All Articles Tagged "entrepreneurship"
Is ‘Buying Black’ Hurting Us? Author Angela Jones On Why Black Business Owners Should Break Through The Black Ceiling
The term “glass ceiling” is often used to describe the obstacles many minorities and women face when climbing the corporate ladder, despite their high qualifications and experience. Is there such a thing as a “Black ceiling” that many minority business owners face that hinder their ability to grow their businesses? The US Census Bureau 2007 Survey of Business Owners reported Blacks owned 1.9 million nonfarm US businesses, but only accounted for 7.1 percent of total US nonfarm businesses and 0.5 percent of total US business receipts that year. (Note: 2014 Survey results will be released later this year.)
We spoke with author and entrepreneur Angela Jones, author of the book Breaking Through The Black Ceiling, to discuss her thoughts on Black entrepreneurship, diversification in business, and why Blacks need to start thinking more strategically about their long-term business plans. The mantra behind “buying Black” may be what’s hurting the Black economy. In her words, “As altruistic as the [concept] may be, money is green and diversity makes dollars.”
MadameNoire: What were you trying to accomplish by writing Breaking Through The Black Ceiling?
Angela Jones: I wanted to change the mindset of Black business owners to embrace diversity, provide better customer service, leverage technology and understand business is meant to make a profit. How you go into it will determine how successful you are or are not. Being able to adapt to the business environment is essential for your business plans. Just because you’re Black doesn’t mean others will buy from you when you go into business. You can’t have that expectation, because that is not the reality.
MN: Though you focus on Black people most of your chapters can be generalized to other populations. Some people might say that makes your book not as strong. Was that on purpose?
AJ: We are a global economy. Even though I wrote the book and want African Americans to read and learn from it, anyone who has a business might still benefit. I can’t say be diverse, participate in a global economy but not have areas of the book that wouldn’t apply to every business owner regardless of race. I’d be a hypocrite.
MN: Why is building diverse relationships within the Black community so important for the future of the Black economy?
AJ: Part of it comes from having the mindset of competition. A lot of times people think, “If I don’t have it, I don’t want others to have it.” We don’t have to be that way. Black business owners can sit back and pray that Black people will buy or they can create an environment that people want to buy regardless of race. If the product is made for a different ethnicity, then target it for all and make your money. Blacks are also concerned about where they are going to sell. You have to find people who need what you have.
There are other situations where business owners start out by making products in their home, then their business grows. Next thing you know they are bought by a larger company and are making millions of dollars like Lisa Price… When you’ve got mouthpieces worth billions of dollars telling people how awesome your products are, that is great. She was smart.
… A lot of companies file for bankruptcy. Guess what! Get over it. It doesn’t mean they are broke. It just meant that they had to make some change and liquefy for cash. Now she’s able to say, “Look what I did.” Her legacy is that of a Madame CJ Walker. She will go down into history for that. Some people critique her for selling to a predominantly white-owned company. So what? Why not?
MN: A lot of business owners may be afraid to diversify their product offering. Do you think Black entrepreneurs get caught up in wanting to only offer products that “please” the Black consumer?
AJ: I once saw a Black business owner in the service industry on Facebook complaining about how all of his customers are White from Ohio. I didn’t understand what the problem was. What was the issue? The only thing he could say was that he wanted Black people to buy from and support him. Your consumer exists… Why do you care what color they are if they are buying from you?
When you have the opportunity to open yourself up to another person that doesn’t look like you, do it. There’s a feeling of obligation to the Black community where we feel that we can’t pursue other avenues because we feel like we’re selling out. No, you’re selling your product. Selling out is allowing yourself to go out of business because of your Black pride and only wanting a consumer who looks like you. We can’t feel like our businesses are our cemeteries.
Lisa Price is smart because she had an exit plan strategy. Black business owners don’t think about what will happen to their businesses one day. What are you going to do when you reach that $1 billion dollar mark? They think their businesses are going to go on forever but are not planning how that is going to happen. Carol’s Daughter will go on forever because it was bought out by a larger cosmetics company that has been around forever and will keep it in their portfolio. Lisa, if she wants to, can continue making products or she can start another business.
