In today’s episode we are learning from Hannah Diop, the Founder of Sienna Naturals.
What I love about this episode is the perseverance that Hannah has undertaken into creating the brand that we see today. Starting in 2012 it took multiple pivots and years of iterating and tweaking her approach before things really caught steam in 2020. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and overnight success takes 10 years. Literally.
Owned by Hannah & Issa Rae, Sienna Naturals is setting a new standard for clean, plant-based performance in the textured hair care industry, one that is focused on hair and scalp health. Just like a skincare regimen, Sienna Naturals products create Wash Day Rituals that keep textured hair and scalp healthy, enabling customers to see immediate improvement and wear their hair in all of the magnificent and diverse ways people with kinks, curls, frizz, waves and texture choose - without compromising on ingredients.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
My name is Hannah Diop. I'm the founder and creator of Sienna Naturals. Sienna Naturals is a clean hair care brand for textured hair and our mission is really to put textured hair consumers at the center of clean Innovation. So we're a company that's very focused on creating treatment focused, innovative hair care products that improve your hair outcomes and the health of your scalp and hair while doing so in a very conscientious way with ingredients that are safe and natural.
And also we are dermatologist tested. So we also, you know, sometimes clean and natural doesn't always mean safe and so in addition to sourcing products that are safe to use. We also test the final formulas with uh All right. Petey testing to ensure that they're, they're good for you. That's crazy. I didn't know that clean didn't necessarily mean safe. Oh, absolutely. You know, you can create a lot of chemicals or a lot of ingredients that are naturally derived from plants that can also be irritating. So it's, it's really interesting because I think, yeah, the clean landscape is pretty hard to navigate, but it's something to keep in mind. I mean, not only that, I mean consumers even still have allergies to some very everyday products as well. Right? So there's allergies are a factor, but then also you can create a soap. Like you can create a surfactant system out of a lot of different vegetables, but some might be more irritating than others. So yeah, wow! Oh my gosh, learning something new every day on the show.
Love that for me. Thanks for sharing. Let's go back to, I think I read that you started in like 2012. So you've been going at this for quite a while. Let's go back to life before you started sienna naturals. What was it that was getting you interested in starting this business in the first place? Yeah. I always say to start the story of Sienna naturals, we have to go back to my childhood. Honestly, let's go back to baby Hannah. Um I grew up in Minneapolis Minnesota and it's a very cold environment, but my family was really focused on natural living and a wellness lifestyle. So I had allergies and sensitivities from childhood where my mom would take me to a natural pathetic doctor to get allergies tested. Um She liked to shop at the natural food store. We were members of um community supported agriculture, whereas you sort of like a cooperative of families that all buy produce from a local farm. And my house was the pickup spot so people would come and pick their vegetables up off of our porch.
So you know, my mom made her own yogurt. She was really into natural living and wellness. And so her instinct was to get our hair care and our beauty products even from the natural food store and I would get them home, I would try them in the shower and I just couldn't get them through my hair. You know, the shampoo made my hair feel like a brillo pad and very dry even the wet feel when it was going into my hair just felt wrong. It felt all kinds of wrong. And the conditioner wasn't de tangling. And one thing that is very true about textured hair is that, you know, the anatomy of our hair with all the coils and turns and bends, makes our hair more fragile. And so we have to have products that are tailored to be more efficacious and have more slip so that we can do tangle more easily and so you know, she thought she was doing the right thing, buying these at the health food store and they absolutely didn't work, I would add to it, I was on a swim team. So I was in the pool you know five sometimes six days in a week and washing my hair every single day and I think like that just being in there all the time having to do my hair almost every single day really forced me to take care and I became kind of obsessed with hair care with lotions and like just understanding and I would try everybody's products in my locker room and try to figure out like which one worked best for me.
