Building Success: Ceata Lash of PuffCuff Tells Her Story

Emmanuel: Welcome to the Journey to an Eight Figure E-commerce Business podcast. I'm your host, Emmanuel Eleyae from Eleyae Systems, and I'm joined by my wonderful sister and founder and CEO of, Grace. And we have been blessed with the opportunity to speak with the prolific, the magnificent, the magnanimous, the wonderful one and only Ceata Lash, CEO and founder of PuffCuff. And today we've got a great episode for you and I can't wait for all the things that they're gonna bring to the table. So I'll stop talking and now let Grace get to it. Go for it, Grace.

Grace: Awesome. Well, Ceata thank you so much for being here. We're excited to get to know a little bit more about you.

Ceata E. Lash: I am so ecstatic about being here and all those vocabulary words that your brother just used to describe. Right, I'm like, are these even real words?

Grace: Magnanimous, the, right? You don't, you don't, he's trying to front. He has a thesaurus right next to him. 

Emmanuel: I'm fronting. I was reading the dictionary this morning. Getting ready.

Ceata’s Background/Why She Created PuffCuff

Grace: So tell us a little bit about, we're going to start at the beginning of the journey. Um, first tell us why you came up with the PuffCuff Like what was, what was missing in the market that you felt needed to be filled?

Ceata E. Lash: Basically when I stopped chemically straightening my hair, which y'all know relaxing, you have to break down those words, depend on the audience. So when I stopped chemically straightening my hair, and this was back in 2000 and, early 2000s before YouTube, before the influence, before Google was the Google that we know today. And I stopped only because I couldn't get into the chair, my normal cadence. So I ended up going longer between touch-ups, but when I did that, all of the dermatitis, bad dandruff, flaking, crusting, all of that was happening in my scalp since I had been dealing with to the point I had been dealing with it so long I thought it was just part of my makeup. It all just went away like just disappeared and I was like, okay, my body was saying Woosah it was exhaling like I've been waiting for you to do this, stop doing this and I refused to go back. But I also was a, this is when we lived right outside of Chicago, so a black woman in the North growing her natural hair out can cause a lot of angst and anxiety on everybody's part. Right,

Grace: Yep. Yeah. Especially if that's in 2010 or whenever that was.

Ceata E. Lash: Right, no, we're talking about 2003, it was 2006, actually it was 2006. So I had no idea but the hair was gonna be like growing out of my head nor did I know, nor did I know how to style it. And I was working at a community college at that time. So I did the whole thing, did the big chop. And I know it was 2006, cause my twins were three and we all went to the barbershop together and I got, we all got our hair cut. And I had a hard time looking at myself with the TWA, with the teeny weeny Afro. I just, and it wasn't so much that I didn't, I wasn't comfortable with the way I looked and I looked exactly like my mother from the 70s. And I just not, I wasn't ready to take on that, her persona or whatever. So I'm like, okay, no, we gotta figure something else out. So I started growing it out and the only way that I could style my hair was to put it up in a puff that I felt comfortable in my own skin. And then my hair, I could deflect some of the curiosity coming from folks out of, within the culture or without of the, you know, out of the culture, because, you know, many, when you work in a environment where it's mostly white people, they are so freaking amazed about what black women can do with their hair, all the different things that we can do. And when I was going through this transition, I didn't want the attention, I didn't want the conversations, I was just like, look, I'm just growing my hair out, just kind of like, let me be because I'm still trying to digest this myself. But I can only, the only thing that I could find that could accommodate the thickness of my hair was to tie, it was two things that I use. I know other people are using other stuff, but I would take a boot size shoestring and take it, tie it around my neck and then pull it up and try to cinch it until I got my puff the way I wanted it to look. That was one strategy. The other one was to take those big elastic headbands, kind of like wrap it around my neck and kind of roll it up until I got it to stop. But either way it went, you can only wear your hair like that for so long without damaging your hair. And I started to have thinning on the sides and thinning in the front. And then the other part was I would have a blazing, raging headache by the end of the day and trying to be some semblance of a wife and mother with an hour commute, you know, it was just, it was ugly, it was very ugly. And I thought to myself, it's like, this is stupid that I have to like use stuff that was not ever meant for my hair in order to style it in its natural state. So that's where the idea came from. And it was based on a small clip that I know everybody has seen. I know, especially folks in the islands, they're like, that's a pony comb. And I'm like, okay. Yes, yeah, I know what a pony comb is, but first of all, listen to it. It's a pony comb. Black folks ain't walking around looking like ponies. So first of all. Oh. And that was never meant for you to in the very, you know, when they came up with it, but it was based on a clip that was like that, that my grandmother and mother had, and it was like about this big, but it had teeth all the way through. And my whole thing was if I could design something that kind of acted the same way, but on much larger scale and the teeth not go all the way through because I didn't need something penetrating my hair. I just needed something to kind of like grasp the texture and kind of lock into the curl of the texture of the thickness. And that's where PuffCuff came from. 

Grace: I love it. That's awesome.

Ceata E. Lash: Thank you.

Grace: And so this is around that 20. I've read on your website. So this is around that 2013 timeframe when you, when you started as a business, right? Do I have that right? And then what, so from that idea, so two, we're in 2006, you were looking for solutions for your TWA, using shoestrings, using headbands, things that weren't meant for putting up a puff. How did you get from that to actually deciding this is actually a business that I think that we can move forward with, what was the journey there?

