CEO of multi-million dollar Philly-based company shares advice for small minority-owned businesses

"We created the original line of nude lipsticks by hand in our apartments," KJ Miller said.
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- KJ Miller had a problem that, unfortunately, a lot of African American women experience.

"I couldn't find myself in the world of beauty," said the 36-year-old.

In 2015, she and her friend, who is a fellow Harvard Business School graduate, were lamenting about what seemed like a simple issue.

"I was like 'Girl! I can't find any lipstick that I like much less a nude lipstick," she said of her talk with her friend Amanda Johnson. That's when the aspiring entrepreneurs realized they had a potential business.

"That was sort of the ah-ha moment," said Miller.

They immediately went to work.

"We created the original line of nude lipsticks by hand in our apartments," she said.

Two years later, in 2017, they launched Mented Cosmetics, which has a specific focus.

"Mented is short for pigmented," said Miller, "We specialize in premium beauty for women of color. We do really celebrate and prioritize women of color because historically, we've been the ones who have been left out of the beauty industry."

Five years later, Mented has become a multi-million dollar brand. Miller moved the business from her previous home in New York. It's new a Philadelphia-based business with a wide reach on social media.

That's one of the resources where Miller suggests any small, minority-owned business look for exposure.

"You need buy-in," she said, adding that influencers and experts are among the people to seek out. "You need people who have a bigger platform than yours to buy into what you're doing."

She also urges aspiring entrepreneurs not to spend every dime on creating and promoting a prototype. Instead, she says, think of an option that takes the least amount of capital to create a basic version of your product or service.

"What I hate to see is when entrepreneurs have an idea and then pour all their resources into it before they know if anyone even wants it," she said.

Statistically, minority-owned businesses are less likely to be approved for the loan amounts they need. That's why Miller urges entrepreneurs to look for investors and speak their language.
"Most of the people who raise venture capital don't look like me," she said. "I always lead with the numbers, Black women outspend their white counterparts on beauty by upwards of 80%."

After years of trying to convince all investors she met, she eventually learned to focus most of her energy on the potential investors who embraced the idea after she presented them with the facts of her industry and her goals.

"If you just don't get it and you don't want to get it. I don't waste my time," she said of her philosophy-adding that entrepreneurs, themselves, also need to know when to move on.

"I tried other businesses and failed," Miller said candidly. "Sometimes people get into their heads this is the only idea I'll ever have. There is truly no shame with walking away because you're not walking away with nothing. You're walking away with everything that you've learned."

Miller put the lessons from her previous ventures into the development of Mented. It's how she knew early on that the business would work. In addition to selling products on their own website, they also sell them on Amazon, QVC and HSN.

Mented Cosmetics is also sold in stores including more than 500 Ulta Beauty stores and hundreds of Target stores. Miller says the company continues to work on new partnerships and products.

"We started this company because we wanted everyone to feel like they had a home and a voice in the world of beauty," Miller said.
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