Updated: Aug 23
On today’s episode I’m chatting with Julissa Prado, the founder of Rizos Curls.
Founded in October 2017, Rizos Curls is a clean hair care brand creating products that embrace and celebrate the beauty of curls, coils & waves everywhere. In just under three years, Rizos Curls has amassed a global following of more than 300,000 followers on social media and ships to over 57 countries.
We chat about the origins of Julissa’s business, creating her own potions and formulas for hair to give to women and girls since she was in the 9th grade, and how she took her $80,000 of savings since she was a little girl and went all in to develop hundreds of samples over 4 years before finally landing on her best selling products that we see today.
We also talk through the importance of small business owners standing up and shouting loudly to get noticed - the key thing to remember here is that everything is negotiable - but you’ll get to that in the episode. There’s so much love and energy and emotion throughout this talk - lots of lols and even some tears. I could speak to Julissa for literally ever and ever and I came away feeling so grateful to have met her and to hear this incredible and deeply personal story.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Speaker2: My name is Julissa Prado. I'm founder and CEO of Rizos Curls Hair Care Line, and we create hair products for people with wavy, curly or curly hair textures.
Speaker1: Amazing. I know from reading about you that your story has so much love and soul in its origins. Could you take us back to where it all began?
Speaker2: Yes. So I've been pretty much doing hair and been attracted to hair ever since I was a teenager, I never did it professionally, but I grew up with a really big family in Los Angeles. And inevitably, by having over 60, 70 first cousins just in L.A., I had a lot of clientele. And so starting in ninth grade, I remember as a ninth grader, I was like any homecoming or prom season. I was booked up like seniors would literally book me to style their hair. So I was always very attracted to hair. I was always good at it. I've always said, like, I have the hands for it. And during that time, too, I wanted to start wearing my hair natural because back then I was straightening and straightening it all the time. And it was very normal to me to like turn to the earth and turn to natural ingredients to care for my skin, my scalp, my hair. And it was all for my own grandmother's teachings. So I just started making my own concoctions in my skull, had something going on with it. I could cut some aloe vera plant if my hair was feeling like I needed more holes, get some flaxseed oil like it was something very normal. So I had my own concoctions and styling natural became just like another of the options that I had when doing hair on the side while in high school.
Speaker1: Oh my God, that's amazing. When you were doing hair for these women, did you actually think like, oh, I want to turn this into a business in terms of a hair salon? Or did you think, oh, I want to turn these concoctions into a business or didn't even cross your radar at that point?
Speaker2: So what's crazy is that I never thought I would ever be a hair stylist. I never thought as that has a potential job, I didn't even cross my mind that I would ever even go in that direction. I went to UCLA for undergrad and then I got my masters in business and I was like always very much in the corporate world. And at the time back then, I wanted to be a lawyer. Like that's what I wanted to do at that time. So hair was just kind of like a fun little side hobby that I would do. But I never even thought I could turn into anything business for me. But I was a big saver, and I knew ever since I started working when I was around 14 years old. But at 15, I remember saving half my money starting since then. And I would put it away for either like a business or just in general. I did want to make it out of convenience. I knew that I wanted to make my products professionally, but for myself, like I didn't really think of it as a business person. But I would save my money because I was like, I want to make it so inconvenient for me to carry this around in Ziploc bags, to have to refrigerate this to like it goes bad after a little while. Like this is very inconvenient. I'm going to say start saving my money. So it's just crazy how I kind of didn't know what I was doing, but I was like making the correct decisions to start being able to eventually self invest.
Speaker1: And I think it's also so crazy that, like, you hadn't recognized the idea yet that you could start a business and view yourself as an entrepreneur. You were doing all these things and doing taking these steps. But it hadn't clicked and fallen into place yet.
Speaker2: Not at all. Like I've always said, it's hard to become what you don't see. And for me, like I remember not even knowing what college was like, I never had met anybody that had gone to college. I never knew a university was. I literally learned English in third grade. Like my parents. They're both from Mexico. My dad crawl through a sewer when he was a teenager to get to this country who worked in the fields picking oranges, like, you know what I mean? Like they never went to school at all. They barely know how to read and write. So I think where I started, it was just very different life then, you know, then this entrepreneur life that I now have. But back then it was I remember like the first time I ever met somebody that went to college and they were studying or going to college to become a lawyer. And then that's why I wanted to be a lawyer, because it was like my second cousin. She was like from our neighborhood, too. And then she wanted to be a lawyer. And I was like, oh, you're my idol. Like, that's what I want to do. So, yeah, that's kind of how it went.
Speaker1: Oh, my gosh, what a story. That's wild. So you go to school, you graduate, you're in the corporate world. When does the aha moment happen where you think, oh, hang on, I'm actually going to start formulating my products and using my savings, how much savings did you have, by the way, before we start that?
