How Kim and Tim Lewis launched a million-dollar haircare business in one year.
People with curls and locs have long endured inadvertent (and sometimes overt) microaggressions. Increasingly, however, natural hair in all its forms is all the rage.
At least some of the shift is due to beauty industry entrepreneurs like Kimberly Lewis and her husband Tim, co-founders of CurlMix, a line of clean products for natural hair. With tenacity, voracity and a few well-placed tears, the couple has grown their business from an idea to an enterprise in short order.
Their innovative take on haircare has won praise from top media and customers alike. It follows that CurlMix is on target to hit $10 million in revenue by year’s end.
Try, Try Again
Kim recalls being 6 years old when her Latin grandmother put relaxer (a chemical hair straightener) on her curls to make them easier to comb. “My mother was so angry,” she says. “But once you put in relaxer, you can’t stop.”
As a young woman, Kim decided to explore her natural hair. She gave Tim, whom she’d dated since high school and who is now her husband, a pair of kid’s scissors and asked him to do the big chop, a term often used when cutting all relaxed hair to go natural. The result tends to be a close-cropped look that’s sometimes referred to as a TWA, or teeny-weeny afro. “That was 2010, and I’ve been natural ever since,” she says.
Kim discovered that omega-3-rich flaxseed gel makes her curls soft, strong and easy to manage. But it took an episode of the ABC show “Shark Tank” for her and Tim to formulate the idea of creating a haircare brand.
“We were watching ‘Shark Tank,’ and this woman was making cookies,” Kim recalls of one contestant’s subscription baking business pitch. “Everything was packaged individually, and it was all organic.”
That sparked the idea to create a subscription kit for individuals to make their own haircare products by providing the necessary natural ingredients.
Slow and Steady
CurlMix’s success didn’t happen overnight. Growth initially stagnated at about $5,000 in sales each month. It wasn’t enough, and Kim considered shutting down.
Then she talked over the problem with a business advisor.
He asked: “What’s your best-selling product?”
It was the flaxseed gel.
“Never get rid of a bestseller,” her mentor cautioned.
With renewed vigor, Kim headed to her kitchen and tested dozens of recipes for the gel before discovering a formula to her liking. A month later, she and Tim scratched all of their products except the new, ready-made gel — and subsequently enjoyed their best sales month to date.
“We scrapped everything: Content, model shoots, everything.”
After an initial surge, sales took a serious dive and Kim was forlorn. Tim remained optimistic, staying focused and steady. Within four months, the couple quadrupled their best sales month and headed toward a million-dollar year. Then, in a serendipitous, full-circle moment, they landed a spot on the show that first inspired them: “Shark Tank.”
“It’s harder to get on ‘Shark Tank’ than it is to get into Harvard,” Kim says. “They pick 88 people out of 40,000.” They taped the show in September 2018 after four months of preparation. When their episode aired in early 2019, however, it ended with the couple walking away from a proposed deal.
But they’ve never looked back.
Impressed with their turn on the show, two partnered investors — including the CEO of LinkedIn — asked if they could provide CurlMix with a cash infusion. As a result, the owners upped their investment in social media and doubled down on marketing. The business recently posted a $974,000 sales month.
Being on “Shark Tank” may have helped, but Kim believes the bulk of her company’s success is due to good old-fashioned business strategy.
Lessons From a Curly Hair Master
Kim Lewis conveys her unlikely success story just as calmly as a flip of her well-coiffed hair. Here’s what she’s learned along the way.
Surround yourself with love.
“Our success comes from surrounding ourselves with people who want to see us win,” Kim says. “…Masterminds, advisors (and) people who hold us accountable.”
Go all in.
“From start stage to growth stage was tough,” she says. “I decided to hire only full-time people [because] we don’t need part-time effort.” Tim now works full-time for CurlMix. The company employs a team of 20 at their Chicago offices. This team makes, bottles, ships and markets the products in-house.
Life is not about future success.
“The more everything happens, the more I understand how happy I am with the life I have,” Kim says. Since becoming a mother, the importance of family and living in the moment took on new meaning for this entrepreneur. “It’s not about living for that future success. It’s about enjoying the time you have now and loving on the people around you.”