Started From the Basement Now We’re HereWithin the last ten years, natural hair care brands have popped up with products that work for a variety of curl types and allow us to rock our natural tresses unapologetically. One of the most notable hair care entrepreneurs leading the pack is newcomer Monique Rodriguez who entered the beauty realm in 2014. Her line Mielle Organics boasts of products ranging from $9.99 to $18.99, made of all natural ingredients. And its ability to grow curly hair long in record time has it covering the likes of Essence, Hype Hair, and Cosmo Magazine. No mentor, no blueprint, just hustle. Monique Rodriguez gave up eight years as a registered nurse to create her brainchild Mielle Organics. She began blending oils and mayo in her basement to toughen up her own curls, and the thought of helping others to do the same came afterward. She started with one product and grew. Keep reading to see what you can take away from Monique’s unprecedented rise to success to jump-start your hair care brand.
Lessons and Applications for Success
Lesson One: Walk Away From TraditionIt is no secret that entrepreneurship, money management, and financial literacy are not popular topics of discussion in communities of color. That is why black women taking over in the field of entrepreneurship is such a huge story. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that between the years of 2007 and 2012 black women-owned businesses grew 67 percent, outpacing the 27 percent growth rate for female-owned businesses. However, you may be surprised to learn that Monique Rodriguez did not start out thriving in the entrepreneurial space. Instead of starting her business during this peak time of growth for black female entrepreneurs Monique went into the medical field and did everything that she needed to do to progress in the traditional sense. Even though the successful founder grew up with a business like mindset, she strayed away from her natural talents and went on to pursue college and a nursing degree instead of her passion to sell and build a business. After graduating from college, Monique chose to work in the hospital as a nurse. She did that for one year before transitioning to a nurse in an agency setting. It was during her time at the agency that she realized the limitations her nursing career had on her future earnings and growth. Because the agency paid more money than the hospital, Monique Rodriguez realized early on that even if she were to stay within an agency setting she was not going to be getting compensated at a rate that competes with things like cost of living increases and inflation. Instead, she then took a job at a home health aid company and worked behind the scenes in an executive capacity. Because the company was small and grew into a lucrative business within ten years Monique was able to build a rapport with the two owners of the company and see the joys of entrepreneurship, the work that went into growing a successful business. This served as the last experience that Monique had in a traditional setting.
ApplicationMonique tried to live her life using the lives of her parents as an example. However, the calls of entrepreneurial life were not whispering in the shadows! Her circumstances got more and more uncomfortable until she was unable to ignore the fact that she wanted to go into business for herself! What has your life been trying to get you to jump start?
Lesson Two: Use What You Have To Get Where You Want To BeWhen Monique had the idea for Mielle Organics in 2013, she did not have any fancy mixers or machinery to get her products started. What she did have was a background in science due to her nursing degree. She also had the desire to grow her hair past her bra strap and a kitchen. Monique's hair has been natural her entire life, so she never had a problem with texturizers or relaxers. However, she used a lot of heat, so she was curious to see what her curls would look like if she could grow her hair out past the heat and color damage. From there, Monique went on a mission to grow her hair past her personal plateau, and that is when her days physically making her own concoctions from natural sources began. After months of cooking up products in her kitchen, the mother of two took to Facebook to publish her recipes and help women who wanted to grow their hair with her new DIY hair care regimen. And after mixing different ingredients together that successfully grew her hair, she quit her day job to focus solely on Mielle Organics. Focusing on eventually packaging and distributing those same recipes, building the business, and help even more women. A few of Monique's choice ingredients include:
HoneyTo promote scalp health and hair growth
AvocadoA lightweight oil used to boost moisture and reverse damage
Mint & GingerTo support a clean scalp
VisionWhen you are taking a leap of faith vision is the only thing that will get you past the nights filled with doubt and negative thoughts. Monique received her passion for educating women in the healthcare realm and used that to pivot and start educating them on their natural hair. There is a void in the natural hair care industry in regards to education. Unfortunately, a lot of women that transitioned from relaxed hair to embrace their curly hair came across products that used verbiage like “curls” “texture” and “silky” without ever checking out the ingredients in these products. This left room for a lot of curly girls to purchase hair products with alcohol bases and harsh effects that left us like heat damage. On a more health conscious note, more recently a lot of products that cater to natural hair have been found to use ingredients linked to causing cancer. Mielle Organics has a company vision to educate women us on the ingredients inside their products filled with natural preservatives and organic ingredients.
