She Did That!: CurlMix CEO Kim Lewis Bet on Herself And Won

In an exclusive interview, Lewis shares her journey from passing on a "Shark Tank" offer to securing a deal with Ulta, discussing sacrifices, dreams, and the importance of self-care in her entrepreneurial journey.

While it may seem risky to turn down an offer from “Shark Tank,” that is precisely what CEO and cofounder of CulrlMix Kim Lewis did when she passed on a $400,000 offer. Instead, she bet on herself, and in less than six months, that daring choice paid off. Lewis and her husband Tim—cofounder of the brand—secured a seed investment of $1.2 million.

The now-successful entrepreneur has been featured on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and had products on Oprah's Favorite Things list. This all started because she wanted to ensure that type 4 hair was embraced. It was a noble cause because we live in a time where laws like the CROWN Act still have to be written to protect against discrimination based on race-based hairstyles. recently spoke with Lewis to discuss what it means to be an entrepreneur and how she secured a deal with Ulta. What was your journey to get to this point?

Kim Lewis: When I first started, I was fresh out of college, and since then, I've done maybe three iterations of startups, and now I have two brands. I did everything the hard way—meaning launching a manufacturing facility while trying to grow. Often, people are ordering things from overseas and then figuring out how to sell them here, which is very different from what I wanted. I needed to create a facility that made the product and then figure out how to sell it.

I wanted to know what was in my products, and I figured the best way to do that was to do it myself. I found that my customers loved that flaxseed gel, so I decided that is what we would make, and that's when we grew our business in 2018 and made our first million. But years prior, we made less than $20,000. I couldn't pay myself for four years. What was the impetus for starting CurlMix?

Kim Lewis: I started the business so I could travel full-time eventually. And looking back, I'm like, 'Am I gonna travel full time?' I didn't need to build a $10 million business to travel. Now I can't travel, because I have employees and children.

I made a lot of sacrifices for my ego. My ego needed to see this thing that I wanted to be in the world and required me to build it. And so my ego has been satisfied. Now, at 31, almost 11 years in, I am getting back to me and what I wanted in the first place and why I started this business. What did you want when you first started?

Kim Lewis: I wanted to travel internationally. I've been to 20 countries, but I want to visit all of them. I am proficient in French, but I want to speak it fluently. I also wanted to live in a high-rise downtown in the city I am in now, but I want more freedom. I'm pursuing that at this point in my life while still managing work. How did that deal come about? Were you pitching CurlMix to places like Ulta?

Kim Lewis: A lot of times, you have to go and pitch retailers, but if you stay out of retail long enough and you build your customer base, you'll have more leverage when you enter retail. All the big box stores have been coming to us for the past five years because they wanted my customers. [Because] when my customers go into their stores, they're going to buy more than just my products; they're going to buy skincare, makeup, etc. But I said no to them because I knew we couldn't handle the volume.

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After we rebranded and raised $4.5 million in equity through crowdfunding from our customers, I knew we were ready. Ulta came to me because I already had more than 200,000 customers, and at least 25 percent were repeat purchasers. We had spent five years building our direct-to-consumer business online. So you have about 30 full-time employees, and you're in Ulta. Is there a new dream or goal?

Kim Lewis: One of the most important things to me is returning money to my crowd investors. I raised about $4.5 million from seven thousand of my customers who primarily look like me, and I really want to get them a return on their money. Inside of all that is going on, how are you finding time for yourself? What are your restorative practices?

Kim Lewis: Last year, I longed to get out of the house and not like my body. I was even considering plastic surgery. I spoke to a friend, and he said give yourself two years of working out and eating right, and then if you don't like your body, do whatever you want. [At first, two years seemed like a long time] but then I started researching the cost of surgery, which was $10,000. I thought if I could invest $10,000 into surgery, I could invest $10,000 to be healthy.

So I hired a trainer to come to my house. I bought a weight rack and turned the guest room into a [workout room]. Having a trainer is good for my mental health and my body. I get it done in the morning before anything or anyone else. It was life-changing for me this year. It made me feel like it doesn't hurt anyone to put me first.

This article has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

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