Adwoa Beauty Founder Julian Addo On Leaving Corporate To Start Her Textured Hair Care Brand

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

Adwoa Beauty Founder Julian Addo On Leaving Corporate To Start Her Textured Hair Care Brand
Courtesy of BHE

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, Adwoa Beauty founder and CEO Julian Addo explains how her corporate career taught her how to succeed in business and how she landed a partnership with Sephora.


Addo started her career as a hairstylist in her teenage years and eventually became a successful salon owner. In the midst of needing health insurance, Addo stumbled upon a job in the banking industry with CitiGroup.

“I found it really easy to excel in that type of environment because I'm going from entrepreneurship as a child,” Addo said. “So now, I'm sitting down at a desk with a headset on answering calls… I think they saw that type of work ethic in me and I became a supervisor.”

But in 2006, CitiGroup closed its doors in Minnesota and Addo was relocated to Dallas, Texas. A few years later she received an opportunity to become an associate vice president at Chase and then at Bank of America.

But even during her corporate years she maintained a passion for beauty products. She launched her own beauty blog called Bella Kinks, and began building relationships within the industry.

“Life is so interesting,” she said. “I feel like you just show up and you show up as your best self every day…you give your all in the universe and things just happen.”

After watching YouTube videos and learning about the natural hair care industry, Addo immediately knew she wanted to get involved.

“It ignited that fire that has been lying dormant in me,” Addo said. “Yeah, I was making good money so I did not intend to leave [corporate] to go back into beauty. I just wanted to add my professional stance because at the time there were only regular people with no professional experience in the industry. The industry was kind of underground and hadn't gone mainstream yet. So I figured you know I have a hairstyling background, I have a professional background, I can bring a different voice.”

Addo used her own funds to host events around the natural hair care space. After getting laid off from her corporate job in 2013, she pivoted into beauty and focused on Bella Kinks full time.

“I learned so many skills, even leadership skills on how to lead people, to review contracts that I just wouldn't have had,” she said. “Banking gave me that foundation and now I'm back in beauty. So now I put my beauty knowledge and administrative leadership knowledge together and I would create these campaigns for brands when they launch a new product, and then I would negotiate the contracts with influencers and bring them on board for whatever campaign that we were doing.”

As Addo started hosting these hair care events, Sally Beauty got word about Bella Kinks and reached out to bring her on board to help revive their in-house multicultural brand called Silk elements. Addo was put in charge of marketing and given full autonomy. It was through this experience that she recognized how far behind the textured hair care space was in comparison to the rest of the industry.

“Everything looked so antiquated to me,” she said. “Literally every natural hair care brand uses the same packaging, just a different wrapper. There's got to be something different.”

So, she created a pitch deck with no brand name and had her graphic designer do mock-ups. She sent it on over to Black-owned brands she was freelancing for but none of them took the bait.

The road was rocky but Addo stayed committed and ten months later, Adwoa Beauty was born in 2017.

Two years later, Addo received an email from Sephora about potentially featuring her products in their stores. Addo couldn’t believe this and thought the email wasn’t real. But after having conversations with the team, she signed her agreement with Sephora in November 2019 and officially launched her six products in stores in May 2020.

“I pretty much had a very transparent conversation with Sephora.” Addo said. “ I’m a former hairstylist, there’s no one else that has no one in this industry that has my experience — not only being a hair stylist because you have brand owners that are hairstylists — but I was in the natural [hair] community…I’ve touched every part of this industry in a way that no other founder has been able to touch it. So I was like for the category to utilize me as a true partner, not just putting our brand on shelf or in store.”

Shortly after launching with Sephora, Addo said that she received an overwhelming response from investors who wanted to work with her, but she didn’t want to raise money too soon or raise from the wrong partner.

“I don't want somebody telling me what to do,” she said. “From the standpoint of my vision. Now to build the brand, yes, and these are strengths that I had and there are things that I don't know so I want my partner to fill in those gaps and to help me scale the brand, but I don't want you to try to force me into going into this retailer…So I really wanted to be confident in my long term vision for Adwoa beauty before I brought someone on.”

