Textured Hair, Crowdfunding, and Beauty Tech Innovation

Hosted By Lauren Conaway

InnovateHER KC

See All Episodes With Lauren Conaway

Stephanie LaFlora

Today's Guest: Stephanie LaFlora

CEO & Co-founder - Crownhunt

Denver, CO

Ep. #1220 - Textured Hair, Crowdfunding and Beauty Tech Innovation

Today’s episode of Startup Hustle features Lauren Conaway and Stephanie LaFlora, CEO & co-founder of Crownhunt. They talk about textured hair, crowdfunding, and beauty tech innovation. Hear Stephanie and Lauren discuss curly hair challenges, the disruption of the beauty industry, and identity in a professional setting. They also talk about storytelling through products and democratizing beauty access to curly hair education.

Covered In This Episode

Most of the 65% of US adults with textured hair are willing to spend more on specialty products and services. However, not enough hairstylists have the skills to deal with textured hair. Crownhunt takes care of that for both hairstylists and their clients.

Listen to Lauren and Stephanie discuss Stephanie’s journey to Crownhunt, prompted by curly hair challenges and cultural awakening. Lauren also explains the CROWN Act, legislation banning discrimination based on hair texture.

Get Started with Full Scale

The conversation turns to storytelling, tech, and entrepreneurship, as well as intersectionality and identity in a professional setting. Stephanie explains that Crownhunt is helping democratize curly hair education and certification access. They also discuss user feedback for developing the Crownhunt platform and innovation, disruption, diversity, and inclusivity in the beauty industry.

Learn about the fascinating world of textured hair, crowdfunding, and beauty tech innovation. Join the conversation in this Startup Hustle episode now.

Best Entrepreneur Podcast Available on Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts


  • Stephanie’s journey to Crownhunt(1:04)
  • Curly hair challenges and cultural awakening (2:59)
  • The CROWN Act (4:37)
  • What is Crownhunt (6:58)
  • Storytelling, tech, and entrepreneurship (9:09)
  • Getting into tech (13:03)
  • Intersectionality and identity in a professional setting (16:15)
  • Democratizing access to curly hair education and certification (22:50)
  • User feedback for Crownhunt (25:40)
  • Developing the Crownhunt platform (27:18)
  • Innovation, disruption, diversity, and inclusivity in the beauty industry (29:04)
  • What to expect from Crownhunt in the near future (35:18)
  • Stephanie’s advice to founders (37:01)
  • What is Stephanie’s pet peeve? (39:51)

Key Quotes

So, I pursued tech on purpose because of all the incredible stories that can be told through products and services. And that sounds kind of a cliche, like, I’m fortunate, but I learned that these stories can be told in really incredible ways where you can reach people through products.

– Stephanie LaFlora

The individuals who experienced the exact same thing and experienced that frustration over and over and over again, and it’s one of the things that we talk about a lot is like death by 1000 cuts. When you experience it over a lifetime, there’s a lot of frustration that builds up. This thing that should be easy that other people can easily access is not available to me. That’s really frustrating. And the use of narrative to bring it out. You’re, like, hey, let’s talk about this frustration. And then let’s fix it.

– Lauren Conaway

There was a lack of diversity everywhere in all the industries, but beauty is probably one of the least diverse industries and has been for a really long time, just because beauty and fashion value was acquired through exclusivity. So, the pivot towards inclusivity isn’t only a cultural shift, but also the opposite of the way that the beauty industry is. The door is wide open because these different perspectives are such a cultural shift, and it is the ripe time for startups and new ideas to come in.

– Stephanie LaFlora

Sponsor Highlight

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Additionally, visit our Startup Hustle partners for services that suit your business needs.

Rough Transcript

Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!

Lauren Conaway  0:01

And we are back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHer KC. And I gotta tell you, friends, today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by FullScale.io. Hiring software developers is difficult, but Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit FullScale.io or click the link in the show notes to learn more. All right, so we have a very, very innovative guest with us today. And we’re gonna be talking, we’re gonna be talking about beauty. And I will tell you that our guest, who you may or may not be able to see right now, has some beautiful eyeshadow on that has already been a point of conversation. But we’re going to be talking about all kinds of things with today’s founder Stephanie LaFlora, CEO of Crownhunt. Stephanie, Welcome to Startup Hustle.


Stephanie LaFlora  0:54

Hi, thank you so much for having me. Happy to be here.


