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Hey, really quick, before we start to show the how I built this book is coming out in just a few weeks, but if you preorder before September 30th, I'll send you a signed book plate for free. If you love this show and support what we do and want a big book of inspiration, ideas, stories and insights. Preorder your copy of How I built this by visiting Guy Raz Dotcom for more details. So I walk into this auditorium and I look around and I'm like, oh, here we go again.
There were five of us who were going on stage to pitch our ideas and the four other men who are presenting all head tech companies. And I just remember being like, oh, my gosh, not again. It's like, what's your app? Yeah, right. This is what shampoo know. What was your app exactly? It was painful. From NPR, it's how I built this show of innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists and the stories behind the movements, they don't.
I'm Guy Raz and on the show today, how old family skincare recipes and a personal tragedy inspired Nancy, twined to build a natural hair care line called Rosio, one of the fastest growing hair brands sold at Sephora.
The easiest part about building a business is the day you imagine it in your head because everything that happens after it is really hard. The research, the business plan, the pitch to investors finding the factory, the distributor, the shops to sell your product, each one of these steps is an obstacle. And for the most part, each step creates a new problem. Too many problems can become overwhelming, and soon enough it can also become tempting to just ditch the whole idea entirely.
So to avoid that trap. Nancy twined took each problem one at a time, which is good because her idea was pretty complicated to build a line of natural shampoos and conditioners without most of the synthetic ingredients you'd find in other hair care products. She also wanted to design a line of products for all hair types and textures, and she wanted those products on the shelves of Sephora, one of the premier beauty retailers in the world. All of these problems, Nancy, would eventually solve her brand.
Brogo is now carried by Sephora and is expected to do almost 40 million dollars in sales this year. But to get there, especially with zero experience in the beauty industry, was going to pose a series of major challenges, starting with finding a chemist who actually believed you could make this stuff without parabens or sulphates or phthalates or any of the other common chemicals you need to make shelf stable shampoo. Her biggest early challenge, though, was having the courage to start the business at all.
It was 2010 and Nancy was in her 20s on the fast track as a trader for Goldman Sachs in New York. And one day, without any warning, a tragedy completely upended her life and prompted Nancy to re-evaluate the way she was living it, which we'll get to.
Nancy grew up on Long Island in New York. Her parents split up when she was a kid. Nancy's mother was a physician and the twins were one of the few black families in their neighborhood.
My mom was a family doctor, and I don't even know if that term is quite used anymore. And I do remember at a young age, being at her doctor's office and it was always full. You know, a lot of people ask me where I got this very confident entrepreneurial experience from. But I think that there was so much value and power of me seeing my mom running a successful practice, really running a business. My mom was an entrepreneur and seeing that at a young age, seeing her confident, seeing her joy, and the fact that being a female, being a black female was not a hindrance to any of the dreams and goals that I would ultimately have in life.
And I read that like as a kid, I used to go to West Virginia a lot. But what's the connection to to West Virginia?
Yeah. So my mom is from West Virginia. She's one of eight children and my grandmother is from there. And that's where she raised her tribe and a very small rural town called Rand R&D.
And, oh, what did you know about her upbringing? I mean, it's like I think to this day, it's one of the whitest states in the country and obviously one of the poorest states in the country. Did she ever talk about what her childhood was like there?
Yeah, it was you know, it was definitely a tough childhood. They didn't grow up with a lot. And the fact that my mom grew up in that type of environment, not only not having a lot, but not being able to see what success and beyond that lifestyle could look like, because so much of wanting to become better or becoming successful comes from seeing other people who look like you that have done it. And when you don't even see the possibility, but knowing within you that it exists and having that faith and belief in yourself, it's so, so powerful.
And that was very much my mom's story.
So I guess as a kid, I used to go to West Virginia to visit your grandma, who was, from what I understand, the like the local beauty guru.
Like, what does that mean? What does she she, like, give people beauty tips? It was a little bit different than that. I think, you know, my grandmother, again, was really kind of faced with the challenge of providing for eight children with very, very little. And she was very thrifty. I know one of the things that she used to do is she would stretch. The little bits of product that she would get her hands on, so, you know, maybe she used some oils and extracts to stretch, you know, a quarter bottle of lotion to be able to fill it back up to a full bottle.
And she learned how to distill her own essential oils. And this kind of natural chemistry created this unique situation that I think ultimately, too, inspired my mom to later become a chemist and then a MDP PhD. So what do you remember what your grandmother used to make? Yeah. So one of the things that was kind of interesting because it wasn't really a product that I used growing up, but these kind of thick kind of butters that you could use for all different sorts of things, really dry skin, feet, elbows, knees, and then, you know, other sort of medicinal needs like cuts or burns, different types of cells that would almost leave your skin glistening.
But I just remember visiting that house and it was just like a lot of stuff, lots of jars, anything you needed you could find in that house. And if you didn't find it precisely, it could be made or derived from something. And that was really kind of the attitude and spirit. Yeah. So you you went on to win, went to college. You went to university, Virginia. Yes. First of all, what I would what was your experience like at UVA?
I had a phenomenal experience at UVA, but I think one of the things that was so different starting out there was that a lot of the other black men and women didn't have the same type of diverse high school experience that I had. So I know that there were a lot of people where it was the first time really ever in their life. They were around white people. So there were elements of self segregation that I witnessed during my early times at UVA that I didn't quite understand in terms of black group separating themselves and the libraries or in the dining halls.
And it was so new to me because it just was so different than my experience in high school where everyone sat with each other. Yeah, but one of the things that I focused on or made emphasis of was that I really wanted to continue my experience of having a diverse group of friends. And I didn't want to self segregate. And I was able to really build a community of close friends that span all different sorts of ethnicities and backgrounds.
And when you went to college, did you have any idea of what you wanted to, like, eventually do for a career?
