(Entrepreneur) – Seven years ago, plus-size model Alexandra Cristin was watching her favorite YouTuber at her apartment when she decided to start selling hair extensions online. Today, she owns and operates one of the leading seamless hair extension brands in the beauty industry, Glam Seamless.
She had been wearing hair extensions since she was 14 and originally got the idea to start the company as a side hustle. However, her passion quickly set her apart from the competition and positioned her to dominate her industry. “My initial strategy was to be different,” she recalls in an interview. “I decided to sell a type of hair extension that I knew wasn’t available to buy online at the time. It put me at the forefront of a huge shift in consumer behavioral change.
Today, Glam Seamless is an eight-figure company that offers more ghan 100 color options for high-quality hair extensions in roughly a dozen different styles, and its social-media stauts keeps on growing, with 200,000-plus followers worldwide. As you might expect, even though Cristin has reached many milestones with her company, it was not always this way.
“It wasn’t easy by any means,” she continues, “I worked 100 hour weeks to get where I wanted. With an inventory-based business, you need to put up the cash first. Because of my age, getting a loan was difficult.” That’s why Cristin advises anyone thinkin of launching a brand “save as much money as you can to have a three-to-six-month runway to grow and run the business. If you decide to start a business with little to no money, it will be a little slower at first, but if it’s the right product or service and you truly solving an issue for the customer, it will take off.”
Cristin expands by offering these five core principles behind nurturing a new and successful startup.
1. Find the right people to help build your team.
“I had a hard time [finding] my first five employees since I founded the business alone in my apartment,” she explains. “Who you bring on in the early stages helps define the culture of the business. Hiring the right people can be tedious, because it takes time. You cannot just settle.”
Cristin’s first employee was actually her mother, who had been in the middle of switching careers when Cristin brought up the idea of joining the team. And Cristin emphasizes that, “Taking the time to train a team and set standards for the organization takes discipline and patience. It seems unimportant, as sales are most important, but the people aspect will help grow and expand the business.”
She eventually sought out mentorship as her business grew using mainly LinkedIn and SCORE. “Mentorship is key because entrepreneurship is super tough,” Cristin advises. “I still experience highs and lows, but I recommend finding a mentor to bounce ideas [off of]. If you present yourself the right way, most people are willing to take your call or have coffee.”
2. Consider your situation before selling to investors.
For most entrepreneurs, a time comes when you are presented with the decision to maintain full equity in your company or sell to investors. “It really depends on the circumstances,” says Cristin. “This is such a personal choice. Do you play nice in the sandbox? Can you hold your tongue and take advice and direction? Can you play politics? If so, investors may be a great tool for you to scale and have mentorship. If you are more of strong-willed and like control, investors may not be for you.”
Ultimately, she knew investors would not work with her personality, so she took as many loans as she could to keep supporting growth. “I would have rather had a loan at 15 percent than to answer to investors or take ideas and advice from anyone else because I knew exactly what I was building,” she states condifently. “That may change in the future, but in my 20s, this was where I stood.”
3. Never stop at “no.”
“The secret is to never take no for an answer,” Cristin offers. “There is always a way and there is always a yes. Anything can be done, if not by you then there is someone who can and will do it. Keep pushing, and if someone tells you no, go back three times or look for three other alternative routes.”
As for self-doubt, Cristin deals with that like everyone else. She recalls, “There were times when sales would go flat or not grow as quickly as I wanted them to. It was discouraging, but I constantly used those experiences to re-evaluate and create new ways to push past the stagnant periods.”
4. Be willing to accept help.
“I did not have an exit strategy when I started,” Cristin concedes. “I never knew the business would grow to be what it was, because it was my side hustle. But since I loved the product and had a knack for marketing, it took off. In June 2018, I was approached for an acquisition and I said no for eight months. Eventually, I was getting burned out, and this opportunity to get acquired gave me balance and opportunity to still run my brand, work with a larger team and increase my knowledge. For me, getting acquired ended up being great, because I am now able to work in a larger parent organization and learn how to run an even larger organization with more than 200 hundred employees and 10 brands.”
5. Leverage social media.
Cristin advises that all entrepreneurs take advantage of social media and put effort into building a platform for not only their businesses, but themselves. Providing consistent, meaningful content and creating a unique way for users to engage with your business is a great way to build a community, and community is ultimately what gives a brand competitive edge and the ability to lead in a competitive market. The platforms you post from ultimately connect your brand with its consumers. Once you establish that connection, the possibilities for growth and longevity are endless. This can generate many opportunities for entrepreneurs who don’t have the capital or resources to pay for large marketing campaigns.
Ultimately, Cristin is still scaling Glam Seamless and enjoying the integration process. She gets to remain CEO of the brand that she cares so much about, which is something she takes very seriously. But in the future, she looks forward to utilizing any spare time she has to building a networking-support brand for working and entrepreneur mothers.