Several years ago, while working as an attorney in Washington, DC, Debra Shigley became frustrated with spending all day at a hair salon for a simple wash-and-set. “It was the first time in my life I had a bit more disposable income to spend on getting my hair done—yet I had very little time to get to the salon, said Shigley. One Saturday, I found myself in a popular Dominican salon, sitting literally all day getting a wash-and-set. I’m sitting there all sweaty and frustrated, and I looked around at all the other women (and the pages-long wait list), and I just thought, this is crazy! Nobody has time for this! There has got to be a better way—a more enjoyable beauty experience that serves women of color who’ve been getting their hair professionally done for decades.”
“It would be years until I actually launched COLOUR, an in-home and on-demand hairstyling service created for women of color, but the seeds were planted back then.”
Very early on, Shigley realized she needed a business partner to help turn her business idea into reality. Black Enterprise caught up with the enterprising wife and mom of four, to learn how she did it.
Tell us how you found a business partner to turn your idea into a reality.
I knew I needed to build a great team to bring the vision to life. Partly it’s about a sheer division of labor with all the tasks of running a startup—and it’s also about the friction that’s created when you have multiple people/perspectives searching for the most efficient or creative ideas for your business. Because my background is more in beauty, marketing and law, I needed someone with a complimentary skill set—namely someone with more traditional business experience.
I also sought advice from my best friend/college roommate Jenn, founder of Rent the Runway. She has been a key adviser for me. She told me I needed to find someone who had strong business experience and is good at the stuff I’m not!
So, I used LinkedIn to search for someone with certain qualities such as an M.B.A., operations experience, based in Atlanta, and a woman of color. I found Stephanie Belcher the co-founder of COLOUR, on LinkedIn who also turned out to be the younger sister of a friend of mine.
Can you share a few other tips on how to find a business partner?
- Use your network. As a founder, you’ll be recruiting nonstop, so think of finding a co-founder as sort of the first test of how you’ll find and inspire others to join your team. You can use your alumni network, Facebook, LinkedIn, meetups, incubator classes etc. to reach out to folks, and start with informational conversations about what you’re working on.
- Date first. It’s a very amorphous process! You can kind of progress over time from preliminary conversations about the shared vision and business concept to more specific details about equity split, division of labor, and roles at the company.
- Do a project. You won’t know how well you work together (or don’t) until you do a real life project together. It’s one thing to talk about all the great plans for the company, but what is this person really like to work with when sh*t gets real? How much fun do you have working together at all hours of the day?