So entering UVA, I would have never thought that I would become a finance person. What I did know is that I loved music. I was in an a cappella group and college. Oh, wow.
Did you guys wear like a matching blazers?
No, we were actually a really cool, hip a cappella group. We were actually UVAs first hip hop a cappella group. And so I had so much fun and that stemmed from me really finding music in high school. And it created kind of this fantasy for me of one day being a pop star like a Mariah Carey.
But when I went to UVA and got exposed to hundreds of talented singers both within my a cappella group and outside of it. It was a awakening that I was just OK, that this is not going to be what was going to pay the bills in the right. Exactly.
No, no music career, but instead you decide to study finance. And what like what was the idea behind that? Just kind of like seemed like a good way to get a well-paying, stable job.
So outside of wanting to be a, you know, musical pop star.
I also had this hobby of creating and selling things. I was very, very entrepreneurial as a child in middle school. This is when the movie Clueless came out and those cool, like feather pins were so popular, but no one knew where they could get them because Etsy wasn't around. And I went to Michael's my local craft store and got ribbon pens, all sorts of stuff, feathers and created replicas of those clueless feather pens. And I would sell them at school.
Yeah, I have a lot of different stories of these, like little mini entrepreneurial ventures. I loved creating and then the validation that came from people actually wanting to spend their money on my creations. And so ultimately, when I kind of gave up on the idea of becoming a famous pop star, I started to think more about how I could translate the passion for entrepreneurism into a career path and major. And so that was really kind of the first part of my journey of even contemplating a career in finance.
And you did a summer internship at Goldman Sachs, I read. And what did you do there? Yeah, so I actually interned for two summers. I spent my first summer and legal and compliance and I quickly realized that that part of the firm was just not something I was interested in. I was a very, very bored and while I was in legal and compliance, I was actually sitting on the sales and trading floor and I was so intrigued by what was going on around me.
And I said, I don't know what that is, but I want to do that. That is where the action is at. I mean, people are standing up in their seats. They're shouting across the room. People were having fun. There were so much energy. And I thought to myself, I have another summer that I could spend at Goldman. I want to spend it in sales and trading. And so Wollar, that next summer, I did a sales and trading internship.
And you come in each morning and you never know what you're going to get. Markets are constantly moving. They're so dynamic. And not only that, there's just a lot of camaraderie on that sales and trading floor, which is so incredible. So to me, it was one of the most exciting things that I could be doing in the finance world.
So right after that, you graduate. It's twenty seven and that internship lands you a job working for Goldman Sachs on the trading floor. Yeah. And then a year later, 2008, the financial crisis. And obviously there must have been layoffs. You had managed to hang on to your job, but were you were you nervous, ever nervous about getting fired, about losing your job?
I was definitely nervous because so many of my friends in my internship class had gotten laid off in 2008. It was part of the reason why I knew I had to make myself invaluable. I knew that if I became invaluable, it would be very hard for my team to lay me off, which is why I invested the time and energy into being an incredible support, not only for my team, but teams around me that needed support.
I mean, were you just working all the time? Did you even have time for friends or to do anything outside of work?
I was working a lot, and I think that my goal of making myself indispensable to protect my career during a tumultuous time probably put me in the position of being taken advantage of at times. There were, I'm sure, some of my classmates who would never come in on a Sunday night randomly because their boss texted them. However, everyone knew that I would be the first person to say yes and leave a dinner with my family to go into the office to work on a desk for my boss, even with 15 minutes notice.
Is that something that your mom would have would have expected you to do, like your dinner with your mom and you get the call and you're like hot and she's go, you got to go. They need your help.
Yeah, she was the type to say, you know, get there and get on it. You got to do what you've got to do. Yeah. I never was guilt tripped. I was encouraged. And so from that standpoint, my family and my friends understood. All right.
So you are clearly working like crazy on Wall Street.
You're in your mid 20s, you've got a good salary and your life takes a turn and tragically unexpected turn. Your mom is killed. She is hit by a car and. That's it, I mean, what what I just probably shocking thing to experience in your life. I mean, you are go, go, go. And all of a sudden your mom's gone. Yeah, it was a huge shock. I have friends who have lost their parents through battles with cancer, Alzheimer's, but it was a journey that they had mentally prepared themselves for.
I didn't have that opportunity. But not only that, it was the first time that I truly realized that this life is not promised to anyone and we owe it to ourselves to find our happiness, to pursue our passions. And to make the most of this life, because it's so, so fragile and I feel like I had been so naive, I never even fathomed my mom not being around to see her grandchildren any of that. Yeah, none of us do.
Yeah. I will say that my brother and I have always been close, but that experience brought us even closer and I couldn't have imagined going through that experience on my own. And I did take some time off, you know, how much time did you remember how much time you took off? I took off about two months, which doesn't seem like a lot of time, and it probably wasn't. But because I had been working so much that two months felt like a year.
Yeah. And during that time, did you start to kind of reevaluate your own, like, I don't know what your life was about and what you wanted to do with it? And did your mom's death kind of force you to think about, well, what is this all about?
What am I doing it did you know another thing that was really sad for me, as I remember, you know, the weeks and even months leading up to my mom's passing, so much of our conversations were just around the fact that I was working way too much and I was exhausted. And even some nights I would call her crying because I felt like I couldn't do it anymore. And I wish that our conversations would have been more substantive. And, you know, after the experience of losing my mom so suddenly and realizing that this life isn't necessarily promised to me either, I knew that whatever I was going to do, I wanted to wake up every day and be excited about going into the office.
At the time of your mother's death, was she was she still working as a physician full time?
No, she was retired. She was retired.
So she was starting to enjoy retirement. And and I guess she was thinking about a business at that time, right? Yeah.
My mom was in the process of starting her own skin care line. It was called something like Skin Care X, but it was all about kind of taking what she learned, chemistry and even her medical career. I mean, she was talking about, you know, infusing plasma into facial creams like really cool advanced stuff. And yeah, I remember she had like two or three formulas that were pretty developed and there was some packaging. It was like these white jars with gold lettering.
