CEO of a multi-million dollar Philadelphia-based company advises minority-owned small businesses

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — KJ Miller had a problem that unfortunately many African American women have.

“I couldn’t find myself in the world of beauty,” said the 36-year-old.

In 2015, she and her boyfriend, a Harvard Business School graduate, were bemoaning a seemingly simple problem.

“I was like, ‘Girl! I can’t find a lipstick I like, let alone nude lipstick,” she said of her conversation with friend Amanda Johnson. That’s when the aspiring entrepreneurs realized they had a potential business.

“It was kind of the aha moment,” Miller said.

They immediately got to work.

“We created the original line of nude lipsticks by hand in our homes,” she said.

Two years later, in 2017, they launched Mented Cosmetics, which has a specific focus.

“Mented is short for pigmented,” said Miller, “we specialize in premium beauty for women of color. We really celebrate and prioritize women of color because we’ve been the ones who have been left out of the beauty industry in the past. “

Five years later, Mented has grown into a multi-million dollar brand. Miller moved the business from her former home in New York. It’s new, a Philadelphia-based company with a huge social media reach.

That’s one of the resources Miller suggests every small minority-owned business look for a presence at.

“They need support,” she said, adding that influencers and experts are among the people to look for. “You need people who have a bigger platform than yours to believe in what you’re doing.”

She also urges budding entrepreneurs not to spend every penny creating and promoting a prototype. Instead, think of an option that requires the least amount of capital investment to create a basic version of your product or service.

“What I hate is when entrepreneurs come up with an idea and then put all their resources into it before they know if anyone even wants it,” she said.

Statistically, minority-owned companies are less likely to be approved for the amounts of credit they need. That’s why Miller urges entrepreneurs to look for investors and speak their language.
“Most people who raise venture capital don’t look like me,” she said. “I always lead by the numbers, Black women outperform their white counterparts by more than 80% in terms of beauty.”

After years of trying to convince every investor she met, she finally learned to focus most of her energies on the potential investors who embraced the idea after presenting them with the facts of her industry and her goals.

“If you just don’t get it and don’t want it. I don’t waste my time,” she said of her philosophy, adding that entrepreneurs themselves also need to know when to move on.

“I’ve tried other businesses and failed,” Miller said frankly. “Sometimes people think that’s the only idea I’ll ever have. There’s really no shame in walking away because you don’t walk away with nothing. You go with everything you have learned.”

Miller has incorporated the lessons learned from her previous ventures into the development of Mented. So she knew early on that the business would work. They not only sell products on their own website but also on Amazon, QVC and HSN.

Mented Cosmetics is also sold in stores, including more than 500 Ulta Beauty stores and hundreds of Target stores. According to Miller, the company continues to work on new partnerships and products.

“We started this company because we wanted everyone to feel like they had a home and a voice in the beauty world,” Miller said.

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