How To Start A Business While You’re Still in School: The Story of Gazella

small business tips morgan brown

April 30, 2015 • Brandmakers

Morgan Brown started a business while still in school. What’s stopping you?

Meet Morgan Brown, a junior at Brown University and the founder of custom skin and haircare product company Gazella. Morgan launched the company in December 2014. I first met Morgan back in January 2015 and was really excited to hear of her brand’s journey. It always excites me to meet with fellow eager entrepreneurs who are building innovative and inspiring brands. I remember being in college and having alot of entrepreneurial dreams and wanting to start  a business so I tip my hat to Morgan for making her dream become a reality.

Many of you out there may be in Morgan’s position: still in school (or have some other sort of “full-time position) BUT really want to start a business of some sort. I think this interview is a great point of inspiration to show you that it CAN be done. You just need to be willing to work hard, learn your industry, build the right team, and persevere during hard times.

In today’s BRANDMAKERS, you’ll learn:

  1. How Morgan got the idea for this company while still in college
  2. Important decisions you will need to make if starting a business while still in school
  3. How to keep the momentum going after you get your first sale
  4. Why planning is key if you are trying to run a business on a busy schedule
  5. What Morgan fears most about the future of Gazella….and more

Check out the interview below!

What inspired you to launch Gazella?

In 2012, when I was a college freshman, I woke up one day and said I was going to cut off all of my relaxed hair. It was a very exhilarating but also was a very “What am I doing?” experience. I had never had short hair before. I was inspired by my fellow students at my university who embraced their natural curls.

I am from a small city in Ohio where most Black women wear their hair relaxed. I was not used to the curly and natural hair movement. When my family back home found out that I had cut off all my hair and decided to wear it naturally, they freaked out.

When I started to try products that worked for me, I looked towards products that were geared towards African American women. There were a lot of products that people reviewed saying they were not natural or would not work well on my type of hair. I couldn’t keep up with all of that information.

I thought about how cool it would be if I had a self-serve FroYo place where I could pick my own yogurt and toppings but instead of having yogurt and fruits I could have different hair oils [and ingredients.] That is where my vision of Gazella happened.

gazella logo

What were some of the first things you had to do to get Gazella up and running?

I had to come up with the idea first. This is one of the reasons why I advocate to students and young people that want to start a business with an idea. Do not hesitate to do it while in school because there are so many chances for opportunities. I spoke to the Director of Social Entrepreneurship at Brown and he has been my advisor ever since. He has been amazing in helping me figure out what I needed to do and what my vision would be towards starting my business.

What was the hardest thing during the whole process that you had to overcome?

What I love about entrepreneurship and starting your own business is that there are a variety of different pieces that you have to work on. For me, I had to work on a website. I had no idea how to begin that. I spent many long sleepless nights calling customer service numbers to help me get this started.

My Gazella is a new type of experience and system. I had to have everything customized. How would people order customized products? Right now, I am not completely set on the website even. I am working on it and I have been working on web content as well. I am learning from it and glad that I am going to be able to use the skill down the line.

What is something that you think you got right very early on and are grateful that you did?

I did demonstration events where I tested products out directly with people in the community and listened to their feedback. I am thankful that I did that. Later on I learned that it was called customer development and bottom up research. Every mentor that I spoke to about my business or anyone who had a business background always asks me what I was doing for  customer development and research.

Customer development taught me the most about how I should run my business.Having opinions, testers, and hearing from potential customers about what they wanted and needed helped guide what I do with my business because I knew the pros and cons of what the customer wants. It is always changing and I try to learn from the customer and keep communication open between the customer and myself to help them have a better experience.

gazella logo

How did it feel when you got your first sale?

It was an accomplishment, but it was also a moment of  “How do I keep this going?” How do I get more customers? I remember reading one of your posts  about how patience is important in business. I can relate. I started my business in December 2014 and we have been getting sales but sometimes I feel like what do I do next? I am hungry to learn now. How do I get PR? How do I get more customers to come to the table?

I am also a planner and enjoy planning things out. The first sale was amazing because all of this hard work that I had planned out was showing me something. I have product in my hand that I am sending to a real customer. It was months of planning and now it came into fruition. What do I do next to continue the momentum?

What’s a lesson you learned early on in building your business?

