This summer, the first of it’s kind business accelerator, designed solely for beauty tech entrepreneurs was held in Silicon Valley. Myself, and nine other promising founders (mostly woman led) were selected to take part in this pioneering program, envisioned by Claire Chang, founder of igniteXL, an accelerator and seed fund that helps international startups become global.
Tim Draper, who most recently was in the headlines, for proposing legislation that would divide California into three states, seems an unlikely partner for Chang’s SV Beauty Tech accelerator. After all, what does a middle aged white guy who happens to be a billionaire, care about the Black hair care industry or the latest in Korean and Japanese beauty trends? To Mr. Draper’s credit, while beauty does not authentically resonate with him as an investor, he remarked, “ I do understand that these are big, exciting markets and there are interesting things you can do with it.” He went on to stress the importance of women founders being represented in the Silicon Valley startup ecosystem, remarking, “Most entrepreneurs have been men, and men have gone after certain things and markets, but as women are becoming entrepreneurs, the men haven’t understood what the women wanted...and this is the beginning of a big wave.”
I learned of the SV Beauty Tech Accelerator from my beloved business advisor/fairy God mother. After a stressful day at my full time job, I was luxuriating in my cozy flat in Doha, Qatar, lamenting about how I was going to scale my business. I had been on this startup grind for nearly two years, making tons of mistakes along the way. I told myself, “you have six months to make this thing scale, or you have to pivot”. It was fortuitous, that my advisor would urge me to apply to this program, just forty eight hours before the deadline. I submitted my application at the eleventh hour, said a little prayer and didn’t tell a soul what I was doing. Five days later while on holiday in Paris, I received an email that I had been accepted! I had to conceal my scream through a pillow, so as not to wake my mate. I knew, after reading that email, that the trajectory of my life and my business had changed forever.
Fast forward two weeks, and I was in San Mateo, at Draper University, being oriented into the Silicon Valley ecosystem. We were informed that we would be pitching our businesses to Tim Draper the following day. I was absolutely terrified. I know my business and the Black hair care market like the back of my hand. The past seven years leading up to this moment, I had, without knowing it, been conducting market research, on the Black hair care industry in overseas markets. I’d lived in Brazil and suffered my hair falling out because of the language barrier that existed between my stylist and I. While living in South Korea, I’d caught buses, trains and subways for ten hours on a monthly basis to get my hair braided by a Nigerian lady in a dingy storefront salon. To most recently, living in the Middle East and regularly catching flights from Qatar to London or the United States, just to have my hair extensions installed to my standards. I’d traveled to an additional 40 countries and have first hand knowledge of the dearth of hair care options that are provided to Black women overseas. But explaining this to Tim Draper, a third generation venture capitalist, early investor in Tesla, Hotmail, Skype and vociferous bitcoin evangelist, who’s resume’ and pedigree, is unparalleled in the Silicon Valley streets, that scared the shit out of me! Surprisingly, Mr. Draper was quite affable and easy to communicate with. He is a giant that does not make you feel small. He completely, validated my idea and gave me some salient advice about my business model.
In true accelerator fashion, the program was just gearing up. Over the next three weeks we experienced intensive sessions and workshops with the likes of Odile Roujol, former CEO of Lancome’ Loreal. Mentorship from veteran beauty influencer Michelle Phan and founder of Ipsy. Christina Stensvaag, former VP at Sephora, led a workshop on marketing and one of my personal favorites Kyung Yoon, director of the iconic MCM brand admired my MCM bag during a mentor meet and greet and I later had a chance to spend one on one time with her in her home. Taking part in Gina Kloes's personal development workshop, was perhaps one of the most transformative experiences of my life. Gina is a transformation coach, who is Tony Robbins lead trainer and has lead workshops on Richard Branson’s private island. Gina’s willingness to be so transparent and vulnerable about her personal story from abuse victim and young mother to attorney and transformational speaker, challenged me to be more forthcoming about my own compelling story. We were tasked with coming up with a slogan for our life--a theme of sorts. My slogan was, “I’m a mothaf$#@! G.” When pressed about why, I chose this as my slogan, I fearlessly shared my story of growing up in South Central, Los Angeles, surviving rape, being pregnant at 16, dropping out of highschool and being groomed for prostitution by a would be suitor, to going on to earn three degrees and living across four continents. My life, I know, defies all statistical data, but never had I been that open, much less in a room full of strangers. Being vulnerable in that context set me free in a way that I never imagined. We went on to write our fears and ambitions on a slab of wood and had to break through them with our hands. Gina’s workshop was game changing, she was even so gracious to later personally assist me with perfecting my pitch.
This is just a snapshot of the mentorship that I received during the SV Beauty tech accelerator. I met amazing entrepreneurs, some who have become friends others that I have formed familial bonds with. I am sure there are some unicorn companies among this awesome group. I am so honored to have been apart of this accelerator and to now be an alumni of Draper University. I have renewed confidence in my vision and am thinking on a far grander scale. This is just the beginning!