When Monique Rodriguez asked the crowd at Essence Festival’s Beauty Carnival Friday how many people are using or have used her line of hair care products, Mielle Organics, there was barely a hand down.

In an ensemble as colorful and electric as her personality, and gorgeous curls down her back (all natural and all hers, she jokingly noted), she sat down with ESSENCE’s Global Beauty Director Julee Wilson to talk about how she made hairstory. And with her unique journey to starting a business, there was no way to talk about that without getting to the money moves.

“I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I was not expecting all of this,” she admitted. “I was taught there was only one way to produce an income—go to school, go to college, find a career that’s comfortable and safe, and work that career until it’s time to retire. I wasn’t exposed to entrepreneurship.”

Against everything that felt natural to her, she embarked on a nursing career because she said her mother told her that she needed to focus on something that was “recession proof”. Rodriguez remembered feeling that a Black woman couldn’t make a career in beauty being a businesswoman—that was the point drilled into her. So Rodriguez worked her nursing job, earning that guaranteed bi-weekly paycheck from her comfortable job. It took for a tragedy to hit home for her to “realize her gifts,” she said.

Years ago, the now businesswoman lost her son due to a uterine rupture. Like most people after suffering such a loss, she had a “why is this happening to me?” moment. Soon after, she had an introspective realization, thinking that the tragedy was a wake up call, and eventually it led her to follow her dreams. Rodriguez continued to work her nursing job, and used funds from that career to fuel her passion until she was able to pursue Mielle Organics full time. There were no angel investors and no savings to jumpstart the launch—just one woman cooking up her dreams in her little kitchen, and secretly starting an empire.

Your job can fund your business.

“Sometimes people want to jump into entrepreneurship without the funding, and they want to quit their jobs. But just know that your job can fund your business,” Rodriguez explained. “I had a decent paycheck and I would take that and invest it in my business. It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s not a race, it’s a journey.”

In spring 2014 when she launched Mielle Organics, there was only one product: Mint Almond Oil. Little by little, she built up her line of beauty products. Five years later, the brand carries dozens of hair products across eight collections. It has also expanded into skincare with its Pomegranate & Honey assortment for the face. Last week, when Mielle Organics dropped its latest in hair, the Moisture Rx collection, it sold out in just 30 minutes.

Mielle Organics Mint Almond Oil, $14, mielleorganics.com

Rodriguez uses her triumphs to pour into the success of others. She recently started a podcast called The Secret Sauce to Success, where she talks about how to launch and scale a business. Guests of the show are whom she calls her “business besties;” some of the most talented and successful Black women in the beauty industry who share their gems of wisdom.

There’s also a mentoring program in conjunction with the podcast where Rodriguez hosts classes for people in the community to give them a roadmap needed to start their business. Not only is the successful beauty mogul about her own money moves, she wants her legacy to be one of getting people to move that way as well.

“My legacy is not just to build this successful brand, but I want people to remember me for the people that I helped bring up with me along the way,” she said. “I want people to remember that I served others. This platform that God has blessed me with, it’s not for me to be stingy and keep it to myself. It’s not about me. I have to give back.”

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