In more traditional workplaces like governments and large corporations, it might be frowned upon to work a second job or pursue a pet project outside of work. But Triangle startups are establishing a new norm. Many local founders and CEOs not only permit their employees to pursue outside interests but encourage them to do so. Some even go so far as encouraging their employees to start their own companies.
Tiana Horn, a Duke University undergrad and budding entrepreneur is a perfect example of this phenomenon. As a rising junior public policy major last summer, she interned at SoloPro, Inc.—the Durham-based startup that unbundles the home-buying process—as a business analyst. She continued working for the startup once the fall semester started and even took a second part-time job at Durham-based startup Carpe Lotion as director of Internet communications.
In January 2016, she added yet another title to her resume when she launched her own startup, Flower Child Remedies—a company that makes and sells natural hair products mostly geared toward African Americans. Her employers have provided advice, encouragement and even financial support—both companies have already contributed to her recently-launched Indiegogo campaign. They’ve also advised her as she competes in the Duke Startup Challenge—she was recently selected to continue in the competition as one of the top 15 companies in the running for a $50,000 prize this fall.
Horn’s company, the inspiration behind it, and the support she’s received from the community that’s trained her are a reminder that innovative companies and cultures breed new ideas and sometimes, even companies. She’s not the first Triangle-based entrepreneur to gain inspiration and become motivated to venture out on her own while working at a startup.
Windsor Circle’s co-founders got their start at Bronto; Bronto’s CEO, Joe Colopy originally worked at Red Hat. And serial-entrepreneur Jud Bowman has made a career of spinning startups out of his startups—his latest, Sift Media, is the third startup he’s spun out of his companies.
But Horn is different from her predecessors in that she is still a student, as well as an African American woman. Her demographic is only recently getting the support or encouragement required to create new businesses or products. And her product isn’t software, an app or a platform. Instead, it’s a physical product that will compete in an industry that involves huge consumer spend but is often overlooked and undervalued by investors. Hair care is also deeply personal for its users, and has influenced culture and societal norms for decades.
Flower Child Remedies and the Hair Care Market
Flower Child Remedies is a new company, but the products have been under development for over three years. What makes the products unique is their simplicity. Ingredients like honey, yogurt and coconut oils are natural and when combined, are even safe to eat (although they are certainly not intended for consumption). The products aren’t laden with chemicals like many that women of all ethnicities—but especially African American women—have used over the past century to style their hair.
In the early 1900s, inventor Garret Morgan released a product to help straighten the tight curls characteristic of many African Americans. Shortly after stumbling upon the formula, Morgan created G.A. Morgan Hair Refining Company, and began selling to the African American community. Sales took off and relaxers became an integral part of the hair-care market for the African American community. With contributions from people like Madam C. Walker, the first self-made African American millionaire, the industry has grown to be worth $774 million.
Flower Child Remedies directly challenges the industry that Morgan, Walker and others built and builds on a movement gaining momentum in the African American community that encourages women to use natural products and embrace the natural state of their hair. The movement promotes the use of all-natural ingredients and less harmful hair products to reduce damage to the hair. The products take different forms—shampoos, conditioners, masks, pastes, some even protect hair from the heat of a hot iron if a woman chooses to straighten her hair.
Many African American women are flocking to the movement—dumping their chemical-based, mass-produced products in exchange for local or home-made, all-natural products. But the popularity of the movement is not just about healthier hair, but about embracing the uniqueness of the African American woman and redefining beauty around that.
After years of using relaxers, Horn decided she “wanted a healthier alternative” and began making her own solutions three years ago. She talked to friends, researched recipes online, and through trial and error eventually developed her own recipe for a deep conditioner and a no-shampoo rinse with ingredients such as honey, yogurt and coconut oil.
She shared her products with family and friends but hadn’t considered launching a business until she became involved in the startup community last year.
“Being in the startup community is just contagious and everyone is working on something new and innovative,” she told me. When a friend asked her what kind of company would start if she launched her own, she came up with a few ideas, and in no time had decided to turn her DIY hair care project into a full-fledged business.
She formed her team—two friends from Duke and a cousin who is also passionate about the natural hair movement—and they began fine-tuning the products to ready them for production and sale. Horn’s apartment serves as production headquarters, and the products are now available for purchase online.
Horn and her team entered the Duke Startup Challenge and were selected to compete for the grand prize which will be announced this Fall. As part of the challenge (and to keep momentum going), they launched a crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo in January. Their goal is $10,000—so far they’ve raised $445.
Unlike many natural products that cater to a specific ethnicity, Horn’s products can be used by all women. She has enlisted 10 female brand ambassadors of a range of ethnicities to help determine what mix of ingredients works best for each ethnicity and hair type. So far, the available products are working well for African American women like herself.
Once she gathers their feedback, she hopes to create a tool on her website for customers to customize their products based on their needs. She also plans to roll out products for men. The team plans to use the funds raised through crowdfunding for product research as well as the development of customization tools.
According to Horn, building a startup while a full-time student and startup employee isn’t any more of a balancing act than participating in the four to five campus organizations she typically dedicates her time to each semester. She says at this moment in her career, working for startups is a “better investment of her time” because she’s gaining experience, skills and knowledge she couldn’t gain elsewhere in college.
She also believes it’s the perfect time to start a company because of all the support the university and partner organizations like American Underground offer. The risk of failure is less severe—if she fails, she has school and two jobs to fall back upon.
Regardless, the startup community and strong network she’s developed will support her growth as an entrepreneur. Kasper Kubica, Carpe Lotion co-founder says, “From our first conversation, I could tell that she had the creativity and drive to succeed as an entrepreneur...Tiana thinks like an entrepreneur, which means that she brings fresh ideas and initiative to the table that David and I couldn't come up with alone.”
Horn still has big dreams to work in public policy or as an overseas ambassador, but for now, she’s excited to build Flower Child Remedies while learning from other Triangle entrepreneurs. The products are now available for purchase online and shipments will begin on Valentine’s Day.