244: Cora Miller Shows Boys of Color That Grooming Is For Them, Too, With Young King Hair Care

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244: Cora Miller Shows Boys of Color That Grooming Is For Them, Too, With Young King Hair Care

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Cora Miller became the solution to the one recurring question she had after becoming a new mom: Why aren’t there specific hair products representative for boys of color? 

As she was looking for products to style her son’s hair that were clean and plant-based, to her surprise, there were none, and that bothered her. After seeing this gap in the marketplace and talking through her frustration with her husband, Young King Hair Care, the first multicultural beauty and wellness brand for young men, was born. 

Unlike other hair care brands, it didn’t start in the kitchen for this CEO. Instead, she did months of market research and found a research and development partner who understood her vision. In that search, Cora and her husband found a Black female chemist who had been working in the natural hair care industry for years, and their partnership took off! In a matter of a year, from research to final product, Young King Hair Care was ready to show young boys that it’s okay to groom themselves, and have a self-care moment just for them, too.

From the official launch date in Dec. 2019, to starting with a table set-up in her home hallway, which she affectionately called “Young King Fulfillment Center,” to now being sold on Target shelves, the Millers are well on their way to redefining male grooming for the next generation.

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Cora Miller 0:03

I just believe that regardless of when you walk down an aisle, you should be able to look at a product and feel like it was made for you or it's tailored for you or you were thought about in the process, not an afterthought.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 0:20

You're listening to side hustle Pro, the podcast that teaches you to build and grow your side hustle from passion project to profitable business. And I'm your host, Nicaila Matthews Okome. So let's get started.

Okay, Hey guys, welcome. Welcome back to the show. It's Nicaila here. And today in the guest chair, we have Cora Miller, the co founder and CEO of Young King Hair Care, the first multicultural beauty and wellness brand for young men. Inspired by her son, she and her husband launched his company in December 2019, with the mission to redefine male grooming for the next generation. Cora has nearly 10 years of experience as a leader in corporate social responsibility, programs development and communications. And previously, she was the VP of External Affairs for UnitedHealth Group where she managed strategic partnerships and evaluation of Community Investment outcomes. And in today's episode, you will hear how Cora research and vetted her idea before deciding to pursue it, you will hear about the strategic moves hora and her husband made to go to market and land on target shells within the first year of launching their product. And you'll also hear the real financial sacrifices and bets that go into media to demand to be a major retailers when you are a young brand. So let's get right into it.

Thank you so much for being here. Walk us through with your career path and what led you from 10 years in corporate social responsibility, all the way to becoming an entrepreneur.

Cora Miller 1:59

I actually even before I went into corporate I actually started working in education, I was doing kind of school operations, I was doing program development at a university before going to charter school. So I was definitely in the education space. Which is why my husband always says I'm a perpetual do gutter. Because I always found myself in roles and having responsibilities where it was always about community. And how are we improving the lives of those we serve in the community. So whether it was in the school setting, or when I worked at a university just in campus life with just underrepresented students, it was just how are you building the community and, and contributing to the culture. And then when we moved to Minnesota, yes, the snowy tundra for my husband's job at the time, I just happened to stumble on this career in corporate social responsibility, which really combines kind of my do gooder nature in terms of, you know, providing support and grant dollars and resources, leveraging the company's money to funnel into nonprofit organizations or educational institutions in, you know, key cities across the US. So that was really, really cool. It was rewarding work. And it enabled me to, you know, travel a bunch as I was meeting with different nonprofits across the country and understanding what their needs are, and then figuring out how then we as a company, the company I worked for, could support them, whether it was through capital, or whatever, resources that you know, we had at our disposal. So I did that, and retired from my corporate career as a VP of External Affairs before I started working for a young king full time. And that was just in September of last year of 2020.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 4:02

Now, you mentioned your husband, you guys are co founders of this awesome, awesome brand. And before we get into a little bit more about that story, tell us how you guys came to even start thinking about hair care for years.

Cora Miller 4:18

honestly, it just I was totally inspired by my son. They always say having children or having a child changes your perspective. And that's 110,000% the case for me. So I first time mom had a son, and I was looking for products to help me style his hair. I wear my hair natural. I know you can't see me but you know I wear of course natural and protective styles. So I know kind of what to do and what products are out there for me. But I was just interested in what are those kind of clean plant based products that I could you know, use for my son that they weren't Made for him. I just think that representation matters. And it's just so important. And I firmly believe that you should be able to see yourself in the products that you use. And so when I was looking for those products, both just googling online going in the store, I didn't see anything for my son. And so that bothered me. And it just was a feeling of concern, why that wouldn't go away. Just like why aren't there products for black boys? Not not only in hair, but when you think about personal care, why aren't there specific products that are representative for boys of color. And so I went to my husband, and thank God, he's the marketing, you know, genius that he is, and has this background of working literally at, you know, with brands, and, you know, General Mills and Coca Cola. So he has all this experience. And I was just sharing with him, like, I just, I want to do something, I want to create products, I want to create my own line, and he's like, slow down. Like, first of all, like, you know, if you really want to make this happen, like, you know, like, what's your business plan? Like? competitive analysis? Have you looked at what's out there? Like, have you talked to people like, what's the market your market research? And I'm like, Oh, these are all things that I probably should do first Hmm. And so I did that I spent months, literally coming up with that business plan coming up and doing research, I interviewed and surveyed over 100, parents of sons to see if, if they saw the same things that I saw this gap in the marketplace, and understand, you know, what their needs were, if there were products that felt intentionally made for their young male. And so after months of doing that, I took it back to my husband. And I was like, I did a pitch to him, essentially. And he was like, Oh, this is great. I think you're onto something. I was like, I could've told you that.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:19

