From college dropout to multi-million dollar business owner: Vivian Kaye’s advice for success

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It was an invasion like you’ve never seen.

Hair, hair and more hair - everywhere.

Hanging on clotheslines. Stuffed in rubbermaid drawers. Wigs. Extensions. Clip-Ins. A variety of styles, in various lengths.

Tucked away in her tiny Toronto apartment, she worked diligently day-in and day-out printing labels, packing boxes and shipping products. All while working a day job as a wedding decorator.

It paid off.

Within 6-months, she built up a 5-figure business.

Who is this woman, and how did she do it?

Some call her Aunt Viv.

Fitting, since her name is Vivian.

She’s bold. She’s fierce. She’s sassy. And she knows her purpose.

Vivian Kaye KinkyCurlyYaki

But it’s her Oprah-like charm that allows her to connect with women on a deeper level. She knows she isn’t just selling hair.

“I give women power to have control over their own beauty by looking like themselves. And that’s my power, too.

OK… so what does that mean?

Back in 2012, black women didn’t have many options when it came to hair extensions. Relaxed, bone-straight silky hair that was (typically) chemically-treated was the norm.

Nicki Minaj

This meant women were frying their tight-coiled hair in the front, trying to blend it in with straight hair in the back.

After years of what she calls “African in the front, Indian in the back,” Vivian was ready for change.

She wanted to protect her own hair, but also find something that looked like it grew out of her own head. She wanted to look more like herself.

After months of research, Vivian found a solution. She purchased hair extensions, and began to sport them everywhere she went. The feedback she received was…

Vivian Kaye

“Wow… I would buy that!”

She bounced on those responses and listened to her gut. Not long after, Vivian started KinkyCurlyYaki.

“It was a bunch of little steps to achieve a big goal,” she says. “I simply sacrificed a lot and built it up into what it is today.”

So how did Vivian build up her 7-figure business, and what can aspiring entrepreneurs learn from her experience? Let's find out.

It’s a niche, of a niche, of a niche

One of the main reasons Vivian believes she was successful so fast is because her product is serving a sub-niche market.

She isn’t just selling hair extensions. She isn't even selling hair extensions for black women. She is selling kinky, textured hair extensions for black women.

Finding a niche is one piece of advice she gives budding entrepreneurs:

“When you find a niche, you find the people who need it and who will buy it. Because it’s a focused group of people."

Once you’ve found your goldmine, go full-steam ahead and place every ounce of passion behind it.

Consistency is her secret weapon

As the very first company to offer all-natural textured hair extensions for black women, KinkyCurlyYaki filled a huge gap in the market.

Yet, it still took 6 to 8 months of hard work to truly break into the hair world.  

“You have to do it day-in and day-out, no matter how you feel or how busy you are,” she says.

Did we mention she got pregnant after 6-months of starting her business? 

She didn’t let that stop her.

Actually, it fuelled her. 

Vivian Kaye Shopify

Vivian with her then 3-month old son sleeping on her lap, while she was on Paypal manually filling out labels.

She treated her business like a job, micro-managing herself down to every last minute: answering emails while breastfeeding, post office runs in the afternoon, packages by night.

“Consistency is a mindset. It beats talent. It beats luck. It beats good intentions. It even beats quality.”

While she admits it was a lot of trial and error to find what worked and what didn’t, she maintains being consistent at it is one of the main reasons she’s found success. 

Locking into a mindset

For aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s easy to get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts when sales don’t kick-off within the first few months.

But Vivian maintains that if you’re not getting the momentum you want, it’s likely because you’re not doing enough: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

After all, it took her four years to get to her first million. 

KinkyCurlyYaki Shopify

KinkyCurlyYaki Shopify

KinkyCurlyYaki Shopify

The evolution of KinkyCurlyYaki's logos throughout the years. 

“If failures don’t happen, you’re doing something wrong,” while revealing that she once bought 3-kilograms of inventory only to realize it was the wrong texture. 

Rather than becoming discouraged with the failures, Vivian says it’s important for entrepreneurs to practice a positive mindset in relation to sales.

If something isn’t working, then it’s time to pivot.

A focus on social growth

Vivian attributes her fast growth to social marketing, which was relatively new back in 2012.

KinkyCurlyYaki is all about women looking - and feeling - like themselves. Vivian insisted on using real women to showcase her hair extensions, rather than models.

She reached out to black beauty influencers to create video tutorials about her hair.

An influencer sharing a KinkyCurlyYaki hair review back in 2013.

These reviews gained traction, and her sales started to take off.  

So it’s no surprise Vivian suggests investing time and money into social media and paid advertising.

“If you can’t do it, find someone who can,” she says.

The pains of growth

As KinkyCurlyYaki grew, so did the headaches.

Vivian’s fast growth meant she’s dealt with inventory issues, increased wait times and increased fraud. Add operational inefficiencies and employee frustrations in there, and you’ve got quite a few growing pains to address.

If she could wave-a-magic wand, reverse time and start it all over, she’d do a things a bit differently. As any hustling entrepreneur will tell you, customer service is a headache, hiring employees is like giving away your baby, and burnout is a real thing.

So what’s her advice?

  1. Document everything: When she was her only employee, Vivian didn’t write down any systems or processes. But once she hired, she realized her staff needed direction. More importantly, they couldn’t read her mind.

  2. Take the time to hire new employees: Hire slow, fire fast. When sales soared, Vivian figured she just needed extra hands on deck. She hired anyone to help ride the wave. She’s the first to admit that was a huge mistake.

    Customer service is vital to a growing business, and Vivian recommends hiring someone you can trust to take care of customers the way you want.

  3. Automate what you can: Vivian wishes she had hopped on the automation train sooner. Automated email marketing now generates 30% of her monthly revenue, without her lifting a finger.

  4. Leverage tools: It takes a lot of trial and error to find the right tools that work for your business. Here are a few Vivian uses to help manage all her tasks:

    Zendesk: for customer service management.

    Ordercup: where all of their shipping and fulfillment information lives.

    Klaviyo: for advanced email marketing automation (see above!). Setting up a few automated flows has not only increased revenue, but has helped Vivian focus on other aspects of her business. 

    Quickbooks: for accounting. She also recommends finding a bookkeeper that has experience in ecommerce. Once your business starts to scale, they won’t like that you have a lot of transactions. :)

Lean in on those around you

Vivian started KinkyCurlyYaki in her small Toronto apartment, while she was also working full-time as a wedding decorator (she had a 6-month overlap before hanging up those weddings bells for good).  

But her small Toronto apartment could only handle so much. Hair was everywhere. She needed more space. More than that, she needed the support of her family.

“If there is one thing about being an entrepreneur, it's that you always have to swallow your pride and ask for help.”

So she moved into her parent’s basement. Once she built up enough savings, she purchased her own house. Now, KinkyCurlyYaki operates out of a 1,000 square foot warehouse in the outskirts of Toronto.

Soaring to new heights

Vivian has gone through some pretty big obstacles in her life. She’s an immigrant, a college dropout. Like many entrepreneurs, she’s battled depression, anxiety, and loneliness.

She’s also a single mom.

But she’s not let that stop her. She’s pushed through it all, and come out on top.

Vivian Kaye

Her personal mission is to empower women to act.

Because if she can do it, so can you.

At its core, this is exactly what KinkyCurlyYaki is all about: giving women the power to embrace their authentic self - with their big, fluffy, kinky hair and all.