And so this fascination has been you know it's been present in me for a very long time, lifelong. And then you know I got to college and I went to a historically black college called Howard University here in in Washington D. C. And I was surrounded by women who had hair texture like mine, we all had the same hair texture and I was just it was just a new experience to be a part of a majority and realized like, oh wow! The problem isn't my hair. The problem is that the industry isn't serving me at least not in the clean and healthy space. And so that was kind of the original motivation to get into this category, wow that's crazy. But when was there like the moment of okay I'm actually going to do this, I'm going to be the person to come out and create a solution and yeah, bring this into the world, I think I started, so I went, I attended business school um and I think even in business school I started having this notion that I wanted to make an impact in a wellness category related to personal care to hair care and so I had a few business concept ideas that I had sort of written and then I was working in consulting and I really think that sort of solidified the toolkit of just being able to jump into a situation and problem solve and figure out how to, how to get something done, how to think through a strategy, how to identify an opportunity in the market and therefore identify like an entry point for Sienna naturals and so you know, while I was consulting, I was really, I really wanted to make the move into beauty and so I started interviewing and I interviewed with a lot of beauty companies in new york, I was living in new york at the time and they all wanted me to apply for a strategy job and I was like no, I want to make something, I want to create, I want to be in like product development or like I want to be in the brand and they were just sort of like, well your skill set that you would bring that we will find useful is actually better suited over here, maybe you can move over there after some time and then I just kind of did the math and I was like it's gonna take me a long time to get where I want to be in one of these companies and then if I do want to make that entrepreneurial leap eventually it's gonna be hard because you have to sign these non competes and then I could be at risk and you know, I might be shut out of certain categories and ultimately I actually spoke with an alum, a woman who had attended my same business school and she worked in in beauty for a big company and she also worked at a startup and she really encouraged me.
I mean I just, she told me the story of how that founder got started and um it's really kind of a make it till you make it mentality right? Not a fake it till you make it like no make it till you make it. And so I decided to take the leap and go for it. I think at the same time I would add, we jumped off that lip, off that ledge, I jumped off the ledge and honestly I will say like it's one of those instances where not knowing the entire landscape, like not really having a concept of how much it would take to get where I wanted to go sort of was useful because I just, you know you meet an obstacle, you overcome it, you meet another one, you overcome it and like just going at it. I think in some senses it was helpful that I didn't really have the experience in the industry before I got started. I might have been too afraid to go. I hear that often on the show, it's kind of like that naivety that you blindly go into something with such conviction and such energy.
But looking back you have known what it takes to get to where you are, you're kind of like, I'm not sure if I would have done it, but that's what propels people forward in the beginning, is that kind of blindsided of blinding like conviction towards something. I think that's so interesting. So how do you start, what were those early steps in like actually bringing this to life? Obviously when they're manufacturing and building a formulation or capital? Like what, what's the blueprint if you will, if you had to kind of step someone through those early years. Yeah, so I actually wrote like a strategy and I really started focusing on an issue that I'd had as a child, which was eczema. And so I wanted to create like a very simple regimen which included a shampoo which also could be a body wash, a conditioner product and a body cream and they would all go towards addressing that. I also focused on this one. I don't know why I did, but I focused on the mommy market and this was with like zero marketing dollars going after women who were pregnant because the product was so clean and safe.
The idea in my mind was, you can use it during pregnancy and you can use it on your baby and yourself and it's formulated for textured hair, but it was just like trying to bite off too much at once and also you need money to go after women, women don't even know they're pregnant. You know, they don't know they're pregnant until like a few months in. Then you've got to convert them into a customer and then they might not use it when they're done being pregnant, right? So like it was really, it was a really tough customer segment to go after. So I ended up pivoting and going a little more broadly and then ultimately pivoting again and being more kind of laser focused on hair and scalp help because that's where I saw the most traction with my core customer in terms of getting started. So, the brand went through a number of pivots before I sort of landed in the sweet spot where we are Now, when you say, you know, before it got traction, what did that traction actually look like for anyone listening who might be feeling? You know, they're at a point in their journey where they don't know if they're on the right track or they don't know what the signal should be to keep going.
Well, I did have some traction. So I was selling product. Um, but back in those, in 2012, 14, 15, I was still really focused on like winning a major account. Like I needed a national whole foods to come on board and I needed, you know, a big, a major retailer to sort of give me that check of approval. That was sort of how I measured success and so that was kind of what I was going after I was selling on, on my own dot com and I was selling on amazon. But I sort of was seeing a retail partner as a commitment from a retailer, as an opportunity to fundraise and an opportunity to really then try and scale the business from the bootstrapped stage and if you were to like looking back in hindsight, is that still how you would perceive that traction if you were to start again, say tomorrow? No, I think I would have, I mean, I would say if I could go back because now the landscape is changing all the time. Like with IOS 14 rolling out and everything.