There’s so many opportunities. Having the ability to adapt is a very strong character trait in a person. When one door closes, they find another door to walk through. Many of us in the Black community think that when one door closes, it’s over. For instance, Mark Cuban sold Yahoo for billions of dollars and went and bought a basketball team. Two completely different things… Too many of us are holding on to multi-billion dollar businesses that are failing in our hands because we don’t want to let go or fear diversification and partnership.
MN: At the same time, do you think there is some type of obligation Black business owners should have to the Black community?
AJ: I think the obligation is to give excellent customer service and to be an example to others behind us who also are considering becoming entrepreneurs or business owners. Give back to the community in ways that matter. Ways that matter and how you give back are going to be determined by how successful you are. You can mentor, volunteer your time, or support a nonprofit. Being philanthropic in some shape or form with the money that you do make is just as important as making the money.
MN: How do you see your book helping to open up the conversation on the idea of the “Black ceiling?”
AJ: I’ve already started working with one of the Black chambers here in Michigan to put together programming for entrepreneurs and small businesses. I am also going to develop workshops and webinars based on the content of the book and am working on a followup book called Estrogen Economy which is about the female buying power.
Leaving the stability of a job to pursue your dreams of being an entrepreneur is never easy. Often what keeps us stuck in a miserable pattern at a dead end job are simple excuses. You’re not alone in your feelings. Confront your excuses and take the first step into the murky but rewarding waters of opening your own business.
With an estimated buying power of $1.3 trillion by the year 2017, how and where African Americans spend their money will become increasingly important to business and to the Black community. One Minority Development Business Agency report showed that though the amount of minority-owned businesses are increasing, “they are still smaller in size and scale compared to non-minority-owned firms.” Supporting minority-owned businesses will be crucial to the growth and development of the minority economy in coming years.
De J Lozada is the founder of My Culture Hub, a minority-owned online retailer for online shoppers seeking to buy quality merchandise from ethnic vendors worldwide. De J built the company around her mission of tapping into the spending power of the African, Latino, and Asian-American community by providing e-consumers with a shopping destination that celebrates their heritage and reflects their culture.
Check out her interview below to learn more about why “spending with a purpose” is so important to the mission of the organization.
MadameNoire (MN): What inspired you to start My Culture Hub?
De J Lozada (DL): I was trying to find a doll for a young niece that looked like her. What followed was five stores and a couple of frustrating conversations with store managers all telling me, “Yeah, we had two or three and when they are gone it’s hard to get them in stock.. If you call and complain maybe they’ll send more. Go online…” That whole experience made me feel like my cultural needs were an after-thought. The concept of conscientious buying came to mind. I said I don’t want to shop in stores that take me for granted.
MN: Why are “authentic” ethnic items so hard to find offline and online?
DL: In the past, if you want something that is authentically made, you had to do destination shopping. You can easily go to eBay or Amazon and get a “Chilean” blanket, but when you receive it, it’s stamped “made in China.” We can and should do better. It takes people three to four times as many searches to identify websites that sell authentic items geared towards ethnic communities than it takes to locate similar items that are geared towards mainstream shoppers who are looking for items that appeal to those with European heritages. For example, Irish lace made in Ireland is easier to find versus Kente cloth made in Ghana.
MN: How does My Culture Hub work?
DL: Our goal is to develop an online web portal that speaks to ethnic identities and provides quality unique merchandise at an affordable price. We don’t just sell merchandise. We tell stories. People who care enough to create ethnic items are people who care enough to tell the history and legacy that comes with the item. You can go on our site and learn how cloth is woven back in Africa. You may then pick up a baby doll for someone on our site that is dressed in that same cloth.
We include information about who and how the product is made. You won’t get items on our site stamped “made in China.” The item becomes an heirloom and something you can use to reinforce your culture with your family and friends. We are seeking a conscientious shopper — that middle, upper class, or person who may not have the means but understands the value of saving up to purchase what you want. Some people think our items are too expensive. I say to my staff, “Remind them: That which is cheap is most expensive in the long run.”
