Building a Ground-Breaking Business From the Ground Up
Miko Branch, co-founder and CEO of Miss Jessie’s, credits Madam C.J. Walker as an inspiration for her own hair-care business (founded with her sister, Titi) and for being a female entrepreneur. The big business lesson: If you see a need, find a way to create the solution.
To be honest, it took the failure of our first venture to create an opportunity for success. After opening our first salon with just $8,000 in seed money, we quickly expanded. We moved to a six-chair salon — it was twice the size and three times the rent — and we just didn’t have the clientele to support that. We lost almost everything. And ironically, that gave us a moment to regroup and start again on a new path.
A revelatory moment came for me while I was bathing my son. I struggled to keep my hair in its straightened style — and at that moment, Miss Jessie’s took shape. My sister and I began marketing premium services for curls, kinks, and waves — and that was the start of it all.
We took to our kitchen table. Using the skills we had learned from our grandmother, Miss Jessie Mae Branch, we created our first product, Miss Jessie’s Curly Pudding, from scratch.
If you see a need, you may be in a position to create a solution.
It was very clear to me that Titi and I had created something ground-breaking when we were mixing products in our Brooklyn brownstone and we had women parked outside of our house and ringing our bell first thing in the morning, late at night, and on the weekends in search of product. Another moment of clarity, when I realized our business was a success, came for me when I first saw our product on the shelves of Target in our hometown of Brooklyn.
Our father thought it was very important that my sister and I be our own bosses. He came out of the civil rights era, so he understood the importance of being in a position of choice and decision. We were raised under those principles, and that was the driving force in our decision to become entrepreneurs.
When I told my father that my sister and I were going to seriously embark on the beauty business, he handed us a book written by Madam CJ Walker’s great-great grand-daughter, A’Lelia Perry Bundles. She chronicled Madam Walker’s rise to success, and it was inspiring to us because she had a similar story — she didn’t have any special training for business, but she had a desire to be helpful and she built her business brick by brick. And that is how we built our business.
There were so many lessons that I learned from Madam CJ Walker, but the key one is that if you see a need, you may be in a position to create a solution. And if you find yourself in that position, advertise, do great work, and there’s no reason why you can’t be profitable. Her story also speaks to women about being independent. She helped empower so many women by giving them jobs and giving them the opportunity to create their own businesses. That is truly exceptional.
Before going into business, I believe everyone should have a conversation with themselves about the reasons why they are going into business and really understand what is driving that decision. And also, be brave. As a younger Miko, I was so terrified by rejection, and I believe I missed a lot of opportunity because of that. As an older Miko, I’ve learned to really embrace the word ‘no.’ Now, rejection is almost like ringing an alarm — and I’m able to identify that there’s something that needs to be corrected.
Do as much research as you can, but as a true entrepreneur, I encourage you to just do it. In the doing of it, there are so many lessons — and hopefully you’ll learn so much in the early rounds that when you’re making bigger decisions later on, you’ll have some first-hand wisdom that is meaningful to you.
A decision we made was not to take on any investors, and we’ve invested profits back into the business in order to grow. Although it takes discipline and a long-term approach, this means that when it came time to take profits, we were able to realize the full benefit.