Lauren Conaway  0:57

Oh, wonderful. Let’s get right into it. And I’m going to ask you the perennial question. Tell us about your journey. Stephanie.


Stephanie LaFlora  1:04

Yeah. So I am a rebel. I think that’s foundational to my journey. Always been one, I feel like I flipped being a rebellious teenager into figuring out how to use that rebellion to do things that matter. The thing that I’ve been working on most recently is making life easier for folks with curly hair, which could sound trivial, except when you consider that I stumbled into this problem because I was rejected from several salons in my neighborhood by my job that could not style my hair because of the texture of my hair. And yeah, so I’m, you know, being the rebel that I am. I saw this as a problem to be solved. And even though I wasn’t in the hair industry, I wasn’t tech. And so I thought of a solution to do that and worked with a bunch of incredible folks to do it. So, that’s always been foundational. To me, it’s just finding things worth doing and being courageous.


Lauren Conaway  2:11

You’re well, and I mean, you say that you’re a rebel. And I absolutely believe you and I, as someone who has a touch of rebellion about her myself, like, much respect. Game recognize game. But what really stood out to me and what you were just saying, like you’re an entrepreneur at heart, like you saw a problem and you wanted to solve it. And I love the fact that it’s something that you’ve experienced in your own life. Let’s set the stage a little bit, though. So for those of us, those who are listening out in the audience, who might not understand why curly hair, or textured hair or so like I have super fine, thin hair, like, talk to us about why the texture of hair can be such an important factor in maybe how people view themselves and their own perception and self-image. Talk to us a little bit about that. What is the real problem?


Stephanie LaFlora  2:59

Yeah, so I mean, we live in a interesting melting pot culture in this country. And we are constantly evolving in in, in developing our awareness of those differences in our appreciation of those differences, I think, as a culture, and throughout that process, there have been all kinds of subtle and not so subtle messaging that goes to people. And one of the ways that I think this country has made it feel like you’re not welcome is with hair texture. So people with curly coily hair has a host of problems. One, it’s been extremely difficult for them to find a stylist that can actually style their hair. So they can’t just go to whatever salon they have to go find a specialist, or they have to find someone that’s usually from their own community ethnic background in order to be able to find somebody who style the hair. And that’s because they hadn’t actually they hadn’t taught how to do curly hair. And cosmetology school until literally like last year was the first year that wow, schools were starting to do that. And that was all coming out of the, you know, cultural awakening that we had in 2020. So you couldn’t get your hairstyle easily with with someone knowing what to do. That was very difficult to find products. That’s been something people are discriminated against at work and at school, be sent home from school, being denied jobs or being asked to change their hair. And once they get the job. These are things that really happened and that’s why there’s something called the CROWN Act.


Lauren Conaway  4:37

I was gonna ask you about that. I knew that that was coming. For those of you who are not aware, the CROWN Act is a piece of legislation that was recently enacted in parts of the country. Basically banning discrimination on the base of hair texture and so what Stephanie is talking about, is you know, if you have a hair texture that it’s very difficult to like, put, you have to put chemicals in it and you have to like change the structure of the hair often to make it look quote unquote, professional for, for working environments. And that’s not easy on hair, right? So, sometimes it is easier on hair, the structural integrity of the hair to do things like cornrows, or dreads, or it makes hair maintenance much easier. But those hairstyles tend to be viewed as unprofessional. And as you were saying, Stephanie, people have been discriminated against because of this, even though they they’re there. All they’re doing is simply not acting against their hair’s natural texture and what it’s doing. So I’m putting the CROWN Act out there, and I want to make sure I’m checking my understanding like is that your general understanding of it? Like that was my general gist?


Stephanie LaFlora  5:50

Yeah, I think that that that’s accurate. What you said is really protecting people from discrimination at school and at work based on the texture of their hair. And so just kind of add on that not only is it difficult to check the professional box when the standard is Eurocentric white hair,


Lauren Conaway  6:10

The standard is white hair


Stephanie LaFlora  6:13

Millions of people who have curly hair. But I it’s not only is it difficult, but it’s actually dangerous. So there’s lawsuits out right now about chemical hair straighteners being tied to cancer. So it’s actually it’s really quite deep. Actually, when you consider not only is this something that is natural to me, imagine if the standard was that you needed to have an afro to be professional.


Lauren Conaway  6:40

Yeah, how would you go screw it, I could never


Stephanie LaFlora  6:44

imagine. But then furthermore, imagine if no hairstylist could make that happen for you, there were no products in the stores for you to get access to that. And the chemicals that you could buy to do it yourself could give you cancer.


