gwyneth paltrow on stage at NRF annual show
Gwyneth Paltrow speaking at the National Retail Federation conference in New York City in January. — National Retail Federation

If the Gwyneth Paltrow of 2020 — CEO of the global brand Goop, valued at $250 million, with a new retail deal with Sephora and a new show on Netflix — could give advice to 1998 movie star Gwyneth, it would be just two words: Learn accounting.

CEO Gwyneth says movie star Gwyneth probably wouldn’t have realized what good advice that was.

“If you had told me when I was on the set of Shakespeare in Love [the 1998 film that earned Paltrow a Best Actress Oscar] that I should have learned accounting, I don’t think I would have believed it,” she told attendees at the National Retail Federation’s annual show in January, attended by CO—.

If she had taken that advice, it would have made her first years building Goop into a leading wellness, beauty, fashion and lifestyle brand a lot easier, she said.

But the mistakes she made as she built Goop into a powerhouse brand taught her valuable lessons, which she shared with the retail audience. Those lessons contain advice both for young entrepreneurs launching startups, and veteran executives looking to take their company to the next level.

Sallie Krawcheck, the CEO and founder of female-focused investment firm Ellevest, who moderated a discussion with Paltrow at the convention, called Goop a “trend-setting, attention-getting, successful, culture-shifting, multiple-revenue-sourced lifestyle brand.”

Krawcheck praised Paltrow for creating Goop “while in the spotlight, with critics and naysayers sort of sniping and naysaying as naysayers do, along the way.”

Goop began in 2008 as an online newsletter. Paltrow used it to share wellness and lifestyle advice with a new-age spin. She was mocked for her embrace of alternative therapies and treatments, but she won a devoted following of millions of women.

Paltrow said she started Goop because she and other women were finding it difficult to get information about their health and wellness concerns.

The brand evolved into an e-commerce website, selling skin creams, vitamin supplements, candles and clothing. Goop now has four permanent retail stores, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and London.

Along the way, Paltrow learned these lessons about giving birth to a new brand, and the challenges and advantages of having a celebrity for the CEO.

For a while I had shame about asking questions, and I think if I had given myself permission to be ignorant and ask questions, I would have avoided a lot of mistakes.

Gwyneth Paltrow, founder and CEO, Goop

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Don’t be afraid to admit when you don’t know something

“For a while I had shame about asking questions, and I think if I had given myself permission to be ignorant and ask questions, I would have avoided a lot of mistakes,” Paltrow said. She spent a lot of time in the early years googling acronyms like AUR (average unit retail) and AOV (average order value) on her phone-in meetings, when she should have just asked what they meant, she said.

Women executives need to learn how to disagree

“I think women in particular have a harder time being direct,” Paltrow said. “A lot of women have feelings about being nice and not hurting anybody’s feelings. There are ways to communicate where you can be incredibly direct and incredibly kind and supportive.”

Hiring, and having to reshuffle the team as the company grows, is tough but necessary

“I think the hardest thing is having to recalibrate at certain points and come to the realization that somebody who was amazing at a certain stage is not going to be the person for the next stage,” she said. “When I made the decision to hold the business as more important than anything else, those decisions got easier.”

If criticism bothers you, look inward

Paltrow, as a celebrity, and because of Goop’s sometimes controversial content and products, has drawn a lot of criticism, and even some hate, over the years. In the beginning it hurt, but “I think, at this point, it doesn’t bother me,” Paltrow said. If she reads something now and it hurts, “then I know that it’s a judgement I’m already holding against myself, because if I’m not holding that judgement then it’s just noise.”

Don’t hate your mistakes

Paltrow acknowledged she made mistakes in the early years of Goop — for example, not being aware of regulatory rules governing health and wellness claims, and not knowing about the need to “warm” an IP address when Goop switched email service providers. “But living through those mistakes, owning those mistakes, having humility about the mistakes have been the most invigorating part” of building a business, she said.

But there is one mistake she still regrets. Not learning accounting.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published February 03, 2020