[quote style=”boxed”]Be involved in every decision of your business in the beginning, so that you have control, know what is going on, and know where you stand with your business. [/quote]
Armed with just a dream and $1,000, Norwegian-born Geir Ness set his sights on Los Angeles, where he hoped to become an actor, but fate had a different plan for him. In a business world where only a few survive, and where everyone will tell you why you cannot succeed, Geir was determined and ready to take on the challenge.
With only a $5 suit, a red carpet found in the trash, and a photographer who could not afford film for his camera, Geir invited his fellow students from his acting school to pretend to know him as a mega celebrity from Norway and staged a publicity event at Nordstrom’s, ultimately landing him his first order of 1,000 bottles. The odds of surviving were staggering; the odds of becoming successful were astronomical. But Geir Ness does not know the meaning of words like “no,” “can’t” and “shouldn’t.”
After dealing with disasters in manufacturing, an industry that wanted to see him fail, and an absolutely grueling 280-day travel schedule, Geir maintains the most positive, upbeat and optimistic outlook on life you will ever encounter. As Norway’s first fragrance and handbag designer, Geir has made his mark in the beauty and fashion industry as an entrepreneur and humanitarian. His company, Laila, was named after his mother, as a tribute to her.
In addition to being a successful designer, Geir has became a motivational speaker who speaks at schools and seminars throughout the U.S. and Europe. Geir donates both his time and money to a list of foundations, including the Norwegian Cancer Society, Children Medical Research Foundation, Susan G. Komen Foundation and I Am 4 Kids Foundation. In the words of Geir Ness, ”The American Dream can come true, and it does not stop here. There’s always more to come!”
What are you working on right now?
In the fall of this year, I am coming out with a brand new skincare line. I wanted to design a face cream with the consumer in mind; I used very unusual ingredients which have never been used. It’s all-natural and is created for very sensitive skin. It will be a complete line, including a face mask, moisturizer, eye gel and face cream.
Where did the idea for your fragrance and handbag company, Laila, come from?
I moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, and I had to work as a sales person for a department store in the perfume department. Because of my looks and accent, customers came up to me and asked me where I was from and why there was no fragrance from Norway. That gave me the idea to create the first Norwegian fragrance–and to make it special. I thought of my mom and how honored she would be to have it named after her. The idea was there, and all I had to do was make it reality and have it become part of the fragrance industry.
What does your typical day look like?
Wow, that is a great question. My typical day is long, and it feels like I never have enough hours to work or finish my projects. I usually get up at 5:30 a.m. and workout for about one hour. The exercise gives me energy and strength to work throughout the long day. I am always on the road, and most of my work is done via phone and internet. I have meetings with chemists, sales people and staff members. I have conference calls with my management team, answer fan mail, plan my appearances and constantly work on new ideas. I usually end my day around 10:00 p.m. I travel about 280 days out of the year, and I am lucky to have a great management team to assist me and to help me run my company.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Well, when I have an idea–whether it’s a fragrance or a new skincare line–it takes time and patience. If I want to create a new fragrance, it involves a long and intense process. First, you have to know what kind of scent you want to create and how it is supposed to smell. I use only natural, Norwegian herbs and flowers for all of my products. I work very closely with a chemist, which can take years (an average of three to five years). I have to mix and match and experiment with ingredients. Once I have the first sample ready, it is time for a test drive with the general consumer. With the feedback provided, I go back into the lab and improve and finalize the product. Once it is to the satisfaction of the company, we will launch it to the public via the department stores. As you can see, bringing ideas to life in my business is an intense and long process.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I love fashion. I buy my clothes according to what’s currently in style. I have my own my personal trend too. I prefer the classic style of slacks and a lovely shirt with a great jacket. You cannot go wrong. A classic, stylish suit always fits every situation. Not everybody can wear what’s currently trendy, and people have to be careful about whether or not trends work for their body shapes. I prefer to be a bit more conservative and in the mainstream of business dressing.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
When I was about 15 years old, I was working odd jobs, doing things like cleaning offices and selling newspapers. One of the worst jobs I held was working in an Oslo hotel in the laundry room, washing linens and folding sheets. It was hot and steamy in the laundry facility with no air conditioner. I was sweating all day long, and the bleach smell stayed on my skin even after I took a shower. It was awful! But I learned one thing for sure: if you work hard, you not only make money, but also see end results by being able to save money and start building your nest egg. Hard work pays off, if you are willing to accept hard work.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
Looking back, I do not think I would change much. I would make the same decisions and take the same route. However, I would consider finding a good business partner right away to ease the stress of travel and to assist me with promotion and sales around the country.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Be on top of everything. Double-check and triple-check all your facts and business decisions. If you get projects proposed, make sure they are worth your time, and do not get distracted from your real work and achievements. Be involved in every decision of your business in the beginning, so that you have control, know what is going on, and know where you stand with your business. Remember, nobody can do it better than you.
