Kim Lewis, the Co-Founder of Curl Mix, shares her story of young romance, failed business, and bouncing back to be a force to be reckoned with. Learn how she started Curl Mix alongside her husband, how she became a self-taught freelance photographer, and what she learned in the process.
What’s your story?
My husband and I have been together since junior year in high-school, and we got married two weeks after graduating college. After graduation, I started working a corporate job and I hated it – it was literally the worst job I’ve ever had. I had internships at other Fortune 500 companies, and I hated it, so I left that. During that time, my husband was on the show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” He ended up winning about $100,000. He invested the first $15-20K in my first business, Natural Hair Academy, but there was also a month where we didn’t make any money because we didn’t know when we were going to actually get the money from the show. So me quitting my job was like, “What are you doing? That’s a really bad idea.” So… we got really lucky because we ended up getting the money within about 2 months.
So I started the Natural Hair Academy and made some really big mistakes early on thinking that I had to pay somebody else to build my site. I paid somebody else the first down-payment for the site, and I wasn’t really liking what they were doing – I thought I had a custom site. Then I showed a friend my site, and he was like, “Hey I think you can build everything that’s on your website on this website, WordPress. I was like, “Oh my gosh!”. I wasted thousands of dollars, but at least I learned then so I didn’t end up wasting thousands more paying a designer that just wasn’t getting it.
So I was doing the Natural Hair Academy, a social network for naturals and women with curly hair. It basically educated them and provided them with content. I wasn’t monetizing appropriately – that was my biggest mistake, I think. In order to be successful, you have to be a media company, so you have to push out tons and tons of content and collect advertising money. I quickly realized that was not what I wanted to do. I was trying to monetize in other ways, and it wasn’t really working. So I needed to close up shop and create a product company.
I didn’t know what my next business would be, but I knew that the sooner I called it quits, the better because I was wasting my time. It was really hard to lose your first company when you’re like, “Oh, I invested so much. It was beautiful, the brand, and everything!” Then it’s like, “Look girl, we’re not in the game to be pretty. We’re in the game to make money. If you’re not making money, then get out!”
In the meantime, I had to pick up photography because when I had the website I needed somebody to take pictures and I couldn’t afford a photographer to pay for every time I needed it. So with some of the winnings we bought a nice camera, and I started learning photography after I quit my job.
By the time I had finished my first business, I had maybe a year and a half under my belt in photography skills. I started to do photography, watched a lot of Shark Tank, researched other businesses and how they were successful.
What is Curl Mix, and how did it got started?
Curl Mix is a do-it-yourself box for natural hair. We ship you natural ingredients and natural products without breaking the bank. Normally with DIY, you spend 3 – 4 hours in the process, so it’s a huge time-saver and money-saver for just 25 bucks. I wanted to solve that issue because…I…DIY…didn’t have time…in a box, and there wasn’t…
I remember watching Shark Tank, and it was an episode about a woman who would put cookie boxes together. She would send everybody the dry ingredients which were labeled. They were organic cookies, but you didn’t have to deal with all the mess of putting it together yourself and shopping for the ingredients, but you still felt like you did it yourself. Then I thought, “Is anybody doing this for hair?” because I like to make my own hair products, but it takes forever. Looking online at recipes on YouTube takes about an hour or two, then you go to the store and everything isn’t in one store so that’s another two hours or so, and then the last hour is spent in your kitchen. That’s a mess when you’re done and you have a bunch of like full-size items that you probably won’t use again because you’re probably not going to make hair products again. So you’ve invested anywhere from 4-6 hours on a product you might not even like.
So I’m like, “There has to be somebody willing to send these materials in a box where I don’t have to figure this out myself.”, but there wasn’t. So my husband was like, “Well maybe we should do it.”, and my response was, “Well, maybe there’s a reason no one else is doing it. Maybe this is ridiculous and this is really hard to do so maybe we shouldn’t do it.” So we basically did a lot of research. When I did my first company, I didn’t do this much research. For Curl Mix, we did a lot of research. There wasn’t a lot of information out there about DIY curly hair care, at all.
So I talked to my friend who’s a cosmetic chemist, and I asked her if it was a great idea or not. She said, “It’s a great idea, but it can be a logistics nightmare.” The thing is with Curl Mix you seem to get only 5-7 items in a box a month, but every item has a bag, a sticker, and a closure, so even if there’s just 7 items, each item has at least 3 elements, so that’s 21 moving parts in every box. Since I majored in Logistics, I figured I should go ahead and try it.
So we launched it and it went nowhere. I literally sold ONE box.
What happened when you launched Curl Mix?
I wrote up a press release and sent it out to everyone I knew. It really didn’t get any bites, AT ALL. We didn’t spend any money on products until we got orders, so we decided to do pre-orders, and we got just one order. So I was thinking that maybe we really shouldn’t do this. My husband’s like, “No, Kim, I think you need to relaunch. Air BNB relaunched 7 times! Surely Curl Mix can do it once.” So I was like, “Okay, alright.”
From there he was like, “Let’s look up the top DIY articles in the last year. We looked that up and it was on Refinery29.com. It had most views, most shares, everything like that. My husband said, “Before you contact her, read all her works. Look at the works that she’s posted in the last four or five months, the last couple of days. When you’re done, see if it aligns with what you’re interested in.” And it did, because she was basically their hair blogger for their curly hair section. So I basically pitched her my business. But before I pitched her, I also made sure I was partnering with top hair bloggers in the industry to launch my brand.