Speaker2: In total, it was close to 80 thousand dollars by the time I like and did because I was able to get like I got scholarships in undergrad for grad school. I applied to a fellowship and PepsiCo I was a PepsiCo fellow. So they gave me like this like really dope scholarship. And I worked for PepsiCo while in grad school. Ever since I turned 15, I've been working and I would always save my money. So I didn't have that many expenses because I was able to save my money. And luckily I didn't have to help my parents with their expenses. So it was just savings for me.
Speaker1: Savings for you. Right. OK, so you've got the eighty thousand in the bank. When is the aha moment that you think I'm going to take that eighty thousand and I'm going to spend it on my formula.
Speaker2: Yeah. So all throughout high school and grad school and all this time that I'm in this amazing by this time I'm already in grad school working for PepsiCo and then I'm going to go work for Nespoli. And this whole time I've never stopped doing hair like so many of my best friends. I met them in grad school. I'm at the elevator and I see this girl and I would call them Undercover Curley's women that you would never know that have curly hair. They would be like, how do you get your hair like that? And I'm like, meet me in the bathroom in an hour. I'll help you and I'll bring all my concoctions and do their hair. And then I would teach them and they would see their hair for the first time. I would have world dorm sessions. I would hold like I was always known for that. And the amount of women that I met throughout high school, college and even in the workforce and grad school, that I styled their hair and helped them, taught them about their own hair. And they saw natural for the first time was like hundreds of them.
Speaker1: You were building your tribe.
Speaker2: Yeah. So by the time once I decided, you know what, I want to make these professional, I still didn't think that it was going to be enough for me to leave my corporate job. But I just thought it's very inconvenient. Like every time I'm helping these people, which I'm doing it all the time, like it would be easier if I didn't have to write down all these instructions and like it was more of a convenience thing. And I thought, you know what, this is a big risk. But like worse comes to worse. I have a lifetime supply of hair care products for me and my huge family. Like, again, just on my dad's side in L.A. I have like over sixty first cousins in total. I probably have over one hundred, like, it's crazy. So, yeah, that's when I decided to make it professional and it took me four years and I worked with multiple different chemists before I was able to land the formula that I really wanted. And I think the reason why when I did launch it did so good is because it actually works. It's because I spent those four years. I know exactly what I was looking for. I had been working with so many different scalps, so many different hair textures, so many different ingredients, like I had been doing all of that work of like testing out and understanding what is going to work in what environments and what climates, what hair types, etc.. So I was very, very focused and knew exactly what I wanted. And no chemist, no big fancy lab could sway me in a different direction. Like I remember the first lab that we went with I was trying to go with. They were like very fancy, big time. And then they kept telling me, like, this is how you should do this. And I was like me, like, no experience on this little like twenty one year old girl like this is going to work, you know, like, who am I?
Speaker1: But but you stuck to your guns. So in that four years that it took for you to get to the formula. So are we talking like you launched in twenty seventeen. So yes, twenty thirteen. You start this process of formula. Why did it take four years. Is it also because you were still working full time so you were moving at it slower, or was it because you had to kind of like restart again with new manufacturers along the way?
Speaker2: I had to restart again, so I went through a ton of different comments, too. And that was a moment transitioning especially from like the first two years of trying over and over with. One lab was like so much money that I invested because each sample is five hundred dollars. Like, that's a lot of money of two year round and round. The samples that take like I give comments, it takes a few months to come back. I'm like redoing this. It takes a long time and a lot of money was invested. And I remember at that moment that I. Couldn't get her right with the multiple cameras in that first lab that I had already put so much money into, I was like, maybe it's impossible. Maybe I'm not going to find what I'm looking for here. But I was very glad that I didn't settle because I could have easily settled the first time around. And I guess this is good enough, but I didn't do that. And I took like three months off between the two manufacturers before I kind of like regrouped again and really went for it to start all over again from the beginning.
Speaker1: Oh, my gosh.
Speaker2: But I'm glad I did, because eventually I did land the formula that I loved and wanted.
Speaker1: You made the magic. It sounds like. Yeah. How many samples do you think you made in that four year process?
Speaker2: Oh, my God. Like hundreds. Like a hundred. Like, I don't even. It was just so many. And so the way that it works, I mean, I don't know how it works in other industries, but at least most of the time with pretty the standard with hair care is you get like depending on the contract that you have, either get two or three versions of that one sample and each time it's five dollars. So, yeah,
Speaker1: It's expensive, it's really expensive. It's going to take a lot of money. Holy moly. OK, yeah. So you move manufacturer's, you find the magic. They're on board with what you're doing, you're happy, you're like OK, I'm going to place an order. What was the minimum orders like for you at that time and what happens next.
Speaker2: Yeah. So there's so many. It's crazy because. I feel so blessed and so lucky that I got in the industry at the time that I did too, because now that I'm in it and after covid and all the different things, the manufacturers now have such high minimums that had I try to start now, there's no way I would have been able to afford those minimums. Now it's like at least ten thousand minimum per SKU. Before there was maybe like five thousand. And I was able to convince my manufacturer to bring it down to fifteen hundred per SKU, which for me was a lot, and that's so much money. But I was really lucky in that it was like a really great time for the industry where there wasn't like supply issues. There wasn't like crazy competition in that. And I think that because of that, these labs were more willing to risk bringing on board this little girl that had not a company. She has no customers, no guarantee. It's like it's not usually would it be worth their time. And I think that had I try to do that now what like I don't know how I would have been able to get my foot in the door because I can't afford their minimum.
