When I begin my research on Shontay Lundy I start by scrolling through her Instagram account.
I’m immediately drawn in.
In one post she’s guest lecturing at Boston University. Two posts over she’s whipping her hip-length ponytail around, helicopter-style, in a stunning blue and white suit with a diamond-encrusted BGS pendant around her neck and a massive smile on her face. Then a few squares down, she’s answering questions about entrepreneurship and sharing parts of her journey like how she invested her savings to produce the first 5,000 units of revolutionary sunscreen for black skin.
Shontay, the founder of Black Girl Sunscreen has spent her 30s grinding; she worked a 7-7 corporate job while being enrolled in a PhD program and building Black Girl Sunscreen from 8 pm to whenever she couldn’t see anymore.
Almost a decade later, she’s got a lot to show for it. Her business has grown from one product to 7 which can be found in retailers like Target and Ulta.
Just after her 40th birthday, she chats with BAUCE about what it’s really been like to build a business from scratch.
When you realized you wanted to create a sunscreen for women of color, what was the first step you took?
Shontay: I was hiking when I realized I wanted to create a sunscreen for women of color. So, I just continued to walk until I came up with the idea. As I literally walked through the journey, I had to ask myself three questions: are other women of color going to want to wear sunscreen? Do I have the resources? And, do I have the confidence?
Tell us about your early days building the product. What did that journey look like for you?
Shontay: My early days were exciting! My early days were unplanned. My early days were really scrappy and being in discovery and education mode. People perceived my early days as ‘not going to work’. My early days were filled with non-believers. My early days were filled with worry because I didn’t have the money to do things the best way possible. My early days weren’t as bright as my present days, but I was able to see the light.
What were some of the challenges you encountered in the beginning? How did you get over them? What did you learn?
Shontay: The challenges were, as every business owner faces, the people – the people not believing the product. Our challenge was literally our own community – not understanding the whys of the product.
I tuned some of the minutiae out because I knew this was a necessity in our community. We made ourselves available and very visible in the community. We attended trade shows in South Florida and took advantage of podcast opportunities, big or small. And, we listened to the reasons why people weren’t wearing sunscreen.
So, you finally develop your desired product, and now it’s time to back your idea with some of your savings — $33,000 from your own pocket. That must have felt scary/risky, can you talk to me about making that decision?
Shontay: I saw no losses. I was not scared to invest that money because I was betting on myself, and I’ll do it all over again! My startup funds were all that I had, except for maybe about $5,000 I kept to live off of.
Can you describe how you planned your budget and stuck to it to ensure that money did what it was supposed to do?
Shontay: I backed into what was needed. I always kept mental track of what I had, what was spent, and what was left. My first tip is to get a bookkeeper!
You’ve developed 7 products. Your product development process must have gotten stronger with time. How would you advise others to go about product development now?
Shontay: Have patience. Work with people that want to grow with you. Know that product development is an evolution. Lastly, have an understanding that change is inevitable from trends to ingredients to consumers’ wants.
Talk to us about your marketing strategy. Any advice on marketing/branding from scratch?
Shontay: We were always real. And, we always spoke about what we knew and if we didn’t know it, we would find the answers.
Marketing, from my perspective, is that you’re coming across as honest and legitimate as possible, not salesy.
When you see the founder of BGS is a Black woman and the product is doing what it’s supposed to do, there’s no gimmick. When you see the founder pitch a tent at 6 am, do a whole show solo, and break it down – that’s dedication. It’s not about marketing and promotion, it’s about the passion behind the brand, behind the product.
People want to support us, not only because of good marketing but because we tell a story.
People want to see us win. Over the last 6 years, we’ve built a community that’s supportive and uplifting.
As for marketing/branding advice: Pace yourself. What you may be able to do on day one is not what you will be able to do on day 720. Outsource what you don’t know how to do and do what you can do.
After scaling your business, you sought outside investment and secured it. What did you learn about getting investors to buy into your business from your pitching experience?
Shontay: I feel just because someone says ‘no’, doesn’t mean everyone else will say no. It’s just their opinion. You know what you have and you have to keep pushing.
You spent your 30s building Black Girl Sunscreen. After a decade of ups and downs, what do you want to share with rising entrepreneurs about staying committed through the journey and balancing being successful, growing a thriving business, and managing self-care?
Shontay: I’ve struggled with balancing self-care and running the business. As an operating CEO, I find myself immersed in the day-to-day. I put my life in a pie chart and realized it’s less than 10% I spent on Shontay. However, I love what BGS has built, the success of the company, and the people who are helping build the company. Along the way, I’ve connected with peers who are able to help talk me through situations. There isn’t much balance for me at this growth stage. And to be honest, I’m not sure if I truly want it. I want to come to work every day, I want to be involved. It’s important for Shontay to be healthy, however, it’s also healthy for Shontay to be present in the business.
You recently turned 40, a big milestone! How does it feel? How do you plan to embrace this next chapter of your life? Any self-care tips for others going through a similar transition?
Shontay: I love being 40! I turned 40 this past October. There’s a sign of maturity that comes with turning 40 – this self-proclaimed wisdom I now have. I feel extremely confident about who I am at this age.
I plan to feel good about the growth [in this next chapter]. Each decade, Shontay has built upon the old Shontay. It’s a constant progression and growth.
My tip is just to be open-minded about the evolution of yourself.
Black Girl Sunscreen website https://www.blackgirlsunscreen.com/
Black Girl Sunscreen IG: https://www.instagram.com/blackgirlsunscreen/?hl=en
Shontay’s IG: https://www.instagram.com/shontay_lundy/?hl=en