men aren't necessarily going out there in the product line, like we do at Target, right? In the aisle for black hair care. Right? Like, right, we have a lot of experience going down that aisle seeing all the brands seeing. Whereas I don't know, I can't speak for your husband. I don't know what he does. But

Cora Miller

like, let's be clear my husband is bald

Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:42

so like the preparation for our hair, versus, you know, the bald head.

Cora Miller 7:53

Exactly, exactly.

So, you know, once he was like, Okay, I'm with you, partners were on board. It was kind of go time from there.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 8:05

We'll go time look like so. You talked about doing these interviews? So you know, that was a need? What was the next step for you?

Cora Miller 8:14

Yeah, the next step for me was finding research and development partner who could help develop the products. So I am certainly not one of those beauty founders where I'm whipping up things in my kitchen like, No.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 8:30

Did it start out in the kitchen, how to know what to put, I don't even

Cora Miller 8:34

like, let alone me trying to find products to put together that make work? No. So I knew my first stab. And again, of course, I should say not knocking anyone that does that if you have that skill, that talent, God bless you, but you know, my skill area. So I just went about trying to find someone who was skilled in formulating products, and I needed a partner that could do it in a way that understood, you know, the positioning that I was coming from in terms of it being you know, more a little bit more milk forward, but tailored to kind of a younger consumer. And also, I wanted the product to be plant based and vegan that was really important to me to have these clean ingredients. And not all of these like just harmful toxic, you know, ingredients that are found in a lot of our products that we use. So I just started you know, googling just like natural hair care manufacturer, natural hair chemists like just just anything honestly. Fine. They talked to some people and you know, on my immediate network to see if you knew someone who knew someone who knew someone, but in going through that process, I went through a lot of people or companies or groups that it just The connection wasn't there. They kind of not understanding what I was doing, or, you know, the products didn't perform very well. And that was important to me as well. And so it just took it took a long time, what's a long time, but probably six months, okay. But in doing all that I found someone who chemist by background black woman who worked in the natural haircare industry for years. And it just worked. She understood, she's like, that is amazing, because there's nothing out there right now for boys. I said, I know. I know. And then we got to work. And of course, it still took a couple of rounds, because we were testing, you know, the different products that she developed. And then I was really particular on the scent to which again, we tested with different parents in my network to see, you know, do you like this is working doing all of that? So I would say from first googling, to finding the partner to actually starting to manufacture the final products. It took about a year.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 11:25

Why was it so important to you that you create a brand specifically tailored for black boys with textured hair? Because some would argue right, like, you can find other products that can work on textured here, and you know, like you just on your son's head. Yeah, I know. It's deeper than that. So So yes, a little bit more about that. You know, for me, it

Cora Miller 11:49

goes back to the comment that I said just around this idea of representation. I just believe that regardless of when you walk down an aisle, you should be able to look at a product and feel like it was made for you or it's tailored for you or you were thought about in the process not an afterthought. And I guess for me, it's just the same feeling when I used to shop for clothes for my son and I'm like look at all these rolls of girl clothes and like one little section of clothes for boys are like wait a second, like our boys are black boys they have needs to and I thought also about and even having conversations like with my husband and my brother in law they're just men in my life around just this like lack of education when it comes to black men at an early age around just like grooming and self care. The default you know has always been used my mom's pink lotion moisturizer or sport and waves or go to the barbershop and cut it off and I don't even know what a haircare regimen is or let alone skin or face care like What's that like? Just like we as black girls growing up hair was important you always kept it done and just like taking care of ourselves like motioning

Nicaila Matthews Okome 13:24

makeup and it was part of part of our brain I would say our womanhood that's what we were taught and trained. And it's funny that we see people joke on like Twitter, about guys using the all in one body wash face wash.

away never approach shampoo, thank

Nicaila Matthews Okome 13:44

you very much. And so I love the fact that you're not only it's not just a product, you are kind of retraining black boys and just making them know that it is okay to groom yourself. It's okay to have a regimen It's okay. To this is part of you as well.