But I think I could have benefited from being more DTC focused early on versus seeking this outside approval from a merchant. I think I was a little too fixated on that to be honest, because I did have proof of concept, I had customers who loved the product, I had customers who are buying the product. Um, so I think I could have, I could have invested more there, but I was, I was so yeah, that would be my critique. That's so interesting. When was it that you actually hit that kind of milestone and landed kind of an account that you were like, okay, I'm there, it's in motion now. Well, yeah, I started getting interest, you know, it's interesting, I was in new york city, I was selling in some small boutiques there, I was selling in some natural food stores nationally and on my own dot com and I was just starting to have more conversations with my consumer directly. I would actually go to markets in new york city and sell in person and this was my like, you know, rather than doing it more digitally and connecting more digitally, I was able to meet people and have these conversations and the same people would come back and say, oh my gosh, you know, I love this.
What also I'm looking for is this, I would just get into conversations with my customers about what they were looking for and what they needed and that's really when I saw this opportunity to focus the brand as a treatment line for hair and scalp help, because people were having these incredible outcomes using the products as a part of you know, in, I would say there were some lifestyle changes that I was noticing, like customers were becoming more health conscious, so they wanted to put stuff on their body that was healthier for them. They also wanted to exercise more. But then that would come with a set of consequences for their scalp because if you don't want to wash your hair every day with textured hair, you don't necessarily want to wash every day. It can dry out your hair and be very damaging. Right? But how do you maintain a healthy scalp and hair while you're sweating and working out? And I was seeing customers having these outcomes from the product line, that was beneficial. And so that's when I started to notice that I could actually focus the line more on that. And then I received interest from Target to participate in target takeoff.
So I participated in that and I had like a number of national retailers start to kind of gain interest and, and take meetings and, and so then I kind of knew I was onto something. Um, I knew I was onto something there. And that's when I really started thinking about fundraising and what year are we talking about? Like in the timeline around this target? So time. Yeah. Well, I should also say like in 2012 I started the company, but I didn't have any product. I didn't come out with products for like another year and a half. And then I pivoted once and then I pivoted a second time. So now we're like 2017 2018 when I get into target takeoff. So then I'm like, God, you think about fundraising. So 2019 I had known this array for a long time, who is like an incredible, you know, multi hyphen it actor, creator, writer, superwoman, um and she, she's been like super supportive of the business and she wanted to partner, she's like, let me know how I can be helpful and I just knew like to bring her on.
I really wanted to do it right? And so fundraising made the most sense to be able to support The creation of the content and you know, be able to support like the production level that we would need, you know, just the working capital that we would need to support the business in a sustainable way to bring her on so that I started working on that in in 2019 And then I went out to fundraise my first round of friends and family in 2020 and was kind of had half the round, soft circled and then Covid hit and I sort of, I'm a mother of two young Children. So my, my kids at the time were um like four and six. And so I just sort of like took a pause for two months or so before I could really get back on and continue the journey. But I was able to succeed. Everyone's working from home, kids at home, all the things happening. Oh my gosh, I can imagine that was such a crazy time, Something we've learned that's key to entrepreneurial growth is a solid crm platform.
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Yeah, Well, you know, I think they use that program, I think Target is one of many retailers probably, but very remarkably they seek out indie brands because this is a way to bring intrigue and delight the guest when they're in the store, right? Is to bring this innovative offering and beauty, right? And so that was a cohort I joined was a beauty cohort and I think it was the second, the second time they had done the program ever, and I'm not really sure exactly how it's evolved since then. I know they're continuing to do it. Um but this is sort of a pipeline that they wanted to cultivate, because Target is such a massive company and they deal with such massive like vendors all the time. So they really had to carve out a lane for smaller indie brands to be able to enter. And even still it's a heavy lift right to get ready to go into Target. I would say you need your operations in order. Like that is the biggest step up.
