Nicole Sanchez has always had a thing for good hair. At 14, she got her first job mainly to pay for hair extensions. No matter how tight her budget has been throughout the years, Sanchez still manages to visit her hairstylist on a regular basis, describing it as “not vanity,” but a “necessity.”
“If you’re going to a hairstylist, it’s cheaper than going to a psychologist,” Sanchez tells Fast Company. “I think there are very few opportunities that [women] have to do something [nice] for ourselves. Going to a beauty salon is a mini-vacation that has lasting value. At one point, I was talking to my hairstylist more than I was talking to my sister because, often, I was going to her every week. You just leave feeling better.”
Sanchez is not the only woman who feels this way. In fact, six out of 10 black women wear some form of hair extension, says the founder of Vixxenn, a luxury hair distribution company that helps stylists become hair extension distributors without having to carry inventory.
Sanchez’s business model gives everyone the opportunity to win: stylists get their business started without having to break the bank, and clients have more choices of high-end extensions to choose from. Somewhere along the way, the black hair care industry is reinvented.
“I launched my company because I wanted to empower other people to start their own businesses,” says the Harvard Business School graduate. Around two years ago, Sanchez began to form the idea for Vixxenn when she noted the amount of money she was spending on her own hair. She was also inspired by her father-in-law, who she describes as having “a Cinderella story”–immigrating to the United States from the Dominican Republic, never attending college, and is now making a six-figure income from a direct sales business model.
As more black women are finding ways to break into the hair care industry, reported the New York Times in September 2014, it’s obvious why stylists and salon owners are excited about Vixxenn.
How did Sanchez get investors to feel as passionately about hair care as she does? She shares her secrets with Fast Company:
People say investors invest in lines–not dots–so connect the dots for them, says Sanchez. As an entrepreneur, it’s your responsibility to keep, maintain, and effectively tell others the vision of your company. Find a way to “really paint that picture,” she explains, either through analogies people can identify with or speaking in terms that are relevant to them. This may take some research on your part.
When speaking to investors, Sanchez made sure to gather data from a series of sources to get people comfortable with their potential investment could be “a huge opportunity,” she says. If you’re going to be convincing people of an industry they have no knowledge about, then you need to be humble and open to answering a lot of questions so they have the knowledge whether they want to make an investment.
“I think if you’re going to take someone on a journey that they’re not familiar with, you’re going to have to be very supportive of them asking questions . . . [and respond:] ‘I’m happy to tell you about the product. I’m happy to tell you about the consumers,’ ” explains Sanchez.
When she couldn’t persuade people with mere numbers and stats, Sanchez tried more creative ways of getting the message across, including sending “a clip or two” of Chris Rock in the movie Good Hair. It’s all about doing whatever you need to do to find outside evidence that validates that there is a real need and demand for whatever it is you’re selling, she explains.
Sanchez knew her lead investor Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures for over a year before he invested in her company. “He knew I wasn’t someone who was just looking for a check,” she explains. “You can’t play relationships. People are really experienced in this world. They’re not fooled easily, but I think because I had invested in the relationship, as I progressed with the business, I think people got much more comfortable and very excited about my ability as a leader. I think that’s the other thing. It’s about you primarily, then it’s about the space.”
When people invest in entrepreneurs, they’re mostly investing in the founder, says Sanchez. Sure, they might get excited about the black hair care industry once they realize how big it is and how many opportunities it offers, but ultimately, people invest because of their relationship with you.
“The reason why I got investments in a space where none of my investors really use the product is probably the answers I had and based on my communication with them throughout,” she says. “They had a high degree of confidence [in me]. They think, ‘wow, this is something that’s real. She’s done her research. She knows. She communicates effectively.'”
When it’s time to pitch your idea, make sure you’re pitching to the right people. “When it came down to who we were pitching to, we did an evaluation on who are the types of people we should have a conversation with,” says Sanchez. “Who are the types of people who invest in consumer deals or invest in direct sales companies or invest with something that has a similar model to my company?”
Sanchez says this is much more important than saying: “I’m different.” Instead, convince others they’ve seen this success story before. Show them you’re investable by proving points you have in common with other successful companies.
“One of my friends says, ‘if you’re proud of [the product] when it’s released, then you’ve waited too long,’” says Sanchez. When the founder realized an opportunity was present, she went to her old hairstylists to identify problems in the industry. She went to consumers to see what they liked and didn’t like about the business. She did her research, but she also started Vixxenn by “just doing.”
“When you’re starting a business, just start quickly,” advises Sanchez. “Start scrappily. A lot of people plan too long.”
Sanchez is excited about her business and the industry because of her history with it. She found a way to make it better because she’s passionate about it.
“Feeling beautiful pays dividends on your personal happiness,” she explains. “It’s one of those things where people will find a way to continue to look good. It’s about confidence building, and giving yourself that break.”