Building Trust: Cory and Nicol Varona of OCOA Beauty Tell Their Story

Emmanuel: All right. Welcome back to the Journey to an Eight Figure E-commerce Business podcast. I'm Emmanuel Eleyae your host and CEO of Eleyae Systems. And I'm joined with my co-host today, Grace Eleyae, CEO and founder of, who also happens to be my sister. And we are both joined by the magnificent, the opulent, the original, the ma, the fantastic and personable, extremely personable, Cory and Nicol from Ocoa Beauty. Welcome guys to the podcast. How are you?

Nicol: Hola thank you so much for having us. Bien, muy bien, ustedes.

Cory: Hola!

Grace: Hola, como estas? Como estan? 

Cory: Muy bien!

Grace: Well, welcome, welcome.

Emmanuel: Well, yeah, welcome. 

Cory & Nicol’s Background/Why They Started OCOA

Emmanuel: Let's get it started. Would you love, would love to hear from you guys, what got you into business and how the business is going.

Grace: And what you do, of course. What your business is, what the business is. Who wants to start?

Emmanuel: Yes, and what the business is, yes.

Nicol: Yeah. Cory, La Hermana Mayor, would you like to get started?

Cory: Absolutely. So I'm Cory. I'm the older sister and I'm one of the co-founders of Ocoa. It's my sister, I, and Nicol and I. And so Ocoa is high-end curly hair care for the self-loving curly women. And we inspire our products by the Dominican Republic. And we technically started this whole idea of creating curly hair care because our own struggles with our own curly hair, growing up with the mentality that our hair was pelo malo or translated to bad hair. And growing up with that society pressure that you would look more professional, you look more elegant if you had straight hair. So it wasn't until later on in our 20s that we decided to transition to our naturally curly hair. And when we actually started to explore products and we got really curious that that's when the idea literally came up, when we just decided to say, this is something about it, let's create something better for curly hair. And it was just all inspired by our own story and our finding better curly hair products that were cleaner, that was also inspired in our island and that brought that sisterhood, the fact that we're sisters creating this together and helping other sisters embrace who they're born to be is the main mission behind Ocoa

Grace: I love it. What year did you say you started?

Nicol: So, we started in...

Cory: So we launched it and, oh, go ahead.

Nicol: No, I was gonna say we started in 2021. So we were actually under a different brand, but name, but we're, yeah, we've been in business for two years. Yeah.

Grace: Very cool. Okay. So then go ahead, Emmanuel.

Emmanuel: Nice, I was just gonna ask, in two years, y'all have been on a rocket ship then, because you're successful. At least I think so, and that's my big question, do y'all feel like you're a success?

Nicol: I think we're getting there. That's a great question. Yeah. That's a great question.

Cory: That's a great question.

Emmanuel: Hmm, right, now we're going right into it. We're just opening it up, going deep.

Cory: Yeah! Well I would say that, you know, the fact that we changed names and we saw the two businesses technically and really quickly and having like, you know, we started with one name in 2021 and nine months in business, we decided that we were going to change the name and we were going to re-brand and that took technically 15 months to do. And we launched with Ocoa in this year, like technically March of 2023. So it was kind of running two businesses at the same time, but the first business was definitely slower. And then we launched Ocoa and we prepare ourselves. We had a better branding, we had a better messaging, we had a better packaging. And all of that in the last seven to eight months, it's been like amazing. The growth has been exponentially and it has been totally successful but it took a little bit to get there. People don't know the other side of the story. You know, like Emmanuel said, he sees the success, but it took some steps to get to where we are right now.

Grace: Yeah, and that's kind of what we want to talk about, are the steps. So what's your background? Before you came, decided to go into business for yourself. I can start with you, Nicol, la hermana menor, I'm guessing. Okay. What's your background? What were you doing before you guys launched Ocoa?