Addo understands the importance in finding the right partners and she advises other entrepreneurs to do the research and make sure that the investors who want to partner with you align with your vision. She said she spoke to over 30 people in the venture scene and narrowed her selection down to three individuals. Eventually, Addo raised $4 million in funding and while she said it was a huge sigh of relief, it was also very overwhelming.

She added that there are, “also the psychological impacts that come with $4 million. Like no one in my family has ever had $4 million dollars. There are four extra million dollars in my checking account right now…But it was also very heavy on me. I honestly took two weeks to pay some bills that we had. But then I did nothing for two weeks and I just kind of sat on it and then just kind of went through the motions myself for me to personally get to the level of where I need to.”

Even after the deals with Sephora and other investors, Addo admitted that there are certain terms and vocabulary that she’s not familiar with when it comes to the venture capital landscape. As an entrepreneur she’s learned that you need to be willing to ask the questions and be OK with not knowing.

“I found that just by asking questions, people are willing to help you,” Addo said. “So I never presented myself as someone that knows. I know what I know and I know what I don’t know and when I don’t know, I ask questions.”

dot.LA Reporter Decerry Donato contributed to this post.

This podcast is produced by Behind Her Empire. The views and opinions expressed in the show are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of dot.LA or its newsroom.

Hear more of the Behind Her Empire podcast. Subscribe on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeart Radioor wherever you get your podcasts.

Top LA Accelerators that Entrepreneurs Should Know About

Los Angeles, has a thriving startup ecosystem with numerous accelerators, incubators, and programs designed to support and nurture new businesses. These programs provide a range of services, including funding, mentorship, workspace, networking opportunities, and strategic guidance to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas and scale their companies.


Techstars Los Angeles

Techstars is a global outfit with a chapter in Los Angeles that opened in 2017. It prioritizes local companies but will fund some firms based outside of LA.

Location: Culver City

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: StokedPlastic, Zeno Power


Grid110

Grid110 offers no-cost, no-equity programs for entrepreneurs in Los Angeles, including a 12-week Residency accelerator for early-stage startups, an Idea to Launch Bootcamp for pre-launch entrepreneurs, and specialized programs like the PledgeLA Founders Fund and Friends & Family program, all aimed at providing essential skills, resources, and support to help founders develop and grow their businesses.

Location: DTLA

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Industry Agnostic

Notable Past Companies: Casetify, Flavors From Afar


Idealab

Idealab is a renowned startup studio and incubator based in Pasadena, California. Founded in 1996 by entrepreneur Bill Gross, Idealab has a long history of nurturing innovative technology companies, with over 150 startups launched and 45 successful IPOs and acquisitions, including notable successes like Coinbase and Tenor.

Location: Pasadena

Type of Funding: Stage agnostic

Focus: Industry Agnostic, AI/Robotics, Consumer, Clean Energy

Notable Past Companies: Lumin, Coinbase, Tenor


Plug In South LA

Plug In South LA is a tech accelerator program focused on supporting and empowering Black and Latinx entrepreneurs in the Los Angeles area. The 12-week intensive program provides early-stage founders with mentorship, workshops, strategic guidance, potential pilot partnerships, grant funding, and networking opportunities to help them scale their businesses and secure investment.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed

Focus: Industry Agnostic, Connection to South LA and related communities

Notable Past Companies: ChargerHelp, Peadbo


Cedars-Sinai Accelerator

The Cedars-Sinai Accelerator is a three-month program based in Los Angeles that provides healthcare startups with $100,000 in funding, mentorship from over 300 leading clinicians and executives, and access to Cedars-Sinai's clinical expertise and resources. The program aims to transform healthcare quality, efficiency, and care delivery by helping entrepreneurs bring their innovative technology products to market, offering participants dedicated office space, exposure to a broad network of healthcare entrepreneurs and investors, and the opportunity to pitch their companies at a Demo Day.

