As Black women, sometimes it is hard to find a good product for our hair. Our hair is just special. This is why we need products made specifically for us, by us. The CEO of Curls Beauty Brands, Mahisha Dellinger, has done just that.
Mahisha Dellinger is not only the CEO and Founder of Curls, but she is also is the founder of “Black Girls Making Millions Academy,” creating millionaires one Black girl at a time, the founder of a non-profit; “Curls Girls Rules the World” where she connects young girls with mentors for life to help them get to and through success. She is also a mother of four, a wife and she has a few other businesses coming up.
She is definitely a hard-working entrepreneur that made it from the projects to the penthouse, against all odds. I was excited to interview Mrs. Dellinger. Check out the interview below:
The Empress Dee: So, you have a book called; “Against all Odds: From the Projects to the Penthouse,” where you talk about coming from Sacramento, CA ; what are some of the challenges that you encountered and how did you deal with those tribulations?
Mahisha: Number one, the generational cycle of poverty was horrific, it just never ended. The death, the destruction and the gang banging…the drive byes, the crack addiction. We were in Meadowview aka “Danger Island” that what it was dubbed, during the height of the crack epidemic. My brother got caught up in selling crack on the street corners, got arrested a lot of times…got caught up with the Meadowview bloods, our house was shot up multiple times, because he was a Meadowview blood and one time The Crips came looking for my brother and right down the street his friends who were also apart of the bloods, who the Crips were also looking for barged into their house looking for these brothers and ended up killing their mother…so that was just right down the street. So, this was what I was seeing as I was growing up and fathers were not present. Most of my friends were pregnant by the age of 15 and most brothers did not make it to the age of 18. There were a lot of people who just did not have a way out. It was not a place where people had dreams. I am proud to say today, that I came from that because it made me resilient, driven and hungry. It made me determined…it made me a lot of things. The hood can do 1 of 2 things; it can either make you resilient so that you will get out of it or you will be stuck under it. I am 47 and my brother is 51 and he is just now getting off drugs. So, he used to sell them, he was in the system, he used to gang bang, was on drugs and it just took his life down, now he is clean…thank God!
The Empress Dee: It is so easy like you said to get caught up in those cycles, especially when this is something that you are seeing on a daily basis and it looks like there is no way to get out or to escape this kind of life. While you were going through that, did you ever think why is this happening to me, Or, did you just accept it as normal?
Mahisha: It was normal. It was all that I knew…you kind of adapt to it. But I did have another side that I saw. My mother and father never married but he was college educated and I saw him every other weekend. But his life was different. When we went out, we did not have to worry about what we spent…we would go out to eat which was a big deal back then to me. Budgets were not a thing; he was the one who would take me school shopping and he would pay my mom child support. I remember being the best dressed girl in the hood because my dad took care of that. We would go shopping and he would say, put what you want on the counter and he would take a seat until I was finished. I saw how he lived and how he did not have a worry…it was carefree and easy. Life is simpler when you do not have to worry about how you are going to eat the next day. I was food insecure because living with my mother she did what she could. But most of the money that she got from my father was being used to pay the bills.
So, food insecurity was real. I remember going to school oh and I used to hate this; if we were good all week long then on Friday, we could have snack day; we could eat snacks while we were doing our work. Well, I wanted to eat when everyone else did so I would eat part of my lunch, which left me with less lunch. Everyone else had snacks plus lunch and all I had was my lunch. It was stressful. I remember thinking that I do not want to live like this, this is not what I want for my life. How can I do things differently? I realized that the common denominator was education with my father and my father’s family, which was different from the way that my mother and her family lived.
The Empress Dee: At what point did you decide that you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
Mahisha: That was in corporate America. I was working for Intel and I experienced corporate racism for the first time. I was a young a mother and everything was on my shoulders. There was this man who was hell bent on getting rid of me for no other reason than the color of my skin and it was evident. It destroyed me because he was going to get rid of me in about six months. He put me on a corrective action plan which was Intel’s legal way of getting rid of someone in six months, paper trail with legalities. I knew that it was coming, and I was so stressed out and once I got through that, I decided that I would never again allow someone to own my destiny ever again. That was what pushed me to entrepreneurship. I did not plan to be an entrepreneur, I thought that I was going to retire from Intel.
