Impact Hustlers - Entrepreneurs with Social Impact

63: Creating Products for Underserved Markets - Vanessa Martins Lopes of The Wild Curl

January 05, 2021 Maiko Schaffrath Episode 63
Impact Hustlers - Entrepreneurs with Social Impact
63: Creating Products for Underserved Markets - Vanessa Martins Lopes of The Wild Curl
Show Notes Transcript

Vanessa Martins Lopes is the co-founder of The Wild Curl, a naturally curly hair care company

Highlights:

  • The trouble for naturally curly hair that has no product for them.
  • Straight hair is the good hair that was set by social media and society - the misconception of great hair.
  • The Wild Curl aims to let everyone know to be confident with their hair.
  • Dryer hair by nature, mostly difficult to manage as it is mostly tangled, different hair structures require different hair products - there is no one hair product for all hair types.
  • Seeing customers happy with their beautiful hair after using their product makes Vanessa and her fiance feel very proud.
  • Vanessa and her fiance are looking forward to expanding their business through crowdfunding, so their customers, friends and family, or sponsorships could invest and be part of their business.
  • Big hair products companies in the past do not consider more products for afro hair people but have changed recently, however people do think that the companies should do this sooner.
  • It is never a good time to start, it's always a bad time to start, it can be your excuse, but it is always like this, it is either full in or you never gonna do it.
  • Talk about your company as much as possible, to strangers, to friends - you might be surprised with the advice you get from the investors.
  • To grow the business, we must have a proper scale, as a founder there are tasks that we have to do and not queuing up in the post office.
  • Funds will be mostly used in product development, their next step is to launch three conditioners next year.


Useful Links:

The Wild Curl : https://www.thewildcurl.com/

The Wild Curl Crowdfunding campaign:
https://www.crowdcube.com/companies/the-wild-curl/pitches/bAJ7kq 

Vanessa Martins Lopes : https://www.linkedin.com/in/vanessamartinslopes/

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Maiko Schaffrath:

You are listening to impact hustlers and I am your host, Michael shuffle that I've made it my mission to inspire the next generation of entrepreneurs to solve some of the world's biggest social and environmental problems. And for this reason, I am speaking to some of the best entrepreneurs out there who are solving problems, such as food waste, climate change, poverty and homelessness. My goal is that impact hosters will inspire you either by starting an impact business yourself. By joining the team of one or by taking a small step, whatever that may be towards being part of the solution to the world's biggest problems. Speaking to Vanessa for today's episode was truly inspiring. She dropped some valuable insights into the haircare industry, showing how it is struggling to adapt to the demands of natural haircare products for Afro and curly hair. She talks about how growing up in Finland as the only black girl in a radius of many, many miles. Later inspired her to actually start this company. Vanessa challenges. The beauty ideal have straight hair, which has led to high use of toxic chemicals being used by black woman to straighten their hair. She shares how she found that the wild curl with her fiance. In her kitchen and only moved to a professional facility once she couldn't keep up with demand anymore. She talks also about how there's never a perfect time to start a business and encourage us impact driven entrepreneurs to make the leap and launched their business ideas. If you're keen to learn more. Check out their website in the show notes and the wild curl is also currently crowdfunding. So check out the link in the show notes. if you want to contribute to that and enjoy the episode.

Maiko:

In today's episode, I speak to Vanessa Martins, Lopez, founder, and CEO of the wild curl. The wild curl, develops hair care products for curly hair, with all natural ingredients and without relying on things like animal testing and any other cruelty, Vanessa grew up in Finland and not having the right hair care products available to take care of her curly hair has been really part of almost her whole life journey, and, on the wild girl website, Vanessa quotes, the American writer, Phoebe Robinson, which, I think perfectly describes the type of problem you're trying to solve. And I'm going to quote that right now, quote. We black girls are conditioned from a young age to treat our natural hair as a problem that needs to be remedied, that we need to have that good hair, meaning hair, that in its natural state, it's not difficult to come through. So I'm really keen to understand, how, you are solving this problem with the wild curl and, how your entrepreneurial journey has been over the last few years. welcome to the podcast, Vanessa.

Vanessa:

Yeah. Thank you for having me, Maiko.

Maiko:

Thanks for joining.

