Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Emily Kenison, The First-generation Turkish-American & The Founder of @straplets & @robecurls

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As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Emily Kenison.

Emily created RobeCurls to create the perfect heatless curls. Inspired by the TikTok trend and perfected for easier use, RobeCurls is a fashionable curling headband that you can wear to work, exercise, or sleep, and then let your hair down to reveal the curls of your dreams. Here’s what we found out about Kenison’s daily routine, followed by an exclusive Q+A.

It’s an honor to speak with you today. I would love to know more about your story and your background. Give us some details about your journey as a digital entrepreneur.

Growing up in New York as a first-generation Turkish-American, I have always had a perceptive eye for refashioning everyday use items with simple solutions. With a background in law and the complexity of creating patents, I built an innovative path forward that challenges modern-day manufacturing practices. As I stumbled into my first invention of Straplets, I discovered how many people share the same daily frustrations. Instead of stuffing my extra pairs of shoes in the oven for storage, or buying an entirely new pair, I found a simple answer by designing a stylish strap that can be paired with any shoe. As the community of loyal customers has grown to embrace my inventions, I wanted to create more! So I created RobeCurls, the first heatless curling headband. Driven by care for the environment and the love of people, I want to push the line of possibility in the fashion industry.

What do you specialize in and why should someone choose you over your competitors in your field?

With a background in law and the complexity of creating patents, I have built an innovative path forward that challenges modern-day manufacturing practices to develop eco–friendly products that have women’s health in mind. As the founder and CEO at Emikeni, my brands RobeCurls and Straplets are growing in popularity as products that help create healthier and more stylish alternatives for women’s wellness.

My product RobeCurls Curling Headband is leading in the heatless hair category to be a fashionable product that holds curls 5x longer than other curling tools on the market. My customers love it, and I am excited to bring on more products that protect hair health. My other product Straplets is a vegan-friendly strap that is designed to virtually fit over any shoe as a stylish accessory, but also as a way to protect against accidental slips, ankle rolls, or embarrassing trips in front of coworkers.

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At the heart of it, I am a lawyer turned inventor who is creating whole new categories for products that women love with my company. As Emikeni continues to grow, I am driven by the care for our environment and the love of people. As an entrepreneur, I am creating space in the industry for women to be leaders, patent holders, and industry change agents for the benefit of generations to come.

What’s your piece of advice for readers who want to achieve wealth and success in life?

Surround yourself with individuals that inspire and empower you. Solve problems and strive to create a better world. Also don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, when you are vulnerable life will surprise you. People are kinder, and want to help. Don’t be a student of the school of hard knocks. You don’t have to learn all of the lessons on your own. I have been blessed to have been surrounded by a number of fantastic mentors and colleagues who have helped me achieve more than I could have by myself. Lastly, be your authentic self!

Is it tough for a woman to survive in this industry? How did you overcome those panic attacks?

Did you know, less than 2% of women get venture funding. While 30% of small businesses are women-owned only 2% get to 1 million dollars in revenue. These statistics drive me to change this data. I want to prove that these points are wrong so I can pave the road forward for other women who want to be women entrepreneurs.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

We need to give women platforms where they can showcase their skills. We need more women in positions of power (leadership, CEO’s, Founders, etc). We need to allow women to lead! Another thing that has helped me is networking and getting to know each and every person I meet. You build businesses with other people so take help from others. Lastly, ask questions, and don’t be shy; people love to help!

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

We need more women in power! There being more women founders helps and motivates other women to follow their dreams.

It took me nearly four years to launch my first invention, Straplets. I waited until everything was perfect before launching, which I do not recommend. For my RobeCurls Curling Headband, I went from idea to market with only two months and $500, launching our first prototype on Amazon, which sold out a couple days later. I would definitely advise starting small, launching fast, and staying lean. Get the product out there, and start testing and iterating. Use real feedback from real customers to improve and get to actually know them and what they want.

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For the first year after we launched our RobeCurls initial prototype on Amazon we focused on confirming demand, testing product-market fit, iterating the product design based on feedback and scaling production capabilities (which started with our product being handsewn by a local fashion student, to now being created at a factory selected for their mass retail production capabilities). For Straplets we did all those steps pre-launch, but I’ve learned there’s no need to wait. Just launch it, and fix the details in real-time. Your customers always know best, so it’ll make completing those steps easier and more accurate, and plus, you’ll get them done faster.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

Emily Kenison
  • All Founders are risk-takers.

We are all told that we have to quit our current 9-5 job in order to successfully launch a new business. However, It is ok to continue with your job while in the early stages of launching a new business or becoming a founder.

  • Starting a business is always about making money.

Starting a business is not always about making money. I started my business because I discovered how many people share the same daily frustrations, and I wanted to help solve them. I created my first invention of Straplets, because I wanted to find a simple answer to solve a frustration faced by many women with shoes slipping off. So I designed a stylish strap that can be paired with any shoe that not only helps keep your shoes in place but give your shoes a makeover. As the community of loyal customers has grown to embrace my inventions, I was more inspired, which led me to create RobeCurls, the first heatless curling headband. Despite study after study revealing how damaging it is to use heat techniques and curling irons, consumers have had to settle for limited access to products that offer safer solutions. So I decided to invent a product that was inspired by a viral trend with #robecurls; the Curling Headband was born, which is a heatless hair tool designed for all hair types and styles to give healthier curls that last 5x longer. Simply wear, wrap, and rock!

  • You will be successful overnight.

It took me nearly four years to launch my first invention, Straplets. Creating successful businesses takes time and nurturing. I would definitely advise starting small, launching fast, and staying lean.

What’s your piece of advice for people who want to quit their 9-5 job and start a business?

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Start it while you are at your 9-5 job. While you are in your job, it will help you stay financially stable and allow you to build your new business. If you quit your 9-5 job when starting a new business, it can make it more difficult since launching a business is a long process, so having financial stability from your previous job during the early stages of your business will help you launch more comfortably.

Coming to the main part- has the pandemic affected your business, and what have you learned from it?

My first invention of Straplets, which is in the women’s Fashion footwear space, dropped 70% during the pandemic and is still yet to recover. This change actually inspired a new product idea for me. RobeCurls, the first heatless curling headband, was born. RobeCurls was inspired by a viral TikTok Trend, #Robecurls, which blew up during the pandemic. For me, the pandemic actually helped inspire me to create another product that helps women achieve amazing curls without damaging their hair with heat which lasts 5x longer!

What do you think is the key to a truly successful business?

Looking at it from my experience and lens, start small, think big, and scale fast. Surrounding yourself with truly good people who inspire you helps you and the company you are developing. Focus on what makes your customers happy and keep them first. Develop products that will help them! Build a company that is customer-centric, don’t lie to them; instead, help them and appreciate them. They are what drives you and your company forward.

Can you describe what you believe a typical workday is like in this industry?

8 A.M. I wake up excited about breakfast. While I can’t cook (like I cannot boil an egg, that’s how much I can’t cook), I have figured out how to blend up a dense and delicious acai bowl. That’s step one of my morning, followed by a 30-minute walk outside with coffee in hand and my NPR news podcast in my ears. Then I get dressed, curl my hair (a/k/a take off my Curling Headband), and get going.

9 A.M. For the first hour of the workday, I jump into my emails and any other messages we’ve received, either in our social inboxes or otherwise. I try to maintain inbox zero, so anything that is going to require a time-consuming reply is added to my to-do list. I also like to work with my customer relations team to handle all of our customer support emails and reply to them during this time. I greatly appreciate any customer who has taken a chance on us and put their hard-earned dollars towards our product. So this is something I love to do — so much so that sometimes I’ll even film a video message reply. Plus, I think it is super beneficial for founders to communicate directly with their customers, especially at the early stages of the company. You learn invaluable information from them that will flow through every area of your business.

10 A.M. Every night, I plan out one large task, three medium tasks, and three to five smaller tasks to be completed the next day. After reviewing communications, I’ll adjust or add to my day’s agenda accordingly. Then I jump on Zoom to touch base with the team and confirm our action items for the day.

11 A.M. After that point, my day varies widely. No two days are the same. Some days I head off-site to do photoshoots with our creative team; other days, I work on production samples in our studio. Aside from our internal team meetings, I try to calendar all meetings in one day if possible. If it is a meeting day, then you can assume back-to-back calls after I wrap up communications.

1 P.M. I like to stop and have lunch with whoever I’m working with that day, usually someplace local.

2 P.M. I return to whichever project I’m working on that day. Right now, I’m working with the creative team on our website, so I’m reviewing the current layout, creating and/or revising copy, and confirming the imagery in place.

