Building and Scaling the Grace Eleyae Brand with Grace Eleyae Part 1


Grace’s Background


Emmanuel: Hey, Grace, thanks for coming. Welcome to the podcast. This is going to be good. So we've been getting everybody geared up. We're telling them where we began talking about our story. I think it'll be interesting. What do you think? You think they'll enjoy it?

Grace: Thanks for having me. I think we had an interesting story, definitely.

Emmanuel: Definitely got an interesting story. So let's take them all the way back. Uh, so this is going to be several parts for those of you guys listening. It's going to be several parts of this episode. Uh, we've always, every time I get on either a sales call or I'm talking with clients or, you know, I'm talking to people about, um, what I do now in the agency side, they ask a lot of questions about our business. The business that we started 10 years ago now, it seems crazy, right? So already 10 years since we started it. And, uh, this, that's what this season's about is to give you guys that story so I can point people to one place and they can get the full story in detail and also so that people that have bought from Slaps on Grace's side, your audience can actually hear how it began because there's a lot of people out there that have Grace Eleyae products. So thank you for being here. Thank you for sharing the story. And let's begin. Where would you like to start? How did you begin this thing?

Grace: Yeah. Yeah, well, I mean, we can definitely go back in time a little bit and talk through just, you know, the fact that there were five business degrees in our family. You know, we have between, is it five? Yeah, we got Nigeria, we're like fourth culture kids. Yeah, there's all the things, we could start back. Let's start at the business side. But I do feel like in 2010, we, I think

Emmanuel: Mm-hmm. Nigeria. I think it's more than that.

Grace: I was home from my first job. I lived in Baton Rouge at the time, and you sat us all down and you were like, look at all of the business acumen we have in our family, like between my dad's MBA, my mom's MBA, and bachelor's in accounting. Your MBA, my degree in marketing, and then eventually mom started getting her PhD in strategic leadership. It's like we have a lot of the tools to create EleyaeCorp right? And you kind of laid out the plan. Um, and I, I feel like that was where it really began. Or we could even go farther back as, as entrepreneurs, essentially, as children even. Where do you want to start?

Emmanuel: Yeah, to me, that's the hook. So I liked that idea. I, we were just talking the other day about we were entrepreneurial kids. Like I still remember and working with Marvin and some of the these afterschool programs, starting a web design business and getting our first clients to make them a website back in the days of using Front Page and Dreamweaver when HTML was just coming out. I feel so old now, but yeah, in high school making a website and getting our first client and botching the job. Luckily we got 500 upfront. The other 500 was going to be paid later. Never got that other 500, but learned a lot of lessons there. But what was surprising is you were an entrepreneur too, weren't you?

Grace: Hahaha. Yeah, you know, I mean, I would call mine a little more hustling. Like I had like my babysitter side hustle. I had a tutoring side hustle where I basically found my clients all came from church for the most part, especially for the babysitting. And then for tutoring, I got those ones more on different websites where I like posted on, I don't know if Craigslist, I think Craigslist started when I was in college and that was more my side hustle then and then I worked at like score. I remember, I so wanted to start making money that I remember the only place in our area that allowed for a 15, someone under 16 to work along with parental consent was Wienerschnitzel. And so they had open interviews every Wednesday. And I just went every Wednesday in like a little, my version of a little business suit to meet with the manager. And he, every Wednesday, he would just tell me I don't know what, it would be a five minute little, I don't know what to tell you, I still don't have any job openings. But I'll have to say yes, I definitely tried. And even my woes as an entrepreneur, even with my babysitting side hustle, had having trouble with, I think there was one weekend, I had to babysit four kids under five. There were five and under. Twins that were five, twin girls that were five, a boy that was three and another boy who was two and I feel like that I was 13 and there was one moment. Oh my gosh. Yes. Yeah. Luckily, luckily I did it at, I don't know how I agreed to let them come to our house, but there was one moment where I think it's because I was 13 and they wanted parental supervision. But I think the twins were drawing on the TV or something crazy. I was yelling at them to stop. I look over, they were supposed to be watching Little Mermaid. I look over the three-year-old is getting into the fish tank. He's on something with his hand over the little glass, trying to get into the fish tank, and I'm pulling him off of that, and as soon as I turn the corner into the kitchen, the two-year-old is standing in a puddle of his own urine. And that's when I just broke down and started crying. My mom walked around the corner, she just burst out laughing and was like, you look like me when I was, you know, 25 with three kids under five. And anyways, but that was, those were my little side hustles. And that's how I kind of made my, you know, snack bar money growing up.

Emmanuel: Entrepreneurs from the jump. So did you always, here's the big question. Did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Grace: From the jump. I think I always knew that I wanted to have something of my own. But at the time, I think it was going to be, you work in the industry for 30 years. That was the thought. You, from the time you graduate from college to about your mid-50s, you work, and then you maybe start to side hustle at that time before you can retire and then do what you love. What I think in general was ingrained in us because our parents are immigrants was this entrepreneurial mindset. I think that really entrepreneurship is just someone who's willing to take on the financial risk of an undertaking, whether it's an organization or an entirely, moving your whole family from another country to a country you don't even know the customs for. And I feel like that was so ingrained in how we were built is this idea of risk, even though our parents are actually surprisingly risk averse. I feel like that action of them moving from overseas made us less risk averse essentially, like because we were so accustomed to that idea of risk.

