Miko Branch was destined to be an entrepreneur. From a young age she and her sister Titi were dreaming and creating with their grandmother, Miss Jessie, in her kitchen. And their father taught them to be strong and to take every opportunity they could.
“He came from the civil rights era so he saw freedom not only in our ability to do what we want to do, but he also thought that us being free in our minds was so important,” Miko said. “By the time we were in our 20s, it wasn’t a foreign concept for Titi and I to be entrepreneurs because our dad thought that being an employee was not for us.”
Years later, the company they built together, Miss Jessie’s, revolutionized the hair care industry for women with curly, kinky and wavy hair. But even though it feels destined now, building Miss Jessie’s wasn’t easy.
In 1997 the sisters combined Miko’s talent for hair with Titi’s communication skills and opened their first salon in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. Customers poured in.
“When we first started out we actually specialized in straight hair,” Miko said.
As their client base grew, the two-chair salon started to feel small. So the sisters decided to move to a six chair salon up the street. “We didn’t take the time to plan that move we were just flush with our own success and we were really focused on growing,” Miko said.
When that salon failed after less than a year, they kept the business running from their home. “Luckily we purchased a Brownstone in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn in 1999 and at the time, in ‘99, Bed-Stuy was known as the hood and it was also not known as the beauty capital.”
But the sisters managed to keep many of their clients coming.
At the same time that her business experienced major changes, Miko’s personal life was changing too: She gave birth to a baby boy.
“It was bath time that I realized I could no longer keep my hairstyle straight,” she said. “Because he just splashed all around.”
Miko started to wear her hair in its natural curls, and she soon realized that the styling products she now needed didn’t exist.
So she got to work mixing water with different oils and extracts to create her own. “It was actually my sister, Titi, who cracked the nut, woke me up three o’clock in the morning, and showed me what we would all now know to be the Curly Pudding,” Miko said.
Since that moment, Miss Jessie’s has created products for women with all kinds of curly hair, brought their products to the shelves of major retailers like Target and Walgreens, opened a brand-new salon in SoHo, and published a book about the business’ path to success.
“Miss Jessie’s gave women the confidence to wear their hair in its natural state,” Miko said.
She now hopes that her work has created a space to show other entrepreneurs what they’re capable of. She shared three keys to being a successful businesswoman:
1.Love your work and experiment with it: “Choose something that you’re good at choose something that you like that’s number one,” she said. As long as you love your work, you’ll be able to push through the tough times and find success. Miko said that when she was building Miss. Jessie’s her passion for hair was what kept her moving forward. “There’s so many lessons in the doing of it, you can’t learn those lessons in the classroom, the doing of it is really important,” she said.
2.View failure as a stepping stone: Miko said that you can’t let failure end you and that you need to let yourself make mistakes. “Forgive yourself if you make a mistake,” she said. “You gotta forgive yourself and you gotta understand that this is an experience.” There would be no Miss. Jessies, she said, if she hadn’t allowed herself to move on from failure.
3.Use what you have: Miko credits watching her grandmother as her first knowledge of what a CEO should look like.
“She was a great delegator, she knew how to create something out of nothing and she knew how to manage her team,” She said. “That early exposure with our grandmother was something that we tapped into because we didn’t go to business school because we didn’t have any formal mentors we tapped into what we had.” Similarly, the sisters started Miss Jessie’s with no outside funding. They used what they had and made sacrifices. “We tried to keep our overhead low but we put a premium on our services and our products and with that combination, we were able to build our business slowly but surely,” Miko said.
There’s no one path to building a successful company, and while the Branch sisters built Miss Jessie’s in their own way, they also managed to find the entrepreneurial sweet spot. They build a business based around need that women across their city and across the country had. And then they filled that need.
Samantha Harrington is co-owner and lead writer of Driven Media, a roving girl-power newsroom.