‘Success isn’t owned, it’s rented. And rent is due every day’

Monique Rodriquez holds many titles: mother, wife, friend, sister and self-made millionaire.

The 39-year-old founded Mielle Organics, a natural haircare brand, in 2014 after a devastating loss that reshaped life as she knew it.

“It took something quite traumatic to happen for me to realize what my true purpose and ultimate calling was,” Rodriquez told CNBC Make It. “And that was in 2013, I lost my son. I was eight months pregnant. It was a high risk pregnancy and unfortunately my son died as a result.”

At the time, Rodriquez had a nearly decade-long nursing career, a field her family assured her was “recession-proof”. But she wasn’t passionate about it — and returning to that environment while dealing with postpartum depression seemed impossible.

This led her to concoct hair products in her kitchen. Not only was it the “creative outlet” that would help him “overcome the pain of losing a son”, but it was the start of what is now a multi-million dollar brand sold in over 100,000 stores. across the United States.

Here’s how Rodriquez handled funding as a black woman and the best career advice she’s ever received.

The challenges of scaling

Last year, black women led the pack in entrepreneurship: 17% were starting or running a business, compared to 15% white men and 10% white women. reports Harvard Business Review.

Yet only 3% of black women operated mature businesses, indicating systemic discrimination in venture capital and funding — something Rodriquez knows all too well.

“Being a black woman starting a business, the banks don’t believe in you. You haven’t proven yourself, so investors don’t really believe in you. [either]. You already have two shots against you: you are black and you are a woman. It’s just the reality, especially when I started [my business] eight years ago.”

Rodriquez says that to fund her early business, she was forced to “start up” and “use up her savings.”

“Every time I got paid, my nursing paychecks, my husband’s bank account and his paychecks, it all went to the business,” she says. “So we had to sacrifice our living situation and couldn’t do the things that our friends were doing. [We were even] take our 401k and use it all up to invest in the business.”

Through hard work and networking, Rodriquez and her husband secured a loan, which eventually helped them land their first retail partner, Sally Beauty.

In 2020, she secured her first round of seed funding from the New Voices Foundation, an organization for women entrepreneurs of color. And just last year, Mielle Organics received “historic” $100 million in funding from Berkshire Partners, a private equity firm.

Rodriquez says she’s made progress since launching, with things like pitch competitions, grants, and fundraising events being more common these days. But she thinks there is “a long way to go” before the playing field is leveled.

The ups and downs of entrepreneurship

Mielle Organics is one of the fastest growing black-owned beauty brands in the country, a feat that has come with many ebbs and flows.

Rodriquez says community impact has been one of the most rewarding aspects of his career.

“It’s about lighting that flame in that little girl who’s sitting at home watching on social media. [and seeing] Monique Rodriguez is doing something historic, breaking the glass ceiling, so she can come behind me and break the next glass ceiling.”

“It’s my little girls who are at home watching their mother do historic things and make them believe they can accomplish whatever they set their mind to.”

In contrast, Rodriquez says the lowest point in his journey was staying persistent early on, even when the business “wasn’t profitable.” But it ultimately helped her “enjoy being profitable and learn the importance of managing finances.”

“Success is not owned, it is rented”

Despite multiple mentors, coaches and peers, Rodriquez says the best career advice she’s ever received actually comes from her husband.

“He gives me incredible advice all the time, [the best being]: Success, if not owned, is rented – and rent is due daily. Don’t be complacent, don’t be comfortable, and never feel like you’ve “done it.” Because when you get to that place, there’s always someone trying to take your place. You must keep working and striving as if you knew [your spot] is not guaranteed.”

Rodriquez also advises other black women entrepreneurs to “own who you are.”

“A lot of black women struggle with this impostor syndrome – not feeling like you belong at the table or deserve to be where you are in life. But God put you in a room you never thought probably not even that you will be placed because of his favor and his anointing,” she said.

“So walk in this favor, walk in this light and know that you deserve to be there just like anyone else.”


Meet a 39-year-old founder helping black boys transform their lives through technology and mentorship

How this HR manager almost got scammed by a fake job

Harvard University will be led by a person of color for the first time in its history

Register now: Be smarter about your money and your career with our weekly newsletter