And then also I think, you know, you need to have a secure footing on your core customer, right, because your customer data and that intimate relationship you have with your customers, how you're going to sustain your business, right? Because they're going to inform you about what's working, You're going to understand who your target audience is, who your most profitable customers are, what their needs are. So you can develop your product pipeline, like, you know, your relationship, your direct relationship with your consumer is still critical to the business. So I would say like before entering a retailer, you want to make sure that you have a solid direct relationship with your customer and then in terms of Target. Yeah, it's really a step up in your operations. Like you've got to have a three pl, you've got to be able to work in their systems. Um and you really need that infrastructure in your team to be able to manage a partner like that. Gosh, are there any challenges or things that you can share that might have gone wrong or you know, just turned belly up when you started scaling at that kind of level and going into retailers like Target and I'm sure that kind of opened other doors for you as well.
Kind of sharing what can go wrong? Yeah, I would say honestly, it's operations operations operations because I basically scaled this company during Covid, all of it happened during Covid, I fundraise, I hired my first full time employees and I went into big retail all since the pandemic started this has all happened during this time. God. And so also there's unprecedented pressure on the supply chain right now right? There's increase in transportation costs, there's shortages across the supply chain. And Sienna naturals is a sort of in the fortunate position, I didn't mention this earlier, but when I set out to develop the products, I wanted to go the route of finding a contract manufacturer and buying maybe a white label product to start. But the ingredients that they offer in those white label products often don't align with our values. And so for example we don't use preservative system for an oxy ethanol because it's banned in Japan. It's been proven to have a negative impact on the nervous system of Children and cause neurological damage.
Right? So we don't want ingredients that are known irritants and bad for you in there even if it is an officious preservative system but it's cheap and it's effective as a preservative system and you know in the U. S. You can use it up to a certain amount, there's different regulations in different in different markets for it. So we had to start from scratch and create our own formulas. So because of that we can we have the freedom of working with like contract whoever we want to as far as a contract manufacturer goes. But um you know we also have the burden of having to buy a big portion of our Bill of materials ourselves and manage that and like we're inherently a global business because we use, we source a lot of ingredients from West Africa and Europe. Um, and so, and just even just speaking about the components like before 2020, I was sourcing my components from the United States and North America, then 2020, everyone's making soap And so there's no components.
The lead time went from six weeks to 52 weeks, so I had to take it internationally, then 2021 freight is astronomical. And so we need to now bring this back here. So it's like I think the supply chain and the operations has been like the most complex and um, well there's many complex and difficult challenges in the business, but I think that's been one that I have really, really had to spend time on it every day. That's so crazy. What are the retailers like? Not necessarily target, but retailers like target. How are they supporting indie brands during this? Obviously, everyone must be in a similar boat, you know, struggling with, you know, raw materials, struggling with their freight, struggling with the situation that is unfolding in the world. How do retailers go about being supportive and not kind of, I don't know, dropping brands? Yeah, well, I think you've got to have, you know, open communications, right? But I think, I would say like it's not that we don't meet the bar, it's just that the bar is higher and it's harder to meet.
So, but I think, um, you know, they really tried to be proactive in communicating and I think, you know, trying to get more conversations going to understand exactly where you are, exactly where there might be um delays and that kind of thing and trying to communicate that as early as possible. Got it. Got it. Right. Okay. So you said that you raised your first round in 2020, you're able to use that to kind of scale and do a lot more throughout the year. What are you using to like, grow now and what's really working for you when it comes to acquiring, you know, direct customers to your website versus retailers? Yeah, I think we want to keep that healthy ddC pipeline and I think there's a mix of things, you know, esa is so core to the business and she represents our core customer segment um almost perfectly because she is, she's a self proclaimed non hair expert. Right. And so our product line is really there, it is a regimen that you use to improve, to kind of restore and repair your hair from any styling damage that it has.
And also to maintain a healthy hair and scalp. And it's kind of like you can use it and sort of set it and forget it. So we're cutting down the time it takes to do your hair to have a wash day ritual. So for women with textured hair and men and consumers, you know, with textured hair wash day is kind of the day, maybe it's one day a week or a couple of days a week, you set aside to really take time to treat your hair and wash it and style it. And so we created these wash day rituals which don't have any styling products per se, but really help improve your styling outcomes because they restore and repair hair damage and also improve shine, elasticity, strength, et cetera, and really help you set up for success. And so she has such a busy lifestyle and her hair is constantly being manipulated, constantly being, you know, done for the red carpet or for television and she's so authentic, she's just herself and people love that about her and I think her hair type is one that isn't always represented. And even in textured hair care lines, you look at like the curl patterns and the um the kinkier coil, you're tighter curl pattern isn't always represented even in the curly section.