Lauren Conaway  6:58

Well, and really what we’re talking about, right well, and so just as a for instance, and kind of bring it back to what Crownhunt does specifically. So one of the things that I’ve heard is that often black actresses in Hollywood, they have to hire their own hair and makeup people because the predominant knowledge base of makeup artists and hair artists that are hired, they know how to handle white hair, but they can’t safely and efficiently handle textured black hair. And so often these actresses and this is an inequity like this is just an example of the kind of inequities that we see that is very much inextricably linked to hair and hair texture. And it’s not fair and it’s not right. And you see these kinds of situations and scenarios play out all over the place where there are deep disadvantages to having curly hair and having textured hair. Right. So yeah, that’s what Crownhunt addresses.


Stephanie LaFlora  7:56

Yes, Crown. Crownhunt is a platform where a stylist can get education on styling, curly and coily hair. And it covers the foundational aspects cut color, just regular care, hair extensions, all of the above, in order for people to be able to actually learn how to style the hair. So these are online classes that can be continuing education for licensed stylists.


Lauren Conaway  8:23

Yeah, well, and one of the things so so I have a set list here. And it kind of gives me like little data points and things that might be interesting to talk about. But I’m actually fascinated by this because I was not aware. But apparently 65% of consumers have curly to coily hair textures. And so by educating the stylists and how to do this work, well, you are actually opening them up to whole new customer bases, right?


Stephanie LaFlora  8:48

Correct. Yes. Yeah. Oh, I’m sorry. Go


Lauren Conaway  8:52

ahead. No, I


Stephanie LaFlora  8:53

was just gonna say and that’s, that’s part of, you know, the mission is empowering these, what I call really industrious entrepreneurs, because they haven’t been given the skills really, to thrive, and now they’re being able to like gain some new skills and make some more money.


Lauren Conaway  9:09

Yeah. Well, I love that. And we’re definitely going to drill down into Crownhunt a little bit, but I just, there’s something very interesting to me about you. And here it is. So you, you didn’t start out thinking that you were going to do this for a living did you?


Stephanie LaFlora  9:26

No. Well, I don’t know how far back you go. You want to go how much?


Lauren Conaway  9:35

I’m looking at a BFA in Screenwriting. Yeah, yeah. Somebody in the beauty industry. Something happened.


Stephanie LaFlora  9:49

Yeah, this is a good point. Um, so I am a rebel and part of that is because I am an artist. That’s actually really what I am I’m a storyteller. I’m a storyteller. And that was always what I, that’s all I ever wanted to be as a storyteller, I thought I was I have crazy hair, I’m gonna be tatted up which I do have tattoos. But you know, I just thought like, I wasn’t interested in anything related to corporate anything. I went to college in LA, I worked in Hollywood, like that was, that was my path. And so it’s a long journey. But throughout that I have always anchored in the storytelling. And I have become really interested in consumer experiences as they relate to stories, the story of our culture in this country, the story, the personal stories that people have. And so I through osmosis, found myself in these business environments, and then was very interested in tech. So I pursued tech on purpose because of all of the incredible stories that can be told through products and services. And that sounds really like kind of cliche, like, I’m fortunate, but I swear, I really, I learned that these stories can be told and really incredible ways where you can really reach people through products. So that’s it.


Lauren Conaway  11:12

I mean, it’s really it started with your own story, you know, again, you saw the problem, you identified it, and then you started figuring out how to solve the problem. But I can imagine that there’s probably a lot of power in realizing and then being able to activate around other people’s stories, the other women. I’m gonna generalize and just say women for this particular conversation, but like the individuals, the humans who experienced the exact same thing, and experienced that frustration over and over and over again, and it’s one of the things that we talk about a lot is like, death by 1000 cuts. Like, it might not be super irritating, to not be able to find a stylist who can work with, with your hair, if it happened one time. But when you experience it over a lifetime, like it’s just there’s a lot of frustration that builds up like this thing that should be easy that other people seem to be able to easily access is not available to me. And that’s really, really frustrating, right? And yeah, use of narrative, like, that’s what you’re bringing out, you’re like, hey, let’s talk about this frustration. And then let’s fix it.


