Be thoughtful about creating and nurturing business connections, as they can dramatically influence your career trajectory, not to mention make work more enjoyable and meaningful.
Beth Gerstein’s search for a responsibly sourced diamond engagement ring inspired the creation of Brilliant Earth, a global leader of ethically sourced fine jewelry and a leading e-commerce jeweler. When Beth became engaged, she and her then-fiancé struggled to find a jeweler who could assure them that a diamond was untainted by civil war and human rights abuses. Recognizing a gap in the market, she combined her passion for social enterprise and ten years of technology and business development experience to cofound Brilliant Earth in 2005 with Eric Grossberg. Beth holds a B.S. from Duke University, a Masters in Electrical Engineering from MIT, and an M.B.A. from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Prior to Brilliant Earth, Beth worked in technology and business development roles at a number of large corporations, including Booz Allen & Hamilton. Eric and Beth also manage the company’s non-profit initiatives, dedicated to investing 5% of Brilliant Earth’s profits in communities that have been impacted by the jewelry industry. Recent initiatives have included helping to fund the Brilliant Mobile School, which provides elementary education to children in a diamond mining community in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and partnering with Pure Earth to train Peruvian gold miners on mercury-free mining techniques.
Where did the idea for Brilliant Earth come from?
When I was about to get engaged, my fiancé Alex and I experienced firsthand the challenge of finding a conflict free engagement ring that represented our values. My classmate at Stanford University, Eric Grossberg, was impassioned with the idea that responsibly-sourced jewelry could be an effective tool for social change in developing countries. Together, we founded Brilliant Earth in 2005 with the goal of cultivating a more ethical, transparent and sustainable jewelry industry. Since the company’s inception, Brilliant Earth has grown into a leader in bridal and fine jewelry, focusing on high quality, unique designs, and a premium personal experience. Our engagement and wedding rings, estate and fine jewelry collection is available through our website www.BrilliantEarth.com and in our seven showrooms in key US cities.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Part of what I enjoy about being an entrepreneur is the variety in my schedule and daily priorities. From working with teams on jewelry design to website user experience to inventory planning, my day to day is never the same. Generally, I spend much of my time using data and analytics to anticipate issues and identify trends, and collaborating with my colleagues to develop creative solutions.
I love working with a motivated team – we are most productive when the team is empowered to take initiative, make decisions and execute them, which keeps the company moving in a positive direction.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Nearly all new initiatives start out in a brainstorming session, in which people in all roles and levels are encouraged to participate. My team and I then use data and customer insights to make decisions. We continue to test and iterate constantly to get the results that we want while continuing to improve the customer experience. There is a heavy focus on constant improvement, and using new ideas to continue to grow.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
One trend I am particularly excited about is stacking contoured and detailed bands around an engagement ring to create a unique and versatile look. One of Brilliant Earth’s most popular recent ring introductions, the Flair Diamond Ring, is a perfect example of the increased interest in contoured bands. Since launch, it has consistently landed in our Top Twenty Rings. What’s great about the stacking trend is that people can combine bands in various metals, orders, and orientations to create a ring stack that reflects their own personal style. I also love the idea of using different rings to mark special occasions such as an anniversary or birth of a child.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I enjoy meditating for 10 minutes each morning; it clears my mind and prepares me for the day ahead.
What advice would you give your younger self?
The career advice I would give to my younger self is to have confidence, take risks, and to foster relationships. It’s important to have confidence in your own ability, so speak up when you have an idea and make your voice heard. Don’t shy away from tough projects – volunteer for stretch assignments and tackle them head on! But always keep in mind that fostering and maintaining relationships is key. Be thoughtful about creating and nurturing business connections, as they can dramatically influence your career trajectory, not to mention make work more enjoyable and meaningful. And don’t be afraid to solicit advice from those with influence who can guide your career; there’s nothing more valuable than gaining insights from a respected mentor or seasoned vet.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
If no one agrees, how can it be true – except in today’s current environment? You’ve stumped me on this one!
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Everyone should continually test and iterate to remain innovative and to consistently improve yourself, your product, and your business.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Finding and nurturing the right people was instrumental in growing the business. Having the right team in place is critical to our success, and ensuring this takes up much of my time and energy. For the first eight years of running the company, Eric and I interviewed every single person that joined Brilliant Earth – this close attention to our hiring allowed us to maintain the culture we were seeking to build. Your success as a CEO and as a company is dependent on empowering others to carry out your strategy and vision.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
In our earlier years, we depended too heavily on a single supplier. We subsequently realized we needed to diversify our supply base and have established strong relationships based on trust across multiple suppliers.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’ll tell you in exchange for your diamond purchase.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently gave my seven-year-old daughter $100 to budget for her birthday party. She closely examined costs of party favors, games, cotton candy machines, and everything else a young girl could think of for a carnival-themed party. It was a great investment because it taught her the value of money (and was a great celebration!).
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I love my meditation app, Headspace. And of course, Excel.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
One of my personal favorites is Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. Understanding drivers of consumer psychology is so important when developing a consumer brand.
What is your favorite quote?
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. — Margaret Mead
- Continually test and iterate to remain innovative and to consistently improve yourself, your product and your business.
- Your success as a CEO and as a company is not due to your own personal achievement, but through empowering others to carry out your strategy and vision.
- For those early in your career, make your voice heard when you have an idea and don’t shy away from tough projects – volunteer for stretch assignments and tackle them head on!
- Meditating for 10 minutes each morning is a great way to clear your mind and prepares you for the day ahead.
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.