MN: How is the internet helping you to reach your customer and carry out the mission of the site?
DL: The internet is the great equalizer. If you live in a community that doesn’t readily have the product you are looking for, you have to turn to the internet. There’s a great growth opportunity there. Blacks and Latinos are the new emerging markets in online shopping. What are we buying? Where is the thoughtfulness behind what we buy? Is it that we only desire the cheapest product and don’t care about quality? I reject that. There are plenty of people of color who make decent livings, are educated, and are thoughtful in their purchases that would like to have items in their homes that reflect who they are and celebrates their identity.
MN: What makes My Culture Hub so different?
DL: The untapped market is the ethnic market. While everybody is chasing that traditional customer, we’re very content to spend our time in ethnic communities who are just really starting to realize their spending power and deciding purposely to shop online and not in the stores that are just around them. Online shopping opens the world. How do you know where to find what you are looking for? That’s the beauty of our model. We’ll do that for you. We’ll find products that are representations of what destination shopping should be instead of going to Kenya or Mali to find that special item for your home.
We are operating a cooperation that is 100 percent self-funded by people of color. It takes a lot of money and time. The thing that has sustained us is talent. There are very few sites that who actually reflect the cultures that they represent. The majority of my leadership team is comprised of people of color. It’s important to have people making decisions about what we buy based on sound practices and personal experiences being people of color.
MN: What challenges have you faced while building My Culture Hub?
DL: TD Jakes has a quote that I use often: “ You should never try to share a giraffe decision with turtles. They will never be able to see what you see.” We [constantly] have to explain, “Other sites lack the sensitivity. You can go to sites and not see a Black model or obviously Hispanic model anywhere. You go to sites and women are all size 0 or 2. That’s not a reality in communities of color.” No one is really speaking to the truth of the African-American community at large. People tell us they don’t think it will work. People won’t buy on your site. They won’t support something that is Black-owned. We’ve heard it all. We’re doing it anyway.
MN: Why are minority-owned companies so important?
DL: There is nothing wrong (and everything right) about also supporting your own community interests. We need to be focused on growing Black wealth in the United States. With money comes freedom. It’s not always okay to have to ask someone else for permission to do what needs to be done in the best interests of your family. When you have wealth, you have the power and the freedom to do some of the things that we all know we need to do to strengthen our standing in society on a socioeconomic value. We need banks that lend to African Americans and Latinos and not be limited by somebody’s else’s possibility bias for our success. African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in 2017 will have $4.5 trillion worth of spending power in the United States. We’re spending that money. We’re not investing. It’s very important that while we spend, we spend with a purpose.
As people of color get more education and become more aware of the world and what their place in it is, there will be a demand in higher quality merchandise that is fair trade [and] ethically made. We have the ability to pick what we buy. Because we are sensitive to us, nobody has to come in to train us, we don’t have to hire a group of people to come in and run an “ethnic division.” We are the ethnic division.
MN: What are your future plans for the site?
DL: In addition to having our mainstream board which has some amazing people on it, we also will have a junior board where we have young people (18 and younger) making decisions. We are going to groom those students to be the next leaders in business for our future. Learning how to fail is part of learning how to be successful. It’s really unfortunate in minority population communities that our kids don’t get that opportunity to learn how to fail. We have a low tolerance for risk because we don’t have a safety net.
MN: How will you measure your “success?”
DL: Our success will be measured by how much an impact we can make on our communities and our students. Of course we want to make money. Our biggest goal is to be an example of what can be accomplished when we work together as a community. We’re always thinking about how we can give back as we grow at the same time. It’s part of our vision that we have to support education, student entrepreneurship, and commercialization. When people come and shop on our site, they know that they are reinvesting in their own communities. Where else can you do that?
Renowned celebrity chef Roblé Ali has now added ‘perfumer’ to his resume and growing culinary empire. On November 7, Chef Roblé debuted his fragrance CLIQUE by Roblé on ShopHQ (formerly ShopNBC). The line will be the only new fragrance line to premiere this holiday season on the network.