00:28:45Edit It's, you know, a lot of times the airtime or, or the visuals go to these looser curl pattern. So I think our core customer sees esa using this line and they understand like, ok, she's like me, I'm like her, if it works for her, it's gonna work for me, and The biggest concentration is a tighter identifies as like four. See if, you know, the curl types, the curl scale, um they identify as the tighter coils and, and curls. And so, so that's one and I think, you know, just also like testing and learning on different ad creative on social media and then we've also been looking at, you know, other analog and non digital. So you know, we're trying to think about in person activations again as a team and what that might look like and direct mail as well and, and some other programs. But I think for us, we want to keep that intimate connection and I think we're still like very focused on that as well as our retail partners.
Mm Gosh, I'm so excited for in person events and pop ups and I feel like it's going to be this crazy time where people are really going to enjoy an oversubscribed to like doing every event everything that they can be part of because everyone's obviously so fatigued with the digital Zooms and all this kind of thing. I'm excited to see what you guys do. Is there anything you're able to share that you're kind of going to be looking to do in the next 12 months when it comes to the R.A. L. side of things. Um we're gonna have something exciting coming up soon in person here locally in Los Angeles. So stay tuned or social media for that. That might actually be happening in the next week or two. So, okay, something exciting. So we'll see how that goes. And I think that can help inform like other events in the future as well. Yeah. Right. So like how you roll it out on a bigger scale or you know, two more audiences around America and maybe the world.
That's so cool. What do you think is the most important advice that you could give entrepreneurs in the hair care or the beauty space at the moment coming into 2022. Um I think you know, you want to identify product market fit, like you know, that's sort of a fundamental right? So you need but you can do that with a smaller audience than you might think you need. So if you can find a group of friends or of your core customer that you think that what you have will work for, you know, giving them product to try and asking them to take a survey, try to get data on that as soon as possible. When I was starting CNN Naturals and product development took product development takes us a very long time because we make all of our formulas ourselves and we dermatologists test them and we test them on customers and we have clinical trials done on the active ingredients and so it's it's an extremely long process. But I think, you know, one thing I've been focused on from the very beginning is getting customer feedback on products as we're iterating and people are excited to try new things.
Everyone loves beauty products and playing and experimenting and so you know, putting together a Google survey and sending it to 20 people or 30 people, 40 people getting their feedback on a sample of something? And I think it's a great place to start if you're just getting started. Um that's my advice, I love that. And I think you know people can get caught up in like overwhelmed that you need to do a survey with thousands of people and you need to, you know, reach You know, so much data to prove the concept. But if you just strip it back to getting a handful of who your ideal target customer would be and you know, working with like you said 20-40 people, that's all you actually need to have the data to get started. I love that, Right. If you send it to 25 people and 15 of them want you to send them more. You're onto something. I love that everyone should take this advice. You only need 15 people to be excited about your product and you can start from there, it's one customer at a time.
There we go. So at the end of every episode I ask a series of six quick questions about you and some of which we might have covered, some of which we might not have. But I ask them all the same. So question number one is, what's your, why? Why are you doing what you're doing? My wife. Really? It's for me, for my community, for my family, for my friends, I love that. Got to start with your own personal community first before you can change the world. Question number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that's made the business pop? He's a ray. Of course, of course. That's amazing. Absolutely. Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter? What are you reading or listening to or subscribing to that other founders would benefit from knowing about. I actually love to have little conversations with other founders that are either further ahead or you know, where I'm at.
