Camille Genise Heard, CEO + Co-Founder of FELOH is a Visionary leader and beauty enthusiast from Cleveland, OH. Camille unites her passion for beauty, creative thinking, and research background to understand the pain points of the beauty industry and to pave a way for innovation and change. Her leadership skills were fostered during her 4 years at a Fortune 500 company leading a team of lobbyists. She currently serves as an entrepreneur in residence for a non-profit VC firm. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Camille speaks about her beauty brand, entrepreneurship and what fuels her passion. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell me about yourself?
Camille: I was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. I went to the University of Pennsylvania for undergraduate studies where I studied medical anthropology, and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for graduate studies where I mastered in health care policy and management. After spending 6 years in academia and 3 years in corporate America working for health care lobbyists, I decided to embrace my natural gift as an idea creator and embody my favorite lyric from Childish Gambino, “I could have had a life you’d be proud of, but I rather chase things never thought of.” I quit my salaried job and moved back home to Cleveland to become a full-time entrepreneur to work on FELOH.
I am an extroverted introvert, tree hugger, animal lover, and cat mother to Peanut. I’m an only child and very close to my two parents that have supported me tremendously as I stepped out on faith to start FELOH.
Alaba: What inspired you to become a beauty entrepreneur and the inspiration behind FELOH?
Camille: I’ve always been drawn to beauty, self-care, and self-expression, particularly with hair. When I was in undergrad, I decided to embrace my natural hair texture and cut off my chemically straightened hair. During this time, I struggled with learning to love and care for my super kinky curly hair texture. At the time, instagram was just getting popular so I turned to YouTube to learn from other women of color that had similar hair texture as mine to see what products they were using and what methods. Around this time (2014ish), I also began seeing a growing number of independently owned hair care brands selling directly to consumers online. I saw an emergence of beauty content creators and beauty entrepreneurs and I knew these two groups needed to connect with each other in meaningful ways. This was the seed that sparked FELOH.
Alaba: What sets your brands apart from the competitors in the market?
Camille: There are plenty of other beauty social apps, mainstream apps and beauty marketplaces. But what makes us unique is that inclusion and authenticity is built into our company’s DNA. We are founded by Black women and our staff is majority women of color. Many other beauty startups, believe it or not, are owned by men. Many of the mainstream beauty brands are largely controlled by men, specifically white men. FELOH is different because our social community and our marketplace is sincerely for us, by us. Every decision we make comes from this mentality.
We genuinely celebrate diversity in beauty and we uplift BIPOC owned beauty brands- not because it’s trendy, but because it’s who we are. Our authenticity is our biggest selling point. But a very close second is our Curl Coins! When users engage in our social community and make product reviews, they earn rewards called Curl Coins they can use in the FELOH Marketplace!
Alaba: Can you tell me about the highs and lows of your entrepreneurial journey as a black woman?
Camille: Lord, where do I start! Let’s start with the highs. I am a black woman entrepreneur, and many of our customers (our beauty brand selling partners) are also black women. Though I’m a “tech founder” and our selling partners are “CPG founders”, being black, women, and entrepreneurs has created such a beautiful bond between us and our brands. It’s been amazing to create a business that helps other business owners that look like me, share the same struggle as me, and grow their business through FELOH.
Any entrepreneur will go through many lows, but as a black woman in America, you have to prove yourself 12 times over to receive the same recognition and funding as white startup founders. I’ve been in accelerator programs and literally witnessed numerous white men owned startups with little traction receive $100K+ in funding, while we’re constantly told that we’re just too early to see if FELOH has true potential to make real money. It’s tough out here, but our knowingness of our capabilities keeps us grounded and motivated despite these lows.
Alaba: How do you achieve customer satisfaction?
Camille: We achieve customer satisfaction (for both users and selling partners) through timely communication, empathy, and a willingness to problem solve with them. We’re a new company, we’re going through growing pains, things fall through the cracks, but our customers and brands give us grace because we always come with the mentality that we are here for YOU, how can we be better for YOU!
Alaba: What fuels your passion and what advice would you give young women wanting to launch their own business?
Camille: What fuels my passion is uplifting other entrepreneurs particularly women of color that are choosing to pursue their dreams. I love seeing others pour themselves into their vision. I’ve seen that by just existing and others witnessing, my journey sparks inspiration in others–that literally brings tears of joy to my eyes! To any young woman wanting to launch her own business, know that nothing will be perfect, the timing, the product, the first year in business. There will be sacrifices, you will experience every emotion under the sun, but the only failure you’ll ever face is not learning from the experience that you’re in. As long as you’re learning and evolving on the soul level from the journey, you are winning.
Alaba: What causes are closest to your heart?
Camille: The closest causes to my heart: humane treatment and respect of animals, respecting mother Earth and our beautiful environments, dismantling white supremacy and colonial patriarchy, and uplifting creators of color everywhere.
Alaba: Your top picks to read, watch and listen?
Camille: -The Alchemist (book) and The Mary Magdalen Manuscript (book).