Chapter 28: Jasmine Lawrence

Chapter 28: Jasmine Lawrence

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Extraordinary Teens

Jasmine Lawrence

Entrepreneur

Quick Facts:

CEO and founder of EDEN BodyWorks, a certified women-owned business that manufactures and distributes all natural hair and skin care products

Founded EDEN BodyWorks at age 13, using her family’s basement as corporate headquarters

Received seed money from her mother initially and has been granted a line of credit up to $200,000 from her parents and grandparents until she turns 18

Alumni of the business camp sponsored by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE), where she learned essential business skills and mentorship

Member of the National Society of Black Engineers

Member of the National Honor Society, Member of REBEL and Interact clubs

Is there anything more motivating than having a really bad experience and finding a solution that can then help others too? I don’t think so. When people ask about the “turning point” in my life (mind you, I’m still a teenager, so I expect more turning points to come), my memory takes me immediately back to the day I went to a “professional” hairdresser and had a relaxer put in my hair. When I left the salon everything seemed fine. When I took a shower that night, I noticed my hair falling to the floor and covering the drain. I couldn’t believe it at first—I didn’t want to believe it!

My hair started to fall out and my self-esteem and image went with it. Day by day I lost more and more hair. As a girl, my appearance meant the world to me, so you can imagine how horrible I felt. I thought I looked too terrible to appear in public. I wouldn’t let anyone see me and barely left my house—with school and church being the only exceptions. I tried everything I could find on the store shelves until I finally went to a doctor for special medicated shampoo.

Nothing would help, it only made it worse. I was devastated and I vowed never to use chemicals in my hair again.

After this experience, I spent quite a bit of time searching for products that could address my hair issues without the risk of losing it. Much to my dismay, I didn’t find anything… and so the idea for making my own products was born.

I definitely had an independent spirit growing up. I was actively involved in school events, participating in plays, and involved in singing and dancing programs. But I didn’t know that this spirit would culminate into my current business so quickly.

I began making a hair product for my own personal use with whatever ingredients I had easy access too. But there was one prerequisite: the ingredients had to be natural. I searched extensively online and in many books to find the right ingredients for a healthy and effective formula. I researched which mixes produced different desired results. I compiled all of my findings into a document and began to develop the best formulas for my own products.

The hair products I created really helped me to recover from the mess the hairdresser had made with the other toxic formulas. I ended up creating several different products to sell because of the input and ideas I received from family and other customers. I developed a hair oil, shampoo, conditioner, hair milk, bath salts, candles, and a special creation I called Temple Balm.

I soon applied for an entrepreneur camp called BizCamp, which definitely helped me to acquire the business skills I would need to get started. The mentors in this program opened my eyes to the world of entrepreneurship—being your own boss and doing what you want to do on your own time. I loved it! I then thought it would be great to share my formula with the world and make a profit from it. I knew that the only person who could make my vision of starting a hair product line a reality was me. Even before I attended the camp, I knew the value of tapping into a passion, making a plan, putting it into action, and most of all, never giving up.

Find your passion. Make a plan. Put it into action. And then never give up!

After completing the entrepreneurship camp, I took advantage of a special program offered by the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE) called the “Incubator” which helped me get more one-on-one help. In fact, the first piece of advice I’d give anyone thinking about starting a business is to have advisors and mentors who can support you because this helped me so much. Successful people who are honest will always tell you they became successful because other people helped them. It’s very important to have a mentor—someone you can trust and go to for guidance and insights. They are beneficial beyond words. Initially, it may feel difficult to find a mentor, but just remember that mentors can also be found in someone you already know—a parent, older friend, teacher, or someone in the industry that interests you. You just have to take the initiative to ask them for support and don’t be afraid. Asking for help and being proactive shows others that you are committed to succeeding—and people want to help those who are hard-working and determined.

So how can you find a mentor? Simply call or e-mail someone you think could be a good fit, explain what you are doing, and ask them for a few minutes of their time each week. Maybe you can invite them to lunch and share ideas to make sure you’re on the right track. Just get yourself out there and get moving. Not everyone will say “yes,” but simply by taking action and asking more people you increase your chances of finding someone who is right for you.

Perseverance is another success ingredient that has really helped me. I’ve needed perseverance from the very beginning and I rely on it each and every day. When you’re thirteen and starting a company, it’s a given that you’ll take heat from other people who see a very young teen and not someone serious or qualified. They didn’t realize that this wasn’t about my parents, my siblings (I have four sisters and one brother), or anyone else… this was about my passion to help others and start a successful business. It took time for me to prove to others that I was determined and worthy of respect, but at the same time, I was okay with that. I know that you have to earn your respect in the real world—you can’t and shouldn’t expect to get this at your first day on the job. Just like I did, you have to achieve some results first, get your hands dirty, and then see what happens.

