DCF: Who Are You?
Michelle Breyer, co-founder of NaturallyCurly.com. Named one of the 50 Most Influential People in the Multicultural Market by Women’s Wear Daily in 2015, Michelle Breyer is a visionary entrepreneur who, in 1998, took a personal frustration over out-of-control curls and built it into the largest social media platform for hair. Today, TextureMedia – the parent company of NaturallyCurly – reaches 16 million people per month and influences more than $1 billion annually in hair product spend. What started as a hobby now includes two consumer digital sites, an ecommerce platform and a consumer Insights division. Michelle has consulted with such iconic brands and companies as Unilever, L’Oreal, and Paul Mitchell to help shape their textured-hair business plans, and also worked with dozens of entrepreneurs to launch their brands for the textured-hair market. She now is executive vice president of strategic partnerships. (DCF: Way to turn a “problem” into a passion!)
DCF: Why do you love what you do? What makes you funemployment?
MB: Every day is completely different, and I get to wear many hats – from working with a brand on an advertising campaign to writing an article to appearing on the local news channel to discuss curly hair trends. (DCF: Ensures that things are always interesting!).
DCF: Who was your first mentor and how did you find them?
MB: I was so incredibly lucky to have Jimmy Treybig on our curly team. Jimmy is the founder of Tandem Computers (which was sold to Compaq) and he is a major venture capitalist in Austin. While working as a business reporter at the Austin newspaper, I often interviewed him about business trends, and he loved to mentor entrepreneurs in the community. For Jimmy, he loved to learn about industries he didn’t know about, and he felt NaturallyCurly was an ideal opportunity to learn about emerging social media industry.
We met with him early on at an IHOP to get some advice about NaturallyCurly. At the time, I think he was humoring us, but told us to stay in touch and update him on our progress. As our community grew and our revenues jumped, he started meeting with us more often.
One day, we sat in his home conference room for several hours brainstorming about growth strategies for NaturallyCurly. He encouraged us to think big. He regularly connected us with people he thought could help us with our business, from an e-commerce expert to John Paul DeJoria, the CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems (he became one of our investors).
He was invaluable in helping us raise money, helping us with our business plan and connecting us with a new local angel network. We were the first company funded by the network, and Jimmy became our board chairman. Jimmy was so helpful because he really pushed us, offering invaluable ideas and constructive criticism. He helped me gain confidence as an executive. (DCF: Mentor’s are a must).
DCF: What’s your happy place?
MB: I love spending Sunday mornings at the barn where my daughter rides horses. Driving out into the barn, into the Hill Country outside Austin, is relaxing, and the farm is so tranquil and beautiful. Watching her ride is indescribable. I’ve grown to love horses. They are such calm, amazing animals. (DCF: Horses are incredible wonderful animals). Through my daughter’s teen years, which haven’t always been smooth, Sundays at the barn have been a bonding experience.
DCF: Where do you get your energy?
MB: Other than coffee, I definitely feed off of the excitement and thrill of doing deals, whether it’s working on a new partnership with a publisher or helping to close an advertising deal. I love that when I walk in every day, I know that anything is possible.
DCF: What does balance mean to you and how do find it?
MB: That’s a tough one for me, especially this year with all the travel to support my book tour. I think true balance means not letting any one part of your life dominate it. It’s about working hard, but being able to leave and spend time with friend and family and making team to exercise. And it’s about having down time when you can just read or take a nap.
I am setting aside time around the holidays to take time off work and spend time at home. I am hoping not to check my emails often – it actually stresses me out not to check them at all – and focus on my family and friends.
DCF: What sacrifices did you have to make to get here?
MB: The biggest sacrifice is the time I’ve spent traveling while my daughter has been growing up. She used to cry when I’d call from a business trip and threaten not to let me off the phone unless I promised her I’d come home the next day. It would leave me in knots. Now it’s hard because she’s so independent, and so used to me being gone that it’s created distance. I really have to work to create time for us to be together. I did take her on several college trips to different cities because I wanted that time with her.
DCF: What struggles have you faced as a women in your industry?
MB: We’re often not taken seriously, and relegated to lower-level positions even if we’re coming up with the ideas and basically running the business. When I go to the beauty trade shows, it’s shocking how many companies are run by men. One of the things I love about the curl/natural hair segment is that it’s dominated by female entrepreneurs – people who created products, blogs and cutting techniques rather than waiting for someone else to do it. They have been inspired by their own passion, and it’s been an amazing segment to be a part of. (DCF: I love to see how the industry has grown and thrived).
DCF: What is the early advice you didn’t listen to that you wish you had?
MB: If you can’t something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all. I have seen how negativity can be toxic, and can create a negative culture for a company. On the flip side, positive, encouraging people can have a huge positive effect on corporate culture.
DCF: What was your greatest failure and what did you learn from it?
MB: There have been little failures throughout the 19-year-old history of NaturallyCurly. Sometimes a business idea that I fought for hasn’t succeeded. We tried a Groupon-like concept that never took off. It can be hard to admit you were wrong about something, or that you didn’t do it right. It can be humbling.
But you should always look at it as an opportunity to learn something. Why did it fail? What could you have done better? How do you make better decisions in the future?
DCF: What was your proudest moment to date?
MB: Writing “The Curl Revolution: Inspiring Stories and Practical Advice from the NaturallyCurly Community” was an amazing achievement. I spent a year working on it and interviewed more than a hundred community members, influencers and experts.
The response to it has been incredible. It is Amazon’s No. 1 new release in Grooming & Style and has been in the Top 75 Beauty books on Amazon since it launched Oct. 3rd. Curl salons around the country are stocking it, and it’s now in over 100 libraries.
It’s been amazing to see all the people who have shown up at the book tour stops, and to hear them tell me how NaturallyCurly changed their lives.
DCF: What are you currently conquering?
MB: Other than the book tour, I’m working on some major events around our 20th anniversary next year. It’s too soon to release the details, but I’m really excited about them.