By and For the Black Community
How CurlMix raised $4.5M from 6,948 investors and secured the upside for its earliest supporters
- In 2015, Kim Lewis and her husband Tim Lewis founded CurlMix—originally a DIY box to help Black women style their natural hair.
- With early customer feedback, they pivoted into manufacturing the most popular product from the box: the only natural flaxseed gel on the market at the time.
- Within 3 years, Kim and Tim hit their first $1 million year.
- Shortly after, they were invited to pitch on Shark Tank, where they turned down Robert Herjevec’s offer to invest $400,000 for 20% of the company…
- …and decided to raise from their huge community of supporters instead.
- During their Community Round, CurlMix raised $1 million in 4 hours, and $4.5 million after 5 months.
- What’s more, CurlMix investors left 3,962 enthusiastic comments on the campaign, breaking a Wefunder record.
By and for the Black Community
We’ll have CurlMix Founder & CEO Kim Lewis take it from here →
What is CurlMix?
CurlMix is a curly hair brand that helps Black women feel more beautiful and confident in their natural hair. We do that by making wash-and-gos more accessible in our community and helping customers master their curls in 21 days, or our product is free via store credit.
I started CurlMix because I wanted to know exactly what was in my hair products, and what better way to do that than to make it yourself?
In 2015, I launched the brand with my husband and co-founder Tim as a DIY box for curly hair—so think Blue Apron, but for hair. After a couple years, I noticed my customers were only repurchasing my flaxseed gel, so I switched gears to manufacturing it in Chicago.
At first, manufacturers all said no because our product was too laborious. We use real flax seeds that you could eat, and we boil them, get a hair gel, and bottle it. When you put it in your hair, it helps you get a hairstyle like mine.
Since manufacturers said no, we just did it all ourselves. I was seven months pregnant, and I spent all of that September in my kitchen making 50 different batches of flaxseed gel.
I landed on one that was amazing. We let our community pre-order and sold hundreds in a matter of hours. From there, we pivoted the entire business from the DIY box to our flaxseed gel, four-step system to help women get the best wash-and-go ever.
For those who don’t know, wash-and-go is a method of defining your waves, curls, or coils in the shower or with a gel and setting it with a diffuser so that it stays soft and hydrated, without the use of heat or chemicals.
Today, CurlMix is one of the fastest growing digital curly hair brands in the market. We hit our first $1 million year in 2018. In 2019, we appeared on Shark Tank and turned down a deal that undervalued us. Shortly after raising our Community Round in 2021, we hit our first $10 million year in 2022. Now we’re a team of 30 team members in Chicago, and we plan to keep growing alongside our customers.
We would be the first Black-owned curly hair business to be community funded, and then we could return money to our community. I think that’s dope. There’s no better story, in my opinion.
Kim LewisFounder & CEO of CurlMix
How we built community at CurlMix
Many Black women like me have always had to adjust our beauty standards to fit into corporate. That means we have to straighten our hair or relax it every 6-8 weeks, otherwise your hair grows out kinky for one or two inches and the rest will be straight and it’ll look funny. We do this to fit in—so people don't ask questions about our hair, so we don't get fired or passed over for opportunities because we're wearing an Afro to work—all the different things.
I didn't even know what my natural hair texture looked like until I was 20 years old. For the first time, I stopped relaxing it and let it grow out, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I didn't know my hair could look like this.” I would always just wear an Afro. Afros are beautiful too, but what I’m wearing now is my styled Afro.
When the 2008 recession came along, people didn't have money to pay their mortgages, and they definitely didn't have money to go to the salon. If you don't have money to go to the salon, then you say, "Okay, how can I actually take care of my hair?"
That's when the natural hair movement started booming on YouTube. You had different influencers like Naptural85 or Natural Chica, all of them coming out with videos on how to do your hair and make your own recipes at home. In 2008, Shea Moisture also got into Walgreens, their very first major retailer. All of that kicked off the natural hair movement.
When we first started with our DIY box, one of the first things I did was start a Facebook Group. For five years, I would go live in the group, doing my hair in the shower, asking the community what colors and flavors they wanted in our products, asking them what product to make, hosting meetups...so much community and brand work before our actual ask. I think that’s why the round was such a success.
When we first dropped our Wefunder link into the Facebook Group, we raised a few hundred thousand dollars in a few hours from that community alone.
Part of me hates having to convince someone who doesn’t think what I’m building is valuable, when I know I have 100,000 people who say that it’s valuable and who are buying my products to let me know that it’s valuable.
Kim LewisFounder & CEO of CurlMix
Why we decided to raise a Community Round
I always wanted to raise from my community, because there's always been a bit of taboo with Black folks selling their businesses. Typically, a founder becomes the face of the brand, launches their products, gets into Target, Walmart, Ulta, CVS, and Walgreens, sells a significant portion of the company to a private equity fund, and then cleans house.
They make the company as lean as possible, get profitable, and sell it to a large conglomerate. At that point, very few people from the original team are still there. The founders get their payout. And the community sees nothing in that transaction.
I always thought, what if the Black folks are the ones getting the money from that acquisition? They would actually own a piece of the brand that they helped build.
At the time, I was talking to a lot of VCs who didn't get it, and didn't believe CurlMix was gonna be successful. Part of me hates having to convince someone who doesn't think what I'm building is valuable, when I know I have 100,000 people who say that it’s valuable and who are buying my products to let me know that it's valuable.
What if they invested, and I could stop talking to these investors who don't know my industry or my community? We would be the first Black-owned curly hair business to be community funded and be able to return money to our community. I think that's dope. There's no better story, in my opinion.
Why did people invest?
"I have used your product for over a year now and I fully believe in them. My hairstylist says my hair is the healthiest it has ever been and I bleach it."
"I invested because I believe in you!"
"It's important to me to show my children in supporting business designed for them."
How the Community Round went
I treated the fundraising launch like I would treat a product launch: I had a calendar for all the content I was gonna be posting, I had a kickoff event with this one piece of content everybody would share and 20 people who were gonna share it, I approached my email list like Barack Obama did when he first won his first election. I used all plain-text emails, I sent an email twice a week, I sent an SMS once a week, and I planned to do some PR—but because the campaign took off so quickly, it got its own press. I was doing all the things.
Within 4 hours, we raised $1 million.. By the end of five months, we raised $4.5 million from nearly 7,000 investors and closed the round.
When we closed the round, I cried like a baby. One, because it was so hard, but two, because I couldn't believe that many people believed in me, to the point where they put their social and their credit card information in Wefunder to invest. That is the most validating feeling I've ever had as an entrepreneur—far beyond a Forbes or a Shark Tank.
When we closed the round, I cried like a baby. One, because it was so hard, but two, because I couldn’t believe that many people believed in me.
Kim LewisFounder & CEO of CurlMix
The impact of our Community Round
Without our Community Round, we probably wouldn't be here. It made all the difference. We did our first $10 million year in 2022 after the round, and we haven’t even gone into retail yet.
Our community funding allowed me to double the business and move into our own manufacturing facility. Now we have a 30,000-square-foot facility where we make our product and have our own pumping line.
We also rebranded—our packaging has a new look and feel that makes us more elevated. We're going into retail this year, though I cannot announce the retailer just yet. This all happened because we raised that $4.5 million from our community.
Now, almost every time I'm outside in Chicago, I get stopped in the street to someone saying, “Oh my God, I invested in your company.” Even as I walked through a parking lot after getting off a friend’s boat, this guy I've never met before was like, “Hey, you're the founder of CurlMix, I invested in your company.” I was like, “What?!” Then I went to Afro Tech in November, and the same thing happened again. It really drives home how crazy it is to have 7,000 investors.
When we shot professional photos for our website, we featured our customers and let them do their own hair for the photos, and almost all those women were investors. They were more excited to promote the brand and be in our advertising, because they know at the end of the day they benefit as well.
Outside of that photoshoot, we don’t ask too much of our investors. They already gave us money, and it’s meant the world to us. Now, we just wanna let them know we’re using it wisely.
CurlMix raised $4,537,310 from 6,948 investors during their Wefunder Community Round.
Snapshot of CurlMix's Community Round (source wefunder.com/curlmix)
- 3,962 investors left a comment for CurlMix—the highest number of comments for any single Community Round on Wefunder
- 80% of investors invested $500 or less, with $500 being the most frequent check size
- Investments came from 50 different countries and 50 US states
- Notable investors include Arlan Hamilton (Backstage Capital), Jeff Weiner (LinkedIn), Allyson Felix (Olympian)
- Raised for 5 months from July to December 2021