Vanessa:

Yeah. absolutely. I, it's something that is very personal for me. as you can see, I have very curly hair and, like you mentioned, I did grow up in Finland. And, my mom is finished. my dad is from Guinea-Bissau, so I have this mixture fluffy, but still Afro hair. And, while screwing up in Finland, I couldn't find any good products for my hair and it was very difficult to care for my hair. And, I did also travel after that for studies. I went to stay and eventually I ended up in London and I realized that there is, it's not just me, that has this problem, that there is no protocol offering for us. And I feel like also it's the society that is pushing these, straight hair East, the good hair, what PB Robison said that's the hair that we are trying to go and get. And that's the ideal goal when you want it. For your beautiful and confident about yourself. It's the straight hair instead of the natural curly hair. So I've seen that a lot in social media and also like society pushing that beauty standard. And that's something that at the wild care we're trying to fight against. We want everyone to feel confident and beautiful about their hair and able to express themselves as they want and have the right products to, take care of their hair curls because, curly hair is actually quite different. Also the straight hair. the structure is very different. It is more dry by nature. and then the curls are very tightly called, which sometimes it's difficult to manage because it gets very tangled. And, the products that usually these big companies are doing, they are based on the structure of straight hair. it's just doesn't work the same for curly hair that it works with straight hair. So that's something that we're really going after at the wild care to make sure that the products are designed for curly hair, they work well for curly hair and, And makes you feel beautiful and, good about your hair. yeah, that.

Maiko:

Amazing. that's really good to hear. I think obviously, anybody seeing me on video and knowing who I am, obviously I'm naturally more on the ignorant side towards this topic being a white male. but I actually, at phew at a few different parts of my life, I got exposed to this issue. I think the first time. when I, went to South Africa for one and a half years after high school and, Some of the stuff you mentioned around, setting the beauty standards, especially also for, black and mixed race, people, in South Africa, it's very much straightened tear. So the amount of chemicals that people were using to straighten their hair and match that, was really astonishing to me. not. Not that straight hair is wrong as well, but it seemed like really, it was like this bigger thing that, people like had to comply with this type of standard type of beauty standard. and especially learning about how like the deeply ingrained racism around hair and the country as well in South Africa. and the apartheid regime, for example, they. Test it, whether you were a black considered to be black, and obviously you have less rights according to them with the pen test. I don't know if you've heard of that, where you would put a pencil or a pen inside your hair. And if it drops out, you're fine. If it doesn't. It does. So this is like hair it's like at the center of racism suddenly, right? where

Vanessa:

It is. Yeah. Yeah, it is. And, whilst. We are trying to fit into the society and have the straight hair. Meanwhile, we're doing it. Like you said, we add a lot of chemicals. We straighten with the ion. Like I remember when I was young and I tried to straighten my hair, and I have very curly hair. So usually the iron's that they sell they're quite small. So it didn't do the job as fast as I wanted to do so instead of straightening it in three hours, I use the IRA industry then closed just to have a bit bigger surface. And, I was trading my hair with the iron, you use for the clothes. And of course I did burn myself. I feel have a burn Mark on my shoulder, this is the life that we've been, Going through just trying to fit in. And, I feel like people now are changing the way they are thinking. we don't want anymore to do this and damage our hair. We want the brands to cater for us, to see us as part of the community. And, I feel like big brands. Or not doing this, they've been years neglecting curly hair, and they'd been over overlooking all aspects of girly hair, And, that's when I realized that, okay, if the big brands are not doing this, I have to take the matter on my own hands. And I was like, okay, I'm going to start my own company. let's see how it goes.

Maiko:

let's think about that time point when you decided that I think, you didn't necessarily have the background in hair products or things like that, but you were, I think, at the time, in, in marketing and had that background as well. tell us more about the moment when you decided to start this company and how did he go about it, obviously going into a new industry. Pulling a business off, and getting the right knowledge to make sure you can actually pull this off.

Vanessa:

Yeah. So it was a moment that, I just moved to London. previously in Finland, I studied engineering and then I moved to stay in where I studied neuroscience. So it totally swap my careers. And after the narrow science, I just graduated. my fiance got a job offer from London, so we decided both. Okay. let's move to London and let's see what London has to offer. So I was in that sweet spot of just graduated and seeing what kind of a direction I want to take with my life. And I think that was the moment that my fiance actually adjusted because I'd been long talking about this problem. My fiance suggested that. Okay. why don't you build a company around this? I will help you and let's do it together. I was thinking about it. I was like, okay. Like, why not? let's just give it a go. And, of course, when you're living in London, you have a rent to pay, so it's not just you're dropping all. You're always also working in other things. So we were both working in marketing. my fiance was working at Treatwell, and I was working at Farfetch in the last few years. in their marketing team. So we are both engineers, he's also an engineer and we have a good, experience in marketing. So that kind of helped us build the brand and start marketing, putting ads on social, Facebook, Google, and, also with the engineering background, we are quite. A hand, they were comes to processing data, leveraging data. And also we know a bit of coding. So putting up a website, making it nice and pretty and make sure all the credit, credit card payments, all these are well done. I think we had a good spot there, but obviously, like you said, changing directly from one industry to another, because now we're in a kind of cosmetic industry, right? So the first products we did was in the basement flat at our kitchen in London. I feel like this is a story of so many founders of there. And, it's just a way you have to start from, you have to start from scratch. You have to try whether the initial traction is there and you just have to go for it. And that's what we did. So the first products were done, our kitchen, we were mixing some hair oils, so they were carrier always an essential oils. I was doing the research myself, checking, what kind of hair works well for which type of, hair? Because there is also. Different type of curly hair. So I have very big fluffy hair, but there are a lot of people that have more wavy hair, instead of very Afro hair. And these people are also equally neglected by the haircare industry. And that's also actually my, for our customers at the moment. so yeah, I was doing a research. What hate or fiscal, what kind of hair type? Because they're all different. And, that's how we started and our customers absolutely love it. We got so much good feedback. It was amazing. And I felt so good that I've changed. Someone's life. Someone's life is so much easier. They feel so much better with their hair and more confident and beautiful. And that just, let me drive through and push through the past two years. And from that, we were starting to scale our company and, we are no longer, doing this in our kitchen. So we have manufacturing in staying. all our products are developed, designed in the laboratory they're manufactured there, or with natural ingredients. And, we have a logistics center in the UK. So when the customer makes an order, everything goes directly to the customer stores that, even in the next day delivery. So this is something that we are very proud with the C the last two years ago. And, yeah, it's been a very, fast forward two years. I really think so. Yeah.

Maiko:

Yeah. Did you self-fund the business initially or did he get any investment or any sort of other funding for the company or just bootstrap it from the beginning? How did he go about it?

Vanessa:

yeah. at the beginning we did bootstrap, both. founders who get our, we put around 50,000 pounds, not from the beginning, but as you go, you start putting more money in. So until the IRA 50,000 and actually now, we've seen a good, initial traction, and we want to already take these to the next level. Because we want to make more products. We want to accelerate our growth. I just asked to, so we are looking to also expand our theme. So we are actually at the moment crowdfunding. So that's very exciting news, I would say. And, we are looking to raise, around 60,000 bounds. 220,000 pounds. We're doing this through Crowdcube. I dunno if you're familiar with that. It's a crowdfunding platform. Yep. And, we chose to do crowdfunding because we believe that, also not just big investors, but also family, friends and our customers can take part, and invest in us because that way they also. they're part in the bigger picture, right? They can, invest in their own curly future. So now they have a voice that they can use. And that's something that we want to also share with our customers. And, the initial, investments are as from 10 pounds. So that's also nice that all our customers have this opportunity to invest. what there is 10 pounds, whether it's 50 pounds or a hundred pounds, you can take part in. and if you want to invest in us, you can go through our website, the wildcard.com and, you just go to the crowdfunding tab and pledge your investment. And then you will be part of the worker. Yes.

Maiko:

great. yeah. please do that and check it out and check out the website anyways. I think especially if you're, if you can resonate with the problem that we've just spoken about with products not being available, what do you think is the reason why big companies and the big players in haircare are not embracing this enough? and did you see a Shange in recent times that. Slowly that starting to adapt or is it still that you're pretty much alone with a bunch of other startups trying to pull this off.

Vanessa:

Yes. I think as you mentioned before, that it might be due to historical reasons, that awaring Afro hair, for example, in the us was fluid as a political statement. And, I think all comes from the history that the big companies were not, catering for curly hair, straight hair in every aspect was what people were going for. but lately I've seen big companies starting to pivot a bit towards, more inclusive beauty and especially trying to have natural ingredients in their haircare line, but still, even though they're Beaver thing, a lot of. Currently consumers feel a bit, outrage or feel like they are, left out because we are already living in 2020. And, we feel like it's too late. Like why? Y I haven't been people thing before and still, when you look at the big companies, Johnson and Johnson Hankel or these big Laurel, these big players. They do have, some, curly companies, but still very little. And, I think that is quite, interesting. When you really think about that 60 to 75% of the world of the woman in the world has somewhat textured hair. Oh baby curly or kinky hair, but up to 70% of women in the world has textured hair. So it's very big number when you think about it.