Stephanie LaFlora  12:20

Yeah, and then like understanding how deeply these things connect with people, and being able to mirror that experience, in your marketing and in your storytelling is the thing that I love to do the most. And so I really connect with that whole narrative. And I kind of discovered this throughout a process of experiments that these two, both my tech background, and my storytelling ability, and my empathy, because I think as a storyteller, you have a lot of empathy. You’re you’re trying to reflect what you see in the world and tell the stories authentically of other people. And so I think that all of that kind of came together in this interesting gumbo that has led to me being an entrepreneur, and I love it.


Lauren Conaway  13:03

Yeah, well, I love that too. And I can definitely see that rebel piece of you coming out just a little bit because you’re like, I’m not gonna do this the traditional way. I’m gonna do this my way. And I adore that about you. But really, let’s talk about how you got into tech. Because that’s, it’s not always the easiest fields to enter into, particularly as a woman and then Hey, quadrupel you so as a woman of color, I would imagine. So, can you talk to us about how you entered the field and how you kind of started putting that piece of your, your expertise together?


Stephanie LaFlora  13:41

Yeah, I think I always start, everything that I’ve done in my life has started with like, some deep curiosity, I love to research. It’s just like something I love to do. And so I was deeply curious about the tech industry, and in particular apps and different things like that. Was now 11 years ago, and just researching and studying different things like that. And a company that I worked with previously a publishing company. So that connects to my writing roots, was developing an interactive app for their published works. And they needed someone to come lead that so they asked me to come do that, because I had always been just like, out of the box with my creativity, always thinking about different ways to incorporate technology and different things like that. So that kind of led to me moving to Colorado where I live now and working on developing this interactive published work. So it happened naturally, but it also kind of happened from this place within. So it all felt very aligned when that opportunity came up. And then I was in tech from there on out.


Lauren Conaway  14:48

Did you feel welcomed into the fold? Or did you did you have to kind of work your butt off to get that credibility and respect that you deserved?


Stephanie LaFlora  14:58

I mean, you know, I think as a Women of Color as a black woman to be really specific, because we are. The stats are really stacked against us in that regard. I’ve always had to go above and beyond. And I’ve also I think something that I will really give as advice to other people is I’ve always honored my experiments and my side projects, I think a lot of times you don’t get the opportunities that you really need to grow your skills at work, even when you get the job, even if you get the job is hard. Sometimes it can be challenging to have them give you the responsibilities, to give you the team to really lean on you, to really depend on you to deliver, and then checking the box by having you there. But they’re not necessarily giving you the push that you need to grow your skill. So I’ve always had side projects, I’ve always had, you know, different companies, I might create on the side different things I just experiment with. So, so much of the skills I have came from doing those things and honoring them as important. And that was why I was able to grow my skills a lot. I was welcome, and a lot of ways, but I was also the first. I was the first black person at the company that I joined. So it was a very unique experience.


Lauren Conaway  16:14

Well, so one of the things that I have noticed and like just being very aware that intersectional identities complicate matters, like every every identity, from you know, I am a woman, to I am a black person, to I am gay, to I am disabled. Anytime you add an additional identity, you there’s an intersectionality that creates complication. And so for every identity, it changes the way the world interacts with you, and it changes the way that you interact with the world. Would you, would you agree with that?


Stephanie LaFlora  16:50

I think it definitely layers on complexity in terms of your experience. And certainly when you’re trying to get something done. I think that’s the hardest part about it. If my goal is x, I can’t just do whatever the best practices, I have to be far more creative, far more innovative and far more persuasive, then than everybody else. The Playbook doesn’t apply.


Lauren Conaway  17:14

Exactly. And that’s, that’s, that’s what I was trying to get. That was perfect. You just sent me up here perfectly well done. But you know, is it to the point that I wanted to make is the fact that like, as an only, not only are you entering this environment where your perspective is unique, but you are also exceed the level of expectation around you, you become an example. And so I’ll give a for instance. So like when I when I worked in the automotive world, I was frustrated a lot and I had it but I couldn’t cry in the meetings. Like I was like, If you cry, Lauren Conaway, I will beat you within an inch of your life, like if you let one tear slip out. And it was because I was very aware. That is the only woman on the management team. If I cried, I was going to be the reason that the next woman wasn’t hired because women are too emotional and too hysterical. And so I had to be perfect in my emotional regulation. Right? And like, do you see your smiling? I see this little smile coming across your face? I feel like might have some thoughts. Stephanie, what you think?


