Silje Lyngstad Noreng, Founder of Norwegian Eyebrow Salon Chain Brow Rehab
Silje Lyngstad Noreng (30), the founder of eyebrow salon chain, Brow Rehab, has this fierce fearlessness about her and a “f*** what everyone thinks and just do whatever you want” kind of attitude that doesn’t come around all that often, which probably explains why she’s the owner of 4 Brow Rehab salons across Norway, having started the company only 3.5 years ago.
We spoke to Silje about what it’s like to be an entrepreneur, where she finds the inspiration to keep moving forward, and about the ups and downs of running your own business.
First Of All, What Made You Take The Leap And Start Your Own Business?
There were several factors affecting the decision to start my own business; I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for my career but I knew that I didn’t want to work for anyone else, or have a typical “office hour” job, and I also knew that I loved working hard – I just didn’t know what type of work I wanted to channel all my energy into.
I decided to become a makeup artist, which is quite typical for young girls who are unsure of what to do and feel like doing something ‘creative and fun’, which it is. I started a ‘enkeltmannsforetak’ (a Norwegian type of sole proprietorship) and working for myself for a while, which I was very comfortable doing. However, it didn’t feel sustainable as a long term career and I started brainstorming different niche markets that I could potentially go into, and tried to define what I felt was missing in Oslo, but the ideas that came to mind were already established concepts.
After getting sick of all the small jobs here and there, I went to Australia to “find myself” – just like everyone else, haha. Contrary to most people, though, I actually managed to find out what I wanted to do while I was there. I randomly stumbled upon a chain called The Brow Bar, which is a beauty salon specialising exclusively in eyebrows. At first, I was like; ‘this is weird, how many people are actually interested in a concept this specific?’, but after I started working there I realized how solid their business model was; customers had to come back every other week to have their brows re-done. That, and witnessing how peoples’ faces changed after their treatments, I realized that this was exactly what we needed back in Norway. Sydney and Oslo aren’t actually that different and the people there are a lot like us; they have similar jobs and a similar culture, and I figured that this had to work in Norway as well.
What Were Your Biggest Insecurities When First Starting Out And How Did You Overcome Them?
Before starting out, my biggest dilemma was whether or not to partner up with a ‘silent partner’ that wanted in on my business idea. Whether or not to share my ‘baby’, and my idea with someone who wasn’t going to take part in the actual day-to-day work in the salon, was a hard decision to make. At the time, I thought I needed the partner in order to promote my business, since he already had an established brand within the industry; I thought cooperating with him was the most sensible thing to do for the business. After going back and forth in my head for a few months, I decided to go into a partnership with him. However, he was bought out 6 months after the salon opened; I was doing everything – working in the salon, running social media, handling customers, making sure more customers came, and making sure the customers had a great experience while visiting, and it felt wrong for me to be in a 50/50 partnership when I was the only one getting my hands dirty.
I think this is a common dilemma for everyone who goes into that type of business partnership and in retrospect I would probably have been able to do it on my own from the beginning. But, who knows, maybe it would have taken us longer to establish our place in the market than it did; we had an extremely fast-growing business, and went from 2 to 5 employees in just half a year, as well as we were fully booked within just a few months.
What Is The Best And Worst Thing About Being Your Own Boss?
The best thing about being my own boss is the freedom to work as much as I want, and whenever I want to. Depending on the season, I’m able to travel and work from home – obviously not doing eyebrows, but as the boss, I spend a lot of time doing administrative work. Also, though specific to my profession, I’m able to see results from my work every single day. In a lot of startups you need to wait for months and maybe even years to gain any feedback, but I do something that generates results on a daily basis. Seeing how happy people are after getting our treatments gives me a very satisfying feeling. The expressions on peoples’ faces when they look in the mirror after having their eyebrows done and gasp for air, or even cry – is invaluable to me. Our microblading treatment especially generate these kinds of responses because this method can provide eyebrows for people who have lost their actual eyebrows due to various conditions, such as Alopecia. It’s an amazing feeling to be able to help people with their self-confidence and feel like you’re making people’s lives a little better.
The worst thing about being my own boss is all the responsibility, and being responsible for other people’s quality of life. We spend most of our time at work, and it’s on my shoulders to make sure that all of my 23 employees are happy at work at all times. It’s incredibly important to make them feel valued and seen, as well as I need to provide satisfying salaries for them. Another big concern is the constant worry of whether or not you’re able to pay the next sizeable bill that arrives – if we haven’t reached our budget one month, are we gonna be able to pay rent? Those are the kind of worries that you don’t have as an employee. Also, another negative thing about being your own boss is having to deal with people who are jealous and don’t want to see you succeed. When first starting out, I didn’t think I would experience much of it, but I’ve found myself in a couple of situations where people have created unnecessary stress and uncomfortableness that I wouldn’t have had to deal with as an employee.