The Empress Dee: When did you realize that you would become an entrepreneur with your hair care product line, Curls?
Mahisha: Well I was just looking as a newly natural mother for options. We launched in 2002 and at that time there were not many options available. I wanted products that would be natural, organic, wholesome and not heavy or greasy. I wanted weight for my curls, but I did not want the greasiness. We did not have it, so we created it. I found that need and realized that there were others like me looking for natural hair care products so let me see if this will be a viable business and it was and I did my due diligence, which is something that I tell all my mentees to make sure that they research their market. This was an opportunity, in fact it turned out to be a great opportunity.
The Empress Dee: So, you started off making the products yourself?
Mahisha: No. I have always had someone mix them. I initially was at home mixing oils in my kitchen. I used different products like Paul Mitchell and Infusion 23 where I would mix oils in them to make them different, but I am not a chemist, I have always had a cosmetic chemist.
The Empress Dee: That is amazing! I noticed that you advocate to end domestic violence. Do you share your story when you go to different seminars or conferences that deal with domestic abuse?
Mahisha: I support a local organization, “Women called Moses Against Domestic Abuse”, and I support her because she is an amazing woman, who was going in at the times when domestic violence was happening. She is in south Dallas where women of color are overlooked. People are not looking out for them and making sure that they are safe, but she is doing that. So, she does not get a lot of funding, so I make sure that I donate to her every quarter. My mother was also a victim of domestic violence and I witnessed it every single time and that is why I so connected to her. I like to help women who are dealing with what my mom went through.
The Empress Dee: Do you think that people who experience dysfunctional relationships in their childhood or abusive relationships are more likely to have those kinds of relationships as adults?
Mahisha: The stats say that. I think that I believe it and I do not see why it would not be the case. With everything that I witnessed, I am surprised that I did not go down that rabbit hole. It makes sense because we tend to repeat the cycles. Thank God that I did not repeat that cycle.
The Empress Dee: I agree, and I too have witnessed these kinds of relationships. You become used to what you see and as an adult, you think that it is normal unless you were exposed to something different. A lot of times people who are exposed to something different, it feels odd to them because they are used to dysfunction.
Mahisha: I think that I have seen that in my family so yes, I think that is the case.
The Empress Dee: What are your 3 greatest accomplishments to date?
Mahisha: My children, they are amazing kids. I am proud of my business, but beyond Curls…giving back and helping. It is apart of who I am, and I think that being able to be a blessing is a blessing. I am proud that I have the heart to give. So, I really see that as a blessing because I do believe in the karmic law. I do not know if you believe in God but what you reap, you sow; where you plant your seed is what you harvest. So, I am proud of that and my family. As for my business, I took it from nothing and made it something and as entrepreneurs, we can be hard on ourselves. I can smell the roses and say that I have done a good thing by changing my children’s legacy.
The Empress Dee: Who were some of your inspirations while you were growing up?
Mahisha: In my family on my father’s side, there are a lot of women who paved the way for me. My mom was a great hustler and fighter and survivor. She shifted her circumstances, getting professional work, climbing the city of Sacramento’s ranks; she did that on her own. On my dad’s side I saw women who made history. Vivian Malone, if you google her, she was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Alabama. She went on to do a lot of amazing things with the civil rights movement; she is in several pictures with Martin Luther King Jr., there is a building that was named after her at the university. When she passed away, former presidents were there. She made a cameo appearance in the movie, “Forest Gump” where she is seen walking to campus. Eric Holder, who was the U.S. Attorney General is a cousin on my father’s side. So, there are a lot of history makers. They inspired me when I was a little girl and I am proud of their accomplishments. When I was young, I would only see my father’s family during family reunions and funerals. There were rich and ritzy, well educated and intimidating. So now they are looking at me and feeling proud of my accomplishments and I am happy to have made it to an esteemed level as the rest of my family.
The Empress Dee: As a result of having such an esteemed family who accomplished such great things, did you ever feel pressure to succeed?
Mahisha: I did not do it for them. My muse was my first daughter. I had her when I was 20 and I knew that I could go down that same rabbit hole as members of my family had and so she was what made me determined to change my trajectory. She was the person that made me drive hard and work hard. She is 25 now and she works for Curls, she has been fired 3 times, but she is back (laughter) but she is my muse.