Emmanuel: Yeah. So fast forward, that's where we started, where we came from. When did you decide, you know what, I'm going to do it? Was there a moment or was it more of a slow build?

Grace: Yeah. It was definitely a slow build. I call my 20s a time of exploration. Let's just put it that way. Let's put it nicely. I feel like I did everything. I worked as an executive assistant for a baseball bat company out of Baton Rouge in Louisiana. That's where I learned a lot. And that was for a growing baseball bat company at the time. Now, they're worth a couple hundred mil. And so that gave me a lot of experience in watching business happen in real time. Now mind you, I graduated during the recession, so there wasn't a ton of options in terms of jobs. I was looking at a couple that didn't eventually pan out, and so I went along with this one, and it ended up being probably the reason why I had the courage to start, because you're watching people, I was watching people, the seat, because I would be in the room during pitch meetings, I'd be in the room during, major decisions happening, taking notes or bringing glasses of water, but I still was able to watch as business was happening. Entrepreneurship-type style business, startup style business was happening right in front of my eyes. And if I had gone to a Fortune 500 right away, I may not have had the same experience or the same, I guess, courage to take those risks. And so I left that situation, jumped into another startup that was B2B again. I'm sitting in small and medium-sized businesses for the most part in my career. Stayed there for three years, but while I was doing that, I was pursuing acting and modeling. I literally was kind of trying to find my way in my 20s. You know, I don't look at any experience as it having been lost time, especially in my 20s. I really think that your 20s are for that. It's for learning and growing. And so I used it for that. Like I said, I pursued acting and modeling. I worked for a B2B startup. And then I decided that I wanted to start a fashion line. I had always had the desire to put more African prints on comfortable materials, and I wanted to do something like that. And so I started taking classes at the local community college, sewing classes, pattern making classes, just fashion design courses. And it was probably in my third semester of doing that that I learned how to sew a hidden elastic band inside of, it was like a tutu or something that we were making. But for the last, so that was around end of 2013. For that last year or so, I had been trying to think of some stylish way to protect your hair. I knew that I, there was, I just was like, there has to be something out there that's still stylish enough to protect your hair, but you know, actually, stylish enough to look cute, but still protective of the hair. And it wasn't until late that year. So that was probably January 2013. December 2013 is when I took that class and I learned that hidden elastic band trick. It still was another two months in February where I finally got, all the pieces came together. And I always joked with those close that I went from literally from my prayer closet to my sewing machine. It's like it just clicked. It was like, oh, I just need to do this. And I made the very first prototype of the slap and the rest is history.

The Genesis of the SLAP

Emmanuel: Hmm. Well, let's dig into that history that made the first prototype of the slap. And what so I guess most folks know where we are now. Obviously it succeeded. That's why we're on this podcast. We're talking, I mean, but to me, I think the story that we can shortcut for people is, I mean, we 10x every year for the first three years in business, 60K, 600K to six million a year in revenue. And that was intense. It was a wild ride. And that's what we'll be getting into in this series is the ups and downs of that. Cause there are, while it sounds like success, there was a lot of failure and a lot of stress along the way. And, uh, we'll be talking about all of that, but the rest was history. What then you made the product, but it didn't immediately, you're not a millionaire right away. Right. So.

Grace: Mm-hmm. No, certainly not. And what's funny is part of our story is that before that time, I you and I were talking, just shooting the breeze and it was like, let's make a product and let's if I make a product, will you help me scale it? You know, I think at the time I was like, let's go on Shark Tank. And can you help me scale it? Because I knew you had all of the skills for scaling it. And I might have some a good idea, you know, pop up. That was months earlier. That was probably in 2012 even.

Emmanuel: Right.

Grace: And I, so when I finally came up with this product and I showed it to mom, I showed it, I think Auntie Dolly was here at the time, who's her sister from Kenya. And I showed it to all of them like, wow, this is actually something interesting. That maybe month or maybe within a month, I know we talked again, you and I. And I said, I think I could sell, so no, let me go back. We had, I created the prototype. I think, we, you, I think even you might've advised me just like make a couple more and see how they sell. And so I, I started selling it to just extended friends. Like I'm sewing them, I'm going to Joanne's, I'm going to, there was a little tiny shop kind of, you know, in a close by town called Pomona, and I was getting the elastic bands from there, et cetera, and fabric, and just using my home sewing machine to do it and so I would sell literally like friends and family who wouldn't let me give it to them for free so I can just get some feedback, would literally pay for it, like no, actually I love it, can I actually have another one? And so I listed it on Etsy with just some, you know, phone pictures and that was what I think we got our first order from Doretha Green. So Doretha Green, I think it was in Maryland, ever listens to this, man. You are the one who gave me some courage because somehow you found us our Etsy store and you became our first purchase. Didn't even know how to make a receipt at the time. We went into Word. I literally just typed out, you know, Grace. It wasn't even Grace Eleyae, Inc. It was, I think, Ropheka Grace was like our DBA at the time. And or Ropheka Caps or something. And I went into word. 

Emmanuel: What does Ropheka mean?

Grace: It's one of the names of God. So it's like Jehovah, Ropheka is the Lord, our healer.

