Diishan Imira, Founder and CEO of Mayvenn, recently spoke to entrepreneurs in our Growth Strategies course. Diishan, an Oakland native founded Mayvenn in 2012 and is making waves in the African-American hair industry, an industry valued, according to Diishan, at more than $9 billion.
Mayvenn sells hair extensions through a network of stylists-cum-brand ambassadors and is dedicated to “changing the way people purchase hair extensions” and to empowering local stylists in the process.
In conversation with Michael Bush, Diishan talked candidly about finding your way as a business leader, shared lessons learned in closing his Series A venture capital funding round, navigating the VC world as a Black CEO, and discussed his work to “bring the Black beauty dollar back to Oakland”.
Mayvenn has closed over $10 million in venture capital investments, has recently entered a phase of extreme growth, and is empowering hundreds of individual stylists to make money in the process. Yet the Mayvenn story is particularly inspiring because of the combination of hustle and humility that drives its founder. And because so many of the lessons that Diishan shared, are applicable to all entrepreneurs.
Know your community and get immersed.
Early on in his career at Mayvenn, Diishan spent time in China learning the language, getting to know his suppliers, and understanding the business process. The time allowed him to understand what it’s like to be immersed in a new environment and what it takes to find your way in an uncomfortable position. These lessons proved useful when he was pitching Mayvenn to investors in Silicon Valley. Diishan recounts that he quickly realized that even with his MBA and business expertise, in Silcon Valley he was an outsider. So he needed to speak the VC language. Again, he became immersed in the Silicon Valley culture, began understanding its quirks, its ins and outs, its notoriously closed circles, and doing everything he could to learn its ways.
The learning paid off when Mayvenn closed a seven-figure investment from Andreessen Horowitz, one of the premier venture capital firms in the country. Yet, critically, Diishan points out, that no matter how proud he is of his accomplishments (securing funding from Andreessen was an early goal of his), he’s always kept his mission and community at the forefront and remained true to his values.
Trust and empower your people.
As Michael points out in the 8 Factors, values should drive who you hire. And when you hire the right people, you can be confident that they have your company’s best interests in mind. Diishan spoke about resisting the urge to be involved in every decision and knowing when to remove yourself from the decision making cycle. Trust the organizational structure you’ve put in place and let others do the job you’ve entrusted them with.
Trusting your internal team to make decisions builds leadership and strengthens the culture of your organization.
Know your values and take risks.
Company culture is critical to its success. In fact, much of the Growth Strategies is dedicated to helping entrepreneurs cultivate it. But just because you spend time cultivating a culture at your business, doesn’t mean that it can’t shift.
As CEO, Diishan shared, he has to make difficult decisions, particularly now that Mayvenn has taken on investment and is undergoing rapid growth, he has to make decisions that may be unpopular with his management team. As Diishan says, culture is malleable and while you should always stay true to your organizational values, you can shape to fit the current needs of your company.
As he’s grown as a CEO, Diishan says one thing Michael teaches has always stuck with him: in order to have true success, you have to empower others to be financially successful. Diishan makes no bones about the fact that growing his business is of utmost importance, but maintains that a critical piece of his company’s mission is about bulding a platform where others can make money in the process.
This lesson is true whether you have a network of stylists selling your products or are looking to hire, retain, and cultivate the right employees by providing them with the career ladders they need.
Diishan modeled for the 60+ entrepreneurs participating in Growth Strategies that growth-minded leaders hold onto the hustle that got them to where they are, and step into the shoes of the vision they are moving towards. With the mission as his compass, Diishan is creating jobs intentionally for those inside his company and in his community.