Stephanie LaFlora  18:21

I think that’s where the rebellion comes in for me. And and it was, it’s been a journey. It’s not something that I was like, out of the box. I mean, it’s, it’s within me, but I had to navigate this world. You know, coming into tech, I had a lot of choices to make quickly. First of all, I was the first black person at my company. The first I don’t know if many people know what that’s like. Yeah. And the company that I worked at was in Boulder, which has less than 1% Black people. So everywhere I went, people were just like, what are you and what are you about? And well,


Lauren Conaway  18:54

And you were places and spaces that were not built for you? We’re not absolutely not near every conference. So


Stephanie LaFlora  19:01

I’ve never even considered what would happen if I showed up? Yeah. That’s a lot. That’s a lot. And it wasn’t just at work. It was in a town. I’m from Chicago, and I moved here. So this was like a 100% of my environment, was now surprised that I was there, overnight. So I had a lot of choices to make. And some of those choices included. Well, one, how would I wear my hair? Which when nobody could do my hair all the sudden I was wearing my afro at work? I had never done that in my life. So do you know I talked with a little twin? I got a little sass I got a little swagger, you know, and some of that comes with, you know, my background and how I grew up. I had a choice to make. Am I going to be like that in these meetings? Or am I going to, you know, try to assimilate and change up the vibe so that I feel more familiar to people. These are all choices that I had to make very quickly and I had never really been I have been confronted with those choices before but not like that. Not enough environment. We were I was really excited to be there. This was an industry I wanted to crack into. I was proud of myself for that. But then all of a sudden, I got to make all these choices. And I struggled at first. In the end, I decided to be 100% myself and yeah, of course, that’s the right idea whether it welcomes you or not, because they can be the best version of you. Because now you’re free. There’s a percentage of


Lauren Conaway  20:21

Seems to go the route of authenticity. And I love that for you. And I love that about you. You know, like, as you’re talking, it’s so interesting. Like, I’m aware that we have very different experiences, but there are some pieces of what you’re saying, but I’m just like, that resonates so hard. I get it.


Stephanie LaFlora  20:38

It’s human. Yeah, I used to everyone has experienced going somewhere and asking themselves the question, should I be what I think they want? Or should I be what feels like where I’m at right now? And when you’re answering that question, in real time, with things at stake that you care about, it’s a real decision.


Lauren Conaway  21:03

Yeah, it really is. And I’m so glad that you were confident enough in yourself, and you were, you were strong enough in your resolve that like, that’s where you landed, you landed on the side of I’m gonna be me. And I’m gonna let the fall the chips fall where they may. So like, say my monitor around, that is what is for me, and who is for me is for me, and screw everything else. And I don’t generally say screw, I generally say F. But anyway. So I absolutely love that. And I do know, friends that sometimes when you are looking to be your best self, and you’re looking to do the things that you’re really, really, really good at. Sometimes you need a little bit of help. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this great outfit called Full Scale. But finding expert software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, it doesn’t have to take you away from doing the things that you’re good at, and the things that are gonna bring you to a profitable business. When you visit FullScale.io, you can build a software team quickly and affordably. And you can get it off your plate. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs, and then see what available developers testers and leaders are ready to join your team. Visit FullScale.io or click the link in the show notes to learn more. Friends, we are here today with Stephanie LaFllora, CEO of Crownhunt. And we’ve been talking I feel like we’ve kind of focused a little bit on Stephanie here. And this has been wonderful I’ve been I’ve loved hearing your takes on authenticity and being real. And you even talked a little bit about code switching in there. You know, we’re talking about all kinds of stuff. But I like to get into the the tactics and the meat of Crownhunt. So you have this technology platform. What does the average user you’re your customer experience from Crownhunt?


Stephanie LaFlora  22:48

Yeah, I think that, first of all, when people hear what we’re doing, stylists, they’re always really excited because there are not a lot of opportunities for people to get curly hair education. There are classes that are happening live out there, or they’re usually really expensive, people fly across the country to go to these classes. And stylists, typically are making you know, a average salary not excessive. So to be able to afford to take $1,000 class and fly to New York or fly to LA is a lot. So people first of all, they get something that’s much more accessible because now they can take these classes online. But then also as taught by experts who have credit, they’ve been doing curly hair, curly, coily hair, both textures, you know, for 20 years plus. They are educators in their own right, they have live classes. And so we’ve partnered with these great educators in order to bring these classes to folks. So, I think that what they experienced is really just, first of all, thank you so much because you’ve you’ve actually tackled this problem that’s been difficult, but then we all put it in one place. And so I think that that helps us well because there’s a lot of ala carte options, but being able to actually get the full suite with a single subscription is very rare.


