The Kreyòl Essence's Story: Building a Social Brand from the Ground Up | EP. #102
Building a successful social brand requires planning, hard work, and dedication. On this 102nd episode of The E-Comm Show, Andrew chats with Stephane Jean Baptiste, the co-founder and COO of Kreyòl Essence – a natural hair care and body care line made from sustainably sourced ingredients and rooted in Haiti’s culture.
In this episode, Stephane shares how they've built Kreyòl Essence from the ground up, their approach to growing a social brand, their Shark Tank experience, and what they’ve learned along the way. Don't miss this episode if you're looking for inspiration on building your own successful social brand!
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Andrew Maff and Stephane Jean Baptiste
Stephane Jean Baptiste
Stephane holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Temple University. He is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. and a 2010 Pennsylvania State Fellow of the Center for Progressive Leadership. Stéphane has used his business and creative talents to help plan and coordinate the logistics of complex projects and deploy integrated marketing and communications campaigns for over 200 domestic and international clients. An impassioned social entrepreneur, Stéphane is currently the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Kreyòl Essence. Kreyòl Essence delivers 100% natural and ethical beauty products from Haiti to the world by leveraging the country’s unique agricultural ingredients such as Black Castor Oil, Moringa and Haitian Vetiver. The social business connects its sales to economic development and improving the environment in Haiti and has launched nationwide with select retailers such as Ulta Beauty, QVC, Whole Foods Market and Urban Outfitters. Kreyol Essence was recently featured on ABC’s Shark Tank and was named 2020 Best Beauty Brand by the prestigious Beauty Independent. Refinery29 has called Kreyòl Essence one of the Most Exciting & Cool Indie Beauty Brands.
Yve-Car Momperousse is CEO and co-founder of Kreyòl Essence, the first Haitian company to bring natural + ethical hair products from Haiti to the world. Kreyòl Essence creates jobs for over 300 Haitian farmers and women leveraging unique ingredients such as Haitian Black Castor Oil, Haitian Moringa. Kreyòl Essence is known for its plant-based products formulated for those with dry hair, scalp, and skin with a focus on scalp health and care. Yve-Car holds a bachelor’s degree in Urban Studies from Rutgers University, started her master’s at the University of Pennsylvania and completed her degree at Cornell University in International Development with a focus on Rural Agriculture. Kreyòl Essence launched its Black Castor Oil nationwide at Ulta Beauty making history as the first Haitian-owned brand and nationally at Whole Foods Market and over 100 natural stores in Canada. The social business connects its sales to economic development and improving the environment in Haiti.
You got to know what's going to pull yourself back up by three o'clock and go home and kiss your wife and kiss your kids and be at peace
Andrew Maff 00:16
and I want to show right? Good awesome. Yes
Andrew Maff 01:01
Hello, everyone, welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host, Andrew Maff, as usual, and today I'm joined by the amazing Stephane Jean Baptiste, who is one of the cofounders of Kreyòl Essence. Stephane, how you doing? Man? You ready for this good show.
