While most young couples are planning for children, buying homes and fattening their savings account, Ruben and Waveney Antoine chose to to spread their entrepreneurial wings and launch a beauty brand.
Here, the duo dishes on Back beauty and how they strayed away from the typical path of launching a startup.
ESSENCE: Having the funding to start a makeup company can be a challenge. How did you raise money? How did you start your business?
Ruben: We decided not to raise money for Koil. Having gone to college in Silicon Valley, we were very exposed to the environment of venture capital and angel investing. We learned that when raising funding, we’d be giving away not only equity but also more importantly power. As a company that strictly serves women of color, our brand message and direction is too important to jeopardize with significant investor involvement. Most venture capitalists are white men, meaning that after raising a few rounds, Koil would eventually turn into a white-owned company with a black CEO. The majority-white board would have the opportunity to remove us from power at any time, or force us to decrease the quality of our products in order to increase margins. We’ve seen it countless times where a change of ownership in a company founded for people of color results in products that end up hurting the community—especially in the hair industry.
Waveney: To fund the company, we used money from our past ventures. Ruben is a developer and I’m a designer. We sold two of our software companies and used that money to get Koil off the ground. We were also able to subsidize costs by creating our own content. Branding, web design and development at the caliber we’re able to produce in-house would be completely cost prohibitive for us to outsource at this early stage. We handle all development and design of the site, branding, styling for photo shoots, model scouting, packaging design, logistics, and product development ourselves. So we are able to focus our funds exclusively on working with the best photographers, models and makeup artists in the industry.
ESSENCE: Has starting your own business been everything you expected? What does having a black owned business mean to you?
Ruben: We’ve been starting businesses since freshman year of college, so it’s become a way of life for us. By being entrepreneurial and not being afraid to stray away from the typical path of launching a startup (hiring employees, getting funding, etc.), we’ve been able to achieve complete career freedom. We’re able to make our own decisions and can take on as ambitious of a project as we want.
Waveney: Having a black owned business is extremely important to us. We think that we are on the cusp of a huge movement in this country. We’ve seen the black community become a dominant force in the arts, sports, and even politics. We think that the next frontier for the community is a wave of businesses that will stimulate the black economy and create of sea of opportunities, propelling people of color into true positions of power throughout the country. A Black Renaissance of sorts.
ESSENCE: What is the beauty industry missing?
Waveney: The beauty industry is missing high-end luxury brands targeted specifically to women of color. Most of the high end brands have been around for 60+ years and continue to operate as though only white consumers can afford—or are even interested in purchasing—top caliber beauty products. Rather than beg for inclusion from these brands, we’re excited to be among an emerging group of black-owned companies serving our community from within.
Ruben: In addition to being antiquated in what markets they serve, the old guard of the beauty industry is largely stuck in the past in terms of their web presence. It’s often a difficult and unfulfilling experience to shop with high-end brands. As a web studio, we wanted to push the limits of design, and revolutionize the way consumers purchase hair pieces (e.g. with the 180 degree view of our wigs on both web and mobile) while browsing our website.
ESSENCE: Do you have plans to expand your business?
Waveney: What Koil is today is just the beginning for us. Our ultimate goal is to be the go-to luxury brand for women with afro-textured hair. We are going to continue to expand the options we have for hair pieces in terms of custom cuts and shapes. Without giving away too much, we also are working on revolutionizing afro-textured hair care with hardware products that make styling effortless. There are so many options for women who choose to straighten their hair, but for those of us who keep our afros, the tools are lacking. It’s time we change that.
Finally, we feel like we have the opportunity to create amazing imagery to go along with our products. We have exciting plans for our upcoming campaigns and look to push the envelope and showcase women of color in even more beautiful environments and styles.
ESSENCE: What separates your business from competitors?
Waveney: We are the first high-end brand catered exclusively to women with afro-textured hair. Our attention to detail in every step of the process, from the innovative product browsing experience to the caliber of the models and photography, reflects the quality of our brand.
Ruben: The primary difference between us and our competitors is that we are not trying to create a business, but a brand with legacy. Our goal is not to sell as many hair pieces as possible today, but to create something that will continue to be relevant tomorrow.
ESSENCE: Have you partnered with any celebrities? If so, who? If not, are their plans?
Waveney: We currently do not have any partnerships/plans with celebrities. We’ve chosen to put our models at the forefront of the business.
ESSENCE: What would your top piece of advice be to someone who is thinking of starting their own beauty business?
Ruben: The beauty industry is an incredibly aesthetic one. Creating a brand that can stand out aesthetically is an expensive task. Before you launch, figure out how much money you need to come out as a legitimate competitor in the market: top caliber photography, models, packaging, etc. If you don’t have the money or resources yet, just wait. If you start before you’re ready, you may run out of capital before you’re able to fully launch.
ESSENCE: YouTube beauty and hair gurus are on the rise, what does this mean for the future of your business?
Waveney: YouTube has definitely put more and more products in front of all types of customers. It’s allowed many women to easily figure out new product routines and learn from content creators they enjoy watching. On the flip side, however, as YouTube has become more and more competitive and profitable for the content creators, it has started to become overrun with paid reviews. Setting ourselves apart from companies who have the paid support of YouTubers or Instagram influencers has become an increasing challenge. It’s challenging us to push the limits of our brand and continue to improve our products to compete.We’ve decided against promoting through paid reviews as we want to maintain the authenticity of our marketing and create a brand that can stand on its own over time.
Waveney: Oribe Gold Lust Shampoo and Conditioner – I have fine hair that gets weighed down easily, so I don’t use any oils or gels or creams whatsoever. This line keeps my hair extremely soft and hydrated all week long. The second the conditioner touches my hair, all tangles melt like magic.
ESSENCE: What are some of your must-have beauty products?
Oribe Royal Blowout Heat Styling Spray This is hands down the most amazing fluffy afro blowout styling spray you can imagine. It leaves my hair soft like a silky cottony cloud, tangle-free and impervious to Florida humidity-shrinkage for days. It’s amazing!
Mason Pearson Brush This brush smooths and detangles hair like no other. It has a certain weight to it, and the bristles a unique grip that gives me so much control over my hair and safeguards against breakage. I use it to style as well as distribute the natural oils from my scalp down the length of the strands, so my hair stays super soft and moisturized all week without the need for creams or butters.
I live in Florida so it’s super hot and humid almost all year. So I keep my makeup really light to let my face breathe. This tinted moisturizer has built in SPF that’s perfect when you’re in the sun a lot. It also gives my face a flawless and glowing look.
Givenchy Le Rouge-À-Porter Lipstick #304 This lipstick is more like a tinted lip balm. It adds just a hint of color/shine and the texture of it is amazing.