Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win Contest Finalist

Kim and Tim Lewis pitch CurlMix during Pitch to Win

Kim and Tim Lewis pitch CurlMix during Pitch to Win

Nationwide and BlueVine partnered on a contest for small business owners called Pitch to Win. The goal is to help owners with compelling concepts take their businesses to the next level. In June, owners entered the contest before submitting a video pitch in August. In October, finalists pitched live at Nationwide’s headquarters in Columbus, Ohio.

First impressions are crucial, so each of the seven finalists in Nationwide and BlueVine’s Pitch to Win contest came dressed to impress on the day of their pitch. One company, however, had a trick up its sleeve – or rather, on its head. CurlMix, a Chicago-based company, produces a haircare line for women with curly hair, and founders Kimberly and Tim Lewis were both living proof of the products’ results. Their four-step, non-toxic system aims to help women feel “beautiful and confident” as they rock the “best wash and go ever.”

What sets CurlMix apart from other haircare producers is that the company manufactures its own flaxseed gel, which is a key component in their curly hair styling products. While competing products may have a lower price point, they are made from synthetic gel in comparison to CurlMix’s non-toxic ingredients. Although they mainly target women, CurlMix also services men – an underserved market, according to Tim – as 10% of that segment sports curly hair as well.

“We started our business to educate curly haired women and because manufacturers wouldn’t produce Flaxseed Gel for us, so we produced it ourselves,” Kimberly explained. “We went from making products in our kitchen to our own manufacturing facility.”

CurlMix1 - KimandTim

Tim and Kim Lewis, COO and CEO of CurlMix

The journey to Kim and Tim becoming CEO and COO of CurlMix, respectively, started long before those days in their kitchen – this is not their first entrepreneurial rodeo. Kim has a bachelor’s degree in Logistics and Marketing from the University of Illinois, and Tim double majored in Economics and Psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The couple first put their education to use by creating a social network for curly-haired individuals. The venture was backed in an unusual way – Tim won $100,000 on the show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and invested it in that first business. After that startup failed, the couple launched CurlMix later that year as a do-it-yourself box for curly hair.

This time, they knew they had something special, and they weren’t the only ones. CurlMix appeared on Shark Tank earlier this year, and one of the sharks made Kim and Tim an offer for funding and part ownership. However, they turned it down due to concerns around building the right team.

“We prefer to control our own destiny,” they said. “We want to create our own path. We want our funders to know about curly hair.”

CurlMix presenting their business on Shark Tank

CurlMix presenting their business on Shark Tank

Despite walking away from the potential deal, sales exploded after the appearance. CurlMix went from 0 to $1 million in 2018, and the company is on track to hit $7 million in 2019. Approximately 80% of those sales take place on their website, although the products are also available on Amazon. That volume is intentional, as the founders have worked hard to build a positive and educational experience for each consumer that visits the site.

“We prefer sales directly on our website because that way you are in our ecosystem,” Tim explained, “and we can communicate better with you.”

Kim and Tim’s emphasis on care is not just a marketing play, as they have extended that same spirit to their local community. CurlMix is currently building up funds to buy a manufacturing facility on the south side of Chicago, where jobs have been drying up. The company already employs over 20 minorities and will be able to create at least 20 new jobs in the community by moving their operations. This project will not only expand inventory for their growing business but also give back to the city by creating more employment opportunities.

“We see ourselves as leaders in that community,” the couple said. “ We see untapped potential in the community.”

Kim explains unique products and mission

Kim explains CurlMix’s unique products and mission

Kim and Tim enjoy sharing the lessons they have learned with other entrepreneurs, as they know both failure and success firsthand. “Start now!” Kim advised. “I’m normally a procrastinator. Start with the end in mind. Look for a problem to solve.”

Tim spoke to the difficulty of owning and growing a business as well, adding, “Grit. That’s the #1 key in entrepreneurs. I’m building up my grit muscles.”

Although they may have taken a few tries to get their business right, Kim and Tim are great examples of persistence. Their ideas evolved over time, but their passion, mission, and curls remained constant.