Emmanuel: Okay, oh cool

Grace: Yeah. So, um, and so, but it also kind of looked African, even though it was Hebrew. So it had all of the, it had all these elements. I was like, uh, trying to be, you know, something, make it something special. Yeah. Trying to be clever. And so I, uh, I had to make my, a makeshift receipt on Microsoft Word and email that to her, you know, didn't know how to do anything at this point. So now we fast forward back to what I was talking about earlier. I get to, I'm talking to you and you're like, do you think you wait, you have. A cap, you know, yeah, yeah. I'm, you know, I think this could be something, you know, and you're like, wait, how many, how many of these do you think you can sell in a day? Now at the time, of course, I'm telling one in a week at the most, you know, and I was like, I think I could sell a hundred of these. Yeah, go ahead and say what you were going to say.

Emmanuel: Mm hmm. Yeah, and our, yeah, go ahead. That was good. And I was like, this what this is crazy. Like I'm on the other end of the phone. I think I'm selling like one I'm surprised you're selling any it's some fabric on a desk. There's just a bunch of cloth. You made a beanie. Congratulations. I didn't get the idea. I was in the military at the time wearing a buzz cut. I didn't have hair. I didn't get any I didn't have this beard that I have now. So it's like, why would somebody buy a beanie just because you put satin on the inside? In fact, that almost seems like a deterrent. This is over engineered. This is excessive. Why not? And it's not even warm. Yeah. I did not get it. Yeah. It did not make sense. But it was like, you're my sister and I love you. So go for it.

Grace: Yeah. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, I get it. I get it. I think the listeners get it, Emmanuel You didn't understand. You didn't understand the concept. Got it.

Emmanuel: Yeah, this is Hercules, you can do it. Yeah, try.

Grace: Yeah, so, yeah, yeah. And that is, but you did, you didn't just support in Word because there was, and we had been talking about, you know, starting something for a while. Like I know you, at the time I think you said you were at Amazon and you were seeing like, wait, some of these small businesses are moving a lot of products, you know, what is this e-commerce thing? Yeah, and so that, and I definitely. I feel like we should go into a little bit of that and like your backstory a little bit too, so that we see how both of our strengths collided to make this what it was. But back to that conversation, because I'd love to hear your side. So we heard your five minutes. Five minutes on how, yeah, rant on.

Emmanuel: Hmm. Rant. Truth. What I think anybody would say, I don't think I'm in the minority here. I think anyone would say it, but there's a lesson in that which continue.

Grace: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So I said I think I could sell 100 of these a day, and you're like, you think you could sell 100 of these? I still remember the tone, a day? And then you got quiet. Okay, let's see what you can do with, let's see what you can do with the credit card. So you gave me a credit card with a $10,000 limit on it. And I was like, let's just see what you can do with this. And then with that, we built, the website we had a photo shoot with all with friends. We had our first video shoot all with friends, literally. I think I invited a bunch of people over to our cousin's house and she was like, what do you mean you're having a photo shoot here? I was like, we're having a photo shoot in your bathroom. Like, she was like, I don't know. And I, and so she finally agreed. We use her brother's camera, we use, Oni helped with the, you know, with the camera. We, it was actually, it was just the best, most fun little day that we had filming, filming that first video and creating that first, those first images. And then I went off to grad school. In that moment. Yeah.

Emmanuel: You left. Yeah, but still, and that was it, and the card was done. All of it, but didn't you buy inventory, website, and photo shoot?

Grace: No, not yet, not yet. The card, so I hadn't, and then inventory. Did I say inventory? Inventory, yeah, so the last thing was $6,000 toward inventory, I think, or something like that. You're right, there was.

Emmanuel: Yep. And I only remember that because you called me back and I was like, All right, so how we doing? How much is left? Oh, no, it's spent. It's like, wait, I just gave you the card. What? It's all gone already? Well, I guess. Well that was fun while it lasted.

Grace: Yeah, yeah, it's been. Yeah, well, it was. We we at least made it. We still had a little bit left for the launch. I will say that up and up in September. But yeah, it still was not what we needed for the launch, though, what we soon discovered. So, yeah, please.

Emmanuel: Yeah. And can I jump in for a little bit and give my, because that's the teaching point to me is like, as much as I was ranting, I didn't believe it. One of two things are going to happen when we talk to friends about our ideas. And this is the most precious, but also the most dangerous time. I think is when you have an idea and you're so passionate about it, you kind of almost don't want to tell everyone about it, not because of like IP protection or copyright or someone's going to steal my idea. Who cares? Let them steal it. Like it's all about execution.

Grace: Yeah.

Emmanuel: But it's really because of your motivation. If I had told you the truth, I think this is dumb. This is never gonna work. Like some people think they're helping you by being constructive, giving you constructive criticism. I don't think it's gonna work in questioning you to death. Then you would have lost motivation, you wouldn't have done it. And look where we'd be, nowhere, right? Or you may get well-meaning positive encouragement that's not constructive at all. Where you say, you're great, you're amazing. That doesn't help you push forward. So I think at the end of the day, um, being very careful with listening to advice is a key. You kept going with it. And to me, I liked the idea of, um, having yes men, right? There's I think yes men get a bad rap, right? And that scenario, it was just like, all right, I have a credit card. And it wasn't like I had a lot of money. I had a credit card and what I was thinking was, well, I can make the payments since I'm working at Amazon. So worst case, now I'm supporting my family. I'm supporting my sister. I'm helping out. And if it doesn't work out, I can at least afford to pay this back at the job that I'm currently working. And so that was just, yes, I think in scenarios like this, it is okay to just have people whose job it is to be like, you can do it, absolutely. I think that's the genius idea. I think that's why people always talk about friends and family, moms, your mom's always gonna buy from you. You need that at the beginning to keep you motivated and keep you going.