We're great. We're great. Happy to be here. Thank you for having me. It's such an honor. I really love what you're the knowledge that you're giving to the rest of the world of this econ business, the startup life. So when you read through it,
Andrew Maff 01:30
I love it, man. I appreciate that. So I know you're listening, which is fantastic. I would love to do the usual which I know you know, do the normal boring thing. Kick it off. Let everyone know they don't know who you are. Tell us a little about your background, a little bit of curl essence. And we'll and we'll kick it off from there. Okay,
absolutely. So Stephane GMFCS as stated, so who am I I'm a little Haitian boy who dreams and who sees life in movies, right? So I actually was born in Haiti, I grew up in the Northeast. So Boston, Massachusetts, shout out to 6617 peeps, and did undergrad at Temple University in Pennsylvania, Philly. And that was a really great experience. For me. It just really gave me an opportunity to get out in the world. And Philly is one of the best locations. You got the DMV down there. Ah, right there. So I love and that's where I met. Eve come on Peru, who's my co founder and my life partner as well. You know, the business idea came from us really working we worked a lot within the Haitian community respectively before we got together and you know, she was going to an event wanted to look her best looking for a husband, you know, some some schmuck over at, you know, the Cornell or no Wharton School at Penn. And you know, we connected there but the next day, she washed her hair, it all fell out. And that's because she experienced excessive heat damage. And because we're both Haitian American, you know, she called her mom, she was like, Well, what was that oil that really helped grew my hair. But when I was a kid, and she mentioned the Haitian black castor oil, but I got a nice little bottle over here for you. I usually like castor oil is something within the Haitian community we use for medicinal purposes, for therapeutic purposes, aromatherapy, and primarily hair growth. It's one of the few oils that actually penetrates deeply into the skin diminishes inflammation that you might be suffering it and promote the hair follicles to grow. And so once we dug the science and and coupled it with just the social impact work that we can do in Haiti, it was a no brainer to start a business. And so this is where we are we're nine years in wall.
Andrew Maff 03:39
Geez. Still going?
No, it's still going. But it's been it's been a journey. It's definitely been a journey, a beautiful journey has exposed us to so many different things, meaning some dope people, both within beauty both within e commerce. And yeah, and also like the gratifying thing is creating work, creating work here in Miami, where we're located and creating work in Haiti for local farmers and women producers.
Andrew Maff 04:06
Beautiful. Tell me a little about the social justice side of it, the stuff that you're doing, that's kind of going back to Haiti, like what's what's that tie?
Absolutely. So very early on when we realize what this business idea and what we had on our hands, you know, traditionally, this is a product in Haiti that's done by women. You know, so it's sourced, the seeds are sourced from local farmers passed over to the to the women in various communities. They crushed it, they make the oil. And so we saw it as an opportunity to create work for women, specifically in the Haitian sector. In the past, we've actually worked with an organization called Funko z, where they recruit and they hire women from I would probably say the unbanked is the term that they use in which that we create an opportunity for them to go through a life development a life workshop courses, and then at the end they work with Thus to plant the castor pods, cultivate the seeds so that we can use it as a raw material in our formulations. And, you know, we also looked at the GDP exporting out of Haiti, you know, so much comes into the country, but we're not exporting a lot. And as anybody know, within a finance, GDP is how you grow a country, how you grow an economy. And so we wanted to create an opportunity of sourcing the castor oil sourcing our raw ingredients from Haiti, so that we can really improve, do our small share of improving the GDP down there.
Andrew Maff 05:34
Nice. So I imagine starting off a business like this, where you're, you're not really creating a new capital, you are creating new categories, you're creating new category here in the States, where it just wasn't known. So how did you build that brand? How did you get that word out? How do you kind of get that motion and get things going?
hitting the pavement. We started off, you know, we were blessed to participate in an incubator at Cornell, you know, around the time in 2014, when we were first launching the business, and one of the main things that stuck with us was MVP, minimum viable product. You know, once we understood that concept, we had one small bottle that and I actually have a graphic design marketing background. And so I was able to work together to logo, our initial label sourcing bottles with that we traveled from every conference that we can get our hands on, whether it was a beauty conference, where it was a conference related to Haiti conference related to social impact and a patient capital and financing. We wanted to get the word out and the MVP was more. So do we have a viable business here? Is it something that you will buy from me at what price point we would do customer discovery exercises have gone to the retailers and say, Hey, do you actually have a white space for this is this something that you can actually use are your customers suffering from hair loss and need products for scalp care and wellness. So we just did the initial work, and it just hit the pavement, you know, going from show to show conference, a conference events with that we did a lot of pitch competitions in the early years, where we and that's how we funded a lot of the business of just $1,000 here $2,000 There, to then put into product development. From there, this is way before, you know, digital ads and digital marketing was blowing up and ads were being done on Facebook. So a lot of it were, you know, we shied away from the traditional PR because we just couldn't afford it. But we would just tap in to friends and family, those that we knew from undergrad that would essentially give us a platform to really talk about the business.
