Until the time I was 14 I had thick yet fairly straight hair. When puberty struck, my hair grew more and more coarse and eventually started to curl. I was mortified and at a total loss for how to deal with it. The only advice my straight haired mother could offer was “Go brush your hair!” , which is the WORST thing to do to curly hair! My dad was more sympathetic, as he’s the one who gave me the curls, but his motto was “bigger is better.” To a self-conscious 14 year-old who didn’t want to stand out, that wasn’t very helpful either.
As my hair grew bigger and bigger, my peers grew meaner and meaner, calling me such names as Mushroom Head…. As I grew up, my hatred of my hair didn’t dissipate. Finally in 2002 I figured there had to be a better way, and typed “curly hair” into Google to see what the internet had to offer.
The first thing that came up was naturallycurly.com – an entire community of curly haired people who shared the same struggles as I did! Who knew??
I immersed myself in their Curl Talk message board and quickly traded hair tips and horror stories. Much of what my cyber-friends talked about, however, were products. I bought any product that someone raved about, most of which didn’t do anything to make me like my hair better. Many of them actually made my hair worse, drying it out with alcohols and stripping the natural oils with harsh detergents.
One day I came across a very basic recipe for a hair gel made out of flax seeds. I remember thinking, “Wow, how cool would it be if I could make my OWN hair gel? I sure would save a lot of money!” I tried it, and the results were less than stellar. But this time I was inspired, so I tweaked the recipe, by adding other natural ingredients that I had learned are good for curly hair. The results were nothing short of miraculous. I was shocked that FINALLY my hair looked like I wanted, and I had made the product on my stove!!
With much exuberance, I went back to the NaturallyCurly.com message boards and excitedly shared the recipe with my new found friends. After posting my recipe I was flooded with emails from curly headed members asking if they could just buy some of the magic potion from me, as they really didn’t feel like making it.
It was September 2002 and Rockin’ Ringlets Styling Potion was born. She decided not to launch with one product, so she developed Gelebration Spray and Awe Inspiraling Spray. Over the course of the first year, she heard from her customers “I love styling products, but need a conditioner.” So within six months she launched a conditioner. By the end of her first year, she had three conditioners, a shampoo and the styling products. All this innovation and production was being run out of her 600 square foot apartment in Berkeley.
She knew she needed more space. She also wanted to pay her employees a living wage. She knew that wasn’t going to happen in the Bay Area.
Jessica’s cousin, Cathleen went to Dell’Arte International, a performing arts school in Humboldt County to become a clown. The two were close, so Jessica visited Humboldt often while in high school. She loved it. By the time she was 20, she knew she wanted to move to Humboldt. At the time, waitressing was the only job option in Humboldt and that’s not what she wanted to do, so she moved to the Bay Area.
So when Jess decided to expand, she thought, “what the hell, let’s go to Humboldt.” She liked the lower cost of living, the trees and the people. She had no idea how much community support for small business existed. She didn’t know about Northcoast SBDC. She found them through a basic google search for “moving your business to Humboldt.”
When she went to look for a place to live, she also visited the SBDC. One of the first people she met in Humboldt was someone at the SBDC. A year after she started her business, she moved north.
Initially, Jessicurl was run out of the Humboldt kitchen. In June 2004, the company moved to its first factory. The company was way under-capitalized – the credit cards paid for the move. The SBDC helped her write business plan so she could get a loan from Arcata Economic Development Corporation to buy equipment.
Jess says that the available business resources are “mind-blowing” and the SBDC has been a big part of her success.
Jessicurl began marketing all over the world, obtained financing, expanded production, and grew a solid and loyal customer base. A 2006 appearance on Rachel Ray’s show to give curly hair tips helped to spread the word about Jessicurl. Throughout the expansion and growth, Jessicurl faced additional challenges that many growing businesses face – international trade, quality control, calculating cost of goods sold, tax implications, marketing, human resources, and financing/capital. She also sought to devise a growth strategy to capture market share, to pay for her increasing overhead and to finance her rapid expansion without imploding.
Jess turned to the North Coast SBDC again and its advisors and one in particular Stilson Snow. Jess would arrive at his office with a crisis and start to cry. She calls Stilson her business therapist. He has talked her down from the ledge when things were difficult. Stilson coached the company on cash flow and on understanding their costs. He arranged for additional SBDC expertise to be brought to bear on issues such as managing people, quality control, and financial strategies such as raising capital.
Recent planning has focused on how to play to Jess’ likeability and strength in marketing while bringing in other talent to handle other things. Most recently, Jess took on a partner and Stilson helped her with the whole process.
In 2007, Jess joined the board of directors of the North Coast Small Business Resource Center, the host of the SBDC program in Humboldt and Del Norte Counties. She likens her participation to the Hair Club for Men: “I’m not just on the board; I’m a client!”
“We wouldn’t have gotten nearly this far if we hadn’t taken advantage of what the SBDC has to offer,” said Jess. “We needed so much to work on the day to day stuff. It wasn’t just the direct services provided, either. It was the extent to which SBDC staff reached out on our behalf. It was amazing.”
During the first years in business, Jessicurl’s sales increased by 450% and she now employs six people full-time and two part-time. She grew a healthly 20% in 2010.
“Through the years I’ve met thousands of curlies… and it’s always inspiring to hear how similar our struggles are,” says Jessica. “The path to loving our curls is not easy, but many of us have made it and many are in the process. I’m honored to be a part of that journey. You have the right to remain curly.”