ApplicationMonique took the challenge of walking away from her full-time safety net head-on. She was able to use the experience from her previous employment and tailor them to fit her new passion, but she did not do this without a plan. For example, Monique's training as a nurse helped her to realize how natural ingredients really do affect all parts of the body. She knows that whatever products you put onto your scalp and hair can and will be absorbed into your bloodstream and that is a critical component of skin and hair regeneration and growth respectively. If possible, you should always start your side business and test it out before jumping into entrepreneurship full time. Get a few bumps and bruises while you still have a place of employment to pay for your necessities and fund your business.
Lesson Three: There Is Power In One ProductSo many people think that they need to sell multiple things at once, create a monopoly in the market to be successful. That is not true. In the natural hair industry, it’s not possible. With the influx of products available and the various curl textures, no one brand caters to every curl type. Monique’s first product was the critically acclaimed Mint Almond Oil. The Mint Almond Oil was a strong release for Mielle Organics because it catered to the brand’s segmented customer. The Mielle Organics target audience consists of African American women who are in tune with what they are putting into their body and are interested in growing their hair to a longer length. Monique armed herself with what she needed to combat the myth that African American women cannot grow long hair, quality products. Then she created Youtube videos showing her potential customers how to use the product and allowed influencers to do so as well.
ApplicationA big takeaway here is to focus on quality over quantity. If you're coming out with a product or service, build a solid foundation and introduce your customers to one or two really good offerings that can give them multiple experiences, hence the Mint Almond Oil. Monique won with this strategy! Her hip bone length hair grew because of the Mint Almond Oil's sealant properties. She was able to show her customers that she had a quality product and used herself as an example.
Lesson Four: Social Media Can Build Your BrandVideo and written content showed users that the Mint Almond Oil could be a hot oil treatment, scalp stimulant, deep conditioner boost, or a smoothing agent. These tutorials showed that the product was a versatile and worthy investment. Social media and authenticity are what helped the brand obtain so much growth in only a years time. Because social media advertising and self-promotion was such a big part of the growth of mielle Organics Monique Rodriguez is almost forced to stay on as not only the CEO but the face of her brand. Whenever she's interacting with customers and doing events or brand engagements where she is face-to-face with her target audience she has to remember that social media and those initial interactions with those same customers are what sold her product. Ultimately, she is giving them the same experience upon meeting her in person to keep a continuous experience going from product conception to product delivery.
ApplicationUse social media to help you promote those offerings. A lot of people think that social media is always so evolving and they can get lost in the new mediums of social. Nevertheless, picking one platform like a YouTube or Facebook and creating good visual content will always help you to win over an audience. You don't have to try to be everywhere on every social media platform to everyone. This is especially true if you are a one-person operation when you are first starting. It is going to be virtually impossible for you to perfect that as a marketing strategy because you will be spreading yourself too thin. Create a strong base and then expand your company from there.
Lesson Five: Take Advantage of An OpportunitySally's Beauty Supply Store is the first store that gave mielle Organics the chance to be in a big retail space. The story detailing how the two companies were able to meet very ironic because Monique was actually in mom and supporting one of her daughters at a gymnastics competition in Texas when Sally's Beauty Supply reached out to her for a meeting at their headquarters. Sallys HQ is also in Texas, and being that Monique is not from the cowboy state it is almost like fate brought the two entities together. As luck would have it, Monique also could not find a sitter for both of her girls, and it did not make sense for her to fly them back home and risk missing the meeting, so she decided to bring them with her. The founder describes this as a full circle time for her because it allowed her to share a huge moment with her girls! Sally's offered Monique the opportunity to be put in 95 of their stores as a test. Using that same social media following that she was able to cultivate in lesson three, Monique told her followers that Mielle Organics would be Sally's. And she was able to sell out of every single one of her products in every Sally's location that she was placed in on the day that Mielle launched at Sally's. Her reward for that? Expanding to 2,000 Sally Stores And other locations.