On what inspired the fragrance, Roblé stated, “It started with the idea of developing an irresistible fragrance recipe that could maintain the freshness of a citrus cocktail on top, with an alluring and sensual dessert base containing notes from one of my favorite signature dessert recipes – French Toast Crunch.” The line includes an eau de parfum, body butter, shower gelée, and scented nail lacquer.
We got the opportunity to chat with Roblé about the fragrance line and how he manages his multiple business ventures. Check out what he had to say below.
MadameNoire (MN): What makes Clique by Roblé so unique?
Chef Roblé Ali (CR): I thought it would be a great idea to have a fragrance created by a chef because there are so many parallels between the art of fragrance making and the art of cooking and culinary arts. We work with a lot of the same ingredients. It’s about blending, palettes, and making stuff delicious. It made perfect sense for me. I’m still shocked that no other chef has done this yet.
MN: Why the name “Clique by Roblé” ?
CR: I work in a lot of social environments. Fragrance is something that is social, something that you talk about and compliment each other on. It makes you think about a group of friends, your closest people.
MN: Why did you decide to launch the fragrance on ShopHQ instead of having a retail debut?
CR: Direct sales are always good. It’s a way to build your brand. We’re a small operation. We’re not a company that has a lot of products in the stores already and tens of millions of dollars for advertising. ShopHQ is the most prestigious of the television shopping networks. I felt like that was the perfect home for us. It’s a slow build. We’re going to start off this holiday season on Shop HQ and I would expect by Mother’s Day that you will see us in retail.
MN: What kind of feedback have you been getting throughout the pre-launch phase?
CR: I’ve met a lot of people in the beauty and fragrance industry and have gotten great feedback. I get tweets and mentions on Instagram of people that are ordering directly from cliquebyRoble.com. Every person that I’ve heard from is really pleased.
MN: Over the past years, you’ve really worked on growing the Roblé brand. How important is your business to you?
CR: I personally never liked working for other people. I always knew that I would be an entrepreneur since I was a kid, but you can’t just go from 0 to 100. You have to work with somebody at some point. You build as you go. You make contacts. You make plans. You set long-term goals. You focus and you work hard. I was able to do that to a point where I didn’t have to work for anyone else. Now I employ other people. I want to employ more people and start new businesses. I have all different kind of projects that I’m working on. An app… things like that.
I wish I had more time. There’s not enough hours in the day. There’s no way I can do it all by myself. I have a small team that helps me get everything done and keeps me on track.
MN: What’s the best business advice you’ve ever received and how has it helped your career?
CR: Never burn bridges. Maintain relationships. You never know what might come back around. You never know when you might need a certain contact or connection so make sure you do a good job. Treat people how you want to be treated.
MN: What are you most excited about in these next few months?
CR:We have another women’s fragrance in our back pocket that we may put out later. We also have a men’s fragrance that we are working on. Starting in January, I am going to be doing daytime television and that’s been a big goal of mine. That’s where it’s at. I’ll be in front of all of America five times a week being a chef. I’ll always have have my foot in other [industries… but] food is my first love.
Technology entrepreneurship offers an extensive amount of opportunities. But flip through most magazines and websites that delve into the space and, at times, it seems as though the content isn’t speaking to you, more so at you…and in another language. It’s a concern that The Phat Startup (TPS) team—Anthony Frasier, James Lopez, Jesal Trivedi and Jahde—recognized and aimed to disrupt.
Influenced by Lean Startup methodology and hip-hop culture, The Phat Startup is an integrated media company that develops premium content for new to serial entrepreneurs. Known for their well-attended NYC events, where they’ve brought tech heavyweights such as Reddit founder and serial investor Alexis Ohanian, VaynerMedia founder and social media expert Gary Vaynerchuk, and Ben Horowitz (a.k.a Nas’ bestie), co-founder and general partner of the venture capital fund, Andreessen Horowitz, the Phat Startup is entering a new chapter, hosting their inaugural Tech808 conference on November 21 at New York University. The conference, which is in partnership with the Clive Davis Institute, will explore the world of entrepreneurship through the view of those who are grinding and hustling to make power moves.
