Kim Lewis launched her first enterprise, a social community for women with curly hair, with cash her husband, Tim, gained on Who Desires to Be a Millionaire. Luck? Extra like technique. After seeing him rip by way of query after query whereas bingeing on previous episodes one evening, she received him booked him for a tryout and a visit to New York. On the present, he locked within the $25,000 they wanted for seed cash and bowed out after accurately answering the $100,000 query. Kim give up her job the next Monday. The startup failed, nevertheless it impressed her follow-up beauty brand, Chicago-based CurlMix, and taught her learn how to construct a dedicated following. She did not know then how essential that final half could be. –As instructed to Eric Hagerman
Kim: In case you’re Black in America, whenever you go into the workplace, you alter your hair to keep away from discrimination. Black girls develop up sporting chemical relaxers that straighten and injury our hair so we are able to slot in. By 2010, my hair had begun falling out, and I requested Tim to shave all of it off so I may let it develop again naturally. As a result of I did not belief the elements in current merchandise devoted to curly hair, I began mixing issues at dwelling. Many people had been doing that.
Tim: She would spend lots of of dollars at Entire Meals after which hours making merchandise that may not work–and go away me with the dishes.
Kim: We launched CurlMix as a DIY field, like Blue Apron for hair. It included prepackaged, natural uncooked materials–flaxseeds, guar gum, hemp seed oil–along with an educational video. We bought $130,000 price of kits the primary yr and $140,000 the second, however I felt like subscription packing containers ought to have been snowballing.
That is once I began my customers–what do they really need? It was our flaxseed gel. Individuals had emailed asking us to ship it to them ready-made, as a result of it is an actual ache to do your self. It’s important to boil flaxseeds, and it is actually onerous to separate the seeds from the gel. It is gooey. We began going to producers to see if they’d make it for us, and even they did not wish to. My adviser was like, “Why do not you simply determine it out?”
Tim: Kim was seven months pregnant. She spent a month within the kitchen and tried 50 totally different batches to get the product proper. We despatched a presale of 60 bottles to our e-mail checklist and bought out in minutes. We did one other spherical and bought out that one, too, after which one other. We simply knew that we had one thing individuals wished.
“My purpose is to construct the primary Black-woman-owned magnificence conglomerate traded on the inventory market.”
Kim: We had been the primary ones, to our information, to mass-produce shelf- secure flaxseed gel by boiling actual flaxseeds, extracting the gel, after which placing it in a bottle.
Tim: We went from $three,000 to $30,000 in gross sales inside three months, and we had been like, “We gotta get out of our kitchen!” We discovered a business kitchen and began rising twofold, threefold month-over-month, till we hit our first six-figure month. Inside just a few days of that, my aunt known as to inform us a couple of Shark Tank tryout the following day. We could not discover a babysitter; we labored in a single day to get a pitch prepared.
Kim: It was a casting name on the College of Illinois at Chicago, and the newborn began crying in the course of our pitch to the producers.
Tim: We thought we bombed, however they had been like, “Oh, we love your story! Kim and Tim–your names rhyme. That is so cute! Highschool sweethearts!” They simply ate it up. We filmed for Shark Tank in September 2018 and ended up getting previous one million in gross sales that yr.
Kim: We received a suggestion from Robert Herjavec for $400,000 for 20 p.c fairness. I did not wish to hand over greater than 15 p.c of my enterprise, and Robert wouldn’t negotiate. We turned it down. It is one of many hardest issues I’ve ever done–second to pure childbirth.
Tim: We began with the flaxseed gel, however we constructed on merchandise as we would have liked them, and every time we launched, it was with quite a lot of buyer approval. For a very long time, Kim would livestream to our Fb group each Wednesday doing her hair within the shower–fully clothed–to present learn how to use the merchandise. We simply continued to feed demand and enhance merchandise utilizing the neighborhood’s suggestions, and that is what allowed us to develop shortly.
Kim: In 2019, we ended up hitting $5 million in income. I went out to fundelevate, however nobody invests in girls of shade as a result of they really feel prefer it’s too area of interest. Otherwise you get a deal, nevertheless it’s a crappy deal. Black girls get lower than 1 p.c of enterprise capital. It is devastating. We determined to launch a crowdfunding marketing campaign at Wefunder as a substitute. We raised one million dollars in 4 hours. We ended up elevating greater than $5 million total–from our clients.
My purpose is to construct the primary Black-woman-owned magnificence conglomerate traded on the inventory market. I wish to be like Procter & Gamble. That is my dream.
From the September 2021 concern of Inc. Journal