Monique Rodriquez holds many titles: mother, wife, friend, sister, and self-made 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 ultimate calling was,” Rodriquez tells 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 had an almost decade-long career in nursing, a field her family reassured 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 her to concoct hair products in her kitchen. Not only wasit the “creative outlet” that would help her “get through the pain of losing a son,” but it was the start of what is now a multimillion-dollar brand sold in over 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 were in the process of launching or running a business, compared to the 15% of white men and 10% of white women, Harvard Business Review reports.
Yet, only 3% of Black women were operating mature businesses, indicating systemic discrimination in VC and funding — something that Rodriquez knows all too well.
“Being a Black woman starting a company, the banks don’t believe in you. You haven’t proved yourself 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 reality, especially when I started [my business] eight years ago.”
Rodriquez says in order to fund her business in its early stages, she was forced to “bootstrap” and “deplete her savings.”
“Every time I got paid, my nursing paychecks, my husband’s bank account and his paychecks, everything would go to the business,” she says. “So we had to sacrifice our living situation and couldn’t do things that our friends were doing. [We were even] taking our 401k and depleting all of that to invest into the business.”
Through hard work and networking, Rodriquez and her husband received a loan, which ultimately helped them obtain their first retail partner, Sally Beauty.
In 2020, she obtained her first round of seed funding from the New Voices Foundation, an organization for women of color entrepreneurs. And just last year, Mielle Organics received a “historic” $100 million in funding from Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm.
Rodriquez says she’s made progress since launching, with things like pitch competitions, grants, and fundraising events being more commonplace these days. But she believes there’s still “a long way to go” before the playing field is leveled.
The highs and lows of entrepreneurship
Mielle Organics is one of the fastest-growing Black-owned beauty brands in the country, a feat that came with many ebbs and flows.
Rodriquez says that community impact has been one of the most rewarding parts of her career.
“It’s about igniting that flame in that little girl that’s sitting at home watching on social media [and seeing] Monique Rodriguez doing something historical, who’s breaking the glass ceiling, so she can come behind me and shatter the next glass ceiling,” she explains.
“It’s my little girls that are at home watching their mom do historical things and making them believe that they can accomplish anything that they set their mind to.”
In contrast, Rodriquez says the lowest point in her journey was remaining persistent in the beginning, even when the company “wasn’t profitable.” But it ultimately helped her “appreciate being profitable and learn the importance of managing finances.”
‘Success is not owned, it’s rented’
Despite having several mentors, coaches and peers, Rodriquez says the best career advice she’s ever received actually comes from her husband.
“He gives me amazing advice all the time, [the best being]: Success, if not owned, is rented — and rent is due everyday. Don’t get complacent, don’t get comfortable, and never feel like you ‘made it.’ Because when you get to that place, there’s always someone trying to take your spot. You have to continue working and striving as if 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 that you belong at the table or like you deserve to be where you are in life. But God has placed you in a room that you probably didn’t even think that you will be placed in because of his favor and anointing,” she says.
“So walk in that favor, walk in that light, and know that you deserve to be there like anybody else.”
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