Kim Lewis, CEO and co-founder of natural hair company CurlMix, describes herself as "relentless."
CurlMix, which she and her co-founder husband Tim launched in September 2015, is growing fast, but the company has had to reinvent itself along the way.
In 2017, the couple decided to switch from a "do-it-yourself" subscription model to focus solely on ready-made product. Through a series of "learnings" that could have devastated any other founder, Kim was determined to keep going and pivot when necessary. (Before CurlMix, Kim founded a social media network for natural hair. The company "failed" but the insights and connections Kim made while building it, lived on.)
Having passed $1 million in sales in 2018, the brand's 2019 goal is $10 million and Kim's pretty confident it will happen.
"Entrepreneurship is one big game of chess and Monopoly. It's about having fun in the process. When you play games [and you don't win], it's not about, 'I want to stop playing games forever,'" she told xoNecole. "Losing is a part of winning. I don't mind it because at some point, I'm going to win."
Here's how Kim plans to reach this audacious goal and the lessons she's learned scaling CurlMix from a small DIY startup to a growing and profitable company.
1. Figure out what people really want
Courtesy of Kim Lewis
Sometimes in order to become profitable as a business, you have to learn the power of the pivot. "The best entrepreneurs and athletes have a short memory. If it's not working, do something different. A lot of times fear holds people back and keeps them doing the same thing over and over for longer than they should be doing it."
After accepting the company's declining sales in 2017, Kim and Tim realized they'd have to do something different in order to stay in business. An advisor whom they met through being a portfolio company of Backstage Capital - a venture capital firm founded by Arlan Hamilton - asked the money-making question that would change their business forever: "What's your best-selling box?" It was their flaxseed gel box. "Make that."
Kim and Tim didn't believe it was possible. They thought flaxseed would be difficult to scale and that manufacturers wouldn't make it. Their advisor responded with a firm, "Figure it out."
Kim, who was seven months pregnant at the time, spent all of September 2017 making fifty different batches of flaxseed gel, perfecting a recipe that was stable, and more importantly, scalable.
Pivoting the business model actually made sense.
Margins for subscription boxes can be low, while standalone ready-made product margins are significantly higher. Also, while people loved the idea of being provided raw ingredients to make their own products, most people didn't have the time. Kim admits some of CurlMix's best customers were stacking up their unused monthly boxes at home. "I failed enough to know that I wasn't going to make something that people didn't actually want. We did pre-orders for the flaxseed gel on our website. We launched in October 2017 and sold hundreds in a few hours. We tried again the next day. They bought hundreds more."
2. Make the pivot
Kim and Tim knew that they were on to something so they committed themselves to embracing a pivot, though doubt was present. By February 2018, CurlMix made $8,000 in sales. By March, CurlMix had a $30,000 month. A few months later, revenue jumped to $60,000 a month. The company's highest grossing 2018 month reached $240,000 in sales.
"We realized we needed to scrap the whole business and just do this. This is what people want."
Kim and Tim decided to discontinue the DIY product and threw out six months worth of already scheduled content. "I'm glad that [we made the pivot] because I would have wasted money on things that hadn't found product market fit," she explained. "When you start throwing gasoline on a fire and have no product market fit, you're wasting a lot of money."
3. Target, target, target
Courtesy of Kim Lewis
Social media ads became part of CurlMix's recipe for success. By working with a Facebook ads manager, Kim was able to capitalize on wash and go search trends and target potential customers appropriately.
"We targeted people searching for wash and go [styles]. That's where our product performed...People were searching for flaxseed gel but not getting real solutions.The ones that were out there just added flaxseed oil (synthetic gel) to product. People were making it at home but didn't have a ready-made solution. My challenge was going to be figuring out scaling and manufacturing of the flaxseed gel."
By investing in large scale manufacturing of their own flaxseed gel, CurlMix was able to ramp up to making 1500 units of gel a day. This became their unique marketing offer opening up their ability to quench the market demand for a flaxseed gel product that worked.
4. Understand your levers
"I feel like CurlMix is a million-dollar machine. I can turn certain levers and make more money. Before I didn't have that concept."
As the head of sales and marketing, Kim's formula for increasing revenue includes: increasing the average order value (through bundled offering), increasing customers (via increased product specificity and SKU variance), and increasing purchase frequency. She claims, "If you increase all a little, you can triple your revenue in a year."