Location: West Hollywood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage, convertible note

Focus: Healthcare, Device, Life Sciences

Notable Past Companies: Regard, Hawthorne Effect


MedTech Innovator

MedTech Innovator is the world's largest accelerator for medical technology companies, based in Los Angeles, offering a four-month program that provides selected startups with unparalleled access to industry leaders, investors, and resources without taking equity. The accelerator culminates in showcase events and competitions where participating companies can win substantial non-dilutive funding, with the program having a strong track record of helping startups secure FDA approvals and significant follow-on funding.

Location: Westwood

Type of Funding: Seed, early stage

Focus: Health Care, Health Diagnostics, Medical Device

Notable Past Companies: Zeto, Genetesis


KidsX

The KidsX Accelerator in Los Angeles is a 10-week program that supports early-stage digital health companies focused on pediatric care, providing mentorship, resources, and access to a network of children's hospitals to help startups validate product-market fit and scale their solutions. The accelerator uses a reverse pitch model, where participating hospitals identify focus areas and work closely with selected startups to develop and pilot digital health solutions that address specific pediatric needs.

Location: East Hollywood

Type of Funding: Pre-seed, seed, early stage

Focus: Pediatric Health Care Innovation

Notable Past Companies: Smileyscope, Zocalo Health


Disney Accelerator

Disney Accelerator is a startup accelerator that provides early-stage companies in the consumer media, entertainment and technology sectors with mentorship, guidance, and investment from Disney executives. The program, now in its 10th year, aims to foster collaborations and partnerships between innovative technology companies and The Walt Disney Company to help them accelerate their growth and bring new experiences to Disney audiences.

Location: Burbank

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Technology and entertainment

Notable Past Companies: Epic Games, BRIT + CO, CAMP


Techstars Space Accelerator

Techstars Space Accelerator is a startup accelerator program focused on advancing the next generation of space technology companies. The three-month mentorship-driven program brings together founders from across the globe to work on big ideas in aerospace, including rapid launch services, precision-based imaging, operating systems for complex robotics, in-space servicing, and thermal protection.

Location: Los Angeles

Type of Funding: Growth stage

Focus: Aerospace

Notable Past Companies: Pixxel, Morpheus Space



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🚁 One Step Closer to Air Taxis in LA
Image Source: Joby Aviation

🔦 Spotlight

Joby Aviation, a pioneering electric air taxi company, has achieved a significant milestone by successfully flying a hydrogen-electric aircraft demonstrator for 523 miles with only water as a byproduct. This groundbreaking flight showcases the potential for emissions-free regional travel using vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) aircraft, eliminating the need for traditional runways. The company's innovative approach combines its existing battery-electric air taxi technology with hydrogen fuel cells, paving the way for longer-range, environmentally friendly air travel.

For LA residents, this development holds exciting implications for future transportation options. Joby's technology could potentially enable direct flights from LA to destinations like San Francisco or San Diego without the need to visit conventional airports, offering a cleaner and more convenient alternative to current travel methods. The company's progress in both battery-electric and hydrogen-electric aircraft positions it at the forefront of next-generation aviation, promising to revolutionize urban and regional mobility.

Notably, Joby Aviation has already made strides in Southern California by securing an agreement with John Wayne Airport earlier this year to install the region's first electric air taxi charger. This strategic move sets the stage for LA to be among the initial markets where Joby will launch its electric air taxi service. With plans to commence commercial operations as early as 2025 using its battery-electric air taxi, LA residents may soon have access to a fast, quiet, and environmentally friendly mode of transportation that could significantly reduce travel times and traffic congestion in the region. In the not too distant future, LA might find itself in an identity crisis without traffic and excess smog 🤞🤞.


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Fuel Innovation: 7 Unforgettable Team Building Experiences in LA
Image Source: Discover LA

In today's competitive business landscape, team building activities have emerged as a crucial tool for fostering a positive work environment, enhancing productivity, and crucially, improving employee retention. Studies have shown that such activities help employees feel valued, with one report indicating that 93% of those who felt appreciated were more motivated at work. Importantly, team building events may improve retention rates, as employees who feel connected to their colleagues and company culture are more likely to stay long-term. With these benefits in mind, let's explore some of the most engaging and effective team building activities available in Los Angeles.