I had a teammate who came in a few months after I started, but they didn’t last long. I learned that you shouldn’t mix friends with business. I spoke to others about it who told me that it is a common problem in business. Due to that situation, it hurt my friendship and it hurt me personally because I did not want to lose that friendship, but it was a lesson learned.

I am looking for teammates to help me build. I need social media, web content, web design, and more. I am excited to see who is going to be on board. I will be having help from family with order fulfillment.

What are some of the things you learned about brand building that you have incorporated into your business?

I wanted My Gazella to be a brand. I wanted everything to match and fit the brand. On the site there is a color scheme of black, white, and gold. The packaging is the same color and even the packaging material are consistent. I have this perfectionist mind set. I also want the idea of the brand to be open. I want customers to communicate with me whenever they need to.

Developing the mind set of the brand has taken me months of figuring our what Gazella is going to stand for and what our products are going to be like. My mind may change as time goes on. I feel that I developed an idea of what Gazella will be and I am working towards that. Circling back to the issues of finding teammates is: Who can also see my vision and see the brand the same way that I see it going?

How important is planning when launching a business, especially when you are a young entrepreneur?

To be honest, I have heard so many times throughout the process that I have been working with my mentors, perfection cannot be the enemy of the good. You can never perfect things because it is not going to be perfect and it will hinder you from launching your business.

I think that planning is definitely important. Over planning can be an issue though. I had to eventually set a launch date for my brand because I could have kept planning. I have also learned that you cannot plan for everything. When I launched, all my planning still didn’t assist me in my issues with production and shipping. I would not have been able to plan out how I would have handled that because it was something uncontrollable. I also learned that everything is evolving. What I thought I may have planned in the beginning or wanted in the beginning, I learned was not what the outcome had been. Every business evolves and what you will be five years down the road should be completely different from when the business originated.

Every business evolves and what you will be five years down the road should be completely different from when the business originated.

Is there anything  you fear when it comes to your business?

You hear all these statistics of new business and failure rates and I fear that. I put so much passion and heart and soul into this business that I want it to succeed. I want to reach the goals I set for it. I know that things happen though and there have been many inspirational people and businesses that did not work out. I look forward to spending years with Gazella but I do fear having it not live up to the potential I envision it to have. I have learned that I can apply what I have learned with Gazella in other areas of my life.

How do you find time to balance being a student and an entrepreneur?

I have learned I have to prioritize things. I feel passionate about both Gazella and school. My major and my business are not in the same field. I had to speak to a faculty member at my university who assisted me in securing an Independent Study so that I can work on Gazella in the class. That has has helped me a lot.

I did a life cleanse. I was involved in many different things ,was getting drained and not being able to fulfill my commitments. I was speaking with other entrepreneurs and they advised that things get crazy. I had to eliminate some things that didn’t fit my interests any longer and I didn’t see myself having a future with.

My education, what I am learning, and also Gazella are the most important things to me. Those had to take top priority and everything else had to take a back burner. I was a radio DJ at one time and I didn’t see myself in the radio realm anymore so I dropped that. I also keep a to-do list and planner as well.

Where do you see Gazella going in a few months?

I am looking at different ways to connect with the customer. I am currently looking at direct sales where people can have Gazella parties and can make Gazella products in the comfort of friends and learn about the ingredients. When I did demo events, people really enjoyed the process of it.

I really want more women to learn from Gazella. We have a very good educational component. There are ingredients in some products that are not so good for your hair . I want to teach women why and how natural ingredients are better for your skin and hair. I want women to feel empowered by the products they use on their hair and skin.

how to start a business - morgan brown

What makes you shine? 

My passion to keep going. A lot of the times you will find an issue and a speedbump that you never see coming when starting a business. It is easy to give up. You have to keep going no matter what you find to be a challenge.

I have come through so many roadblocks such as formulation, shipping, production,  and the website. I found that to keep going just keeps me going. At the time you get nervous about it hurting you down the line but when you look back and see that you have conquered it, you feel so good. Perseverance is key!

Can you relate to Morgan’s story? Share your thoughts in the COMMENTS section below.

Connect with Morgan/Gazella Online:

Twitter: @mygazella or @MorganIsACrayon
Website: MyGazella.com
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/MorganPaigeBrown

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Rana Campbell is the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of Ranacampbell.com, a site dedicated to personal branding and helping people learn how to SHINE in their personal and professional lives.

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  • Emilie Burke

    Providence has such a strong start-up community too. I wonder how Morgan Brown is tapping into that to help her business grow!