Grace: Mm hmm. Yeah. 100 percent. I we can even rebrand them to be hype men instead of yes men, because I feel like that did happen to me. 

Emmanuel: Hype men, yeah. Hype people. Hype people, yeah. Mm-hmm.

Grace: Hype people. Thank you. Because mine were mom and Angel. Yeah, my mom and my younger sister, because they were really the people who help you remind you. I remember one of my pastors, Justin, actually, he has this quote that says, courage is knowing who you are. Encouragement is someone reminding you of who you are. And that encouragement is what helped me to keep going eventually. Because I did have people who came, I would show the slap to in its infancy before we even really started pushing forward with it, who I would tell and they're like, oh, this is stupid, I would never wear something like that. But if you did XYZ, maybe I'd do. I would wear it. And so I would come home and be like, okay, I'm changing the entire design. I think we should do it this way. And then Angel or mom would say, what? No, you have the design. You have the design. It's gonna work. Just do X, Y, Z. We might need X this, ABC, but this is gonna work. Keep going. And you need that. You do need that because it's what kind of drives you forward, especially in infancy. It's a lot easier to kill an infant than it is to kill a giant. So I feel like those are the moments to protect the idea. I agree.

Emmanuel: Yeah, to keep it going. The only people you should listen to, in my opinion, in terms of criticism, are people who have paid you. That's it. If they didn't buy the product, they don't get a vote in what I'm gonna do next. Yeah.

Grace: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's true. That's a good point. Ooh, that's a good way. That's a good way to put the line in the sand. If you're not willing to put your money where your mouth is, then you're not here for the journey. You're just here to poke holes for no reason.

Emmanuel: Yes. Yep. Yeah. Yep. As someone just getting started out, you should have hype men in your corner who are telling you, yes, nonstop. Everything you do is amazing. It shines bright. You're great. And then you should have criticism from people who have bought your product. They get a vote in, okay, this didn't work for me because, because they actually, they mean it means something then. Right. And you also don't like criticism from hype people like don't.

Grace: Yeah.

Emmanuel: You don't, you're supposed to say yes. That's your job. Everything's great to you. Unless of course they've paid because it's hard to separate the wheat from the chaff. What is legitimate? I actually need to do this, fix this for this person from, they're just being nice to me, kind of like that was why I went on that rant about how I completely disagreed with the product, but yet I gave you that credit card. Yeah. It's like, I'm not the best person to give you feedback. You know, so listening to me about you should do this. You should try this is wrong. Cause I have no clue

Grace: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah, that's true. That is true. Mm-hmm.

Emmanuel: what's going on here, right? And so hype men are there for a specific purpose, hype people, and the criticism should be from people who pay you, and I encourage people to do both. Go out and get as many hype people as you can, hype men, hype women, hype everything. Get as much of that as you can, because you need the motivation. And then get as many customers as you can, people who you literally say, pay me money and I'll give it, even if it's a dollar, make sure that they have traded you something, because now they have a vested interest. You know, people who pay, pay attention. There's that saying. So now they've paid you, now they're actually gonna give you feedback, and the feedback you need is very specific. Does this product solve the problem I thought it would solve for this person? That's what you're trying to confirm. Because if it can, then you can find other people with that problem and provide them your solution. You're getting what's called product market fit. And that, when you crack that code and you're starting to hear the same things over and over again from people that paid you money. Now you can actually start to build a business. If there's anything that we've learned over 10 years that made that as we explain our success, I think it's that core idea. You found a product that worked for you, but also worked for people like you. And it became very obvious, very, very quickly to people like you, that this was a solution to a problem that they had. You know, and then the marketing is easy.

Struggles in the Early Stages of the Business

Grace: Mm-hmm. And that was part of, exactly. And that was part of the lessons that I was learning too, because initially, you know, we launch what September of that year. So in terms of timeline, created the product in February. We had our conversation in April. So I started selling it maybe March. We had our conversation in April. We started looking for manufacturers, and that was also an ordeal in and of itself, trying to I think at the time I didn't know any of the lingo. I didn't know. I only, like I said, knew my sewing machine and home use style patterns and that kind of thing. I didn't know how to look for a contract sewer or how to find a cutter or that there are people who could do full service. And there weren't honestly that many who were doing it for small quantities, at least in the LA area. And so peddling myself around LA also was definitely a journey as well. That started in May. In order to um, get the fabric that we need, calculating the fabric yield, that kind of a thing really, I think I even went to American Apparel at the time, they were, they did private manufacturing, um, and they even priced it out for me because that's the only, that only could go with what I knew, right, um, until I finally found someone, um, who, who only did cutting and sewing. And so me and Angel just hoofed it around LA looking for the fabric going to different, what they're called, they're called jobbers, or the fabric houses, basically, who, where we could find colors that match, we found five colors, we sent it to the, I think I dropped it off the day before I had to leave for Chicago for grad school, dropped it off at the manufacturer, then I went to grad school for the summer, because it was gonna take three months anyways. When I got back in September is when we decided to launch, and so we have a lot of footage of of Angel with her braids showing how it fits over braids. You know, we shot on a little digital camera slash iPhone, you know, footage of me explaining the product. I had just done the big chop, which is just my cut off all of my chemical, chemically straightened hair. And we, when we launched, we assumed that it was a product for everybody. This goes, everybody has hair. Everybody wants to protect their hair. And didn't realize that that marketing strategy is expensive. It really, it's, it's like a spray and shoot, but imagine, imagine having a machine gun that only has three bullets in it, you know, you and your target is really far in the distance. You know, um, you're not going to, you're probably, and you're closing your eyes, just shooting, thinking you're gonna hopefully hit the target. And of course we would run out of money and hadn't yet found a marketing channel. And so we were still selling on Etsy and we also at this point had created a WooCommerce site that was with, I forget the agency that we use, but his name is Ernie, I remember. I remember he helped us with our first website. It was on WooCommerce, right? Yeah. Yep.