Ceata E. Lash: So the journey was, like I said, I was working at a community college at the time. I also in 2011, I… I would say actually in 2010, we started the adoption process. I had always wanted to adopt a child. My father was adopted and, or is adopted, but he didn't find out till he was 70. And I would always see children born into situations that they didn't ask to be in, but they weren't loved and nourished and cherished by the family that they, you know, the circumstances they were in. And there's such a like, I don't know, what is the word? It's not phobia, but there's like an issue, stigma. 

Grace: There's definitely a stigma, like a stigma. Yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: Yeah, such a stigma about black people adopting black children. I mean, we're one of those, I think as a culture, we're cool with dropping that baby off at big mama's house that, you know technically may have been an accident or whatever, but then there's probably a drunk uncle in the basement, you know, big mama already raised her kids. So why is she raising somebody else's kid? And I was like, you know what? No, I want to do adoption and prove to people that this is not a taboo thing. Black people can adopt black children. And so we started that process and just to speed it up some, we had been on the adoption list like 18 months and went through, I think two birth mothers before had chosen us, but the process didn't come to fruition with us actually getting a child. So at that same time, my 99 year old grandmother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. And this is my father's adoptive mom. She was, we've always been close. She's been my, she was my heart, like the whole time. I know like I always say, anybody's gonna sit and be sitting next to that, but say Christ is next to the right hand of God. Like my grandmother's right next to Christ. Cause it was like, she was, she was, she's amazing, absolutely amazing. And the fact that she had, she had, this is kind of a roundabout, but getting back to the point, but she had kept the promise of not telling my father that he was adopted because she was, her husband didn't want him to know. And she kept that promise to her husband for 70 years. And he didn't, my father didn't find out until there was a blip in some paperwork. And it was like, wait a second, you have two birth certificates, something's up. But anyway, let me get back to this. So we were charged with, she couldn't know, she could no longer live alone. She had been living independently all her life. I was in Indian, I was in Chicago, she was in Indianapolis. She ended up coming to live with us because she was like, I'm not living with your father, so I need to come live with you. And I was like, great, come on. So we had gotten everything ready, ready for her to move in. And when we did that, it was so overwhelming and exhausting. We had actually decided to take our names off of the adoptive family list. And we were gonna put it on pause until we got through the season with my grandmother. Well, God chose different and when we, I hadn't...gotten to the exact moment of calling my adoptive counselor to say that we're gonna take our names off the list. I was at Kohl's shopping for bedding for my grandmother's new room, and I got a call from my adoptive counselor from her home phone, and I was like, oh my God, I know we just got chosen. And sure enough, we did. So we got a brand new, we got a four week old baby and a 99 year old grandma in the same weekend. Like literally in the same weekend like that Monday the adoptive counselor was like you've been chosen, you'll, you'll meet the birth mother tomorrow, you'll meet the baby on Wednesday, she'll visit with the baby the last time on Thursday, you'll be taking the baby home on Friday, grandma was coming on Saturday. So literally that's how it was and Garrett and I, who is my husband, we were like if we survive this we can survive anything and at that point I was like this is the catalyst to say let's do this because my grandmother was always like, I'm ready to go see Jesus tonight. I've done everything I was supposed to do. And she wasn't afraid of death at all. She was just like, matter of fact, you know, she'd wake up in the morning. She was like, I was hoping he'd take me last night, but I'm still here. So that's, that's when it was like, you know, I really want to have that type of peace. And I had the whole idea of PuffCuff in my head. So it was like, you know what, I'm going to do this because I want to be able to say, at if God blesses me with 99, excuse me, 99 years, I wanna be able to say that I did everything that I was supposed to do and, you know, take care of all the ideas and talents that he gave me and took them to the, you know, the level that he allowed me to take them. So that's where it came from.

Grace: I love that. And at what point, how did you find your manufacturer?

Ceata E. Lash: So that's where the junior college comes in because I was a free, my original career was, I'm a graphic designer and that's what I always thought I was gonna be, excuse me, I am a, I was always a freelancer consultant or whatever. So I just happened to be working at a community college and I had the idea. So being a graphic designer, I was able to get it, I was able to draw it, draw my concept out on paper, but I knew I needed some type of engineer or something to be able to get my design from 2D to 3D. 

Grace: Yeah, especially working with plastics and all that. Yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: So I, yeah, working with plastic and all that. And I, so what I did is I, junior colleges are all stocked full of professional people that teach at night, but they're in their careers during the day. So I just catalog stalked when it actually was a book and you could hear the pages, you could feel the pages. So I catalog stalked everyone in the engineering department and in our office mailed them because email was not the thing yet. So I in our office mailed them until somebody would agree to meet me for lunch and I had one professor meet me and he was like, I had also had a friend of mine who was a carpenter kind of carve my idea out of wood. So I had like a bit of a concept of what it kind of would look like. So I took that, I took my drawing and I met the professor, we met at the cafeteria. He was like, you've really got something here. I can't help you, but I know who can, so through that network, that professor introduced me to my CAD engineer. My CAD engineer introduced me to my manufacturer. My manufacturer introduced me to my patent attorney. So that's how it kinda came. And because I was at the community college, I also had access to the SBDC, the Small Business Development Center. So I was able to meet with a counselor there and they actually helped me write a business plan and introduce me to a non-for-profit that lends to the underserved to be able to get a loan to try and produce my first mold, which is called tooling. So that's, it all went from there.

Grace: Mm-hmm. I love it. And so did you go straight into production? Was it here domestically or were you looking at international manufacturers at first?

Ceata E. Lash: I always looked in the United States. I always, I wanted to always keep the PuffCuff produced and manufactured in the United States. 

