Barbara Lampugnale wears a locket around her neck inscribedwith an inspirational quote by Eleanor Roosevelt. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams. Three years ago Barbara saw an open casting call on tv looking for inventors and entrepreneurs. It was for a brand-new show in development on ABC called Shark Tank. Lampugnale saw this as the perfect opportunity for a cosmetic product she was working on. “I knew that would be a great place for me.”
Shark Tank has evolved into a hit show, now in its third season. The premise is relatively straightforward: eager “contestants” pitch their products to cutthroat investors (the “sharks”), offering them an equity stake in their product. Some contestants go home with a well-connected and moneyed investor or investors, others are sent packing with dreams dashed.
ABC aired an episode featuring Lampugnale on April 27th of this year. She had developed a rather ingenious three-in-one system for nail polish. Her product, called Nail Pak, combines the nail polish, the remover (pre-soaked pad), and a small file all in one patented package. Two sharks saw the market value to Barbara’s invention and jockeyed to work with her. Barbara ended up partnering with Lori Greiner, a well-known QVC personality who is noted for developing several high-selling products.
I sat down with Barbara to discuss her company (Duality Cosmetics), and, most of all, to talk about her path to where she is today. To the casual observer, Lampugnale’s Shark Tank appearance falls under the category of Overnight Success. A “Eureka!” moment one day leads to a tv appearance the next. Thousands of units are sold on QVC. A simple idea puts Barbara on the path to riches. It’s catnip for “armchair entrepreneurs” everywhere.
What a simplified and condensed story leaves out is all the personal and financial sacrifice, the willingness to put oneself out there, and the enduring drive that is a necessary ingredient to success. To say that a good idea will lead to success is like saying being tall will make you a great basketball player. It’s almost always required, but it is also only one small piece of the pie. I was curious to find out the rest.
After spending just a few minutes with Barbara, it became clear that she has passion coming out of her pores. This West Hartford resident’s appearance was more a matter of determination and drive than it was happenstance. After she saw that first advertisement seeking entrepreneurs, Lampugnale set her sights on being in front of the camera pitching her invention.
She did all the mandatory pictures, videos, and personality interviews that are used to find appropriate contestants. While the show was interested in Barbara for Season 2, her lack of a workable product at the time (she had a prototype) caused the producers to pass. Getting that far in the process and then being dropped can be a disheartening emotional setback that causes a person to reconsider their commitment and idea. Barbara, however, was undeterred.
“I called every single contestant from Season 1 and 2.” Lampugnale did this by doing a Google search for every product that had appeared on Shark Tank. Given that most every product has a website, contact information for the former contestant, or someone working with the former contestant, was often available. She asked each person who had appeared on the show what advice they could offer, taking on the role of mentee. The advice, and Barbara’s persistence, paid off. That, along with a finished product, made Lampugnale a stronger candidate for Season 3.
The finished product, of course, did not come about easily. Lampugnale invested around $300,000 from personal savings, family, and friends for the research, development, and initial batch of product (10,000 units). That money drain, coinciding with the recession, led to the foreclosure of the family home along with selling off many assets. Entrepreneurship does not favor the risk adverse or self-doubters. Lampugnale, however, is an unflappable optimist. “I don’t look at anything as a can’t. How can we get it done?”
One way Barbara got it done was by downsizing her life. Her family went down to one car. Sacrifice is an essential part of entrepreneurship. “If you have the passion, you will do it.”
It also helped that her husband, real estate developer Pasquale, has not only been supportive but also actively contributed in the day-to-day running of Duality Cosmetics. The company is currently bustling with fifteen products in development. The Shark Tank appearance, which intentionally coincided with Nail Pak being featured on QVC, led to a massive spike in orders. Barbara, however, is undaunted by the work ahead. “If I have to stay up 24 hours a day to balance everything, so be it.”
I’ve always been amazed with people like Barbara, individuals who run like the Energizer Bunny. What makes them tick? What causes them to give up creature comforts in the pursuit of a high-risk dream?
Leominster, Massachusetts is a blue-collar town of 40,000 outside of Worchester. It’s where Barbara grew up, the daughter of a factory worker and mechanic. Leominster is known for its plastic manufacturing. It’s the birth place to the kitschy pink flamingoes that flock the yards of West Hartford as part of an annual Conard High School fundraiser. Her upbringing was far removed from the beauty industry she now finds herself in. Her exposure was self-directed. “I was always reading the fashion magazines.”
At eighteen, Barbara quite literally flew the coop out of Leominster—she became a flight attendant. No matter that she had never been on a plane before. Lampugnale is a completely self-taught individual who soaks up every piece of information she can gather from people and print. “I liken myself to a sponge.”
A telling anecdote, Barbara devoured the maternal classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk before she was pregnant. Boundless preparation is a constant theme in her life. Reading the pregnancy tome came in handy—she is now a mother of six daughters, no doubt spending plenty of quality time talking and listening.
Lampugnale is a lifetime entrepreneur who is constantly inventing. At a brief pause in our conversation, when Barbara’s attention momentarily wandered, I was curious what was on her mind. “I’m thinking of an idea right now. I’m always looking for a simpler, better way to do things.” Simplicity, Leonardo da Vinci stated, is the ultimate sophistication.
Nail Pak is certainly a simple solution to a common problem women have. It seems like an awfully inefficient system to have women carry around three products when they’d like to paint their nails. When I quizzed my wife later about the product and her impressions, she showed me her own makeshift solution: a Ziploc bag with nail polish, remover, and file that she carries in her purse for travelling. This Band-Aid solution was crying out for a product that made life easier. Necessity is the mother of invention.
Inspired by words such as the Roosevelt quote in her locket, Barbara believed in her dream. Hurdles were viewed as challenges instead of omens. She made, instead of waited, for things to happen. Barbara may have been facing sharks on a tv show, but in many ways she is the shark. Like a shark, she is always on the move.