Kendra is a nail polish lover. Even as a young child, she would play with nail polish, creating nail polish covers, and painting designs on her nails. Kendra became known for her polish in college. And after working in finance for ten years, she finally decided to create her own nail polish company.
After further research in developing her signature nail polish, she discovered many toxins in nail polish. Kendra shared, "The ingredients to nail polish––they contribute to cancer, and at the time, my mother was a 3x breast cancer survivor, and I lost my grandmother to breast cancer as well. I didn't want anything to do with that part of the business itself. So, I thought, if you can't find it, then you have to create it." This is how Janet & Jo. started.
Kendra dedicated herself to making something that she loved and educating her consumers about the toxins in products. She never thought she could create a business that included her passion for polish and beauty to inform others and use it as a knowledge-sharing platform. Each polish had an inspirational story. Initially, this wasn't the focus of developing her company, but her purpose developed over time, and she wanted to focus her efforts on service. The company and Kendra are one, and she believes there isn't a separation in what she does.
Kendra says, "I love my family, so I wanted to do something as a homage to my family and name it after my two grandmothers."
What are you most proud of when it comes to Janet & Jo?
"I'm most proud of doing it. Because it's one thing to dream and want something, but to actually do it, that made me proudest. With doing it, you gain confidence, and it shows you that things are possible." She shared that there are many things that people have to unlearn as adults because there are many limitations that are placed on Black children, especially Black women. And when you have a dream, and you start to work at it, and then you can start to see it come to life, it just breaks down all those walls and barriers that the world had, and it shows you what's really possible. And that to me is powerful." Kendra recalls before she even sold her first product, she wrote on a sticky note what her design was going to look like, what originally was just an idea manifested into a full-fledged business.
What's the biggest fear you had during your business journey?
Kendra's biggest fear wasn't necessarily failing but follow through. Whether that follow-through was her own doing or external circumstances, it's something that still hovers over her head. There's this level of accountability that you feel when you say something and put it out there into the Universe. Kendra couldn't help to think if one day, while she continues to grow her company, will she self-sabotage it in some way?
Describe what it was like preparing for the pitch competition?
Nerves didn't prevent Kendra from applying to be a participant in the pitch competition. Despite her nervousness. She had been a fan of BGV for a long time and finally decided to pitch. Kendra expressed doing public-facing events are nerve-wracking for her because her shyness tends to take over. There's a vulnerability that coincides with putting yourself out there in a live pitch competition for everyone to see almost prevented her from moving forward. "To me, vulnerability makes me nervous and scared, especially when it comes to the business, I'm just like, they're going to rip me apart, I'm going to be judged, literally judged, I was so nervous." At one point, Kendra regretted entering the pitch competition altogether.
The night before the pitch competition, she said to herself, "Kendra, you've gotta step outside of your comfort zone." That helped her to embrace the experience fully. Like with most situations, in discomfort lies growth. Kendra feels very grateful to have been a part of the BGV community. Meeting other women and doing the pitch practice changed the game for her. "I learned to put myself out there and welcome the critique because it truly makes you better."
Her advice to others is to be receptive to feedback, do the pitch practice offered by Black Girl Ventures and take nothing personally. "Everybody there, these women are full of love and support, and they have a wealth of knowledge," Kendra recalls her pitch deck before the pitch practice and the pitch deck after the pitch practice and says the contrast is tremendous. She further says don't be discouraged or feel threatened by businesses similar to yours because everyone has their calling and lane.
Kendra used the funding for marketing, new product rollouts, business operations, received massive orders that she needs to fulfill. These funds are going to support operations, and she recently hired two part-time employees, so that now she can begin to scale.
Tell us about a significant setback you had in your business, and how did you recover?
As a business owner, it's easy to believe that you have to do everything yourself because most of the time, there's this misconception that no one can do it the way you do it. But Kendra found that doing everything on her own caused her to miss opportunities and make mistakes. Kendra cares deeply about the customer experience and her brand reputation, so when something happens, and she knows she dropped the ball in her business, it bothers her. She had to shift her business, and now she has staff who can focus on the customer service side to ensure promptness and ease for her customers. "I don't want anyone to be unhappy. I'm packing sunshine in a bottle," said Kendra.
How do you measure success?
"I measure success with accomplishing what you set out to do. There isn't a finish line."
