Tracee Ellis Ross
Because she knew coiled, curly hair needed something more
As an entrepreneur, Tracee Ellis Ross would seem to have some clear advantages: She's an award-winning actor, producer, and activist--and the daughter of Diana Ross. Yet her first steps into starting her own business brought her the same frustration and rage that so many founders--especially female founders--know all too well. A few years ago, Ross brought the idea for Pattern, a hair care line for curly, coily, and tight-textured hair, to her contact at her talent agency. "She made me cry," recalls Ross. "She was like, 'Why would anyone want hair products from you? You're an actor.' " Like many entrepreneurs, Ross was motivated by her own experience: She knew, from years of trying to mold her hair to society's idea of beauty--and damaging it in the process--that her product didn't exist yet. And she knew she wasn't the only one who needed something better.
"I look at the market and know where the actual gaps in the industry are," says Ross. "If you want to do almost the same thing as another company, figure out what would make you unique. How do you differentiate yourself?" Ross had been picking and choosing various products from multiple brands, trying to find what combined best for her particular hair pattern. But she never felt those products worked together well. With Pattern, she would aim to provide everything in one line.
Pattern, which is sold at Ulta Beauty across the U.S., is for anyone with coily, tight-textured hair. But Ross is clear that her company is centered on a celebration of Black beauty, which she believes is all too rare. "If our hair could talk, it would tell you of our legacies," she says, "all those ways our identity pushed through spaces where it wasn't meant to be, but is nonetheless."
As for her early rejection, Ross has become a bit more sanguine over time. "Be patient, and stay the course," she advises other entrepreneurs. "Take in the information. Take in the disappointments. They will come. They are important. They are part of the opportunity to clarify what you want to do." –Teneshia Carr
For a new approach to selling art online
For constant innovation
It’s been a tough couple of months for the hospitality industry. But when Vanessa Ogle of Enseo--a company known for being the first to integrate Netflix into hotel rooms--saw her clients’ revenue tank due the coronavirus, she saw how technology could help. Enseo introduced seven new products, and secured 10 new patents (Enseo is the lead inventor on a total of 40 U.S. patents), to help clients reopen and attract consumers. These include a virtual front desk agent, a temperature scanner, and an ultraviolet cleaning cart. “The most difficult thing about radical change is breaking inertia,” she says. “To go to an entire team of engineers and say, ‘Thanks for all the hard work on the products you’ve been building. I want you to drop everything and go do this new set of products that we’ve never done before,’” was an intense effort. Ogle likens the process of converting ideas to reality to a reduction in cooking, where you concentrate a flavor by applying heat--and the coronavirus certainly provided the pressure. –Gabrielle Bienasz
For bringing community, manufacturing, and housing together
Run the World
Because now is the time for a better virtual meeting
Xiaoyin Qu launched her company eight months before the Covid-19 pandemic forced widespread stay-at-hom orders in the U.S. – and for her startup, that may just have been perfect timing. Along with co-founder and CTO Xuan Jiang, Qu created Mountain View, California-based virtual event platform Run the World in July 2019.
The idea was inspired by Qu’s mother, a China-based doctor who obtained a visa to attend her first-ever international medical conference last year--after 35 years of practicing medicine. “It shouldn’t take 35 years of being a doctor to access that kind of networking,” thought Qu, a former product manager at Facebook and Instagram. One year into Stanford University’s MBA program, Qu dropped out to launch Run the World.
By February, Run the World had 10 employees and $4.3 million in seed funding, largely from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Those figures have since exploded: Run the World now has 50 employees and raised nearly $11 million in May. The company has so far hosted events with attendees, speakers, and organizers from 110 different countries.
Qu credits her team’s deliberate approach to iteration, which is designed to prevent knee-jerk reactions to customer feedback. “Customer needs change all the time,” she says. “Instead of just listening to customer requests, ask them, ‘Why do you want what you want?’” – Cameron Albert-Deitch