Cora Miller 14:04

Correct? Yes. And it's okay to have this self care moment that you have for yourself whether it's doing your hair, whether it's you know, applying stuff on facial stuff, skin, whatever that is that that's okay. And and in that comes a sense of confidence, right? When you know, you look good, you feel good and you go out to this world with your head held high and nobody can break you or tear you down. Nobody and I just think as as black boys going up black young men in today's world and society that is of the utmost importance.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 14:48

Absolutely. So you had a network, you know circle of people who you could test your products on, ask them to test it out on their their children. What was that like when you haven't yet brought up product to market? Do you first of all have to assure them that it's safe for, you know, how does that work?

Cora Miller 15:08

Well, yeah, I mean, it's a gamble. But right at the one hand, you know, they're save, I'm using air quotes in terms of like, you know, because it wasn't just me whipping up in the kitchen, I'm taking the chance, if like, I knew it wasn't gonna make your hair fall out, right? Like,

I worked with a professional chemist, you know, Vice that has all the accreditations license like

safety protocols to come up with your products for us to sample and try out. So I wasn't worried about it from

that sense. But I was worried about in the sense of, like, how does it actually perform, I mean, you've been there, we've all been there, we have a ton of products that just work like, just didn't work. So that was my biggest thing I wanted to make sure not only did I, you know, obviously just create a product, but I wanted it to actually perform well. And there's no point in just creating products for the sake of creating products, right. And so that was always like, just my anxiousness. Like I just wanted to make sure it works really well. And so again, it took a couple rounds. But you know, we got there. And then the other thing too, that I really have a concern about, but I thought was really important was the scent. Because, you know, for me, I wanted it to still be male forward, but I didn't want it to be a grown man. So think like, we don't need like five year olds walk around smell like Egyptian mosque.

Right? No, so I wanted but you know, at the same time, not like you know, super fruity and strawberry like, and so we ended up based on just the test that we did, and asking people like what you know, fragrance Did you prefer, we ended up with this nice, like, citrus scent, that's really light, but still felt age appropriate, but not super feminine. And so we use an orange oil to kind of get that fragrance and you know, based on our friend network trying it out that's that's honestly what we went to market with and they got people liked it.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 17:24

So walk us through go into market, because this is the exciting part. This is the debut. What was that process? Like for you guys? How did you go from testing it out with your friends to it's available for sale?

Cora Miller 17:39

Yeah, so we officially launched young king in December 2019. Prior to that, what we started to do was just again, leveraging our network, so our community of family and friends, we created our own kind of distribution list of like, honestly, anyone we'd ever come in contact list was a friend or even a friend of a friend, we came up with our little justice distribution list, which it actually was almost 1000 people on it, to be honest, from what we just gathered. And that's who we use to kind of send like, hey, we've been working on, you know, this new brand, these new products, they're gonna come soon. We if you want to, you know, learn more subscribe, or whatever we said, I don't even remember at that time. But that's when we first kind of told people about it. And that must have been like October, I think October was when we said that first communication out. And we set up our like our Instagram page or Facebook, like, follow. Stay tuned, help us spread the word. So we did that just a couple months leading up until we actually officially launched but it wasn't like mass. It was just to whoever was in our like, network that we started like teasing it to. And then our big kind of reveal to the world was actually not until we did an event. So in Atlanta and December 2019, they had the essence target holiday marketplace. And it was like a first time they were doing this event, which was really cool that it happened when we were like launching and we're like, oh, we should do that. And so we got a booth there. And that was our first reveal to the world. I was like we were on the main stage we have just launched we were on the main stage when introducing young king and honestly that event literally changed the trajectory of young king.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 19:46

That is awesome. At this point you had you developed your your branding that we see now because it's so beautiful. And I'm sure that that just excites people as well seeing that crown and just your presentation.

Cora Miller 19:59

Yeah. So again, thanks. Thank God for my husband, a chief marketing officer over there, he helped come up with our packaging design. He knew right off the bat. Well, I will say, one of our goals when creating the the line is that we knew eventually, we wanted to go into retail. I mean, that was the whole premise that effect, I couldn't find products in the stores or online. And so retail was always a goal of ours. And so he's like, well, we need to design the package right now in a way that it would if we were to go into retail, that it would stand out on shelf, right? Because again, we're still funding a small brand, we we don't have time, if we got the opportunity to retail to try to change everything, right, like we need to make it work we launched. And so he did that in terms of just the look and the design of all of our packaging and, and to that point, I think that really helped us stand out when we were at this event, because we had leaders from like Target stop by and all these different groups that were there at this event stop by and they didn't even read like, they were just so surprised that we were a new brand. I was like, yeah, we just like launched like last week.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 21:10

So how did you manage to do all these things, you know, your r&d, you're getting everything ready to go to market plus the branding, without getting stuck in that, oh, this logo has to be perfect. The colors have to be perfect, because I see people get stuck in that phase for years. Yes, on the market?