The Empress Dee: How much of a role would say faith played in your journey?
Mahisha: Faith is an important piece of my journey. Manifesting your dreams, I believe in that wholeheartedly. Vision boards put it out there in the atmosphere…make your vision plain and speak it into existence. Pray about it. When you see the visuals of what you want in your life, your mind becomes geared to how you can make it work and it is something that is subconscious that happens. I believe in that totally and for those of you who do not, get your vision board out.
The Empress Dee: I have heard before that whatever it is that you desire is already waiting for you in the spiritual realm and you have to pray it into existence in the physical realm. What are some of the characteristics should a business owner be looking for when thinking about people who will promote and have a position in their business?
Mahisha: Whatever job you are hiring for, there needs to be a baseline level of experience and professionalism that they bring to the table; for example, you cannot bring a dishwasher to do a marketing management position. The most important thing is their attitude and their personality, you must be coachable; someone that is flexible. If you have a small company, you do not want someone who operates within this small box that is not going to work. You need someone that can see the big picture and work as a team. That is what I always coach my daughter about. When she left Curls (her third time), she went to work for Coach and a few other jobs. My biggest thing with her was to be coachable; you cannot rise if you have the attitude that you know everything. She was in sales, pretty young Black woman, who was doing well with commission and getting customers, but you have to be coachable even when you do something wrong and you may not agree but your manager is able to approach you is important.
Your attitude matters. The biggest thing that I see whenever I am having a team meeting are the people that are engaged when we are brainstorming. People who do not have this ability to talk about ideas and brainstorm, you will not last long at Curls. Our meetings are so productive because I have some amazing women on my team. They are all rock stars! So, that is what I am trying to teach my mentee and my daughter.
The Empress Dee: Whenever I speak with my mentors the one thing that they tell me is that no one is going to run your business like you will. A lot of times in having a small business, I wanted to control everything, and I wanted things done a certain way. What advice would you give entrepreneurs that are having a hard time delegating responsibility?
Mahisha: On my show, “Mind Your Business with Mahisha”, there was an episode with Oprah’s foot nanny. She would get her hands into everything. I would be like Gloria; you need to delegate. She also had her publicist labeling jars. It is important that you delegate appropriately and not try to do it all because you will kill yourself and go under trying to do it all yourself. It is not sustainable; it is not feasible, and it is not wise. I understand the control part and how you want to do it all yourself but there is a piece that you can give to someone if you have to be a micro-manager, which I do not agree with; I agree with managing from an umbrella perspective where we give our vision, our mission and give people things to do and allow them to execute and once, you see it if there is something that you need to change or elevate, then at that point you have a discussion and you let them take it back to the drawing board and re-do it. That is how they will get their muscles and how they get better. You work your muscles by delegating. If you are the final checkpoint to make sure that everything looks right, then that is what you do. But you got to at least give people the opportunity to do it.
The Empress Dee: Thank you so much for saying that. That was so helpful. What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are juggling family life, social life, work and then their own business?
Mahisha: Every day it is a struggle. I have the same struggles. I have 4 children and 3 of them are at home. Every day is a new day and you need to take the top 3 things and make sure that they get done. In your business it is important that you prioritize those things that need to get done but find time for family. For example, I have a hard time with people who ask me to do podcasts at night. I am working so much during the day; I cannot also work into the night. I need to have time for my children. My priorities are God first, family second and business third. I do not always get that right.
The Empress Dee: What self-care tips can you offer to entrepreneurs?
Mahisha: I would say that when you have a moment when you feel like you need to disconnect, then do it. That is the biggest thing that you can do and recharge. If that means getting off social media and relaxing for the day…playing hooky is important. Sometimes you need to do that and really relax. Stay in bed…relax, it is important. We handle so much we take control of so many things. I wear so many different hats and I will un-plug my phone and take a day and say guys I am off today and not work.
The Empress Dee: You interact with people all the time and people will say to those who interact with people as apart of their job, it is not manual labor so why are you tired? But it is an energy exchange.
Mahisha: It takes a lot of energy to do what we do. It is a lot of mental energy which is more taxing in a different way because you are tired and exhausted.
The Empress Dee: How long does it take you to recharge so that you can get up and do this the next day?