I think that of all the character traits possible, perseverance has contributed most to my success so far. It’s what has kept me going. No one is going to make you wake up, work hard, trudge through rough periods, and fight onward unless you are personally committed and have faith in yourself. For me, inspiration comes when I think about all of the people I haven’t reached yet who could gain so much from my products. I want to expand, so I keep thinking of new ways to reach out to them. Sometimes I really have to push myself to keep going, but I expect those days, so I know how to handle it: just do it. It’s that important. I’m not sitting around thinking, “What If, what if, what if?” I’m doing it! The only way I can tell if I’m on the right path is by taking action and paying close attention to the feedback I am receiving.

My business didn’t explode overnight, so again my perseverance has been important. When I first started to try to market my products I traveled from door to door to different salons. A lot of the owners laughed in my face as I tried to pitch them my idea and convince them to carry my products in their stores. After many “no’s” I began to lose faith in my business and in myself, but fortunately I did eventually get one “yes.” It was that one ounce of positivity that pushed me to continue. Only a few months later in that same year I was nominated as one of Black Enterprise’s Teenpreneurs of the Year. I was flown to Texas for the event but sadly I didn’t win this competition. However, as I left the conference hall I was approached by two people who introduced themselves as representatives of Wal-Mart stores. After my conversation with them, we began to work together to get my products into the stores. This resulted in a nationwide distribution contract, which dramatically—and almost immediately—changed the size of my business.

An important development for my business was the amazing media attention I received. Appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Nightline, and The Montel Williams Show really improved visibility and sales for my business—and not only that, this exposure gave me even more encouragement from other successful people which really helped me expand my vision of what was possible.

I am not sure how the Oprah producers found me or my story, but one day they called me on my office line and interviewed me. A few days later they got back to me and asked if I would like to be on the show. It was very exciting for me and my family when the camera crews came to our house to film the interviews. The fact that I was about to meet one of the most influential women in the world occurred to me when I arrived at Harpo Studios in Chicago. Oprah was witty and humorous but also down to earth. We had more in common than I realized and I am so grateful that she invited me on to her show and let my parents experience it with me. Being on her show instantly expanded my reach to consumers, because after Oprah personally explained my story, the market had more reasons to trust my products.

Some of my greatest challenges have been missing school to travel and do speaking events, dealing with frustrated customers, and also developing new products. In the process, I realized that I had to balance and prioritize my life so I didn’t get overstressed and burned out. I learned that I cannot make everyone happy—the only thing I could do was give my very best effort. Lastly, I learned that I had to put the same effort, passion, and dedication into my new products as I did the initial ones. To stay successful, I needed advice directly from customers about what they liked, disliked, and what they would like to see in the future.

Launching my website was also a huge leap for me. Aside from getting on Oprah’s show, I think it’s the accomplishment that means the most to me so far. My website has allowed me to open a door—or a virtual store—to the rest of the world. Prior to my website, I was going from salon to salon knocking on doors and trying to make one sale at a time. But don’t get me wrong, that was a very important step as well. Door-to-door sales really helped me get more confidence, learn about sales, and establish a relationship with my distributors. There is just something special about working with your own customers one-on-one.

One cautionary note I’ll mention has to do with money, especially when you begin to see more money than you’ve ever had. When my business started, I used my own allowance that I got from my parents, but obviously that only went so far. I then got a huge advance from them and used it to invest in my business growth (at least they took me seriously!). I was careful, though, about how I used the profits I made. Anything I made went right back into the business. Now I love shopping and shoes, just like any other girl, so of course I was tempted to spend the money I was making. But my gut told me that I’d lose many other opportunities if I wasted the money on something unrelated to growing my company. So I diligently saved and recycled the incoming money. I had the discipline to reinvest rather than spend it, which can be hard to do if you’re a spender.

The road to success will always have bumps in it. There will always be questions, and times when you’re not sure if you’ve made the right choices. For me, choosing the right packaging, the right distributors, the right stores, and so on was a real challenge, but decisions needed to be made and I was the only one who could make them. That’s when you just stay focused on moving forward and making the best decisions with the information you’ve got. Speak with your mentor when you begin to feel self-doubt.

I believe there’s a dream and a passion inside everyone—no matter how old, young, or what type of situation they are in. Anyone can do what I’ve done. The key is to have rock-solid self-esteem and push yourself through the times you feel doubtful or unmotivated. You have to be your own cheerleader and pick yourself up when nobody else will. Of course, it helps to gather people’s thoughts and opinions on your ideas, but at the same time you have to go with your heart and forget the naysayers. There’s nothing inside of me (or you for that matter) that isn’t inside others.

Today, I still keep the same practices that have carried me through from the beginning. I listen to both my heart and my head. Some decisions are better made with the heart and others with the head. There is definitely a certain balance required. I live by taking action and learning from trial and error. It’s what allows me to improve, fix mistakes, and welcome new ideas. It’s also important for me to stay humble and always thank God first.

Some people might assume I’ll skip college and just run my business for as long as I can, but I still value education a lot. In the next four years I see myself graduating from high school and attending a good university. In addition to expanding my product line and going international, I want to study engineering and business. Why engineering? It’s another passion I have. I’ll have a degree and another passion to fall back on. With the right attitude towards yourself and the world, you too will find that there are so many things to learn and so many opportunities to grab!

You’re the only one who can make your life great. Find your passion and live your dream!

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