In the growing and increasingly crowded category of textured hair, Cora Miller managed to find a white space—boys. The birth of her son Kade sent her on a search for clean haircare products that were not only age-appropriate but gender specific. They simply didn’t exist.
Miller identified, quantified, and built a brand to instill the importance of daily hair maintenance in black and brown boys at an early age to ensure healthy and thriving hair. For her, it wasn’t only about products but culture as well. In December of 2019 Young King Hair Care launched, garnering immediate attention. The nascent brand landed a coveted spot in the Target Takeoff Beauty’s 2020 cohort.
BeautyMatter caught up with Cora to chat about how she brought her vision to reality.
Can you share a little about your background and what made you throw your hat into the entrepreneurial ring?
It’s funny, because if you were to ask me 5 years ago if I would ever become an entrepreneur, the answer probably would have been no. I was quite comfortable in my profession and climbing the corporate ladder—working for a large, Fortune 3 company leading their social responsibility and philanthropic initiatives. It wasn’t until I had my son in 2017 that my perspective and aspirations completely changed.
As a first-time mom to a beautiful brown baby boy named Kade who had a head full of hair, I was surprised to discover that there were no products specifically created for curly-headed boys. I spent a good amount of time looking for clean and vegan natural hair products that were suitable for my son and weren’t female scented and designed, and to my surprise, those simply didn’t exist.
In 2018, I shared my frustrations with my husband and told him I wanted to do something about it, and that “something” was to start my own natural haircare line for boys. Of course, being the MBA, classically trained CPG marketer that he is, he made me do a business plan, market research, and consumer research to really validate this wild idea. But I did it, and after months of planning, research, and identifying and selecting a strong manufacturing partner, in 2019 Young King Hair Care was born, and so was the start of my entrepreneurial pursuits.
You described Young King as filling a white space. The concept of white-space opportunities can be elusive—is there really an opportunity or is there a good reason that it has never been done before? Did you launch this on gut instinct or did you validate the concept in some way before launching?
Although I had a strong hunch that we were on to something simply based on my own experience and conversations I had with my boy-mom friends, we definitely validated the concept before launching. I actually surveyed approximately 100 boy-parents to understand what their needs were when it came to taking care of their sons’ hair. I wanted to better understand the challenges they faced and how our product could address those challenges. Additionally, I completed a market analysis to understand the current market size for kids personal care and the key players within the textured hair space. Leveraging all of these insights helped us to define our unique positioning and ability to be a first mover in creating tailored offerings for young multicultural males.
There is no difference in the hair of boys and girls and in fact, a trend in the beauty industry is non-gendered products. You have built a haircare brand specifically for black and brown boys. Can you share your thinking?
While we recognize beauty trends are evolving, the reason why both genderless products and Young King exists is because of an inherent issue in the beauty industry—groups of people feeling neglected because there weren’t products that represented them. Similar to genderless products, we are uplifting and shining a light on an underrepresented community within the market. We firmly believe that representation is critically important. Young King wouldn’t be here today without the thousands of parents who shared in our vision and mission of ensuring boys feel represented in the products they utilize for themselves. We aspire to play an active role in the industry to ensure black and brown boys are seen and have a “place” in beauty.
As you were developing the brand and the products, what was your guiding mission, and what were the nonnegotiables?
Our guiding mission has always been to redefine male grooming by encouraging boys with textured hair to celebrate and love their crowns. Based on the consumer research we completed, one of the biggest pain points for parents was not knowing what to do nor how to style their sons’ hair and finding little options for clean, premium quality ingredients within the current kids hair segment. Recognizing this, we wanted to create plant-based and vegan offerings that were free from harmful ingredients (like parabens, sulfates, and mineral oils), and create a simplified hair styling system for both parents and their sons to use as part of their daily hair maintenance routine. We believe creating clean products as part of a simple, three-step approach would underscore the importance of self-care and grooming for boys at an early age, while instilling the confidence they need to present their best selves each and every day.
You’ve launched with three styling products. How did you arrive at the assortment? Are there any early indications of a hero product in the assortment?
We started with three styling products based on the insights we received from our consumer research. A key insight from the survey and interviews we completed with boy-parents was that they needed help with daily styling and maintenance of their sons’ hair, which was also the need I had for my son. We intentionally launched with our three styling products—a leave-in conditioner, an essential oils blend, and a curling cream—as a simple, three-step solution that when used together would help moisturize, strengthen, and enhance natural curls. And parents loved it! In fact, over 80% of our customers purchase our bundled set of all three products, demonstrating the value of having a simplified styling process and system. For those that don’t purchase the bundled set, our top product is our curling cream—it’s super lightweight, not greasy, and really helps to define curls.