Emmanuel: Mm-hmm. No I remember vividly that's a disaster that's looming that we will get to WooCommerce. Shopify folk. Yeah, use Shopify, WooCommerce is no good for ecom.

Grace: Yeah, no, we very quickly switched to Shopify. We were managing our inventory on Excel and drawing it down pretty much on our own. All of this was so manual. Everything was like paper and pencil at this point, but computer. So we launched in late September. I go back to the second quarter of grad school and we had, we're still rejoicing. I think maybe one sale a day, two sales a day. We're still trying to find how we are going, like where are we gonna find the right market? And fast forward to October, around the October, around this time, October, suddenly we had 25 sales in a day. Now mind you, when we launched, of course, we, Angel had emailed 100 different influencers, sorry, they weren't called influencers, YouTubers with a high following as we called them. And just to see if they would be willing to include our videos, our product in one of their videos. We got zero, we got three responses out of a hundred. Sorry, I mean, technically 300 emails because she emailed them all like three times each, you know, hey, just following up, hey, just following up, you know. And we got three responses. One said, no, thank you. One said, I'm moving, maybe contact me in a month. And the last one said, never heard of sleeping with satin, but go ahead and send me one. So we only really sent out one set of product to any influencer. That was at the end of September. I'm back in Chicago, going to school and we're, we're still trying to just make it with one or two sales, rejoicing at two sales a day. And then suddenly we had that random spike at the end of the month. That was, of course, our very first, what we now know as influencer, who posted and was like, oh, there's our marketing channel and that could work. And Emmanuel, you're the one that dug in and saw where all that traffic was coming from and saw that it was all coming from that one maybe. It came from the one person who said, send me the product and we'll see. And then you got her to do one or two more in succession, right? Oh, she just did another one? That's cool.

Emmanuel: No, I didn't get her. She did it. She just did another one. Yeah. And in fact, we tried later to get her to do more. She wouldn't because back then, influencers had much more clout and integrity than authenticity. They were like, she was like, I don't want to be a shill for a brand. Everything I recommend, I'm not sponsored, no one pays me and she refused to even talk to us really. She sent a couple polite no thank yous when we said, Hey, would you like us to pay you? Would you do this again? Sent a couple of polite ones and then stopped responding. That was it. But yeah, I said, no, no. I did my thing and I'm done now. But yeah, I love that story because it highlights, A, get your tracking in place, right? So Google Analytics and all those things, we had no idea how to use those things on the technical side. Had no idea, because we were selling one or two a day. It was like, why even bother? I knew exactly who it was, Dorothea Green, like you said, a second ago, we knew everyone that bought.

Grace: Yeah, Dorothea, Dorothea. Yep.

Emmanuel: But when you're starting to get a hundred in a day, 200 in a day, now you need to aggregate metrics and see where the traffic's coming from. But she sold, she made one video and it was, you know, we sold several hundred worth. The dings woke me up and kept me up all morning. Like ding, all the sales. And then two weeks later, she made another one, sold the rest of the product out. We were out of stock. Yeah. All 1000 units that were on that one credit card.

Grace: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, yeah. And yep, yep. And then, yeah. Mm-hmm. Or at that point, we would've been holding onto it just for like three months, because I picked it up in September when I came back home. But you're right, the money was tied up, though, for almost six months, you know, with that inventory. And it is, and it was a...

Emmanuel: That we had been holding onto for a year and not being able to sell through. We sold it all out.

Grace: at that point is when I know, and this is kind of where we get into the growth. I don't know if we wanna talk through that here, or do we just keep, okay, that's the next step. Then we can just talk about, because the difficulty there was in, of course, finding the product market fit. So she came in with a lot of Northern European customers suddenly. And so we were like, oh, that's our customer. Again, it fed into our, thought that this was for everyone, right? This product is for everyone. And so we started trying to attack that. Maybe Northern Europeans, maybe the finer hair, maybe let's start there and see if that would work. But by the next time we felt that, I think by our next influencer, we realized quickly that was not our customer. And I think there was a word that you used to use that really helped finally helped us understand. And I feel like a lot of it, a lot of the journey was you figuring something out and then explaining it to us and waiting for us to catch up. And we'll get into that conflict, of course, in some subsequent episodes. But there was a wording that you used and it was called a high value problem. This could be a problem for multiple demographics, but you want to find the demographic for whom it, where this problem is a high value problem. Like they're actually struggling, they just give me the solution because I've been looking for something for this problem. You know, yes, everyone struggles with tangles, everyone struggles with bed head and even breakage, every demographic does, but for who is it a high value problem? And again, our sales numbers and our sales data and the, really the influencers who picked up the product even were the ones who finally convinced us that we need to target and hone in on who the high who we're solving the biggest problem for you know to start with because also because Imagine you have again in that my example you have three bullets in your chamber. You got a you have to laser focus in order to have the best chance of actually hitting the target and so we started to focus more on curly hair specifically and then from curly hair we went to black women.

