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My Unfiltered Struggle In Launching A Product To A Neglected Market

6 Min Read
Business

Early spring 2018, I walked into the building of a startup accelerator program I had been accepted into. Armed with only confidence and a genius idea, I was eager to start level one. I had no idea of what to expect, but I knew I needed help. Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced

I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.

I sat directly across from the program founders, smiling ear to ear as I explained the then concept for HerHeadquarters. Underneath the table, I rubbed my sweaty palms on my pants, the anxiousness and excitement was getting the best of me. I rambled on and on about the future collaborating app for women entrepreneurs and all the features it would have. They finally stopped me, asking the one question I had never been asked before, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?".

Taken back by the question, I responded, "I just know". The question was powerful, but my response was weak. While passionate and eager, I was unprepared and naively ready to commit to building a platform when I had no idea if anyone wanted it. They assigned me with the task of validating the need for the platform first. The months to follow were eye-opening and frustrating, but planted seeds for the knowledge that would later build the foundation for HerHeadquarters. I spent months researching and validating through hundreds of surveys, interviews, and focus groups.

Somehow with life's journey of twists and turns, this former successful event planner was now about to blindly walk into the tech industry and tackle on a problem that too many women entrepreneurs had faced.

I was dedicated to knowing and understanding the needs and challenges of my audience. I knew early on that having a national collaborating app for women entrepreneurs would mean that I'd need to get feedback from women all across the country. I repeatedly put myself on the line by reaching out to strangers, asking them to speak with me. While many took the time to complete a survey and participate in a phone interview, there were some who ignored me, some asked what was in it for them, and a few suggested that I was wasting my time in general. They didn't need another "just for women" platform just because it was trending.

I hadn't expected pushback, specifically from the women I genuinely wanted to serve. I became irritated. Just because HerHeadquarters didn't resonate with them, doesn't mean that another woman wouldn't find value in the platform and love it. I felt frustrated that the very women I was trying to support were the ones telling me to quit. I struggled with not taking things personally.

The Validation, The Neglect, The Data, And The Irony

The more women I talked to, the more the need for my product was validated. The majority of women entrepreneurs in the industries I was targeting did collaborate. An even higher number of women experienced several obstacles in securing those collaborations and yes, they wanted easier access to high quality brand partnerships.

I didn't just want to launch an app. I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women. I was excited to introduce a new technology product that would change the way women secured valuable, rewarding products. I couldn't believe that despite that rising number of women-owned businesses launching, there was no tool catered to them allowing them to grow their business even faster. This demographic had been neglected for too long.

I hadn't just validated the need for the future platform, but I gained valuable data that could be used as leverage. Ironically, armed with confidence, a genius idea, and data to support the need for the platform, I felt stuck. The next steps were to begin designing a prototype, I lacked the skillsets to do it myself and the funding to hire someone else to do it.

I Desperately Need You And Your services, But I'm Broke

I found myself having to put myself out there again, allowing myself to be vulnerable and ask for help. I eventually stumbled across Bianca, a talented UX/UI designer. After coming across her profile online and reaching out, we agreed to meet for a happy hour. The question I had been asked months prior by the founders of my accelerator program came up again, "how do you know your target audience even wants this product?"

It was like déjà vu, the sweaty palms under the table reemerged and the ear to ear smile as I talked about HerHeadquarters, only this time, I had data. I proudly showed Bianca my research: the list of women from across the country I talked to that supported that not only was this platform solving a problem they had, but it's a product that they'd use and pay for.

I wanted to change the image of women who collaborated and adjust the narrative of these women.

I remember my confidence dropping as my transparency came into the conversation. How do you tell someone "I desperately need you and your services, but I'm broke?" I told her that I was stuck, that I needed to move forward with design, but that I didn't have the money to make it happen. Bianca respected my honesty, loved the vision of HerHeadquarters, but mostly importantly the data sold her. She believed in me, she believed in the product, and knew that it would attract investors.

From Paper To Digital

We reached a payment agreed where Bianca would be paid in full once HerHeadquarters received its first investment deal. The next few months were an all-time high for me. Seeing an idea that once floated around in my head make its way to paper, then transform into a digital prototype is was one of the highlights of this journey. Shortly after, we began user testing, making further adjustments based off of feedback.

This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me.

The further along HerHeadquarters became, the more traction we made. Women entrepreneurs across the U.S. were signing up for early access to the app, we were catching investor's attention, and securing brand partnerships all before we had a launched product. The closer we got to launching, the scarier it was. People who only had a surface value introduction to HerHeadquarters put us in the same category of other platforms or brands catering to women, even if we were completely unrelated, they just heard "for women". I felt consistent pressure, most of which was self-applied, but I still felt it.