Mahisha: I am not sure that I have an answer for that because every day is a new day. Whenever my mind and my body tell me to recharge, is when I do it. I listen to my body and it will let me know when I need to take a moment.
The Empress Dee: That is so important because as Black women we are used to working, having these taxing responsibilities so there are very few times that we listen to our bodies when they are telling us to take a break. Why is generational wealth so important and why should Black entrepreneurs work to prioritize that?
Mahisha: Because that is how we sustain our families. The Black wealth disparity is so far behind Caucasians and that is how they rule the world because of their wealth power. So, we need to pass on to our children something other than our debt. We need to leave our children with a legacy that will help to build their future and not rip it apart. Every time someone passes on my mother’s side, it becomes a burden. We got to change that narrative and the best way to do so is through entrepreneurship.
The Empress Dee: What are some of the first steps to gaining generational wealth?
Mahisha: You need to educate yourself about how you want to make your wealth. In corporate America unless you are high level executive…with stock, you usually do not get wealthy. Find a way to have a side hustle that may become your main hustle. Figure out what it is that you want to do and do your research. Right now, is a prime time. Covid-19 has shifted our norm so see what you can do in the new industries that are coming up. There are different ways to make your mark. Healthcare, medical…safety all those are new. Out of these genres alone there will be so many businesses popping up. Recessions have made more millionaires than any other time. Think about that and how you can create your legacy even amid negative circumstances and turn it into something good for your family.
The Empress Dee: Are you looking to see what your children are interested in so that they can monetize the things that they are passionate about?
Mahisha: My daughter has got that on lock. These juices right here that she makes for me, she charges me…my 9-year-old. Once Covid-19 happened all the stores shut down. So, she noticed that I was not able to get juices anymore, but I will make them for you for $6 a bottle. As we got deeper into it, she raised her prices. She said because I was not able to get the juices anywhere else, she was now going to charge me $8! She got it. The law of supply and demand. One day I had not paid her yet and she slipped a note under my office door stating that if I did not pay her than she would not be making any more juice. I was like ok she even got a little inside collection service (laughter) but they see me and so I know that I am setting the example for them.
The Empress Dee: What advice would you give to the youth who do not know what their gift is?
Mahisha: Do not try to ride the wave of someone else’s success. Find what is going to work for you and just flow with it. As your mind opens to what you can explore, always be alert in thinking as you are seeing what your needs are. See what is happening in the world around you and how you can impact it. I do not think that you can force it…it is a natural progression. I flowed into this naturally. There was a need that I did not see being met and I created it. People think that they are going to turn on the switch and be millionaires overnight.
The Empress Dee: What advice would you give young Black women who are looking for mentors in other Black women who may not always seem open to it?
Mahisha: The point is…that is reality. We cannot get caught in that we know that not everyone is going to be happy for you. So, try to keep that out of your head and look for those who are positive and who want to help you. Not everyone will. Associate yourself with like-minded individuals who do want to help you. Also, remember that it is not you, it is them (the negative ones). They are insecure.
The Empress Dee: What words of wisdom can you give during this time of civil unrest and how can we spread that love to one another?
Mahisha: I would say that this the time to stand up. This is not the first and it will not be the last…where we lose a Black man to unnecessary violence and police brutality. Right now, people are seeing us and hearing us. This is the time to strike while the iron is hot. So, if you have any connections with someone who is a banker or who has retail space, this is a good time to ask for those things that you would not have asked for before…a closed mouth does not get fed. Some of the companies are willing to help us. I found some banks that are stepping up…businesses like Walmart are stepping up. So, if you have an opportunity go and ask for it.
The Empress Dee: What are some up and coming projects that you are working on that we should keep the lookout for?
Mahisha: I would say that there are some amazing things coming but I am not able to speak on them yet. I may have a competitor listening, so I cannot divulge that information so we will have to do a follow-up.
The Empress Dee: Thank you so much for your time and for allowing us to do this interview with you. To our viewers if you would like to visit our website, the link is included in our bio and check out our Awakened Lounge membership packages. Thank you again Miss Mahisha, you have been so wonderful, and I wish you the best of luck with your future business ventures.
Mahisha: Thank you, thank you for having me and we will do a follow-up when I am ready to speak about those ventures.