Looking back to when I started, I wish I would have been able to see how much potential I had. I think true leaders discover what they are capable of during the growing process. I wish someone would have told me that it’s ok to not know all the answers in the beginning. That you will learn so much along the way. You just have to trust in yourself because when I started, I knew nothing.
As part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kayla McNeill.
Former Hairdresser and the Founder of Head Kandy. Kayla is a busy wife and mother of three, that she homeschools. Kayla has spent her adult life dedicated to the commitment of learning and helping move the beauty industry forward.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I knew from a young that I wanted to do hair. When I was 6 and my sister was 3, I shaved her head in the bathtub with my mom’s razor. My mom was devastated and I knew I‘d found my calling lol! I have always had a passion for hair. As I got older my passion grew from hair, to nails and skin. I love everything about helping women feel empowered with what they have been given. I want them to embrace who they are and love themselves. For me doing hair was just that. Fulfilling the desire to make women feel good about themselves.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I would say the fact that covid turned our world upside down! I seem to always be on a zoom meeting, while also homeschooling and chasing a two-year-old around. I‘ve done meetings in the strangest places. We randomly travel the country because my boys race racecars. We live most of the time in a motorhome. I‘ve done some of my biggest meetings in my motorhome. Including HSN shows! I’m always somewhere different but my background is consistent. There have been times where I have to do a training with my employees and to make it appear as I am not sitting in a campground in the middle of nowhere and I set up these curtains that look like I’m in front of a window. We make it work.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Funniest mistake would have to be… spelling errors! Before I knew much about the packaging I self-taught myself. I can’t even believe how many spelling errors I didn’t catch. One time I designed a box for an appliance that needed a sample made. Under the description I did just a quick copy and to make it longer I added “aoierualkdfna” it was just to fill space, and was about three times as long as that. The sample came we changed up spacing and fixed what was needed. Then they printed the final and I didn’t take my time to read the new copy. I approved it and the packaging was printed with some gibberish on the end! I did laugh. I wasn’t mad. I learned a great lesson to always slow down and read!
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would have to say my parents. They raised me to learn the value of hard work. I have watched my parents my entire life be self-employed. To this day I see my dad being self-employed, getting up early, going in to the office and staying at the office late. The value in seeing that as a child is huge. I admire who they are and how they work so hard. Without seeing it I am not sure I would fully understand it how it’s done. It’s easy to say “work hard it pays off”. But seeing it really helps drive the truth home.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
I think a lot of women feel the pressure of raising a family, being a wife, and being stable. A lot of women like security. When you are stable you are secure. It’s hard to make selfish decisions to walk away from a job they know has guaranteed income, or maybe it’s to not be a stay-at-home mom. There is nothing wrong with any of those things, I just think it is why women, by nature, tend to be more hesitant to leave what is stable to start a company that they hope will succeed.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
Less social media influence on what a “perfect mom” looks like! When I say this, I mean, it was really hard for me to sacrifice a lot of free time with my kids. I can say I would see pictures of these moms with their kids at the park, or the pool. I would think to myself man she sure is the perfect mom. I’m over here working trying to build a company and I’m missing out on what I should be doing. It wasn’t until I stopped myself and though, there is no right answer to what I should be doing. The mom who is at the park is doing what is right for her. Building Head Kandy was what was right for me. I feel the mom bragging is real. As a society, I wish we would stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to live up what is best for other women. Because what is best for you is not always what is best for others.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
I think women really have that nurture and empathy quality. It’s not that men don’t, but I feel a large part of my companies success is due to the fact that I am always thinking about people’s feelings. How does my product make people feel? I want people to know I care. That when we put the products out there it was from my heart. I sometimes think women are really good at doing these things.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?
