Monique Rodriquez has many titles: mother, wife, friend, sister, and millionaire.
The 39-year-old founded Mielle Organics, a natural hair care brand, in 2014 after a devastating loss changed life as she knew it.
“It took something pretty traumatic to happen for me to realize what my true purpose and ultimate calling was,” Rodriquez told CNBC Make It. “And in 2013, I suffered the loss of my child. I was eight months pregnant. It was a high risk pregnancy and unfortunately, my child died because of it.”
At the time, Rodriquez had a nearly decade-long career in nursing, a field her family assured was “recession-proof.” But she didn’t like it – and returning to that environment while dealing with postpartum depression seemed impossible.
This led her to make hair products in her kitchen. Not only was the “creative outlet” helping her “cope with the pain of losing a son,” but it was the start of what is now a million-dollar brand sold in more than 100,000 stores worldwide. US.
Here’s how Rodriquez navigates funding as a Black woman and the best career advice she’s received.
The challenges of scaling
Last year, black women led the pack when it came to entrepreneurship: 17% of those were in the process of launching or running a business, compared to 15% of white men and 10% of whites. women, the Harvard Business Review reported.
However, only 3% of Black women operate mature businesses, indicating systemic discrimination in VC and funding – something Rodriquez knows all too well.
“As a Black woman starting a company, banks don’t believe in you. You haven’t proven yourself so investors don’t really believe in you. [either]. You already have two strikes against you: You’re black, and you’re a woman. That’s just the reality, especially when I started [my business] eight years ago.”
According to Rodriquez, in order to finance his business in its early stages, he was forced to “bootstrap” and “deplete his savings.”
“Every time I get paid, my nursing wages, my husband’s bank account and his wages, everything goes into the business,” she said. “So we have to sacrifice our living conditions and not be able to do the things that our friends do. [We were even] took our 401k and drained it all to invest in the business.”
Through hard work and networking, Rodriquez and her husband received a loan, which eventually helped them get their first retail partner, Sally Beauty.
In 2020, she received her first round of seed funding from the New Voices Foundation, an organization for women entrepreneurs of color. And last year, Mielle Organics received a “historic” $100 million in funding from Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm.
Rodriquez says he’s grown since the launch, with things like pitch competitions, grants, and fundraising events more common these days. But he believes there is still a “long way to go” before the playing field is leveled.
The highs and lows of entrepreneurship
Mielle Organics is one of the fastest growing Black-owned beauty brands in the country, a feat that comes with many changes.
Rodriquez said that the impact on the community is one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
“It’s about fueling the flame of a little girl sitting at home looking at social media [and seeing] Monique Rodriguez who did something historic, breaking the glass ceiling, so she could go behind me and break the next glass ceiling,” he explained.
“These are my little girls at home watching their mom do things in history and making them believe they can do anything they put their minds to.”
In contrast, Rodriquez said the lowest point of his journey remained constant at the beginning, even when the company was “not profitable.” But in the end it helped him “gratefully earn money and learn the importance of financial management.”
‘Success is not owned, it is rented’
Despite having many mentors, coaches and peers, Rodriquez said the best career advice she received actually came from her husband.
“He gives me great advice all the time, [the best being]: Success, if not owned, is rented — and the rent is due every day. Don’t get complacent, don’t get comfortable, and don’t ever feel like you ‘made it.’ Because when you get to that place, someone will try to take your place. You have to keep working and trying as if you know [your spot] not guaranteed.”
Rodriquez also advises other Black female entrepreneurs to “own who you are.”
“A lot of Black women struggle with this imposter syndrome – not feeling like you belong at the table or like you deserve to be where you are in life. But God put you in a room you probably didn’t think you’d be put in because of his favor and anointing,” he said.
“So walk in that favor, walk in that light, and know that you deserve to be there as much as anyone else.”
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