And I was so kind of caught up in my finance life that I kind of forgot that my mom was working on this project in the background. And it really wasn't only until, you know, I had to start going through her stuff after the passing that I found, you know, the photos and was reminded of this project she was working on.
And so I think definitely created this light bulb moment and also brought me back to some of the childhood memories that I had with my mom, where we were making a lot of our own beauty products and the kitchen of our home. Fortunately, we had access to a lot more than what my mom did growing up. We had a local health food store where we could actually buy extracts and oils and butters and salts and sugars. And we were making just custom beauty products for our needs.
The needs of friends like skin creams, mainly actually hair care products mainly, and partly because I have naturally very curly curly hair. And the market for textured hair wasn't really established back then. So I found myself struggling with the products that were available and either needing to supplement them with other ingredients or just create my own products from scratch. I read that there was a point where you thought, all right, I want to do my own thing and I probably need to leave finance.
And I guess your brother, he's an entrepreneur too. And he started like a digital media company. And I guess at a certain point you called him. You're like, hey, can I come work with you? Is that to that happen? Yeah, it did happen.
And I'm just going to be totally transparent with you. I was while I was at Goldman, I was seeing a therapist. And prior to my mom's passing, I was even thinking about, you know, what life beyond Goldman looked like. And she encouraged me to see if I could join my brother and his entrepreneurial ventures. And he said, you know, this is my thing you should get. Your own thing, I was so disappointed and kind of offended and I felt stuck because at the time my own thing, like, what was that?
What was that going to be? That was like this very nebulous, weird space that I just couldn't possibly think of. What would I do? And it really wasn't until my soul searching journey after my mom's passing between these childhood memories of making my own products were my mom had gotten to in the development of her brand and then thinking, wow, I could create my own beauty product line. I guess at a certain point you were.
And this is something is so cool about New York. I like the cool thing about living in New York is that there are all these resources. And I guess a certain point you went to like a small business library, like you actually really thought, OK, I better learn about what it means to start a small business if I'm going to do this is what happened there.
Yeah. And I know that sounds so nerdy, but the New York Small Business Library was game changing for me because I got access to research databases and reports that I otherwise would have had to have spent thousands of dollars on. And I was typing in different search terms like natural personal care market, natural hair care, clean hair care. And one of the things that I noticed in these reports was that there were pretty meaningful sections on natural personal care for body, for skin care.
But there were really small kind of paragraphs dedicated to natural hair care. And I thought that that was really interesting.
And what it did tell me was that there were very few players in natural hair care at the time relative to the other categories, but that it was also a budding space. And that's really when the light bulb went off. And I said, this is a huge white space potential. It makes sense because of my personal background of focus here. This has legs to run with.
I mean, so you're looking through just like doing research, right? You know, you want to do something in natural hair care products. And by the way, what does that mean? Like because you see a lot of hair care products all say natural on them or, you know, free of this or free of that. But what it this is 2010. What did that mean? Yeah, it's a great question because the word natural is not regulated, the way that organic is so natural means different things to different people.
And for me, it meant utilizing a high, high percentage of naturally derived ingredients. And so basically what I mean by that is instead of pumping our products with silicones, which are synthetic polymers that give the illusion of shine on the hair, we actually used real natural oils to do that because not only is it natural, but the benefits, the vitamins, the nutrients, the minerals with the natural oils actually serve a purpose in enhancing the Harris health that silicones do not.
So that's really the foundational goal of why we do use natural clean ingredients in our products. All right.
So you are thinking, hey, maybe I can do something here. Well, what's the next step you take? I mean, you're a trader at Goldman Sachs and obviously you're super smart and talented, but you're also pretty young and probably don't I imagine you don't know a whole lot of people in the in the beauty industry. So what like what's the next step? Would you call? Where do you go?
Yeah. So, you know, after doing my research, I realized, one, there's a void for clean natural hair care, but there's also a void for effective, clean natural hair care. So I had a premise that was compelling because I wasn't just kind of hopping on something that already existed. I was creating something that didn't exist. And so I had never created a business plan before. And I knew it was something that I wanted to be thoughtful about.
So I did what I always do, which is I consulted my friend Google and I Googled how to create a business plan. And I stumbled upon a website that offered a service where they would partner with you to understand your vision and then also give you some help on the financial side in terms of forecasting financial statements. And that's how I went or went about creating my my first business plan. OK, so you're working on a business plan, but you don't actually have a product to sell yet.
So what what happens next? Yeah, so after I had my business plan created, I told myself that I was going to tell all of my friends about what it is I wanted to do because I knew if I went and told everyone that I wanted to start a clean natural hair care product line, that they would ask me about it every time we went out and I didn't want to disappoint them. So it was my way of holding myself accountable.
And so once I felt really good about the viability of this business plan, I knew the next thing that I needed to do was to start formulating. And that's where I was a little bit stuck because without my mom and without advanced knowledge of chemistry, I didn't feel comfortable formulating the products on my own in a way in which, you know, I could sell them to a Sephora, for example. Sure.
And at the time, I had no idea that you could outsource R&D and manufacturing to an outside company. And I only learned about that because I had told a friend about my idea and she said, oh, let me put you in touch with a friend who created a deodorant line. And I said, Oh, I would love that. And I spoke to this friend and I go, How are you making this deodorant at home? And he said, I'm not.
I'm using a contract manufacturer.
So this was so fascinating for me. I said, this is cool. I can actually utilize the team and resources of another company to bring my idea to life. And so I was very, very organized and I did a bunch of research on Google. I started attending some local trade shows and I figured out the who's who and hair care contract manufacturing.
But meantime, you are still working at Goldman Sachs, right? I am.
And so that was really, really tricky because this would have been 2011, 2012. I had just become a vice president. So I had gotten promoted. But I was also trying to allocate time to work on Brogo.
