Thursday, February 23, 2023
Monique Rodriguez holds many titles: mother, wife, friend, sister, founder, CEO and self-made millionaire.
On Jan. 11, Rodriguez, founder and CEO of multimillion-dollar natural hair care brand Mielle Organics, announced she had sold her company to Procter & Gamble Beauty, sending Twitter into a frenzy.
For Black founders, success in business can be a double-edged sword. Some would consider selling your company — often for millions — to be a major accomplishment, but Black founders are continually scrutinized by their peers and customers for making this choice.
Here’s how Rodriguez raised money for her business, why she says she’s “selling up” and not selling out, and the best career advice she’s received.
The challenges of scaling
Rodriguez says she struggled with discrimination when it came to venture capital and fundraising – 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 401(k) and depleting all of that to invest into the business.”
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.
Selling up versus selling out
Rodriguez says that rather than labeling Black entrepreneurs as sellouts, people should view partnerships, investments and acquisitions as opportunities to sell up.
“It’s not about selling out, it’s about selling up in order to grow and scale your company … in order to take that wealth and give back to the community.”
Using hair-care brand Shea Moisture, which sold to Unilever in 2017, as an example, Rodriguez explains that despite the backlash, the brand still operates according to the foundations set by founder Richelieu Dennis. Since the acquisition, he’s been able to start the New Voices Fund, a venture capital firm dedicated to supporting entrepreneurs of color, and investing in many Black-owned businesses.
‘Success is not owned, it’s rented’
Despite having several mentors, coaches and peers, Rodriquez says the best career advice she’s ever received came from her husband.
“He gives me amazing advice all the time, [the best being]: Success is not owned, it’s rented — and rent is due every day. 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.”
More articles from Closing the Gap
‘Do the jobs that nobody else wants to do’: CNBC’s Becky Quick shares her best career advice
CNBC’s Becky Quick has reached what she considers the pinnacle of her career, now at the top of her game in a job that she loves. But she started at the bottom, getting coffee for her co-workers.
‘It’s a huge concern’: Senior-level women are calling it quits after decades climbing the career ladder
Earlier this month, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, also one of Google’s earliest employees, announced she’s leaving the company to “start a new chapter focused on my family, health, and personal projects I’m passionate about,” she wrote in a note to employees. Wojcicki's not the only high-profile woman in business and politics to call it quits recently — and experts say it points to a bigger trend.
A college side hustle made her a self-made millionaire before she turned 30—here’s how she got started
As Katelyn Alsop recalls, she stumbled by accident into the hobby that would help her become a millionaire before she turned 30. Alsop is a wedding photographer and mom of four — soon to be five — in Richmond, Virginia. Her wedding photography and online education business brings in close to $240,000 per month.