Cora Miller 21:31

Yes, they do. Because I mean, at the end of the day, you know, when it comes to preparing your brand launch and getting ready to release products, it's all just about execution and recognizing that everything doesn't have to be perfect. I think entrepreneurs, we're always plagued with this like inner turmoil about it has to be so perfect when we launch. But I think if you get it 80% there, and again, you have a product that works, you can fill in the gaps. And so honestly, when we first launched, there was so much more that I wanted to do from a packaging stand board point. Or all these other, you know, I was like, Well, what about these design? Or what about these bottles, and one, it's like, my husband had to ground me, we don't have the money for that, like stop thinking you're in corporate stop thinking your corporate job that you have access to resources, because you don't. And to like what we have is still good, right? It's not perfect.

It's good. And just being comfortable with that. So I think and I've certainly told other founders, you know, you have to be comfortable in what you have. And recognizing that, yeah, maybe later you'll have opportunities to iterate on a design or change something up. But when you first launch, you know, wanting it to be good. Make sure the product in and of itself works. And everything else will kind of fall in line.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 23:02

It is so easy to get caught up in comparison or thinking that everyone Wow, they came out the gate so great. I I gotta go back to scratch but being comfortable with what you have, knowing that you will get better is half the battle.

Correct? Amen.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 23:22

When you launched What was your ecommerce platform, and what was your distribution strategy?

Cora Miller 23:28

So we leveraged Shopify for ecommerce platform, and the first year we knew we were going to be 100% ecommerce. So 100% DTC we knew that out the gate, because at the time of lodging, we had not talked to any retailers. And you know, there's definitely a lead on when you jump into retail. So we knew in our first year of business, so really all of 2020, it was just going to be sold online. But we were just blessed and in a fortunate position to be able to have conversations with retailers, not even being six months old. And so that then opened up the door for us this year in 2021. We just launched in target in January, and then we'll be launching with another retailer that we'll announce actually next week. So stay tuned. But so this year now our channel mixes, you know, retail, and still

Nicaila Matthews Okome 24:26

e commerce and when it was e commerce for you fulfilling this yourselves like you had stashed in your basement. Yeah,

Cora Miller 24:34

sure was again, scrappy. what you gotta do so yes, our home was young king fulfillment center.

We had a table set

up in the hallway of our house with bosses everywhere. You know, Kate, our four year old now at the time, and we had him sitting there in his little chair, playing his games while we were packing orders.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 25:00

stacking orders on the side. So this is the part that makes me nervous about a product based business. But I know it has to happen, right? You have to start

Cora Miller 25:07

you have to you have to start somewhere, you have to do what you have to do. And you start real, scrappy, real lean. And so August was when we officially transitioned to a warehouse and fulfillment partner. So

we did that for a very long time. It's 2020.

Long, sorry.

Take that back. Yeah, sorry. Sorry.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 25:31

I mean, your house, I understand it, it would feel long to be to

write in the grand, you know, yes, not long.

But I mean,

Cora Miller 25:44

I also just will throw the caveat there, that we were doing all of this and still have our full time jobs, too.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 25:51

So that's where that is true. long days, okay. And, you know, have a young son,

Cora Miller 25:59

and I had a whole a whole child, and it's quarantine and COVID. So there's just a lot more Oh, my gosh, 2020. Wow. But we were, again, just blessed. And in a fortunate position where people start to hear about us, and especially when everything was going on from a social injustice standpoint. And everyone was talking about black owned businesses, we started to some eyes were put on us. And we actually sold out of six months worth of inventory in about less than six weeks.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 26:38

Whoa, whoa, let's talk about this. So first of all, the way that surge happened was so incredible. I mean, it was so many mixed emotions, right? Like so much is going on in the world. At the same time. I love the fact that you were able to sell out of six months of inventory. What steps did you take to continue to build that brand awareness like people buy, they might not come back to your Instagram page that next day? But how are you keeping people coming back and learning about what's going on with young king haircare and getting excited about your brand and spreading the word?

Cora Miller 27:21

Yeah, so one thing that we realized during just quarantine, and COVID, and kind of getting all these eyes on us. And also honestly, by participating in all these kind of accelerator business accelerator programs, these programs for entrepreneurs and black founders, you know, just learning a lot, we recognize the value of leveraging digital marketing, and digital advertising. And so to help kind of keep that momentum, we started doing social ads and Google ads, we also, you know, started to partner with bloggers, just gifting people products that came across our page. And we also got a little bit of PR at the same time, that really helped us with like, all of these kind of just helped with the momentum of the brand leading up through really, you know, end of the year. So it really helped us from that standpoint, to now focus on kind of digital marketing to get more eyes on us by having that PR support. And also being able to, you know, gift some bloggers and influencers to help people again, learn more about the brand.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 28:41

So one with the ads and the investment in digital ads. Was there a specific program? Or is there something that helps you to ramp up really quickly with that? Because you guys don't necessarily have a background in digital marketing. I know your husband has a background in CPG, marketing and consumer product, good marketing, but was he on the digital side?