Nicol: Yes, that's right. Yeah, so yeah, I'm Nicol. I'm la hermana menor, so the little sister. And I just wanted to add a little bit of more context of how we got started. And this is a great question, because it kind of leads me into that. But back in 2018 or no 2017, we both went through like big personal transformations. So like I moved out of my house and in Latino household, it's kind of like, you know, not very common to move out when you're not getting married. So for me, I was like, okay, I'm moving out, I'm going to follow, you know, the American kind of lifestyle, which is not really what Latinos do. And Cory had just gotten married and so obviously she had moved out as well, so it was like very discovery, you know, I went in through this like wellness, just lifestyle change, transformation, like, and started with my hair. I started learning YouTube, you know, researching, loving, you know, starting to embrace my curls because one day I literally woke up and I was like, what happened to my curly hair? My hair is fried. Like it's completely fried from straightening my hair so much and then using the flat iron, which really damaged my hair. So I started to research and I finally found out about the curly haircut. So that's when it kind of got me started. I went to see a curly hair specialist. They told me all about what products to use. And then I started researching about products and then looking in the back of the products, the labels, and started reading those labels and kind of getting really curious about what exactly people are using in these curly hair products. And then I told Cory about it, she started to kind of get into it, she got a curly haircut, and then we were both doing it together. So every day it was like, well, so what are you doing for your hair? What are you using? Like, what's going on? What did you learn today? So it was a very interesting year because we were both learning and we got curious. And then Cory went and started to research and found out that you can become a natural hair formulator which is what she did. And so she started to formulate at home and I would try the products on my hair. And the other reason why we got curious was because we found ourselves using a ton of products to get really good results. And we didn't wanna do that because it went from having to go to the hair salon for eight hours to then doing it at home with all this big routine and big things that you don't really have time for anymore. So we wanted to simplify that and so when we started to create, we were like, we really just want a good curl cream and a good gel. And that's what really started everything. And back in 2018, then we started to look for a manufacturer where like these samples that Cory was creating were really, really good. So we were like, you know what? I think we can actually share this with other people. And we really started to look into the idea of bringing these products to like market and then, you know, the rest is history. And I think we focused so much on the formula and like testing the product that we really just forgot or really didn't think about the branding or didn't really like invest in it because we were just, you know, trying it out and just seeing where it went and in reality, we didn't really set out to start a curly hair brand and we never would have, would have ever thought about it. We've always talked about starting a business together, but we never really knew that it was gonna be haircare. So your question of like where we started, like we both went to school for business and Cory focused in finance and I focused on marketing and management. So we kind of ended up kind of being the perfect match to start a business. Yeah, and I've been in corporate world doing marketing. Cory had been in the corporate world doing finance. So we kind of already had that sense of business, but obviously starting into the beauty industry that has been very, very different from what we actually have been, kind of the experience that we've gotten. Like, yes, it's marketing, but it's not really for, for beauty, but now obviously we've been into, you know, doing it for two years. So it feels like we kind of know what we're doing, but I don't think we were, you know, climbing, getting there, almost there. And I think it's just, we're gaining the momentum because we did focus on going back and kind of bringing more of like the big inspiration and the heritage to Ocoa, which is where we are now.

Grace: Yeah, no, that's great. And honestly, we always talk about the fact that if you're doing it right, entrepreneurship, and Emmanuel says this a lot, there's no roadmap and there's no one who's done it before you because you are, even if there are other haircare brands, there's no Ocoa, and so I think that's awesome. 

Family Dynamics in Business

Grace: So yeah, Cory, so tell me a little bit about, let's talk about the family business dynamic. So how is it? Because yeah, right? That's, we have some war stories. There's some highs and lows for sure, but I'd love to hear from you. I'll start with Cory, just to see how you guys manage the sister dynamic and then also the business partner dynamic.

Emmanuel: Let's get into it. It's what the people want to hear. Yeah.

Cory: Yeah, and that's hard. And I think it's something that every day we're working towards, right? Like we're working on getting better. When we started, I wanna say like when we started since day one, since the first day we said we were gonna do a business, we felt overwhelmed because we were kind of like stepping on each other's toes and we were like all over the place because we were just trying to figure out like what we were doing, right? So as we got more into the business, we started to identify, okay, these are my strengths and these are my weakness. This is Nicol's strengths and this is her weakness. And this is what we're gonna focus, right? So I think it's been a learning lesson. Like it's been, you know, just identifying what we wanna work on, what makes us excited. And it's funny because the other day, something that happened that was like related to marketing and social was not allowing Nicol to sleep. And then the other day it was something about production that was not allowing me to sleep. And we're like, at least we're sleeping, we're not sleeping about different topics, right? Like you don't sleep about something, you don't sleep about something else. So like that was actually, we laughed about it. It was issues that we were dealing with, but we were just laughing about it. And I think we're gotten better about the sister dynamic. That's something that's still like, we're working towards because we're on the way or we're like together driving to getting somewhere and we're talking about business. And then we bring in a little bit of chisme. You know what chisme is like, you know, talking about like stuff, sister talk, like on the way, but it's fun. I feel like in a sense, Nicol and I are so connected. We're not twins. Everybody thinks sometimes that we're twins, but we're not. And it's like, we're so in sync because we have gone through the same thing. So we found that one business, that we're both passionate about, that we're so in tune, that it's easy for us to literally say, because we're doing anything that it takes to grow the business and to make it successful. So we understand that we need to check on each other, but at the same time, allow that person to take ownership of whatever task that we're doing. So I think I'm proud to say that we're gotten a lot better. There's always room for improvement. But it's good to work with someone that, there's days where I feel bad, where Nicol cheers me up, and there's days where she feels bad when I can go and send her a message and say, hey, let's stay together, let's do this together, and I cheer her up too. So I'm so happy. And I wouldn't be able to do Ocoa by myself if it wasn't together, Ocoa would never be a thing. So I think this has to be a sisterhood no matter what.

Grace: I love it. What do you think, Nicol? How's that dynamic been?

