If not, you will soon enough because Ming Lee is making herself a household name. The 31-year-old CEO and former hairstylist from Detroit, Michigan, started off her multi-million dollar business with $500 and a goal: to hustle her way to success.
In an exclusive interview, Ming explains how she became a self-made millionaire, independently, with no handouts.
What made you interested in the hair industry?
Well, when I decided to move to Atlanta, I didn’t have a plan. I just knew I wanted to do amazing things, and seize any opportunity to be successful. Hair was always something I was good at, and passionate about, So I started doing the necessary research on where to begin, schools and such. I heard about a scholarship to Aveda. So I called my father, and he encouraged me to apply. I stepped out on faith, applied, and not only got in, but I won the scholarship, and the rest as they say is history
Why did you decide to start working for yourself?
I got to a point where I felt nobody was doing what I wanted to do creatively, even marketing wise. There was no lane for what I wanted to do, and the level I wanted to take it, so I created my own lane. I wanted to be a part of a brand that was going where others wouldn’t… and the only way I could get to that point was to work for myself. Shortly after I realized that, and my own potential, Snob Life was born.
What was some of your biggest obstacles when starting your own business?
When I started Snob Life, it wasn’t a business, it was a hustle. So I had to figure out how to turn it into one. Inventory and customer service, creating a client list — I had no clue about these things, so I had to figure them out and find a system that worked for me and my team. The thing about that, was once you had a system in place, you had to fine tune it until it runs like a well-oiled machine. It was one of the hardest things I have done in my life, but it got done.
Why did you choose to be completely independent instead of having investors or a business partner?
Well I knew my vision, short-term and long-term, and I didn’t want to have to break my vision down for someone else’s. I had put so much energy and sweat into making Snob Life work, so why fix what’s not broken? Ultimately it was a personal decision.
How did you start your business with only $500?
I started off small of course. My vendor allowed me to buy in with $500 and I flipped it. So I started selling hair as a package deal to my clients. They would get an installation and extensions for a set price. I also didn’t count anything I made as profit, I used any and everything extra and put it straight back into my business.
What do you pride yourself on as a CEO?
Honestly, it might sound cliché but never quitting. Never settling when it comes to my business. If I am told no, that doesn’t mean it can’t be done, I just might not be able to do it that way, or with that person. I don’t make excuses when it comes toand my brand. I am proud of that, and always strive to have a positive winner’s attitude.
When you first started your company, what are some things you did to get people to choose your company?
Well I had a strong following on my social media accounts like Instagram & YouTube. When I would have sales, I hated always having to use flyers to promote to my customers. I decided to start doing themed promo videos, because even myself, am a visual buyer. I can watch a commercial, and completely be persuaded to go and purchase a product, and I figured my clients would appreciate that effort. So that was a major marketing tool that I used to my advantage. I was one the first ones to create that lane on social media, specifically Instagram, I saw an opportunity to turn 15 seconds into a sale. I call it SMM — social media marketing.
What made you decide to take your online hair company to a store front?
Well I always wanted a salon, but beyond that I wanted to provide a certain experience to my clients. I wanted them to come in and get a true feel of the “Snob Life,” everything glitz and beautiful. That’s not something you can just get from looking at screen, so I wanted to take it a bit further and offer that feeling to their buying experience.
What are some tips you have for success?
Save your money! When you first start your business, make sure you are allocating your funds to ONLY the things that benefit your business. Always stay focused on your end goal. I was never thinking about the next week. I was thinking about years to come. That mindset alone will push you to keep going full speed.
What are some things as a minority business woman you think other minority business owners need to know when deciding to start their own company?
I think, sometimes as minorities, we might think that we can’t own corporations, and million dollar businesses, but you can’t have that mentality. Learn to use what some might think is a disadvantage, to your advantage. Research all the grants and small business loans that are available specifically to minorities. We all have the same 24 hours. You have to work hard to make sure it counts. When I started, I was turned down by 42 commission-based salons, even my first choice, an Aveda lifestyle salon. However even after all of that, I didn’t quit. I had to go through so many losses, before I got to a win. Remember that, and success is the only thing you can look forward to.
How long did it take to reach your first million?
It took me 15 months to be exact.
What motivates you to keep going and not stop now that you’re a millionaire?
I come from a huge family, and I have 8 siblings, a grandmother, and a mother, whom I love dearly, that I’m constantly thinking about. I do it for them, and the family of my own I hope to have one day. Besides, who doesn’t like to enjoy the fruits of their labor? It takes working hard, to be able to pause and bask in all that you’ve done and acquired.
What are your future goals and goals for your company?
Short term goal, I plan to have at least 10 SnobLife retail stores by 2018, across the country. Long term is to build SnobLife up, as one of the world’s leading, trusted beauty brands, and eventually sell it.
Why did you decide to add a cosmetics line to your company?
Well I’m a self-proclaimed beauty enthusiast, and like any other woman, I’m totally here for a good beat! It was dream that came later, but nonetheless it’s something I’m equally invested in. I truly love all things beauty, and Snob Life cosmetics will continue to grow.
What made you write a marketing 101 book for entrepreneurs?
It first started with a class that I offered, Branding and Marketing 101. From there I wanted to give back tips and tricks, in an affordable way, and lay them at the fingertips of up and coming business owners. I wanted people to be able to learn from the mistakes I made, and maybe gain some insight from my wins. I felt good, knowing I could offer advice, that could be the game changer in someone’s business.