More and more millennials are taking their chances and doing business solely online, abandoning the “old rules” and business models of generations before them. Sylvia Kerali, serial entrepreneur, and , founder of the popular site Curls Understood, seems to have mastered the art of building and maintaining an online following having started three web-based businesses from the ground up.
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Now, still working full time in the nonprofit sector, all of her interest and energy is poured into Curls Understood, a growing platform where natural haired women meet to exchange beauty information, pick up quick hair tips and find hair salons in their respective geographical areas that cater to natural hair health and style. Kerali says In just 18 months she’s been able to obtained on average 100k unique visitors a month on the site and 50k plus followers on our social networks.
With numbers like these, some may think it odd to discover that Curls Understood is not yet for profit and has gone this long without monetization but, Kerali says the site was not intended to be, for profit, but current followers will soon be in for a surprise as she hopes to market a unique service to the loyal following by the end of the year.
Black Enterprise caught up with Sylvia Kerali to talk her past entrepreneurial ventures, her success with Curls Understood, and how she maintains work/life balance.
Tell me a little about yourself and your background, and what it is you do?
I’m originally from the UK (but born in Uganda). I moved to Washington DC 10 years ago. I’d decided that I didn’t want to pursue a career as an Architect and was trying to figure out what to do next. Since my parents were making a move to the States I moved with them on a whim! I lived in New York for a while and worked for a small grassroots PR firm before deciding to go back to get an MA in Communications from GWU. My professional background has predominantly been for nonprofits working in web communications and digital product management.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur what was your first business?
I’ve always loved the idea of autonomy. Win or lose you make decisions on your terms. I love that! Also, I’ve always been attracted to the idea of growing something from the ground up.
I guess you could say my first business was “I Like Her Style!” which was a fashion/celebrity style blog which at its height pulled in over 70k unique visitors a month. It was around the time Young Black and Fabulous, Concrete Loop and Afrobella were starting out. I loved that so many black women were blogging about topics that are of interest to our community.
What was it like being a serial Entrepreneur?
Funnily enough I don’t see myself as a serial entrepreneur. I’ve always had an interest in learning new things outside of my day job. I think I’d be bored not having new challenges. I think with Curls Understood™ it’s the first business I could see myself potentially making a living from so I work particularly hard at making sure it’s a success, where as, my previous businesses were partially hobbies.
Where did the inspiration for Curls Understood™ come from?
I love the natural hair community and have been a part of it since going natural 12 years ago. That said, I didn’t feel like there was a site out there that spoke to me. I love sites like Refinery29.com and TheCoveteur.com and wanted to create the equivalent for curly natural women out there. A site that celebrates curly natural hair the same way mainstream sites celebrate
What is your business model? Why no profit ?
Curls Understood™ is a media platform that delivers inspiration and information to the curly natural hair community. Our number one mission is to provide women access to better hair care education in a high-quality format. We have a visual salon directory complete with salon interior photos and hairstyles, product reviews by our 100+ Curly Ambassadors, plus we segment our content my hair texture, volume and length.
In 18 months we’ve obtained on average 100k unique visitors a month on our site and 50k plus followers on our social networks. These will be the people we hope to provide a unique service to by the end of this year.
How much capital did it take to start your businesses? and how did you acquire it.
With so many great resources out there both on and offline it only cost me $5k to get Curls Understood™ off the ground. Securing my trademark was the most costly expense. Luckily I could build the site myself because of my background.
What were some of your biggest fears during your time of transition into entrepreneurship? How did you overcome them?
I’m so pragmatic that I haven’t taken any major risks financially – I’m still working full-time. I think any new entrepreneur is always worried about the financial impact of a business failure. I’ve structured my company in such a way that I wouldn’t be destitute if it all went away.
Also, when I first started telling my friends and family about my idea I was fearful of their reaction but everyone I told was very supportive. Don’t be afraid to share your idea with strangers and friends alike. So much great advice and many valuable connections have been made by putting myself out there.
Running a business is a lot of work, how do you maintain a positive work/life balance?
I really enjoy running Curls Understood™ so it often doesn’t feel like work. I really believe in the company and I’m energized by how positively people have responded to the brand. That motivates me to keep going.
I do however need sleep so I try to get to bed before 3am. Sounds crazy but I can function on just 4-5 hours of sleep! Anything less and I’m not so “positive”.
Sylvia Kerali’s tenacious business attitude and unique approach to getting things done, has helped her to grow her “natural” cult following and will hopefully bring her much success in the future. To learn more about Sylvia and her curly empire, visit Curls Understood.