Andrew Maff 07:43
And where's the product primarily available now? Is it just on the website? Or are you available anywhere else?
Yeah, no, for sure. So where we are digitally native, right. So at our core, we're an E commerce brand. But in 2019, we actually signed with Ulta Beauty. Actually, let me go before that Whole Foods was our first retailer. And you know, for us, it was, again, to your point as far as distribution and getting more of our early adopters to understand who we were and what we have to offer Whole Foods for us and especially within the immigrant community, anywhere that you go to Haitian or not like it was sort of like the cream of the crop, right? You get to Whole Foods. And we also wanted a retailer partner where our customers in our tribe can go in there and get that white glove treatment that we felt they were not getting in traditional beauty supply stores or other district points of distribution. And so being able to go into the aisle, have a buyer there have someone that has really talked to you and educate you about the product was something that was near and dear to our heart when we started. And then in 2019, we realized that we also did want to identify and have a beauty retailer in which our entire assortment would be available. And so Alta came to that to our rescue. It's been a wonderful relationship thus far. We're nationwide. So you can find us at all 12 1300 doors that they have available, and find our full assortment of our castor oil or sculpt care products in addition to our Moringa styling products.
Andrew Maff 09:23
The question that I have to ask and I hate asking it, but have you thought about venturing into Amazon or have you already done it?
Oh yeah, for sure. So I'm gonna tell you about the Amazon story. Right? So please do we started off Amazon as soon as we launched right, Amazon was on shopper. I'm an E commerce dude. Like I don't eat. I rarely go to stores like I'm on Instacart all day. So John was a no brainer for us. But managing that omni channel approach very early on. We didn't know what we were doing. You know, we even got dinged by Amazon because cuz we were taking too long to get shipments out. And so we, we realized we had Yeah, it was it was it was fun. But you know, we saw the immediate purchases and attraction, you know, I was literally on all the time looking at reviews, adjusting things, it just became too much at the time, and especially managing our website and the Amazon distribution. And we always knew that we did want to go on the omni channel approach and getting a retailer. So for me as the sole CEO at the time handling operations, it was just way too much for us to really follow Amazon's rules and be successful. Right? You know, I think the main thing with Amazon is, it's really you have to know your margins, you have to know essentially the best ways to to bundle your products, so that you don't lose your shirt with ads, you don't lose your shirt with regards to stocking fees. So those were the things that now, years later, we're now going back into managing our full Amazon channel. We work with third party sellers over the years and, and they've done a really great job, you know, keeping the store afloat, building it out for us. But now, you know, we want to be able to offer some exclusive products that they might not have available that they're selling, or you might not be able to find on our website. And we found that that was a good strategy for us to get back into it.
Andrew Maff 11:23
Yeah, I've always found that especially now as time has gone on, because FBA fees are getting insane. Cost per clicks are just going up as there's more and more competition. I think Amazon's an awesome like acquisition channel to start introducing people to the brand that maybe didn't know about it. But relying solely on Amazon. It's tough. I don't know how people are still doing amazing knows that. Yeah. Peaks there.
Yeah, you know, you jump on YouTube, oh, my god, here's what I'm doing on drop ship on Amazon. But, but then you have all the product at a crazy price point. And that can be sustainable. You know, from the consumer perspective, if you're in for the quick, Buck. Cool. But if you're building a brand, and you really want to be sustainable, and you really want your customers and your tribe to, to really, again, be part of your tribe, it's a difficult model to do.
Andrew Maff 12:15
Yeah, I agree. So obviously, I gotta bring it up at least one point, you're on Shark Tank, how that how that go was that whole thing? We don't have to harp on it. Because I know everyone probably talks about it. And it's all those things. Every time I have someone who's on it. Every time I got someone who's on the show, it's on Shark Tank, I was like, look, let's just make it quick. Because someone's gonna ask me, Why didn't you talk about it? And then we're just gonna drop the whole thing.