Cora Miller 29:00

No, he wasn't. But when I tell you that man. Definitely. I would say he got more excited about learning the digital side. He was in Facebook's meds, ads manager all bagger All right. He was so determined to just figure out because, I mean, I learned so much I think we our eyes were just open into this whole world of social paid ads. And just like the algorithms and the strategy and the audience testing, and there's just so many elements that you just would never know if you're if you had never done it before. And so

Cora Miller 29:42

he's got a lot of time just researching YouTube videos.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 29:49

He was like a lot, learn this,

Cora Miller 29:51

do what you got to do to figure it out. And, and it was helpful. It was really great. I mean, thank God that now we're in a position where we actually you know partner with an agency to help us but that was kudos to stefan miller cmo of young chain here are just figuring it out and making it work

Nicaila Matthews Okome 30:18

what about with the bloggers were those people who you said gifting people who are interested so did they express interest or did you actually compile a list and then go out there and offer to give them the products

Cora Miller 30:30

a little bit of both so starting out we worked with a small kind of boutique pr agency who helped us identify some influencer and bloggers and so we had a list that we started with to be able to do that and then you know after we stopped doing i would say kind of formal pr in general i think one thing that it was tough for us to really do pr and at first during COVID was like everybody was focused on COVID not necessarily like young exactly so we're like okay well we can stop that for now which it all end up working out because then organically you know we still got a little visibility but anyways after kind of after we started with the initial lift and did all that then we did have people just kind of reach out dm us or email us and say i love your brand i love what it represents and i would always tell them like well we're not paying off so if you would like them to be gifted and they were fine so that's been really just amazing you know what the brand represents for you know celebrating uplifting encouraging self care for black and brown boys they're just so many people who firmly believe in that that mission and what we're doing around this that they're just excited to support and highlight it and you know especially on my boy moms like we're just like

our our are boys and so you know that's that's where we get a lot of the love from those those influencers and bloggers

Nicaila Matthews Okome 32:21

it's funny you should mention that because yeah it's similar to what you said about cade our young king came out with a full head of hair and yeah i've never had a baby before so i'm not thinking like everyone kept saying like he has a lot of hair but i'm like that's just all i knew i was like oh doesn't every baby have this much hair like but it's only when i look around i'm like wait he has a lot of hair to the babies and then when it was time when he really started growing it's like alright he actually needs a haircare regimen like this hair it's going to get married or dry or stuffing in and you're right i started looking around and i'm like what is happening here where do i begin because yes i love here all day for myself but when it comes to your kids you have to make sure it's not toxic right and then severely limits the options so this is needed and your boy moms we are your your target you're absolutely right

Cora Miller 33:22

and i'm glad you said that because you again are like me in terms of you know we're used to doing our hair we know what to do but also when you you know you now have a child in the in this and you have to do their hair i'm like i need something like simple

Nicaila Matthews Okome 33:37

easy like 123 then bamboo rice to do his hair like i need and these people are these little little humans are fighting us so we're gonna need something that's gonna help us and be able to be as in and out as possible

Cora Miller 33:52

right and so that was another thing and that also came out of when i first did my research and was interviewing and surveying a boy parents and they were all like we need a simple process and so that's why our initial products were leaving oil and curling cream to really follow the loc method of styling so that you're let you're starting with the leavin to moisten the hair condition it and then you're following with you know or you can flip the oil in the crane but oil to really help nourish and lock in that lemon and then curling cream to define the curls just like those three steps you're in a you're out you're good so that's why that's why we started with those three products

Nicaila Matthews Okome 34:40

now you mentioned and i saw that you were a part of this beauty accelerator program at target yeah how did you find out about it and then what did it entail

Cora Miller 34:51

yes first of all that program is amazing so i encourage any of your listeners who are founders that are interested in ever going into retail That is a great accelerator program, we found out about that actually at that target essence holiday market. So while we were there, we had the opportunity and were approached by a couple people from the accelerator team who said they were gearing up to launch this program. And this time the program was going to focus on beauty brands, they gave us their card and said, we encourage you to apply and look into it. Now, I was like, that sounds cool. Like, you know, not thinking, you know, candidly not thinking much about it in terms of like, what it would provide and the experience, but just that it sounded cool. And like, you know, oh, my God to be in target one day would be so awesome. And so, you know, I applied and I was shocked, I got an email saying, We made it to the next round, I was like, Okay. And then we did the interview. And then I got, you know, the email saying that we're in, and what when I tell you, we were definitely excited, it was so excited that we got in this program, but then when they share it the list of brands that were accepted for life, oh my god, we're like the babies out of this group. We were the youngest brand. Everyone else had, like, you know, 1000s of followers, they already had a huge, like, community for like, how did we get up?

