Want to be an entrepreneur? Starting with a simple hair balm, Simi has launched a business with a full line of natural beauty products.
By Claire Ji
In this episode of The Kids Are Alright podcast, Dani Castonzo speaks with Simisola Jolaoso and Dr. Travis Brown to learn more about some of the challenges facing young entrepreneurs.
A freelance journalist interested in innovative business operations, Castonzo explains why she chose to report for this episode: “There is no need for young people starting their careers to follow a traditional job path or fit themselves into a career or box that doesn’t feel like themselves. There are so many opportunities to be different.”
Simisola, known as Simi, works full-time as a TV journalist for the BBC. And it’s only in her spare time that she works as the Founder and CEO of the Heavenly Company, which produces all-natural hair care products for black hair. It started with a simple hair balm that Simi made for herself using natural ingredients. The overwhelmingly positive feedback from friends and family pushed her to launch a full line of natural products.
“Entrepreneurs are passionate people with big ideas,” says Castonzo. And she would know from experience. While a college student, she launched a lifestyle app for women, along with a friend. “I designed the app and spent a lot of time working with local businesses to try to get them involved.”
Castonzo’s app and business proposal were for a class taught by Assistant Dean of Innovation, Commercialization and Entrepreneurship at Indiana University Bloomington, Dr. Travis Brown. For insight, Dani turned to this professor, who works to develop young entrepreneurs.
Nolwazi Mjwara: Welcome to The Kids Are Alright, the podcast that explores big, global issues from a young and fresh perspective. I’m Nolwazi Mjwara. Originally from South Africa, I moved to Paris, France three years ago to pursue a master’s degree. I’m a news enthusiast and have always been interested in what young people think and are doing to address some of the things I read about in the news. Before we begin, here’s a message from my colleague Megha Thomas, who helped me produce this podcast.
Megha Thomas: Hey there! Thanks for tuning in to today’s episode. The Kids Are Alright was produced by a team of students and aspiring journalists interested in learning more about some of the biggest issues facing the global community. From social media fame to the Venezuelan crisis to climate change, we’ve reached out to young people and experienced professionals alike in order to provide you with a different perspectives on hot topics.
We hope you enjoy it! Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @kidsalrightnews or on Instagram @kidsarealrightnews.
Nolwazi Mjwara: What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Many tend to base their answer on the image of the self-made millionaire who just needed that one idea — and a bit of luck — to succeed.
But that’s far from the reality of it. It’s blood, sweat and tears, a lot of coffee and most importantly, perseverance and discipline.
Not every idea will be the next Uber, the next AirBnb or even the next Silly Bandz. But they might be. It’s all about taking the risk and putting in the time.
Our reporter on this episode is Dani Castonzo. Here she is to tell us more.
Dani Castonzo: My name is Dani Castonzo and I’m 23 years old. I guess you could say I’m a self-starter. After I graduated from school, I moved to Madrid, where I worked as a freelance journalist and an English teacher. I’ve always been drawn to adventure, and to people who take risks, which is why I chose to report for this episode on Entrepreneurship.
I reached out to a young woman named Simisola. Simi is British Nigerian and currently lives in Bristol. At 26 years old, she’s a TV journalist. But like most entrepreneurs, that’s only her day job. She also runs the Heavenly Company, a small business that produces hair care products for black women.
Simisola Jolaoso: So I decided to start the Heavenly Company because I went natural, so I decided to cut off the relaxed parts of my hair — the parts of my hair that have been chemically straightened — and decided to just to grow up out my hair with its real texture, which is quite curly, coily some would say. So I just did a lot of research and used a lot of products but they contained a lot of chemicals and sulfates and parabens, even though they say they don’t on the front cover, and my hair was breaking a lot. So I decided, actually, I want to create something that I can use because I want all natural ingredients. So my gran always brought shea butter when she came to the UK, so I started using a bit of that, but shea butter, if anyone knows, has quite a distinct smell and it’s quite — it needs a bit of refinement, basically, if you want to use it daily.
So I just came up with a formula, mixed it all together, and started using that a lot more, and I started to see the results of it. My hair was a bit thicker, it broke less and it was quite shiny when I put the hair balm on. So I started sharing it with friends and people were interested and liked it and I got good feedback. It was just important for me to get feedback so I could develop the product.
Dani Castonzo: What would you say about what it’ like to be a young entrepreneur today in 2018?
Simisola Jolaoso: In terms of being a young entrepreneur now, I think it’s more celebrated than it would have been a few years ago. A few years ago you know people — you would have been told, “Oh no, just take the traditional route. Go to university, get a job, get a family, house, kids, whatever.” But now there’s a lot more provision to enable you to do that as well as build your own business.