Nicol: That's right. Yeah, I would say the same. Yeah, I would say the same thing. Like we're definitely have gotten better. I think it was hard because we were both so like we're both so passionate about it, that we felt like we had to do it all. But in the end, we're like, we're just wasting energy focusing on all the same issues. Let's, let's, you know, focus on like, your strength, like Cory was saying, like, I focus on the marketing, you focus on the operations, and then we come together and talk about things. But I think the number one thing that I would say for anybody who's thinking about starting a business or even does business with their family is the main thing is that you have to trust that partner, co-founder, whoever that person is, you have to trust that person. Like in any other relationship, you know, it's like business is like marriage like whoever you're going into business with like you really have to trust that person because otherwise It's just not gonna work Like you really have to be connected You really have to kind of trust that the other person is gonna do what they have to do And then when you come back together it works Well, because you're both passionate about the same, you know end goal, which is getting to the next level next, you know Milestone, so I think that's the main thing that I would say it have you have to trust each other and I don't know what you and Emmanuel have to share, but you've been in business for longer than us. So I would say, I don't know if that kind of resonates with you guys.

Emmanuel: It is, and I was about to say like, okay, now we did the nice stuff. That's so wonderful. That's nice. Can we get real now? Can we get real, y'all? Can we talk? Because literally we had this debate, Grace and I, and I wanted, yeah, it's the safe space. We're in the safe space. We were having this debate because she was asking, the question came up. Would you do family and business again? And I was like, no, not just no, but no way. Never gonna do it again.

Nicol: Yes, of course.

Emmanuel: And Grace is like, yeah, absolutely. And we're literally on opposite side of the fence fences. And I'm just curious, like, and this is where we came to was like, if we're going to do it, there was some caveats. I can't remember what they were now, but it was like, if you're going to do it, I think it's like what you said, Nicol, you have to really trust the person. And I even were saying, you have to be willing to paper it up like document and literally like set very clear boundaries. And one of the other founders we interviewed, Ceata, she mentioned having boundaries, that boundaries equals love, actually, which I found a fascinating thing, right? It helped by establishing, no, you cannot do this, or no, you will not do that. You're actually loving someone because you're protecting yourself enough, which I thought was fascinating. And I know we didn't do that as well as we could have. So, we like to say that, yeah, yeah. So like, have you guys, what has the struggle been? You know, being, because there's gotta be some downsides, yeah.

Nicol: That's right. That's so true.

Grace: Yeah, especially in the beginning. Yeah.

Nicol: We're working on those boundaries now.

Grace: Yeah, the points of conflict. Yeah, where's the friction? Where do you find the friction tends to happen?

Nicol: The point of conflicts. I think it's sometimes when like we're both, oh, no, I was just gonna say it, when we're both kind of like trying to tackle the same issue and like, again, like putting so much energy on the same stuff and then you end up saying like, oh, but I'm doing that. And then there's a person's like, oh no, of course, like, but I'm also doing that. So it's kind of like disappointing because you feel like the other person kind of like is not really trusting that you're gonna get it done or it's not gonna work, you know. So I think that's just, that's been the main issue, but I feel like this year we've really have, you know, worked on that because we knew that we couldn't keep that, you know, up if we wanted to go to the next level, especially because I think it was mostly because we were running two brands at the same time. We were doing the old name and nobody knew that we were rebranding. We had to go through the process and it's like, and then we had this whole new brand coming and then we also have to focus on keeping the other brand afloat because obviously we already had customers, we were still building the community, but also keeping those people happy and then focusing on the next stage, which was the rebrand. So I think because we had so much going on, we kind of felt like we were overwhelmed. And again, if you don't set those boundaries, you really burn yourself out and then it's like you don't have the energy to really focus on the things that matter. So I think this year, like we've had so many conversations about that. Like we're like oh no, we really need to get better at setting boundaries. And we've gotten so much better in like working on having like, you know, like a project management kind of platform, like Asana or something like you're even your Google calendar. Like we got Calendly this year. We were like, okay, let's not waste more time trying to schedule things. Like we really need to be more efficient. And I think those little things that we kind of did, and we just lit like minor upgrades really helped us to kind of set those boundaries and make ourselves more efficient and work better together. Because you really sometimes, you just need the tools to do it. Like Calendly, you need Asana boards. You need these things to keep you organized because otherwise you're just gonna be all over the place. And Cory, you can add whatever you think I missed.

Cory: Yeah. Yeah, I was gonna say like, we're like the boring sisters, we don't really fight like, we're like, like we really don't fight. And I think when it gets real, like if you want to have like that real conversation is the days where I'm like, Nicol, I want to quit. And then she's like, no, we're not quitting. And then you know, so like, it's like that conversation that we're having,

Nicol: Yeah, that's true.

Emmanuel: Oh, that's so good.