Cora Miller 36:30

But once we were in the program, and this was pre COVID, like literally right before COVID hit. So we were at Target headquarters for the first week. Um, they flew us up there stayed out there for a week to go through the program. And we quickly realized that one, we were one out of 10 out of over 400 applicants or brands that at applied that was accepted. So that was just insane, that we had just launched like three months before that. And to, in talking to you know, some of the the buyers in the leaders all in the beauty category, they just affirmed, you know, that we really have a unique position that currently does not exist. There are no brands in the market in retail, that target black and brown place. So the fact that we're doing that, that's a disrupter. Right? That's, that's innovative. That's a unique angle.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 37:27

So and then target like,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 37:33

was like, Oh, so we are doing something.

Cora Miller 37:38

So it was just it was so validating to be there, learn so much just about what it takes to be kind of retail ready. When you think about partnering with any, you know, mass retailer, whether that's a target a support, whatever that is just what it kind of takes, and then really helping us shape kind of honestly, our story, because that's what it's all about is what is what is your story? And how are you sharing that with the consumer. And so that that was just, again, I can't talk highly enough about that program

Nicaila Matthews Okome 38:12

and the connections that we made there, to that program assist with you actually being brought into target on shows.

Cora Miller 38:22

So, you know, the answer you're supposed to say is like, you know, through the program, they cannot guarantee, you know, placement in stores, right. But what the program did provide, at least for our cohort was the opportunity to do a line review with the buyer for a category. Again, not all brands, and even some of the brands in our cohort didn't get to go in store, but at least have an opportunity to go through a line review meeting and understand, you know, and talking to the buyer about what they're looking for, what's their strategy, how you would fit in the mix, pricing, all of that, you know, it's really helpful for us, you know, again, we were fortunate enough that we went through the line review meeting, it was really great, you know, work through a few things and ended up where we were just, you know, first asking, Can we do like a small store test? They were like, actually, can you do more stores? So that that ended up for us? The program providing that opportunity did help us get into the store.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 39:33

Was it intimidating at all? At this point? You get in and there's that initial I'm sure adrenaline rush of Yay. But then does it become like, Oh my god, like how are we gonna scale up to

100%

Nicaila Matthews Okome 39:48

Yes. How do you adjust your business to meet that new demand?

Cora Miller 39:53

Yeah. So the biggest takeaway when you're entering kind of these retail partnerships Like supply chain, right? From an inventory management perspective, from a shipping and fulfillment perspective, like, you have to have that all figured out before you dare set foot and sign any agreements, right. And so where, you know, it cost me a little bit of stress and nx came in for me specifically was just on the inventory standpoint and how we making sure we would have enough products to be able to fill all the orders that would come in from Target, because you need to ship on time. And you need to ship what they asked for, like no ifs, ands or buts about it.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 40:42

So you need to figure all of that out,

Cora Miller 40:45

or to meet their their kind of timelines and Windows. And the tension that we had with that is, we were still only at the time, you know, six months when we got this agreement with target. And so we had to find a way to pay for inventory, because there was COVID happening, there was the fact that we were new business. So because of those things, we couldn't qualify for small business loans, because we're too young, we couldn't qualify for inventory financing, because we were too young. And we couldn't qualify for like po financing, because we didn't necessarily have the pios yet, but because COVID was causing such a ripple effect in terms of supply chain and manufacturing sourcing bottles, we had to order products way in advance to ensure that we would have them in time for our first target order. So we actually had to place an order for inventory in July. And so with that, it became Okay, how are we going to pay for this?

Nicaila Matthews Okome 41:53

And what kind of investment are we talking about? Like, huh? ballpark like in the low five figures, the high five figures, five figures.

Cora Miller 42:16

Wow. So for us, I would say it was six figures for us. And that's because so at the same time that we got the target deal, another retailer, we were in conversations with too. And so we needed to make sure that we had enough inventory to do both partnerships. We felt like we could do it, it was just the money. And so we we did what we had to do, and we took out some personal debt to be able to finance that inventory build.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 42:53

Thank you for sharing that. Because I mean, I I do believe it will pay off in the end. But this is something we have to talk about, you know, like these investments upfront

Cora Miller 43:03

are, they're huge. They're big, to meet a demand, like from a retailer like Target. Right, right. And so people ask me, like, cool, why do it then. And again, I think that's where it comes in, you have to know, you know what your business strategy is, before you make any decisions or, you know, entered an agreement. And for us, as I I've said, I knew when creating this brand, I want it to be on shelves and retail that was always going to be a part of our strategy. And so if we had the opportunity to do this, we were going to do it. And because of that we needed to make away and you know, entrepreneurs, we get scrappy, we figure it out, nothing's gonna stop us like

Cora Miller 43:54

you have to do yeah. And knowing that I wasn't going to fail, because again, this whole thing started because of my son. And he's my why we want to make it work regardless. And we did just that.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:06

And it all worked out. So hey, hallelujah. But you do you do what you have to do. Right? Now, you said it all worked out. So let's talk about profitability and revenue. Right? Not everyone makes money when they first are starting out. And you made a huge investment. But you said it all worked out. What does that mean?