So and by the way, did you already call it brioche? You know, it did not it did not have a name. Yeah. Basically, the way that I worked it was that after work is when I did all of my email stuff. So a lot of people were getting emails from me like nine, 10 p.m. at night. And my calls, I would do those on my lunch break or some days I would take PTO when I just knew that I was going to have a really hectic day of.
Calls and research, because I had a ton of PTO because I never took time off, so I never really took vacation. It was just more so days to work on my business plan. So you would call up or you connect with some of these potential factories and you would say, hey, I want to make haircare products like shampoos and conditioners and stuff, but with no sulphates, silicones, parabens, dieser dies, all the stuff that's in pretty much 99 percent of hair care products.
And I imagine most of the time they would be like can be done. That's not possible. Yeah, you're absolutely right. And it was very disappointing. Pretty much every conversation I had made the idea seem very far fetched. And sometimes I would get close. Sometimes manufacturers would say, oh, we just started developing shampoo's without sulphates, but we need the silicone base in order for it to hydrate your hair. If you don't have the silicones, the clean surfactants are going to dry out the hair.
You can't have one or the other. But, you know, there was one contract manufacturer that came back to me and said, we've never done this before, but I think we can do it, especially if you're willing to dedicate the time to partner with our R&D team and to really work with us and give us some time.
And by the way, I think just let's just be clear. Yeah. We're not saying names or the name of this manufacturer because it's a trade secret, right? That's right. OK, yes. So keep going. Yeah.
So there was a small contract manufacturer privately run and operated in the Midwest. I had the opportunity to meet with the CEO of the contract manufacturer. And I think he was kind of surprised that I was this finance girl who had the side project of, you know, starting a beauty product company. And I think he took note of my passion. And I've been fortunate to work with people who have extended courtesies and opportunities to me because the passion became infectious.
So even though I wasn't coming in with a big check size or, you know, a big production run, I do think there are a lot of people that just have that heart inside of them that want to see the underdog succeed. And so luckily, I was able to get the time and attention and the dedicated lab time with the chemists to help me really tackle this project.
Yeah, but you I mean, you you did not have a background in chemistry. So how did you even know, like, the words to use when you were talking to the lab chemists, like even even to tell them what you wanted them to make, like what would you say? Like, I want this to be like, well, what, what would you say? Yeah.
So it's a little hard sometimes to describe these things. Yeah. So I had to kind of study up on hair care terminology specifically. I was working on a treatment mask and I wanted it to have a very luxurious, buttery, rich texture. So it needed to have a higher viscosity. I also wanted the concentrations of what I called our Narva complex, and NOVA stands for natural oils, vitamins and antioxidants. I wanted the NOVA complex in this mass to be, you know, three times more concentrated than our other formulas.
This is a is a hair mass. This is a hair mask. What does the hair mask? I don't remember. Use one. What is it?
So it is a concentrated conditioning treatment that helps to repair, moisturize and enhance the vitality of the hair.
And all the while you're funding this. I mean, your costs are not high at this point. It's just travel and stuff. But you're just funding it through your salary at Goldman Sachs, right?
Yes, I was funding through my salary, but I was being really mindful of how much I was spending because things do really add up quickly. And I didn't have products yet, so I didn't want to get too far with spend before making sure that I could actually do this.
And what what were you looking to make shampoo conditioner like? Tell me the things that you wanted them to kind of like the prototypes you wanted them to make for you. Yeah.
So originally I wanted to create a fifteen SKU product line. Fifteen you one of the fifteen. OK, fifteen. Because I wanted to have something for every hair texture type and I didn't want to leave anyone out. And I was speaking to a contact in the contract manufacturing space that really advised me against a fifteen product SKU line coming out the gate. And he goes, if you can do it with four products, it's your best bet. Who was this person advising you?
Just a friend or mentor. So it was actually one of the contract manufacturers that I didn't end up going with, but gave me some really great advice, which is a good lesson in, you know, you might get. It from somebody or you might reject them, but you can really get some good advice from them. Yep. So you decide you're going to come up with four products and what were those products going to be? What? What?
Yeah, so that was a big challenge for me. You know, how was I going to create a diverse assortment with only four SKU? So what I decided to do was to create one shampoo for all hair types, OK? And then I had three conditioners that were texture specific, though with four products, I was able to hit a pretty diverse client base. All right.
So you are I think it took you about a year before you finally got this right. And in that year, were you telling your co-workers that you're working on this now?
So no one in my immediate team knew that I was working on this project. I had a couple of friends at Goldman that I confided in, but only a couple that I knew would not say anything because I was serious about my work and I didn't want to compromise that. And sure, I didn't want it to get out that I was doing both.
So how are you? So you like taking like a day here in the day there and flying to to this manufacturer and like, come back to New York and is that where you were basically doing for a year?
Yeah, I was it was pretty crazy. And there were points in which I did start hitting a wall because I was getting very little sleep, you know, being on the trading floor. I was also working with the London market. So I needed to be at the desk by 7:00 a.m. So I was getting to bed at like 1:00, 2:00 a.m. and then waking up at five, thirty a.m. day over day over day. And it started to become unsustainable.
Do you think I imagine one of the reasons why you were just grinding away was way to kind of cope with with the loss of your mom?
Yeah. I mean. The project and process of building Brogo really became a therapy for me.
I needed to take that energy and put it into something positive. And there are a lot of people who were very, quote unquote, proud of me that I didn't self-destruct or get into negative behavior like drinking or drugs and things like that. And for me, I really took the emotions of that experience and poured it into this project. And I think that's why the hours that I was devoting, the lack of sleep, all of that stuff, I just kept going because it was my therapy.
When we come back in just a moment, how Nancy managed to convince a man with very little hair to invest in her hair care products company. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to how I built this from NPR. Support for this podcast and the following message come from the American Jewish World Service, working together for more than 30 years to build a more just and equitable world. Learn more at A.J. W.S. Dawg. Thanks also to Microsoft.