Cory: instead of like fighting about something I think you know, the, you know, if we get real, like Nicol and I have a very different sibling relationship. So when, you know, growing up, you know, our parents divorced, so we found a lot of comfort in each other. And we actually stayed together back home when our parents were trying to, you know, move out of the country and they were like doing their lives and my mom remarried and all that. So in that time, Nicol and I were together and we stayed with like family members. Where we actually like struggled because we were not like in one household with like one grandmother. Like we were like jumping from household to household until our parents would get their lives together. So that bond that we created where like we were like each other's like companions. It's like that trust that no, like you can't just like, you know, come up with like. You know, so I feel like that's the thing. Like I can live literally give my life to Nicol and I know she's gonna, you know, take care of it. So I feel like that type of relationship is really hard to break. So unfortunately I have no drama. We don't really fight.

Grace: Yeah. That's good. That's awesome. No, that's awesome. I think, so my,

Emmanuel: That was really good. Yeah, and I love thinking that, oh, sorry, Grace, go ahead.

Grace: Go ahead, Emmanuel. No, sorry.

Emmanuel: Yeah, I was just gonna say, I love the idea of, I will concede that there's something so wonderful about your family being in it with you. Because when you win and the business is taking off, you go home and they're right there ready to pat you on the back, celebrate, let's, look, it's not like where if you're at work, you have to explain what happened because they don't understand you know, because they don't work your job, you know, if you work a job, right. And they're just like, you have to do all this backstory to get to where it was good. And then they're like, okay, good. You know, now what's for dinner? Like, what are we, where are we going tomorrow? What are we doing? Cause they don't really relate. But when you're in it with your family, when you guys win, you win together. And that there is something that's even more magnificent about that than, you know, just doing it on your own. I think so. I'll give you that. You guys are right.

Grace: You win together. Yeah. 

Hiring Employees, Finding a Manufacturer, and Rebranding

Grace: I'm curious to know if you guys have had to hire any full time employees yet.

Nicol: Wow, that's a great question. We're in the process of doing our first hire, so we're going through that now. Yes, yes, yes. So share any tips.

Emmanuel: Watch out! Eyyy! Snaps! Congratulations! 

Grace: Yeah. Okay. There you go. Okay. Congrats. So we definitely can. What's the first position you're hiring for?

Nicol: So we are hiring for a social media and community manager. Yes.

Grace: Okay, great. Very smart. Yeah

Emmanuel: Smart. You guys are so on it. So normally that's the first thing I recommend because and we've been talking a lot about this in this series, the idea of audience and community building. There's a lot of brands that I was talking to one recently. They were like, yeah, we're thinking of starting an e-commerce business. I'm going to find a product and I'm just going to run ads to it. And it's like, oh, that's the hardest way. Because if you succeed with that business, you will be paying Facebook and ads forever and never really build an audience or brand or anything. So starting with that is great. And even into some customer service, because on the flip side, the toughest thing that gets exhausting is just dealing with negativity and that, and as a founder, you've got so much, you've got to protect your energy, you know, and it's not that the negativity is bad. You want to help people, but if you're just wading through negativity all day, that can ruin your energy, which then slows down the company. So having someone there that can be a buffer, so that at least that way they can say, okay, these I need to escalate. And the fact that it's social media, and I'd say customer service, and what did you say? Social media and what was the other one? Community manager, yes. And then you're focusing on building a community. That's the way to go. We literally were just talking with Bubba in one of the previous episodes from Give’r. That's how he built his whole brand. He didn't even wanna run ads, til they were doing more than seven figures, and they were doing several. Because I refuse, I only want to have, the only marketing I want is word of mouth. I want the products to be so good that someone else will tell another person to go buy. He was super strict with us, so that's similar. And so they've built a really strong community and that's what y'all are doing. And it's gonna work. So good job.

Cory: Yeah, I mean, we are very excited about the process. Obviously, it's a scary thing that we've never done before and we're taking our time. It's like, you know, like hire slow, fire fast kind of deal. And we want to make sure that we talk to as many people as possible. For us, we are community, we are sisterhood. The whole, the brand is surrounded about that hermandad, that sisterhood that we have created value that more than anything and you know Emmanuel knows how our community is and how strong it is so we wanted to continue to foster that and to continue to grow that community even more so for us having that as our first hire is huge but also we give it so much value because it's important for our brand.

Emmanuel: Yeah, there's one piece of advice I can give and then I'll turn it over to you Grace, is prepare for onboarding and then make delegation easy so they can win. So when they come in, already have their first 90 days mapped out, maybe not even their first 90 days, but what they're gonna do initially. And I love the idea of, I see what you guys are doing, this is a new position, so there's a risk of being like, I want someone who can come in and figure it out. That is such a, it sounds good, but it is horrible. I'm sorry to say it if anyone's doing it, because then they come in, they have no idea what they're doing. And they're like, am I winning, am I not? So if you can define for them, like these are simple tasks, as long as you get this bare minimum done every day, we're good, because then guess what they get to do? They get to come in and win and know that, hey, I knocked all these things off for today. And even if it's not everything you want, you can say, I want more than this, but at bare minimum, I want this. And that way at the very least, you're getting your money's worth out of them and they're able to succeed. To me, that is the simplest way to make sure that a hire can go well, to really increase your chances of getting a good hire and getting them productive quickly.

