Monique Rodriguez launched Mielle Organics back in 2014 and instantly became a leading brand in the haircare and beauty industries. In 2021, she secured $100 million in funding from Berkshire Partners, and now her company is a global and viral sensation with orders in over 87 countries around the world.
An editor from Blacknews.com was blessed with the opportunity to interview Monique and she shared a lot of valuable information for both aspiring and established entrepreneurs.
Thanks so much for the opportunity to interview you. Congrats on all your success! How did it feel when you made history last year after securing a $100 million investment?
It felt deeply rewarding—like I was showing so many women that it’s possible to have a dream and how far your dream can take you if you have faith and put in the work. I felt like I was changing the narrative for so many Black women who are trying to secure major funding and who have experienced challenges.
There are so many others who need access to funding to get their ideas off the ground. What advice do you have for other Black entrepreneurs who want to raise capital?
My advice would be to focus on building an attractive profitable business, that way you have more leverage to negotiate terms that work on your behalf. Also, make sure that you are aligned with your potential partners because they will be your business partners—and that is like a marriage. I would encourage them to take classes on how to pitch and how to put together pitch decks to present to investors.
I think a lot of people mistakenly assume that raising that much in capital automatically qualifies a business to have its products sold by major retailers. How would you respond to entrepreneurs who have this mindset?
If you have an attractive business where there is a lot of growth trajectory, you can raise money. You don’t necessarily have to be in major retail, you just have to have great top-line sales, and hopefully great profit. If you can sell on the future and show how they will get a return, there is someone waiting to invest in your business.
Tell me about your partnership with Walgreens. Why did you choose them over CVS or Rite-aid?
This partnership means a lot to me, especially as Walgreens is in my backyard (Chicago!). Walgreens was always a destination drugstore growing up in Chicago, and now to have Walgreens support Mielle—another hometown brand—makes it extra special.
Walgreens’ mission is to thread diversity into everything it does. When shelves are a reflection of the local community, it benefits everyone, providing customers with access to a wider selection of products and services while expanding Walgreen’s network of diverse suppliers. Walgreens’ new video series “Shelf Life” features diverse small business founders—like myself—who are open and reflective about their journey, sharing their lives from the inside out. The series showcases how founders pushed their way forward in the midst of challenges as they commit to lifting others as they climb.
Walgreens is synonymous with local community support and convenience, so this was an important opportunity to provide access for the brand. When our customers started voicing their wishes to see Mielle products on Walgreens shelves, we knew it was time to make a move—and that the relationship would help us both better serve our shared customers!
I’m honored to be the first founder to be featured as part of “Shelf Life” and look forward to celebrating the other brands and founders in the future.
There is also a dedicated page on Walgreens.com where consumers can shop for black-owned and founded brands.
How can other entrepreneurs shoot their shot to have their products sold in Walgreens as well?
I get questions from other minority-owned businesses all the time like, “what is the first step to get into a store like Walgreens? What is the process? How do the contracts look, and how do you negotiate?” Here are the top three areas of focus any diverse business should address to better position themselves for success and to get into a national retailer like Walgreens:
– Focus on building a great brand: First, develop a brand and products that create a strong connection with your audience and offer solutions to your customers’ problems.
– Create a community to create demand: Build a community of devoted brand advocates, then deliver a great experience so suppliers are able to maximize value and sales.
– Don’t be afraid to start small: I always say ‘modify your strategy to fit your reality. So, if your reality is you have limited resources that make it harder to scale, then start small and build and grow your way up from there. It’s tempting to want to be in 9,000 stores right away, but it’s a lot harder to fund 9,000 stores than 100. Remember, your partnership with the retailer is everything, so if you can’t deliver on your obligations that partnership will be damaged.
What is your overall plan so that your brand can keep winning?
Since day one, Mielle has been focused on new innovation and how we can best serve and support a diversity of consumers from day one. If we create great products with quality ingredients and fresh solutions, we’re not only bringing our customers what they want, but are also bringing more customers into retailers like Walgreens. With a store on practically every corner, Walgreens attracts such a broad cross-section of consumers, and Mielle is uniquely positioned to meet those many different customer needs and preferences.
This article first appeared on Blacknews.com.