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The book is a collection of insights and wisdom from some of the most incredible and inspiring makers, inventors, builders and dreamers on Earth to preorder and to get your free signed book plate. While supplies last, go to Guy Raz Dotcom. Hey, welcome back to how I built this from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So by the end of 2012, Nancy Twined is about two years into launching her line of natural hair products. And she's still got a few daunting problems to solve.
For instance, she doesn't have a name for her company yet, and she needs to figure out how to convince retailers to sell her product. And at this point, Nancy starts to realize that she'll probably need some more money than what she has in her savings account. So by that point, the most money I spent was on the business plan, which was about five thousand. Some of the initial concepts for the packaging, which was north of 10 K.
Yeah. And then you factor in everything else. I was probably close to twenty five K, but you're bootstrapping this business. I mean are you. I imagine you're thinking I got to raise some money. Did you start to look around. I did.
So I was self funding a lot of it. But I knew that if I was going to start to scale this at some point, I didn't want to put myself in a position where I was completely maxed out because I also knew that it would be hard for me to focus on growing my business if I was thinking about, you know, how I was going to pay my rent. So I did. I started dabbling in going to investor meet ups and pitching sessions, which was quite the experience.
And you would go to these things and they were like, they're like speed dating, but pitching your business right.
It's so funny because Guy, I didn't even know it was a thing and I got invited to one of these things and that's exactly what it was. You know, there was a line at each of these booths and you would do your one minute elevator pitch and it was Nuzzo.
And at this point, you were going to these pitch meetings with investors, angel investors, with bottles of your product. No, not even you were just just describing this concept. Yeah.
And I had some artwork on a piece of paper. I would bring this thick piece of paper that had sketches of the packaging. It was really hard guy to sell a brand that existed. I would think so, yeah. To tech investors. I mean, it was kind of crazy. It's like, what's your app? Yeah, right. Exactly what this is. This is shampoo, right? No, no, no. What was your app.
Which is why like going to these networking events was so discouraging because I was no one really cared about what I was doing and I even felt like the people in the room weren't consumers of what I was offering.
I imagine these were predominantly men. Yes, probably white men who don't use hair masks. And many some of them don't have hair and also probably don't really understand your specific hair needs either.
And by the way, how did you eventually settle on the name Breonia?
I had so many, like, random names I can't even remember, but I just remember I got to the point of frustration and knew that I needed help. And a friend of mine ended up putting me in touch with a guy who was a consultant. And for less than 500 bucks, he picked my brain on what I wanted this brand to be and gave me a ton of options.
And Brogo stood out. So the word BREO is an Italian word that means vibrant, colorful, full of life. That's like our DNA essence. And the word G.O. is Latin for of earth of nature. And that speaks to our clean ingredient methodology. All right. So you are looking for money and you keep grinding away, going to these things. And at one of these things, you do meet somebody who actually says, yeah, yeah, I'll give you some money.
Who was this person?
How did that happen? Yeah, so there was a investing network out in Long Island. And I remember racing from work to try to make it there on time, which I did. And I and this is in 2013. This was in twenty twelve point twelve again. Yeah. And so I walk into this auditorium and I look around and I'm like, oh, here we go again. Exactly as you described. It was all white men, older men to that, you know, filled the space.
And then there were five of us who were going on stage to pitch our ideas and the four other men who were presenting all had tech companies. And I just remember being like, oh, my gosh, not again. You know what's so hard about it guy, too, is that when you get onto a stage and you know that everyone there is probably not interested in what you have to offer and you kind of have to fake that sense of enthusiasm.
Yeah, it was painful. So here you are there for other guys with their software as a service product and then you present and what what happens. So I presented with passion. I had a great presentation and then. After the stage pitches, there was a breakout room in which the five of us each had a table where we could display our product concepts or technology. And so for me, it was that poster board with the sketches of the product and no one came to my table.
It was so embarrassing. I was so upset. And at the very end, as I was packing up my table, a guy named Phil came by and said, you gave the best presentation. And he said, as you can tell, I have very little hair.
I know little about hair care, but he goes, I don't really invest in the products anyway. Invest in the people. And he goes, You've got something. And here's my number. Let's be in touch.
And his name is Phil. Phil Palmetto. What a great guy. Yes.
So so Phil gives you carte and then I'm assuming you call him the next day or so.
I didn't call him. He called me. Well, I was on the trading desk and I got this missed call and I hopped off and it was Phil.. Phil had called because he wanted to follow up and he wanted to learn more. And that's where the dialogue started. And ultimately, a year later, after I had gotten my first retail commitment, he made his first investment.
And Brogo, how did you get a retail commitment? So after the lengthy process of formulating my first four products, I had now had a name for the company. I had the packaging design. I had done my first run of 400 pieces or whatever the minimum was.
Yeah, and I was tasked with figuring out how I was going to bring the products to market. Its funny guy because I just focused on one thing at a time. Sure. And so once the products were made I had to figure out how I was going to get them in front of retailers and I had a business plan so I knew who my target retailers were. I was targeting the prestige retailers of the world like Sephora, Nordstrom, etc., but they weren't giving you the time of day because you were competitive.
Nobody to other people in the industry, I guess. Right.
So I knew I couldn't just cold email them like that just wasn't going to work. So at the time, I had started building up some mentors in the space that encouraged me to go to a trade show and to invest in getting a booth, which is not cheap.
It's like two, three thousand, four thousand more. It was more than that. Wow. Because I elected to be in this very special section of the Cosmic Proff Beauty Trade Show.
Where is that? Is that New York that's in Las Vegas. And how much is your booth cost cost about ten thousand dollars for that weekend.
And then that was just for the space. You were to like bring your stuff with you and like a signage and. Right. Yeah, there's travel. I had to design the space. I needed staffing. So I think when it was all said and done, it was probably closer to 15000.