Nicol: I love that. Thank you for sharing that.

Emmanuel: You're welcome.

Grace: Yeah, definitely. Definitely. So I wanna be able to get to the founder rounder too, because there's probably more nuggets that Emmanuel can give. But I wanted to just ask one more question. So how did you grow your infrastructure? So if you guys are doing mostly, you guys are the two full-time employees, but you still have shipping, you have manufacturing. 

Nicol: Well, sort of. 

Grace: What do you mean, sort of, Nicol?

Nicol: I still have my full-time job, so I'm sort of not completely full-time, but yes, Cory is full-time.

Grace: Oh, got it. I love it. No, I love it because we're very clear about how we're, we're the goal for this podcast Journey to Eight Figures is anywhere along the journey. And so lots of the founders we talked to for the first two, three, four years of their business, they still had their full-time job or I think Bubba was one who said he was working two jobs, I think at the time, um, above the garage. Yeah.

Emmanuel: Yeah. And he's still living in his garage above the garage 11 years in, and they're eight figure business, big old business. And he's still driving the same 99 Bronco or whatever it is saying in the same suburban. Yeah. The same car, the same place. And he's leaving frugally. So that's smart.

Nicol: Love that. Look at that.

Grace: It's no suburban, but yeah. Yeah. No, I love it. But yeah, so how did you build your infrastructure? Are you using a third party logistics company for shipping? How did you find your first manufacturer? I'm curious to know just how have you guys so far built the infrastructure behind Ocoa? Who wants to go? Who wants to go? Should we start with Cory?

Nicol: Great. You're the operations lead. I'm going to let you take that question.

Grace: Yeah, we'll start with you, Cory. And then I'll get to, and then I'll get to how did you find your customers for Nicol? Well, let's start with, um, infrastructure. Yep.

Cory: Okay, there you go, that's perfect. So, honestly, it's been Google University. So we have Google a lot of it. And asking questions, so we are very persistent people. Like we like to ask questions, we like to ask people to help us, and I think that's something about us that we're not afraid about asking. And I think that has gotten us to the place where we are now because of that, again, like Nicol mentioned, we are not from the beauty industry. Usually someone that comes in from the beauty industry, they have networks and then they say, okay, go to this manufacturer, go to that. That's not how it worked for us. So for us, it was the other way around. I did the formulations course and thanks to that, I received some resources about ingredients where you can source ingredients, where you can do that. Obviously, doing it at home was not the...the main plan, we knew we wanted a manufacturer because we wanted the product to last more than four to six months, which is what I was making. So we wanted a manufacturer, we wanted a lab. So what we did is we started to like search around, we landed upon a catalogs directory and started calling people, calling, like literally picking up the phone and emailing people. And I'll make the story very quick, but we actually like, the whole idea started into the- towards the end of 2018, we worked with a lab that was really close to us for a whole year. And there was an incident in this lab that literally caught on fire and the production didn't happen. So the person that we were working with for that whole entire year ended up leaving the lab and we started from scratch. We started from day one again. So that was insane.

Emmanuel: Wow.

Grace: Oh my goodness.

Cory: But we were like persistent, right? We are making this happen. And I remember through that, finding a directory and looking for places. I called everywhere. I called places in Texas. I called place in California. I literally called everywhere. And until we landed this one lab that we really wanted to work with, and what I did is I went to good old LinkedIn. I found the vice president of this lab. I send her a message because we had a...connection and I said I know this person that is your friend and I'm doing this and I'm in Redding and blah blah blah and from there she read my message and she gave me the right contact and that's how I was able to land this manufacturer because every email I sent was ignored so that's the power of yeah that's the power of persistence 

Emmanuel: Wow, that's hustle right there. I love that.

Grace: That's a hustlin', that's hustlin'. Did you say Redding, California, like up north? Did you say Redding? 

Cory: No so they're here in PA.

Nicol: Yes. Redding PA. Like from, yeah. Yes. Monopoly. Redding PA. From the Monopoly game. Seriously. The Redding Station. Yeah.

Grace: Oh, Pennsylvania. Wow. Yeah. Wow. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I love it. That's persistence, okay, so that's how you found your manufacturer.

Cory: Yeah, so that's the thing. That's how we found a manufacturer. We still do fulfillment in house. So we do it here in my warehouse, which is AKA the basement. So we keep everything in house and we fulfill out of here. We have our families help us. We thankfully have figured out ways to save costs that way. And technically, you know, everything through our e-commerce platform and we have a few salons that carry us. So everything has been like learning as we go. And again, being that persistent person, thankfully what we manufacture our products now, the quality, it's amazing versus the first lab that we used to work with. So again, it's just to tell you that even though we had that block and that issue happened, that wasn't, you know, God had better plans for us, right? We just didn't see it at first, but because of that persistence.

