Why I Left a Steady Job to Build a Beauty Empire: An Interview with Pamela Booker [Giveaway]
10 Jul 2015
I remember watching Pamela J. Booker at the International Hair Meetup Day in DC last year, keeping her cool under intense stress and decided this was a sister I needed to get to know. Once you read what this dynamic woman and founder of natural hair and beauty products company, Koils by Nature has to say about family, faith and success, you’ll understand why.
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to take the entrepreneurial route?
I’m a newlywed (just married on March 6, 2015) and a mother of two sons—a 20-year-old and a 7-year-old. Then I have three “bonus kids,” my husband’s kids. I’m also a U.S. Army Veteran and was a computer engineer in the Washington, DC area.
I decided to take the entrepreneurial route because I did not love my job. I actually hated it.
Was it the computer engineering part or the Army part you disliked so much? Or both?
No, it was the people part. I loved what I did, but the people I worked for made my life hard. I was a manager, and as a Black woman in a white male dominated industry, I always got questioned and asked if I was sure about certain projects I was working on. They made it really difficult for me there.
How did you go from being in such a left-brained industry like computer engineering to starting a natural hair and beauty products company?
I went natural in 2007. At that time, I didn’t even know it was called going natural. The natural hair movement was really just starting out and there wasn’t a lot of information about it on YouTube or anywhere else. So I didn’t know anything about products or what to do with my hair.
I had a low cut, but I was still using black gel and other products I had been using when my hair was relaxed. I started doing research on natural products to use on my hair and started using certain products. They would work initially, but then stop working after a while.
I researched why certain products weren’t working for my hair. Once I found out that the ingredients matter, (i.e. corn oil doesn’t absorb so it will just sit on top of the hair shaft), I decided to start making a product that was affordable; I had discovered that natural hair products were super duper expensive. I was spending $100 a week because I was such a product junkie.
So I created some product and took it to work to my best friend and another colleague who had been natural for a long time. They liked it and it just took off from there. I came up with the name for the company and created the business structure for Koils by Nature in March of 2009. And then I left my job in November 2009.
Were you making enough money to quit your job at that point?
No, I was not. But work got so bad–I decided I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore. In my military career, I had great bosses, and I worked with some great people. However, this engineering job was the most difficult environment I had ever worked in.
Every year on my anniversary [of quitting my job], I send them an email and I tell them “thank you” because if they had made my life comfortable, I would have still been working in DC at that job.
Tell us how planned for your “exit,” because so many times we stay at our job because it’s a paycheck and we don’t know how to prepare to leave so we can live out our passion. So what steps did you take to prepare to leave your full time job?
I came home in June of 2009 and told my husband (my fiance at the time), that I was going to try to sell these products full time. And he was like, “Okayyyyy… So you’re going to quit your job?” And I told him, “Yeah! I think I’m gonna do that.”
Because you work for the government, you get your regular check. I would do things like pay $70 to get my nails done. I would eat out a lot at work too. I started cutting back on my expenses and put that away in savings as a cushion for my business when I realized that I just had to go. There will never ever be a perfect time to quit and leave your job. But it was like God was telling me to move.
I wasn’t a nice person at home because I didn’t like my job. I couldn’t be ugly to the people at my job, so instead I would come home with a bad attitude. I couldn’t continue to do that to my family.
That’s why I changed my spending habits and started saving that money even if I had my fiance there to support me. He was a great help to me, but I still needed to do my part to get my business set up.
People would be amazed what they can do once they’re forced to.
I felt like in order for me to get my happiness back, I had to leave that place. I had allowed them to take that away from me. I even started second guessing myself and questioning myself on stuff that I knew!
You are now six years into your entrepreneurial journey; what has been the most amazing thing about it?
Being able to do what I love. I’m talking about waking up every morning doing what you love. Sometimes I don’t even know what day it is because every day feels like Friday to me. I also love to inspire women and let them know they can do this too.
On the flip side, what has been the toughest thing about your journey and how have you dealt with it?