Emmanuel: And I think it's worth noting too, why we even had that idea of it works for everyone is because the product basically it does, right? And so I see this with a lot of new brands and new founders like, well, it works for everyone. Yeah, sure. But you still have to make a market. I love your analogy of a machine going through bullets, like because when you sleep on your pillowcase, your hair attaches to the cotton fibers in the, in the pillowcase and it causes tangles as you toss and turn at night. So putting a slippery barrier of satin helps protect it, right? We know the spiel. That means it can work for everyone. The problem is you only have a finite amount of money to market to everyone. You're not Unilever. You're not Procter & Gamble or Apple. They can market to everyone. That's why clients that come in, they're like, Oh, Apple does this with their ads. And Facebook does that with their creative. It's like, well, you don't have that budget to be able to do that. So you've got to be needle in a haystack targeted and just start there

Grace: Correct.

Emmanuel: which feeds into the idea of the high value problem. I'm glad you said that. And so all of this stuff, we can't go in depth in these episodes, but if anybody is interested in going deeper onto what a high value problem is, product market fit, the first three episodes of my season one, I go very into detail with it, but I'll give a little bit of overview of how it applies right now, is that the high value problem is anything that has, it's a problem that has an emotional and identity component to it as well. It's not just a problem. So it's like, oh, the trash can is too, is in the kitchen. It should be in the living room. Okay. That's a problem. That's not really a high value problem, right? If the trash can has a dead skunk in it and I'm stinking and I don't, and I can't solve that's in it, there's an emotional component to us, a gross analogy, but you get that right. Or problems where it's like now an identity issue, not just emotion, there's a skunk in the trash can in my living room. Maybe that makes me a bad father. Now I have an identity problem, like why is there, right? So that is a high value problem. I need to solve that. So if you showed up with a pest control ad in my phone, ding, guess what? I am buying your product or service. That is the type of problem you're looking for a specific type of person so that your solution can meet that need, right? And that's what we found with curly hair.

Grace: Yep. Yeah. Sold.

Emmanuel: right, especially 4C curly hair with black women, 4C curly hair, for ABC or type four, right. So even broader it. And we started, but our goal was to narrow, super narrow and then start to broaden out because once we started going after that market and talking to them, the sales that you, this is another technical term, but the conversion rates. Went up, it became easier to display someone

Grace: Mm-hmm. Or just even type four. Yeah, exactly, thank you, yeah. Type three and four. Mm-hmm, yep.

Emmanuel: our solution who has that look, 4C hair, and say, hey, this is great for 4C hair, and they would convert at a higher rate than someone who didn't have 4C hair. So when we went after type three hair, or women with straight hair, or Jewish ladies with the curly hair, or with all these different types of audiences, we tried them all. Certain ones had higher conversion rates than others. And that to me was the key that we didn't know we were doing it then, but we're doing it now. When I teach people how to do it now, we're testing, audience testing. You know, so I just wanted to echo what you were saying. The idea of a high value problem, to me, is the cheat code for founders getting started in business. You know, figure out what that high value problem is for a specific person, and then just find more of those people and push your solution in front of them. That's the game, yeah.

Grace: Totally. Yep, yep, exactly. And really, it's of course, once you figure out who you're selling to, and then you sell them the solution, right? Not the, you're selling them the problem that you're solving, not the product, you know? As soon as you get to that point, where it's like, no, you know, it's not just, like we were creating a niche and even, you know, a small little story. I remember when we were trying to name the product, we were all in the kitchen. And at the time I was going to name it Satin Lined Beanies. And so from that was going to be, so mom suggested, oh, I know, what about Sleenies? It's like, yeah, that one didn't leave the cutting room floor. Let me just put it that way. And so when we kind of like adjusted like, oh no, it's more like a satin lined cap. Oh, actually slaps. And I remember before the, before actually saying, you know, what should we name it? You know, it's like, why do we have to have a name? I was like, well, the word beanie, what's the etymology? Where does that word come from? Someone decided that a warm cap was a beanie. I don't know who, you know, but someone did. And so we're gonna create a word, we're gonna coin a phrase. And it became a phrase, it really did, like slap. Then once we all decided it, and I'll give mom her flowers on that one. Once we came up with that coined term, it actually did become a phrase that now is just known for satin lined caps, you know, slaps, slap cap, you know, and the like. But all that to say, yeah. All that to say, once we figured out who we were selling the slap to, the goal was then, like you said, to tie the emotion to it and to sell them on the problem that we were solving, not just the product itself.

Emmanuel: I find that fascinating. All that to say what? Go ahead.

Emmanuel: No, not just a product. And I find interesting, like I remember distinctly having those conversations about slap. Why are we calling it a slap? Slap means something different. It means to hit someone in the face with an open palm. There was definitions when you Googled it and it was like, there's no SEO people would laugh at you because it's like, that's dumb. Ha, that keyword. You'll never rank for that keyword. Lo and behold, a couple of years later, it is possible to rank. You put enough budget behind it, enough, you know marketing dollars you can rank for just about anything. Yeah, which also feeds into why to me, there's no need to deliberately do SEO, right? So a lot of people pay a ton of money for search engine optimization, which is what SEO is. And it's like, SEO would naturally happen as a byproduct of becoming more of an authoritative figure on that keyword or that term. So we were running ads, we were putting up blog posts, we were being on shows, other people were talking about us. Eventually you have enough of that. You become, you begin to rank for that kind of stuff. So anyway, I digress. 