Grace: That's awesome.

Cory: That was what led us to finding the next manufacturer and doing what we're doing now. So, yeah.

Grace: Come on. That's awesome. And so then Nicol, how then did you get your first customers and then start growing the brand? And then I also love the branding on the website, by the way, it's really elevated. I think that your packaging, all of it, looks really good. So how did you, you know, are you also a designer as well?

Nicol: I am not. So through learning, and so we were nine months into the old name, our old brand, and then we had a moment. 

Grace: What, you wanna name it? Do you know what was the name, the old name?

Nicol: So the old name was DN Organics. So that I came up with myself, which is not that great. But so DN met it. So it stood, so it was actually the combination.

Grace: Okay. I think it's great too.

Emmanuel: Yeah, you're so hard on yourself, Nicol.

Nicol: It was actually pretty hard, but it was the combination of our names. So Cory's middle name is Dahlia and my name is obviously Nicol. So it's Dahlia-Nicol Organics. And it was always shorter just to say D-N and it was more catchy, so whatever, DN Organics. So that's what we launched with. And I think one thing that Cory forgot to say was that through that learning experience, everything was obviously a blessing in disguise. Because we started with this manufacturer, ended up working with somebody better. Um, but we, the initial plans that we had back in 2018, when we had that first manufacturer was to actually launch five products and we actually created samples for five products. It was a collection of five products. So we were going to start with. And when we switched manufacturers and looked at everything that we were doing in the bigger investment that we had to make for a collection of five products, we were like, Oh no, let's take a step back, start with one and then let's go from there and start testing and seeing. And in reality, it was like the best thing that we could have ever done. Like we just thinking back on it, we were like launching with five products would have never made sense. And we were so glad that we look back at everything that we were doing and decided to launch with our curl cream, which is what we felt like was the biggest white space in the market that we can make it so much better. Okay, so 2018, we started over in 2019. Then obviously the pandemic happens, which is when we were supposed to launch in 2020. So that didn't happen. And then we obviously ended up launching in 2021. Then we were nine months into the business, doing good with two products. So we launched the curl cream in March of 2021. And then in June of 2021, we launched our gel, which was our second product. So we started with styling. And then nine months into it, and at the end of the year of 2021, we're like, oh, we're gonna rebrand. So we started over because, you know, the community was telling us that everybody loved the branding, not the branding the products, but we were like, the branding isn't great. So let's take a step back and really showcase what we're about because yes, we're about sisterhood. We're about showing our heritage, but in the old branding, none of that was coming across. So those nine months that we were testing the market, you know with not a lot of experience, was such a learning opportunity for us because we learned so much. We acquired some customers and obviously our main supporters who have always been the local people that kind of know us and then spreading the word because obviously we all know word of mouth is the best right is king so for us acquiring customers was actually another smart thing that we did at the beginning which was invest in samples which we did at the beginning and I have our samples here um so when we launched with our old brand we launched with free samples and because of the pandemic it was great because we weren't out there you know in events people had to come to our website but they can come and get free samples online. So that's a smart thing that we did and we continue to do because as Curly Women, we felt like it was always like hard to try new things. So we wanted to make it easy for our community to try things. And that was the smartest thing and how we acquire customers is basically, you know, sharing our products through those free samples. Obviously, we do, you know, our curly hair salons are another distribution channel for us. So just having those the support of, you know, very professional hair, curly hair stylists who love our brand and also kind of, you know, are the ambassadors for us to keep, you know, showing the brand in their salon and introducing it to new clients. So that's another distribution channel. And then just in-person activations, which we've done in influencer marketing, which obviously everybody does. But we've just been focused on really showcasing our community and getting the UGC content, because that's what people love.

Grace: Totally. I love it. So great. You guys have both such an amazing brand so far. 

Founder Rounder

Grace: Do you want to jump into the founder rounder, Emmanuel?

Nicol: Yeah. Thank you.

Cory: Thanks.

Emmanuel: Yeah, let's do it. Uh, so what we love, we're trying to coin this term founder rounder, right? But basically a round table where there's four founders on this, this call, right? And, uh, the folks listening could benefit from that. They're a founder, like having a founder group and we just want to model for them. Like what it's like to get support from other founders, because nobody in our lives really understands what we do if they're not also founders. So we were just thinking, maybe you can throw out a question if you have something you're struggling with, or even if you're curious about and we can throw that out to you as the same thing and we can just brainstorm ideas together for solutions. Is there anything popped to come to mind?

Grace: Yeah. Any challenges you guys are facing? Or yeah, did anything come up?

Nicol: Let's see.