Kendra believes that the goal post is always moving. When that goalpost moves, it's a success for her. Her company's goal is to educate and inspire. That's her mission. She knows she's successful when a customer reaches out and tells her how her product made a difference in their lives. "Each time a Black woman reaches out to me to say that I inspired them, I cry each time because that's my biggest thing, and so I feel like I'm living my life's purpose." When you're can discover your purpose and live it through, it's a cosmic gift.
Support is not always given to women of color in business; when has this shown and hurt or disappointed you the most?
"All the time," said Kendra. Before COVID, she saw opportunities for women, but she rarely saw opportunities for Black women, which made her feel ignored. There aren't many opportunities for Black women in business. "When I looked for opportunities for funding, it was––everything was tech-based because we're in a very tech world. And yes, I do use technology, I have a website, I use social media, but I'm not per se a tech company. So I struggled just finding like grants, competitions, and programs that support, that didn't support businesses that weren't tech-focused. I Googled and could not find much for new beauty businesses." Kendra is grateful that there is a shine on the inequalities and more support is coming in for Black and Brown businesses; however, it's unfortunate that the support came through several tragedies and the push for Black Lives Matter and the respect for Black and Brown businesses.
Was there a time that you wanted to quit?
"All the time," Kendra laughed, "sometimes I think I'm in too deep." The challenge has always been not knowing how to do something. She always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur, but she never knew how to start the process. She didn't know the basics, such as obtaining a point of sale system, how do you do payroll, etc. "So, I haven't found that roadmap." Kendra believes if you're not a self-starter or naturally inquisitive, then the road to entrepreneurship will be that much harder for you. She had to search high and low for information related to her business, such as being in FDA regulations, labeling her bottles, formalizing her packaging, and obtaining her business licenses. Kendra focuses on sharing some of these pain points with other entrepreneurs starting their journeys. "Then how is shared often enough." Established businesses that are in the earlier stages of their business have access to cohorts. But not too many of them cater to businesses starting who are just beginning. But when it comes down to it, everyone in entrepreneurship is still figuring it out and making it up along the way.
What's the most critical lesson you've learned about business, in general?
"Removing your emotions because I'm a strong believer that your business is something that you should be passionate about. But passion has emotions in it. So, being mindful to remove your emotion from something that's the manifestation of your passion is so difficult, so advisors are key, a mentor or a trusted friend." Kendra recommends having someone in your circle or team that can provide you with reliable business advice without the emotion. The bottom line of a business is the financials. As an owner, the decisions that you make are not always financial decisions but rather emotional. Learn also to remove your personal preferences and listen to your customers.
What's the most exciting part of your business?
Kendra loves to engage in product development, creating new colors. Even when what she develops isn't what she expected, she loves the problem-solving phase of developing the right product for her customers.
What do you think the future holds for Black women entrepreneurs and small business owners?
"Oh, we're gonna grow. We are the tastemakers, so we have a bright future. Let's say if things start to phase with the whole movement to support Black businesses, I think enough people have been exposed to us and our creativity, and our products, and just our own community, it's a bright future. I love it. And the beautiful about COVID and the quarantine was that people got to tap into their passions, and they've got to hone them. And I just see nothing but an influx of new businesses and collaborations. And that's a beautiful thing," said Kendra.
What do you think is an important skill or asset you need to be successful in business?
"You have to have good communication skills because business is all relationship building. And so, If you're a poor communicator or even just uncomfortable with communicating, you have to acknowledge and recognize that. You could have an amazing product, but if nobody knows about it, then you don't go anywhere." Kendra says, understand marketing and build relationships because some of the press releases that she did were due to relationship building. If this is something that you struggle with, Kendra recommends hiring someone strong in this arena.
If you and I were meeting three years from now, looking back, what would it take for you to feel happy about your progress?
Kendra would love to be a household name and being in mass retail.
Running a business while balancing a personal life can be demanding and taxing. How do you take care of yourself?
Kendra loves to be outdoors and in nature. Nature helps her to feel centered. And she places everything in a calendar or post-its. Every evening she creates a to-do list, and she plans out her "me" time. She encourages entrepreneurs to have time for themselves and to carve it into their schedules. Entrepreneurs are impacted by a higher stress level than most people because of the volatility and risks while also dealing with your personal life. Kendra sees with her therapist weekly, her scheduled time for herself, and bubble baths.
What is your favorite quote or mantra?
The will of God will not take me where the grace of God cannot protect me. That's Kendra'