A $25,000 investment by Backstage Capital in February 2018 helped the company invest in key marketing assets such as new labels, content, and product photos, which ultimately helped fuel company growth.
This mix seems to be working. According to Kim, CurlMix has gotten to the point where they'll be making $40,000 monthly from Amazon alone.
5. Invest in what’s personally important
Courtesy of Kim Lewis
Zuri, Kim and Tim's one-year-old son, is the light of their lives.
"Before, I thought being a mom was going to ruin my chances of being successful as an entrepreneur. I was terrified. However, my husband and I knew that we wanted to have a family. We knew that when we were 50, we wanted to be on vacation with our kids. It's funny but I said, 'When does that happen, when do I actually have the kid? When do I have the time to raise the kid and vacation with them in 20 years?' That's why we decided to become parents."
"I thought maybe I'm not just cut out for entrepreneurship. I credit a lot of our success to my son to providing me with strength and focus."
And Tim? He's Kim's most valuable player on her ever-moving chessboard.
"[Tim] quit and came to work full-time [and manage Operations] for CurlMix in March 2018. He used to make $250,000 as an IT contractor. He really believes in CurlMix and gets so much fulfillment out of it. He told me, 'We can do it.'"
"I picked my husband as a partner because he's brilliant, not because I love him. It matters because it means he can give me solid advice - period. Whether we're together or not, his advice is going to be excellent. That's important because when investors meet us and say, 'Oh, your spouse is your co-founder', my response is, 'Because he's brilliant, not because I love him.'"
6. Keep learning
The road to $10 million is teaching Kim alot about what it takes to be a long-term player in the business. She's had to invest in an human resources consultant to help with the hiring CurlMix needs in order to sustain growth. She's also learning to vet opportunities with a more discerning eye. Kim believes that if you want to succeed in the online world of beauty commerce, getting out of the "ivory towers" is crucial.
"People are doing things that they are comfortable with. They feel like they've gotten bigger and they [don't] talk to customers. I'm in a private Facebook group with our customers. I go live every Wednesday and they watch me do my hair in my shower. They get to know me and I get to know them on a first name basis. A lot of us rush into retail because we want to get that big order from Target or Walmart. That's not the way to build a long-term business in this industry."
Kim cautions other small businesses to learn more about venture capital, too. "We're told that it's bad to sell. It's important to know your options as a company and business person. Understand investments and the other side of the industry that Black folks don't usually have access to." She recommends reading Angel: How To Invest in Technology Startups by Jason Calcanis and Venture Deals: Be Smarter Than Your Lawyer & Venture Capitalist by Brad Feld.
She's also learned to be a better negotiator and explore risk management, something many small business owners struggle with. "Whoever speaks first provides the anchor and has more power. It made me more comfortable with saying what I want first versus waiting to hear what someone will offer me... As a small business, we don't think anyone will come and steal our information. We don't think about having cameras in our offices or small things that exist at big companies. 5% of revenue at every company is gone because of fraud."
Yet, it's about more than just money, admits Kim. "It's not that we made a million dollars. What feels amazing is walking into an office and seeing that you're able to employ ten people. You're able to provide health insurance [and w-2s] for people that look like you. [CurlMix] is a place where [our employees] enjoy working. Those things are so much more rewarding. It's about the people who I work for every day."
There are few more power moves that Kim plans to put into action this year. In early February, the brand introduced its first shampoo and conditioner to market. Additionally, CurlMix's episode on Shark Tank aired on March 3, 2019.
"I've failed quite a bit in entrepreneurship and could have given up in any of those moments. I'm willing to bet on me even if no one else is. I'm willing to sacrifice. I'm going to be successful. It's just a matter of time."
Images courtesy of Kim Lewis
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Rana Campbell is a Princeton University graduate, storyteller, content marketing strategist, and the founder and host of Dreams In Drive - a weekly podcast that teaches you how to take your dreams from PARK to DRIVE. She loves teaching others how to use their life stories to inspire action within oneself and others. Connect with her on Instagram @rainshineluv or @dreamsindrive.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Whitney Alford’s presence can be seen and heard all throughout her longtime partner, Kendrick Lamar’s impressive rap career, inspiring such deep cuts like the 2009 song “She Needs Me” and providing background vocals on To Pimp a Butterfly’s “Wesley’s Theory” and “King Kunta.” Perhaps the most visible she has been was in his latest release, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers, where she appeared on the album’s cover art with the couple’s two children, as well as in the visual for his single, “Count Me Out.”
