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 reshaped life as she knew it.
“It took something pretty traumatic to happen for me to realize what my true purpose and true calling was,” Rodriquez told CNBC Make It. “And that was in 2013, I suffered the loss of my son. I was eight months pregnant. It was a high risk pregnancy and unfortunately, my son passed away as a result.”
At the time, Rodriquez was nearly a decade into her career in nursing, a field her family assured her was “recession-proof.” But she wasn’t passionate about it – and returning to that environment while dealing with postpartum depression seemed impossible.
This led him to make hair products in his kitchen. Not only was the “creative outlet” to help her “get over the pain of losing a child,” but it was the start of what is now a multimillion-dollar brand sold in more than 100,000 stores across the US
Here’s how Rodriquez navigated funding as a Black woman and the best career advice she’s ever received.
The challenges of scaling
Last year, Black women led the pack when it came to entrepreneurship: 17% of them were in the process of launching or running a business, compared to 15% of white men and 10% of white women, Harvard reports Business Review.
However, only 3% of Black women run 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 yet 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 truth, especially when I started [my business] eight years ago.”
Rodriquez said in order to finance his business in its early stages, he was forced to “bootstrap” and “drain his savings.”
“Every time I get paid, my nursing salaries, my husband’s bank account and his salaries, everything goes into the business,” she said. “So we have to sacrifice our living situation and not be able to do the things that our friends do. [We were even] taking our 401k and draining all of that to invest in the business.”
Through hard work and networking, Rodriquez and his wife received a loan, which ultimately helped them acquire their first retail partner, Sally Beauty.
In 2020, she secured her first round of seed funding from the New Voices Foundation, an organization for women entrepreneurs of color. And just last year, Mielle Organics received a “historic” $100 million in funding from Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm.
Rodriquez says he’s made progress since launching, with things like pitch competitions, grants, and fundraising events becoming more common these days. But he believes there is “a long way to go” before leveling the playing field.
The highs and lows of entrepreneurship
Mielle Organics is one of the fastest growing Black-owned beauty brands in the country, a success that has come with many ebbs and flows.
Rodriquez says the impact on the community has been one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
“It’s about lighting that fire in that little girl sitting at home watching social media [and seeing] Monique Rodriguez is doing something historic, breaking the glass ceiling, so she can get behind me and break the next glass ceiling,” she explained.
“My little girls are at home watching their mom do historic things and believing they can do anything they set their mind to.”
On the contrary, Rodriquez said that the lowest point in his journey remains repeating at the beginning, even when the company is “not profitable.” But ultimately it helped him “appreciate profitability and learn the importance of financial management.”
‘Success is not owned, it is rented’
Despite having many mentors, coaches and peers, Rodriquez says the best career advice he ever received actually came from his wife.
“He gives me amazing advice all the time, [the best being]: Success, if not owned, is rented — and the rent must be paid daily. Don’t get complacent, don’t get comfortable, and don’t ever feel like you ‘made it’. Because when you get to that place, there’s always someone trying to take your spot. You have to keep working and working hard like you know [your spot] is not guaranteed.”
Rodriquez also advises other Black women 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 has put you in a room that maybe you never thought you were in. will be placed 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 just like everyone else.”
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