Grace: Oh, that's awesome.

Ceata E. Lash: Cause my whole thing was when I was a kid, I was like, everything is made in China, everything. You know, when you started looking at the labels and stuff, but I was like, no, I want to be able to make it here. Also, employee Americans, you know, keep the, keep it within our ecosystem. And then, it was a blessing and it was definitely a blessing and it's a double edged sword. I won't say it's ever been a curse, but it's definitely been some ups and downs with that. But still it is manufactured in the United States. I knew that, but at the same time, I also didn't know anything about manufacturing at all. And if I probably if it hadn't have been God like putting those people in place and I had found out about manufacturing overseas, I probably would have manufactured overseas. But because he was looking out and I didn't know what I didn't know, it was ordained for it to be manufactured in the United States.

Grace: That's awesome. So take us now through, you started, you were working at a community college, kind of researching, talking to engineering professors, doing all the initial prep to start. I love that you started with a prototype. Something I always tell aspiring entrepreneurs is find a way to make your product. Just make it look like something, even if it's a drawing, start getting feedback a little bit from people that you trust, you know. I just love that you made it, you had a carpenter carve it out of wood. That's amazing. But then how did you go from it being your side hustle to actually being your main source of income? Or did you just jump in?

Ceata E. Lash: So, okay, again, it's one of those things that I didn't know what I didn't know. When I started this, I really thought, okay, so I've been a hustler from yay big, always selling something to get what I need. So, and to be able to help, you know, get the things that I wanted. Now my folks gave me what I need, but to get what I wanted, I always was hustling of some type, selling this, selling that, craft shows, jams, jellies, everything. So I really thought that this was going to be maybe a continued side hustle, but I figured, this will give me my vacation money, stuff like that. I'll sell it on Amazon, I'll sell it on eBay. I think when, and I sell it to my friends and family, but I did a Indiegogo um, crowd sourcing campaign, and this is when crowd crowdfunding was, you know, had very just started and I launched a Facebook page. That's what I did. I launched a Facebook page to announce the Indiegogo campaign. I didn't raise that much money, but the, the uh, Facebook campaign I garnered like 2000 followers overnight.

Grace: Wow. And now had you sold one puff cuff yet? 

Ceata E. Lash: No, this was all concept. This was all concept. 

Grace: Wow. Okay.

Ceata E. Lash: And I remember reading the posts that people were saying. And they were like, this is amazing. You this is you know, this is what we've been looking for, blah, blah. It was such encouraging conversations and comments that I was like, I think this might be something. I think it might be more bigger than I think, but I still had no idea it was gonna be this. So I always tell entrepreneurs, I didn't go into this thinking that this was gonna be a business. It's just, it literally is because of the growth that it turned into a business. But...

Grace: Okay, yep. Because I love it, because that means you were just solving, you really were solving a problem for yourself that millions of other men and women needed, clearly. You know. 

Ceata E. Lash: Right. It literally was that it was like, yeah, I know, I, it's got to be a couple of women around the world that are even in the, you know, even in Illinois that could use the tool. But I was not thinking that it's going to be like, Oh, okay. 10 years later, you'll have $7 million in sales. No, I was not, I was not, not over lifetime. That's not last year. Otherwise, no, that's lifetime. Yeah.

Grace: Yeah, I love that. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. And so then I know we were running low on time. So I want to make sure that we're we cover just the what we talked about in the beginning. And we get to kind of our founder rounder as we like to call it. 

Ceata’s Advice

Grace: But I just want to know what was the biggest, if you could basically go back, maybe even five, six years ago, and advise six years ago, Ceata who's in the thick of growth, what would be the top two or three things that you would tell that Ceata who's probably trying to plug all the holes in the boat before the ship goes down.

Ceata E. Lash: If you don't like numbers, which I've never liked numbers, you gotta learn them. You gotta learn them and you gotta dig in and you gotta know what your numbers are, what they say, and you have to monitor the people who are monitoring your numbers. Even if you, you know, even though, cause like for me, like math has never been my thing, ever, ever. Like I can say it now cause I have my degree, but I cheated through math in college. They can't come and take it back. Literally, they can't. So I 100, don't, it's just totally transparent. Nairobi was his name, but that brother, that's the only way I got through finite math. I like this. Right, I like this. To this day, thank you. 

Emmanuel: I love the honesty.

Grace: Thank you Nairobi.

Ceata E. Lash: So I always was like, okay, this is not my skillset. This is not what I do. Let me push this to somebody who claims they have it or I think they have it or I'll trust them to do it. And not that they didn't, but still I didn't know enough to be able to track and know what the story that the numbers were saying were telling. So that's one thing just like get figure out because a lot of us who start business start businesses don't know how to business, you know.

Grace: Yeah, 100%. Me, me too. Yeah, yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: Right, we don't know how to business. And I'm like, still to this day, I'm not going to get, I feel like I've got a doctorate in small business, but I'm not trying to go back to school and get an MBA. You're learning on the job, but there are still things that you have to prepare yourself and be, prepare and gather those skills to be able to get to the other side, because, you know. I didn't get into this thinking I'm gonna have a business that it's gonna exit, but that's what I wanna do. That's my goal. But in order to do that, I've really got to speak and know my numbers. And I'm still engulfed into it.

Emmanuel: What? Why is that Ceata? I'm curious, why do you need to know your number? Like, I hear the advice and I 100% agree. But I'm curious your thoughts, what is the benefit of you having, you've had to pick it up and learn it and get good at your numbers. What is that benefit? 

