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.

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Creandum’s Carl Fritjofsson on the Differences Between the Startup Ecosystem in Europe and the U.S.

Decerry Donato

Decerry Donato is a reporter at dot.LA. Prior to that, she was an editorial fellow at the company. Decerry received her bachelor's degree in literary journalism from the University of California, Irvine. She continues to write stories to inform the community about issues or events that take place in the L.A. area. On the weekends, she can be found hiking in the Angeles National forest or sifting through racks at your local thrift store.

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Carl Fritjofsson

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Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
AI Is Rapidly Advancing, but the Question Is, Can We Keep Up?
Evan Xie

One way to measure just how white-hot AI development has become: the world is running out of the advanced graphics chips necessary to power AI programs. While Intel central processing units were once the most sought-after industry leaders, advanced graphics chips like Nvidia’s are designed to run multiple computations simultaneously, a baseline necessity for many AI models.

An early version of ChatGPT required around 10,000 graphics chips to run. By some estimates, newer updates require 3-5 times that amount of processing power. As a result of this skyrocketing demand, shares of Nvidia have jumped 165% so far this year.

Building on this momentum, this week, Nvidia revealed a line-up of new AI-related projects including an Israeli supercomputer project and a platform utilizing AI to help video game developers. For smaller companies and startups, however, getting access to the vital underlying technology that powers AI development is already becoming less about meritocracy and more about “who you know.” According to the Wall Street Journal, Elon Musk scooped up a valuable share of server space from Oracle this year before anyone else got a crack at it for his new OpenAI rival, X.AI.

The massive demand for Nvidia-style chips has also created a lucrative secondary market, where smaller companies and startups are often outbid by larger and more established rivals. One startup founder compares the fevered crush of the current chip marketplace to toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. For those companies that don’t get access to the most powerful chips or enough server space in the cloud, often the only remaining option is to simplify their AI models, so they can run more efficiently.

Beyond just the design of new AI products, we’re also at a key moment for users and consumers, who are still figuring out what sorts of applications are ideal for AI and which ones are less effective, or potentially even unethical or dangerous. There’s now mounting evidence that the hype around some of these AI tools is reaching a lot further than the warnings about its drawbacks.

JP Morgan Chase is training a new AI chatbot to help customers choose financial securities and stocks, known as IndexGPT. For now, they insist that it’s purely supplemental, designed to advise and not replace money managers, but it may just be a matter of time before job losses begin to hit financial planners along with everyone else.

A lawyer in New York just this week was busted by a judge for using ChatGPT as part of his background research. When questioned by the judge, lawyer Peter LoDuco revealed that he’d farmed out some research to a colleague, Steven A. Schwartz, who had consulted with ChatGPT on the case. Schwartz was apparently unaware that the AI chatbot was able to lie – transcripts even show him questioning ChatGPT’s responses and the bot assuring him that these were, in fact, real cases and citations.

New research by Marucie Jakesch, a doctoral student from Cornell University, suggests that even users who are more aware than Schwartz about how AI works and its limitations may still be impacted in subtle and subconscious ways by its output.

Not to mention, according to data from, high school and college students already – on the whole – prefer utilizing ChatGPT for help with schoolwork over a human tutor. The survey also notes that advanced students tend to report getting more out of using ChatGPT-type programs than beginners, likely because they have more baseline knowledge and can construct better and more informative prompts.

But therein lies the big drawback to using ChatGPT and other AI tools for education. At least so far, they’re reliant on the end user writing good prompts and having some sense about how to organize a lesson plan for themselves. Human tutors, on the other hand, have a lot of personal experience in these kinds of areas. Someone who instructs others in foreign languages professionally probably has a good inherent sense of when you need to focus on expanding your vocabulary vs. drilling certain kinds of verb and tense conjugations. They’ve helped many other students prepare for tests, quizzes, and real-world challenges, while computer software can only guess at what kinds of scenarios its proteges will face.

A recent Forbes editorial by academic Thomas Davenport suggests that, while AI is getting all the hype right now, other forms of computing or machine learning are still going to be more effective for a lot of basic tasks. From a marketing perspective in 2023, it’s helpful for a tech company to throw the “AI” brand around, but it’s not magically going to be the answer for every problem.