It’s also your responsibility if things don’t go to plan, and if you “f*** up” – people may lose their jobs as a result. The pressure of that particular feeling is very uncomfortable, but then again; the feeling of being able to handle these things successfully is the best feeling in the world. I usually compare having a business to having a kid – when things go well it’s the best feeling in the world and one I could never live without, while the rest of the time it’s like, ‘shit…what am I even doing?’.
Tell Us About Something You’re Really Proud Of In Your Business And/Or Your Greatest Achievement (Don’t Be Shy):
I think it’s completely insane that we have been able to open 4 salons in only 3.5 years, and I’m really proud of that. I’m proud of the fact that we’re able to help people feel better about themselves, and especially people with conditions affecting their hair growth. I’m also really proud that I’ve been able to create employment for 23 people – jobs that weren’t there before I started Brow Rehab. The moment I knew that we’d made it, was probably when we opened our Frogner salon in 2016 – being able to open two salons in the same city was an incredible feeling.
Where And Doing What Do You Feel Most Inspired?
I always get very inspired when I visit New York and Los Angeles because the best and most talented people within my profession are based there. It sounds a bit silly, but I get a lot of inspiration from Instagram too, as well as I love visiting other salons to explore what they’re doing that’s cool and learning about new concepts.
Also, people that are successful inspire me a lot – I love Isabella Lowengrip and Anastasia Soiree (of Anastasia Beverly Hills) – they inspire me to work hard towards being ahead of everyone else, and using them as an inspiration helps me determine where to go and what to do next. Travelling is a huge source of inspiration too; I know it’s a very ‘basic b****’ response, but there’s a reason why everyone loves it so much – being somewhere new always gives you a boost.
What Are Your Biggest Professional Insecurities And How Do You Overcome Them?
I’m a self-proclaimed “financial analphabet”. Numbers completely freak me out; I think numbers are uncomfortable and I don’t like talking about money, which is a big disadvantage when you’re running a business. That is exactly why I have an accountant, haha. Budgeting I can handle, but I find it extremely uncomfortable to check my business bank account. Every time it’s like, ‘Oh my God, do we have money? How is the liquidity?’. I have a lot of anxiety about it, and handling money just isn’t my biggest strength.
I used to avoid conflicts at any cost, but I’ve become a lot better at handling difficult situations. I still find it extremely uncomfortable to have to raise conversations about issues that might upset or hurt my colleagues’ or employees’ feelings, though. For example: conversations about customer complaints, or needing to give a written warning to an employee give me such discomfort that I can’t even sleep at night. People are human beings with real feelings, and I find it difficult to potentially hurt someone; all I want (for my employees) is for everyone to be happy and earn shitloads of money, but that would mean we would have to close the shop down before hitting 2019. At times, I have caused more trouble for myself for not dealing with these kind of issues, and I suppose this is one of my biggest flaws.
I think that if my employees were to say something negative about me as a leader, they would say that I have too many things going on in my head. A lot of entrepreneurs are bad at asking for help and attempts to handle everything all alone. I’m positive that they would say that they wish I was better at providing information, but when you have a million things in your head at all times, you sometimes think you have informed people when you haven’t, and end up handling it all on your own instead. I have become better at this too, fortunately.
How Do You Pick Yourself Up And Keep Going When You Feel Discouraged?
That happens quite often, actually. The last time it happened, I read Petter Stordalen’s biography, which really inspired me. I think when we hear about people who are really successful, we only hear about the great things that they have achieved. This might sound horrible, but it’s refreshing to have someone admit to the fact that they’ve failed several times on their way to achieving success. Then you go, ‘Oh, you actually had to declare bankruptcy a couple of times before you made it? Wow’. Not that I have ever had to declare bankruptcy, but knowing that it’s normal and fine to fail, and that failing is nothing to be scared of, motivates me. That being said, I’m not really that afraid of failing; I’m pretty shameless and don’t care very much about what people think of me – at least I’ve started my own business, you know.
When I’ve had a rough time work wise, it has usually been caused by other people, and not my business, which has made the issues easier to handle than if there was a problem with the actual company. Reading other people’s biographies, and learning about other people who have succeeded, like Isabella Lowengrip, is a good way of coping with discouraging work situations too – I read a lot about her and keep on top of her blog, which is more like a book than a blog. Ellen Nikolaisen (Founder of Nikita), have also had a lot of difficulties in her career and been able to get back on her feet, which really encourages me
I also talk to people; talking to my dad, my boyfriend and Simen (mentor/accountant) inspires me a lot. I’ve become good at getting rid of things that are not working, or are negative in my business too.
Name Any Woman (Past Or Present) Whom You Admire And Look Up To And Please Tell Us Why:
Isabella Lowengrip, without doubt – she runs the biggest blog in Sweden, ‘Lowengrip Care and Colour’ and ‘Flattered’ shoe company; She’s involved in a number of businesses that are doing great, has an annual turnover of millions of Swedish Kroners, is only 26 years old and has two children. I mean, she’s born in 92’ – how incredibly inspiring is that?