Ceata E. Lash: There has been some there was some like perfect storm stuff too that added to it and I can keep on saying well, you know, I didn't know I didn't know but if I'm the founder then and I'm driving this, this ship, this train, I got to know. I got to know and especially I have to know like yeah It's one thing to have a viable product, and it's one thing to know that you have a great market, but if you are not, if you cannot speak any, if you can't speak to your numbers or look at your numbers, your balance sheet, your P&L, excuse me, to be able to speak to, educatedly to, is that a word?

Emmanuel: It's a word today. Yeah, it's a word today. Want to get my dictionary?

Grace: Uh huh. Yeah. Can you check your thesaurus right there? Can you just check it? Yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: about what your numbers are saying, then you're not gonna be able to get any more financing to grow. Yeah, you can speak to the story, but it takes money to make money, period. Most black and brown people do not come with this war chest, real estate, assets, we don't come with that. We come with maybe a 401k and good credit to be able to. And that's only gonna get you so far. So when you're, and working capital is like always an elusive thing. But when we got money, like we got a lot of money with the EIDL, with the EIDL loan. But I did not have the team that would know how to strategize, right? 

Grace: Leverage it? Yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: Leverage and strategize that money for growth, as well as for bad times or whatever. It was just, just keep paying the bills, which as long as we're paying the bills, I'm good, and long as there's something in the bank account, we're good. And it's like, no, that's not how it works. That's not how it works. That's not gonna, that may get you through this amount of time, but it's not gonna get you through the long game.

Grace: Long term. It's not getting you to the exit. And I feel like that is something in general that we have to kind of unlearn from our upbringing even. You know, like I feel like, like you said, a lot of black and brown people, we struggle even with that, the mindset of, I guess it's almost like a wealth mindset. Like we need to get into that space where, 

Ceata E. Lash: Because we don't come from that. We don't come from wealth. It's our generations after us that will sort of get it. But then what they don't have that we have is we came through some shit to get here. You know, we knew what it felt like or we know what it feels like to need something. Not want, but to actually need something. These kids don't know what it means like to need anything

Grace: Yep, I agree.

Ceata E. Lash: or to not know or to be like, you know, mom and dad got me. And now they don't want to leave because they don't want to leave the nest. Because what we got going on is a lot better than what they could have starting out. So they're like, you know what? I'll just, mom and dad got it. I'm chilling, I'm all right.

Grace: Yeah, yeah. I'm chilling. I love it. All right. Yeah, go ahead.

Emmanuel: And it makes me wonder though, how do you deal with that though? How do you deal with going from a need mentality, right? Need based where I need to solve my needs to a want, now I've got my needs met. Cause I mean, you mentioned that you made millions, you had an idea and you went from this is a carpenter piece of wood to making millions, right? That's huge growth. That's success. Do you feel successful, like a success?

Ceata E. Lash: I don't know. It's really hard, and I think that's another thing within black culture, to be proud of yourself. You know what I mean? To be like, damn, I did this. I was doing an interview with somebody, and they were like, just kind of list out your accolades for me and list out what you've accomplished over the years, and I started listing the stuff, and then I was like, oh yeah, I forgot about that. Oh yeah, I did that too. And this was a white woman, she was like, dang! Aren't you tired? And I was like, you know, I think it's one of those things to where when you're always like starting behind the team, when it comes to black business, you're always you're constantly running and hustling and it's just marking. It's just checking the box and going on to the next thing. So you don't have you don't do a lot of recognizing your accomplishments. And then too, we have a hard time, I know, I was raised with a mother was like, don't think that you're better than anybody else. That was one of those things that I could hear ringing in the back of my head. Well, I know where that comes from for her generation, but it's like this, it's a real, like there's a difference between humility and ego. And it's like, I've never been egotistical, but damn, can I get a, I'm proud of you every now and then, you know? So.

Grace: Yeah, no, it's true. Yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: You're about to make me cry now, so I'm not gonna, we're not gonna do that. But that's how, it's really weird. It's really, it's a weird place.

Business and Family

Ceata E. Lash: And then being a woman, like we can open up therapy right here. But being a woman who, I'm married, and because of what I've done and accomplished, I'm not trying to emasculate him. You know what I mean? I love him to death. This is a, this is a we thing. So, but it's a, it's a real thing. And a lot of these, a lot of, you know, couples that run businesses, especially when it's a business that the wife kind of led, you know, started as the leader in it, but, and a lot of us don't make it through.

Grace: Yeah. Well, we were actually just talking about the whole family business aspect. So I can't even imagine how it is difficult to navigate the two. And so I completely understand.

Emmanuel: And that is a difficult thing. Yeah, we deal with a lot of female founders, especially on the agency side that we run. And a lot of them are dealing with that. You've built a successful business, but you're, and now you might be the primary breadwinner in the house, that changes dynamic. And as a man, I could tell you, that's hard for me to think about. Like wait, it's my job to be the provider. And that is what my identity is built around, protect, provide, and profess. Right.

Ceata E. Lash: That's all black men. That's all black, especially black men that were the first to do, you know, first to go to college, first to, you know, achieve this within the armed services or the first to be SVP of this, you know, and it's like, it's hard to, and imagine on your side to like, okay, I am not, I'm not, does the world view me as her, not side piece, what is that? Her, her arm candy, right? 

Emmanuel: Yeah, I'm the eye candy.