So, after I failed, did some market research on DIY, and read Influence by Robert Cialdini, in which he included seven factors on how to effectively influence people, I made sure my site aligned with all seven factors. For example, one of them was reciprocity. You have to give someone something to get something back. So we offered people free recipes when they signed up. Another one was authority. You have to have someone who is credible in the industry to say that you’re worth listening to. So we had other bloggers partner with us.
In the midst of this, I’m learning about the Public Relations spaces, but I’m e-mailing the bloggers on YouTube asking them if they wanted to be a part of this new company. Originally when I first launched, I didn’t get any responses. Yet when I launched again, after I’ve done some research, revamped my website, and when I crafted my email perfectly, I got three popular bloggers in two days. They were big – the were like over 100K on YouTube. They aligned with my niche and everything.
So I took those bloggers and put them in my e-mail to the writer for Refinery29.com and told them, “Hey, we are partnering with these bloggers to launch our brand. We are launching September 1st, and we’d love for you all to be the first to take a look into what we’re doing.” The writer replied and started asking me questions, such as, “How is your company different?” I basically told her that it is the first DIY box for curly hair, and she responded, “Perfect!” She wrote about it.
When I had that, I started e-mailing all of these other bloggers who were interested in DIY, and Refinery29 is one of the leading websites for blogs for women. So I started e-mailing other blogs and websites, persuading them to take a look into my business. When the saw that I was connected with Refinery29, they started to jump on my business, too. Then, I got 3 – 4 more big publications that included Refinery29 and Naturally Curly. So when it launched that day, people reposted it on their sites. It ended up getting 8 different features that day based off of one yes that I got from the beginning. The first day we sold 90 boxes. From one, to 90! We’ve done well so far, and we’re about $100K in revenue.
What role do you feel like your husband has played in your life’s success?
My husband and I know that we’re a team, we’re one. If you’re failing, I’m failing. If you’re succeeding, I’m succeeding. We’ve been sharing everything since freshman year in college. He bought my first business professional suit because my mom didn’t have the money. He knocked someone’s teeth out in a freak accident junior year, and I paid…We opened our first joint account that year. We got married after our senior year. We’ve realized that things are better with two of us instead of one. In my business, he’s been my biggest supporter. He works full time, and he’s a contractor, so technically he’s an entrepreneur. So he’s making sure…while I’m making sure that we have a company that can grow into a million dollar company one day. We work together, but we have different roles in our partnership.
You’re a self-taught photographer. Can you speak to what you did, what that process looked like, and any resources that you used?
When I quit my corporate job, I basically had to find something quick ’cause I didn’t have any income. So I ended working at a photography company where they made $10 an hour. My mom thought I was crazy, ‘cause I went from making $75,000 a year to $10 an hour. I did that for about three months, and I really learned how to work a camera, and that was huge, because that’s what became my side hustle. Everyone should have a side hustle, whether it’s making t-shirts, doing hair – something that someone would get paid for outside of your normal 9p.m. – 5p.m. So when we got the money from, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” I bought a camera… it was kind of hard at first to get clients. Soon, it wasn’t just a mini side hustle anymore… everyone wanted me to take pictures for them. Now I get bookings every week and I’m like, “I have a business!” But I love it, and I really enjoy it. I didn’t take any classes, and everything I learned is online. For example, there’s this resource called Phlearn, and it’s a YouTube channel teaches you everything you could possibly learn about Photoshop.
What advice would you give your younger self about getting to the place you are now?
I wish I had started a business in college. Don’t get me wrong, joining organizations are important, but if I had started a business, I would have learned so much more in my four years of college than having to…after college. If I would have started a business in college, the amount of mistakes I made wouldn’t have been so many, and I would have gotten the relaunch right the second time around. Also, I would’ve majored in something different, probably Computer Science. Coding is the new English, and everyone uses things related to it. Additionally, I wish I would’ve learned more about space, bought a telescope, study the stars, and so forth. I’m kind of a nerd! Basically, I wish I would have done stuff that I actually wanted to do.
How do you avoid burning out?
I’m not the type of person to glorify busyness, and yes I’m busy, but I take breaks. I want to have my company be successful without taking up every second of the day. I feel like that’s not what determines a company’s success, working every second of the day. So I definitely take breaks, and I don’t feel bad about it. I’ll finish whatever I need to get done, but I’m still going to enjoy eating lunch at a certain location or hanging out with my husband. I’m not going to allow my company to control my life, so I take breaks. My husband and I also travel every 3 – 4 months internationally.
What are some mistakes you’ve made over time, and how did they affect your outlook on life?
Launching my first company without a real way to monetize it. Another mistake was having too big of a team when I first started my business, just because it’s a lot to run your own business and manage people. It can become chaotic. Another mistake I made it trying to sell too many things. I had to find one good way to make money instead of multiple ways, and trying to make every product I was trying to sell amazing was too difficult.
To connect with the Kim, the Founder of Curl Mix, you can email her at Kim@CurlMix.com or find her at @KimAndTimLewis on Social media.