Um, or even just sort of getting started or not next. Not exactly where I am now. I try to create this ecosystem to help out other brands and get advice and mentorship from them as well. So I would say like my greatest source, our other founders for information because we have the real information and we have the information that you need in real time. And I think it's about building trust with those who could be seen as competitors. Maybe not direct competitors, but even some of my direct competitors, I have a friendly relationship with and I think it's just about like The rising tide can raise all lift all boats and and really wanting to help help each other out. That is like my critical lifeline. I also picked up a book. I mean I like to read fiction, but I also like to read nonfiction and business books and I picked up a book at the airport the other day called now I'm like blanking on the name. I think it's called 4000 weeks essentially. It's about time management. But it's not in like the annoying way of like make this type of a chart or this type of a to do list.
It's really about, it's just a compelling exercise of reminding me that our time is limited. So when we choose to not say no to something, we're saying yes to it and we're inherently saying no to something else. So it was to me it just really helped awaken my prioritization and my priorities because I think one thing you have to become sharp at as a founder is where you stand and how, how to inform your decision making as quickly as possible in a way that is going to make you as successful as possible. How do you inform your decision making? We never thought about that Well you have to start, I think it goes back to your principles, you have to know what you stand for. Right? So like what are the five things that this brands that are Yeah. What are the non negotiables? The things that we stand for? So that when something comes up if I have to make a yes no on it. I know like I can at least start with evaluating where that sits. But I think this that that book was just pick it up. It's an interesting read it.
I was so annoyed. I was, I was very annoyed with like the first part and then I was like, he's right, he's right. We only have limited time. So if we don't want to say no and I'm kind of somebody who I love when people are enthusiastic and I want to say yes to everything. And so I was like, ooh, this is real because decision making is really important. Yeah, I feel like this comes at an interesting time for me where I'm really starting to just try and refocus a little bit and think about the things that really matter that guide me towards where I'm trying to get to and being really clear on how to prioritize my time because I can go off in so many different directions and so yes, I'm really excited to get this book and I'm going to link it in the show notes for anyone else who wants to check it out too. Question number four, how do you win the day? What are your AM or PM rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and successful and motivated? I think, you know, I can win the day if I wake up, I get my coffee by 6 15 and I'm in the gym by 6 25 and like I can get a workout in before I start my day, a real win is like if I can work out have a coffee and journals.
Like even just five minutes of journaling before I start really helps ground me and helps me kind of get that energy boost to get into the day. Mhm Yeah, I feel like that resonates with me. I'm all about getting that sweat session in and getting coffee Ace up. I really don't start journaling though. I'm like you know everyone talks about journaling and I'm just I'm not there yet but I really want to be there and I'm gonna stop you know, don't put too much on it. Don't just take a piece of paper and write down while you're having your coffee, whatever comes to your mind, you don't have to keep it, you can throw it away, don't put too much pressure on yourself that it has to be something because it's literally you know, I think I also have a meditative coach because otherwise I won't meditate. But meditation is really, it's really helpful and it literally is about clearing your mind which is just focusing on your breath and using your breath as your anchor. And it's the ability to kind of unpack or take things off off of your mind.
Even for a moment, it's like giving your brain a workout. It's so great. So journaling helps to kind of I kind of dump stuff and then I can move on mm I love that. I think I definitely overthink it. I'm gonna I'm gonna take a piece of paper and I'm gonna throw it away afterwards. Great advice. Question number five is if you were given $1000 of no strings attached grant money, where would you spend it? And it's kind of to highlight where is the most important spend of a dollar for you in your business mm Product development. If you've got good products they will sell. That's what we've been going On. That's what I hear, that's what I'm told. Question number six is how do you deal with failure? What is your mindset and approach when things don't go to plan? Mm I think it's important to have moments of reflection where you try to be honest about what's happened and try to think through what you can do next time.
00:39:35Edit I think there's like an opportunity to pause and give yourself feedback or get feedback from your team or give your team feedback after almost everything you do every campaign every email every you know I mean we don't do that after every single thing but I think like that is one thing, it's like failure is an inherent part of growing, it's an inherent part of doing something innovative and different and so it is part of the course and you have to learn how to overcome it and grow from it and learn from it. And so I think like that's just important to understand up front that there will be failure and it's okay, amazing Hannah, thank you so much for taking the time to be on female startup club today and share your journey and your insights. What I love about this story and speaking to you is like overnight success. It doesn't happen overnight, overnight success takes years and years to craft and hone your skill set and you know, you've really like persevered through your journey and your pivoted and it takes grit and determination.