All good, all good. We look, I have nothing but great things about that experience. Um, you know, so five years into the business we're and this is right before we officially signed with with Alta and was getting ready to launch into that. So we were having the conversation with, you know, our dream retailer at the time. And but, you know, it was like, you hit the five year mark, and everybody tells you, it's like, Alright, hey, if you survive five years, you're doing something, right. But in this journey, as you know, we rarely celebrate our wins. Right? You know, because you're just this happened that happened. And you know, you're looking for new retailers, you're looking for growth. So we just never really sat and celebrated our win. And so when the opportunity opened up, there was going to be a, a audition here in Florida. AEF car reached out, I was like, Oh, why don't we apply for Shark Tank? And we're fans, we're big fans of the show. That's where we learned about valuation. And like, literally, everything we did, was coming out of watching Shark Tank religiously like that. That was the night. And so and everyone you say all go to Shark Tank go to shark. They were like, Oh, we haven't done anything yet. We're not successful, you know, but we decided to bet on ourselves. And so we applied. Eve Carr had missed the audition here in Florida. And she's like, Oh, okay, cool. It's not meant to be a buddy of ours, actually. Oh, he's the owner of the gentleman factory up in New York and Brooklyn. So it's a co working space that he started. And that was one of the locations for the New York audition. If Carl was like, Oh, should I go? I was like, go. We know, Jeff. You know, it's like going home. You're a Brooklyn girl. Like, if it's meant to be it's going to be it's gonna happen in Brooklyn. On it, she goes up there, she crushes it. We get a call maybe about a week later saying, hey, we want you to do an audition, another audition tape of everyone that's going to be involved in the show. We do three takes. The first take was just me. We wrote a script. I'm messing up the entire time am I boo boo boo boo boo krill lessons. We do another take up to the nine. Perfect take. And we say You know what? Here's two tapes, two tapes of the audition. You select whichever one that you want. They select the one where I'm like butchering my line and I'm looking like a bumbling idiot. And then so we're like, send we don't we completely forget about it. We're at a trade show in California. And I get a call and it was like, Okay, we need the other founder on the line. I'm like, yo, she's on a trade show, I can't interrupt. We're trying to make money here, like, I completely forgot about you. And by the time we're done, we call them again, they're like, hey, we want you to move forward. We're like, oh, okay, no, lo and behold, long story short, they tell you, it's a year long process in a second job. No lie. Every night, every week, on a call, you're planning with the producers, you're crafting, essentially the pitch, you really weren't. And it's like people think it's just TV, it's the same thing that you would do for an investor going through like a due diligence process, you go through the whole entire process with them. And mind you, they don't tell you that you're going on, right. So you can see you're doing all this and you're putting this money out, you're putting this time out while working on your nine to five and your business. Going through the whole journey, we get out to LA, it was an hour and a half long conversation. You know, so what you saw was a 15 minute clip, but I have nothing but great things to say because they really captured the essence of the conversation of the story of who we are. As you can see, what you saw on TV is here today. So they really captured that it got to keep it authentic man. Deal with so much throughout the day. Like I think the self work that as entrepreneurs that we don't get a chance to do in the beginning, once you realize that and like what wellness actually means for you. Like that's one of the main things that I harp on to anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur these days, it's like understanding self getting to know self being happy with self loving self, so that you can wake up every day to do the stuff that we do. This is not normal. What we do normal, you know, you can be on top of the moon, like on top of the world at 9am by noon, you're in the bottom of the beds. So you got to know what's going to be
Andrew Maff 17:08
preaching to the choir.
You got to know what's going to pull yourself back up by three o'clock and go home and kiss your wife and kiss your kids and and be at peace you know with the day that you had so Work in Progress another work in progress.
