October 2014 was supposed to be one of the highest points in Lisa Price’s life. Instead, it felt like one of the lowest for the Carol’s Daughter founder. That month, the entrepreneur announced that she’d sold her company to one of the largest cosmetic brands, L’Oreal. As a result, many onlookers and supporters vocalized their disappointment, especially Black Twitter, and accused the Brooklyn-born success story of being a “sell out” quick to leave behind her people to chase a dollar.
While many felt the move would result in the end of hair milk moisturizers as we know it, Cornell University professor, Noliwe Rooks, wasn’t wrong when she said: "[Lisa’s] love for that community and love for black women and economic possibility for black people is as much a part of her creation story and her narrative as whatever her products would do for your hair."
5 years and a 25th-anniversary milestone later, I would soon learn how Price handled the criticism and learned from her experience.
As several aspiring entrepreneurs and industry shakers gathered in the Made By We workspace for the intimate In Between Series facilitated by Tiffany Hardin, founder of boutique consultancy, Gild Creative Group, I must admit, I was a bit apprehensive in hearing what Lisa had to say —mainly because of, well, haters. Admittedly, I was a hater by association when the sale was first announced. I keke’d along with tweets that accused her of giving in to “The Man” while I was rocking a weave with a permed leave out. Clearly, I was in no position to laugh. While hearing her reflect on that trying time at this event, I left with not only a better understanding of why she decided to sell her company but also with a couple of her products in my Amazon Prime cart. Above all, the happy 57-year-old mother of three kept it real about her journey during the event and dropped gems too shiny to pass up during the audience Q&A.
When asked about how someone who had zero experience owning a business ended up being the owner of such a profitable and preeminent company, Lisa's response was simple. “Just because you’re not in a certain space, doesn’t mean you can’t dominate it.” And dominate she did. For those who don’t know, let’s take it back. In 1993, Lisa Price began her business in the kitchen of her Brooklyn home. Originally, Lisa created natural fragrances, body butters, and oils for skin care but after realizing several people weren’t showing her love at craft fairs for not having hair products, Lisa began making them. $27M, a Home Shopping Network (HSN) partnership, and several fully-stocked shelves in Sephora, Target, and Ulta later, Lisa became living proof that it’s possible to be successful in a field you otherwise knew nothing about.
Despite selling her company to L’Oreal, Lisa remains heavily involved and committed to her “child”, Carol’s Daughter, until she’s ready to retire. (Don’t let her angel-kissed skin fool you, sis is seasoned.) “ I’ve been doing this for 26 years...When your child is 26, they need their mom but not every day. I don’t need to be there as much.”
However, it wasn’t all easy choices. There were several times when Lisa was presented with the opportunity to take her business to the next level, but they just didn’t feel right to her. “I needed help. [But] I wasn’t desperate,” she admitted. Although she met with many big bank bosses, she held out until she found the right partner - one who understood her. That key player ended up being Steve Stoute. Through their partnership, Lisa was able to fulfill her vision, one that most prominent beauty brands still don't fully see. “Beauty companies need to understand that we’re no longer buying ‘the box,’” Lisa stressed.
To us, going natural means not having a perm made by Just For Me and protective styles are braids. To Lisa’s 12-year-old daughter, the word “natural” when it pertains to hair doesn’t mean much because, well, not it’s just hair. ”What happens when we all raise children that just look at it like hair?” Price asked. “My daughter has no perspective of [a] relaxer and she doesn’t go to the salon.” Like Lisa’s daughter, Generation Z is being raised in a time where young girls are celebrated for rocking their natural tresses and cornrows or ponytails are just an added accessory to an otherwise fierce look. Hair is not unique and Lisa feels that big cosmetic brands need to understand that there will be a shift in consumerism. “There has to come a time where we don’t buy shampoo in our own section,” said Price. “You can just line up all the shampoos, I’ll I know how to read, find one that I need… I don’t need to go to a separate aisle.”
And if you really think about it, hair really is just hair. We’re all born with it. There is no need to go to the ethnic aisle just to buy some conditioner. As long as you educate yourself, know what works for you, and can read the ingredients on a bottle. Any product, regardless of the brand, could be a fit for you.
With that being true, shouldn’t we have been rooting for Lisa instead? Shouldn’t we want for as many people as possible to use her bomb dot com product line and support her business? “Everybody needs to get comfortable with folks building stuff,” Lisa stressed. “That’s what we gotta do until we can build it and have wealth….Wealth doesn’t go away. It stays with your family.”
The backlash from selling her company was a lot, but it didn’t break her. Instead, Lisa turned that moment into a learning opportunity because, at the end of the day, no Twitter bird is writing her story but her. And no one should ever write your story for you. “As transparent as I thought I was being about [selling Carol’s Daughter], people were writing a whole different story for me. But you can’t write my story. I’m living it and so I used the opportunity to teach.” When chasing success, you will have uncomfortable moments, and how you move in them will define how far you’ll actually go.
As the In Between Series conversation and Q&A came to an end, Price revealed that these days she invests in people instead of businesses, and offered advice to those entrepreneurs in attendance and offered suggestions like the importance of having a financial advisor and paying taxes. “In this day and age, [you need an accountant] because you’re probably going to make money online and they have receipts for that,” she pointed out. “That’s real, that’s not cash when someone Venmo’s you. You might not need an accountant on retainer but you need to understand ‘What’s my liability?,’ ‘What do I need to deduct?,’ ‘When do I 1099?’” Price continued: “As soon as you get money, you have to know how to pay taxes ‘cause they never go away.”
Price answered another question about mentorship and reminded attendees that it’s good to follow and seek out, but just be inspired by them. “You can find those people to follow and to watch and to listen to,” she said. “You just don’t want to try to be them… just watch how they move.”
At the end of the day, the goal is to build a legacy for your family, an empire that still stands long after you’re gone, while expanding its reach across generations and races. So was Lisa’s decision worth it? I’d say very much so.
Guild Creative Group's “The In Between Series” is a conversation series that brings together unique founders and leaders across the beauty, fashion, tech, and culinary industries to share their journeys of entrepreneurship.”