The Grammy award-winning rapper is largely heralded as one of the greatest to ever do it, and the bond he shares with his high school sweetheart that has inspired some of his most introspective projects and self-reflective tracks has cemented Whitney as a forever muse.
The 37-year-old makeup artist has been with Kendrick since they were teenagers, with the couple meeting while attending Centennial High School. Both Whitney and Kendrick were born and raised in Compton, California, and began as friends before eventually starting a romantic relationship. In a 2015 conversation with Billboard, Kendrick expressed that he frowned on the way certain terms minimized who Whitney is to him. "I wouldn't even call her my girl," he told the outlet. "That’s my best friend."
“I don’t even like the term that society has put in the world as far as being a companion — she’s somebody I can tell my fears to.”
Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS
Months later, he confirmed to The Breakfast Club his engagement to his “Day 1.” I’m loyal to the soil. At the end of the day, you want to always have real people around you, period. Everybody that’s been around me has been down since day one, and I can’t change that. I don’t change for nobody. I always show respect when respect is being given and people that’s been by your side, you supposed to honor that. That’s how you stand up.”
Whitney can even be seen in the “King Kunta” visual rocking an engagement ring on her finger. Since then, Whitney and Kendrick have welcomed two children to their growing family, a daughter and a son whose names haven’t been revealed to the media, maintaining their famously private life.
Without a doubt, the most transparent and self-reflective he has ever been about his family life was with his most recent body of work, Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers. In the 2022 release, he gave insight into his past with cheating and addictions as a means of escapism. The song “Mother I Sober” features lyrics about how his “lust addiction” impacted his relationship with Whitney, rapping:
“Intoxicated, there’s a lustful nature that I failed to mention / Insecurities that I project, sleepin’ with other women / Whitney’s hurt, the pure soul I know, I found her in the kitchen / Askin’ God, ‘Where did I lose myself? And can it be forgiven?’”
Much like an image of their family life is the focus of the album’s cover, Whitney’s voice is also featured as a narrator on the album (as well as Eckhart Tolle), and in that song in particular, she can be heard saying, “You did it, I’m proud of you/You broke a generational curse.”
2022 also marked a new era of transparency online for Whitney on social media. The mother of two shared a portrait of herself holding her youngest child captured by Renell Madrano on her Instagram account and opened up about her mental health struggles to her followers in May 2022.
In the photo, she is standing in the light but also shrouded by some darkness and shadows around her. “We all know what others see may not be a true reflection of how we feel. This pic is a great representation of how I’ve felt for many years,” she began her caption.
“I was stuck in a time and place that was no longer my reality and was no longer serving me. My babies forced me to take a long look at myself and journey back through the very things that made me.”
“I’ve always carried the light with me. As a child no one was able to help me process. Many times silence was enforced because my emotions were a lot to handle. Hiding my pain has been a technique I’ve mastered my entire life. Mask it with a smile and everything is good. Silence has been my superpower, protecting me in the most vulnerable spaces,” she continued in her caption.
Whitney wrote that a great therapist changed everything for her and jumpstarted her personal transformation. “After a few years of hard work, I can finally say I hear my own voice again. And it’s very powerful. I use my smile when it feels genuine. And it’s beautiful,” she shared.
She concluded, “Allowing the world in and sharing my experience is one of my greatest fears. But truth is always very important for me. I’ve lived a sober life, feeling every single part of it, with the exception of mastering how to float when it’s all too much. But I yearn to be centered. To flow. To heal. To enjoy life.”
Recently, the vocalist gave another rare glimpse into her private life by posting photos of her with her daughter (who is Kendrick's twin) and her son on Instagram. In the carousel post, Whitney shared five slides showing herself in different elements of mothering her babies. “Me and them… Always, in all ways. The greatest and toughest job I’ve ever been tasked with. Love my babies,” she captioned the photo.
We hope Whitney is continuing her journey of flowing, healing, and enjoying life more.
Much love to the Duckworths.
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Featured image by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS