How This Entrepreneur Built Black Girl Sunscreen to a 5M+ Valuation, with Shontay Lundy
Today I’m joined by Shontay Lundy, the Founder of Black Girl Sunscreen.
In 2016, when Shontay became tired of using sunscreen that left a white residue, she decided to leverage her MBA and knack for business to develop a melanin friendly option for women who look like her called Black Girl Sunscreen. The groundbreaking product has not only provided women with darker skin tones a healthy option to protect their skin, but the brand has cultivated a strong reputation for empowering black women.
In this episode we’re chatting about how she got started, why the violin plays a key part in this story, her experience with fundraising and key learnings for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business.
Please note, this transcript has been copy pasted without the lovely touch of a human editor. Please expect some typos!
Yes, my name is Shontay Lundy and I am the creator founder of Black Girl Sunscreen, a revolutionary sunscreen that has eliminated the white residue, that horrible white residue that everyone is just kind of like, I don't want to put sunscreen on while incorporating natural ingredients that are helpful to the skin. We started off with one skew, which is, I don't know, it just depends on how you perceive business. It's a good thing or a bad thing. But with Black Girl sunscreen, we've turned that one skew into motivation and inspiration for an entire demographic.
00:04:53Edit Amazing. I know that white sunscreen residue feeling well, especially when you're a kid and you have it slathered all over your face and you're like pick and the smell. Yeah. Do you wear sunscreen? I do Now as of a recent, recent, maybe in the last two years, I started wearing sunscreen, but I was a kid who grew up in Australia being like, well I'm sure it's fine, I'm sure I don't need, it turns out I do. Um, and I really started noticing the difference in my skin as I sort of hit my late twenties and now I do wear sunscreen, thankfully I actually got Australian vibes from you initially. Oh yeah, I did. I'm Australian. Yeah, I just based in London. Yeah, no, I totally get it. Where does your entrepreneurial story start? Um, you know, I would say at a really young age, you know, I started playing the violin in the second grade and you're probably like what is violent and entrepreneurial spirit have to do with anything.
00:06:02Edit Um, it has a lot to do with everything because you know, playing an instrument or doing really any sport on a competitive level. You know, it really gives you confidence and you know, I would say self discipline and motivation and being like a self starter. So at eight years old, you know, I was playing the violin solo in front of my entire, you know, elementary school call it, I don't know, You know, 150 students and that's a big deal for eight year old, you know to get up on stage and to memorize music and to have the heart to to go and do something. So I did that all the way up until high school. But my first job came at the age of 15 and I had a paper route Again, not a super big deal, but nothing to take lightly. And I say that because you know, having a paper out at the age of 15, it's such a tender age of being a teenager.
00:07:04Edit Right for me what I was a teenager, all we wanted to do was like have sleepovers hang out with your friend at the mall. And then um we all wanted to have like our own phone in our room. So like it was a landline but it wasn't like attached to a cord, it was a cordless phone, not a cell phone. Do you know what I'm talking about? Yeah. Yeah, okay. Could never had one in my room. Uh You didn't so I did and the only reason I was able to do that was because my family didn't pay for the line right now. My family couldn't afford to have two phone lines. It just was what it was. So what I said was like, okay, well here are the things that I want to work towards whether it's my phone line. Whether it's the cute shoes that I want, whether it was saving up, you know, just a few pennies for college. I did that. Working from, you know, uh 10th grade all the way until until college. So that was my first job. And It taught me again, discipline how to multitask and had a time manage because I was up early in the morning to deliver papers.
00:08:14Edit Then went to school from whatever, 7-3 then did cheerleading or track because I was on both and then did another job from 6-9. So my day was full, full, full full. And um, for me at that age, like I didn't think about being a businesswoman or a saleswoman. It was kind of what I needed to do to get by to survive. Mm hmm. And I also think it sounds like goal setting. You had like these goals that you wanted, you wanted your phone line, you wanted your, your spending money. You were able to use those goals by your actions as well as instilling a solid work ethic. Right? So at 15 here I am setting goals for myself. But also knowing like in order to reach those goals, I have to put in the work mm Because the goals aren't going to come without the leg work totally. And so at what point do you start being like, I want to start my own business? And I have an idea.
00:09:19Edit It didn't come until black girl sunscreen. Um And I think that things happen naturally for people. Right? And then you can just sit there and see that there is a need for something or you're doing something and you're like, hey I wish I had this and you go to look it up or figure out if it already exists and it doesn't. And I think that's how a lot of consumer product goods are developed and a lot of services are developed to enhance and improve services that already exists. So when it comes to black girl sunscreen, this happened, you know, just a few years ago in 2017 you know, I was already had already completed my Master's degree, had already lived in a very tropical environment, South florida Miami and I did a lot of actor activities and becoming a woman of the sun by traveling outdoor yoga hiking in, having a very diverse group of friends who would encourage me to wear sunscreen and I'd be like, no, have you seen the way it looks on my complexion?
00:10:26Edit Like this isn't okay and I don't feel comfortable wearing it. Um and then that's when the ah ha moment came into place and was like, huh, I don't think there's anything that can address my concern. And when I jump down onto google to see if something exists. It in fact did not at least in the way that I wanted it to exist in the way where it spoke to me directly, right? Because there are sunscreen brands on the market today. Not then that have eliminated the white cast. Right? But we're talking about five years ago where yeah, people were talking about sunscreen but not at the level they are today. Women of color also weren't acknowledged at the level that they are today in terms of their skin. So that was the moment where it was not necessarily, I'm gonna make this into a business, but hey, can I create a product that can solve this concern?
00:11:31Edit And then once you know, black Girl sunscreen was brought to market, it was okay. So what do I do? I'm gonna I launched on instagram. Black Girl's instagram launched on instagram. We're proud to say that because when you're coming from a place of not having many resources and um, you kind of have to be scrappy and gritty, right? Free marketing was digital marketing was the way to do it. Whether it be facebook instagram, interest, youtube, whatever, right? And that's where all the eyes were and if you want attention, you have to make noise on those platforms at that time. And still even today. So with that being said, you know, we had a e commerce store but our marketing efforts were digitally launched. Right? So that's when it really became a business when we were selling black Girl sunscreen, you know, on our dot com, prior to that, it was just kind of like the idea than product and then is anybody else gonna buy this besides my friends and family and lots of people have, I want to go back to before the launch on instagram to talk about the key steps to you actually getting that product, that physical product that you were ready to put on the dot com and be like, hello world by my product.
00:12:59Edit So, um, yeah, in terms of what formulation or you know, what are some of the steps that we took? Um what are some of the steps that you were kind of taking to? You know, was it working with the manufacturer first? Was building the brand first, Was it actually just building the community on instagram first and the product came after what were the kind of, what's the timeline they were all intertwined because I don't, You know, everyone has a different way of doing things and we wanted to make sure that we had customers to purchase. Um, we had, when we launched, we actually put it on pre order. So we did have, you know, whatever, 40 orders ready to go before we even had the physical finished product in hand. Um, you know, when it came to finding the right chemistry and manufacturer that aligned with a brand that was one of the hardest parts because most people ask themselves where do I even start, what are the key words that I put in google and um, it's really like just going down a rabbit hole to kind of find who may work for you, you know, your strategy might be like, hey I want my um, the operations of my business to be in this region, right?
00:14:14Edit Like I wanted to be where I live so I can do spot checks or hey, I don't really care where the facilities are. So it's just depending on like your strategy. My strategy was, I lived in south florida. South florida is also a ports meaning the port of Miami. So goods come in and out of there right without extra freight, like going into the middle of the country. Right? So there were certain things that I actually thought of before saying, hey, I want this manufacturer that's located, I don't know in Iowa right? So there were a lot of like things that I were extremely mindful about when kind of structuring my operations. That's so interesting. I never thought about that. Like the cost of getting it from A to B once it arrives. It's just never even crossed my mind that such an interesting slash crucial insight into building a business, especially in the beginning. Well the cost, right? And then the time the timelines, right?
00:15:17Edit So if you have to adhere to deadlines, um, you know, we have major retailers that distribute Black girl sunscreen. You know, there are ship windows and ship date to delivery dates And you know when you have operations that are pretty close in proximity, you can kind of almost do things at the 11th hour. Of course it's not ideal, but it can happen. So that was my thinking then my thinking now is I would do it the same way. I would definitely, you know have my warehouses to together, you know everything close together. So if it's time for meetings, you know, I can jump in the manufacturer, who knows the chemist, you know, it's a complete full circle. I love that. I always love to ask about the money piece of the puzzle. What kind of capital did you need to get started in terms of placing that first order, building the website and kind of hitting go and how are you financing the brand in the beginning?
00:16:19Edit Yeah, All of those things are super crucial. So black girl sunscreen, I started with $35,000 and um, that was from the money that I saved while working in corporate America and um, you don't see many companies jumping in the sun care space because it is expensive and expensive is relative, right? It's costly. Um, it's costly because there are several testings that go into your products, the minimum quantity for an order is higher than it would be for, I don't know, maybe um, like a sweater or a piece of jewelry. Right? So, and then the timeline, you know, do you have the patience to wait for testings to be complete and if testing doesn't come back, right, do you have that stamina and kind of like mindset to say, okay, we're gonna do this again, right? So I would say from that standpoint that it's challenging. And even with the capital that I had at that time it still wasn't really adequate and this is all in hindsight, I did what I had to do, right?
00:17:28Edit But if you want to scale your business, you will eventually need more than whatever you invest, right? Because it continues to grow. One of the things that I prioritize while starting Black girls century and was definitely having a website because in my mind, how was a consumer going to purchase? Right? Like I didn't think I didn't want to just say like, oh, you know, we're on, I don't know, facebook marketplace, you can buy through there or you know, I wanted to feel legit, like you're gonna get an invoice, you're gonna get a tracking number, you know, you're gonna get a package from us with a handwritten note and it's all going to seem all fine and dandy even though there's only one person that is handling customer service marketing, you know, packaging fulfillment and all that stuff. So amazing. Love that. The one woman show in 2000 and 17 for sure. Now it's different, right?
00:18:29Edit Because we've scaled um, you know, we're in target, which is, you know, a mass retailer here in the States were also in alta, which is leading beauty store here in the United States, we have several relationships with local brick and mortar stores that carry black girl sunscreen as well as smaller pharmacies and then we support third party e commerce websites that speak to, you know, women of color in terms of sun care and skin care. So um one person couldn't do this at the level that we're at now totally. How big is the team now? We are a team of 12 Holy moly. That's exciting. Yeah, it is, it is, I want to go into talking about the marketing side of things you mentioned in the beginning, it was very much instagram focused and you were creating noise on that platform. How are you creating noise and keeping the momentum going after you launched and like how did your marketing evolve?
00:19:33Edit It's still evolving. Uh, you know, first of all the marketing is like when you're younger you like have to like find out who you are, if that makes sense. Like, so maybe you like dye your hair purple and then you like realize like no, that wasn't me right now. Seriously right? Or um, I'm still going through that phase. Yeah, you dress a certain way like uh or you're like, yeah, this is totally me, I feel so comfortable and that's what black girl sunscreen. Um we had to do was really understand who we were, what our voice sounded like and what we were perceived as in our community. So once we kind of wrapped our heads around that, I think we were able to kind of just run full force? Um Because that's really the hardest part when it comes to marketing is developing your voice. How can you speak your consumer? And we do that by really mixing a couple of things.
