What’s the inspiration behind Inahsi Naturals?
Rhonda: The inspiration behind Inahsi Naturals reaches back to my college years working as an intern at Helene Curtis (now Unilever). I worked with the team that developed the first clear stick deodorant as well as other projects with hair color and Suave Selectives shampoos and conditioners.
Years later, I earned a master’s degree in secondary education, after which I taught high school chemistry for two years. The teaching experience did not work out as originally planned and this is where I found the inspiration to create Inahsi Naturals.
During this time the natural hair movement in the US was in full swing. Women all over the world were transitioning away from using harsh chemicals and heat to straighten their hair, and instead were beginning to embrace their curly, textured hair as it naturally grows from their heads. I had been wearing my hair naturally for over 10 years and seeing what was going on with the natural hair movement, I decided to formulate my own line of plant-based products with a focus on curly, textured hair.
How did you meet your co-founder?
Rhonda & Brian: We have been married for 24 years and together for 29 years. We started dating while still in high school after we met at a summer program before our senior year for students who were pursuing STEM in college and careers thereafter. After meeting, we realized that we grew up in the same neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, and we had been around each other for years. Brian played on the same little league baseball team as Rhonda’s cousin, and Rhonda’s uncle was their coach.
How do you two work together?
Rhonda & Brian: When it comes to working together, we both definitely have different styles of working and strengths in different areas. Rhonda focuses on formulating our products and really connecting with our customers via social media. Brian’s focus is on manufacturing and managing the wholesale business as well as a lot of the administrative work that goes along with managing our operations.
How do you handle risk and competition?
Rhonda & Brian: We are constantly on the lookout for “blue oceans.” There is a lot of competition in our space and so we generally prefer to take the road less traveled when it comes to our brand focus, or markets we seek to establish ourselves in. Serving customers in what has been an underserved and overlooked niche with world-class products and service has helped us to stand out, even as a small player in a very large space.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenge(s) you’ve faced while launching your company?
Rhonda & Brian: Probably the biggest challenge we currently face is scaling our business and juggling the many responsibilities as we grow. We recognize that there are a lot of opportunities that exist to grow our business; however, we have limited resources in terms of capital and time to take advantage of all of the opportunities we see available to us.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
Brian: Probably one of the best lessons I have learned is just because you can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. I have found that I can work at a high level in a lot of areas, but it takes its toll. I am looking forward to building a world-class team to really take things to the next level in our business.
Rhonda: One surprising thing that I learned about myself is that I am really good at coming up with slogans, campaigns, and captions for our social media and marketing material. My background is in science and math so to tap into this aspect of my creative side is exhilarating.
You’ve participated in ExporTech 2021. What was that experience like? What did you gain or learn?
Brian: In June-July I participated in the ExporTech 2021 cohort which was offered through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Illinois. It was an excellent experience and gave us the opportunity to connect with key individuals at multiple government agencies that can help us scale our export business.
Thanks to the ExporTech experience, we are now working with US Commercial Services to identify potential partners in key export markets where we already do business or want to enter. We also developed a relationship with the EXIM Bank and were approved for trade credit insurance for our export orders. We made key contacts at the SBA, as well as other state agencies, that will help us scale our business in the coming months and years.
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
Rhonda & Brian: We thought that raising from the crowd was an excellent opportunity to allow our customers and other fans of our business to participate in our growth and benefit from our business as we scale. We also wanted to offer anyone who wanted to invest the opportunity to participate in our growth, whether they’re an accredited investor or not.
What’s your team culture like?
Rhonda & Brian: We like to foster an environment that asks one simple question: Why not us? Why can’t we build a $100M+ business? Why can’t we scale our brand with e-commerce as our primary focus? Why can’t we build a global brand from a product that we started making in our kitchen? We can, we are, and we will.
What is your superpower?
Brian: An undying belief that we can succeed on a global scale.
Rhonda: Feeling the heart of people.
What’s your kryptonite?
Brian: I always put myself last. I need more focus on self-care.
Rhonda: I don’t “toot my own horn” or “pat myself on the back” for all that I have accomplished in these 9 years of business.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
Rhonda: I can’t live without coconut water. Vita-Coco, I need an affiliate code!
Are there any apps or gadgets that you can’t live without?
Rhonda: I love Evernote because you can categorize notes, mark websites, create tables, and do a host of other tasks.
Rhonda, what’s your experience been like as a female founder? Any advice for women looking to start their own company?
My experience as a female founder has been one of personal growth. As a mom of 4, a wife, and an entrepreneur, I’m used to wearing many hats and doing it all. What I have learned in this entrepreneurial journey is to ask for help and hire help. The one piece of advice I will give to women looking to start their own company as entrepreneurs is: start where you are. Research the industry you want to start a business in. See if there is a problem you can solve. Take small steps that will move you closer to your goal.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Rhonda: The best piece of advice I received was from Richelieu Dennis, the founder of Sundial Brands, which manufactured SheaMoisture. Hire character over skill. You can train skill, but character can not be taught.