5 years ago today, I couldn’t land a decent-paying job if my life depended on it. And it did; I was over $100K in debt after completing my MBA (Master of Business Administration).
I had always forged my own path in life and that applied to my career choices as well. My first
full-time job (at the age of 18) was a commission-based door-to-door sales job. I made good
money, but hardly the path my parents wanted me to take in life. Still, I stuck it out and worked my way up. By the time I was 25, I was the VP of Sales at a multimillion-dollar health & wellness company. I don’t know if you can imagine “burn out” by the age of 25, but I was burnt out.
So I resigned, gave up a six-figure comp package, my Porsche and my Ninja, and left behind my cushy life in Toronto for a new life in the Caribbean. And trust me, while vacationing in the Caribbean is glorious, living and working down there (read: 6-day work weeks consisting of 10-12 hour days) wasn't exactly a vacation. I continued to hustle and work hard.
From there, I started working as an independent consultant and my various projects had me in and out of diverse companies and industries. While I loved what I did, there was absolutely no certainty or stability in being a solopreneur.
So after 12 years of moving around between different industries and roles, I decided to go back to school and get my Master’s degree (at that point, I didn’t have formal post-secondary education; I had only completed Year 1 of my undergrad degree before dropping out to knock on doors). So I studied for and passed the GMAT, and eventually got into one of the most reputable business schools in Canada (shoutout Rotman) and completed an 18-month Global Executive MBA program.
When I finished my studies, I was determined to return to the corporate world and get a “real job.” I had been self-employed for 8 years at that point and while it had its benefits, I missed being a part of a team and company culture. I wanted to be a part of something and watch it grow. I thought with all my diverse work experience and brand new, shiny MBA, I would be able to land the corporate job of my dreams quickly. Wrong.
I spent about 6 months post-graduation sending out resumes and job applications, only to get a string of courteous rejection letters. I was mortified, embarrassed even. After being on my own for so many years (and proving I could make it just fine on my own), I never thought I would struggle to land a job at my desired position and pay scale. But I couldn’t have been more wrong. My unconventional career path (different industries, roles, and even countries) meant that most of the companies interviewing me couldn’t really see where I would fit in within their org structures.
I get asked often “Why did you start your own company?” and my answer always starts with, “Because no one would hire me.” And I’m so grateful for that because if I had landed one of those roles, I probably would have never worked up the courage to start LUS.
Building LUS has been one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life; it has taken literal blood, sweat and tears out of me! But it’s also been one of the most rewarding. At the beginning, no one really believed this would blow up into the huge success that it is today (short of some close family and friends, everyone thought it was “cute” that I was starting a shampoo company focused on my “hobby” – curly hair). I tried pitching my idea to investors and no one was buying it.
No one ever thought LUS would succeed, let alone become one of Canada’s fastest growing startups (we recently ranked #16 out of 85 companies on Canadian Business Magazine’s Startup List 2020!)
So I had to believe in something before anyone else would, before I had even sold my first bottle of product.
In addition to the struggle I faced in getting funding to start my company, I also struggled in finding the right labs and cosmetic chemists to work with on my formulations. I was a one-woman show then, and all of the big labs across North America have high MOQs (Minimum Order Quantities) and given the amount time and research that goes into new product development, very few are willing to gamble on small companies, let alone one woman with no credentials or funding. But I persisted and eventually I succeeded.
It took over a year, hours in labs with cosmetic chemists, researching ingredients and trying various formulations on my own head of curls (I’m fortunate enough to have A LOT of hair, so I would section my own curls off into 4 and I would test 4 different formulas at once, and I did this almost every single day for 6 months). After nailing the formulas on my own head of curls, I engaged my own friends and family with different curl types to try out various formulas, collected their feedback, went back to the labs and reiterated and reformulated with the chemists until we finally nailed it: a simple 3-Step System, customized for different curl types.
When I first tried our Curly 3-Step System on my own curls, I knew I had hit jackpot. I remember looking over to my now-husband and saying “OH.MY.GOD….I have literally NEVER seen anything like this before!” I was then 35-years old and I had started buying hair products (with my own money from my first part-time job) at the age of 15. That’s 20 YEARS of trying virtually every other product on the market, and nothing worked. I was either piling multiple products on my curls (“cocktailing”) to achieve perfect curls that would last me only a day, or using products full of silicones and other harmful ingredients, which I knew weren’t good for my curls (but hey, they worked). Not only that but I was spending 1.5 hours every single day or every other day (max) washing and styling my hair. I was fed up. I wanted to simplify my own curly hair routine, and when I tried the Curly All-in-One and it just worked, I knew I had done it.
I was so amazed that I wanted to share my creation with as many curly-haired women around the world as possible. I believed in our products and formulas so much, that I decided to self-fund my company. I had a personal line of credit at the time and while I would never advise anyone to put themselves in debt to start a company, I really had no other choice. Besides, I believed in LUS so much that I was willing to go bankrupt for it. Best decision of my life.
We had a soft launch of LUSBRANDS.COM at the end of November 2016 (friends and family only), then we went live to the public in January 2017. That first year was tough. I was working 14-18 hour days every single day and my family knew to just leave me alone. I was focused.
Behind the scenes of our first ever photoshoot!
We didn’t have funding so I couldn’t really afford to hire any full-time employees, but I was very fortunate to have found 2 incredible women to join me at least part-time (one helping me out with customer service and the other running digital ads). Both of these women are still with the company today and each play important roles.
Just a few of the incredible curlies from Team LUS (company holiday party 2019)
Then at the end of 2017, we got accepted to the prestigious tech accelerator program in Silicon Valley (Y Combinator), and I relocated from Toronto to California for the first few months of 2018 to go through the intensive program. We came out of that strong, raised a small Seed round, and I returned to Toronto to continue building and growing LUS.
Today, we are a small but mighty team of just under 40 people. I am so incredibly proud of the amazing human beings that saw my vision for this brand and decided to come join us, and contribute their time, unique skill sets, and expertise. LUS wouldn’t be LUS without them.
Our products are all still manufactured right here in Canada (no plans to ever change that!) and I still work very closely with our chemists, labs, and Quality Control teams to ensure our formulas are on point each and every time and that our products maintain the highest quality and efficacy.
To make Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 list today is just proof that anyone’s life can turn around. Perhaps not overnight (definitely not overnight), but when you believe in yourself and are willing to work HARD for your goals (and I mean haaaaard), then anything is possible.
How it started: late night setting up for a tradeshow to get our brand name out there.
Where it is today: corner CEO office in our downtown Toronto HQ!
If you’re an entrepreneur or aspiring entrepreneur, drop a line in the comments below.
I want to hear your story too!
And if you’re one of the 500,000+ incredible curlies that have given LUS a shot…
THANK YOU! None of this would be possible without you.