MadameNoire caught up with The Phat Startup co-founders to discuss tech entrepreneurship, starting your own venture and why Tech808 is a must-attend conference.
Lopez: I was inspired to start TPS because I noticed that the similarities between hip-hop and lean were a perfect way to educate aspiring entrepreneurs that resonated with the hip-hop culture. Buzzwords are cool, but if you don’t understand them you cant learn from them, or apply those lessons.
Frasier: What played a big part of me jumping into The Phat Startup is being constantly asked questions about becoming an entrepreneur. When I got together with James, and we began to see we could use the culture as a way to get entrepreneurs interested and informed, it was magic.
How did The Phat Startup go from an idea to a platform to a movement, which entails events and now your conference, Tech808?
Frasier: The blog was the first step. The content was the second. The content played a huge part in our journey. When we wrote resource guides and conducted interviews, we weren’t talking to a white kid at Stanford. Sure, anyone could relate and benefit from our content, but we had a certain demographic in mind. We wanted to ask questions a single mother in Newark, NJ could relate to. I wanted to create a guide that a college dropout in Oakland would vibe with.
As a result, it helped us gain a following. The largest reason people follow us is because we present the same resourceful, quality information you would get anywhere else, but with a cooler voice. It’s less intimidating, and people love that. We love hip-hop, so when we wave our flags we do it like any hip-hop movement would. We wear our T-shirts; we make sure the logo is visible on our products. It makes people want to join the squad and be part of something. Hip-hop taught us that.
What can attendees expect from your inaugural conference?
Lopez: For Tech808, we decided that having people talk about the come up wasn’t as valuable as them telling you how to create your own come up or movement. We wanted to get off the usual background information and have all speakers leave the community with executable advice that they can start implementing the day of in a TEDx style conversation.
We want to educate our community, so Tech808 is pure executable advice, no self-promotion.
Talk to me about the inspiration behind the name Tech808
Frasier: The Tech808 name came from our founding members: Jesal Trivedi and Jahde. The 808 is the most famous bass sound in hip-hop. It has a boom to it that is unmatched. Bringing tech together with that represents the convergence of the two cultures. It also means we not playing games out here!
How will Tech 808 be different from a lot of the other technology conferences happening in other tech hubs such as San Francisco, Austin, Atlanta and New York?
Lopez: Tech808 is different because we wanted to focus on the lessons learned from founders in the trenches right now. People like Mark Zuckerburg are super special, but the tactics they use now can’t be used by a company that is just launching. All of our speakers are building their empires from an early stage and their tactics are the ones our community needs to implement now.
Frasier: I agree with James. What also makes us different are the same reasons we were able to attract our audience. It’s the culture. It’s the comfort level [of] people asking questions and not feeling dumb, or left out. We are for the people. You don’t get that vibe when attending a larger, more popular conference.
For those aspiring to be tech entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them about starting a business in the tech space?
Lopez: As Nike would say, just do it. There will never be a perfect time to start. Start now and learn how to overcome the obstacles that you’ll face. There isn’t a blueprint to follow, but you can learn from how others over came adversity. Do that and grind!
Frasier: My biggest piece of advice for aspiring tech entrepreneurs is to learn and build as much as you can. Learn how to code. Don’t have the time to learn how to code? Learn how to prototype! Learn how to build wire frames. Learn how to communicate your vision to a technical person. But, as much time as you spend learning, you have to start building and making mistakes. Making mistakes is how we get better and, trust me, you will learn to love making mistakes in the tech world. Making mistakes is actually better than reading articles and books.
Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.
When consumers visit Sneakah Boutique, Nailah Wright wants them to discover “original, fresh and modern” products but also feel “the retro lifestyle.”
The online boutique retailer, founded in 2013, is owned by Wright, 29, along with partners Whitney Bryant, 25 and Ernest Freeman, 22. The New Jersey company specializes in international street wear, footwear and accessories that echo what Bryant refers to as “a skateboard life.”
In just over a year, Sneakah Boutique has found its niche in the fashion world and has already launched its exclusive Bee Dope capsule line with Cross Colours, the leading street wear brand, which was founded by Carl Jones in 1989. The collaboration will allow the two entities to put out a five-piece collection, which will all be available this fall.
