CLEVELAND, Ohio — The idea of starting a business devoted to hair products for Black women kept swirling in Camille Genise Heard’s head.
Finally, she asked herself a crucial question.
“What is the worst thing that can happen if I take this idea seriously? Am I gonna die? No!” she recalled. “So why not take it seriously?”
Heard quit her corporate job, turned her childhood bedroom into an office and kickstarted FELOH — which means For Everyone’s Love of Hair and Beauty.
FELOH is both a social marketplace and a destination for Black women looking for advice, inspiration and products as they transition from chemically straightened hair to natural hair styles. The FELOH app links users with nearly 60 sellers offering more than 1,000 products.
The Cleveland-based startup recently won first place and more than $14,000 in prize money and donations in the Black Girl Ventures Pitch Competition. Seven Black and brown, women-identifying founders competed for the grand prize in a virtual competition, while an online audience voted for the best pitch through donations via a crowdfunding platform, according to competition organizers.
Black Girl Ventures, based in Alexandria, Virginia, praised Heard as a “profoundly passionate and committed” entrepreneur.
“(Heard’s) pitch stood out to us because of her unique approach to leveraging community insights to drive business to the brands on her platform,” Black Girl Ventures said in an email. “Her curated marketplace ensures her customers get access to the best products for their specific needs.”
Winning the Black Girl Ventures prize money was a blessing, Heard said. The company has been funded through personal savings, credit, two small crowdfunding campaigns and a $10,000 interest-free loan obtained through a business accelerator program.
The pitch competition was the start of a busy year for FELOH, which recently relaunched its app. Users who post selfies on FELOH, or share their experiences with products win rewards that can be used in the app’s marketplace.
Once Heard decided to take treat her nascent idea seriously, she quit her corporate job in 2018 and recruited other young women to be part of her dream.
The FELOH team includes Heard’s former college roommate, FELOH co-founder Jacqueline Baron, and chief administration officer Zarin Hamid. Baron, 30, lives near Washington, D.C.; while Hamid, 28, resides in Pittsburgh.
Heard moved back into her parents’ Cleveland Heights home so she can concentrate on moving FELOH forward as CEO and co-founder. It’s not a sacrifice.
“We’ve turned my old room into my office
–workout room. I’m living in a little guest room with my cat,” Heard said. “But you know, I’m not even mad. I’m an only child, I love my parents, and I thank them so much.”
College roommates become business partners
Looking back, it seems natural now that Heard would grow up to run a hair and beauty company.
As a teenager, she asked her mom to braid
But her entrepreneurial and creative instincts weren’t nurtured. After graduating from Hathaway Brown School, she headed to the University of Pennsylvania in 2009 to become a doctor.
“I think if I had been exposed, particularly in high school, to how to actually build a business model around an idea, I would be in a very different place right now,” Heard said. “One of my future passions is to really figure out how to empower young people to take their ideas seriously.”
In college, Heard began to transition from chemically straightened to natural hair styles. She realized how little she knew about which hair products to use for her new, more curly hair texture, and she turned to YouTube influencers for support and advice.
“By the end of grad school, I was convinced that this space was growing at a quick enough pace, where there’s going to be multiple people interested,” Heard said.
Heard shared her idea for FELOH with Baron, who came aboard. The two women each bring their strengths to the business. Heard is an effective visionary who is constantly thinking of innovative ideas, Baron said, while she is good at sweating the small details and bringing diverse people together
“She’s in the perfect role,” Baron said about Heard.
The women asked Baron’s father, Gerald Baron, to be their business advisor and mentor. They knew his business experience with startups and his MBA would be valuable.
Gerald Baron, who lives in Philadelphia, was impressed by Heard’s passion and the company’s ability to sign up vendors willing to sell their products on FELOH.
“I believe the market is there. They should do fine,” Gerald Baron said.
He acknowledged that Heard and his daughter will have to work harder to prove themselves because too often, Black businesswomen aren’t taken seriously by men. In the post-Trump era, some small-minded people feel more comfortable openly spouting racist, misogynistic and anti-immigrant views, he said.
Despite the challenges, he’s confident that FELOH will flourish.
“If you persevere, you’ll find good people who are not small minded and are willing to support what you’re doing,” Gerald Baron said.
As Heard and Jacqueline Baron continue looking for funding and growing their business, they sometimes run into people who just don’t get the point of FELOH and what it’s trying to do. They hear a lot of unhelpful advice.
“I just try to take it in stride because I’m seeing some of the successes that we have gotten,” Heard said. “I’m gravitating towards the people that get it.”