Pickleball

Image Source: Modern Luxury Angelino

Pickleball is a fantastic team bonding activity because of the easy-to-grasp rules and gentle pace make it perfect for everyone, regardless of age or fitness level. The game thrives on communication and teamwork, as players must collaborate and strategize to outplay their opponents, boosting team cohesion. Plus, the lively, fast-paced action sparks friendly competition and laughter, creating a fun and spirited atmosphere that brings everyone closer together. Los Angeles boasts numerous pickleball courts that are easy to rent if you have your own equipment. If you need additional assistance organizing your pickleball outing, there are plenty of full-service companies ready to handle every detail for you.

Resources: Pickle Pop, Corporate Pickle


Escape Room

Image Source: The Escape Game

Escape rooms are a great way to build camaraderie. They require participants to work together, combining their problem-solving skills and creativity to overcome challenges and puzzles. The immersive and time-sensitive nature of escape rooms fosters collaboration and communication. Additionally, the shared experience of tackling complex tasks and reaching a common goal helps build trust and foster positive emotions among colleagues.

Resources: The Escape Game, 60Out


Day Trip to Catalina Island

Image Source: Love Catalina

Catalina Island is a perfect day trip for a team because it provides a break from the usual work environment, allowing team members to relax and connect in a new setting. Shared experiences during the trip, such as exploring new places and participating in fun activities, help build stronger relationships and foster a sense of camaraderie. There are numerous team-building activities such as an arboreal obstacle course, an island tour, scavenger hunts and more.

Resources: Catalina Island Group Activities


Top Golf

Image Source: Topgolf

Topgolf is an excellent team building event because it provides an inclusive, relaxed atmosphere that accommodates players of all skill levels, fostering personal connections and improving team morale. The unique blend of competition and entertainment creates an ideal setting for building trust, enhancing communication, and revealing hidden skills among team members. Additionally, Topgolf offers structured team building packages with guided activities, discussion prompts, and lessons on culture, change, collaboration, and strategy, making it a versatile and effective platform for strengthening relationships and boosting overall team performance.

Resources: Topgolf El Segundo


SoFi Stadium Tour

Image Source: Discover LA

A SoFi Stadium tour offers a unique, behind-the-scenes experience of one of the world's most advanced sports venues, allowing team members to explore exclusive areas like premium suites, team locker rooms, and the player tunnel together. The tour provides a shared, memorable experience that can foster camaraderie and spark conversations among team members, regardless of their interest in sports. Additionally, the stadium's state-of-the-art features and impressive architecture can inspire creativity and innovation, while the group setting encourages interaction and collaboration, making it an engaging and enjoyable activity for teams of various sizes and backgrounds

Resources: SoFi Stadium Group Tours


Corporate Volunteering

Image Source: L.A. Works

Volunteer work serves as an excellent team building activity by uniting employees around a shared, meaningful cause, fostering a sense of purpose and collective accomplishment. It provides opportunities for team members to collaborate in new ways, often revealing hidden strengths and leadership qualities that may not be apparent in the regular work environment. Additionally, engaging in community service can boost morale, enhance the company's reputation, and instill a sense of pride among employees, leading to improved workplace relationships and increased job satisfaction.

Resources: Habitat for Humanity, L.A. Works, VolunteerMatch


Corporate Improv Sessions

Image Source: Improv for the People

A corporate improv class encourages spontaneity, creativity, and quick thinking, skills that are valuable in the workplace. It promotes active listening and collaboration, as participants must work together to create scenes and respond to unexpected situations, fostering better communication and trust among team members. Additionally, the playful and often humorous nature of improv helps break down barriers, reduces stress, and creates a shared positive experience that can improve team morale and cohesion long after the event.

Resources: Improv-LA, Groundlings, Improv for the People

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