Mielle Organics. This multi-million dollar organic ingredients hair care brand, founded by Monique Rodriguez in 2014, is a household name within the black hair care industry. With the distribution of her products in thousands of stores across America, Monique was able to forge business success after dealing with a huge setback in her personal life. Today, Monique is a bonafide BAUCE, but she wasn’t always as naturally confident. She admittedly has had to push herself outside of her comfort zone many of times to recognize her talents, stand out in a competitive market, and turn her dreams into a reality. In this interview with BAUCE, Monique schools us on how she hustled her way from failed business ideas and nursing paychecks to millions in sales globally.
You had other business ideas before starting Mielle Organics. What were some of those ideas, and why do you believe that they didn’t work out?
Monique: So I initially started out in the direct sales arena. I tried at least maybe three or four direct sales companies. One was like a cable company. I then tried to start up a Mary Kay business and even tried to sell Avon candles. I would go to these conventions and really get hype and think that I was really about to do something big, but none of these ideas went anywhere. My next venture I started
I tried to promote [the jewelry] on Facebook. But that went nowhere as well. And I think the reason why nothing that I tried went anywhere was
You persisted through your setbacks and built a million-dollar brand. Can you share a bit more about how your obstacles set you up for success?
Monique: In 2013, I gave birth to my son and unfortunately, he passed away. And when that happened it was very traumatic. It was very painful.
Thank you for your bravery in sharing that personal story with us,
Monqiue. We created this platform so that people can learn how to overcome their obstacles to reach success. I want to focus in on the beginning of your brand. Do you remember what the first product you ever made was?
Monique: The first product was our Mint Almond Oil.
So, given that this was your first product would you say the oils were your first initial investment for your business? How much did it cost you?
Monique: Yes, it was the product. Outside of getting your LLC and paying for that which, I mean, that’s not too expensive. But my first big investment was definitely the oils and the packaging and the labels for the product. And then
I actually don’t remember the exact cost [laughs] but I would say I don’t think that it was more than a thousand dollars to start.
Wow – you took $1,000 dollars and turned it into over $1 million. Did you self-fund your entire business? Or did you have to find investors to scale your growth?
Monique: So, actually we did have an initial seed investor in the very beginning, and it was actually a friend of my husband. When nobody believed in us, and nobody saw the potential, they saw the potential in us. It wasn’t a large investment, but a very small investment just to like help us scale because we were getting ready to go into retail and going into retail you have to ship on time and you don’t get paid right away when you go into retail. So, you have to be able to have the funding and the financial strength to support that. We received about $50,000 to help us scale up.
You have mentioned in other interviews that networking really powered your ability to grow your business significantly. What is your networking strategy? Did you just cold call people?
Monique: Actually, going out to events and trade shows was my strategy. Being in trade shows
So, I just had to learn how to overcome that and just walk up to people and get to know them. I would introduce myself and I didn’t talk about my product initially but just get to know them first and just see how I can build a mutual relationship instead of something one-sided or
Did you leave them with anything so that they would remember to call you later? How did you make yourself stand out when there may be tons of people doing the exact same thing?
Monique: Yes. So, I would definitely leave something like either a business card or a product and follow up is key too. I mean one of the first influencers that we worked with that was huge for our brand (and we still work with her today) I met her at a networking event. I was at an event sitting in the audience. She was on the panel, and I raised my hand and asked a question. When I tell you, I was so nervous! I used to be that way — I was scared to get up and ask questions because I knew everybody would be looking at me — but I pushed myself. I got up, raised my hand, and asked the question and then just kind of threw in my product while I was talking. The influencer was like “well, you know I have natural hair”, and I followed her to the VIP area, gave her my product and sent an email to follow up.
Now that takes balls! What does financial freedom mean to you?
Monique: Financial freedom to me means that I could just get up and just live and
The black hair care industry is a billion-dollar industry and it seems like there are new black hair care brands popping up every week. What are your thoughts on competition in the space? Do you think there should be more partnership and collaboration among black hair care entrepreneurs?
Monique: I definitely think that there should be more collaboration, especially in my space because black hair care, we only have a very small piece of the pie and I feel that there is enough room for everybody to eat. If we don’t stick together, we are giving away opportunities for other people to come into this space that we created and sell to the people that look like us. And that’s what will happen if we continue to be divided and if we continue to be against each other. Some people feel that if you are another black girl and you own a hair care company, that we can’t talk or we can’t be friends or we can’t collaborate. I don’t believe in it, and I feel that when we do collaborate that’s better for us and it’s better for our consumers because it shows the camaraderie, it shows how we can stick together. And the consumers — they buy all of our products anyway. So that just shows you that we can all eat. But they need to see and to know that they’re buying brands that also can support each other
Monique, you have dropped so many gems for us. What is your final piece of advice for a young woman looking to fund her own business and get off the ground like you did?
Monique: My advice would be there is always a way. I don’t believe in making excuses — there’s always a way to figure it out. And I’m only saying that from my own experience. I didn’t start my company with $20,000 just sitting in my bank account and say “Oh, I got me some money, let’s go play.” No. The total cost for me from start to launch was about $10,000. Did I have $10,000 lying around? No. But every time that I got paid from my nursing paycheck I would create or buy something for my business.
I always joke and say my business was on “layaway” because every time I got paid, I made a payment on something. So, there is always a way. You know you have other things out here like Kickstarter and crowdfunding. Like I didn’t even know about all this stuff back then. And once you actually start then you have options where you have like Shopify or PayPal that you can get a loan from based off of the sales that you’re generating. So, if you have a job, you use your job to fund your business whether it’s $100 every week or every two weeks.
And it may take you a year or two to get it off the ground — there is no rush. If it takes you two years to save $10,000 to start a business, then take those two years to save your money. Start your business but also explore other options of ways you can get funding that doesn’t require you to go to a bank loan because it’s hard to go to a bank when you haven’t even proven yourself. Banks want to see P/L statements and projections and all this stuff that as a new business owner, you don’t have that yet.
So, you have to just use the resources that you have at your fingertips. And for me it was my job. My favorite phrase is “modify your strategy to fit your reality.” If your reality is that you only got $500 extra to play with, then take that $500 and don’t go shopping — but invest that into yourself.
Liane Membis is the founder and editorial director of BAUCE Magazine. She originally created BAUCE as a platform for driven and ambitious women of color who desire to become high net-worth individuals. Liane Membis is also a full stack web developer and wordsmith that is based in New York City.