As an immigrant from the developing Caribbean Island of St. Lucia, I was born into a family of inventors and innovators. We didn't always have solutions that we could buy in the store --- or the money to buy them -- so we improvised; improvisation is in my blood. I invented The Cut Buddy when I was 13 years old because I was sick of my dad's haircuts and I wanted to look fresh at school. After messing up my haircut a bunch of times I needed to create a guiding stencil to cut my hair and after a while it worked perfectly. I actually sat on the idea for 15 years before patenting it. I had been using it on myself, family, and friends but still never tried to turn it into a commercial product. It wasn't until my fiance (then girlfriend) and I were moving into our new place that I got the spark. We had to take the door hinges off to fit the damn treadmill into the garage. After we finished I was too tired to put the hinges back on, that's when she said: "You never finish what you start." Hit me in the heart. The next day I visited a patent lawyer to begin the process of getting The Cut Buddy patented. From humble beginnings to a wildly successful entrepreneur with over $1 million in global product sales in less than two years of business operation. Featured in Forbes, GQ, and Black Enterprise and landing a deal with Daymond John on Shark Tank. Momentarily, I am a highly sought after entrepreneurial, business, and motivational speaker and consultant.
What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?
One of the biggest hurdles was the biggest irony of the product idea... Here I was doing YouTube videos showing people how to use the product and I was going bald. The man with the haircut tool who was losing his hair, damn. I was getting roasted in the comments, people talking about my hairline looking like the McDonalds arches and stuff like that... but more people started buying the product so that showed me that I had something there. I knew I needed to get other people to model the product so that's when I found the YouTube affiliates (360 Wave Process, Nick Wavy, and BRDGNG) that really launched my company. The other big hurdle was normalizing the product so people could see this new behavior in action and the YouTube affiliates helped with that big time, as well. Once people got used to the idea that they could give themselves great looking lineups for their haircut or beard it really took off.
Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits? How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?
Honestly, although a lot of friends of mine act like they supported me in the beginning, I know the truth. A lot of my closest friends and family members initially laughed at the idea, behind my back and to my face. It hurt my feelings, but I knew that if I pushed on that I had something that could be special. With that said, the only ones who believed were some immediate family, Alex Kresovich, Pima Mbwana, and my fiance, Jamie. That's all I ever needed. Surround yourself with people who believe in the power of your dreams and you can achieve anything.
What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?
The YouTube affiliates with fantastic haircuts and beards that we brought on through an affiliate program where we pay them a royalty for sales leads. They created fantastic content that showed how great The Cut Buddy works and they were rewarded for it and helped us reach our target audience with ease. It was a win-win for everyone involved.
The YouTube affiliates also lead to the product going viral. One Facebook aggregator sped-up one of the affiliate videos and it turned into a viral tidal wave, getting over ten million views and leading to me selling 4,000+ units in just a few hours. Unfortunately I only had around 200 units left in my garage at the time and that became it's own forest fire to put out but it's responsible for our success to this day.
What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?
A few things. When I was just starting and going viral it would have been very helpful to have a mentor at the time. I'm lucky now to have Alfred Edmonds as a mentor but early on Pima, Alex, and I were just kind of figuring things out as we went along. It would've been incredibly helpful to have had an experienced person to lean on and ask questions to at that time, for sure.
I wish I knew what a big role intellectual property protection would play in the business. We've had to remove over 2,000 counterfeit listings of my product at this point. We're winning the war but early on I had no idea that was going to be one of the big hurdles we'd run into.
Lastly, knowing about more opportunities for funding would have been great. We really had to bootstrap everything ourselves for a long time which was great but caused some stressful nights for sure.
What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?
Don't sit on your ideas. You'd be surprised by what isn't patented or what simple life fixes you've made for yourself that you could turn into a million dollar business. If you feel like you have something special, look into getting it patented and research the best ways to build your business. I'm considered a success story but no one believed in my idea, all that mattered is that I did. Believe in your ideas and don't miss the opportunity train when it's passing you by.