Small Business Interview: Ngozi Opara, Heat Free Hair
Meet Ngozi Opara, the founder and CEO of the Heat Free Hair brand. Ngozi started out as a financial analyst but pursued her passion for natural hair care on the side until she decided she just had to pursue her dreams full time. She obtained her license in cosmetology and even moved to China to gain experience as a hair manufacturing technician. She has been recognized by Forbes and several well established publications and this is just the beginning for her. In this interview she talks about building her business, her mistakes and accomplishments and shares some serious advice for new entrepreneurs - a must read. Enjoy!
Please introduce yourself and tell us about your business. What is it called and what services and or products do you offer?
My name is Ngozi Opara and I am the founder and CEO of Heat Free Hair. Heat Free Hair was created in 2012 to attend to the neglected market of women who had natural hair or wanted to be natural but were limited to protective styling options that required them to alter their hair texture for the purpose of blending with hairstyles that didn’t match their texture of hair. Our product is virgin human hair created to blend effortlessly with the different curl patterns and textures of a woman’s natural hair. We are currently an e-commerce business, looking to expand in the near future, and we offer hair extensions in the form of wefted hair, clip-ins, and wigs. The Heat Free Hair Movement expands beyond our products and focuses on the education of the natural hair community through seminars and instructional videos as well as events for natural women to network with other women alike.
Can you share a bit about how you choose this line of business? What transition did you make to owning your own business?
The Heat Free Hair story goes back to 2011 when I was working as a Financial Analyst. I was “the woman in finance with the big hair” who embraced my natural texture of hair despite the frequent stares and questions, but I was also a budding entrepreneur who opened a hair studio on the side to feed my passion while still pursuing my career in finance. During that year I had an increasingly high number of clients that would come into my hair studio and say they wanted their hair to look like mine and wanted me to help them go natural. Eventually I started cutting their permed hair off and giving them protective hairstyles to grow their hair out to its natural texture. The problem was that I was very limited in the hair options I could provide for them so I would often heat straighten their hair for the purpose of blending with the “protective” style I gave them. Eventually I felt like a hypocrite for teaching them about healthy hair while still damaging theirs so I decided to create a movement that would inspire women to embrace their natural hair textures as well as give them more options through our products. While I was working both jobs, I saved all my checks from Corporate America and lived off of the money I made doing hair. I launched Heat Free Hair in December 2012 and received an overwhelmingly positive response from women of African descent who felt like they had finally received an answer to their hair struggles.
Do you have any special training?
Yes, I wanted to really study the process of making the products we now produce, so I moved to China and studied to become a Hair Manufacturing Technician. I’m also a licensed cosmetologist.
What are some of your biggest accomplishments as a business owner?
The greatest milestone we have achieved was getting through the first year of business. Although Heat Free Hair was widely received when we initially launched, there were still many people who did not understand the concept of having textured hair extensions. We spent the first year of business answering a lot of questions and making a lot of mistakes, but we were ultimately able to rise from that time period and grow as a business.
How soon after you started did you start seeing profits? Or when do you project to begin earning a profit?
The initial investment that I made in the business, I was able to make back within the first batch of orders; but I had to continue to re-invest in my business. So, I would say that I began to see true profit after 6 months of business.
How did you decide how to price your services? How did you determine what your services were worth?
Our pricing model was determined by the cost of the goods cold and the cost of the manpower required to produce the goods. Essentially, we evaluated the entirety of the cost required from production to fulfillment, accompanied by the cost of salaries and the desire to still remain competitive in the market. With all those factors, we set our price point within a reason range, while still making a profit from our sales.
What mistakes, if any, have you made with your business? What have some of your biggest challenges been? What did you learn from the experience and how did you bounce back?
One of my biggest struggles has been allowing the fear of other people's words and opinions prevent me from following through on certain ideas and taking risks within my business. I have learned that no matter what I do, people are always going to have an opinion; however, when I have my heart set to accomplish a goal or try something new within my business, I should pursue it because I believe that it can be done. The most challenging aspect to me is finding a balance between a creative mind and a business mindset. In the initial startup phase, there is nothing but time to be creative because you are trying to figure out what works best. Once you step over to the operational side, there really needs to be a balance between being a leader in your business but not losing that creative spark. In my business, I try to find that balance daily.
What do you consider the most important elements of running a successful business?
The most important element of running a successful business is foresight; having the ability of understanding where your specific industry is going and being ahead of the curve. Another important element is quality control; being sure you are maintaining quality and keeping quality assurance at the forefront of your business plan. And lastly, I would say strong team!
Do you have any start-up advice you can share with women reading this who would like to launch their own businesses?
You should figure out your “why?” first. It’s probably the most important aspect of your business because, as you scale, things get tougher and tougher and your reason for beginning your entrepreneurial journey is something you will always come back to. It will ground you and motivate you to keep pressing forward towards your end goal. Your “why” will also assist you when coming up with new ideas for your business; are your efforts satisfying your “why”? It is the foundation upon which you will build a business!
Do you have any advice on managing your small business finances?
Make sure that you have someone managing your books so that you can keep track of month to month performance, as well as the possibility of overspending or locating possibly holes in your spending. Always have a reserve; the biggest proof of concept is historical data that displays sales; without the history of profit, you don’t want to have all your money tied up. Be frugal in the beginning and spend wisely, and project as you gain business and profit.
How do you balance work and life owning a small business?
In the beginning, there was no balance. Eventually, as you get deeper into your business, you have to be intentional with life outside of business. I literally have to schedule lunch with friends, spa-days, and downtime! Put a value on your personal time and the need to step away and recuperate. Once it’s on the schedule, stick to it!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I see myself teaching women all over the world how to build their own businesses!
Please share a fun fact about yourself
I have a side passion for real estate and technology.