Speaker1: Right. Someone on the show the other day, a woman by the name of Xenia Chen, and she has a company called Thread's, she was saying and one of her key takeaways from the lesson was everything is negotiable. Everything is negotiable. And so what I'm wondering is, how did you actually negotiate from five thousand down to fifteen hundred? Because that sounds bloody amazing.
Speaker2: Yeah. So I don't know. Let me just put that out there and we have the gift. And I was born with a Pisces gift of being able to relate and being able to really connect with other humans and being able to like have a really strong sense of like empathy and how others empathize with myself as well. And I don't know, we just like get people and they get us for some reason. And so many of these people that I was meeting along the way, they would literally tell me, like, I've never done this before, but like I believe in you. I believe your story. I want to support you. Like, I would never lower my minimums like this, but like I believe in you, like I want to support you. I see your passion and that. And I like, you know, because I was like, literally girl, like, OK, I know I don't have anything right now and I don't want to do that, but like, my formulas are going to be so good and I know what I'm looking for and I know I don't have any customers right now. But like, trust me, I know they're there. And to do it, you know, it's like selling myself with nothing. You know, I'm like, I can make a really dope PowerPoint deck, pretty colors, but I don't have any data. I don't have anything to support it other than the fact that I have I'm a hard worker with a lot of heart and they're like, girl, I don't know. But it worked out. And I was really lucky that people were put in my path that we're willing to take a risk on me.
Speaker1: And I think as well, you had true conviction. You just knew. You knew and maybe you didn't have the data. But you actually, if you think about it, you did have the data because you had these women who you had been working with since you're in grade nine. They actually did have the data. Yeah, it just came in a different way than versus like numbers on the spreadsheet.
Speaker2: Yeah. So I grew up in predominantly Latino neighborhoods my whole life. And what I was telling them, I'm like, you guys don't understand. Like the natural hair movement has missed so much of the Latino community because of the language barriers. I'm like all of my things, all of my cousins, like everywhere that you're in here, no one knows the slightest bit of information about textured hair. All they know is our straight hair. I'm like every hair stylist that I meet. All they teach them in cosmetology school is how to straighten hair. When it comes to check your hair. They don't teach them how to treat a real scalp. The ingredients that you need to use, they're using chemicals, are using silicones, are using sulphates. They're using all of these ingredients that are working against all of these women's natural hair texture. And I'm like, I'm going to the store. And there's nothing out there for me, for us, for my community, for every single woman that I see out there, there's nothing that is helping their hair be beautiful today and also good for the long term health of our scalp and hair. And I was telling them, like Latinos, we care especially we care about natural we care about quality ingredients, like we care about organic because it's part of our culture.
Speaker2: But society and all of these stores that we go into, it's all like super GMO. It's all super. Cheap, like harsh chemicals, like all these things, but I'm telling you, like, one thing that I know is my culture, my community, my people, and I know what they want and I know what the market is lacking from. And that's one thing that I tell everyone that wants to go into an industry that they are unfamiliar with or they feel like it's too saturated or they feel like they are the super underdog. What I tell them is you don't just create a business, you create a solution to a problem. And if you have the solution to a problem and you're looking around and there's all these people that also need that solution, like, you know, more than you can make up in creativity, in your knowledge, what other companies will need millions of dollars to do the market research and need for marketing dollars. That is knowledge that is unmeasurable. And if you have that, the world is going to help you get that solution out to people.
Speaker1: It's like your own in a like internal secret sauce or something.
Speaker2: Yeah, for sure.
Speaker1: Ok, I want to talk about the launch. You've got your ammo Q's back. You have got the magic in your hands. How do you launch and what's it like? What happens?
Speaker2: Yes. So I was also in a very interesting time that later on I realized how much it played into it. But it was right before, like the political era of the time, especially United States, it was a really weird political climate where it was like very anti Latino and it was, oh, my gosh, so much hate crime. This and not like so I saw a switch like, oh, huge switch even. And just noticing my mom how she would answer the phone that time versus after. So for example, somebody would call her in English to like, I don't know, sell her something before she would be like so sorry, so sorry. No English, no English. I'm so sorry. She's like very apologetic, like oh those are oh, during that time after like when all the anti Latinos that were going on, she was answering it like no Spanish, no money. You want my money, you call me Spanish Glik. I'm like, oh OK Mom owning it. Oh so that's what we're doing. OK, so it was a time where I feel like I saw Latinos, especially everybody. It seemed like every culture wanted to unapologetically be their culture and they wanted to own it and they wanted to wear it on their sleeve because they were like, I don't want you to confuse to feel comfortable being racist around me. I don't want you to feel comfortable like putting down my culture.
Speaker2: I want you to s