As Wright, Bryant and Freeman continue to branch their brand internationally, Freeman said the company will continue to “bring about retro brand awareness.”
With Wright’s background in business, sales, media, photography and film; Freeman’s expertise in finance and investment; and Bryant’s experience in the entertainment and fashion fields, the partners feel they have what it takes to make Sneakah Boutique the future of retro.
MN: How did the three of you come together to launch Sneakah Boutique?
Wright: The Sneakah Boutique concept came around in the summer of 2013. I was working for a Fortune 250 company and I’ve always liked fashion and art and I wanted to come out with a retro-style sneaker store. So one day when I was driving home, I came up with an idea and a concept and I brought it to Whitney and Ernest’s attention. They liked the business plan and the concept so we went forward with it.
MN: In just over a year, you have taken great strides in the street wear industry. How have you maintained your focus?
Bryant: Everything goes hand in hand and I think how we are branding, how we are doing our marketing plays a big part in success. For us, there has been this driving force behind how we have been able to make our presence known and how we have chosen to brand ourselves and that is what is behind some of the creative alliances that we are making. We were able to pigeon-hole and target the industry that we wanted and we went after it aggressively.
Her last name may be Smalls, but if you pull the curtain back on Tionna’s growing empire, you’ll notice just how big she’s doing it.
The megawatt personality got her start with a small investment from her mother to self-publish her first book, Girl, Get Your Mind Right!, at 22 and the rest, as they say, has been history in the making.
In the eight years since she became a published author, Smalls has added television personality (What Chilli Wants, Girl, Get Your Mind Right), relationship expert and columnist (Gawker), boutique owner (Tasty) and screenwriter (Brooklyn Bred) to her growing resume.
I recently caught up with Tionna to learn more about how she launched her various businesses, what it’s been like navigating the entertainment industry and how she’s been able to consistently reinvent herself while ultimately staying true to who she is.
MadameNoire (MN): We know you as an author, television personality, retail shop owner, and soon as a screenplay writer with Brooklyn Bred. With so much on your plate, how would you define Tionna Smalls?
Tionna Smalls (Smalls): I like to say that I’m the ‘Tionna’ of all trades. I can do a lot of things well. I am a serial entrepreneur and I have a lot of interests in things and I’ve always been someone who believes that you should go after the things you want in life no matter what. I’ve never listened to people’s opinions of what they thought I was capable of because I’m too busy grinding. I may not be the master of every industry that I [have a business in] but the one thing that I am the master of for sure is knowing how to grind and get [stuff] done.
MN: You wrote your first book, Girl, Get Your Mind Right! at the age of 22 and was cast as the relationship expert along side Chili from TLC not too long after that. How did that opportunity come about?
Smalls: The book was the catalyst for everything. Back in 2006/07 my friends and I were all single and dating in New York when I started noticing a trend with the way guys were moving and dealing with women, so I wrote about it. Once the book came out, I reached out to several media outlets, including Gawker who eventually hired me to be a columnist, and many of the critics who reviewed the book started calling me a relationship expert and the title just stuck. From there, I guess the producers for the What Chili Wants show learned about me and thought I’d be the perfect person to help her get her love life back on track. At that time, giving relationship advice was something that came natural as a hobby, but now almost 10 years later I can definitely say that I am an expert.
MN: Where did you work prior to publishing your book?
Smalls: I’ve always been a worker and I’ve always felt that before you can be a boss you have to be a worker. I started working when I was 17 at Burger King and I had a sales job. I’ve also had jobs in the nonprofit space before I became an author and entrepreneur. As I was working these different jobs, I realized that the ‘9 to 5’ life wasn’t for me; I craved freedom.
You’re never going to get to your dreams if you’re just working a job, unless your dream is to help someone else achieve their dreams.
MN: How did you finance your businesses? Did you take on any outside investment?