And the thing is a lot of young people are starting their own businesses, like there are a lot of startups, and it’s become a thing of the day, hasn’t it? And that means there’s more competition. But we tried to hone in in what made us unique, and I think that’s what every entrepreneur has to do.
Dani Castonzo: I definitely agree about, like there are so many more options now, but also because there’s so many more options, it’s a little overwhelming.
Simisola Jolaoso: Because we have social media now. Pretty much, when you think of marketing, you don’t think of billboards and stuff any more. You think of Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. And so that’s an easy platform to meet other young entrepreneurs as well. And I think that’s one thing that I, you know, need to focus on as well in terms of marketing this product and the branding, is using , you know, scheduling tweets to go out throughout the day, so while I’m at work I don’t need to worry about updating our social media pages.
Dani Castonzo: Well, I think that you have shared a lot of really good advice for young and future entrepreneurs. But if you had one message, one message for someone who’s in similar shoes to you, who has a job but wants to start, you know is really passionate about starting their own business, what would that message be?
Simisola Jolaoso: I think it would be just go for it. Just don’t hesitate. You won’t know the challenges you’re going to face unless you put yourself in that position in which you have to face them. I had a problem where I always made plans and I always wrote down these plans and I wrote down these goals and I always just dwindled on them and just think about them constantly. Until one day I just realized that I’m doing all this thinking and all this planning but I’m not doing anything. I need to start doing it. Doing what I’ve put down and just trying to figure out what that one step that I needed to do was to get things rolling.
Nolwazi Mjwara: After speaking with Simi, we turned to Dr. Travis Brown, the Assistant Dean for Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Commercialization at Indiana University Bloomington. Dr. Brown spent his career within the intersection of business and technology, focusing on corporate innovation and interaction design in corporate and small business settings.
Dani Castonzo: I was hoping to hear from you, since you work with a lot of young entrepreneurs, kind of about what you think has changed for people in their twenties who are being entrepreneurs now. How you think the climate has changed. What you think things that they have in common tend to be? I would just love to hear your thoughts on that based on all of your experience.
Dr. Travis Brown: Sure. Well the thing that hasn’t changed is that people want to invoke meaningful change in the world. I mean that’s, I’d say, that’s just our human nature to want to have an imprint and do something that’s impactful. The younger generation certainly is more mindful of work-life balance, so I think there’s more interest in the freedom that people perceive entrepreneurship providing. And they also see it as an opportunity to more quickly have an impact on the world as they want to. I’d say the challenge lies in the fact that because of social media and because of the self-aggrandizing that exists through social media, students are more inclined to get caught up with self-promotion than they are with the actual development of their business. A lot of times students forget that being an entrepreneur means actually building something.
Dani Castonzo: Do you see a lot of young entrepreneurs, kind of doing entrepreneurship and that’s it? Or do you see a lot more cases like Simi where they’re working pretty much a full-time as well as doing a entrepreneurship?
Dr. Travis Brown: Well, I’d say most, with undergrads, undergraduate students, you most frequently hear them say they’re going to go all in. And I say this lovingly but that’s largely do to their limited perspective. You know it’s easy when you’re young and often times you’re subsidized by your parents, so the notion that I’m going to go all in and build this business seems pretty reasonable and realistic. When I worked with graduate students, they tended to be a bit more pragmatic simply because they had worked, they often times had families and so they would say, “You know, I can’t pursue this business without having a job.” But more often than not, people will go out and take a job and work on the side to get their start-up going until they’re ready to go all in.
Dani Castonzo: Another question that I have, which is also kind of based off my experience talking with Simi, is that she mentioned, just finding it really hard to prioritize going for entrepreneurship all the way, and I’m wondering what advice you have for entrepreneurs who are looking to kind of go all in in that way. How do people who are young practically make that leap?
Dr. Travis Brown: The thing that I see students doing to themselves too often is, you know, it’s good to have stretch goals but the thing about stretch goals is that they have to be incredibly thoughtful, so students will say will set incredibly lofty goals for themselves and when they fall short of that goal, they’re demoralized and they quit. So I encourage students to right-size their goals and take a far more incremental approach, because what you start to see is success begets success.
Entrepreneurs, the success of your business lies within you, right? It’s your ability to see it through, and as much as I work with students, I can’t predict what they’ll do and frankly, they probably don’t know themselves. So you have to allow yourself to go to the next horizon, out to the horizon, to see where you’ll go with your business from there.
Dani Castonzo: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Building a viable business takes time and constant nurture. Speaking with Travis and Simi really helped me understand this. I hope you’re left as motivated as I am after hearing from them. So what are you waiting for?
Nolwazi Mjwara: You’ve been listening to an episode of The Kids Are Alright. It was a production from Podium.me and News-Decoder. Tell us what you thought of this episode by tweeting us @kidsalrightn
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