Monique Rodriquez has many titles: mother, wife, friend, sister, and self-made millionaire.
The 39-year-old founded organic honeya natural hair care brand, in 2014, after a devastating loss, she changed life as she knew it.
“It took something quite traumatic for me to realize what my true purpose and ultimate vocation was,” says Rodríguez. CNBC Do It. “And that was in 2013, I suffered the loss of my son. She was eight months pregnant. It was a high-risk pregnancy and sadly, my son passed away as a result.”
At the time, Rodríguez had a nearly decade-long career in nursing, a field her family assured her was “recession-proof.” But she wasn’t passionate about it, and going back into that environment while he was dealing with postpartum depression seemed impossible.
This led her to invent hair products in her kitchen. Not only was it the “creative outlet” that would help her “get over the pain of losing a child,” but it was the start of what is now a multi-million dollar brand that is sold in more than 100,000 stores in the US.
Here’s how Rodriguez navigated finance as a black woman and the best career advice she’s ever received.
Last year, black women led the pack when it came to entrepreneurship: 17% were in the process of starting or running a business, compared to 15% of white men and 10% of white women. Harvard Business Review reports.
However, only 3% of black women operated mature businesses, indicating systemic discrimination in venture capital and financing, something Rodriquez knows all too well.
“As a black woman starting a company, banks don’t believe in you. You haven’t proven yourself, so investors don’t really believe in you.” [either]. You already have two strikes against you: you are black and you are a woman. That’s the reality, especially when I started [my business] eight years ago.”
Rodríguez says that in order to finance her business in its early stages, she was forced to “start up” and “exhaust her savings.”
“Every time I got paid, my nursing checks, my husband’s bank account and his paychecks, it all went into the business,” she says. “So we had to sacrifice our living situation and we couldn’t do the things that our friends did. [We were even] taking our 401k and depleting all of that to invest in the business.”
Through hard work and networking, Rodriguez and her husband received a loan, which ultimately helped them land their first retail partner, Sally Beauty.
In 2020 it obtained its first round of seed financing from the New Voices Foundation, an organization for women entrepreneurs of color. And just last year, Mielle Organics received a “landmark” $100 million in financing from Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm.
Rodriguez says he’s made progress since its launch, and things like pitching contests, grants, and fundraisers are more common these days. But she believes there is still “a long way to go” before the playing field is leveled.
Mielle Organics is one of the fastest growing Black-owned beauty brands in the country, a feat that came with many ebbs and flows.
Rodríguez says that the impact in the community has been one of the most rewarding parts of his career.
“It’s about igniting that flame in that girl who is sitting at home watching on social media [and seeing] Monique Rodríguez is doing something historic, which is breaking the glass ceiling, so she can come after me and break the next glass ceiling,” he explains.
“It’s my little girls who are at home watching their mom do historic things and making them believe they can achieve anything they set their minds to.”
In contrast, Rodríguez says that the low point in his journey was remaining persistent at the beginning, even when the company was “not profitable.” But he ultimately helped her “appreciate being profitable and learn the importance of managing finances.”
Despite having several mentors, coaches and peers, Rodríguez says the best career advice she’s ever received actually comes from her husband.
“He gives me amazing advice all the time, [the best being]: Success, if it is not owned, is rented, and the rent is paid every day. Don’t be complacent, don’t get comfortable and never feel like you ‘made it’. Because when you get to that place, there’s always someone trying to take your place. You have to keep working and striving as if you knew [your spot] It is not guaranted”.
Rodríguez also advises other African-American women entrepreneurs to own who they are.
“Many black women struggle with this impostor syndrome: they don’t feel like they belong at the table or deserve to be where they are in life. But God has placed them in a room they probably didn’t even think they would be placed in because of their favor and anointing,” she says.
“So walk in that favor, walk in that light, and know that you deserve to be there just like anyone else.”