July 18, 2011
For anyone with naturally straight hair who’s longed for curls and waves, it may sound absurd that people blessed with kinkier locks would have hair issues. But they do, and they spend more money on their hair than the rest of us – and it’s a sizable market.
A couple of weeks ago I learned about a company called The NaturallyCurly Network. It’s not so odd that I hadn’t heard of it, given that I have naturally straight hair and don’t often search for hair products or solutions. But I thought it was odd that I was learning about it on Business Insider, which reported that it was a ridiculous idea and even more ridiculous that it would be funded. It surprised me because hair and beauty is big business – a multi-billion dollar industry that is no joke. So I spoke with Crista Bailey, CEO of The Naturally Curly Network, to learn more about it, and what I found was pretty compelling.
Inspired by cocktail-type discussions by two curly-haired journalists in Austin in 1998, the site began as a simple forum for sharing tips and resources. The audience grew organically, and as it grew, its wants and needs ballooned (particularly around products), propelling naturallycurly.com into an ecommerce play.
It wasn’t until 2006 that co-founders Michelle Breyer and Gretchen Heber left their day jobs to more actively build out the team and guide the growing business, also bringing in some powerhouse advisors including John Paul Dejoria, Founder of John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patron Tequila, and Jimmy Treybig, Founder of Tandem Computers (also venture partner with NEA), among others. Bailey joined in 2007 and has since overseen rapid growth in community reach and revenue. It’s not surprising that given this year’s 100% audience growth (now at 2 million monthly visits) and over 60% revenue growth that investors are bullish on this niche network that attracts big beauty brand dollars.
In late June, the company announced that they raised ~$1.2 million in Series C growth-stage financing, bringing their total funding to $2 million during the past four years, and achieved a profitable and cash-flow-positive year in 2010, according to Bailey. The new capital will go towards growing the audience via partnerships, advertising and possible acquisitions, and optimizing the platform for consumer engagement – look for a more cohesive, social site in the future.
The network not only includes content and community for consumers via naturallycurly.com, but has resources for hair-styling professionals (CurlStylist.com) and a boutique full of community vetted products (CurlMart.com), with a growing database of consumer product reviews. There is also a blog focused on tackling specific issues around natural hair (CurlyNikki.com). Launched recently, their new iPhone app called “Curls on the go”, was featured by Apple and has had thousands of downloads – iPad and Android versions are coming soon. There are also apps (iPhone and Android) for both CurlyNikki’s forum and NaturallyCurly’s CurlTalk forum, designed specifically for community discussions.
When asked about the BI article (which was syndicated to the SFGate) that called The Naturally Curly Network ridiculous, Bailey’s response? “I’m not surprised. The name, when you first hear it, it’s a quirky thing.” She went on to comment that aside from the attention getting headline, the lack of fact checking was really what came through. And as is often the case, press is press – not only did investors and the local Austin community really come through in support of their native startup, but straight-haired folks like myself have discovered the site and can pass it on (I just told my stylist this morning!). Added Bailey, “We have so much to do. I’m not losing sleep over it”.
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