Davenport points to a similar (if smaller) whirlwind of excitement around IBM’s “Watson” in the early 2010s, when it was famously able to take out human “Jeopardy!’ champions. It turns out, Watson was a general knowledge engine, really best suited for jobs like playing “Jeopardy.” But after the software gained celebrity status, people tried to use it for all sorts of advanced applications, like designing cancer drugs or providing investment advice. Today, few people turn to Watson for these kinds of solutions. It’s just the wrong tool for the job. In that same way, Davenport suggests that generative AI is in danger of being misapplied.

While the industry and end users both race to solve the AI puzzle in real time, governments are also feeling pressure to step in and potentially regulate the AI industry. This is much easier said than done, though, as politicians face the same kinds of questions and uncertainty as everyone else.

OpenAI CEO Sam Altman has been calling for governments to begin regulating AI, but just this week, he suggested that the company might pull out of the European Union entirely if the regulations were too onerous. Specifically, Altman worries that attempts to narrow what kinds of data can be used to train AI systems – specifically blocking copyrighted material – might well prove impossible. “If we can comply, we will, and if we can’t, we’ll cease operating,” Altman told Time. “We will try, but there are technical limits to what’s possible.” (Altman has already started walking this threat back, suggesting he has no immediate plans to exit the EU.)

In the US, The White House has been working on a “Blueprint for an AI Bill of Rights,” but it’s non-binding, just a collection of largely vague suggestions. It’s one thing to agree “consumers shouldn’t face discrimination from an algorithm” and “everyone should be protected from abusive data practices and have agency over how their data is used.” But enforcement is an entirely different animal. A lot of these issues already exist in tech, and are much larger than AI, and the US government already doesn’t do much about them.

Additionally, it’s possible AI regulations won’t work well at all if they aren’t global. Even if you set some policies and get an entire nation’s government to agree, how to set similar worldwide protocols? What if US and Europe agree but India doesn’t? Everyone around the world accesses roughly the same internet, so without any kind of international standard, it’s going to be much harder for individual nations to enforce specific rules. As with so many other AI developments, there’s inherent danger in patchwork regulations; it could allow some companies, or regions, or players to move forward while others are unfairly or ineffectively stymied or held back.

The same kinds of socio-economic concerns around AI that we have nationally – some sectors of the work force left behind, the wealthiest and most established players coming in to the new market with massive advantages, the rapid spread of misinformation – are all, in actuality, global concerns. Just as the hegemony of Microsoft and Google threaten the ability of new players to enter the AI space, the West’s early dominance of AI tech threatens to push out companies and innovations from emerging markets like Southeast Asia, Subsaharan Africa, and Central America. Left unfettered, AI could potentially deepen social, economic, and digital divisions both within and between all of these societies.

Undaunted, some governments aren’t waiting around for these tools to develop any further before they start attempting to regulate them. New York City has already set up some rules about how AI can be used during the hiring process while will take effect in July. The law requires any company using AI software in hiring to notify candidates that it’s being used, and to have independent auditors check the system annually for bias.

This sort of piecemeal figure-it-out-as-we-go approach is probably what’s going to be necessary, at least short-term, as AI development shows zero signs of slowing down or stopping any time soon. Though there’s some disagreement among experts, most analysts agree with Wharton professor and economist Jeremy Siegel, who told CNBC this week that AI is not yet a bubble. He pointed to the Nvidia earnings as a sign the market remains healthy and not overly frothy. So, at least for now, the feverish excitement around AI is not going to burst like a late ‘90s startup stock. The world needs to prepare as if this technology is going to be with us for a while.

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David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

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Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe took to Instagram last weekend to answer questions from the public about his company and its future. Topics covered included new colors, sustainability, production ramp, new products and features. Speaking of which, viewers also got a first look at the company’s much-anticipated R2 platform, albeit made of clay and covered by a sheet, but hey, that’s…something. If you don’t want to watch the whole 33 minute video, which is now also on Youtube, we’ve got the highlights for you.

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