Maiko:

completely overlooked segment. I can imagine a lot of people and all these companies look more like me than like you, right? That's another issue. Or if you look at investors and two startups, you have a similar issue as well that it's often being overlooked. If you have more diverse investors, They are going to fund, solutions that they know I need it. And that maybe traditionally people like myself, I like, I dunno, it's this issue. I dunno. that may be part of the problem. And I think that's what slowly changing, but it seems like very slowly,

Vanessa:

it is, especially now when we're doing the crowdfunding, of course, part of this comes from investors, that are a bit bigger putting a bit bigger ticket. And, the more we talk with investors or, investment men groups, We do realize that wow, there is really not, first of all, a lot of women up there and, not a lot of diversity up there. and those people are the ones that are deciding also the decisions. And if they don't feel relatable to the issue, even though 70% of women in the world have textured hair, it might be still hard to get through for, I hope we are going to get there. Yeah.

Maiko:

got it. in terms of your journey as an entrepreneur, what, obviously as a, entrepreneur, from a diverse background, as well as, creating products that are serving a market that has been underserved before and has been overlooked by others. What would your advice be for other founders that are starting out, that are solving, maybe have a diverse background themselves, solving problems for neglected customer segments. What would your advice be? What's been your learning so far. Is there anything you can share with them?

Vanessa:

definitely. So I would say it's never, ever a good time to start. It's always a bad time to start and you can hold that back. You, it can be your excuse, but it's always gonna be like that. There is just. Yeah, there is just some point that you have to make a decision, whether you want to be full in or you're not going to do it. And that's also what me and fiance my fiance did. After running this company around two years. So we quit our job in may. This May, 2020. did they get full-time on this business? And we've seen very great improvement after that. So I think it's just the decision you have to make, by yourself. And, second, I would. Say that talk as much about your business as you can friends, family, I don't know people in the boss or next to you, your colleagues, because you never know who you will run into. like now these days when you're, for example, or when it's talking about people who might invest in your company, they don't walk anymore in, in a black suit or sit in a fancy restaurant, like angel investors. They might be your colleagues, but you just don't know about it. and also there's a lot of advice coming from these people. So really. Take, take the advice in, and even there's advice that you want to follow, and then there's advice that you don't want to follow, but really consider the advice that you can get from any investors or from startup advisors. actually, there is a lot of online platforms that you can seek for start-up advisor. If you don't have one. we, for example, we have a Minnesota, who is the former CMO of deliverable. And, she's being our advisor like all the way from the beginning, helping us. And, now she's helping us a lot with this, crowdfunding and fundraising in general. And I think it's very. Good advantage to have someone that has the experience that you as a founder may not have. So just take all the advice you can get.

Maiko:

it's very valuable. And then obviously you'll make it a lot of conflicting advice and have to get your own path, but make sure you collaborate with the right people are really good. thank you. for sharing that, Did you, when you, approaching investors and angel investors, that you still find that a lot of investors wouldn't understand what you're even doing or why you're doing it, and terms of not understanding that there's actually a customer need, or do you feel investors are slowly getting it that, certain customer segments have been completely overlooked by big players and there's a gap that needs to be filled.

Vanessa:

Yeah. some investors, they do get it immediately. but some don't, it's just from perspective and how you explain it because all investors also different, they have different questions, but I feel like maybe the biggest bar that. There's been misconception for many investors in our side is that this is not something that only affects black people or African-American people or people that are mixed race or Afro hair. And that's something that if you don't also give the message, clearly they might get this idea. So what we want to do is we want to cater for all types of curly hair, and that's also. can be also white woman or Caucasian, Asian woman, but there's a lot of people in the world that has different type of curly hair. So it's not just about black people or mixed race people. Oh, so if an investor thinks that they also think that the market is smaller, that would what you're after. So I think, yeah, it depends on the investor and it's sometimes hard to explain it, but if you're clear enough and if they are interested about the product and they do ask questions and you will have the chance to explain yourself, so that's in the end, it will come up.

Maiko:

Got it. yeah. one question on the customers, when you first launched, you invested quite a bit of money of your own money into interdis, and, you started producing products yourself. How did you gain initial traction for this? from setting up the website to actually getting the first sale and. How did he go about that? Obviously you had a bit of a marketing background, so I'm sure that helped, but how do you go about it?

Vanessa:

Yeah. so we are using this, platform called Shopify. it's an e-commerce platform that you can build, your own website, which is actually very great because you don't have to be a developer. You don't need a front-end back-end developer to. Do this and, it's very easy. You just put the website up and you change the picture so descriptions and you have all the payments. platform already inside it. And, of course, like you said, we have the marketing background. So for us, it was quite straightforward to put the marketing. But even though if you wouldn't have the knowledge and now in these days, if you Google, you will find answers to everything. So I think. In the end, it's just a mother of trying and your own willingness and, you will get there, but once you have the website, Facebook and Instagram account, put some ads, you will see if you have. The initial traction for your product, or if you don't have it. And, good. Luckily for us, there was a good traction, so that's why we decided to go forward with it. But yeah, that's how we started. Yeah.

