Mahisha Dellinger, creator and founder of the organic hair-care line CURLS, is known as the “modern day Madame C.J. Walker,” a reference to the woman widely regarded as the first female, self-made millionaire in America. Like Walker, Dellinger made her fortune creating a series of hair and beauty products for women and girls with natural curls. And, like Walker, her incredible success has garnered her widespread acclaim — including the attention of one of the most powerful business women in the world.
Last month, the Oprah Winfrey Network announced a new, unscripted series staring Dellinger, “Mind Your Business with Mahisha,” in which Dellinger will help female entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.
“I was inspired to become an entrepreneur as a result of my experience in corporate America,” Dellinger tells HER Magazine. “My manager was trying to get rid of me and I was a single mother; this man had my financial destiny in his hands, and it was extremely stressful.” While Dellinger was initially discouraged, she credits this event as the catalyst for change. It wasn’t the first time that she needed to take a negative situation and produce a positive outcome.
Dellinger grew up in the mean streets of Sacramento, CA, surrounded by poverty, drugs, and crime, where she says gunshots and police helicopters were familiar sounds. However, Dellinger resisted the pull of the streets. Her mother worked often, and at the young age of seven, Dellinger was already preparing herself for school, making her own meals, and exercising the discipline required to complete her homework with no prompting. “I think that going through tough times strengthened my resiliency,” Dellinger says.
That drive pushed her to complete her education and land her first job at a major corporation.
In 2002, Dellinger decided to stop using harmful chemicals on her hair and opted for a natural hair style. However, she found that maintenance was a problem, since most of the natural hair care products were oily, or contained unpronounceable ingredients. And, since she was looking for a business idea that would allow her to leave corporate America, Dellinger thought about the potential of starting a natural hair care line.
Thankfully, Dellinger avoided some of the mistakes that many new entrepreneurs make. She prepared extensively before launching her business, and took $25,000 from her savings to hire a cosmetic chemist. Dellinger worked with the chemist to create hair care formulas that did not contain sulfate, parabens, silicones, and other ingredients that could damage chemical-free hair.
Another key to Dellinger’s success was knowing when to spend money and when to cut corners to save on expenses. She set up her own e-commerce site and initially sold products out of her garage. “I’m a big believer in living below your means — I wasn’t always like that, but I’ve learned to adopt this philosophy over the course of my adult life,” she says. “I didn’t go out and get an office right away, because you should get your bearings before you incur additional expenses.”
She admits that there are some costs that can’t be removed, like imaging and branding. “However, cut corners when you can,” she says. “I saved on overhead and put everything into the packaging and image of the brand, because this is how you come across to your customers.”
These days, there’s no shortage of other natural hair care products on the market — so how did CURLS makes its way to the top of the pack?
By staying focused on the product.
“There’s a lot going on in this space — lots of competition, more than ever before,” Dellinger says. “But our focus is on the product, making sure that it is wholesome and performs well, and also making sure that consumers know the benefits of the brand, the performance of the products, and our great ingredient story.”
CURLS products — for women, children, and babies — are currently sold in every major retail outlet, including Target, CVS, Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Sally’s Beauty Supply. “We have new products coming out all of the time,” Dellinger says. “Target is launching our Cashmere and Caviar Collection, and we’re going into the snack industry with Vitapoint popcorn.” Dellinger explains the new snack is infused with over 15 essential vitamins, 10 grams of protein, and available in 5 flavors.
For other women considering entrepreneurship, she stresses the importance of preparation. “Always do your due diligence and research before investing time and money,” Dellinger says. “Have someone help you through the process. For example, SCORE.org will connect you with a mentor in your industry for free,” she explains, and adds that’s where she started.
However, this is a task that might prove difficult for Dellinger herself, considering the impressive level of savvy she brings to every project and business she begins. Even with a new product, a network television show, and a growing business empire, Dellinger has no plans of slowing down any time soon — and we can’t wait to see what she builds next.
Watch the premiere of “Mind Your Business With Mahisha” on Saturday, August 11 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT.