EO Member: Anthony Standifer
Company: mSEED Group
Years in Business: 7 years
How long have you been a member of EO Chicago and why did you join the organization?
I have been a member of EO Chicago for four years. I joined because I was looking for a therapist when I hit a roadblock in my entrepreneurial journey. It was clear that I needed outside support so I started looking for a therapy situation with other entrepreneurs. I found one online that took us through a mindfulness journey with a therapist who specialized in counseling entrepreneurs. It went on for about four or five months and at the end I thought, “Wow, this is really cool. I would love it if this had been in person.” One of the cohorts from that program told me about EO and I sought out the Chicago chapter and the rest is history.
What was your first job?
I come from a family of people who work every day, and so I started working when I was 16 at the now-closed department store Montgomery Ward.
Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey? Where did you start and where do you hope to go in the future?
I’ve worked in the beauty industry for 22 years now. I stumbled into it as my second job out of college. Prior to that, I worked in marketing communications for a telecommunications company. It was good money but then I got laid off because of the .com boom and bust of the late ‘90s. I thought about where I could go next and happened to be in Chicago, which had beauty companies throughout the city. I decided to send my resume to four of them, got interviews with two, and then got offered a job as an entry level associate brand manager. That was the beginning of my journey in an industry I absolutely love.
For eight years, I worked for different divisions of Revlon and was responsible for the marketing and brand management of beauty products in the U.S. and internationally. After Revlon, I worked at another company where I met my now business partner, Erica Douglas. During that time, I was managing international marketing for a beauty brand and she was the head of research and development. Then she left that company and I ended up connecting with her again. She shared the idea of a company that was designed to support small businesses who don’t have access to larger manufacturers. People on the internet and Instagram, for example, who want to make products but run into barriers such as the expense of traditional contract manufacturers and bringing products to development. A good base of these people were Black and Brown women. I got very excited about the idea and it expanded from there. Although I was nervous about leaving my steadier job behind, I decided to take a leap of faith—and the rest is the beginning of the journey.
Now, I operate mSEED group LLC, a company in the beauty and personal care space. I manufacture beauty products—primarily hair and skincare products for other companies. We formulate these products in our facility so our customers can then exclusively focus on sales and marketing inside of their businesses.
Why do you love the industry so much?
It’s a really great hybrid of all things beauty, glamor, and creativity balanced with business. I’ve learned in my journey in the beauty space that you can’t beat the beauty of the beauty industry. We make people feel good about themselves and provide images and solutions that allow people to feel their best self as they go out into the world each and every day. That part is undeniable. But within that, it is a business, and the goal is not just to have good ideas, but good ideas that are profitable and scalable.
What daily challenges do you face at work?
I’m a first time business owner of a small manufacturing business. One of my longest term challenges in entrepreneurship for the past six-and-a-half years has been raising money and finding funders for what I thought was a great business model. From the beginning, we’ve been a profitable manufacturing facility that employs anywhere from five to 15 people. It’s been a profitable seven-figure business for five-and-a-half of the seven years mSEED group has existed, but I could not find people or institutions to give me money to help me grow and scale my business.
What is the best career advice you ever received?
My first supervisor told me, “Your good ideas are only as good as your execution of them.” It ties into my mantra of being able to scale ideas and make them really profitable. Because no matter how many good ideas you have, if you can’t execute them, what’s the point?
What are your goals for the future of your business?
To provide access to and tangible support for more entrepreneurs who are seeking to access the beauty space. People talk about “making a seat at the table,” but our goal has been to build new tables for people to sit at and find their own space and niche.
What’s the coolest thing you’re working on right now?
I get excited about people. We make a lot of products, which is cool, but I tend to lean into the entrepreneurs who have really interesting stories. For example, I have a 59-year-old woman, a healthcare administrator, who has been in the healthcare industry for years and is at an age where, from a chronological perspective, she should typically be thinking about stability and retirement. Instead, this amazing woman decides she’s going to launch a beauty brand and leverage her adult children to help her do it. Now she’s been doing it for years and getting to the point where she is getting the recognition she has deserved for so long. So it’s awesome to see people like her take bold leaps of faith and have mSEED group be a part of making that happen.
Who or what inspires you?
People. People in general, including big names like Barack and Michelle Obama and Oprah but especially the unnamed heroes who do exceptional things every day.
If you could go back in time five years and share advice with your past self, what advice would you share?
The Anthony from five years ago was hitting roadblocks and hardships and realizing that entrepreneurship isn’t all excitement and, “Wow, we’re going to make it!” Entrepreneurship can also be dark and stormy, full of great uncertainty that tests your trust in your own decision-making skills and abilities. I would tell this Anthony to trust himself, trust in his decision-making capabilities, and understand that his prior experience matters. “You have a place at the table of entrepreneurship that’s valid—you just have to see it through.” That’s what I would say.
What is the greatest challenge you have overcome?
Scaling my business. At first, we had a great five-year growth trajectory for mSEED group but then it stagnated in years two and three. It was still a good business, but it wasn’t growing or yielding the results from the anticipated projections. That chasm lasted for an additional four years, so it was not easy to sit in that valley and feel that I was failing.
What brought you to Chicago?
I’m a native, born and raised on the South Side. I lived for eight years outside of Chicago, but then there was an opportunity to work here so I came back home.
How do you find work-life balance?
I get in motion. I don’t have this idea, at least for my own personal self, of work-life balance. I focus on what is before me today and in front of me now.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
A doctor—I have no idea why. I think I realized at a young age that saying that got a good reaction from adults and just stuck with it. But then in college I started taking classes like chemistry, physics, and biology, and realized they did not make any sense to me.
What are your favorite things to do outside of work?
I took a vacation to Cartagena, Colombia in September—the first week-long vacation I’ve taken since 2018. It was a reminder that my passion in life is traveling and exploring the world.
What’s one thing still left on your bucket list?
One of my great life goals is to journey around the world on United Star Alliance. You can literally purchase an around-the-world ticket, and as long as you travel in the same direction, you can literally travel the globe. Someday, I’m going to take four months to travel the world and see anywhere from six to nine different locations.
What’s your favorite restaurant?
I love Giordano’s pizza. I also recently discovered Steak 48 in River North and it’s absolutely amazing.
What is your top Chicago activity?
My happy place is on my boat on the lake.
Where’s your favorite place in the world to visit?
Lake Michigan—on a boat, along the Lakefront, anything. Chicago has the most amazing skyline and seeing it from the Lake is just breathtaking.
Thank you to Anthony for sharing his story for our January member spotlight. The Entrepreneurs’ Organization is a global business network of more than 14,000 entrepreneurs in 198 chapters and 61 countries. EO is the catalyst that enables entrepreneurs to learn and grow from each other, leading to greater business success and an enriched personal life.
If you’re interested in becoming an EO Chicago member, check our membership requirements and submit an application to join today.