Founders only care about the money. That can’t be farther from the truth. I love that I have created a company where I can employ men and women from all over and help provide for their families. I don’t take that lightly. I value them and want them to know how much I appreciate them. Money doesn’t motivate me. Yes, I want my company to be profitable but I do care about how we get there.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
I think that you have to have a bit of a carefree spirit inside of you to take the leap of faith and start a company. I wouldn’t say careless, but I would say being carefree is helpful. You can’t stress about the what-ifs. The what-ifs will come but you have to know that you can make it through anything and not care that you know it’s not always going to be easy. If you don’t like the unknown that might be where you’re better with a “regular” job as an employee. I am good with the weight of the unknown. It’s a lot to carry but I know I’m strong enough to handle it.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. I wish I would have known that the hardships will become the best life lessons. One time we had a beauty show we were attending and had never been a vendor. We were new to this world. I decided to ship some of the product to our hotel. I sent it in my name and not the hotel name with “hold for guest”. We arrived at the hotel and were told they returned the box as it wasn’t known who it was for. I was so upset. I had to spend over 500 dollars to overnight the stuff back to me correctly. Now I know it’s ok to over-communicate what you are needing. Whenever I do things, I make sure to call and ask, or call and inform someone what I need.
2. Another thing I wish I was told would be that no one will ever care about your company the way you do. The reason is, it’s yours. Why should they care about it as deeply as you do? I have learned that and it’s actually ok. I’m let down a lot less when I don’t put as much pressure on my employees to care like I do. I have to remind myself that for them this isn’t their entire life. To a lot of them, as valued as they are, it’s a job. I have really improved on being a boss with just the change of mindset in not putting so much pressure on my employees to care. I have incredible employees; I just make sure I communicate my expectations so that they know what is expected. They are not always going to think of the little things like you would.
3. I really wish I would have been told the comeback is always greater than the setback. I tend to use this phrase in a lot of areas of my life. When I was younger however the setbacks of business always seemed so heavy. I didn’t realize how I would feel, however once we make it through that hardship the comeback feels amazing. You have to know you will always bounce back. Competition in this industry is fierce and sometimes the other companies might have a better ad campaign, or a better product that you wish you would have thought of. But know that you will have your moment. Your moment to shine is coming you just have to keep digging. Your comeback always feels so good when it’s your moment. When we started, another company knocked off one of our products and I remember being so bummed. It just made me dig deeper to better my situation. When I released the upgrade of that product and sold out so quickly, I knew that setback was hard but the comeback felt incredible.
4. Looking back to when I started, I wish I would have been able to see how much potential I had. I think true leaders discover what they are capable of during the growing process. I wish someone would have told me that it’s ok to not know all the answers in the beginning. That you will learn so much along the way. You just have to trust in yourself because when I started, I knew nothing. I joke that I’m pretty successful for not having any skills. Those skills however, I have taught myself. I didn’t need to have a degree in marketing, or know how to use photoshop, or have perfect photography skills. Along the way, I have acquired the skills I have needed to grow. Including knowing whenever it’s time to hire someone you aren’t good at!
5. Which leads me to my final I wish I would have known… it’s ok to admit you aren’t good at something. People have skills in a lot of areas, and people are also not good at things. Instead of trying to do the things I wasn’t good at, and not because I didn’t try… I would rather have help in the areas from someone who is good at whatever that may be. For example, as we grew and I knew we needed to keep pushing on several ad platforms I felt I was getting out of my league. I knew it was time to hire someone who did know. Instead of trying to learn, which I knew was not my skill set, I allowed myself to accept that it was ok I wasn’t good at something. I hired a marketing team and that was when I was able to work on what I was good at. Which truly helped our business grow substantially.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Adoption! I love that with my platform I have been able to shine a light on the world of adoption. I want people to have a positive mindset on such an impactful thing. We adopted our daughter and showing/talking about her brings so much hope and courage to people who want to adopt! I love sharing that with the people around me.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want people who love my company and follow my business to know that being kind is the best thing you can do for your company. It cost nothing. Being kind is the easiest thing you can do. I try to be a light in a dark room. I love being positive and uplifting. The emails and messages I get from people thanking me for making their day better, or helping boost their self-esteem mean so much to me. I really do feel like I am making an impact in a way that truly matters.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
I want to go to lunch with Reese Witherspoon. I love that she started her own production company and paved a way for herself that was like no one else! I love women who change their industries!
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.