And meantime, no one at Goldman Sachs knows. It's like you're like, OK, you have a great weekend and you fly to Las Vegas to go have a booth at this at this trade show.
Yeah, it was a little weird. And I did I started feeling guilty. I'm like, this isn't right. I like, you know, I'm kind of living this double life. But clearly by twenty thirteen, this is like this train has left the station. Now you've got one foot really in this, this side the products end and you get to the show and you're standing there, you've got your, your bottles all lined up and, and people are passing by and people stop and start to talk to you.
Yeah. And if you've never been to a trade show, it is a very, very overwhelming series of days because you were talking nonstop and you have to be on and you have to be at that booth because you never know who's going to come by. You can't even go to the bathroom. Yeah, yeah, it's very hard. And I actually did step away to the bathroom and miss the buyer who I was there for. Luckily, they came back, but that's how it happened.
Okay. All right. So you're there presumably, hopefully to get some kind of deal, somebody to purchase to make a purchase order. And what who ends up ordering from you? Yeah.
So the first day I was handing out just lots of samples and buyers were very intrigued because they're always intrigued by newness and they had never seen the brand before. But the buyers that I gave samples to, most of them came back the next day and said I used the products last night or this morning, like tell me more. And so some of those buyers included, you know, Urban Outfitters, Nordstrom. And then on the very last day, the Sephora team came by.
And that was what's really funny is that I didn't even know that they were the Sephora team until they left because there was a group of four of them and their badges. Or turn the other way, because they don't want to be kind of like smothered by everyone who's looking for the for a team, so when they came by, I actually had no idea. And when they walked off, another brand came up to my booth and said, oh, my gosh, how did the conversation with Sephora go?
And I was like, what do you mean? And she was like, oh, those four women were from Sephora.
But they didn't make an order. They didn't put in or they didn't make an order. I got no contacts. I had no business cards. And I was actually very, very disappointed because they were the people I came to see and I left without getting any information or an ability to even contact any of them.
Did you leave with any orders?
I left with no orders, but I did leave with interest from Urban Outfitters.
So Urban Outfitters stopped by. And by the way, were there people who assumed because you are an African-American woman, that this you were making products for, you know, quote unquote, ethnic aisle products? You know what I mean? Like that that this was specifically for women of color. I mean, was there did people make that assumption initially?
You know, I figured that people would, which is why when I design my booth, I was very intentional about having hair model imagery at my booth that really displayed the diversity of our intended consumer. So I think when people saw the breadth of ethnicities and skin tones and hair texture types, I think it helped to offset maybe that stereotype.
Yeah, I mean, even when you go to your website now, I mean, we're jumping ahead, but it's like, you know, there's just different skin tones and different hairstyles and it's like every single hair type and an ethnicity is represented on your website.
Yeah. And that's that's been a day. One mission of the Brogo brand was to create you problem solution formulas. But that really speaks to a diverse spectrum of women and now men as well. And it really just kind of reflects, I think, my experience of growing up and I've been so fortunate to have a diverse group of friends, and I never wanted any of my friends to feel like they couldn't use Breonia to.
All right. So you come back from that trade show and then I'm assuming you start to pick the phones on Urban Outfitters. Oh, yeah. So that that moved pretty quickly. So they they did eventually put an order in that fall. And that was actually the milestone that fill up who I spoke about a little earlier to fill up was then ready to commit some capital to the to the company because you needed cash to place that order. I mean, if and the how many do you remember how many bottles they bought her?
So they bought the stock. They pretty much bought all of the stock that I had. So that was a few hundred units, right? Yeah. So it was because they were kind of dipping their toe into this. Right. And so you don't have to make extra product, but that was enough to get filled to say, all right, I'm in, I'll give you some money. Yes. And what to give you. So he gave me the first time about one hundred thousand dollars, which.
And was that a game changer for you at this point? Oh, yeah. I mean, that that was huge. I mean, I knew that I could, you know, scale the next production run. It was still me at the time. So I wasn't at a point where I needed to invest and staffing, but it was really all about being able to scale the inventory. All right. So you get into Urban Outfitters, but then the next challenge is and I love the methodical way you do this, you're like you kind of break it up to bite size chunks.
Let me tackle this problem and then I'll tackle the next problem. But the next problem was getting people to buy it at Urban Outfitters, like getting people to be aware of it, right? That's right.
So one of the other investments that I made early on was a PR agency, and that was really important because I had to get the story out there. One of the things that I did that was a little bit different is I made myself available to the editors and I told my PR agency that I didn't want them to just pitch editors over email because I wouldn't be able to really tell the full story. And because I was in New York, I asked them if they could set me up with desk side appointments, where I would actually meet the editor and be able to have a face to face connection.
And so I was able to create relationships with editors at a dozen of publications and I started getting press out of the gate. Wow. From even some of the bigger publications like, you know, Allure and Marie Claire and Refinery29.
Now, knowing what I know about the beauty industry from the interviews we've done on the show, Sephora is like Valhalla, like you got to be in Sephora. That's very. Was Sephora like front and center in your mind, like we're using, I got to get in there front and center. I mean, I needed to be in Sephora. I built this brand to be in Sephora.
Wow. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. So how did you like what do you how do you find out who to contact at Sephora. Is it like info at Sephora. Dotcom.
No, it was it was definitely a bit of a puzzle. And I remember one of the women in that group who was kind of like the leader of the group. She had a unique, memorable name. Her name was Marguerita, and that's all I remember. So I did some Google searching and I found out her full name and who she was. And there is this website. I can't remember the name of the website, but it would help you to determine what the format of email addresses.
And I emailed her to send a little follow up email. I attached our brand book and told her that I would love the opportunity to come to San Francisco to meet with her in person to discuss the opportunity further. And I never got a response.
So I waited a month and then I said, all right, I need something that's going to.
