HOW TO BUILD A REPUTABLE SUBSTANTIAL BEAUTY BRAND: INTERVIEW WITH KEHINDE SMITH
Kehinde Smith is a Serial Entrepreneur. She’s one of the brains behind the popular and respected US hair extension brand called My Extensionz. She recently launched My Extensionz Nigeria, in Lekki, Lagos-Nigeria.
Hello Kehinde. It’s great to have you on Under35CEO today. Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, but I still count myself as a Nigerian. My parents have 2 sets of twins and I have a twin sister named Taiwo Smith who is my business partner and although I have had an amazing childhood, nothing was ever handed to me. My mother taught us to work for everything we earned. I studied business management at Northern Illinois University and the day I graduated from university was the same day we launched our company, MyExtensionz.com.
What really motivated and inspired you to start My Extensionz?
I started this company while I was unemployed for 2 years after working with Red Bull. I was tired of spending so much money on hair extensions that wouldn’t even last me my money’s worth every month, so I saved up some cash and began to do my own research on Virgin hair. The search for quality hair extensions wasn’t easy and it was not cheap. We lost plenty of our savings in our hunt for quality hair fiber and it was not until we finally found a reputable vendor that we began to feel comfortable about reselling our products to clients. My sister and I would stay up all day and night servicing customers online and over the phone. A detail many people do not know is that we “played” different characters and roles quite often at the beginning when we were trying to scale the business. For example, we were the sales associate, hair expert, general manager, shipping coordinators, HR, complaint manager, and of more importantly the CEO. People would call us and believe that they were doing business with a full service multi-million-dollar company that had been around for years. Little did they know, we were only 6 months old at the time and were working out of our parent’s basements. Our split personalities eventually allowed us branch off into our first actual office. Then, 2 to 3 months later we were blessed to afford an actual shipping department. After shipping out thousands of orders a month we decided to open our first showroom in Chicago. As sales grew rapidly, so did our team. We employed around 30 staff members who worked for My Extensionz as a company and in 2014 we were finally able to open our second showroom in Chicago’s prime location.
Tell us about your My Extensionz.
Our company is known in the U.S for supplying the highest quality of virgin hair to every day working class women, hair salons and celebrities worldwide. Not only are we recognized for supplying premium hair extensions to our costumers but we also serve them with an outstanding platter of educational customer service with regards to the investment they make with our company.
Wow! What were the first few steps you took to get your company up and running?
I made sure I saved enough money to buy my first 4 bundles, sold it to my aunty, saved from that profit, then repeated that cycle to the point that I was able to purchase my first wholesale.
What role did social media and word of mouth play in the growth of your company?
Social media played a big role in our company because it allowed our superior quality to go viral to the point that celebrities were reaching out to us to make a purchase. Later on our first year we began to expand to other parts of the country and My Extensionz were finally able to ship world wide. Although social media played a great impact in our company’s growth, I would have to say word of mouth made us to be who we are and where we are today. There is nothing like having great quality products tied to your brand. Although we have over 160,000 followers on Instagram. That would be nothing if our quality of hair did not meet consumers’expectations.
You’re also the founder of several other companies. Can you tell us about them?
In 2014, my twin sister Taiwo and I founded My Lash Extensionz. Siberian Mink Strip lashes that’s wearable up to 27 times or more that would allow women to have the same natural full effect as the semi permanent lash extensions. Earlier this year, we founded My Celebrity Teeth in Lagos. My Celebrity Teeth is a laser teeth whitening service that brightens ones smile up to 10 shades lighter. We decided to create this business in Lagos Nigeria before Chicago because we believe it was really important to start up a company from our motherland. In 2014, Her Blings was founded by us. At Her Blings, we sell embellished accessories to women and men that loves to work in style. As one can see, we do not just have a passion for hair. Taiwo and I love to get our hands mixed up in several types of business. Many people say we get our “business hustle” from our hard working mother Titilayo Animashaun.
You’re currently expanding your operations and you recently opened a new store in Lekki, Lagos-Nigeria. Tell us, how has it been in terms of patronage so far?
The support has been more than a blessing and business has been wonderful, thanks to our Lord. Of course it’s not easy to build a new store and a team from scratch. As I stated before, if you have a great product you can take your business anywhere around the world and continue your success. We are just repeating everything we’ve practice a few years back when we started My Extensionz.
What have been the biggest challenges you faced running My Extensionz?
Our second year running the company was a bit challenging for us because at a point of time we felt that we had to give out free hair or major discounts to everyone we knew. We did not know how to stand our ground and say no to a few people because we were brought up in a “giving” environment. People often say to us, ” It’s just 2-3 bundles of hair that I’m asking for”. Some others would say, “They sell thousands of bundles a month it wouldn’t hurt their pockets”. But they fail to realize that:
- We are self employed with intense responsibilities
- We now have bigger expenses.
- We have a hardworking team that loves the company but at the end of the day, they still rely on us to deliver their checks in a timely manner.
Taiwo and I were still in denial that we were self employed. It started to become scary. That’s when we later realized that every penny counts.
How did you overcome these challenges?
By standing our ground and not being afraid to say, “ I’m sorry… No”. True friends and family would understand. If they did not understand, we were force to realize that they just weren’t real.
What has been your greatest achievement so far, in this entrepreneurial journey?
My greatest achievement is being able to build my brand and making sure my logo alone is unforgettable in the beauty industry. Ranking in the top 10 for the best quality Virgin hair company in the U.S is a major blessing from God. We have proven that My Extensionz isn’t just known for selling hair because we are also known for building a reputable substantial beauty brand.
What do you love most about entrepreneurship?
I love the challenges that comes along with the business because it allows me to make mistakes and think. I hate making mistakes but I love learning from them.
How do you remain motivated through difficult times?
By speaking to my family or seeing their faces. They give me that extra motivation juice to keep going.
Do you have any business philosophy?
Fall in love and be passionate about whatever business you decide to venture off in. Do not just do it for the money.
What advice would you offer young entrepreneurs?
Do not spend most of your time worrying about what your competition is doing. Run your race and run as fast as you can.
Tell us, what do you think about Under35CEO?
I absolutely love the simple fact that it creates a platform to showcase young entrepreneurs that is not just telling their stories but also inspiring others.
Are you a young entrepreneur under the age of 35 with an interesting story of success (or failure)? If yes, then the Under35CEO community has something to learn from you.
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