Marketing Lead @ Bevel / Walker & Co. Brands.
Marketing Lead @ Bevel / Walker & Co. Brands.
Okay, so why don’t we start at the beginning? Tell me a bit about where you come from and your early years and how you got here.
Okay, I think I have a very interesting story, and I think what it all comes down to is that there is no single road into Silicon Valley. I graduated college with a degree in French Literature, and growing up I had always wanted to be an architect…
Okay, awesome. My senior year of college, I got into a Master’s of Architecture program at the Art Institute of Chicago. This little, little, tiny thing inside me was like, “Don’t go straight into that program, defer a year.” I deferred a year with the intention of moving to San Francisco to save money. This is in 2006, and I don’t know why I thought the word “San Francisco” and “save money” went hand in hand, but it did for me, I guess, at the time. I had family out here, and within like the first month I realized I didn’t want to be an architect. I realized what I loved about it was theory and history as opposed to actual drafting and designing, and so I started working in PR, doing communications. Web 2.0 was a thing at that time, but it just exposed me to the whole world of communications and editorial, and so I was just like, “Well, this feels right to me.”
Fast forward, and I thought, “I want to use these skills for something good.” I was working in policy, doing criminal justice reform, accountable development, working with non-profits and public agencies as a consultant. I was doing that for a couple years, and I got really bored at my job, just because I had this background. I was a French major, I wanted architecture, so I had this creative vein in everything that I do, but my work in policy wasn’t fulfilling that.
At that same time, I was kind of deciding to go natural. I had relaxed my hair using chemical straighteners for 15 years, and I decided that I didn’t want to do that anymore. I decided that it was such a big, monumental transformation that I wanted to document it and really do a lot of education about it and share it with the world. I started a website called Natural Selection and…
Such a good name, by the way.
Thank you, I’m such an evolutionary nerd. I was really into that in college.
I was like, yeah, so I’m going to double entendre that, started Natural Selection. It just continued to grow and grow and grow, and within a few, couple years, I ended up quitting policy and pursuing my blog full time, and I was an editor for a big curly hair website. I worked with a lot of brands and traveled around the world, to the Caribbean, to Europe, all over Atlanta just building this community of women going through the same thing that I was, and it was all just about our hair and going natural. It was really cool because I made all of these “hair friends”, and “curl friends.” The more that we grew our communities, the bigger the movement became, and it was a really cool moment in beauty industry history.
I had no intention of being in the beauty industry whatsoever, but I was. Then I ended up going to work at a different startup, because I was in San Francisco at the same time, and worked in a fashion startup, but then I got the itch to go back into beauty. Ended up getting connected with Tristan, and that was when everything really clicked. It was like, “Oh my gosh, here we are in San Francisco in tech, doing what I love the most, which is helping people of color feel comfortable and empowered with who they actually are.” A lot of it is through that surface of beauty, like the hair, the skin, et cetera. There was just this immediate synergy and shared sense of values from that perspective, and that is how I got to where I am today.
“I mean, I think we have the hardest job in the world. It’s not even VCs not getting it, it’s that our target consumer is still very traumatized by a razor, because they have historically been served tools that are not designed for them.”
As you know, I have such a brand crush on your company, and I think you guys are doing the best consumer facing brand work in Silicon Valley. I would love to know more about the philosophy behind your work and how you approach it.
Yeah, for me it really resonates from my hair blogging days and sort of what you asked me at the beginning of this interview, was like, “tell the real story.” I found when I was blogging, people really feel more connected when you’re authentic. Whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, whether it’s a success, whether it’s a struggle, being able to tell those stories is what really allows people to become inspired and it’s content that really resonates with them. I think that is everything Bevel taps into, how to create authentic stories from a brand perspective, and there are so many stories, and so we have so many platforms and opportunities on which we can tell them.
For sure. I’m curious, I touched on this with Tristan, about how VCs in Silicon Valley only really invest in problems that they can relate to, and there’s definitely a little bubble of people not understanding products that are created for people outside of their immediate experience. Despite all of these genuine stories of how your product is changing people’s lives, do you still experience skepticism outside of your company? How do you deal with that?
I mean, I think we have the hardest job in the world. It’s not even VCs not getting it, it’s that our target consumer is still very traumatized by a razor, because they have historically been served tools that are not designed for them. I’d say that, to me, is the area of understanding and education that we need to and are focusing on most. Encouraging, enabling, and educating men of color on how to shave properly.
What makes me really hopeful is that was the same issue that I experienced in hair. If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be wearing my hair natural, I would have been like, “Yeah fucking right. There is no way I will ever stop straightening my hair,” but I just think that just, the power of a movement and the quality of products does so much. I’m just very hopeful and confident that what we provide is going to be a real key.
Yeah. Absolutely. A big thing I’ve been focusing on in this project is people coming from diverse backgrounds and how that affects their work and how it makes them better at building products and designing products. How bringing more backgrounds to the table informs better product design. I’d love to hear more about how you guys have hired and how that has really contributed to the success of your company.
For me, and what we were looking for is, you just want people that can perform. What I have personally realized in my life is you don’t want people who are just going to take a job for money. I think that we have to find people with whom our values and product resonate that can also perform and, in that center of the Venn diagram, is where we’ll find that core team. We’ve been really, really good at doing that, because you can really tell, somebody’s like, “yeah, you just do this,” and they want to apply some other things just to this, like a business model. When you find that person who actually cares, who understands, I mean, who can understand the needs regardless of ethnic background, then I think that there are lots of people out there who get it, which is really cool.
Absolutely. What would you say are your biggest motivators, what drives you in your work?
I think that there are just so many cool things that we can do, cool people to talk to, cool concepts to execute, but the fact remains that, as I said, we have the challenge of being able to show people a different experience and give them a high quality design and product experience. That’s what keeps me motivated every day. It always has and I think that’s what’s gotten me to this place. From my days of blogging, showing people that there’s a better way for them, just still rings very true.
What do you look for in your work now versus when you started, like what do you look for in a job?
Well, I think it kind of is a good dovetail from what I was saying before. I have made the mistake of taking an opportunity just for money, and it sucks, and you’re just working without any passion behind what you do. Whereas now, holding true to the fact that I want to do things that matter to me and that resonate with me, I’ve been able to bring a lot more of myself to my work. I’m really lucky and fortunate that I get to do that. I know a lot of people don’t, and make money the number one motivator. I had an old boss who drew this—I’ve mentioned Venn diagrams twice now but—he drew this triple Venn diagram, and it’s like, what I’m good at, what makes me money, and what I’m passionate about. In the center is, that is where the magic happens.
“Decades of trauma within our African American communities, and undoing that and showing that there is a different way. It’s just really hard to do. It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard to do. For men it’s this shaving situation. For women, it is the chemical products and thinking that people have to adhere to this Euro-centric standard. I think it’s just the hard thing to do, to show people that there is a different, better way that’s for them, and that they need to be authentic and true to themselves.”
Absolutely. Let’s go high level for a second in your work. In your experience working in tech, what have been some of the really proud and exciting moments for you, and what have been some of the biggest struggles that you’ve had to overcome?
Yeah. It’s so funny, because working in “tech”, quote, unquote, is such a thing that I don’t think I would ever say. I never lead tech first. I might be with somebody who’s like, “Oh, I work in the fashion biz, and now I’m working in the beauty biz.” I think, for me, what really excites me is to pull together projects that really resonate and drive our businesses forward, which is really cool.
Then what have been some of the biggest roadblocks or struggles that you’ve had to overcome in terms of work?
Decades of trauma within our African American communities, and undoing that and showing that there is a different way. It’s just really hard to do. It’s not impossible, but it’s really hard to do. For men it’s this shaving situation. For women, it is the chemical products and thinking that people have to adhere to this Euro-centric standard. I think it’s just the hard thing to do, to show people that there is a different, better way that’s for them, and that they need to be authentic and true to themselves.
Yeah, that’s an amazing thing. How do your friends and family feel about the work that you’ve done?
Yeah, they’re super stoked. They always get talking points because people like to say the craziest things. Now I know how to do this, I know how to control a message, because it’s my job to be able to do that. I lead the PR team at Walker, so I can say, “Okay. This is what I do, these are the products, this is the positioning statement” and they get it. They are so excited.
For a while, as I was doing my blog, they were like, “okay, we don’t get it,” but now that they’ve been able to see how it’s evolved, and my friends are like, “wow, I can’t believe!” “I remember 7 years ago, when you had your blogger website, and were kind of like, ‘I’m going to bring back the black look with natural hair!” They’re like, “We just can’t believe that now you’re posting pictures of you and Nas on Instagram. That’s really cool.” And everybody else, I just get lots of compliments and hear that they’re so excited about it.
The alumni director from my upper school just called me. I told her that we’re going to be in Minnesota for Target next week. I’m from Minnesota, and she asks, “Can I finally meet you? This is so exciting, we’ve been watching everything that you’re doing with Walker and Company, and it’s so inspiring to have somebody from our community doing such a cool, unique thing.”
Even though you don’t really consider yourself in tech, you are definitely involved in the industry. How do you feel about the state of tech in 2016? What excites you about it, what frustrates you, what would you like to see change?
I’ve been in San Francisco for almost 10 years and I’d say the thing that frustrates me most is seeing how it has shifted the greater community. That really scares me, in a way. I think that this greater region has been the most magical when there are a lot of different types of people around. For me, it’s something I’ve always drawn a lot of creative inspiration from, that there are communities and people who actually care about the city that are really present in it. As those native communities have eroded, it’s really sad, and it’s really scary to see, just because a place that you love is being infused with people who don’t necessarily love it as much or for the same reason, is just hard to stomach.
I feel you. I dress down when I go out of the house at all now, because I don’t want to be misconstrued for someone who is here for the wrong reasons. It’s a really weird time.
Right? I know. You just go on a dating app, and somebody’s saying, “I just moved here 2 weeks ago, woo hoo,” and I’m like, “Oh, boy.”
My last question for you would be, based on the things that you’ve learned in your career and your time here, what advice would you give to folks from similar backgrounds who are hoping to get into this industry and just getting started?
I’m going to end with the same thing I started with. There’s no “one road” into tech. Do what feels right to you, what your passion is about, and hopefully, and almost indefinitely, it will align, so don’t compromise who you actually are.
“I’m going to end with the same thing I started with. There’s no “one road” into tech. Do what feels right to you, what your passion is about, and hopefully, and almost indefinitely, it will align, so don’t compromise who you actually are.”
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