Smalls: With my first book my parents gave me the money to publish it. And after the book, I ended up getting a job at Gawker [as a relationship advice columnist] and I was doing marketing on the side. I invested every cent that I made into the pursuit of my goals. And then once the TV show opportunity came, I was able to finance everything else that I wanted to do at that time.
With some of the bigger things that I want to do now, I know that I need investors but it’s a difficult process because everyone wants a return right away. And then you have those people who could pour resources into your ventures but they’re hesitant because deep down they don’t want you to become bigger than they are. My advice and approach has always been to finance your business yourself. You’ll get more respect that way and may attract the right type of people to you.
MN: What was one of the most surprising things you learned about the entertainment industry?
Smalls: The thing that surprised me the most was that the people who you may have grown up with or who look like you are the ones who don’t necessarily want to see you succeed. In the industry it seems as if no one wants to help anyone else, and in a sense it’s a little bit like the drug game where everyone wants to make sure you’re not ‘selling’ on their block. Learning how to navigate the business can be depressing but ultimately you have to get to a position where you have the money and resources to afford the freedom to focus on the projects that are important to you. When you’re dependent on other people, they’ll try to tell you what’s best for you and what’s best for the culture, even when they’re not living it.
Toni Murray is CEO and co-Founder of Haute Kinky Hair, a naturally-textured premium virgin kinky hair extension line founded in 2012 with the purpose of helping professional woman find a protective style that suits their lifestyle and resembles their natural hair texture. With a growing social media following (over 10,000 Instagram followers), Haute Kinky Hair is a brand to watch in the kinky hair extension space.
Murray has over 10 years of experience in banking and real estate and holds a bachelor’s in business administration and an MBA in finance and real estate development. Murray currently runs Haute Kinky Hair while managing several business and pursuing a doctorate in natural medicine. We stole a few minutes to find out how she manages it all.
MadameNoire (MN):What inspired you to start Haute Kinky Hair (HKH)?
Toni Murray (TM): I used to wear protective styles that did not recognize who I was as a person working in the corporate world. Instead of doing the straight or wavy wigs, which clearly wasn’t me, I wanted my hair to be naturally textured. When I came to work with my naturally textured hair, it became a question as to, “What did I do to my hair?” I wanted to maintain my hair without having to manipulate it too much. I wanted a texture that actually looked like naturally textured hair and acted like it.
MN: What did you have to do to get Haute Kinky Hair off the ground?
TM: Because I had businesses before and they did not do so well, I learned from my mistakes which was a good thing. People feel that if they start one business and it doesn’t work out that the next one won’t work out but actually it’s a stepping stone for what to do right the next time.
When I started Haute Kinky Hair, I did a lot of research on the hair industry. Before I launched, I would wear each line, manipulate it, and figure out what worked and what didn’t work so that we could also figure out what kind of instructions to give people when they got the hair. I also traveled to Thailand, China, and Brazil to talk to suppliers.
MN: What is it important to travel and talk to hair suppliers in person when starting a hair business?
TM: If you are really invested in your business, seeing your suppliers and making sure that they are doing the correct thing for the extensions that you are going to sell and learning the process they use is essential. You want to be able to provide your customer service team information about how to address hair issues. If you don’t know what is going on with the hair, you can end up with a lot of inventory with a lot of issues.
MN: How long did the research stage take before you took the product to market?
TM: One year. I actually wanted to make it last two years but I had to bring it up by six months. I gave the extensions to YouTube bloggers Iknowlee, KyssMyHair, and Ambrosia Malbrough to test and to see how they liked it. Since they started posting pictures and doing YouTube videos on it, people started requesting it earlier than I planned for. I had to launch three months ahead of schedule.
MN: How did launching ahead of time impact the business?
TM: It was a good decision. If I waited any longer, the customer would have wanted to know what kind of business this is. People don’t like waiting for something if others are approving it. The fact that they are willing to do preorders and get their extensions three weeks later, I knew I was on to something. They trusted the brand. I had people who knew how to wear extensions and were a voice for them in terms of natural hair and protective styling that they trusted.
It’s not too often these days that you hear about an entrepreneur expanding with brick-and-mortar outlets, but that’s exactly what Dawn Fitch has done. The founder of Pooka Pure and Simple, a 13-year-old line of natural bath and body products, just announced a new store in Newark.