Cory: Well, there's always something. I wanted to, I mean, you know, technically like one question that I think I get a lot and that I feel like now in this economy and that I hear from other founders is obviously the brand awareness. It's hard now, right? Is, you know, you have to pay for ads more. You have to, you know, overall people are more concerned about how their spending is. So what are challenges that, you know, how are you facing those things where like the economy is not on your side and people are being more aware of what they're spending, but then you want to continue to grow that brand awareness. Like what are those, what are those avenues that you're using now to make sure that, you know, you continue to hit your goals?

Emmanuel: Can you be specific which types of goals?

Cory: Yeah, so like technically, you know, overall, like how can you continue to get your name out there? Like how can you continue to have, you know, people see you without spending thousands in marketing? Because I feel like right now, as a small brand, brand awareness costs a lot more than what it did back in 2017 or 2018. I think social media, you know, the algorithm, you know, people always talk about it, like how other brands depending on their timing, it was easier to reach customers organically. But now we're faced with the fact that, awareness is way more expensive, it costs more to acquire a customer. And then facing this economic issues, you were like the economy, it's not the greatest, people are losing jobs, and then people are restricting from buying. So what are ways to continue to grow that awareness without killing your marketing budget?

Emmanuel: Yeah, I think I love the question because it's slightly different than what I normally hear. Normally it's like, I need to make sales, right? And so that's been tough, but awareness, getting awareness, actually surprisingly, that's getting easier than before. Here's what I mean by that is, and they're one and the same, getting more sales with marketing, getting more awareness, content is key, right? It's always been key, but I feel like nowadays it's even more important, especially in this TikTok generation with attention spans coming down. But if you can tell good stories and get attention from folks with your content, that matters more than anything. And you don't have to do a lot of it. And this is where I think we lost our way a little bit in the last 5, 10 years, is social media organically is all about quantity. Jab, jab, right hook. I feel built a whole generation of people who just pour out millions of pieces of content over 10 years, right? And it's just like, why you're drowned out in the noise? But having good quality content or interesting content or awareness content that you then amplify, I think actually does a little bit better now. And so you can combine the idea of like running ads, but only run ads, even just boosting organic posts that resonated and got attention, you combine those two ideas where don't just depend on organic anymore, use organic for creative testing of an idea or a concept, and then boosting that with paid amplified paid spend. Then you focus, then you're really getting attention and building awareness really cheaply by running non-conversion campaigns, right? Where you're running just like awareness campaigns. Cause that's super cheap inventory. Every e-commerce brand out there is running conversion only objective campaigns. But if you're looking for not necessarily conversions, but awareness and building brand awareness, that is such cheap inventory. And you can run them on TikTok, on Pinterest, on Snapchat, and just literally get your brand, make your brand seem like it's everywhere. Cause it's so cheap. The second piece about the economy and dealing with inflation and all that, people are still spending is a thing to remember there, is what I like to think about, right? It's like, it's not that people are not spending and that people are not making money. It's that they're just being very picky now about where they spend. Before it'd be like, sure, yeah, I'll buy it from ocoa. Why not? I'll buy it from Let's buy everything. Now it's just like, hmm, I'm gonna pick one. I'm picking one. Where am I gonna buy it? Because, yeah.

Grace: Yeah, or if they've never heard, or if they have never heard yet, or if this is the first time they're hearing about it, they might be like, I, less likely to test it, you know, like they would have in 2020. That's the only issue, right? Sorry, Emmanuel, continue, I didn't mean to interrupt.

Emmanuel: No, that's the absolute truth. And it's just a man said, it shows now we just need to, it's not that they're not buying, it's just we need to provide more value, right? And so really the key is just figuring out what is it about your brand that makes you differentiate and stand out, and what is it that makes the value seem irresistible, and then making it obvious? Because part of the problem too is, even when I look at a picture of your product on a website, if somebody just introduced me to it, it's a picture of a product. I don't really understand, like I...Like, is that gonna be great? Am I gonna? So having content, having a way to demonstrate immediately how valuable, like, I mean, y'all's curls are popping, right, on fleek, you know, is that still a thing? Are people saying that? Like, y'all slay. It's not a thing. Okay, okay. My gray hairs are popping out. Like it's becoming, I'm showing off my age. But they look good, right? And so just.

Grace: Yeah. No, that's not. No, no, that's not a thing.

Nicol: Oh man, I love it. Thank you.

Grace: Yeah, they look really good.

Emmanuel: Yeah, showing that, like having that aspirational idea, even just compared to the bot on before and afters, right? Like it used to be this, now it's that. Like I get that right away. If I'm someone who has curls that are not on fleek, I did it again and I'm not sorry about it. I did it twice. Yeah. It's. Don't be a hater. Don't hate. Congratulate. But.

Grace: Why don't you just use groovy and slammin'?

Nicol: He's committed now. He's committed to fleek.

