The NaturallyCurly Leaders in Curl interview series highlights the people and the brands that are redefining the beauty industry - one curl at a time.

Curly girls have traditionally been marketed and sold tools and products to tame, loosen and straighten our curls. The curly product industry has expanded exponentially since NaturallyCurly launched in 1998, with creams, sprays and treatments now being made for every curl concern you can think of. But tools have in large part stayed the same, often employing high heat to manipulate textured hair into submission. Dawn Myers, Founder of Richualist, is working to change that.

Richualist's tool is called The Mint, "technology for textured hair." The Mint is a wand with bristles that was engineered to detangle and distribute product evenly throughout curls and coils for a faster and easier wash and go. We spoke to Myers about how this product idea came to be, and what it has taken to bring it to fruition. 

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Most of the styling tools we see in the hair industry are related to heat styling and straightening, so we were thrilled to see that your tool is specific to styling curls! Can you tell us about The Mint? 

Of course! it is my absolute pleasure to introduce our all-in-one curl hydrator and styler, The Mint! The Mint cuts the time and effort required to style textured hair by simultaneously detangling, conditioning your favorite curl creams and gels, and applying that product to get you quick, easy, consistent results. Our tech turns on our styling pods - kind of like Keurig K-cups, except they gently warm and distribute your favorite curl creams and gels for maximum product penetration and augmented hair health. Further, our compact design and TSA compliant pods make this static process ultra portable. Now we can style at the gym, on travel, out of the country, or wherever our dynamic lives take us.

We all know that we are supposed to perform heated product treatments, but few of us have time for an extra step in an already cumbersome process. Gently warming your curl products doesn't just get healthier results, it also helps cut down on time and product use. On average The Mint cuts styling time IN HALF for our users. We have also made this product highly tailorable with interchangeable bristle options and an optional double sided construction so your Mint works like it was made just for you. It works just as well on TWAs and transitioning curlies. It's super gentle and designed to minimize shedding. We've literally thought of every pain point in a curly girl's routine and solved for it!

What hair types would this work best for? 

 The Mint works best on Type 3 and Type 4 curls and kinks. Any person who spends more than 30 minutes or uses more than a couple ounces of product each wash day can benefit from the time savings and product savings The Mint offers. While all porosity levels can benefit from the application of gentle warmth during the styling process, users with low porosity hair will see a marked difference in hair health and product absorption on day 1. 

 

For heat-averse curlies, can you talk about the way this tool utilizes heat differently than what we're used to seeing? 

Our tools leverage heat differently. The Mint's warming function is designed to be ultra safe for curls. Other hair appliances (think flat irons, curling irons, and hot combs) weaken bonds and destroy natural curl patterns with excessive heat. We have collaborated with industry experts to figure out the optimal heat point to open up the cuticle and achieve maximum product penetration without damaging the hair cuticle.

Heat isn't the only game changing innovation this tool offers. The Mint cuts down styling time at home and is compact and portable for styling on-the-go. Removable product cartridges are easy to transport, which means you can quickly and easily style whether at the gym, leaving work, or on travel. The Mint is super compact, so you can carry it in your tote, gym bag, or carry-on. We have taken all the elements of your styling routine and rolled them up into one beautifully designed unit so that your busy life doesn't have to revolve around your hair.

What has the process of building this tool looked like from idea to development?

Development has been a 5 year winding road of intellectual property development, research, engineering, testing, re-engineering, team building, fundraising, and manufacturing. Our progress has really followed the prototypical founder's journey. I really struggled with maintaining my natural hair between work and athletic activities. I just really needed help and the help didn't exist on the market. I thought about what kind of widget might solve my problems and I immediately went out to Ace hardware and CVS, picked up supplies (glue guns, soldering irons, combs, brushes, etc.), and built a very early prototype. 

That very early prototype was a mess - it looked like Frankenstein if Frankenstein were a hair tool - but it was enough to perform some early testing, get some early prospective customer feedback, and see that there was something here. From there, I started getting on the train from DC to NYC to meet with executives from various corporations to understand the landscape. The smartest thing I did was doing some of the early engineering off-shore. Engineering in the states can be super polished and precise but SUPER expensive, and the early ideation phases require a lot of time and variable testing. By the time I had done a few accelerators and secured major funding, I already had IP and the basic engineering in place, which saved us a ton of money in the long run. We were lucky enough to fundraise and be able to partner with an amazing NYC-based engineering firm called Tomorrow Lab. They were so determined to get this right for our customer, and they knocked it out of the park! We established a partnership with Dow, a major global manufacturer, and they helped us test and ready our product for launch. 

Now that we're launched, we're just elated to get actual feedback from customers. I'm blown away every single time a user's eyes light us when they try it for the first time. The road has been long, but it's worth it to get results. 

For other small business owners in our industry, can you talk a bit about what fundraising looked like for you?

Tech-enabled products are notoriously capital intensive and logistically involved, so we knew that our company would be a hard sell to investors. Furthermore, our technology solves a huge problem, but that problem isn't very visible to most funders. Many companies with a similarly big vision are looking for big checks from funders in the early stages of development. We knew that was a less realistic prospect for us, so we took an incremental approach that helped us build credibility, expertise, and ecosystem support over time. We started with pitch competitions where we won small checks that sustained us in those early days of development. We put on community events where we encouraged our friends and family to support with investments or in-kind contributions. We then moved on to accelerator programs where the checks and expertise were more robust. With the headwinds from accelerators and ecosystem supporters, we negotiated partnerships with massive companies in the space. While this approach took more time, it gave us space and an army of supporters who helped us learn the practice of product development, engineering, intellectual property, and company governance. These learnings and this accumulation of support positioned us for more substantive investments from venture investors. 

Building physical products is a magic. We can make our very own solutions to our communities' biggest problems and improve the quality of life of people we care about through ingenuity and innovation. But building tech-enabled products is a complicated undertaking, and most companies in this space fail. It's a super power to be able to ignore the pressure to grow fast and lean into a more strategic approach. There are so few tech tools that solve pain points for textured hair care, and I am excited to see this massive white space filled in by the ingenuity of women in our community! 

What unique business challenges did you face, and how were you able to overcome them in launching this product? 

There were so many challenges, but the hardest obstacle was getting investors and partners to value and understand this customer's problem. As you can imagine, the vast majority of decision makers and key contractors in this space are men who have never encountered a 4-hour wash day. We had to do a lot of education - videos, customer interviews, demonstrations and so on - to convince investors and partners to take us on. Then we had to devise our own data gathering and scientific experiments to fill in the massive gaps in information around the needs of textured hair. Industry reports simply do not contain adequately nuanced information around our hair type, so we had to create our own data sets to inform design. The list of obstacles never ends, but what's important is that we maintained focus on the needs of the curly girls and women we serve. That focus informed every major business decision and helped up navigate the endless red tape to get to market.

How do you see your brand expanding beyond the launch of The Mint?

Our first order of business is expanding our liquid product partnerships so that our customers can access all of their favorite brands and products through our pod subscriptions. We want to make everything about washday more convenient, including sourcing and replenishing your product stash. 

Beyond product partnerships, we are in the early stages of developing even more innovative product designs that can arm our customers with information and a data feedback loop to monitor hair health and recommended routines and products for their hair type, pain points, and hair condition. This is just the beginning and we are so excited for customers to be a part of our journey. 

Where can our readers buy it?

Visit us at www.richualist.com ... and subscribe for tips, styling tricks, and discounts! 

Read next: How Young King Hair Care is Bridging the Curly Industry Gap for Young Black and Brown Men