3 P.M.  I love to handle sales development and press communications with my team. At some point during the day, I’ll address any important follow-up steps related to those projects. I work closely with our creative team to gather the assets needed and our production team on shipping samples, as requested.

4 P.M. I have a lot of tips and tricks to share on how to get the best curls of your life using our Curling Headband. So every day, I try to carve out an hour a day to create video content to share on social media. We recently put together pretty solid videography and product photography studio, which has been really helpful for making content. I often also use this time to jump on Zoom and do personal one-on-one curling tutorials with our customers. This is one of my favorite things to do as a founder/investor. I love getting to meet our community directly and hear directly from them how they use our Curling Headband. (It’s also nice to hear how much they love it!)

5 P.M. I work on presentations, reply to emails, pay suppliers, and catch up on anything outstanding from the day.

6 P.M. I update the team on the status of the day’s projects. If anything took longer for me to complete than I originally anticipated, I would like to make a note so I can better account for my timing in the future. I’ll also update the team on any new developments that pop up (there’s always something) and review the numbers.

7 P.M. Lastly, I’ll create my to-do list for tomorrow, including how long I think it will take to complete each task. I’ll then go into my calendar and reserve blocks of time accordingly, so I know exactly when I’ll be doing what. I find having an understanding of how long I should be working on a project is helpful. For many projects, especially as a founder, you feel like you can always do better or spend more time on something. It can be hard to know when to stop. Pre-outlining a finite amount of time in which I have to complete a task makes sure I am using my time efficiently and allows me to stay on track with our company’s goals.

8 P.M.  I order some dinner, watch the news and make calls to my friends and family to catch up.

9 P.M. I like to take short 15-minute walks throughout the day as I find they clear my mind and give me a clearer, fresh perspective on the day’s projects. At the end of the day, I like to do a longer 30-minute walk, usually with a friend in tow — and ideally a friend with a puppy.

10 P.M. Wash up, brush up, put in my Curling Headband, and get ready for bed. I’m a big believer in the idea that you can learn anything yourself, and I have a large collection of books. I’ll usually spend a little time each day reading (or re-reading) a book on a topic that directly relates to a project I’m working on, like copywriting or advertising. Other times, it’ll be a book on a more general topic always in play, like management, public speaking, accounting, or productivity.

11 P.M. These days, I’ll end the night with an episode of Criminal Minds. Nothing to do with work, not super scary. Plus, I love how the star FBI team is a family, a dynamic important to our own company’s culture. Then lights out.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself, “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

Give yourself time to check in with yourself. Taking a chance to give yourself a breather has always been something I believe helps overcome challenges.

Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?

What started out as me sitting on the floor of my apartment designing products has now turned into a company that serves not only the business community of product development but also the entrepreneurial dream for women to know that their ideas can make it to market and be popular among the communities they are a part of and beyond.

Across each business milestone, I have bet on myself and my ideas as a woman. I did not wait for the green light or navigate the convoluted system of taking a product to market. Instead, I have taken the early lessons and bootstrapped my business with only $500 to start with. Emikeni now has a growing team to help support its exponential expansion in the last year, including RobeCurls being featured in over 130 Walgreens stores with more growth in sight.

As my revenue grows quarter after quarter, my business goals for five years from now are coming into clearer view. Not only do I want to grow my business by developing more new products and brands, but I also aspire to create a space for women entrepreneurs to learn and grow as product designers and industry leaders. I plan to develop an accelerator with a blueprint for women to learn industry insights, develop their skills as inventors, and test their products in the market to create the best possible invention. I hope to spare other women inventors from the emotional and financially taxing process of getting to this point as a business. I believe in the future of entrepreneurship, and that starts with listening to the ideas of inventors today.

What’s your piece of advice for people who want to quit their 9-5 job and start a business?

Start your business while you are at your 9-5 job. Your job will help you stay financially stable while you build your new business. If you quit your 9-5 job when starting a new business, it can make it more difficult since launching a business is a long process. Having the financial stability from your 9-5 job during the early stages of your new business will help you launch comfortably.

What is your favorite mantra or affirmation that you say to yourself to keep you going?

”There is no such thing as a failure.”

What does success mean to you?

In my eyes, success is being able to push the line of possibility in the fashion and beauty industry by advocating for women through the product. I want my company Emikeni to serve as a representation of the entrepreneurial dream and what happens when we give space for women to bring their ideas to fruition.

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