ApplicationWomen entrepreneurs have the added stress of dealing with their business and their families if they have them. When it comes to juggling and figuring out how you're going to both, do business and be there as a mom or a wife sometimes we have a hard time choosing which should come first. When there are times that you can merge both of the responsibilities as a homemaker and a businesswoman into one, you owe it to yourself to take it. What's really cool is the fact that Sally's beauty is opening up a beauty incubator for the woman with the next big hair care product idea. Because so many product creators have the vision of getting their product on retail shelves this incubator is giving you a leg up on everything that you would face. Sally's is offering you not only mentorship but the possibility of showcasing your products in their stores. It says something about not only where they see the value in black women-owned businesses, but it also means that they can see those same businesses thriving on their own. Selling your company to a large Beauty Corporation is impressive. But if you could make money, retain ownership, and be an example of a strong boss beauty businesswoman, why wouldn't you want to do that? Sally's is helping make that possible for the next Mielle Organics owner.
Lesson Six: Family and Business Can MixYou hear it all the time. “Blood and money don't mix!” “Don't mix business and pleasure!” Some even go as far as saying, “don't lend your friends money that you can't afford to lose!” And that has nothing to do with business. The crazy thing is, Monique’s story with Mielle Organics is the complete opposite of those mantras. Even down to the name of her company! Monique lets everyone know that Mielle Organics is a family business. She's doing this for her family, to build a legacy for her kids. She's even using her marriage partnership with her husband to help boost her business because he doubles as a business partner as well, serving as the COO of Mielle Organics. It's cool because Monique's daughter's names are Arielle and Gabrielle — both girls have “Elle” in their names! The founder played up that that fact to create the name of her company “My-Elle” coupled that with the importance of her ingredients being healthy, fresh, and organic; coining the name “Mielle Organics.”
ApplicationThe fact that family is so vital to Monique and she has made it such a critical part of the foundation of Mielle Organics brand makes the brand that much more appealing. With family values being a core, it almost bolsters the integrity of the brand. It also shows that the people closest to you can help you to succeed and foster a community behind your dream. This is something that should be a piece of your mindset as an entrepreneur because you are going to need people in your corner to help you build. Whether that be people, who are family or people who become like family. You cannot build a business alone.
GuidanceOutside of the family help that Monique was able to receive the Sounder speaks a lot about trial and error. Unfortunately, she didn't have the luxury of a mentor in the beginning stages of Mielle’s take off. That alone could have helped her to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that you can go through when starting not only a traditional business but a successful business that grows way faster than scale. This is something that Monique says hindered her at times because she ended up making a lot of mistakes. However, it also proved to her that she could do whatever she sets her mind to.
Big BusinessThe Mielle Organics mission did not start out planning to do the rumored 15 million dollars in sales that it accomplished in the year 2016 alone. And the confirmed 50% growth year after year is just a bonus. It's surprising to learn that her journey to help women transform their hair care regimen didn't start with the glamorous photo shoots, celebrity endorsements, and empowerment events that we see the Mielle Brand spearheading today. With over 50,000 points of distribution, space on the shelves of most major retail outlets, including Sally Beauty, J.C. Penney, and Walmart, Mielle Organics is currently plotting global domination expanding its product line outside of the 87 countries that are already in love with it.
Entrepreneur VS WantrepreneurOutside of the five steps mentioned above, Monique was able to take advantage of many other opportunities that do not impact many businesses early on! Big network television shows like The Real and The Wendy Williams Show were able to give her products significant exposure, coupled with the praises of actresses like Yara Shahidi and reality starts like Rasheeda. Nevertheless, Monique's ability to keep up with the demand of the brand after the impact of these things shows how dedicated she was to working on the less glamorous sides of the business like inventory and distribution. These are a lot of things that we don't see when it comes to the public side of a business. It is was separates an entrepreneur who works toward their vision from a wantrepreneur who cannot see the curvy path to get to it. Mielle Organics is expanding steadily with plans to go deeper into hair and skin care lines. With the numbers that they are currently doing, we do not doubt that they will continue to take the hair care industry by storm. What lesson do you think impacted the growth of the Mielle Organics line in the most significant way? Comment below how you would apply one of the five lessons!
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