You have an interesting position in your start-up—Chief Inspiration Officer. Can you share a bit about the role?
Well, I report directly to our Chief Inspiration Officer, also known as my three-year-old son Kade—and he’s a tough boss! But seriously, Kade inspired us to create a new business from scratch and helped launch an entire community of parents and black and brown boys from across the country that are on this journey with us to redefine male grooming for young males. My husband and I are so grateful to Kade, our Chief Inspiration Officer, for making this all possible.
You and your husband launched the brand as a side hustle and you very literally just resigned from your day job, which is a huge step—congratulations! Can you share how you both managed very full-time jobs, parenthood, and launching a brand? When did you know it was time for you to commit 100% to Young King?
Thank you! I’m so excited to be working on Young King full time now. Our business is just growing so quickly and with some big projects coming up, it was time for me to fully step into my role as CEO of the business to continue growing and scaling the brand.
But prior to that, navigating the balance between my full-time job, being a wife, mother, and friend and still finding time to take care of myself (i.e., working out and having “me” time) while launching a business was certainly challenging. Candidly, I never quite mastered it all; however, I’ve been blessed with the most amazing support system. I appreciate my husband supporting and trusting my vision for Young King Hair Care, and working long nights and weekends with me to build our business and brand. Plus, our family and friends have rallied behind us and encouraged us in ways we could never imagine, and for that, we are eternally grateful. Our “framily” (friends and family) have offered to watch Kade when we needed to work on the business and have been the best Young King brand ambassadors we could ask for.
I of course have experienced “mom guilt” plenty of times over the past couple of months—there are times when Kade is crying for attention, but I have important business deadlines that I need to fulfill so I can’t give him the personal one-on-one time he desires. To balance those moments, I try to include him as much as possible in the business-building process. From helping me “type” responses to customer inquiries to doing some Young King model work, I want my son to feel included and feel that he’s a contributing member to the business he inspired us to create.
This past year has been a season of stressful days and nights with little sleep; however, we’re grateful to be in a position to go after our dreams and show our son that with a clear vision, determination, and “framily” support, you can make your dreams a reality.
You recently participated in the Target Accelerator program. Can you share a bit about the selection process and going through the program?
The Target Accelerator program was such an amazing experience! We were fortunate to be 1 of 10 emerging beauty brands out of 400+ applicants to participate. After submitting our application and being interviewed by the committee, we were elated for the opportunity to participate in a weeklong session at Target HQ (pre-COVID of course!) followed by virtual sessions for four weeks after.
The program provided an incredible opportunity to learn the ins and outs of big-box retail distribution, including the capital required, supply chain management, what buyers look for, and how to differentiate your brand in crowded categories, among other topics. The one-on-one conversations with senior Target leaders, the mentorship, and the resources provided were invaluable. Plus, we were able to meet and establish strong relationships with the other amazing brands in our cohort, many of whom we still keep in contact with today! Overall, it was an absolutely wonderful experience and I certainly would recommend it to any brand that would be interested in participating.
What’s one piece of advice you’ve gotten that’s guided you?
I’ve received so many great pieces of advice, but to name a few: First, the importance of leveraging your networks! You’d be surprised how many people in your circle know someone, that knows someone, that knows someone. The power of networking and relationships is key in trying to build and grow your business.
Second, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and seek advice and guidance from those that have expertise or experience in the industry you are seeking to enter.
Finally, having a strong business plan and validating your concept with others is critically important. You don’t want to invest time and energy into something that potential consumers would not be interested in supporting.
You mentioned that you are currently operating DTC but are in the process of solidifying a retail expansion for 2021. How have you financed the business to date and how do you intend for fund growth?
To date, we’ve completely self-financed our business, utilizing our personal savings as well as small-business loans to ensure we made Young King reality and sustain our growth. We recently launched our first raise to help fuel our national expansion to increase inventory supply, expand our portfolio, and grow our team. We’re currently seeking investors who can be strategic partners with us as we expand our reach and retail partnerships. We’d welcome the opportunity to connect with potential investors who may be interested in learning more about our vision for the brand and current raise.
What does success look like for Young King?
For us, success can be defined in three categories—uplift, impact, and legacy.
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