When David Karp, a lanky 28 year-old White high-school drop out sold his website, Tumblr, to Yahoo! to the tune of $1.1 billion he was lauded. He reaffirmed the stereotype of the techy white boy persona of hoodies, coding geek drop out turned billionaire tech start-up founder. Sent angel investors dashing to find the next hoodie wearing tech geek that can replicate a similar success story. All this even though at the time of sale Tumblr was not a profitable company. Fast forward to October 2014 with Lisa Price, founder of Carol’s Daughter sells her company to L’Oreal. A company Price has grown out of her kitchen into one of the biggest brands in the natural hair community. Maybe it’s because no dollar amount was announced. We don’t know how many millions L’Oreal shelled out for the Carol’s Daughter brand. But the almost immediate tone has been that of negativity with no benefit given to the business acumen of Price’s decision to sell the company.
Granted these are not equally parallel situations with Karp’s selling of Tumblr and Price’s selling of Carol’s Daughter. But it’s worth noting that Karp’s company was not turning a profit and there were numerous articles cynically forecasting how Tumblr could possibly survive. The Tumblr platform also has a stronghold in the same community as Carol’s Daughter, young women of color. Yet there was much admiration for Karp amongst my peers when the sell to Yahoo! happened in 2012. Maybe the price tag of $1.1 billion is what we admired the most. But the dissidence towards Price as being a sell out to the Black community for being a shrewd business woman is very much so a disservice to us understanding our own consumer power.
There’s a burden as a Black owned business that is not placed on the shoulder of any other race. This burden to always maintain that a level of Blackness by being Black owned, only showcasing black and brown faces, not letting anyone into the secret of who actually sits on the board or are the top shareholders of the company (read: white people and typically older white men). The idea that a Black owned company needs to cater or market itself exclusively to the Black community while in the next breath we complain about the price of their products, eschews any business logic. Black or African-Americans make up approximately 13.2% of the United States population. You can watch any given episode of Shark Tank for a quick overview on how producing and therefore pricing products work. If you can produce a higher volume, that is meeting a consistent demand then you can lower the price of your product. So why would any business owner not be willing to diversify their consumer base and expand their reach?
The effectiveness or ingredients of Carol’s Daughter products are nary a concern of mine as that has nothing to do with striking a business deal with L’Oreal. But just to quail some concerns of the quality of any given hair care company, it is nearly impossible for a company to keep the exact same ingredients in something from when they were whipping shea butter up in their KitchenAid to meeting the monthly demand of keeping their products stocked at Macy’s, Target and other national retailers. You want cheaper and more accessible products, then the ingredients are going to change to allow for shelf life and mass production. It’s a fact of life that is not worth arguing over. Compromise is a necessary part of business. But the real point of this all is that it’s rather disheartening to see us slander our own with undue burden as we applaud those who do nothing to benefit our community but utilize us to capitalize for their own gain. We can carry our pride for Carol’s Daughter coming from the hands of our own by understanding that we are worthy of being noticed by larger corporations. By understanding that having the backing of a company like L’Oreal allows for more access. From being able to get their products into countries with restrictive tariff and import laws like a South Africa to research and innovation in ones industry.
There were not enough details released with the announcement of the sale for us to make any assumption about the motivations behind the deal. But if we are to fault Carol’s Daughter for “selling-out” because they are not exclusively Black owned, how are we managing our own onus to the Black community? Especially as Black woman in America are one of the top buying demographics in the country. We’ve wielded power with the shifting of how the beauty industry speaks to us, but our own divisiveness often stops us from seeing the power in it’s fullness. It stops us for allowing any benefit to be given to business owners like Lisa Price as they look to ensure that their brand reach, voice and legacy reaches far and wide.