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Bethenny Frankel on reframing her failures and the ‘un-pretty truth’ she’s learned

The entrepreneurial phenom is back with another book telling her deeply personal account on how to stay true to yourself while also achieving the impossible in business.
/ Source: TODAY

When getting on the phone with Bethenny Frankel for this interview, I was more nervous than usual, maybe because I’ve seen her devour her fellow "Real Housewives" when they ask her a question she doesn’t like, or the aspiring entrepreneurs who pitch her on “Shark Tank” when they’re unprepared. Both things may have come out during our chat, so I started our conversation with a commonality, telling her one of my mentors recently profiled her for a cover story and he absolutely loved her.

“It was fun spending the day with him, too.” the 50-year-old told me. “I mean, it was like really letting him under the hood, and that was frightening because we were really crazy.” 

Frankel is known for a lot of things — but perhaps at the top of that list is her inexplicable candor and boldness when talking about herself and her own rise to success via her popular brands. I quickly understood from our conversation why she is where she is. Despite starting with some good-will, lighthearted gabbing about a shared connection, she dives right into her take-no-prisoners gospel about business that’s intimidating and “brazen and brash,” as labeled by Michael Callahan when he profiled her for Inc. magazine. 

“I didn’t have a mentor because I didn’t even know I was an entrepreneur,” she told TODAY. “I was in my 30s and still didn’t even know what I was doing with my life. The word ‘mentor’ didn’t really exist back then. For us, we didn’t even know what a ‘brand’ was. We just wanted to make some money and had an idea.”

Celeste Sloman

After placing runner-up in Martha Stewarts’s edition of “The Apprentice” in 2005, Frankel began to appear on the “Real Housewives of New York City” in 2008. One year later, she launched Skinnygirl margaritas — a low-calorie pre-made cocktail — paving the way for an entire successful product line that she sold in 2013 for a reported $120 million. 

Frankel is the blueprint for how to use a platform to create a successful business, but she isn't too interested in doling out advice to others on how they can replicate her success. 

“You can’t just throw something on the show that doesn’t already have weight to it,” she said. “It has to have foundation beneath it. I remember the girls saying to me on the second season of the show, ‘What do I do? I need to have something. You have something,’ and it just doesn’t work that way. It has to have legs, a foundation and is authentic and you can back it up. That you really are working to support and nurture every single day. It’s real. It’s endless.”

“Everybody thinks that it’s fool’s gold. People think you’re getting on television and that’s all it takes,” she added. “It’s absolutely not all it takes, which is why there have been 150 Housewives and I mean, you do the math.”

While she may not be interested in giving advice to her fellow Housewives, she is opening up on her entrepreneurial experiences in a new book, “Business is Personal: The Truth About What it Takes to Be Successful While Staying True to Yourself," available now.

Celeste Sloman

“It’s the un-pretty truth about the crazy lessons and obstacles and things you go through in being a non-traditional entrepreneur which most people are,” she said. “Even if you’re working in a traditional space, non-traditional things will happen. It’s relatable to a mogul or a mom. It runs the gamut of just how to navigate it. It’s effectively a toolbox and case law for any level, shape, form and style of business or even just getting a job or getting on the road, just dealing with any aspect of work.”

The book is a deeply personal account that profiles what Frankel did or didn’t do to get where she is today. Failures seem to be an important part of her journey, one that she doesn’t shy away from talking about. But also, she doesn't think of them as failures.

“It’s a million obstacles. I don’t call them failures because it’s a lesson,” she said. 

In chapter 10 — "Protecting the Realm" — she details one experience when minutes before she was supposed to promote her new swimwear line during an Instagram Live, she pivoted because the quality didn't meet her standards. It was the first time she had experienced the product in person, and despite letting down her team for holding out until they got it right, she didn't want to compromise her brand viability.

“I thought that my own swimsuits were garbage and I couldn’t possibly sell them to the Home Shopping Network customer and break the trust that I have," she said. “So those are disasters, but they weren’t disasters, because now the swimwear just came in yesterday, these gorgeous samples and I feel good about myself that I stuck to it. I stuck to the code and the culture I created. I felt powerful, so powerful to pay my partner thousands of dollars, because I just wouldn’t go and sell anything because I had integrity.”

Celeste Sloman

She also brings up her own divorce to Jason Hoppy that took almost a decade to finalize in 2021 after the couple separated in 2013. 

“My divorce for 10 years was a nightmare and the worst experience of my whole life, but it felt like surviving something and being able to teach and help other people,” she said. “It felt good to learn, navigate and come out. So you’re always almost drowning, but you just figure out a way to stay calm, stay close to the shoreline and doggy battle.”

And while she didn’t name a mentor per se, she does a name drop a bevy of people who have inspired her to be where she is today or have provided some helpful advice to her: Oprah Winfrey, Mark Zuckerberg, Mark Cuban, Kelly Ripa and Kevin O'Leary. She has many of them on speed-dial when she needs an additional take on something: “It’s like a different mixed pie of my mentors, all mixed together.”

What’s next?

“I don’t do that,” she quickly responded. “I don’t even know and I don’t even care. I do not have a big grand plan. I'm not planning to take over the world. I just like to do what I like to do.”