I remember the countless times my skin broke out and how each round of self-experimentation left it worse off.
I remember traveling internationally specifically to buy skincare products, with no evidence that my purchases would help solve anything. I remember sitting in my apartment watching a YouTube video of a Black skincare blogger whose face nearly melted off from a homemade chemical peel gone wrong. These experiences are hardly unique. They’re also what directly contributed to the vision that is Ceylon.
Ceylon is a scientifically-backed solution to the skin problems men of color face. It’s also become a platform for expressing the perspectives of guys like me. Too often we’ve had our stories told by others who don’t seem to care about us at all. Early on, I harbored serious doubt over whether the world really needed something like this. Even after an early customer sent me an email saying, ‘It is about time someone came out with a product for OUR skin type that works. WE NEED THIS’, I wasn’t so sure. I think it’s because I had the wrong frame of reference for understanding what Ceylon could really be.
Can an experience be both demoralizing and uplifting? We’re often compared to another company that started out making high-end razors (and now skincare) for Black men. To the media, the existence of both brands is a sign that the new trend is ‘inclusive beauty.’ To me, it’s another example of not having the opportunity to create your own narrative. Instead, we’re defined in relation to the ‘mainstream’ and left out of the conversation despite driving the culture. It only made sense to create our own path and build what we wanted to represent us.
From the beginning of our company, I’ve received an incredible amount of support. However, I’m still acutely aware of the fact that I’m expected to build this business with far fewer resources than other peers entering the beauty space. It means pushing creativity to new levels and discovering opportunities to drive the conversation that we might not have otherwise. Overall, I’m grateful for the lessons learned despite the difficulty of the process. I’m confident many Black founders have a similar perspective.
When asked, one piece of advice I always give other Black founders is counterintuitive: Don’t raise money. It’s a short, crude version of, ‘As a Black founder, you don’t need to work with anyone who doesn’t believe in your vision.’ Our stories follow the same pattern: You get completely ghosted; you get turned down because you need more traction (sales) while the latest idea-on-a-napkin CBD water brand gets backed by the same investor. If we do get an investment, it’s usually smaller or funneled through programs made to look like charity. There are incredible investors who actually want to help build your vision. It’s just much harder to find them.
At some point, we all consider some kind of compromise to achieve success. I think that’s wrong because success can’t be guaranteed. I once read, “you can be perfect in your execution but still fail.” The original context referred to how so many things outside of your control can dictate the outcome of your startup. If you’re Black, it’s a familiar idea. However, I think there’s another more hopeful underlying meaning: ‘You are free.’ You are free to follow your vision, no matter how challenging that may be. The deck (no pun intended) is stacked against you, so you might as well take a chance and see what happens. As a well-known person said a few years ago, ‘What do you have to lose?’