Make it like a no brainer to meet with me, so I decided to collect all of the press that I had gotten over the past couple of months, and I put together this really beautiful press book. And then I just decided to tell her that I was planning a trip to San Francisco, that I was going to actually be there.
And so I finally got a response, which was a forward to her junior buyer, and she asked her junior buyer to to take over the conversation. She's like, yeah, let's meet up at Peet's Coffee and let's let's chat.
This buyer says, yeah, come meet me a pizza. You literally get on a plane and go to San Francisco to have a coffee at pizza. I know it's insane. It's so crazy thinking back at it. But it was so well worth the investment of the time and money because I really connected with that merchant and she was also a person of color. She really took a particular liking to the fact that Roscio really represented diversity. But she was very honest with me and said, you know, Nancy, we just aren't focused on building out our hair care category right now.
Makeup is the thing and that's where we're focused. But if things change, I would love to be in touch, OK?
So that's a start. But it's a little bit disappointing because, you know, by this point twenty fourteen, you're four years into this thing. Yeah. And I get it. How are you going to change your mind? It was definitely a disappointing moment and it was another moment in which I second guessed, you know, whether or not I had picked the right category because, wow, already four years in, I think, oh, did I make a mistake?
I did, because, you know, it was similar feedback that I had gotten from some of the other buyers. It was like, why hair care? Like, it's not the most interesting or booming category within prestige beauty. I guess I was ahead of my time from that standpoint, but I also knew that my time was running out in terms of putting the capital to work for my investors and also making that move to being a full time entrepreneur.
So I continue to stay in touch with the buyer just so that she knew that Breonia was in demand and, you know, things were going well. Yeah. And then in February of 2014, I received an email that changed my life. I had sent the merchant buyer Januaries press summary. And a couple of weeks later, she responded and said, Nancy, it's so great to hear from you. The stars must have been aligned because we just got out of a town hall with our CEO and he wants to start building out our hair care category at Sephora and a more meaningful way.
And we want to test Brogo. Wow. I still have the email. Did you scream? Did you jump up and down?
Oh, my gosh.
I just it was the opportunity that I needed because I knew that I could do it. I just needed the opportunity.
So they they agreed to sell Roscio in their stores or what.
So it was a test and the test was online only. So if I hit my targets, the next step would be to launch Brogo and 25 of the then four hundred Sephora stores.
By the way, you're still at Goldman Sachs at this point in in early 2014.
Yes. So I was still at Goldman and once I received that email from Sephora, I knew that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. And I knew that if I was going to do it right, I could not continue working a full time job. And I owed it to myself to really give this opportunity a real chance.
You had to leave?
I had to leave, but I was nervous. I mean, I was I was twenty eight years old. I was a vice president at Goldman. I was making good money.
Yeah, but even though you were nervous, you knew is right thing.
I knew it was the right thing and I really knew it was the right thing when I had talked to my brother and a couple of other friends and family members and I was actually surprised by how supportive they were, I thought there was going to be at least one person that said, are you sure this is the right thing? Do you really want to do this? And not one person said that. They said, Nancy, we believe in you.
Go for it.
That's awesome. So you leave now. You are there is no safety net under you. This has got to work. It's got to work. I mean, I put everything on the line. I resigned. I had no more income coming in. I wasn't paying myself. It was scary. Were you essentially funding? The the products buy through the cash flow, like Sephora will do an order and then that's how you funded the business, or were you already starting to seek out more outside investors?
Well, yeah. I mean, I was using the little bit of cash that I had, because the thing about retail is that you don't get the money until, you know, several days after you ship the product. And so I wasn't launching in Sephora until August of that same year and they didn't place the order until July. So I left Goldman in April and I was living on no income from the business. I mean, I had some of the small orders from Urban Outfitters, but that that wasn't enough.
All right. So you get this order from Sephora. Yes. I mean, there's hundreds, maybe thousands of products available on at Sephora, Dotcom. So how are you going to stand out?
What did you do? So one of the most incredible investments I could have ever made at the time was partnering with a beauty sampling box called IPSI that curates different beauty samples for, you know, hundreds of thousands of subscribers like a Birchbox. Exactly. And our most universal product is our deep conditioning mask. And I thought it would be a good idea to sample that to a couple of hundred thousand people. And so that was a very difficult decision because I had to fund all of that inventory for that sampling program up front.
But getting that product in the hands of about 200000 people translated into incredible conversions at Sephora.
So those sample boxes really kind of took off like people that that was all it took for people to start ordering it. Yep.
And then how long before they decide to put you in the stores? Yeah. So Sephora has a cadence of twice a year in which they roll out brands into stores in March and in September. So we launched on Dotcom in August and we weren't yet ready to go into store just a month later in September. So once we hit March, we were ready for it. And it was such an incredible moment. And the idea of having Brogo, these four products I created sitting on a sofa shelf was just the experience of a lifetime.
How do you just as a curiosity, is it harder to keep your product shelf stable? Because it's basically like things that degrade over time? Yeah, absolutely.
That's a really good question. One of the things I'm very transparent about is that Brogo products are not 100 percent natural. And where we cannot find a effective clean substitute, we will opt with a synthetic version so long as we really do our diligence to make sure that it's a safe synthetic right. And there is an organization in Europe called Eco Certa which declares what synthetic ingredients are safe for use in natural products. And so we use a synthetic but eco preservative system that allows our products to have anywhere from a 24 to 30 month shelf life.
And at this point, now that now that you're in Sephora in the shops and they're making bigger and bigger orders and presumably they're by far away your biggest platform now, how were you able to fund making more product?
Yeah, so by that time I had started to exhaust most of the money that I got from Phil. Yeah. But I knew that I was going to need more money. So I reached out to Phil, put together a little d'arc of how I would use the funds to basically scale the growth of the business, which he was incentivized to do given his equity position. He felt like it was a good business case I had to point to. So he loaned me another hundred and fifty K.