Grace: Yeah, arm candy, sidekick. Yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: Right. And it's like, no. And it's like, even if you're just this, I just need, I need you to be my rock, my cheerleader and let's get this and let's go. That doesn't make it any, that doesn't make anybody stronger or weaker. Cause that's, I would not be here if it was not for him. Because I'm a pool of mess a lot of times. But then our kids are in the business now and that's a weird thing too, because I was the main one, like, you ain't gotta go to college, you got the internet, you got the world at your fingertips, you can travel, you don't have the fear that I grew up with that don't leave the hometown and all of that. You could do and be whatever, but then they were like, okay, cool, we ain't going to college.

Grace: Can we have that conversation one more time? Can we run that back?

Ceata E. Lash: Oh, well, whatever. Right. But then I had emails like, OK, no, I'm not going to eat my words. Let me stand by my words. But at the same time, helping them, I really need to talk to them and say, well, what do you see? Because you're in this business with us. But I think I'm always moving at the speed of Ceata and I don't slow down to say, OK, what, is this, where do y'all see this? Because we can, this can be a legacy thing, legacy thing, not PuffCuff, I'm selling that. I'm getting my coins for that. But we have other parts of the business that technically they could take over. And you know, so it's some conversations that have to happen.

Grace: 100%. And... Yeah. You're fine. I mean, we can, we can. 

Emmanuel: What do you recommend? Sorry, can I jump in one more, Grace? I'm so curious because we, yeah, we, we had the debate on a previous episode about family business and we're on opposite sides of the coin here. So I'm curious because you not only have a family business you're running with your husband, but you now bring your kids into it. Uh, do you believe in, do you agree with the idea of having family and business? Cause Grace agrees with it. I tell everyone run. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, do not have a family business. What do you say? Which side of the fence are you on with family business? Do you recommend it or not recommend it?

Ceata E. Lash: This is the first time anybody's asked me that question. And I'm thinking on it.

Grace: And so we're clear, Emmanuel, my version of it is with stipulation. It still is with like, here's the advice I would give if you decide.

Ceata E. Lash: I think it's hard to work with family. Now, when I say family, this is literally who came from my womb. So we're not talking about my sisters and cousins and stuff like that. We're not talking about that. Now, would I hire them, I heard that, would I hire them in a pinch if they needed? I always would want to give the opportunity, but I don't know if they, like I really wanted to go into business with my sister, my younger sister, but I know that it probably would have never worked because we're too different. But I'm not gonna say I don't advise it. I just say go in eyes wide open and you have to be very, very clear and probably have those conversations that are not gonna be easy with the folks that are family, but you just know you can't work with. So, yeah. Because I have a son that's been fired. How many times has Jayden been fired? I know I fired him at least three times. So now, because we have the two businesses, we have PuffCuff and then we have Myden Smalls. So Myden Smalls is the 3PL that we have is a boutique, boutique ecom fulfillment services. And that's what my husband owns. So the one son, he can't work for me in PuffCuff anymore. And he is my mini me with ADHD, I got OCD and ADHD and a little bit of dyslexia in there. But I already know we cannot work together at all, but he works better for his dad and his brother and I'm cool with that. But boundaries, yes.

Grace: Yeah, yeah. Boundaries. Yeah, yeah, I agree. That's it. 

Ceata E. Lash: definitely boundaries in order to continue to love each other because otherwise, ooh.

Emmanuel: Boundaries. Tell us how you... That is powerful. Can we dig in that just a little bit more? I'm sorry, guys, I know we got... And Ceata let's respect your time. Do you mind if we go over a little bit? Is that a... 

Ceata E. Lash: Oh, not at all. It's Saturday. Y'all caught me on a great day.

Emmanuel: Yes, thank you. We're honored and appreciative. But boundaries is loving each other. I bet there's a lot of people that would never make that, who just would not see those two things going together, that by setting boundaries, you're loving. Can you talk more about that? Like, how does that work? Especially in your business, how does setting boundaries allow you to maintain the love of the family members?

Ceata E. Lash: I can give you this example of my philosophy with church. Okay, this is probably, well, some folks are probably gonna come after me on this one, but I purposely, cause I know how I am. And I don't look at everybody through rose colored glasses, but sometimes you want to keep that. Do you know what I mean? Keep that vision or that picture that you have of that person in your head. I do not join long-term ministries because when I have found myself in long-term ministries, you start to see sides of people that you really don't want to see. And because some other stuff might, they may be manifesting within that ministry. I do ministries where I can come in, you need me to help for the day, boom, I'll do it. I'll hand out some candy, I'll work with the homeless, I'll do that. But I don't need to be on the planning committee. I don't need to be on the steering committee. I don't wanna be on, I don't wanna be in the choir for long because people are human. And those sides of people that may not be as pleasing or palatable or whatever, I don't want to have that cloud my judgment and I know it's gonna affect me in some type of way. So I'm like, you know what? I need to, I have to be able to gel with people who are like-minded and people who are passionate. And it's not that everybody's passion is gonna be the same as mine, but it's almost about that culture too. Because just because we were born from the same mother does not mean we have the same mindset, doesn't mean that even our personalities are the same or our desires are the same. And I always say that, you know, you can pick your friends but you can't pick your family. So you're not always gonna get, you know, always gonna be able to gel with that family aspect. So I know I kind of went all around but that's my whole thing is I don't, And when it's an external person, I mean, I should say when it's a family member, I wanna continue to love you. And that's more important than you being in the business. And if I succeed, you're gonna succeed with me, it's all gonna be together, but it's okay. It's okay if you don't, if you're not, if you're not lockstep with me on all of this when it comes to the PuffCuff, it's okay. Cause I can find somebody who will be lockstep. But I'd rather you say I can't do it or I'm not, this is not for me, then we struggle at the relationship.

