Nicole Ben is the founder and CEO of NeoTress, a beauty box subscription service for women with curls who want to wear their hair naturally. NeoTress gives customers four to six new hair products a month with a video tutorial on how to use them for hair care and self-styling. The idea for the company was born from Ben’s own need to find the products and styling tricks that work best for her hair.
Identifying a Gap in the Market
I had relaxed my hair all of my life, so I didn’t really know what my own curl pattern was. When I decided to embrace my natural texture, it was taking me a really long time to figure out which hairstyle I was going to try, which products were good, and how to use those products. I was searching through Pinterest and YouTube, and it took entirely too long. I started looking at other subscription boxes that were out there, my competitors, and they weren’t really offering a care package or all-in-one service like I needed, so I created my own.
My background is in sales and marketing within the interior design industry. It was completely different than what I’m doing. But, I started a business to fulfill my own needs.
Managing Business Finances
Initially, I just wanted to test the idea, so I put up a landing page and started social media pages to get the word out there about the concept and to gather people’s information. That was a minimal startup cost, because I designed the landing page myself. When I actually started putting boxes together, any cost was out of my own pocket. It’s all been bootstrapped. I’ll usually exchange services with my friends that work in marketing or advertising or graphic design. Or I’ll work with friends who have the hair texture of the audience I’m trying to reach. I’ll beckon them for their services and, in exchange, I’ll give them free products or a free subscription for three months.
I never use credit. It’s great, because with the subscription model, I get money in advance. My subscribers pay mid-month, but I’m not shipping my boxes until later. So, I have cash flow to buy everything I need. In terms of packaging material, I purchase that myself. In terms of the products, I have unique partnerships with the brands that are in the box. Some of them I have to pay a small fee for the samples, like $1 to $2. Others may provide their products for free in exchange for me creating a marketing strategy or video content specifically about their brand.
Business Challenges and Rewards
Having so many moving parts at one time is definitely the most challenging. I’m constantly looking for product brands to work with, reaching out to them, building relationships, getting the contracts together for each of the brands, and doing social media marketing so my sales are coming in. I’m constantly thinking about each sector of the business, and that’s the most challenging part. I want everything to go smoothly for each of the partnerships I have, whether it’s a customer or a brand.
Having so many moving parts at one time is definitely the most challenging.
The most rewarding thing is having people that believe in my idea, whether it be a brand that really thinks my idea is unique and that partnering with me will increase their brand awareness, or just having new customers from all over the country purchase my subscription. It’s great to have people believe in my vision and feel like I’m giving them something worth paying for.
Business Lessons Learned
Along the way, I was kind of obsessed with the branding. This was very early on, before I even had something to offer or something to sell. It’s kind of a good thing and kind of a bad thing. Branding speaks louder than words. Starting from zero, it can really catch the attention of potential customers. At the same time, I was spending a lot of time on very minute details that probably no one would notice very early on. In hindsight, I would probably take my energy and focus on other things.
I partner with a lot of brands, so I tried to go to a lot of trade shows that had those brands exhibiting. That was the best thing I did. I used my airline points and flew to Florida and Atlanta for trade shows. I made sure I had my business cards and that I looked presentable. I went up to almost every CEO of every major brand out there to introduce myself and introduce the concept of my business. I’m still seeing rewards from that.
Advice for New Entrepreneurs
Research and test your idea. I’ve seen other people come up with a concept and just go for it. I really put a lot of research into who my competitors were and how I could differentiate. Testing the idea can be as simple as creating a prototype. I created a prototype box and sent it to established beauty bloggers to get their feedback and feedback from their audiences as well. It’s important to know that someone actually wants to purchase what you are offering before you just go full-fledged into it.
What’s Next for NeoTress
Within the next six months, we’ll be offering two other types of subscriptions. Now, we just have the basic box for women who are learning to do their own hair and how to use products. We’ll have two higher-priced subscription boxes that will be coming out. They’ll be focused on extensions and more advanced self-styling.