Photo by Adeiyewunmi Osinubi
Lover of pop culture, Kerlyne Jean-Baptiste, CEO & Founder of KerlyGirl, discusses her entrepreneurial journey.
What class and/or professor prepared you to be an entrepreneur?
Professor Hazeltine’s ENGN 090! I know that is a stereotypical answer from a Brown U. entrepreneur, but it’s my truth! Before Intro to Entrepreneurship, I did not even know what a KPI was and having a longstanding phobia with math, I figured I would be terrible with finance. But I ended up loving every moment of the class: the case studies, building my own mock company, and our guest speakers. The whole world of entrepreneurship fascinated me, and I aced the course. Many of my intuitive approaches to marketing and financial strategy, I learned from the class and still use today.
I would also add that another professor who always encouraged my creativity, and personal passions, even beyond my Brown career, has been Professor Sylvain, professor of Haitian studies at Brown University.
The hair products space is crowded, what differentiates your product?
KerlyGirl caters to a market in both the organic and beauty industry whose needs have been overlooked: Black women with tightly coiled hair. Before any of this, I was my product’s first customer, and the commercial line is based on the success of my experience with my hair care regimen. While there are many products in the beauty industry, what separates KerlyGirl is the social and health impact of the venture. I am deliberate in my branding to focus on women who share the same experience as mine, and the feedback I’ve gotten from the product has been overwhelmingly positive.
How are you gaining traction with customers?
Social media! It’s direct to consumer beauty brand’s best friend!
What advice would give your fellow entrepreneurs on pitching (investors, partners, etc.)?
Stay true to your story and where you are in the entrepreneurial journey. Authenticity can’t be measured by a metric, but it can definitely be felt by your audience. In the direct to consumer space where most products are the same, your vision for the product and service is what deviates you from the crowd. Every investor, venture capital firm, potential partner most likely has a full profile on you before you even entered the door. You are the deal maker or deal breaker. I found that to be true for me when pitching for marketing dollars and publicity.
How do you manage your team during a crisis?
What’s always good to have in mind about a crisis is that a moment of difficulty is just that: a moment! It will pass. It really becomes a matter of taking action and whether you choose to deal with it with grace or with frustration. I like to lead by example and the team of people who support KerlyGirl see that. It reflects in the work that we have done thus far to build this brand out of nothing.
Where did you set up your physical offices and why there?
I hate to admit that I’ve once again fallen into the Brown millennial startup mold by saying that I don’t have a physical office space! Most of the marketing and strategy building is done online and on my laptop. The mobility has served me well thus far. It’s a point of pride for me to say that the KerlyGirl product was primarily designed in my home and I think the story aligns well with the organic/honest branding.
What motivates you?
My vision to celebrate hair and beauty narratives for women who don’t often get attention in mainstream media or consumer outlets is a primary motivation for me. Black women and femmes with curly/coily textures are the reason why KerlyGirl exists to serve. I’m appreciative of the people who’ve taken interest and seen results.
Do you have a personal mantra?
I don’t have one personal mantra. I keep a journal record of prayers, aphorisms, and psalms – many in the Catholic tradition – that resonate with me and my journey into adulthood and entrepreneurship. Ultimately, all speak on these three fundamental rules of faith: 1) Believe in a good-willed universe; 2) everything that happens in your life is in divine order and will serve your higher purpose, even if you may not see it at the moment; and 3) stick close to a spiritual regimen that quiets your mind and enhances your joy.