“There is so much development and so many new initiatives going on in the City; especially for the business owners on Halsey Street,” Fitch said in a press release statement about the expansion. Pooka Pure products are also available online and at more than 40 Whole Foods markets.
Black women are building businesses faster than any other demographic in the US. But it’s not just about launching a company. For many, it’s about taking it to the next level, growing the brand and making more money and a bigger name of your product.
With this latest expansion, we asked Fitch for three tips to share with aspiring entrepreneurs on the rise who are also looking to make their business flourish further. Here’s what she told us via email:
I feel like there are 3 things you need: Faith, so that you know and believe your business is going to make it; Perseverance for when it seems like its taking forever; and Support, it’s hard to make it alone
Start your business on the right track.
1. Go to your local college or university and visit their small business department, I’m pretty sure they all have one. The appointments are usually free, they will help you register your business, set up your business entity and file any paper work you need.
2. Keep good records. Even if you aren’t ready for an accountant, make sure you use Quickbooks or Excel spreadsheets to keep track of your finances.
3. Protect yourself and your ideas. Get your trademarks done early so that when your business takes off there are no issues.
If you’re still on the ground floor in the startup stage, you might want to begin with these bits of advice from Delisha Grant, an attorney with her own law firm who launched The WeBelieve Initiative to help others launch their businesses. During a panel discussion at the most recent National Action Network Annual Conference, she also talked about the importance of trademarking your idea and gave a few tips for starting a business with a partner.
When you’re starting a business, every conversation begins with capital — idea, information and investment. However for African Americans, accessing that crucial element can be a struggle. Fortunately, three Black female businesswomen shared their insight with a full room at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY, and I was there to get the details. The event, held in conjunction with the New York Association of Black Journalists and the CUNY Journalism School, featured solopreneur Andaiye Taylor*, journalist, author and professor Linda Villarosa and media entrepreneur Kelly Virella highlighting best practices to getting a new venture vested and monetized.
The speakers all began their projects with a similar goal in mind. Each undertaking is aimed at filling a gap in the market, making the ideas themselves assets. For Villarosa it was a hyperlocal blog with a dual purpose: enhancing the long-running Black periodical New York Amsterdam News and getting her students published. Virella analyzed the reading habits of herself and her friends, noting that she and her peers — even those who looked like her and worked in her field — didn’t support Black magazines. This inspired her to launch the first African-American narrative journalism magazine, Longview. Not leaving the concept to stand on its own, Virella conducted her own market research — information capital — to pinpoint her product.
Although these women are targeting what could be considered niche markets, they have two things undeniably in common: ambition and a creative approach to securing capital.
Taylor, a Newark native, created Brick City Live to combat the alarming amount of negative Black-focused news in her hometown. Seeing a worthwhile long-term investment, Taylor built her website on her own. Villarosa tapped into human capital; she staffed her first business with the very people it was helping — her students — and her second with her family. She also partnered with her employers, Amsterdam News and City College, which considerably reduced her need for investors to support hiring.
Taylor and Virella have also taken proactive approaches to monetization. BrickCityLive.com is billed as a service that connects people to information and other resources, a bundle of jargon that broaden her ability to generate revenue. Taylor also created a loyalty program that incentivizes support of local business through her brand and charges the owners, rather than the consumers, a fee for inclusion in the program. Both allow independence from the typical web income ads supply. Virella carefully outlined a handful of earning opportunities inherent to her project that she can present to potential investors as returns.
Once the women finished detailing creative paths to capital, Chris Rabb, an entrepreneurship and media consultant, expounded on the simplest form of capital. Money. Entrepreneurs need money, and according to Rabb, usually much more than calculated. He imparted that sufficient access to capital and relevant work experience are enormous boons to launching a business.
Together the panel effectively conveyed that entrepreneurs need to know exactly what capital they have already tapped. But more than that, enterprising business owners should anticipate needing more and create a strategy to guarantee it.
*We previously referenced Andaiye Smith by the last name Taylor. We regret the error.