Andrew Maff 17:25
Did the show bring you guys enough business did it work out once it aired and all that fun stuff? You know,
funny, interesting story. So again, not celebrating our wins. We didn't even want to have like a like a showing, you know, we were just gonna pull up, put the TV on watch it at home and say okay, hey, we were on. A friend of ours is like, no, no, no, you should celebrate this you should have you know, like a screening party. So we flew our parents now friends and family those who were just really part of our journey and and the last five years at the time that we did this. And so you know, being type A personalities like we hear the stories that as soon as it airs, you know, you're just going to hear the Shopify. None of that happens, right? So we're like, oh, my god, we're starting business in history. The next day, boom, like within a couple hours, like orders were just flying in. And then we ended up getting like two weeks earrings in that year. So it aired in January of 2020. Airs January 2020. Luckily, we were we had inventory that we had produced for Ulta. Yeah, we didn't know we were in Antarctica, they say, Hey, you got two weeks, get your inventory game together, like, do what you got to do. So we ended up borrowing from the Alta inventory to enable to actually take care of Shark Tank. But because stores were not open at the time, by the time we were supposed to launch April and 2020 and Alta that gave us enough time to essentially go back into production and get the inventory that we needed for it and then March hits again. We're like whoa. What did we do now. But again, we were able to essentially plan put some money into the inventory allocation so that we can sleep and get also what they needed and get our.com customers what they needed after the Shark Tank airing.
Andrew Maff 19:23
Beautiful. So what's what's next from here? Like, what are you guys doing to keep this thing growing? What's your focus right now?
Yeah, so you know, I think right now, we we've experienced some really great growth, especially 2021 2022 was, was was a bit dicey. But you know, we realized that we purposefully slow down to put some infrastructure in. So one of the major things that I'm doing right now is a new ERP system. That's a whole nother podcast.
Andrew Maff 19:56
one's never doing that again.
But you know, we realize that, you know, coming up and building the business, like a lot of things were fragmented. And so you know, with the growth that gave us the visibility of what we needed and the partners that we need to bring in, to essentially streamline. So we're hiring everyone, you know, looking for, to beef up our marketing team operations team. So that's something that we're looking for, like really key individuals who've seen this before, that can essentially jump in, roll their sleeves up, you know, pull in our creativity, pull in some of our passion, but I like the tactical things. We're really for strong players to take ownership in that department. We are working on some new products, you know, doubling down on scalp care that everyone's excited about now that let's just say five years ago, we were on the scalp care tip. All right, I got it. You know, the nature of casserole is all about taking care of your scalp. You know, the certification of hair, and the entire beauty sector is something that we're excited about and formulating around that as well. And then yeah, and I think also even right now with what's going on in Haiti, we're working with local artisans. You know, within the next few weeks, we're going to be launching the Kreyòl Essence Masha, which is marketplace in Kreyòl. And so what the mache will essentially bring in is like taking that social impact piece to the next level, leveraging our DTC platform on Amazon and and you know, what we what we've been blessed to receive in the last couple of years and sharing that with other entrepreneurs in Haiti and and giving them that platform to essentially sell through our our prayer lessons last year.
Andrew Maff 21:43
Yeah. Beautiful. That's awesome. Yeah. Exactly. What every day Sivan really appreciate you having a show awesome. Had a great time. I love to give you an opportunity to hear let everyone know where they can find out more about you and of course more about Kreyòl Essence,
kreyolessence.com First and foremost Ulta Beauty nationwide Whole Foods is some selected foods. We'll have the entire assortment. Also goop Yeah, we're on the Gwyneth Paltrow Group website you can find us.
so we work with some of the salons at JC Penney. So you can pull your product say hey, I want to use the scalp care shampoo, schedule an appointment with the with the salon artists there and you know luxuriate in Haitian dropping on a weekly basis.
Andrew Maff 22:37
If I decide to bring a hitman on this show, would you be willing to do that? For every episode? Just every time someone says something like yeah, Amazon sucks
you know what is like, you know, back in the day listening to the radio station, they would have like the intro of this is like, you know, the Yeah. Quick little clips.
Andrew Maff 23:03
Yes, man. Thank you so much, everyone who tuned in. Thank you as well for usual. Whatever man, we'll see y'all next time.
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