Anastasia Soire of Anastasia Beverly Hills is another woman that I really admire. She was an immigrant in the US and a single mother, and is the founder of the first brow salon in the world, which have made off-the-charts success. She’s absolutely a major inspiration, too.
There are so many that I could mention, but I think those two are the most important ones for me.
What Do Scandinavian Women Need More Of? Less Of?
I think there is a large amount of Scandinavian women that seem to be struggling with a low self-image. There are a lot of women that don’t think they are “good enough” and that they “can’t”, and I definitely think some more courage is needed. A bit more of a “f*** it” attitude; less dwelling on things before making a decision and more ‘just doing’!
I think we need to slow down the self-realisation wave that has come over us, there is a bit too much of it going on these days. I think some people take it a bit too far and end up neglecting the things that are actually important in life. I also think the “millennial generation” is a bit too high maintenance; people expect to gain a lot from doing very little, not at Brow Rehab, but in general. Whether applying for jobs or getting a boyfriend, nothing and no one is ever good enough – there’s always something better lurking around the next corner. What happened to “stop and smell the roses”?. Also, less phones.
Name Three Qualities You Admire In Other Women:
Structure and discipline, which I don’t have much of.
Women who stick to their promises and always finish what they said they would. I’m bad at this myself, so I really admire this quality in other women.
The ability to balance a great job or running a business and taking care of a family at the same time. I don’t know whether or not these women are fighting battles with their own inner demons, but from the outside it seems like some women have it all figured out. I get very easily overwhelmed and stressed about things that I feel like I should have done but may not have been able to, and women who seem to ‘have it all together’ really fascinate me.
If You Have One, What Is Your Personal Or Professional Motto?
Give fewer f***s. When I say that, I mean that you should obviously care about your surroundings and your colleagues, but if I was going to care about what everyone thought of me (if I was to fail) or think, ‘I shouldn’t post about being proud of the fact that my colleague Suzie did an amazing job with microblading last week because people may think I’m full of myself’, I wouldn’t get anywhere. I’m completely shameless in that way. Even if you don’t feel like you’ve done a great job, just get it out there (on SoMe) and brag about your business. This isn’t about me posting pictures of my boobs on Instagram – it’s my business, and business and personal lives are two completely different things. I think if I weren’t so shameless on social media, we would not be where we are today. There are probably a few people who is annoyed by my excessive sharing, but I receive emails several times every week from girls who are like: ‘you’re so cool’, and who thinks it’s fun that we post photos and keep them up to speed on what’s going on – they are the ones that matter.
When, Where And Doing What Do You Feel The Furthest Away From Your Comfort Zone?
Public speaking is the worst thing in the world for me!!! It’s the f***ing worst. At one of my presentations I was sweating so badly that my leotard was soaking wet all the way down to my buttcrack. I made a speech at my fathers 50th birthday party and one at my grandmothers funeral, and I don’t even remember making them – that’s how uncomfortable I find it. I’m in no way shy, and I talk a lot, but if people are attending an event just because they want to hear me talk, it’s the most uncomfortable feeling in the world. At the same time, I love attention, but in a different way. TV appearances I’m cool with too. Also, I feel way outside my comfort zone when bringing up issues that can hurt someone’s’ feelings.
Tell Us One Thing That People Would Be Surprised To Know About You:
I speak 4 languages fluently; Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
And Finally, Do You Have Any Advice, Big Or Small, To All The Ambitious Women Out There Wanting To Start Their Own Business?
Again; give fewer f***s. It’s the same as when people are single and they’re like, ‘I can’t find anyone’ – you need to go out and actively work for your goals, and be proactive and aggressive about it – you can’t just hang around and wait for things to happen to you.
If you want to start a business and don’t know what kind of business to start – find a need in the market, or create a need. Get people addicted to something they don’t know that they need. Eyebrows are like that – everyone has eyebrows, so essentially anyone could be a potential customer.
Nothing gives me more anxiety than the thought of not having gone after something that I wanted. Nobody will die if you fail – unless you built an elevator and it falls down. I mean, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You can do whatever you want, and you can have it all as a woman. There are so many people who are like, ‘the woman should be at home and have kids, and you can’t combine a career and a family’, but of course that’s possible – there are so many women who have proven that theory wrong already.
Also, take care of yourself in the process. You don’t need to neglect yourself just because you’re working hard. It’s not necessarily even just about working out and eating healthily, but taking care of yourself in the form of spending time with your boyfriend, going back to your home town, and just getting those small energy boosts here and there. Attend a girls night out – for example: tomorrow is a bank holiday and I’m attending two boozy brunches. I mean, just doing those things when you have time off ensures you have the right energy to put into your business when you get back to work. It’s something that is really easy to forget to do. There have been times when I’ve been so tired that I’ve been sat in the salon, completely unable to move or even lock up and leave because I’ve been so exhausted – and that is just what it’s like at times, but that is also what makes taking care of yourself when you have some time off all the more important.
[Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections in the comments section]