00:20:37Edit First being human, second understanding our culture, but then being professional, Right? So when you follow black girl sunscreen, you know that there's a woman of color behind marketing, right or not what? They're doing a good job resignation with the community. And in terms of instagram, like I said, it's a bell. You know, you can't post in ghost meaning like you don't post something and then you know, not respond to comments. You know, and then trial and era, let's see how certain things work. If it doesn't work, then maybe we don't do it again or we bring it back differently. And so just taking the risk of seeing what's going to resignation with the community. And that's how we did it on instagram from even the colors like our brain colors are black goals. We throw in some white yellows, neutral colors. But if we throw anything like bright doesn't do well for us.
00:21:43Edit So if even, you know, having our consumer base and our followers even like just recognizing like our aesthetics like, oh this is different. I don't know about that. So even just sticking to like the brand. Like Mcdonald's is known for bright red and yellow. They kind of stick to that. Mm hmm. So true. When you look back at the journey over the last few years, were there any clear tipping points or quantum leaps forward that stand out to you? Uh No shanti has always worked in a silo and really been focused on whatever the pie in the sky is. So if our goal was to get a headquarters so we can house, you know, 10 employees, then then that was the goal. No tipping points because actually maybe one and that was when we were trying to raise capital.
00:22:46Edit Um, and understanding when that time wasn't even understanding that it was an appropriate time. Because I don't know that a lot of businesses do understand when it is time to or when they can start speaking to investors or they have the confidence. Do I know that I have the amount of sales or profitability. You know, what's my story? How am I doing and marketing do I have enough customers? So I think for us, um, that was a major, I would say not necessarily tipping point but a stage in the business where we had to pause for a second. And what was it to you that made you realize, oh, it's time to start getting some funding. Well, yeah, it wasn't about shanti continuing to re invest her money, right? Like my money is only so long where where my back is against the wall because we need inventory to fulfill, you know, um major pos, so that's where it was just kind of like, okay, we need to do something different to elevate the brand.
00:23:52Edit Right? And so I read that last year in 2020 you secured about $1 million dollars in funding in private funding. What was your experience like during that process and what are the key takeaways or learnings that you can share for anyone else going through the process? Um for me, I don't think there's a lot of conversations and education in the community of black females and you know, minority led businesses. So you could be going into a conversation and not know all the terminology, which isn't a good look. Right? So doing the research first um is extremely important and then truly understanding that it's a true partnership, right? And not necessarily being desperate for the funding um and knowing what you're looking for in a partner, you may want someone that is like, hey, you know what, I don't necessarily want to be involved in the day to day or maybe you do want that, that type of advice. So understanding like self awareness, is he when it comes to that process?
00:25:00Edit Mm Yeah, totally. I think it's also one of those, again, like really big learning curves where you learn a lot about yourself and how you feel in those situations and how you tackle, you know, that vulnerability again, like going back to what you were saying as an eight year old playing the violin, you've got to put yourself out there and kind of show all of your cards on the table. Mhm. Amazing. I also read that you are now in hundreds of target stores, you reached a $5 million what are the kind of goals that you're working towards now say over the next 12 months? Great, great question. Um so again it is um to continue to grow um and to really own the space of sun care in this demographic. You know, one of the hardest things is changing the narrative and the perception around sun care and some safety. And this is amongst all people because even, you know, I I asked you earlier, do you wear century and he said, well now I do.
00:26:04Edit Right, So it's not just an issue of black people or brown people not wearing some care um products, it's really all people because what's that message around uh sunscreen? Are we remembering it in our daily kind of behaviors and movements? So um you know, our goals within the next year is just to continue to start the conversation although it may be difficult to continue the conversation and make sure that there's visibility around sun safety regardless of somebody is wearing black girl sunscreen or not. We are an option. We are an alternative just like when you go into the grocery store, there are 25 bags of potato chips on the shelves, you're gonna pick one or two, right? They're all an option. And that's what black girl sunscreen is here to say like we are an option. Mhm But we want you to wear it. And how do you educate the consumer and the wider kind of audience with that message? Yeah, that's this question too. So um post or pre pandemic Shante and staff were doing a lot of um events um in person um expose.
