A Nurse Turned $500 in Savings Into $100 Million in Sales | Entrepreneur

In 2013, Courtney Adeleye was working as a registered nurse and searching for a product suitable for treating natural hair.

“There were not many brands that used natural ingredients and specialized in healthy hair growth at the same time,” Adeleye recalls. “So, I started mixing my own products at home and infused them with vitamins, nutrients and healthy ingredients.”

Adeleye documented her homemade hair care routine on YouTube, and it wasn’t long before she gained a large following of people who wanted to know her secret — and purchase products from her directly. So, with just $500 to her name, Adeleye developed a few deep conditioning treatments and sold them to her fans.

Those initial offerings would grow into The Mane Choice, Adeleye’s hair care solution for healthy locks, featuring formulas free from mineral oil, petrolatum, parabens, sulfates and formaldehyde.

Adeleye says she sold $10 million worth of products from her home during her first three years in business, and within another two, she’d partnered with more than 60,000 retailers across the U.S. — achieving $100 million in sales and an IPO by 2019.

Last year, Adeleye launched Olbali, a health-focused direct-selling company, to house her private brands, including The Mane Choice, Cool Coffee Clique, Foolproof Body and more.

Entrepreneur connected with Adeleye during National Black Business Month to hear more about how she overcomes the limiting perceptions Black-owned businesses often face and the 10 secrets that helped her see so much success.

“I have been asked if my products are for Black women only despite having extensive diverse marketing.”

Adeleye says she didn’t become a nurse because she wanted some people to live healthier lives — she became one because she wanted everyone to live healthier lives. The same is true of why she founded a beauty and wellness business.

Her company’s products aren’t just for Black consumers, but for everyone who can benefit from them, Adeleye says.

AdeleyeCourtesy of Olbali

Still, all too often, Black founders are unfairly pigeonholed, and the Black-owned label can actually work against their businesses, according to Adeleye.

“I create healthy products for people to help them live healthier lives,” she explains. “However, I have been asked if my products are for Black women only despite having extensive diverse marketing.”

Research from McKinsey & Company highlights how pervasive the issue is.

Like all businesses, beauty brands must stay connected with their core shoppers and pursue growth opportunities — yet “there’s also a persistent myth in the beauty industry that Black-brand products can only be sold to Black consumers,” per the report.

Adeleye says she “must be more intentional” when it comes to displaying diversity across her brands, ensuring her business can realize its full growth potential “on a mass level.” “My goal has always been to be diverse and inclusive,” she says. “So, being intentional is something that comes natural to me.”

“You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will.”

Adeleye says following 10 key guidelines helped her achieve her many milestones to date — spanning product innovation, marketing tips, social media strategy and more.

Here’s what she suggests for entrepreneurs who are ready to level up their businesses:

1. Be authentic.

2. Don’t meet your customer expectations…exceed your customer expectations.

3. If you don’t think you have a great product, you need to try again before releasing it.

4. Informal content can be more powerful than formal content.

5. Be a walking billboard for your brand.

6. Engage with your customers on all platforms.

7. Show up consistently on social media.

8. Bring your brand to life (off social media) by doing grassroots events and activations.

9. Invest more in your customers and micro-influencers versus macro-influencers.

10. Fix the brand before you start to spend money on marketing. Great branding can exceed great marketing.

Adeleye’s learned a lot over the course of her entrepreneurial journey, but perhaps her best piece of advice? “You have to believe in yourself before anyone else will.”

“If you don’t believe your business is just as good or even better than the next business, it never will be,” Adeleye says. “There is no such thing as an oversaturated industry. I say, ‘An industry cannot be oversaturated if I am not currently producing in it.'”