Emmanuel: If I can see myself and I'm just like, man, I wish my curls look like that. Immediately. Now I've built that trust and it's so that's what I'm saying. Then of course, like I said, a second, it'll boost that I have the value and that's how you can get around all those issues. Can I ask you guys for your advice? Y'all are community building community and hiring community people. I'm trying to build community around Eleyae Systems and build that up. And y'all got the hermandad, any advice on building a community around that? Cause mine's not e-commerce. It's more like agency but I feel like there's still like agency owners and founders and we could build a community around. Any advice on how I could build that community?

Nicol: I think it's, I think what you're doing obviously, but maybe just like you said, just amplifying it a little bit more. Cause I don't know that people like maybe find you easily on like, you know, social media. So I think it's just showing more of what you do on social. Maybe it's just the short snippets of even your podcasts or, or talking to founders, like going live even. I feel like that's really helpful for like those type of agency kind of communications going live on social media because you get to build community. We've done that a lot the last two years is going live and really talking to those people and just sharing our insights live, monthly or quarterly or however often is needed. Because I feel like people really just need to know who they're working with. And people love to see us going live. They always bring their questions. They're always kind of interested to see what the next thing is. So I think even just sharing more of that to build community would be great for you because obviously you want to, you want those founders to know you and find you and kind of connect with you. And I think that would be a great way to do that is kind of like showing up and, you know, being live and providing, maybe you do a Q&A during a live or something like that where people can ask you questions. So I think that would be a great thing to test, which I think would be great for like, yeah, getting your name out there.

Cory: Yeah, I wanted to add, like, when we think about community building and when we think about even social, like, we want to be very intentional about what we post. And like, we always think about three things. First, we want to educate. Second, we want to inspire. And then third, we want to entertain. Right? So like, those are the three things where like people want to follow you because they know that...Yes, they'll find tips to how to like standard styling, how to wash their hair, how to take care of the scalp, but they also want to feel inspired by our story. So we're not afraid about sharing stuff. Like we share everything. If we're working on a new product, we do sneak peeks. If we're like out and about like going to events or if we're just like talking to other founders, like we always share that behind the scenes and people love that. And then...The last one is like, we want to also entertain because they're there to find, you know, things that make them happy or make them smile, make them laugh. So keeping it also in a funny way. Like the other day we did a dance, like we were getting ready for this like gala and we did a dance and that reel like literally blew up. It had like 10,000 views or something like that, like within a few hours. And it was literally just Nicol and I being silly. So like it was the, it's always the combination. So when we think about that, and also we never thought about social this way, but like we really want to make sure that we plan our social in a way that people are like, I want to continue to follow them because I'm getting a benefit from following them, right? Like I'm gaining something. So it's like how, cause right now like people want to follow you if they really are gaining, gaining something. They just don't want to follow it just to follow. So I think it's always following those three things. Those three pillars for us are very key and people find community that way. Like if you're meeting their goals that way, they're gonna continue to be in your community.

Grace: That's good. That's awesome.

Emmanuel: Thank you so much. And I jumped the gun too. I appreciate that. And Grace, what were your thoughts on the question they had? Thank you for answering mine, by the way. I appreciate the help.

Grace: Oh yeah. Yeah, no, it's good. Good stuff all around. I think you said most of it, but I would probably just add that you guys are already really good at pushing out the content that results in an emotional response. And I think that that's what gets consumers to purchase anyways, right? When they have an emotional attachment, I think my brother touched on it perfectly with the idea of creating a, I absolutely need this. This isn't just like a let me try this. It's like, no, no. My curls look like the one on the left, and I want them to look like the one on the right. I need to get, that's the way to get that is with this product. I think that you guys, with more content like that, I think you guys will begin, like Emanuel said, and then leveraging it with different actual advertising and putting money behind the content that you created. I think you'll definitely be getting customers' hand over fist.

Nicol: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you both.

Emmanuel: Yes. Thank you. So you guys have supported us. We appreciate you. Our audience is so grateful hearing your story. Thank you for sharing. How can we support you and our audience support you? Put some more coins in your pocket, get you some more customers. Where can we go to support you?

Nicol: Yeah, you can find us at Ocoa is O-C-O-A, And Ocoa Beauty on all social platforms, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok. We're trying to get better at TikTok too. But please follow us and take our curl quiz so you can try our samples and get you know and find better ways to style your curls. So yeah.

Grace: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, ladies. My goodness, this was such a good conversation.

Emmanuel: I love it. Thank you guys. And that's right, y'all go run. Run, don't walk to get the Ocoa Beauty products. Especially if you want your curls to be on fleek, be popping. Ha ha ha. 

Nicol: He's back. 

Grace: We're gonna strike that. We're gonna strike that from the record, please. Ha ha ha.

Emmanuel: This would not be removed from the edit. That is my favorite part. On fleek, yeah. Thank you guys so much for joining us. We appreciate you.

Nicol: Thank you so much for having us. Thank you.

Cory: You guys are too funny. Thank you.

Grace: Thank you so much. Awesome, this was great. Take care.

Emmanuel: Take care y'all. Goodbye.

Cory: Bye.

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