00:27:19Edit You know, we have a pr team that is constantly, you know, having black girls century and candle circulate with the message of sun safety. We also believe that education starts with the youth. So we've had conversations at local elementary schools and middle schools. So that was pre pandemic um during the pandemic everything transition to virtual, So many conversations still being had on virtual platforms and um now currently we're still in the middle of it, but we're still just being very visible and it's just continuing the conversation partnering with, you know, Cancer society's organization, melanoma organizations and just making sure that we are as visible as possible. And then when you have, you know, such a strong following, our consumers are followers, serve as advocates as well, right? Because the biggest marketing pieces, word of mouth referrals, people telling their friends their families their loved ones, whoever, hey, you know, you should be wearing sunscreen, right?
00:28:30Edit And this is why you should be wearing sunscreen and they're literally regurgitating everything that we say. So that's just on the conversation piece. On the digital piece. We penetrated. Like no other, our messaging is very direct, very salacious. And so to the point where you can't miss it, right? And then we have um some out of home marketing meaning we have billboards. Um we do radio ads, lots of podcasting. Like we're having this conversation right now. I appreciate the time and the conversation, right? But this is how we get the education of some safety just kind of like circulating mm hmm, circulating on all the different platforms. All the different mediums. Lovett loved the billboard. By the way. I saw, I saw the pictures on your instagram and looks so cool. Yeah. Thank you. Must have been a thrilling moment. Yeah. I mean it's kind of like one of those things like, okay, I'll get there right. And in patients during this journey is everything because you will probably not be able to afford a billboard day, one day, two month, one month 12.
00:29:41Edit But now that's something that like, okay, we're going to do this. So skin cancer awareness month is just a couple weeks away. We have some more billboards popping up to bring awareness on sun safety during the month of May. Mm awesome. That's amazing. I love that. What is your key piece of advice for women who have a big idea and want to start their own business, do it. Like literally implement your ideas. Clear out the menu sha meaning like, you know sometimes yourself may talk yourself out of it or someone else may chime in and say, I don't, I don't really know and kind of second guess your idea. But I lead with intuition and what that means is if it feels like something I should do, I'm going to do it and I'm going to do it with conviction and if it doesn't work, doesn't necessarily work and I keep going. So my advice to women or anyone that has an idea, put it on paper and then actually started.
00:30:49Edit You may not have all the capital that you need. You don't need all the capital, right? Black girl sunscreen. Our first photo shoot was done with mock ups from Kinko's but we literally got plastic stapled together and taped like a printed photograph of the bottle on the plastic. We did our photo shoot, you know, because we needed the images to go to create the website. And I mean as soon as we had the real deal in hand, we swapped that out. But why delay something if you can have a remedy upfront. So, um, I don't think that lack of resources should stop anyone because I think being resourceful is very important and then feeling confident and I know that you know, people are afraid to fall. But if you don't fall you first of all, you don't know what it feels like to fall. You got to know what it feels like my solo um, act in second grade? I didn't mention this.
00:31:51Edit It started off as a duet and um, the girl she called out of school sick, right? She didn't come to school. She was sick. I was terrified. And I told my music teacher I didn't want to do it. I was crying and she said, Santa, you can do this. And so I was up first and I got so nervous, I ran off the stage crying and at the end of the concert, came back on stage and I did my piece. So I tell you that story because it's okay not to achieve the outcome that you're looking for the first time. Mm Thank you for sharing that. That's amazing. You're welcome at the end of every episode. I ask a series of six quick questions, some of it we may have already covered. But I ask it so that I have all the answers that we can look back and see what the trends are or the certain insights and that kind of thing. So, question number one is, what's your, why? Why do you do what you do? Because I love it.