What is one problem you encountered as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest problems in business is finance. When you start out, it’s likely you’ll have no credit, and if you do have it, you probably won’t have as much as you would like. It is hard to get a loan from the bank or to get private investors. Even a solid business plan will not ease that problem. I had to establish myself through baby steps. I had to learn to pay my bills on time. It is very important to stay on top of your bills, because doing so increases your credit score and increases your chance of having higher credit. If you know you lack these skills, get help, but please make sure you are able to trust that person completely with your accounting. In the end, it is your money, your business and your responsibility to make sure your business is in good standing.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I learned to use myself and my talent to sell for my company. Nobody can sell your business or products better than you can. I also take my time to inform and update myself about business structures, information and tax laws. I try to know a little bit about every aspect of my business. As a business owner, I personally think it is important to know how the business works and what does not work. I believe in checking out your competition in terms of what tools and directions they take to progress. You cannot stop learning or staying informed on what is going on in the business world. If you are limited in time, as I often am, read the business and financial journals or business newspapers.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
War and racism! Unfortunately, we do not live in peace and harmony. We have to stop war and change people’s thinking. We need to teach one another that we all can live together on this planet without war. We are one race–human! We all need to be treated equally, no matter what race, religion or ethnic background we come from. It starts with us changing to create a better world. If each and every person would make little changes towards living in harmony, we could live in a better and more peaceful world. The change has to start with the parents and teachers who raise and teach us. Parents and teachers are our most influential role models. We not only learn from our parents and teachers, but also copy them and wish to be like them. They will have to take the responsibility to teach us love, compassion, respect, honor and acceptance.
Tell us a secret.
I collect watches. It is a passion of mine, and ever since I was a teenager, I’ve bought watches–antiques, new ones and used ones. I have so many that I’ve lost count. I do not really organize them, but just collect them. So there goes my secret.
What are your three favorite online tools or resources and what do you love about them?
- Google, because I can expand my content distribution and target my audience. It is great for gathering data and other information, and is also great for referral opportunities.
- Twitter, because you can create and post tweets on the go. Twitter is also a great way to boost business via immediate online exposure and inter-connectivity. It’s a good place to exchange ideas and obtain information.
- Facebook, because it is an easy-to-use platform for supporting my company’s online identity. It allows me to implement online marketing strategies directly to my consumers and fans. The interaction component is huge, and it offers prompt promotion. I can build my own customer base.
All three tools allow me to interact with my fans and business associates in an instant.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I have to recommend my own book, Letters from a Son to his Mother! It will tell you the story of how I was always encouraged by my mother to go for my dreams, and it also talks about how I made it in the fragrance industry. It is a book of encouragement and respect, and it discusses how to establish great self-esteem and never give up on your dreams.
Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?
- Geir Ness, because I strive to give you tips and tricks for looking your best. If you have questions, I am always happy to respond and give you my advice.
- Oprah, because she is a powerhouse. She knows how to run a successful business, and she works hard and long hours to stay on top. The word “failure” does not exist in her vocabulary.
- Bill Gates, because he is role model of an entrepreneur who continues to strive to make a difference in children’s lives. He is using his money to make changes in the world. I admire his philanthropy and how he always finds new ways to give back.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I always laugh, because I am a happy person. But the last time I laughed, I laughed at myself. I told the story of how I started my business to a reporter. At my first personal appearance at Nordstrom in Beverly Hills, I was wearing a suit that I bought at a flea market, because I had no money to buy a new suit. A couple hours into my appearance, I started to itch and my body was raging with insect bites. After I got my first quick break, I went into the bathroom and realized I had fleas in the suit. It was hard to continue, but I did it. Now when I look back and tell the story, it makes me laugh really hard. I could not imagine enduring that situation again.
Who is your hero?
My mother! She has always been there and supported me in all my adventures and business decisions. Even today, she is still my strongest supporter. She keeps encouraging me, and she was the one who taught me to respect people and to work hard. Her motto is, “With hard work comes success! With success comes money and fame!” She was right.
Why are you still working so much, and why do you not stop you’re crazy schedule to have a personal life?
I am driven by my energy and fans. I love the stress of being under constant pressure. It is so much a part of my life that it is hard for me to slow down and take time out for myself. I do not have a personal life. I dedicate my life to my business, to my fans and to helping children. I am dedicated to children’s charities. I know I cannot help every child, but if I can make a difference in a few children’s lives, that is all that matters to me.
What is unique about you, and what kind of hidden talent do you have?
I listen to people, and I am a people person. I ask questions. I give every person who comes up to me both my time and attention. I love to smile and I truly believe it makes a difference if you smile. A smile creates a bridge between me and the person who is in front of me. But I also connect with direct eye contact. Sincerity is key. These are priceless gifts, and in the end, they do not cost a penny.
Geir Ness on Linkedin: Geir Ness
Geir Ness on Twitter: @GeirNess
Geir Ness on Facebook: Geir Ness
Laila on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LailaParfum
Laila’s website: www.laila.com
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.