So last year you got you raised around from from a private equity firm that took an ownership stake in your business and I'm assuming they approached you at this point. That's exactly what happened. Yeah. It's such an incredible other strikers. Before that, you were going to these meet ups and pitching your product to angel investors and nobody was interested except Phil. And then you launch and then people see how successful it is. And then all these private equity firms come knocking on your door.
Yeah, I mean, it was it was really it was really funny to see. I mean, I get it. I guess, you know, having Sephora behind the brand and seeing that growth definitely creates a much more compelling story than having a sketch on a piece of paper. But, yeah, it was really interesting because the dynamics had changed quite a bit. So you are moving along, watching your sort of your business grow. And which is amazing, I think with last time I saw it, I know your numbers are not public, but what was reported was you were doing about 10 million in annual revenue and presumably at least that, if not more now.
Yeah. So we will, you know, finish this year close to 40 million in gross sales, which is pretty awesome. Yeah. All right. Here we are, 20, 20. And you know this because you've heard this on the show. A lot of companies and businesses that have been on are in crisis. You know, retail is is down. How is the business doing? I mean, I'm so fortunate, guy, in that our business is doing phenomenally well.
We actually ended up revising up our pre covid budget. Wow. Yeah. And I think, you know, the way that we think about hair care is very much from a treatment perspective. So it's less styling, but it's more treatment focused. And I think people have a bit more time to really spend on their self care.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I've heard that from other companies that that focus on personal care products. You know, that self care has become obviously really important as people are shut in. And then we have so many crises, I don't even know where to begin. Then we have mass demonstrations, social justice movements, people demonstrating against racial injustice all around the country. You are a black entrepreneur. And I noted something you wrote on Instagram a while back back in June.
You wrote, My bucket is nearing empty. I'm exhausted and emotionally drained. We all are. When you wrote My Bucket is nearing empty, you were in New York City living in Union Square. Mm. You're running a business. What did it mean when you wrote my my bucket is nearing empty?
Yeah. I think it meant a lot of different things. It meant kind of this renewed fear for especially black men in my life, my brother, family members. I mean, I even recall telling my brother, like, you know, be careful running in certain neighborhoods, you know, living in Union Square. There were a lot of incredible peaceful protests, many of which I actually participated in. But from my window, I mean, I saw violence erupt and protests, a lot of which were, you know, captured on social media.
But seeing it from your window is another thing. And it's it's painful. It's hurtful to see that. Yeah. And then obviously, you know, I've experienced my own family tragedy and, you know, thinking about the families of those who were brutally killed and attacked and what they must be going through. I mean, it was just it was a lot. And then on top of that, you know, there was a lot of outreach that I received.
And I know it was of good spirit, you know, people wanting me to do interviews or be on their panel or talk about this and that.
But it was all happening at once. And it was just I was I was really drained. Yeah. I mean, on the one hand, obviously, like what an incredible achievement as an entrepreneur, this thing you built. But on the other hand, I guess you were sort of expected to be kind of like an example of a of a successful black woman who's who started her own business and everybody wanted to hear hear from you. And that's got to be exhausting.
Yeah, it was really exhausting. And I kind of felt like, you know, there were so many people kind of coming out of the woodwork and like, I get it. But I don't believe that it is the responsibility of black people to fix the problem. Yeah. However, I do feel that it's important that black people have a seat at the table and certain decisions are being made about progress because so often times were not. So for me, it was very much a fine balance of how do I allocate my time to the things that I think I can be most impactful knowing that I can't say yes to everything, but I have to say yes to some things because I can't just sit back and say, OK, it's your problem, go figure it out like I know I have to be a part of the conversation.
I really believe that when you think about your whole story, it's just, you know, having that one random guy come up to you in the booth and say, here's my card, or someone giving you a piece of advice to start with for products. And do you think that what happened to you and your story happened because you got lucky or because you are really smart and you worked really hard and you have great skills?
I think it's the latter. Plus something else you didn't mention. I don't yeah. Looks sometimes happened, but luck is not what this is about because that means I would have struck luck over and over and over again. And luck is more of a random thing.
Yeah, I think this is all about. The hard work and the time that I've put in, as you mentioned, but there's also a mindset of believing in myself that I have established that I think is probably the biggest attribute towards succeeding in anything that you put your mind to.
I'm going to ask you a difficult question. It seems to me that so much of your confidence and your what you have learned to be and to become comes from your mom, from her the lessons that you kind of you absorbed by watching her and listening to her. And I wonder what you think she would have thought about this thing you're doing now. I know that she would be so proud. I mean, she would be I don't even know if there's a word for it guy like I don't even know if proud really justifies the feeling.
But I have always felt like my mom has been a part of this journey. There have been so many incredible things that have unfolded over the course of the past 10 years. And I am a spiritual person and I do feel her spirit has really helped to guide me down this path. And I just know that she is watching with eyes of joy and excitement. And I'm just so grateful to have had the opportunity as a young child again to see someone who looks like me defeat the odds and to overcome the challenges and to create success.
That's Nancy Twined, founder and CEO of Rosio, by the way, remember how Nancy's brother, who was also an entrepreneur, once told her that she couldn't join his company, that she had to start her own thing? Well, today, Nancy's brother actually works for her. He's in charge of Riojas, direct to consumer business. Hey, thanks so much for listening to the show this week. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, you can write to us at IBT, at NPR again.
And if you want to follow us on Twitter or at how I built this or that Guy Raz, this episode was produced by Casey Herman with music composed by Ramtane Arab Loui. Thanks also to Candice Lim, Thirith, Gael's J.C. Howard, Julia Kanae, Neva Grant and Jeff Rogers. I'm Guy Raz. And you've been listening to how I built this. This is NPR. We're only months away from Election Day and every week or even every few hours, there's a new twist that could affect who will win the White House.
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