Lauren Conaway  24:04

Do you? So, do you offer certifications?


Stephanie LaFlora  24:08

We do. So, the certifications happen within the platform as you’re taking the courses.


Lauren Conaway  24:14

Okay, gotcha. And so you’re tracking progress. But really what you’re doing is you’re you’re democratizing access to knowledge. And that’s f the important thing because like I so I actually get my hair done at a beauty school because I’m super cheap. And one of the things that I know is that they’re they’re expensive, like it is not always easy. Well and then to your point, you know, when people are flying around to access these classes like you have to not only are you paying to for the flight and the hotel and all of that stuff, but you’re also missing out on business like often, this small business owners and estheticians and people who do hair, they’re small business owners make no mistake. You know, those folks, they have to work really, really really hard to make that up. They’re not operating with a lot of profit margin where They have 1000s of dollars just laying around to cover expenses for the, you know, three days week that they’re wherever they’re at getting their continuing education. And continuing education, just as a general deal is really important within the beauty industry, right? You have to be constantly looking at new tools and new techniques. And so you’re actually attacking. You’re attacking several different problems by attacking this one very, very big problem, so. So I of course, dig that. What What feedback have you been getting from the esthetician. I know, they’re excited, but talk to us about how they feel about the actual content, the techniques and tips and tricks.


Stephanie LaFlora  25:41

Yeah, so stylists, I think stylists are really benefiting from just being able to care for hair, first of all, because there’s a lot of there’s techniques, and that matters a lot, but caring for the hair itself. A lot of times when people are coming into the salon, they don’t actually always know how to care for their own natural hair themselves. So these things that we talked about already, like the CROWN Act, and just the cultural shifts that are happening in the country, people are actually not chemically straightening their hair for the first time. So they haven’t even really had they haven’t gained the skills to care for their own hair, even between appointments. So that hair care piece is really critical, because people are coming back to stylists who teach them how to care for their hair in between appointments. And so that’s some of the feedback that we’ve gotten is that how important that piece is, as well. Another piece is extensions are always really popular. They’re popular across the board, all different curl types, all different hair types. But they often aren’t taught how to do different extension styles with different textures of hair. So that’s another thing that people really have benefited from is being able to learn how to do those because those are higher priced services that people can offer. And so that that one is another.


Lauren Conaway  26:55

Yeah. Well, I love that. And I’m really curious about the technology piece now. So we’ve kind of talked about the learning that you can gain from the platform. But when you were putting together the kind of user experience when you were trying to figure out what you wanted this tech tool to look like, who were you talking to? What processes were you putting in place? How did you develop the technology itself?


Stephanie LaFlora  27:18

Yeah, so we got a cohort of stylists, and educators and prepare product creators actually, together to really create a map of what are the gaps within the hair experience, the hair, especially the relationship between the consumer and the stylists, and that, that flow from finding a client to help them throughout their journey. And so that really became the core, we actually approach this from a lot of different angles. And we have a lot of exciting things to come for more solutions for people with curly hair. So we like map that whole thing out. And then we started to work with developers to figure out what would be the core MVP product. So we’re still very early on, we launched our MVP in February of this year. And so we have you know, that MVP was developed with this core problem in mind, which is educating stylists and then having those core classes. So the technology itself is really online education. But we are developing more behind the scenes, particularly for consumers to help them get their product and their spining a stylist problem solved as well.


Lauren Conaway  28:32

Yeah. How do you do you test the products yourself? Do you have like a healthiest hair ever?


Stephanie LaFlora  28:40

You know, I’m gonna be real with you. I like to experiment with my hair. I just like do everything. But yes, we work with stylists that are testing what we do we also have our courses reviewed from a group of stylists that are experts in the field. And so we’re constantly learning evolving. Everything that we do.


Lauren Conaway  29:04

Yeah. Well, and as a rebel. And I’m gonna I’m gonna reframe that just a little bit because I believe that you’re a rebel. But I really believe that you’re an innovator, like you are the kind of person who’s like, how can we make this better, even if it doesn’t go along with what we have historically done. And I love that. But what I want to know is, I like to hear a little bit about the industry at large because when I I’m going to be very honest, when I think of the beauty and wellness industry as a whole. I don’t think of innovation. That is not the first thing that springs to my mind. So what are you seeing in the space? Like are you seeing conversations changing technology adapting, like are we are we innovating in beauty and wellness? And then my follow up and I know I’m asking you two questions at once and I’m being a little lazy about it. But the follow up is as if you are seeing those changes. What do you see coming down the pipeline in the future? Or what would you like to see?


