You mention on your website that you previously worked in project management and procurement but left those fields to become an entrepreneur. Can you discuss your transition from working for others to jumpstarting your own business?
I still work in project management for the government, and Aqua is my second job. Aqua has been completely self-funded. With all the work I have to do, some nights I don’t get to bed until 4am. I don’t get a lot of sleep!
How has DVIRC’s Level Up class helped you and your business? Feel free to elaborate on how the course’s 6 core principles: leadership, strategy, growth, marketing/sales, performance management, continuous improvement, aided you in your journey.
DVIRC is a hidden gem! I tell all my friends that they should use the resources the organization offers. I didn’t know about the resources that CCP and DVIRC offer until recently. If I had known about DVIRC my journey would have been lot easier! The Level Up course taught me about the US manufacturing sector, where to obtain samples, and provided me with immense mentorship opportunities. I learned about basic manufacturing terminology, what goes into successful production, metrics, data analytics, marketing techniques, leadership tools, management strategies (i.e. the need to delegate work), and how to maintain warehouses. I also learned how to better articulate my business goals.
The terminology aspect is really important since it’s important to search for the “right” terminology when doing market research. When I first started my business, I was doing internet searches on “manufacturers” who could produce my product; DVIRC’s course taught me that I really should be looking for “cut and sew companies” since the former term is too broad. These types of things really helped me get to where I am today. Another thing I learned from the course is that while it may be cheaper to produce your goods abroad, the tradeoff is that you can’t adequately monitor the production process that takes place internationally. For this reason, and also because I want to keep jobs in the US, I have chosen to work with only US based manufacturers and keep all aspect of my production within the country.
Another thing the course taught me was the importance of delegating. When I first started Aqua, I wanted to do everything myself. But the course taught me that if I hire well, delegating will be the optimal way for me to expand my business.
Aside from DVIRC’s Level Up program, what other resources have you used to bolster your understanding of business management?
I studied business administration at Temple and have found the school to be immensely helpful with my company. They have interviewed me and placed my company on different shopping guides and holiday guides. I’ve also used my network of friends and family members for business advice.
How did you go about raising capital to produce your product? What challenges did you face when trying to raise seed funding for the company?
I have been focused on applying for grants so that I can scale the company. Right now, the biggest challenge is keeping up with inventory since demand is so high. In the future, I might apply for loans.
What are some of your long-term business goals?
We just did an interview with CBS Philly, and sales tend to increase whenever you go on the news. So, right now, I’m trying to keep up with the growing demand for inventory we’re experiencing. I also plan on expanding internationally, since there’s such a big demand for our products from customers outside North America.
You mention in one of your TV appearances that you hope to inspire other women who look like you to create their own businesses. Can you discuss your interest in diversifying the entrepreneurship pipeline and what can be done to foster greater involvement from women and minorities in this space?
I’m passionate about teaching minority women about entrepreneurship. I belong to a sorority where I talk to school age girls about their future goals and aspirations. I also have nieces and nephews with whom I discuss the patent process and the time and energy it takes to research and sample products.
What advice would you offer other entrepreneurs interested in producing their own products and starting their own business?
Have patience! It is not going to happen overnight. Do your research, know your competitors, and understand that your product is not for everyone. In other words, know your target audience, and learn how to market to that audience. When I first started, I made the mistake of targeting everyone but now my marketing is more niche oriented. My target demographic is me. I invented Aqua headwear because I had a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by the current market offerings. I created a product for women who invest a lot in their hair and want to maintain that style while spending time in the water.
Please be sure to follow Aqua Headwear on Instagram @aquaheadwear and Facebook.
Stay tuned for our next profile!