00:32:56Edit And um, I am enamored with the fact of doing something bigger than what I thought my life would be. So it is important to me to create this legacy within the space that I'm in Love. That amazing Question. Number two is what do you think has been the number one marketing moment that's made the business pop so far? Like I said, we are you know marketing is at the forefront of our business uh and I feel like we're really strong um I think that it could go back to, I want to thank like pre blm, I think we just had a strong marketing present. I mean just from saying like don't be ashy, where black girl sunscreen, like something like that, then you know, um having different articles hit like the Forbes article was um you know circulating for a while. Um and then of course um the heightened awareness of black life matters and um you know, supporting black owned businesses was another um you know, just doing, participating in different collaborations, Being on National TV three times, you know, getting child out from different artists, including Beyonce this morning, we were on the Today Show.
00:34:24Edit Yeah, so it's not one particular moment for Black Girl sunscreen. It is a combination of, of things that have really helped, you know, propel um and really make the brain consistent. Mhm I can't believe Fiance, That's so cool. What a moment! Oh my gosh! Yeah, it is incredible Question # three is where do you hang out to get smarter, what do you read or listen to or subscribe to that is worth shouting about? Ooh, she said to get smarter? Uh that's good. Who uh to get smarter because that ship is like, well who do you think is even smart to listen to them. Right. So, um, I have some books that I haven't really had the opportunity to read because I like to read like on planes. Um, I will watch CNN and this is only to hear different perspective. But um, you know, typically for me getting smarter has just been in university.
00:35:33Edit You know, I have my undergrad masters and was enrolled in a doctoral program and I feel like that coupled with my life experiences and my education has allowed me just to have a certain level of intelligence. Um you know, I engage in conversations that are difficult but also enlightening. So there's not one thing that I can attribute to, you know my continuing kind of um search for knowledge. It is around me every single day. Mm hmm. Love it. Question number four is what are your am or pm rituals and habits that keep you feeling happy and motivated and successful. Yeah. So I don't know if they keep me happy, motivated and successful but because each day is so different and I have to say that they're not always happy days or motivating days. They could be really hard days and I do it because of that. Why Right?
00:36:36Edit Like Hey Santa, you have to finish the job regardless of how you feel. So you know sometimes for me to unpack everything. It might just be a phone call to a fellow brand founder that we kind of share either similar or different sentiments on what's happening or not happening? You know just just talking sometimes 10 minutes on the phone from my drive from work to home is enough. Again I am a self starter, I'm self motivated. So there's not one particular thing that I'm just kind of like yes this is my go to to recharge. Um I have a goal and I'm really determined to reach that goal. Mhm. Question number five Is if you only had $1,000 left in the business bank account, where would you spend it? Oh that's damn really hard proof I would try to spend it on getting more money because the first thing that comes to mind is how will we meet payroll, $1000 is not enough at all.
00:37:39Edit So how can I, how you know who multiply this this $1000 by by 10 by 20. That's what I would do. That's a really good question. Thank you for asking, Thank you for saying that. And question # six The last question is how do you deal with failure? What's your mindset and approach when things don't go to plan? Yeah I'm really optimistic. And um I think that you know the word failure is not in my vocabulary, it's more of a learning experience and how do you overcome that? And what was what did you learn from it? And how do you spend that? Like, okay, that, that didn't work out. So what's Plan B and C? Right. I don't necessarily think of like a failure. I just think of like, okay, that didn't work. Yeah, what's next? You get an F on the test you can be taken, right? You can retake it. So the word failure, you know, for me is not even in our building, we're committed to excellence and everything that we do love that.
00:38:42Edit Thank you so much for taking the time to share your experiences and your learnings about what you're building with black girls on screen. I've loved chatting with you and I'm so excited for everything that's to come thank you so much doing for having me. You have a good day and I'm glad that the UK is experiencing some warmer weather.