Cora Miller 44:28

Yeah, no, all worked out in terms of so our first year of sales, we just knocked it out of the park in terms of I would say, we didn't i didn't even predict that we would hit six figures and we did in our first year of business. And that was just through DTC. So that was just e commerce. So we did over six figures in our first year of business, and then this year with our retail partnerships, we're just seeing An amazing week over week growth since we launched, and that hasn't impacted our e commerce business. So we're continuing to grow on e commerce. And through our retail partnership, we actually just hit one. Now it's our second, but we hit two, six figure months in a row.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 45:20

Business are profitable, or you catching up to these?

Cora Miller 45:23

No, no, we're not profitable. Because our strategy is to always reinvest back into the business. So and because we're also a team of two currently. Yeah, we have to, you know, we partner with, we have a whole bunch of different vendors or partners that we work with. So we're just constantly like, we're reinvesting that back in the business. I mean, we're working on new innovations. Like there's so many things. We're just, yeah, we're not profitable.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 45:54

But you're aiming for that. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, course, everyone is trying to be profitable. For it side hustlers, who are starting out and are going to have to juggle a business, which is not profitable for some time. How do you plan for that? How do you plan for working in the business as you wait for it to grow? Do you set a timeline? Like it has to be profitable by x? Do you create projections, where you kind of get a sense of when it will be profitable? Like how do you guys work through that?

Cora Miller 46:33

Yeah, so you do that from the very start. So we not only mapped out like our pricing strategy and model. So what that means from a margins perspective, well, I'm kind of from any channel, right, so you look at your margins from a DTC versus what your margins would be on a retail, and then based on that, and what your sales will look like, you just kind of project out month over month, what what you will net out to be and taking a look at your expenses, and anything else that would impact your bottom line. So that that's just basic financial planning. In general, when you're thinking about how you want to model your business, and what what are your revenue channels, and what are those big triggers that will come that will increase your profit, or where are those big moments like inventory where you know, you're going to be tight on cash, like, you always want to look at what that's going to be like for the year, I'll say, you know, your first year launch, there's going to be a lot of variability there. Because you just don't know, right? So we were learning every month, every month, our first year of business, you know, you have to modify, you have to change, you have to adjust, because you just don't know what you don't know. And then on top of that, you know, 2020 was COVID. So just everything Oh, everything was up in the air. So you just don't know, like, everything we planned out just did not happen in 2020. But we still I mean, again, we we didn't even think we're gonna get six figures. And we did. So you know, your first year of business will always be kind of a learning, I think you should still have some good models, you still have some good projections before launching to just kind of plan that out and be aware of what's to come. But you know, by the time you roll into your second year, you have your first year of data that you can do some modeling off of. And so that's what we use to build out, you know, our forecasts our plans for this year, and even a little into next year. So we we tried to do an 18 month model.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 48:51

At what point in your model, did you build in quitting your job? So I will

Cora Miller 48:59

say that that actually wasn't going to be in the model for first year. That wasn't going to be the model for first year. But because of the craziness, the business picking up just all these things were happening where honestly, we just literally couldn't keep up anymore. It was time to make that decision. And I'll tell you it was it was hard because I you know, I was walking away from a comfortable career from a great salary, consistent salary, that you know, I'm used to accustomed to, to now not get paid because I wasn't going to take a salary out of the business yet. Like I said, I'm reinvesting everything back in the business. We're like just being real scrappy, and lean, putting it all back into grow the business. And so to step away from that, so that we could continue to scale and grow the business. You know, that was that was definitely a leap of faith. But again, I Think that goes back to recognizing Why, why I was doing this in the first place. I was doing this for my son and for boys who look like him. And so with that, that mission, I knew that I had to devote my full time to this in order for us to be at a place that we needed to be. And so I had called my boss, I let her know, she was like, Are you sure? To take some time? And I was like, No, I know, I need to do this.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 50:33

Was it harder with one? Did your job become remote? And then was it harder to do the side hustling because of the fact that all of a sudden, everything was shut down? You don't have childcare and all this other stuff?

Cora Miller 50:46

Yeah. So my job was remote. But they were actually, at the time, when I was leaving, they were actually having us start to come back in the office. And so again, that was going to be a challenge, because, well, I will say to that, being working from home, I definitely was working, I'd say 10 times as much. And my regular nine to five jobs. And if I was in the office, just because you know, I felt like you were just you're more accessible. I was just getting pinged all the time, email, like I was felt I was working so much, in addition to try to do the business. So I'd be working starting at 7am. Till like 7pm and then try to you know, doing the

Nicaila Matthews Okome 51:33

business to like two in the morning.

So it was getting crazy. And it's so messed up that that became the thing because of the pandemic, it's like, leave me alone.

Cora Miller 51:45

No, it was a thing. And it kind of it just got a little crazy to it. My, my corporate job got a little crazy, to say the least. So you have that plus the business picking up like something had to give. And I'd rather give my all my 110,000% dedication to a business that I'm building for my family versus my corporate job.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 52:18

Now, did you guys decide that? What if you would leave a first kind of stagger?

