How This Beauty Entrepreneur Is Going To Great Lengths To Give Back To Her Customers
This article was written by Shani Syphrett and originally published on Forbes.com
Courtney Adeleye has a big heart. She believes that true success comes when you give to those who can’t reciprocate. Her transition from registered nurse to founder and CEO of the multi-million dollar healthy hair care company, The Mane Choice, may seem surprising but if you look deeper, you can see a common thread. Service is her modus operandi. And her vessel has evolved from nurturing the physical aspect of the people she encounters to helping to build their emotional, aspirational and self-motivational strength.
Growing a company from the ground up isn’t an easy task and the struggle was amplified for Courtney who was raised in Detroit, Michigan and spent her early years working to help her family and put herself through college. Money was a scarce resource and strong mentors followed suit. But nevertheless, she persisted and The Mane Choice grew from a $500 personal investment to $25 million in sales in just 4 years. Courtney could have continued on a single-minded path of business growth but that wouldn’t have fit her personality. So she decided to pay it forward by launching “Pay My Bill”, an Instagram-based giveaway where she paid off a bill of one of her brand’s followers each week. And that was just the beginning.
I talked with Courtney about how to she positioned herself as a successful entrepreneur and a generous giver, what the next steps are for her to expand her social impact and why she believes anyone can be of service to others.
Shani Syphrett: How did you grow The Mane Choice from a $500 investment to $25 million in sales?
Courtney Adeleye: The Mane Choice was a hobby-turned-business so I didn’t have a business plan or money set aside to launch it. I had to save money as I built and re-invest every dime I made back into the company. It’s important to understand your profit and loss statements and know that sales are different than profit. Sometimes businesses see revenue coming in and mistake that for money they can spend personally or on other things, but it has to be put back into the company in order for it to grow and for me, that was my way of surviving. It wasn’t until year two that I felt like I could start paying myself (a decent salary) and have money to spend on other things. So really focusing on my company and investing everything back into it was how I managed.
Syphrett: How did you learn that strategy?
Adeleye: I learned it from growing up in Detroit, which was definitely a struggle. I had to learn how to reserve money because things might be good one day and bad the next. I made a financial cushion with what I had, even though it wasn’t a lot of savings. I wasn’t sure what my next move was and I really didn’t have a plan but I knew I wanted to move forward. I didn’t have a personal relationship with banks or investors. I was strictly in survival mode.
Syphrett: What prompted you to start the “Pay My Bill” Program?
Adeleye: I always knew I wanted to be a socially-driven, customer-based company. But I could not have done it without my supporters or my followers on social media. Those were the people going into Wal-Mart and Sally Beauty stores and actually demanding my products and that made my job much easier, so I wanted to give them something back. I’m always on social media and I find that I become attached to the people following The Mane Choice. I started seeing the same people and getting insight into their struggles and the things they were happy about. I wanted to go beyond just making a really good product they could believe in. I wanted to do something on a personal level.
Syphrett: Of the 150+ bills you’ve paid off, which stories stick out to you most?
As part of her ongoing community involvement, The Mane Choice was a sponsored partner for the 2018 Culture Creators' activation in LA. Courtney gave a speech about her entrepreneurial journey and presented an award to Color Comm's President, Lauren Wesley Wilson.LAUREN SMITH
Adeleye: It’s so crazy because every week, there’s a new story to tell, but I think the time that really stopped me in my tracks was when I used “Pay My Bill” in a different way than usual – when Hurricane Harvey hit Texas. It was so devastating to see people unable to find their family members and loved ones. I felt almost crippled, wondering what I could do from Alabama (my hometown). So I decided to take “Pay My Bill” and use it to help those affected in Texas. I started putting as many people as I could up in hotels to get them off of the streets. Some people literally had to swim to get to get there. That was definitely the most impactful story so far.
Syphrett: How has your social impact efforts affected your company internally?
Adeleye: I personally handle the “Pay My Bills” program because people share a lot of sensitive information but my team knows about the initiative and the work that we do, they’ve actually started paying it forward in their own ways. They know what the company stands for. Our employees are involved in local efforts with charities and community outreach. We’re even seeing the effect on our customers who will write to us to say, “I think you’d be so proud of me for doing this today!” That is what it’s all about. It’s not necessarily a marketing thing. It’s me showing the world that we can all jump in and do something. It doesn’t have to be of the magnitude of what I’m doing but any initiative can help.
Syphrett: Explain your next step, Who’s The Bawse and the value you want to bring to other entrepreneurs.
Adeleye: So there’s Who’s the Bawse: The Experience and then Who’s the Bawse: The Show. The Experience is a 3-day intimate retreat where I will work with female entrepreneurs to build their dream businesses. The Show is about me making an investment in the next entrepreneur to give someone a chance who may not be able to get one. When I was getting started, one of my first retail stores was Sally Beauty and the buyer at that time, Karonda Cook, took a chance on me. She understood the category and where the natural hair segment was going. And though my product would’ve been just as good whether she gave me a chance or not, it took someone investing in me to really get started.
I don’t have any mentors but I think experiencing a lack of support definitely gave me the drive that I have to get things done. I’m launching Who’s The Bawse because I know it’s not always easy to find someone to help you. I gained a lot of knowledge in a short period of time and I want to share that with the next person.
Syphrett: What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who want to incorporate giving back and social impact into their businesses?
Adeleye: I think the foundation of everything is giving. I believe we are service-oriented people and that it’s in our DNA to give back in some way. I don’t think you can go wrong with giving, no matter how small it is, because it always comes back to you. So just start. From a business perspective, people can connect when it’s something they trust and believe in and when they see you in their communities, they know you’re going to bat for them and they don’t mind doing the same for you.
Even when we launch new things, we have an insane amount of support and I know it’s because they know my character, they trust what I’m doing. We’ve had blind sales where a person didn’t even know what they were ordering and placed huge orders. It’s a big eye-opener that it pays off when people trust and know our actions and that we give back.
Shani Syphrett is an expert marketer and business strategist helping to build the next generation of innovative brands. Follow her @ShaniSyphrettfor updates.