Maiko:

got it. and then you, you basically gradually validated, that there was a demand for tests through the ads and then scaled bit by bit, next to that. w while you're running the production from your, from your kitchen for quite a while, or, Did he get such quick demand that you had to switch to more professional production after that?

Vanessa:

exactly. That's what it, the demand grew so high. I remember it actually look like not a close in our basement class because we were mixing the carrier oils with essential oils. the whole kitchen was. our own setup for the laboratory. And we were both selling a lot of oils and I was still working in another place. So during my own lunchtime, I had to go to the post office to send all the orders from yesterday. And, the more orders I had. the less lunchtime I had. So there was a point that I remember, I didn't have time to eat my lunch on my other work because I was always in the queue in the post office. And I remember I told two Oliver's that our other co-founder that, this is not viable option. I need to eat that. we need to, first of all, we need to, Make the oils somewhere in a laboratory that has a scale, because if we're wanting to grow this business, it cannot be us doing it. We need a proper scale. And secondly, we cannot be us packing, the products. And, it's not just about you doing the products, but it's also about where are you spending your time? So as a founder, do you want to be mixing the products, and packing and, being in the queue in the post office? Or do you want to think already what would be the next product? how can I get there? how can I make a better marketing strategy? How can we grow faster instead of standing in the queue of the post office?

Maiko:

got it. really interesting. And, or what are your plans for, the time after the crowdfund? What do you envision, where will the wild card develop in the next few years?

Vanessa:

Yes. So we want to make more products and we want to make sure that the products are very good for curly hair. As I said, that not one feed is not for all. And, so we're gonna. But a lot of the funds to product development. And first we're going to look to launch new conditioner range. So we're gonna launch three new conditioners next year. And after that, we have also more products in the product roadmap. So we're very excited to have more products on the, on the website. And of course, as it's just now, Two of us co-founders we have some people also helping us, but still not employed by us. So we are looking to expand the team obviously, and having a team behind it and make us to the proper that we are a company. so we're not anymore like a small startup, operating from someone's kitchen. So we want to grow properly and be, a big company.

Maiko:

got it. Your co-founder is your fiance, is that right? Or is that, yeah. Yeah, there we go. do you have any advice for, similar setups, like people that, start a company together with their partner? On how to successfully do that. I can imagine it can be quite intense if you're spending, starting a company and having a relationship and spending basically every minute together.

Vanessa:

yes. it's actually quite funny sometimes by can be intense. but I feel like we have good characters because I'm finished. So I'm more Cold like cold practical person. Whereas my fiance who's Spanish. he's more impulsive. let's do this. Let's go for a, and I think we have a good balance in that, but maybe as an advice, I would say that when you work. You work and try to keep it professional. always sit down and talk if you have any issues and, when you go home, you just put on Netflix on, you relax, have a glass of wine and just let the work be at the office and, relax. And that's it. just try to separate those two lives.

Maiko:

generally good advice. I think, even for solo founders or people that found companies together with others too, I think this image of the entrepreneur burning themselves into the ground working 24 seven. That's not necessarily the one that. it gives you the most success anymore. If that was ever the case, obviously in the early days, you need to put quite a lot of work in. You're never going to be nine to five. I can imagine, or I know from my own experience, but, I think drawing the boundaries, taking care of your own mental health and taking care of that, you stay safe, nothing that's really important. thanks for sharing that. Yeah. my last question is around, I just asked you about the future a little bit, but I want to go one step further. That's imagined really 10 years from now. you launched this company this year. You're crowdfunding right now, but in 10 years time, how does the world look like if the wild curl actually succeeds? If your plan succeed,

Vanessa:

I feel if the wildcards succeed. In 10 years from now, we have a place that is Recurly girl on the planet. Clovelly can go and they can find inspiration. They can find haircare tips and hacks and all the products they need, directly delivered to their doorstep. So we are accessible for everyone. I feel like this is something that. People out there they do need, and this is something that we want to cater for them. Yeah.

Maiko:

I wish you all the best on that mission and all the best for the crowdfund and the journey ahead. I know it's just the beginning, but it's amazing to hear how much you were able to pull off already in just a short amount of time. thank you very much for joining me today and, thanks for making your time.

Vanessa:

Thank you, Michael. Thanks for having me.

Maiko:

Thank you.