My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 1:  Invent vs. Buy

My Entrepreneurial Journey Part 1: Invent vs. Buy

The former CEO of J.W. Hulme takes us along for the ride as she shifts from running consumer brands to building one of her own.

I started 2020 with a chance to explore new options for my career. I had been CEO of a small leather goods retailer until the end of 2019 when the company was sold and I decided not to stay on with the new parent company. My life had been about climbing the corporate ladder for over 25 years and I was excited to take a break and figure out what I wanted to do next. What I really wanted, not what I thought I should do.

The first few months of the year I did a lot of self-reflecting and a lot of talking to people – I suppose you would call it networking. I was just trying out saying “yes” to everything and seeing what resonated with me.

I did the Strengthsfinder assessment (Futuristic, Ideation, Positivity, Strategic, Maximizer), I did the Sparketypes assessment (Scientist, Maker) and worked on defining my values (joy, autonomy, creation, spirituality). All great insights but none really definitive about what you should go out and do. There seemed to be a lot of advice to “trust your intuition” and “follow your gut” or “find your purpose” but nothing very tangible. My problem is my intuition wants to do everything! Perhaps it is my “futuristic ideation” that seems to make all opportunities exciting and full of potential. Ultimately my direction came from financial logic combined with a good dose of pragmatism and a sprinkle of inspiration. I concluded that my goals were long term wealth creation, income generation not constrained by hours worked, and enjoyment. This led me to pursue business ownership.

I had to decide whether I should start a business from scratch or look for something already established. I already knew that inventing something is hard. I have spent many months (actually years) and a lot of money trying to invent a better teapot (keeps tea hot, pours perfectly, as well as looks modern and cool); and as a tea addict (English Breakfast please) and believer in the power of problem solving over a shared pot of tea, I am very passionate about this. But passion doesn’t overcome physics. That’s a whole different article. But, in short, this experience made me want to find something already existing that I could take and grow.

My next step was to begin trawling the businesses-for-sale websites, such as,, and Shopify’s I was certainly taken aback by the sheer number, size, and variety of businesses for sale – thousands of them, from $500 to $5,000,000, and selling everything from jewelry to laxatives. After many dead ends, message exchanges, and even samples shipped, I began to narrow my focus on an “almost start-up”, though with specific criteria. I wanted a business that was somewhat profitable; had potential for growth; was being offered via a credible broker process; had some “ownable” history, such as Amazon reviews or a strong performing email list; was a product I could believe in; would enable me to work from anywhere; with a reliable supply source; in a growing category; recession-proof; and, adding a criterion that I had never thought of before, pandemic-proof. Yep, I wasn’t asking for much then!

I found Bella Virtu Organics on a broker website I was impressed by Empire Flippers and their thorough process that protects both buyer and seller. It felt safe. The business itself fulfilled all my criteria and was the right size (tiny!) to be low risk financially in the short term but to be a potentially meaningful venture in the long term.
I was still filled with doubts. Why was the seller selling? Is there something I don’t know? Is there a clever question I should ask that will unravel the whole thing? Who am I to think I can do anything with this? Aren’t there a million organic skincare brands out there? (Yes, there are). I don’t know anything about selling on Amazon. Building a brand and selling stuff online (or anywhere) is really hard – I should know!

I took some time to write out the pros and cons from the three perspectives of emotion, logic, and intuition, still really struggling with the intuition piece. Is that just fear of failure, the voice of my inner-critic saying “you can’t do this”? Or is it my intuition telling me to run for the hills? Perhaps only time will tell.

I slept on it. And then discovered that the key ingredient in the Bella Virtu Organics products was Helichrysum Essential Oil. I’d never heard of it. But Helichrysum is a yellow flower. I have always had an affinity with yellow and adore yellow flowers. So I went for it; perhaps following my intuition after all.

Claire Powell has spent more than 25 years running consumer goods brands such as Champion activewear, American Giant apparel, and Airborne supplements, in companies large and small. Most recently she was CEO of J.W. Hulme, a digital and physical retailer of luxury leather goods with a Minnesota heritage. Now she is following her long-held entrepreneurial dream as owner of Bella Virtu Organics, an organic skincare brand; as well as mentoring and coaching business leaders and career changers of all kinds. Hear more of her advice on brand management and leadership in our podcast, By All Means.

Follow Powell’s entrepreneurial journey: 
Part 2: Help Wanted

Part 3: The Gift of Feedback

Part 4: Human Vs. Algorithm

Part 5: A Vs. B Minus

Part 6: End of Year Reflection

Part 7: What Now?