[Laughs] You know there are always two sides. Living your dream is a beautiful thing, but it requires hard work and discipline. People think entrepreneurs sleep all day and we can get up when we want to. No! You have to have balance. So I get up at 6 a.m. every morning to work out and make sure that I’m taking care of me, and then I have to take care of my family. And then I take care of Koils by Nature.
Sometimes I’m up until 2 a.m managing projects and/or fulfilling large orders. I have to take a nap–because I always say, entrepreneurs don’t sleep, we nap. Then it’s time to get up and do it all over again.
But when you are doing something you love, you have that fuel and that fire to do it. It just takes a lot of discipline. There are some days I want to lay in bed and watch Netflix all day, but I can not. I gotta make sure these checks keep rolling in.
You make time for what you love.
Yes, I like to say that if it’s important to you, you’ll find a way. If it’s not, you’ll find an excuse.
How important do you think it is to surround yourself with and support other women in business?
You need a beautiful circle of people who are like-minded and smarter than you. That’s the only way you’re going to survive. I know I have surrounded myself with beautiful, beautiful, intelligent women in different fields. So many positive women have blessed me so much, and all I can do is return the favor by supporting them. I feel that’s what it’s all about–to share the love and my circle of friends with everyone I know. Those friends will check you with love when you need it if you ever start getting full of yourself. They’ll stick a pin in it and let that air out!
I love the fact that how you live your life is countering the negative images of Black women that so many see when they watch shows like “Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
[Those negative images are] a myth and propaganda, because if Black women were catty and didn’t support each other, I wouldn’t be in business. My business is supported by 98% Black women. And they show me so much love on social media! I call those women my angels. Because you know sometimes as entrepreneurs, we second-guess ourselves and think, “Maybe I’ll just go back to work for a little while. That check was nice every two weeks, and all I had to do was go in from 9 to 5.” [laughs]
But then you have those angels who come in and tell you just how amazing your products are and they give you the love that I need at that time.
What are one or two of the most instrumental moments of your life which helped shape you into the woman you are today?
I’m from a really small town in South Carolina called Beaufort. It’s about 40 minutes from Charleston. Where I’m from, we have a tremendous African culture. In fact, in many ways, as Gullah people, we’re more African than we are American.
We live in a type of village community headed up by elders. People don’t leave that community. But my grandmother on my mother’s side lived in Miami and worked as a head nurse. She would come home to visit, and then my mother would send my brother and I to Miami to go visit with her every summer.
It gave me a new perspective to see my grandmother putting on her nursing uniform and living in this beautiful home by lake. She showed me something different: a Black woman who was professional, because at home, most of my family members were maids. Real maids. They came home so tired.
To see my other female family members go to cook and clean for other people–I knew that wasn’t the life for me.
My Dad worked and my mom was a housewife; so, I saw my mother take care of us, but she didn’t go to work.
Going to my grandmother’s really opened my eyes, because coming from a small town it was so easy to do [the same thing all the other women were doing]. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I just wanted something different for myself. So seeing her wake up every day to do something she loved–that was so instrumental for me. She took my brother and I to work with her one day–and she was so important as the head nurse; my brother and I were like, “Wow! Look at Grandma!” That did something for me.
What do you think has been the smartest decision you’ve made in your life?
If I’m thinking about the present, I would have to say that it’s my recent partnership with My Loux. Because I’m such a control freak, it was hard to give my baby to someone else.
I remember I went to a conference last year that Lisa Price [founder of Carol’s Daughter] was speaking at here in Atlanta. We were talking and she said to me, “You do everything, don’t you?” And I told her, “Yes, ma’am.” She replied,
“You won’t grow. You will not grow until you let go.”
So tell us about My Loux and how they’re working with Koils by Nature.
My Loux is going to be the online source for natural hair care. They want to be the channel for the distribution of natural hair care products. So if you think about it: you have Black women making the products and buying the products, but we don’t own the channels. We don’t own the Target or the Sally’s or the Walgreens.
With them, they handle everything for KBN: orders, fulfillment, and shipping. They are invested in my success. If I grow, they grow. But that has been the hardest thing–to let go.
However, I feel really good [about our partnership]. You have to feel really good in your spirit about your decisions. If you don’t, then don’t do it.
