‘Success isn’t owned, it’s rented. And rent is due every day’

Monique Rodriguez has many titles: mother, wife, friend, sister and self-made millionaire.

The 39-year-old founded Mielle Organics, a natural hair care brand, in 2014 after a devastating loss that changed life as she knew it.

“It took something very traumatic for me to find out what my true purpose and ultimate calling was,” Rodriquez tells CNBC Make It. And it was in 2013 that I lost my son. I was eight months pregnant. “It was a high-risk pregnancy and unfortunately my son died as a result.”

By then, Rodriquez was almost a decade into nursing, a field her family assured her was “recession-proof.” But she wasn’t interested — and returning to that environment while dealing with postpartum depression seemed impossible.

This led her to make hair products in her kitchen. Not only was it a “creative outlet” to help her “get over the pain of losing her son,” it was the start of what is now a multi-million dollar brand sold in more than 100,000 stores across the United States.

Here’s how Rodriquez got funded as a black woman and the best career advice she’s ever received.

Scaling challenges

Last year, black women led the way in entrepreneurship: 17 percent were starting or running a business, compared to 15 percent of white men and 10 percent of white women, according to the Harvard Business Review.

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However, only 3 percent of black women ran mature businesses, indicating systematic discrimination in VC and funding—something Rodriquez knows all too well.

“Because you’re a black woman starting a company, banks don’t believe in you. You haven’t proven yourself, so investors don’t really believe in you. [either]. You already have two attacks on you: you are black and you are a woman. It’s just the reality, especially when I started [my business] eight years ago.”

Rodriquez says he had to “bootstrapped” and “empty” his savings to fund his early-stage business.

“Every time I got a paycheck, my nursing pay, my husband’s bank account and his paychecks, it all went into the business,” she says. “So we had to sacrifice our living situation and we couldn’t do the things that our friends were doing. [We were even] “We’re taking our 401k and emptying it all out to invest in the business.”

Through hard work and networking, Rodriquez and his wife secured a loan that eventually helped them land their first retail partner, Sally Beauty.

In 2020, she received her first seed round of funding from the New Voices Foundation, an organization for women entrepreneurs of color. And just last year, Mielle Organics received a “historic” $100 million in funding from Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm.

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Rodriquez says it has grown since its inception, with things like ground races, donations, and fundraising events becoming more common these days. But he believes that there is still a “long way” to level the playing field.

Ups and downs of entrepreneurship

Mielle Organics is one of the fastest growing black-owned makeup brands in the country that has come a long way.

Rodriguez says community impact has been one of the most rewarding parts of her career.

“It’s about igniting that flame in that little girl sitting at home watching on social media. [and seeing] Monique Rodriguez is doing something historic, breaking the glass ceiling, so she can come behind me and break the next glass ceiling.”

“It’s my little girls who are at home, seeing their mom doing historic things and giving them the belief that they can do anything they put their minds to.”

In contrast, Rodriquez says the lowest point of his journey at the start was staying sustainable, even when the company was “not profitable.” But ultimately it helped him “appreciate being profitable and learn the importance of managing finances.”

“Success is not owned, it is rented”

Despite having several mentors, coaches and peers, Rodriquez says the best career advice he ever received actually came from his wife.

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He always gives me amazing advice. [the best being]: Success, if not owned, is rented – and the rent is every day. Don’t be complacent, don’t get complacent, and never feel like you’ve “earned it.” Because when you get to that place, there is always someone who wants to take your place. You have to keep working and trying as if you know [your spot] Not guaranteed.”

Rodriquez also advises other black women entrepreneurs to “own yourself.”

Many black women struggle with this impostor syndrome – they don’t feel like you belong at the table or that you don’t want to be in their lives. But God has put you in a room you probably didn’t even think you had. It will be because of his grace and anointing.

“So step into that grace, step into that light and know that you deserve to be there just like everyone else.”

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