Lessons Learned

Emmanuel: Uh, the key to me though, that I want to really echo on the idea of influencer marketing, you noticed we didn't talk about running ads or any of those other things, we tried all of that, but it was one influencer who blew us up. And I was talking with a mentor in that same period of time after we sold out and we're trying to get our product in. And she was, I was telling her our marketing woes. I was like, man, we're all out of inventory and we're waiting for more. And I just want to know what to do when we get the inventory in. How do we market? How do, how do we get this thing going? Consistent sales, right? Which is what everyone wants. We want consistency. And then she was like, well, what are you doing? And I was telling her about how we were running Amazon ads and Etsy ads, and we're doing Facebook ads and we were trying SEO and we were trying website optimization and all these different things and they'll say, yeah, and then we had this one influencer, but that was just a big pop and then it ended and then I was trying this stuff. And she was like, wait, stop, go back. You had one influencer sell you out of inventory? Why don't you just do more of that? I was like, what are you talking about? Like it was, it was unpredictable. It was then make it predictable. Well, it wasn't really, she won't talk to us. Then talk to someone else. Well, and like literally every objection I came up with, she was like, solve the objection. That's what we do as entrepreneurs. We solve problems for profit. It's our job. So you found something that worked. Yes, there's problems associated with solve those problems so that you can get more consistency with that solution thing that worked. And so that's where we ended up putting together a whole process around outreach to influencers or YouTubers with a big following. We reached out to them all manually. We'd send them letters if we needed to. And then we started hiring them. Then we got FameBit at the time was the first of these kind of influencer platforms. And we started reaching out to them there. We started working with 20, 30 influencers at a time in a campaign. And that's what took us past the 60K into the 600K a year mark, and really scale is just working with those influencers and we'll talk growth in a second. But that's a key lesson that to me I learned early. We miss out as entrepreneurs, we miss out on the golden gems that could double quadruple our business that are sitting there, right? Even if it's, I talked to three people and they all keep saying the same thing. Well, listen then, you know, maybe there's an idea there that can help you identify your audience, the four seat thing, right? Like, at that stage of business, listening is so crucial to what's working and that idea of a conversion rate. When it comes to sales, people are like, how do I make more sales, how do I make more sales, how do I make more sales? Well, what sold already? Pay attention to what's selling and how it's selling. And then you can literally be like, oh yeah, that thing where I had a client, literally, she was talking to me, she was making 200, 500 bucks a month going to these trade shows and she'd go like once a month or swap meets. And she was like, how do I make sales? I need to do Facebook ads. So you don't need to do no Facebook ads. She goes, what are you talking about? I said, you make 500 bucks when you go sit at a swap meet, right, and sell. She was like, I always sell out and I don't even bring enough. I said, why don't you do that every weekend? Immediately she starts making two grand a month, just doing the thing that's already working. She ended up doing $24,000 in one month. She came onto one of our membership calls and was doing $24,000 the previous 30 days. And she just doubled down on what works. So at the beginning, I feel like if you see some early success

Grace: Mm-hmm. Wow. Yeah, yeah, that's good.

Emmanuel: get after it. That was a lesson that we learned it then and now we apply it to other people going forward. So try what works, try lots of things, but double down on what works.

Grace: Yeah, that's a good, and that even feeds into this idea of like, just don't give up. I just keep going, right? Like there's analysis paralysis ends up stopping us and like, okay, but like you said, we're saying to your mentor, you know, but what about this? And no, but when we did that, it did this, and we tried that, you know, and then we can talk ourselves out of business, essentially. We're talking ourselves out of the race when all she needed to hear was that one, oh wait, there was one, you did have one. And stop, now go back. You know, like there's, you just solve the current problem in front of you. But get started and keep going. It's, you'll get through it. Ha ha.

Emmanuel: Yeah, and that is a question to ask too, because we're talking about the beginning of the journey before we get into the growth side of things. How did you know that your idea was good? Because a lot of the people listening probably are creators or inventors or product people more so than business people or marketing people or finance people. So how did you know you can make a business out of your passion? Make profits out of your passion, I should say. 

Grace: Yeah, no, that's good. That's a good question. I think that one, it's 100% faith, but there's something about the time that we're in, right? If I had gone directly to, let's say, a retailer, a big retailer, Sally's, Target, one of the big guys, they wouldn't have understood the product. They would have been all the thoughts. They would have told me, they would have vocalized all the thoughts you had that first conversation that we had about this product. And that vocalization to me would have been, this is stupid. Okay, I don't have a good idea. And it probably would have crushed me at that time. And I'm so glad that we're living in a time and a moment where you don't have to go into small rooms filled with people who make the big decisions for the masses in order to get your product out there. You can go directly to the customer. And we knew, you know, and you know, mom's all about, create the business plan, create the business plan. Even in the business plan, we called it guerrilla marketing. We're like, listen, we're gonna do guerrilla warfare to start. And something that I learned at that first job as an executive assistant, that's what we did. They called it experience tents. We went around to different baseball. They were disruptors too in the baseball bat industry. And so I kind of had that in my mind. I didn't know what it would look like at the time, but it was like, I knew the product needed an explanation. I knew that we had to, if people got it, they would want it. I just knew that we just need to help people get it. And once they do, they'll want it. And sure enough, we found our channel with influencers who we partnered with to help us talk to their audience about the product. And that's really, I think that affirmation, that was really just almost like I said, it's like a faith thing where it's like, when I told you we could sell 100 a day, I didn't have the data behind it. It was really just like, I really think this is something. I do, like it's something that I know that I want, and it's not out there right now. And the fact that we could go directly to the customer and then hear feedback from influencers who maybe just took product because they liked it. And let's be clear too, there were influencers that didn't help us. I don't know if you remember the one who was like, look, one of these companies just sent me this $30 bonnet, I'm just going to show you how to make one yourself. And it was like, and this is where you need your hype people