Grace: Yeah. I think there's a Brene Brown quote where she says that clarity is kindness. That's always stuck with me because it's so easy to gloss over things, especially when you're in a family business and you just keep brushing things under a really lumpy rug. The sooner you can get clarity, it's tripping and falling. 

Ceata E. Lash: Even if you're tripping and falling. Right. Right, right. Tripping and falling. And then a lot of time the only person who's really hurt is you.

Grace: Yeah, exactly. So, yeah.

Emmanuel: What, what, go ahead, Grace, what were you gonna say? 

Grace: No, no, go ahead.

Emmanuel: I was gonna ask, follow on what types of boundaries do you set to help you, you know, maintain the relationship in the business?

Ceata E. Lash: So like I said, my immediate family is what works for me. I have to stop mothering at work, and that's very hard. Very, very hard. My oldest two, right, it's a big deal. My oldest two are 20, and...First of all, trying to get used to the fact that they are becoming young adults. I'm not saying men because they're young men. They're not men until they have their own benefits and they can pay for their own dental and their own, right. So they off of all of my plans. But, it's coming, but they ain't there yet. But so I had to realize, I really had to reflect on my relationship with my mom and be like, okay. What is it that just like totally like, you know, moms and daughters, you have that sandpaper really, you know, sometimes that I had to realize, okay, am I being annoying? Am I mothering too much? These are actually young men. Am I, am I, you know, invalidating them by talking to them in certain ways? I had to check myself. And that's still constantly a work in progress to tell you that God's honest truth. The other thing is being able to let Jesus take the wheel when it comes to my mouth and being able to know how to say, get what I need but not say it in a way that is going to come across negative or hurt someone. How to phrase it to where it's like that, it's a Jedi mind trick. I'm still learning but that's the two things, two major things. It's just really... And then stop trying to save people. As I think that's part of the reason why our generation, the generation of our kids, my kids, are not as tough as they could be, is because, or have thick of skin, is because I was always, you know...wear your helmet, don't do this, be careful, stop, don't do that, do that. And it's like, you need some bumps and some knocks and some scars in order to grow up and be able to handle your own. So that's some other things that I'm like, okay, if that brother don't get up on time, why am I up here? It's time to get up, are you gonna be at work? What time are you gonna? But... Okay, maybe he needs to find, he needs the consequence of you don't get paid for the week because you didn't make it or you, you know, so stop trying to save people from themselves.

Grace: Yeah. What I love about your story is that such a common thread throughout it is this idea of legacy. You know, it started from your grandmother's legacy and you started this business and then it's like you're bringing it with the with bringing in your twins and your kids into the whole business. It's like you're also leaving them a legacy. And the fact that they grew up watching mom in business, watch mom and dad in business already was shifting their mindset. Like you said, we had to deal with need when we were young, when we were just kids. Like you said, same here, our parents provided all of our needs, but for our wants, it was about hustling. You got the babysitting side hustle, you found the things that could get you the things that you wanted, your snack bar money and all that. But for your kids, you've created this legacy where now they are in that space. And I just love that.

Founder Rounder

Grace: I want to say, because I know we only have a few minutes left, I want to save some time for you to be able to ask us some questions. So if there's anything that you've been encountering within your business now that you're 10 years in, or even something that you want to just talk through, what would you guys have done five years ago? Whatever it is, if you have any questions for us.

Emmanuel: Or even just something you're curious about. Yeah.

Grace: Or something you're curious about, yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: My biggest challenge right now is working capital and new customer acquisition. And they're directly related to each other. New customer acquisition has been an issue ever since the iOS update for us. It's new customer acquisition within my Shopify store. Amazon is a totally in a totally different beast, but it's easier for me to get customers on Amazon and Amazon knows that. So that's why Amazon is taking the chunk that they take. But that's, I would like to know what you guys are doing to maneuver around that, because it's, it's a common thread in consumer product goods right now and being up against them. Everybody's changing, kind of like tightening up the wallet on everything.

Grace: Yes, yes. Yeah, that was a good question. I think I'll let Emmanuel start with that one.

Emmanuel: Oh man, I don't have a good answer for you. Or at least one you can like. Ha ha ha.

Grace: Yeah, okay, I can start. So I feel like, like you said, this is like a global, like reset, almost like a global recession. Everyone is tightening their wallets. Every company, every founder that I speak with is having a similar issue, whether between new customer acquisition or even just repeat purchases. Everything has gone down in terms of sales and revenue and people in selling. I remember a friend of mine actually just called this season a daily bread season. You know, we're in that season where it's like, we just need this day our daily. We need the sales our daily, our daily sales, you know, like we can't even look at five years. 

Ceata E. Lash: I'm gonna get that as a t-shirt. I'm gonna sell that. Shoot, this is a daily bread season, yes. Ha ha ha.

Grace: It just, and so mine is more of an encouragement than it is a solution 100% because it's not just the consumers that are tightening their wallets. We got banks that are tightening their wallets. There are loan sharks that are tightening their wallets right now. Like it's really hard to get your hand on working capital. You basically just hit on, I feel like what's for the e-commerce brand at large, what the big problem is, which is new customer, or just like I said, whether it's just new customers or current customers and then the working capital. And so it's more of an encouragement to keep going. Because I just sense that right now is a daily bread season. And I bet you have the things in your pipeline for 2024. I just feel like there's so much hope for 2024, but it's like, we just got to get to 2024. I know.