Cora Miller 52:24

Yeah, okay, yep, we definitely made that decision, we were very thoughtful. So we, we had made the decision that I would leave my job two months before actually did, just so we could, you know, make sure from a cash protect just personal for us and our family, make sure that we were okay. And you know, my husband, his job is definitely more flexible than mine was. So even the times when I would be working those crazy hours, you know, for my corporate job, he was taking a big chunk of just running day to day with the business because again, his job was a little bit more flexible. But he's still also a director. So his work was picking up too. So it was just like, it just made sense for him to still stay doing what he does what he loves to do. And then for me to just work full time on the business. You know, I

Nicaila Matthews Okome 53:17

hope that this encourages someone else out there like you can do it. It's not gonna always look pretty in terms of like the the financial investment or you know, having to leave maybe your job before you're ready for it, but it will pay off. And so now, before we wrap, I would love to do a lightning round, you know the deal, you just answer the very first thing that comes to mind. Are you ready? Okay,

I think I'm ready.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 53:47

All right. Let's get into it. Number one, what is a resource that has helped you in your business that you can share with the side hustle pro audience?

Cora Miller 53:56

So I participated? I'll say it a lot of different various accelerators and programs but a group that I always receive information from that has great just webinars and they share resources all the time, is the new voices fun. I would strongly recommend to subscribe to there's newsletters, there's always just something that you know, they're sharing whether it's like free grant money or awards or a webinar that's being hosted or a program for entrepreneurs that's kicking off that's free. It's just always provides great just tips and materials for founders of color.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 54:33

Thank you. Number two, who is an entrepreneur that you admire and why?

Cora Miller 54:40

Oh, so I'm gonna throw it all the way back to madam CJ Walker.

Cora Miller 54:48

admire you know, the fact that back in the day through time, the era that she lived in to become a self made millionaire And what she was able to do for her community, just the Legacy The impact that she's left? Definitely, um, claiming,

you know, to be the next madam CJ.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 55:14

Number three, what is a non negotiable part of your daily routine these

Cora Miller 55:18

days? Ooh, non negotiable is dinner time with my son, I always want to at least get that time and with him. You know, entrepreneur life, we're working all the time. But once he comes home from school, and you know, we have our family time. And that's our time. And then after that, you know, still back at it, but I always want to spend that those couple hours with him.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 55:48

Love it. Number four, what is a personal habit that helped you significantly when you were side hustling?

Cora Miller 55:57

Who was such a planner, so I always just carry around my notebook. And I'm one of those like, list people. So every day, I start off with my list, I look at my list from the day before, I make sure like I know what I need to do for the next day, in the day looking at that list again, and what I need to do for the next day, so I'm just I'm like always trying to plan out those key tasks, or even those miniscule tasks that just need to get done. And that just keeps me organized. And stay ahead.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 56:36

And then finally, what is your parting advice for fellow black women entrepreneurs who want to be their own boss, but are worried about losing a steady paycheck?

Cora Miller 56:47

Because I know the feeling. I think you just have to trust your gut, trust your intuition, and really understand your motivation and the why behind why your side hustle and why you're, why you're doing what you're doing, right? Because there are going to be so many days where you're questioning why it's so hard and it's exhausting, and you're just full of self doubt. But if you clearly know you know your reasons for doing this product or offering your services or whatever it is that you're so passionate about that that reason that why will keep you motivated day in day out, and you won't then be worried about losing that paycheck. I just think you have to have a firm understanding of what your motivation is what is your end goal and that will help you be comfortable in your decision and be comfortable and motivated on those days when it does get really

Nicaila Matthews Okome 57:51

hard. Absolutely core where can people connect with you and young king haircare after this episode?

Cora Miller 57:59

Yes so you can find us on Instagram or Facebook @youngkinghaircare our products are at WWW.youngkinghaircare.com, and then you can find me on LinkedIn. Cora Miller.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 58:14

Alright guys, and there you have it. You can find all the notes and resources that Cora mentioned in the show notes for this episode over at sidehustlepro.co/episodes. Talk to you next week.

Hey guys, thanks

Nicaila Matthews Okome 58:31

for listening to side hustle Pro. If you like the show, be sure to subscribe rate and review on Apple podcasts. It helps other side hustlers just like you to find the show. And if you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Instagram at side hustle Pro. Plus sign up for my six bullet Saturday newsletter at side hustle Pro, that co slash newsletter. When you sign up, you will receive weekly nuggets from me including what I'm up to personal lessons and my business Tip of the Week. Again that side hustle pro.co slash newsletter to sign up. Talk to you soon.

Meet the host:

Nicaila Matthews-Okome

Hi! I’m Nicaila, the Creator and Host of the Side Hustle Pro Podcast. I started Side Hustle Pro when I was a side hustler myself. I was a digital marketer at NPR by day, side hustler by night. Through the powerful stories shared on this show and the courage to launch my own initiatives, I was able to quit my own job and go full time with Side Hustle Pro.

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