Emmanuel: Yeah, yes, it's highly ranked video

Grace: because those are other moments where you're just like, oh my gosh, the business is gonna go down, everyone's gonna make their own. And I'm not, you know, it just became that, you know, one of those moments again, because it's like, how did this happen? But all that to say, I think that it's a combination of multiple things. Of course, I knew there were gonna be struggles and we didn't really have, we didn't come from, you know, legacy business people necessarily. And so we didn't necessarily have the roadmap, but I knew that the product was something special. And I think that's what helped me to keep going, even though, yeah.

Emmanuel: I love it. And that's where the hype folks around you are crucial. I agree. And I do clearly remember that. That person, and then there was another person who talked about how bad the product was, right? And it was almost like, well, you have straight hair. Of course it's not gonna work for you, right? Or there were a couple that talked about it. And it was interesting, because we were always listening for, is there anything wrong? Like was the product actually destroy their hair, did it do anything bad, like literally bad. And it wasn't usually it was like, they didn't understand it. They didn't get it. It wasn't their- it's like me when I said, this is dumb. I don't think it'll work. I just don't get it. And those are the people that's why to me getting criticism be people who did not pay you these influences. We sent them product. We didn't pay them. That's another way of, of our example of we didn't pay them. So they have no skin in the game. They didn't even know what it was going to do. And so if they criticize us, we just rub it off, right? Ignore the criticism because, I mean, look where we got to. Right, so if anyone's out there getting bad press or bad criticism, did they pay you for your product? And if not, don't listen, right? And also what that speaks to is they have an ulterior motive, those influencer or those people trying to do that. Sometimes people are saying bad things to you, has nothing to do with you. For example, that person that made that video, her video, she was literally piggybacking off our success. Cause you'd have, if you Googled satin lined cap, you'd have our videos at the top, that was our term. And then her video would be second or third cause Google wanted another option from a different channel. So she literally grew as we grew. That one video was the most popular video on her channel. She succeeded by being a negative force on our success and didn't actually tell anything legitimate. Like here's how you make it yourself. So she grew along with us growing. One thing I want to stress though, is influencers are though another cheat code in business. We've been talking this whole time at the beginning when you're just a founder and you're just a creator and you're just coming up with your product, you need to figure out how to sell it. What problem does it solve? What is the emotional and identity issues that person has that makes this a high value problem? Well, if you can't really solve that, influencers are great people to reach out to. It is their job to be influential. It is their job to understand their audience and things that are interesting to their audience and the things that will get their audience to pay attention and to take action. So by partnering with 10, 20 influencers, you're finding out how did they sell your product, how did they talk about it? How did they describe it to their audience? Getting 10 or 20 of those folks is like talking to 10 or 20 and then talking to 10 or 20 customers will give you such a rich amount of information about what problem does your product solve? How does it solve your, that problem? Does it work for them? How does it work for them? That is a great way. If you're stumped on why people aren't buying your stuff or why your website messaging isn't working or what kind of copywriting you should do or how you should message your product, just hire some spokespeople in the form of influencers to talk about it. Even if you make zero sales from their placement, watch their video and see how they explain it, cause it'll be different than how you do it and that's okay. That's what you want. You know.

Grace: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And an influencer is not specific to just Instagram and social, right? Like, I feel like there's even what you said about your friend or colleague who was who went to trade shows, you know, it could literally be that the it takes some of your people to sell your product. And I feel like there's something about finding where your market or your where your customer the pool that your customers are playing in. Right. Like if. If that, you know what I mean? Like, feel like if it's not necessarily social that your customers are playing in, you might find them in in-person events. You might find them in, yeah, different places.

Emmanuel: Yeah. Anywhere. And that's a good point too, is you just want people who, uh, places where people are gathering that have, that have easily identifiable traits, like a problem or solution. So if you go to a woodworking convention, there's people, there are certain problems and issues they're struggling with, and they will be talking about those. If you go to an anime convention, similar thing. So you just want it to be easily identifiable so that you can know, oh, these folks are struggling with these things. Is that a problem that my product solves? If yes, then you found your people and then find influential people to help you push your message into that audience. Cause remember marketing, people think marketing equals sales wrong. Marketing is a megaphone. It pushes your message out to lots of people. So you need people to help you craft that message. That's where I like using influencers. So wonderful episode. We talked about how we started, how we began, where we came from in the early part of the journey. Next up, we'll be talking about in the next episode, how we scaled from there. So we talked about getting started, getting to about 600K in revenue, using influencer marketing, getting the initial manufacturing and sales going. Next it's how did we grow the business and take it to the next level. So can't wait, stay tuned for the next episode. Okay bye.

Grace: Awesome.


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