We enjoyed speaking Michelle Kim, founder of m'Chel Haircare, San Francisco, at the recent Cosmoprof event. Here's some of our conversation.
SALON TODAY: Please tell us a bit about you, the stylist—when did you start doing hair?
MICHELLE KIM: Ever since I was five years old, I knew I wanted to be a hairstylist. I would give my Barbies Sharpie dye jobs and fabulous haircuts all the time. It was my favorite thing to do. I started working at a salon in 2008, immediately after graduating from Vidal Sassoon. I felt very lucky to have a job that I enjoyed and had a passion for.
ST: What led you to launch your own company?
MK: I left the chair behind after four short years because of my severe allergic reactions to ingredients in hair products. Wanting to stay in hair, I took an R&D position at a hair company, where I developed hair care and wig care products. Between my bad experience with hair products and understanding how to make hair products better, I was soon inspired to create my own unique dry shampoo and launched m’Chel Haircare to specialize in dry shampoo that’s safe for users and the environment.
ST: What was missing in the market at that time?
MK: During my years as a hairstylist, I started noticing severe scalp issues on my clients and even on myself. Almost always, we could find the source of the problem: aerosol dry shampoo. Spraying aerosol dry shampoo directly onto the scalp is known to cause scalp itchiness, flakiness, clogged pores, and even hair loss. I patented a brush applicator that’s designed to keep the powder off the scalp while easily targeting only the unwanted oils on the hair.
ST: Had you ever done anything like that, before?
MK: This is my very first product, and I’m so happy with it!
ST: How did you know where to start?
MK: Due to my experience as a R&D manager, I knew the first step I needed to take—find and test ingredients for the desired effect I wanted from my ideal dry shampoo. Once I knew I had a formula that worked really well, I pushed myself to do something I knew nothing about—product design. Still, I put pen to paper and make a sketch of what the Day After Brush is now. I even patented this drawing, only to find out that the product was not manufacturable. I ended up having to ditch that design and start from scratch. Patents are really expensive, and having to toss that one out was a huge wakeup call. I needed to proof my concept all the way through and not take any shortcuts. I made another design that was manufacturable, but not a single factory would take my puny order. The hardest part was convincing a factory to do business with me with no proof of concept. Without much of a network in the manufacturing space, I had to learn how to draw CAD, buy and use a 3D printer, and prototype and test everything myself. With my proof of concept, I was able to secure a manufacturer here in San Francisco that is backed by Bill Gates and works with Facebook. I went from untouchable to working with a great team who have made quality manufacturing possible.
ST: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs, like yourself, who have a product they want to bring to market?
MK: Find the right mentors for you. That’s right—not just one mentor but as many as you can stay connected to. Mentors are valuable for an abundance of reasons. They’ve made mistakes and can show you how to avoid them. They can be an anchor to keep you accountable; don’t rely on them to do that for you, but if you ask them for their thoughts on your progress they will be honest. It’s also great to build a network of founders to be in the trenches with you and to lift each other up. Entrepreneurs are some of the most supportive people I’ve ever met, and they are cheering for you to win. If you believe in your product, don’t give up. Look for resources in people, mentorship programs, accelerators, and government programs, and get creative!
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