where your customer is. Remember that your brand or your business is yours solely. You shouldn’t try to act or be like somebody else because if you’re trying to do what they’re doing, you’ve already failed. You’ve got to do it your way. The right way is your way. Use your unique fingerprint and do not try to do somebody else’s.

Sage advice that I am sure can benefit many people who are reading. Where can people learn more about you and your book? They know where to find the jewelry, but where can they find out more about you?

You can get Born to Shine anywhere that books are sold. It’s super exciting. The paperback is coming out in mid-April 2024. I believe it will be on April 16th. You’ll be able to get the paperback, which is really exciting. You can pre-order it. I have an additional chapter that you’ll be able to download when you pre-order. That’s going to be super exciting. You can see us at @KendraScott, the company, and @OfficialKendraScott, which is my personal page. You can see all about my crazy family, all the animals that I’ve collected over the years, and everything else. It is @KendraScott for Instagram, Twitter, and all the rest.

Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your story with our audience. I got a ton out of it, so I know they did as well.

Thank you so much. I’m glad we could finally make this happen. Thanks for having me on.

It was worth the wait. To our audience, thank you for tuning in to the show. Thank you again for your support. Until next time, keep elevated.


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