Good (Man)ners: Rico Grant on Paloozanoire and Being Black and Excellent
Good (Man)ners is devoted to male-identifying dudes who share our belief that when you uplift women, you uplift everyone. Read on to hear from Cincinnatians who take allyship to heart.
We sat down with “true Cincinnati kid” Ricardo (Rico) Grant to talk about his career in the hair and beauty industry, the inspirational woman in his life, and his upcoming adventure: PALOOZANOIRE, a three-day celebration bringing together over 2,000 men and women of the Black community from across the nation.
Rico is a serial entrepreneur and Cincinnati startup mentor working with Cintrifuse. He founded CrownMob in 2017 to create a marketplace for Black hair care. The venture was wildly successful, and now he’s moving the company from sales to a celebration. PALOOZANOIRE promises to be empowering, enlightening, and a lot of fun. Check it out at Cincinnati’s 21c Museum Hotel, August 9-11, 2019.
Tell me a little bit about your background, and then we can get to where you’ve landed today.
I spent most of my career in big companies. About three years ago, I decided to take a jump into entrepreneurship. My father's been an entrepreneur his entire life. I wasn't sure if that was a book that I had to write, but I needed to find out, “Could this work. Could I pull it off?”
I came up with some ideas. I tested them with loved ones and friends to see what they thought was the best idea. That’s where CrownMob came from: There was a clear need for a digital marketplace designed to amplify retailers in the Black beauty space.
It was a tech-enabled company, not necessarily a tech company. I'm not a tech guy; I'm a sales and marketing guy. I knew that I would have some struggles with the tech side. But things went really fast. People liked the idea. They loved the concept, and we engaged with several innovation players around the city and the region. We landed some investment to launch the platform, and I was able to build up a team. It went well; we did CrownMob for almost two years.
The struggles Black women face with the beauty market didn't really hit me until I got married. First of all, the amount of money being spent on beauty and hair care was a lot to wrap my head around. And then, not only was there all this money being spent, but my wife, my African-American female friends, and my mom had to jump through some hoops of fire to spend their money.
It's like this: If we want to buy a bicycle, we can do that pretty easily, right? We can go online. We can run to Wal-Mart, Target, a bike store, and we can find these things pretty easy. African-American women want to spend their money in the beauty and hair care industry, but it's just hard to find the things that they need.
So, that's what we were doing: giving them a place to find the products they need. Over the course of those two years, CrownMob had 46,000 users. It grew pretty rapidly and pretty organically. But now we're pivoting to something a bit more celebratory.
Let's talk about the palooza.
PALOOZANOIRE is a celebration of Black beauty, health, and wealth. It’s a chance to get energized and empowered, to hear from influencers, and to meet other Black men and women from all over.
I really wanted to do it here to Cincinnati, since it’s my hometown and it’s where we have our strongest fan base. And, I think, Cincinnati hasn’t had anything like this. We have the music festival, which is awesome and phenomenal. We have the Black Family Reunion. But nothing like this curated, lavish, extravagant experience that brings all these colorful people together to enjoy a weekend.
Someone asked me recently, “What is a palooza? Is it a conference?”
I'm like, “Oh, it's a party!” Which it is, but with a conference and expo component. We are truly looking to celebrate what it means to be Black and excellent.
We’ll have a party Friday; and pop-up shops, workshops, and panel discussions on Saturday. We're working on three different tracks: creativity and entrepreneurship, hair and beauty, and fashion and style. These are hot buttons within our community.
We’ll offer a chance to listen to influencers who are all over social media. People can figure out the answer to “How do I take care of my skin? What should I put in my hair?” etc. On our entrepreneurship track, we're going to have a pitch competition exclusively for Black women. We're going to take a few startup companies and put them in the ring together. You can come out of this pitch competition literally with a cash prize.
The PALOOZANOIRE is August 9, 10, and 11. Saturday evening, we'll do sort of our big, conference-style event where we have our power players speaking on the main stage. We expect a few hundred people in the gallery space listening to panel discussions and fireside chats from some of the people they love and idolize the most. And then, we're going to have an after party.
What people really wanted was to celebrate. They wanted to celebrate being Black and beautiful.
On Sunday, we're going to do probably a 5K walk or run for charity. We’re looking to raise some money for charity while promoting health and wellness. And then we'll finish up with brunch.
We really need people to buy into what's going on here so that we can do it year after year. I’m not setting out do this as a one-time thing. It would always be in Cincinnati. But the goal is to have it here at least once a year and take it elsewhere, as well, to help empower and energize African-American men and women in other mid-market cities.
What made you decide to do that pivot? CrownMob had been going great, but then you decided to take such a big leap.
Two reasons: First, it's in my wheelhouse. When it comes to social experiences in this city, this is a very seamless thing for me to put together. I've done it for over 10 years now. I started with throwing parties in college just to pay rent. Now I do all the events for the African-American alumni that come back for the University of Cincinnati's homecoming.
But the second and the main reason is we knew we had a really large fan base right here in Cincinnati. We knew that people were going to buy into the initiative. Entrepreneurs were building products for people who looked like them. And people really got behind that. So, I held focus groups. I had conversations with our users and our consumers.
We aggregated that information, and what people really wanted was to celebrate. They wanted to celebrate being Black and beautiful. They wanted to celebrate our heritage, and they wanted to celebrate entrepreneurship – which is a big part of the event.
And they wanted to network. People wanted to be in a room with people who looked like them in a safe space, and they wanted to do that an extravagant, lavish way. Not just a party. Not just a one-off thing. They wanted something they can bring their mother to, something they can bring their kids, grandkids, aunts, and uncles. And so that's what we're giving them with the palooza.
Who is the most influential woman in your life?
By a long stretch, it is my wife. I mean, she's incredible. She has stood behind me through all my entrepreneurial endeavors. She is an entrepreneur herself. And she's pretty hard on me. She will make sure that every dollar is spent on the palooza and that we're over-delivering.
I think the biggest thing that she's added to my life is that she's my go-to right now. I don't think I've ever been around someone like that. I grew up in a family where I was the first to go to college. It was a lot of pressure to do well when I got into the corporate world. My grandmother, notoriously, would say, “That's my grandson with a good job and a good education.”
So to walk away from that and do something as radical as becoming a full-time entrepreneur was a lot. My wife was the one who was like, “Hey, go do it right.” And if I didn't, I would have to face her every single day.
Do you have tips for other men to become just as supportive and empowering of the women in their lives?
I think the one thing that we can do better, as men, is really to support women from a standpoint of action. We've got to be intentional about actively supporting women. It can't be just putting on a T-shirt that says, "I'm a feminist.” You have to have some action behind it.
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