Stephanie LaFlora  30:03

So yeah, I got it. Um, so yeah, so the the, the industry has changed a lot. What really has propelled it, though, was 2020. 2020 was a very pivotal year for every industry. But the way that the beauty industry pivoted and got just honestly obliterated was the lack of diversity. Now, there was lack of diversity everywhere in all the industries, we know that, but beauty, as you just said, is probably one of the least diverse industries has been for a really long time, just because beauty and fashion, you know, a guy this whole, I feel like a lot of the value in that was acquired through exclusivity. And I don’t even mean like different groups of people. I just mean, it just has an exclusive vibe, you know? Yes. That’s, that’s always been the way it is. So the pivot towards inclusivity isn’t really, not only is it a cultural shift, but it is so opposite of the way that the beauty industry has, like the ethos of the beauty industry is so opposite of that, like how is framed that what’s cool about it, is that the door is wide open because these different perspectives are such a cultural shift in the DNA of the big power players within the beauty industry. That is a ripe time for startups, and for just new ideas to come in, because they’re scrambling to figure out how to be what people want, right? Well, there’s a lot of other people who’ve been on the sidelines, that wanting wine,


Lauren Conaway  31:33

it’s just a matter of highlighting them making sure hey,


Stephanie LaFlora  31:38

So it’s actually a really cool time. So someone else, there’s a lot of technology that’s happening in the hair industry. Like things like how do you create a better consumer experience? How do you have hair products that are more for different hair types, target Ulta, Sephora had been opening the doors and letting in a lot more diverse products on their shelves, and a lot more companies have been getting the sales that they’ve always deserved, because of those doors being opened. So I think that this is this is a really right time for disruption. And I think that the owners of this industry, and the stakeholders are changing dramatically, as well in terms of diversity. So I think it’s a really fun time. And as long overdue, and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more players at the table. And I’m looking forward to more customer driven experiences. Because the hair industry and the fashion the beauty industry has really been about who decides what beauty is, and how they can make everybody else, you know, buy the stuff and it’s just like that’s wack and we don’t like that anymore.


Lauren Conaway  32:43

Yeah. Well, and I just, you know, I as you’re talking like, I’m very excited, because I’m like, Okay, here’s a beauty expert, like an industry expert. And she’s telling me that things are getting better and things are getting so I’m very excited. But I do I just think it’s really important to note that the reason we’re having this conversation at all and the reason that this conversation is so important to have is like it’s still notable, when major runway shows that Fashion Week feature diverse models. It is still notable so I use Fenty beauty for my foundation, or I guess my concealer I don’t I don’t really know the difference. I’m gonna be honest, the thing I put on my face. But I use Fenty beauty because a it’s led by Rihanna who is a woman of color. But one of the things that was so noticeable about her Fenty beauty brand is that she rolled out so many different skin tones. Like she was one of the first companies who instead of doing like five or six different skin tones rolled out like 30. So the fact that so that women of color in particular, but any women of any kind of I guess complexion could find the product that matched what they needed, you know. And so like, historically, people had to like mix foundations in their palm to like make it match. And so like these things, these these inclusive practices and these inclusive companies and like this inclusive lens is still pretty new. And it’s still pretty notable when you see companies doing it right, representing their audience as their audience actually is rather than what they think it is, or want it to be, which is typically affluent white women. Right. So so I just I find it. Like I think what you’re doing and what you’re talking about, it’s really, really exciting. And I’m so glad that we’re here, but I’m also so glad that there are people like you who are ready to like take us further because we still have a long way to go. Right?


Stephanie LaFlora  34:40

Yeah, we absolutely do. And I think that there’s a lot of folks entering this space. And I one of the things that I really hope for Crowder to be able to do is surface the consumer need and the consumer desires because I think that at the end of the day, that’s what every every business In this industry, that’s their goal is to really make the right things for the consumers to have an enjoyable experience. And so I think that crown hunt will start to surface up, what is it? What are the consumers want? What is this data? Where are we missing the mark and be able to show that? So that’s some of the stuff that we’re hoping to do some.


Lauren Conaway  35:18

Yeah. Well, so speaking to that future growth, that’s kind of the the philosophical bent, but tactically. So what markets are you looking to enter? What who’s? How are you finding your target customer? How are you reaching your customers? And where do you see that leading you in the future?