Ceata E. Lash: That's what we felt about 2023. And I was like, woo, if you hadn't told me in the 10th month of 2023, I was still gonna be like, hmm, we gonna make payroll? You know? So it's like, whoa, okay. And, but then you have to, like you said, Grace, be positive about it and look at the blessings because there's a lot of us that aren't here anymore that are just like, I had to stop and go back to work. And then I'm not trying to go back to work at 50. I don't even know what I would do. You know, there's no place for me to go back to work.

Grace: Yeah. No. Yeah. No. It's keep moving forward. Keep moving forward right now. And there's, and remember there's, there's this natural, um, remedy person that I just started following on TikTok. Uh, but she has, and I'm sure you've probably even heard of her. I think her name is Barbara O'Neil, but she has all these little tips and tricks and talks about all these natural remedies. And she said that in one of her clinics, someone asked her what, one of my doctors said that my pancreas is dead and she interrupted him and she said, is it gangrene? She said, if there's still blood flowing through your pancreas, there's life. 

Ceata E. Lash: Life in there somewhere, right.

Grace: And so the life of a business is cash. And so if there's still revenue at all coming in, there's life, you know, there's still life. So keep going. There's no...There's no stopping, you know, even if it's not what it was in 2020, it's not what it was in 2021, it's not even what it was maybe last year. It's okay. Keep going. There's blood flowing through the veins. And so I don't have a, like I said, Emmanuel would probably have a more concrete tactic than just an encouragement, like what I'm giving, but just know that I'm there with you. And if there's still blood flowing in your veins or cash coming in, you still have life in the business.

Ceata E. Lash: And that, I'm sorry, go ahead, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel: Yeah. No, you go ahead, please.

Ceata E. Lash: I was gonna say that just, that gives me some solace right there, because then that's what I've been telling, because there's been a lot of, I've been telling other entrepreneurs of black small businesses that are saying the same thing, it's like, do not feel like you're an island of one, because this is happening to all of us. And the sad thing is, you know, the George Floyd guilt is running out and they're just, you know, and it's a sad thing. It's very sad that even had to be the catalyst for, you know, but we all knew it was coming. We all knew it was gonna not gonna last forever, right? So, but I think our strength is in our, our strength is in our numbers. And I still feel like there's food at the table for everyone to eat.

Grace: Yeah, same. I agree.

Ceata E. Lash: But we have to do a better job at being there for each other as brands, as collaborations. And like even this, for instance, there's collaborations and then there's revenue generating collaborations. So I think that we need to be more strategic and more open to banding together because there's still money, even though it's tight, the people that got money still got money, period, period.

Grace: Yes. Yeah. 100%. Yeah.

Emmanuel: And not just that everyone still has money. We're not all homeless. It's really, it's not that we have, we're spending less, we're just spending more, more wisely, right? Because we still have to spend, we still got to pay the mortgage. So all this happening is we're just being very deliberate with what we are purchasing. So we're just not as frivolous, right? So there's money out there. 

Ceata E. Lash: Exactly. That's so true. So true.

Emmanuel: And that's the thing to remember. And that's why I was saying folks aren't going to like my answer, because it's very interesting, because it's not positive and it's not what we want to hear, which is how do I raise revenue? I can't tell you that because more than likely, you probably can't. And honestly, it's happening. No, it's happening to everyone. And I can co-sign that idea like you were saying, it's not just you and it's not just us. We are struggling right now mightily in our business. And I have an agency and almost everyone, I'm on lots of sales calls, work with lots of different clients and everybody across the board is feeling it. So hopefully that alone will give some measure of comfort to folks listening like, okay, it's not just me. All right, so that's the first thing. And it's sad, but it's a sobering reality. Like just accept it, let's accept that first, right? If we can accept it, we're good. But Grace's point was very valid. If there's blood flowing into the pancreas, there's life. If there's revenue coming into the business, you can improve cashflow. Cause therein lies the answer to this problem. There are ups and downs in an economy. If there's life in your business, you just need to be very deliberate about how you use that cash. So my highest and biggest recommendation is to not focus on raising revenue. Cause what does that require? Reinvesting profits, investing in marketing, paying other people to bring you customers like Facebook or Google or TV or whatever, save your coins, y'all. Cut costs, right? Because

Ceata E. Lash: So you're right. You needed to tell us that last year. Well, last year. But that's what I say too about that looking, having that know with all to say in the good times we gotta still be preparing for the bad. Because it was so good for so long and then it got even better. And then it was like, oh, the bottom just dropped out and no one, we didn't really figure it out until it was like we were so far in it. But I 100 percent agree with you because

Emmanuel: Can I call back on what you said? I didn't need to be saying it last year. Folks needed to be listening last year. Cause I talk about cashflow nonstop. I literally have a cashflow course that I give away for free to people. I'm like, look, take the cash because of what we're talking about right now. Right? When the good times are coming. Cause even that question that people are asking, how do I fix revenue? How do I fix sales? How do I fix cashflow? How do I improve new customer? That question is really saying, how do I get back to when times were good and when growth was a certainty, right? Because really when I hear that question, it's like, wait, what are you comparing it to? Your sales are low right now compared to when, because like you said, Ceata back in the day when you were starting this business 10 years ago did not exist. So how are sales low? They were lower at some point, you know, and I'm not saying that to you.

Ceata E. Lash: Right. Yeah, you're right. I get it. I get it.

Grace: Mm, that's good. That's good. Well, even during the Indiegogo, you said the Indiegogo campaign, you didn't make that much, right? Compared to what? Because I bet it was a lot at that time. I bet it was a lot. It's a good point.

