It can take a caterpillar a little over a month to turn into a butterfly. If only all our business ideas transformed that quickly into successful businesses. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way, but that’s okay because who wants short-lived business success anyway?
I remember when Melanin Essentials was just a dream. It was year 2014, and I was fresh out of college, living at home with my parents and editing photos on my laptop. My best friend, Olayinka, called me and said,
“Hey, this might sound crazy, but let’s start a business. I think we should start our own organic personal care product line. Now, before you say no, hear me out …you already make your own toothpaste and deodorant, and I make hair products, so we kind’ve already do it, but just for ourselves. We might as well sell it to other people and make money while doing it. Whatcha say?”
I shrugged my shoulders and said, “okay.”
“Seriously?!” she questioned in excitement.
I simply responded, “yeah.”
And just like that we ventured on our journey to become a successful business. Fast forward two years later, we found ourselves eagerly sitting in on the Spark Sessions in the lead up to the Great Social Enterprise Pitch application deadline, brainstorming our business idea with other aspiring entrepreneurs and even established business owners who were seeking to make an influential community change through their businesses. I was front and center munching on my raspberry fig bar, and Olayinka was slowly pacing in the back of the room with her then 6-month-old baby girl strapped in a sling attentively listening and taking mental notes. Nobody knew it (not even us), but those two young, college graduates were soaking in all the information shared in those sessions to become 2016’s first place winners of the Great Social Enterprise Pitch! Say whaat? Yeah, it still gets me too, but it’s true.
Those sessions (as well as whole program in its entirety) were so key to our success. No, but seriously though. I mean we started as BirdOrganics – organic personal care products for women. Pretty blah. However, the facilitators of the Pitch as well as our fellow competitors kept pushing and poking at our idea saying,
“You’re almost there but not quite.”
Ugh, we’d think and head back to the drawing board. Then, one day, the stars magically aligned, and a light bulb went off in our heads. We went to the next Pitch class presentation anxious and ready to kick some derrière, but not as BirdOrganics. We were Melanin Essentials – ethically-produced personal care products for women of color made by single moms. Bam! Our idea had transformed from something “ehh” to something amazing! People were excited that we finally took the leap that we were once afraid to because we didn’t want to come off as “exclusive”. But that’s all thanks to our facilitators, fellow competitors, and wonderful husbands who pushed us along through this process.
We learned that we were too broad, and we needed to focus. We wanted our products to be for everyone — and they really can be used by a lot of people, not just people of color — but they were like, “You need to have a target market.”
We started putting in procedures and really refining our recipes. We spent a lot of time researching other ingredients that we hadn’t used that are good for the skin, hair, and body, then we thought, we need a larger space. We need to be able to make hundreds of products a week, not 10 in one day. So we were like, how do we make that happen?
We can continuously expand all of our body line as long as we want. But we really want to try to have our hair products out within a year.