I became obsessed with all things HerHeadquarters. My biggest fear was launching and disappointing my users. With a national target audience, a nonexistent marketing budget, and many misconceptions regarding collaborating, I didn't know how to introduce this new brand in a way that distinctly made it clear who were targeting and who we were different from.

I second guessed myself all the time.

A 'Submit' button has never in life been more intimidating. In May 2019, HerHeadquarters was submitted to the Apple and Google play stores and released to women entrepreneurs in select U.S. cities. We've consistently grown our user base and seen amazing collaborations take place. I've grow and learned valuable lessons about myself personally and as a leader. This experience has taught me to trust my journey, trust my hard work, and always let honesty and integrity lead me. I had to give myself permission to make mistakes and not beat myself up about it.

I learned that a hundred "no's" is better than one "yes" from an unfit partner. The most valuable thing that I've learned is keeping my users first. Their feedback, their challenges, and suggestions are valuable and set the pace for the future of HerHeadquarters, as a product and a company. I consider it an honor to serve and cater to one of the most neglected markets in the industry.

This article was originally published August 19, 2019.

3 Min Read
Career

Black LGBTQ Woman Powerhouse Launches Vegan Cosmetics Line

I am a proud Black business owner carrying a line of lip colors for the woman who wants to shine. At Vatarie Cosmetics you can find cruelty-free and vegan lip care products, including clear lip gloss and liquid matte lipsticks. The line is still under development, so there are more products in the making that you'll hear more about soon!

My products are high-quality and it is my dream to take my brand into high-end storefronts across the nation and even across the globe.

About Leticia

I have worked my way into my entrepreneurial career as I did not come from money. The goal of my cosmetic line is to bring excitement to everyone who tries the line. My products are high-quality and it is my dream to take my brand into high-end storefronts across the nation and even across the globe. I believe that with added makeup and a good set of threads, anybody can confidently face the world. I am a proud and firm supporter of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and a proud member and supporter of the LGBTQIA community.

There have been plenty of hardships that I have had to face throughout my entire life, the most recent being the recent death of my father who passed far too soon. I have never allowed these hardships to deter me, and won't start now. I will continue to progress and work hard to build my business, knowing that this is what my father would have wanted.

About the Vatarie Line: What It's All About

Upon launching the line, I had the mission of inspiring every human to find their inner beauty and to have fun along the way. With this in mind, my products are designed for people of all genders, races, religions, and creeds. The Vatarie line will have more to offer customers very soon as I am continually working on developing products and expanding the line. In addition to the lip colors currently offered, the line will soon include highlighters, eyeshadows, and new lip gloss additions.

I believe that no one needs makeup to validate themselves, and we are all beautiful on our own. I do believe, though, that makeup can make life a lot more fun. Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness. Sometimes all we need to change our moods and get away from that darkness is something to help us feel better and more vibrant — this is where a pop of makeup and a well put together outfit can really make an impact.

Now more than ever we are living in a world where there is so much sadness and darkness.

I encourage everybody to embrace their inner beauty and inner style, and express themselves no matter what. My line of products is inspired by high fashion and designed to make a bold statement. The running theme across my products is empowerment at every stage and level. I create products that make my customers feel happy, and I ensure I am happy myself with my products before I release every single one. There is no place for cutting corners as I believe in producing the highest quality product.

I bring my sense of humor and quirky personality into my products and you can see this in the names of each item. Take the lip color "Blood Money," which signifies all the money, tears, sweat, and yes, blood that was put into the brand. Let me tell you, it was hard work, and it still is hard work, but at the end of the day, it fulfills me to know the type of quality I am providing. It gives me great pride to create a line of legendary products that will positively affect someone and bring them to a place of self-love and acceptance.

About the Past that Gives My Business Meaning

I have struggled over the years with mental abuse that has left me feeling as if "I wasn't enough." Added to that, being a Black woman in an industry that is predominantly dominated by other races, I had to work harder to get to where I am today.

Coming from a broken home, my family struggled with addiction, making my entire childhood a miserable nightmare. My mother abandoned us as she was being physically abused, and it was up to us the kids to do everything necessary to take care of the home and each other. We eventually ended up living with my grandmother in Miami, Florida. At a very young age, I had to endure physical and mental abuse and was locked up. At the age of 22, I lost my younger sister to gun violence and found myself raising her one-year-old son as my own.

Being a Black woman in an industry that is predominantly dominated by other races, I had to work harder to get to where I am today.

While my past was a rough one, it is what has made me the strong, independent, and vibrant woman I am today. That woman strives to be her best every day and works tirelessly to provide a line of only the best cosmetics products. I couldn't see this while I was living through those bad situations and struggling to grow up, but I can look back and see how I was made more resilient because of my hardships.

As I grieve over my father's recent passing, I become stronger. It is this added personal strength that will push me forward in everything I do and will be reflected in my work ethic and in the development of new products for my Vatarie line of cosmetics.