Ceata E. Lash: You know what, my, and this is a thing of me also, this is a growing up thing. I had to stop comparing myself to other folks. Well, this particular brand made this, this particular brand is on TV, this particular brand is this, that, and the other. And it's still, you know, I have to, I had to shift my mentality instead of being slightly, not slightly, greatly envious or jealous, I had to be like, you know what, this, let me give them their claps and their praises and congratulations and I'm happy for you. And then I also had to realize that there's a lot of smoke and mirrors out there and there's a lot of smoke and mirrors. And it's like, you know what? I refuse to be that. My thing is I'm a B, I can tell you, you don't, you don't, you start, that can be a mind trick and you will end up being so hard on yourself thinking that you're the only one that's not achieving when it's like, no, people can make things look a certain way, but what's really happening on the inside.

Emmanuel: Yeah, can we, I love it. Thank you for asking that question. I hope folks got a lot out of that answer about comparison. What I'm, I wanna make sure we give you time to share what you're offering, like what you guys are doing. We wanna make sure we drive, we support you. Like you said, the only way we're really gonna make it out of this is if we support each other. So everybody listening, pop on, you know, we're gonna give Ceata a minute to tell us what she's got going on so that you guys can go and give her the support that she needs and the help. But please remember y'all, this is not the pandemic, this is not quarantine anymore, which artificially inflated sales for us, right? That's what we need to understand. We had, I think it's something like 20 to 30% more revenue that we literally just pulled sales forward from this year and last year into the pandemic quarantine time, y'all. So we should have expected to pull down, focus on cutting costs right now to get in line. We've just reset, that's all we've done, right? So lower your costs that you added in.

Ceata E. Lash: Thank you for not saying pivot. I'm so sick of that word.

Emmanuel: Okay, no, this is not about pivoting. This is about cutting, being very disciplined about it. Right. And so that is the encouragement I want to give to everybody. You will figure it out. You just need to focus on what is working. So this is your email marketing, your repeat purchases, bear hugging your existing customer base, going live every day, getting on zoom calls, calling people one to one, go back to the basics of what worked. This is not the time for trying out let's do a Hulu ad, let's do TV advertising. Let's try. This is not the time for that. Yep, employee. 

Ceata E. Lash: because they are all coming for you. All of those folks are coming and it's like, because they know we're all desperate.

Emmanuel: Yeah, the employees that you hired during the quarantine pandemic, more than likely, some of them got to go. Let's just be real. Because all that money, think about it. We are founders. We're entrepreneurs. Every dollar you're putting into one of your employees' pockets, or an agency's pocket, or a contractor's pocket, is a dollar that could have gone into your pocket. So with that, Ceata, how can we support you and get some more dollars in your pocket?

Ceata E. Lash: So two things. The first thing, I'm going to end on the most important thing. The first thing that we're offering right now is it's HBC Homecoming Season. HBCU Homecoming Season is what I should say. So we are actually, we have a coils and care kit HBCU edition. Um, it's specifically what we're doing is we are, you know, every, all these kids now have these NIL deals. Um, well, HBCU kids, even though I'm not an HBCU grad, but being down in, in Atlanta, you know, it's black Mecca and HBCU, HBCU everything. Um, these NIL deals are not getting, um, I'm sorry, these HBCU athletes are not getting tapped by brands for NIL deals. So.

Grace: Can you just spell out what NIL stands for just first?

Ceata E. Lash: NIL is name, image and likeness. So ever, you know, you, Emmanuel, you could speak to more of the whole thing. It's just like, right, all of that, because it wasn't open to, you couldn't do it as a student athlete. And then the, you know, whatever, right, right. They weren't allowed to get paid, yes.

Grace: Licensing and all that, yep. Yep.

Emmanuel: Yeah, like sponsorship deals being an influencer. Yeah, they weren't allowed to get paid.

Grace: Yep, sponsorship, exactly. Yeah, yeah.

Ceata E. Lash: But even then when those deals, when it became that they could, you know, that they allowed them to get paid, kids of HBCU students, HBCU athletes are not getting that exposure and the brands are not coming to them. So PuffCuff has recruited 10 athletes from different HBCUs to be brand ambassadors for the brand, for the PuffCuff. So we just launched it today. It's actually like a back to school kit. So you can take care of your natural hair and all that. And then they were tying in the HBCUs and we're using HBCU athletes and doing NIL deals with them.

Grace:I love it.

Ceata E. Lash: So that's the first thing. The second thing is we're about to raise. We're doing another crowd fund. We're doing it on WeFunder actually. So that will launch officially next week, but look for, you know, follow us on LinkedIn, go to the website, you know, opt into our email, but we are looking to raise some capital to get us kind of like a bridge between here and the end of Q, the end of 2024 to, you know, reset. Like you said, we've got some new products that we want to launch because I haven't been able to, tooling and all of that, it's expensive. And that's the other thing is people don't know when you have a product versus a consumable, that's a whole nother ball game in terms of how the expenses are. But we're getting ready to launch a new, a new product that is for silkier textures, those that still equally hate the rubber band. And then we're getting ready to redo our packaging and we have some new retail partners that we just need to, we have the agreements, but we just need the capital to get the inventory and get the ball rolling.

Grace: Yeah. Awesome. Yeah. 

Emmanuel: Nice. So lots of ways to support. We're on it. We got you, Ceata. Thank you. And we're grateful you joined us on the Journey to an Eight Figure E-commerce Business podcast. We will talk to y'all later. Bye.

Ceata E. Lash: All right, thank you so much. Thank you, this was great.

Grace: Awesome. Thanks, Ceata.


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