So talk about that; because so often as women, we ignore our intuition.
Please trust that thing; my grandmother always told me it was God talking to you. So trust that. If you feel uneasy about it, it’s okay to say no. And if you want to be real polite, just say “no thank you.” Because it will save you a lot of heartache and probably a whole lot of money.
As a wife, mother, and business owner, how do you find time to balance your personal life with your work life?
I have this thing; it’s called, take the “S” off of your chest. Stop trying to be a Superwoman. You have people who are willing to help you, but you have to let them know that you need help. So I told my husband a long time ago that in order for me to maintain my sanity, I need two hours for myself. I pray and I meditate before I do anything else in the morning. Then I go, I run, I workout, whatever–but that is “me” time. No husband, no kids, just me–and whatever ratchet music I choose to listen to! Or I may choose to talk to God.
But as women, we have to take that time for ourselves. We need that. When I get that, my day is great. My husband and I, we have a schedule we stick to. We have time that we spend together. We have time we spend with our children. And he has his time. But we have a schedule because I need order in my life in order for me to be productive.
What does success look like to you?
I think success is being your true authentic self.
That’s what success looks like to me. When you can be that person that you’re supposed to be no matter what’s going on around you; because I don’t think success is trinkets or accolades.
What word of advice would you give to new or aspiring entrepreneurs about building a successful brand?
One would be to start. Know that the time will never be perfect. But just start! A lot of women say they want to do something, but then they come up with all kinds of excuses. I say, throw it up there and just clean it up later!
Another thing I would say is, whatever field you want to be in, whether it’s beauty, blogging, whatever it is–attending conferences with people who are on the same path is the best thing you can do. Because your friends, your cousins, your aunties–they don’t have the same mindset.
I tell people to be very mindful who they tell their dreams to because you don’t want dream killers. People sometimes kill your dreams out of love for you because they don’t want to see you hurt or disappointed.
Tell your dreams to people who think like you and can encourage you.
As an entrepreneur, you’re going to have some great days, and you’ll have some not-so-great days. In those moments where you’re like, “Lord, I could really use a full-time job right now,” where do you find the strength to keep pushing towards your dream?
As I mentioned, my last day at work was November 13, 2009. Well, on the evening before, I had a panic attack. I just lost my mind for like 5 or 10 minutes. It was probably longer than that.
I was in my room by myself. My husband and kids were downstairs, and I just starting freaking out because I could not believe what I did. I was like, “Oh my gosh! I got one more check coming! What did I do? What are my kids gonna do for healthcare? Should I just call my old job and tell them that I was just playin’? Can I rescind my quittin’?” [laughs] All types of thoughts were going through my head!
In that moment, I decided to pray myself to sleep. I woke up–although I knew I was still dreaming. (When I was little, my grandmother told me how to control my dreams.) I found myself in a dark, dark room. I couldn’t even see my hands in front of me. Then I saw a pinhole of light and started walking towards the light. The closer I got to the light, the warmer it got. Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by the light and I felt so comfortable, like a baby in my Mommy’s arms. I was like, “What is this place?” Then a hand came down on my right and a voice told me to trust Him. So I grabbed His hand–because I’m thinking that was God–and then I woke up in tears. But I was so at peace in my soul and in my spirit.
I have been through some rough times in my life. All those times, I wanted God to speak to me. I wanted Him, I wanted to hear His voice. But He chose that time to tell me to trust Him. So now anytime when I’m having a bad day, I think about Him telling me to trust Him.
Ever since I trusted God and took that leap, everything has been working in my favor.
I feel like I’m honoring Him when I live out the dream He put in my heart. So many people have a dream, but some of us are scared to discover what it is. I would be doing Him a disservice if I didn’t continue living my dream, or if I allowed something like a bad review get me down. I just think about Him and I think, I’m doing what I’m supposed do and exactly where I’m supposed to be.
And now you have a chance to win some great products from this amazing entrepreneur including, full size cleansing shampoo, conditioner, hair and body butter and defining gel!
Enter below for your chance to win a full size gift pack of Koils by Nature all natural products and tell us what the most impactful was you got out of Pam’s interview.