Black Woman Owned is a limited series highlighting black woman business owners who are change-makers and risk-takers in their respective realms. As founders, these women dare to be bold, have courage in being the change they wish to see in the world, and are unapologetic when it comes to their vision. These black women aren't waiting for a seat, they are owning the table.
Sometimes DIY goes beyond being crafty with items you find around the house or being exceptionally enterprising with a pair of scissors and a glue gun. The "Do It Yourself" mentality can become a foundational ethos for entrepreneurs looking to build something great out of everyday commodities.
This is particularly true for Kim Lewis, co-founder and CEO of CurlMix and Listeners Brands.
Due to her struggles with alopecia, Kim decided to undergo a big chop in her college dorm room in 2010, and she solicited the help of her now-husband, Tim Lewis, to do the job. "[Tim] was like, 'Kim, I'm not gonna cut your hair.' But he left me low on one side of my head so there was no looking back from there," she recalls laughingly. With kid's craft scissors in hand, little did the two know that as one journey was ending with Kim's hair, a new path would soon emerge because of it.
Image courtesy of Kim Lewis
Back then, there was one place on the web you could find a collective of Black women transitioning from their relaxers to embracing their natural textures: YouTube. As Kim navigated the early days of her natural hair journey, she turned to natural hair gurus as a guide to make her own products from her dorm room. As she began growing her hair out and experimenting with different styles, she couldn't step outside without being asked about the secret behind her curls. "Women would flag me down on Michigan Ave. [in Chicago] and be like, 'Oh my gosh, what is in your hair? How do you get it like that?'" Kim recounts. Then something clicked. "I finally got the bright idea to put [the products] in a box and give people a kit to make their own haircare products at home." So in 2015, Kim launched CurlMix as a do-it-yourself subscription box for curly-haired women to develop their perfect wash n' go, straight from home.
Although the kit was well-received among their customers, a star product was rising in the form of their flaxseed gel. Noticing its popularity, Kim remained nimble and pivoted their entire business to solely focus on their bestseller. Her agility paid off, making the flaxseed gel the brand's "hero product," earning them their first million dollars in revenue, and positioning them toward the forefront of the industry.
Today, Kim and Tim are on a mission to build "the Black Procter & Gamble" for underserved markets through Listeners Brand, the parent company of CurlMix, and another of their brands, 4C Only. This spring, the duo launched an equity crowdfunding campaign for CurlMix, inviting their community to become angel investors in the initiative. In just a few short months, the campaign has raised more than $5 million, with more than 8,000 investors contributing.
For Kim, the vision is clear: Build the first black-owned public beauty conglomerate and put the power back into the hands of her people. "I want my community to come up with me. My goal is to help people get a return on their investment and create generational wealth for their families." United by her village, it looks like that dream will come true sooner than she thought.
xoNecole: Your company, Listeners Brands, recently announced an equity crowdfunding campaign that offers shares to the public via crowdfunding. Take us through the vision behind this, especially in terms of building generational wealth?
Kim Lewis: As Black women, we all experience that when we get so excited about a brand, we rally behind it, we go and buy out the shelves in the store, and then, when they sell, we don't get anything for it. It's two things to that: On one side, businesses are in business to make money and to have acquisition. That's just how things go. But then, pair it with Black people being used by the system over time and not being able to keep wealth because people are keeping it from us or not allowing us to get it when we help to create value somewhere and one person gets to benefit from it, even though we all participated. Every time you purchase a product, you're creating value because you're creating revenue for the brand. A brand's evaluation is solely based on its revenue. It's the consumers that build the brand.
So for me, I was like man, if we ever sell our company—if we ever IPO—our customers won't get anything and they're the ones creating this value. And I wanted to open up my investment realm to them instead of making some rich person richer. I really wanted my community to come up with me, so if we make money, you make money.
You were also featured on 'Shark Tank'! We’ve seen other Black-owned businesses on the show who have either walked away from a deal, or investors just didn’t see the vision. What was your biggest lesson from being on the show?
I had a good experience on the show. It was the hardest thing that I've ever done. You're preparing for a long time, changing your pitch multiple times, and you have to go in a room to prove your worth to a couple billion dollars in net worth. That is a lot of pressure. I can see why some people end up just bawling on TV. I practiced so much because I just didn't want to cry.
For anybody who wants to go on the show in the future, I would say, do as many pitch competitions as you can. I pitched in maybe 20 to 30 pitch competitions and never actually won any money. But I got connected with investors. I've met people. So many good things came from it, but I just did not get any checks. So I hope this encourages someone who feels like, dang, I keep doing these and I'm not winning anything. What you win is the practice. And you get better at pitching, so when a Shark Tank comes up, you're ready. When Good Morning America calls you, you're ready. Pitch as much as you can, and practice until you know your pitch in your sleep.
"Do as many pitch competitions as you can. I pitched in maybe 20 to 30 pitch competitions and never actually won any money. But I got connected with investors. I've met people. What you win is the practice. And you get better at pitching, so when a Shark Tank comes up, you're ready. When Good MorningAmerica calls you, you're ready. Pitch as much as you can, and practice until you know your pitch in your sleep."
Image courtesy of Kim Lewis
You’re in business with your husband, Tim. What have been some of the keys to making your business and marriage work when your spouse is your business partner?
I remember talking to a woman who was getting married, but she wasn't sure if her husband should be involved in her business. We got on the conversation of if you had to pick your man or your business, which would you choose? And I was like, "My husband," and she was like, "Really? I would pick my business." And I was like, "Oh no." Our business is important, but our relationship and marriage are the most important. So we can always do this [business] again, but we're not going to find the love of our life again. And we know that the only reason why this works is because we've been together and on the same mission for so long. I would always pick [Tim]. When you realize that you're playing for the same team, you're working towards the same goals, and that you two could get there twice as fast together, it just makes everything work together and it makes for a happier life.
What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about branching out and taking that leap into entrepreneurship?
One of the things that I did that I don't recommend is I started a business because I hated my job. I think if you hate your job, you should find a job that you love and figure out what you want to do along the way. Then find a problem that actually needs to be solved—like true problems that people are willing to pay you to solve. You really have to be solving a problem that people have and not just go into business because you want to be.
I've done the business where I've spent a lot of money on inventory and tried to fill it later. And I've also done the business where I did pre-orders and sold out before I knew how to make it and preserve it long-term, so those are two different experiences. You can also be self-employed, you're working for yourself and you don't have a whole team of people under you. I think it's important for people to know that they have options and that whether you decide to be self-employed, run a business that's a beast or run a small consulting firm, those are options to you, make sure that you're solving a problem someone is willing to pay your for, not just because you hate your job.
Follow Kim Lewis' journey via Instagram by clicking here. And to learn how you can become an investor in CurlMix, click here.
Featured image courtesy of Kim Lewis