Stephanie LaFlora  35:39

Yeah, so recently, we entered into a partnership with a hair product company called a Nasi out of Chicago. And they offer a lot of curly coily hair products. What was really significant about that partnership is it does a couple of things that is really important in industry. One, hair stylists that serve curly Coily customers have not been able to have this revenue stream of selling products, the way that other stylists has have had the average salon had, they make 15% of their revenue from selling hair products. But those companies that have those models have not offered curly hair products. So that has left a whole bunch of people without being able to add that revenue stream. Our partnership allows for hair stylists across the country to now add these products to their shelves. And they work great on curly hair, to be able to actually add this revenue streams for for themselves. So that’s like an example of something that we’ve done recently. And then we’re also looking to continue to really make life easier for people with curly hair, by creating resources for them to find out, you know, how to style their hair, what products to use, what stylists near them can actually style their hair. That’s some of what we have to come in the new year.


Lauren Conaway  37:01

Yeah. Well, so talk to us a little bit about your, I want your best advice. Like, understanding that not every founder out there is going to start a beauty related tech platform, you know, like we we know. But there are some things like what advice would you get give to the entrepreneurs out there the potential founders or folks who are trying to build and scale, as they scale their business? What advice would you give them looking to enter? Enter a new market?


Stephanie LaFlora  37:31

Oh, gosh, okay, well, what?


Lauren Conaway  37:39

Are you just 20 million things I want to say, right?


Stephanie LaFlora  37:42

No, I’m like, Okay. I will say that my my best advice would be spend as much time with the customer as humanly possible. That is probably the best advice that I can give. Talk to them over and over again, whatever you have, if you have a MVP, if you have a drawing, if you have whatever. You need to be talking with customers all the time, or potential customers about, is this thing solving their core problem? And if not, why? And if so, you know, like, okay, then what else do we need to do? So I think that’s probably my biggest advice. And then the other piece I would give, I always give this because founders of color are always looking for funding last year crownhill was one and 100 Female black-owned businesses to receive venture capital funding. So when it comes to telling your story, you need to be able to really have a tight pitch, understand the market size and how you are going to dominate that market and be frickin brave. Okay? Forget who doesn’t get this money, get out there and get the money anyway. Ya know, like, don’t don’t get the bag baby. You know, just but also find ways to to have funding with or without venture funding. You always have the backup.


Lauren Conaway  39:00

Well, I mean, this has been mentioned on the show before, but it’s absurd. 2% 2.2% of venture capital funding goes to female founders point 000 Say there, I think there might even be a few more zeros in there. But point 000 6% goes to companies founded by women of color, and so there are deep inequities in there. So yeah, like, let’s not rely on the Buddha all of our eggs in the VC basket. But now I think that that is very, very core valuable advice, and thank you so much for sharing it. So we have come up to the human question. And I have one, actually, all right. Yep, I have one here comes. What are your pet peeves? pretty chill.


Stephanie LaFlora  39:51

I am very sure that is true. This is me every day, even on the worst day this really. I will say My pet peeve is people who don’t want to try new things. Yeah, like, oh, go to new places, new hairstyle, new, whatever. I’m a very adventurous person. Like, that’s my DNA. So trying new things is the thing. So if I’m interacting with somebody, if I’m hanging out with somebody not being willing to try new things, I’m just like, come on, what is like,


Lauren Conaway  40:18

I’m done with you. Know, i, that is awesome. And I’ll tell you what, if you ever come to KC, we’re hanging out because I feel like we would have a good time just kind of leading each other blindly and doing crazy things. But I gotta tell you, Stephanie, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. It was really, really fun learning about your journey. And I’m so proud of you, and I hope this doesn’t sound condescending. But I’m so proud of you. And I’m so proud of Crownhunt. You’re doing some really, really cool stuff.


Stephanie LaFlora  40:50

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. It was a joy to share about it.


Lauren Conaway  40:54

Awesome. All right, friends, I’ve got to remind you one more time that today’s episode of Startup Hustle is sponsored by Full Scale. If you need to hire software engineers, testers, or leaders, Full Scale can help. They have the people in the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit FullScale.io, all you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers, and leaders at Full Scale. They specialize in building long-term teams that work only for you. Learn more when you visit FullScale.io. Friends, thank you so much for coming back and listening to us week after week. We are extraordinarily grateful. It is a joy to put this show on for you, and we want to keep doing it. So keep on coming back, and we’ll catch you next time.