Grant Recipient

February 20, 2024

January 2024 Amber Grant Awarded to Dr. Kanks

Dr. Kanks

Woman Entrepreneur:
Cynthia Kankeu

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We’re excited to announce the January $10,000 Amber Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Cynthia Kankeu, Founder of Dr. Kanks . She is the second qualifier for the 2024 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).

Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Jama Hernandez sat down with Cynthia for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.

Video Transcript

WomensNet: Hi everyone, this is Jama with WomensNet. We’re so excited to introduce to you our 2024 January winners. We have with us today Dr. Cynthia Kankeu with Dr. Kanks and her hair and skincare products.

Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us. Let’s begin. We’re so excited to learn more about your businesses. Congratulations again. So, Dr. Kanks, can you please tell us a little bit about your business?

Dr. Kanks: We manufacture in Richmond, Virginia, all plant-based and organic skin and haircare products, no sulfates or parabens… We are proud to use plant-based ingredients and very few synthetic ingredients in the products. That’s what we do.

WomensNet: Awesome. What effective strategies have you used to let others know about your business?

Dr. Kanks: When I launched my business, I created a website, and I started running Facebook ads. I thought, ‘oh my gosh, it’s going to be amazing…’ And I was going to have customers using Facebook ads myself. You know, I didn’t hire somebody, I was running ads myself.

It didn’t work out at all. So, after talking to my small SBDC local chapter who helps small business owners, they told me actually that maybe I should try to sell my product to a farmer’s market, ’cause it’s all plant-based, organic, handmade — and it’s been a game changer for me.

So that’s actually how I started selling my products, going to farmer’s markets, and just waving at people, stopping them and having them sample a product. This is how 80% of my revenue up till now were generated, just by selling to consumers directly at the farmer’s market.

I realized that maybe we can actually do that outside of the market. So when I opened my first shop here in Richmond, I wanted people to come there, they know how to advertise. So we went to the mall, several malls, and we had little gift baskets with samples of the products in it. And then we gave those baskets to people who were just walking with flyers and all the information so they can actually just try and come shop or just go on the website. So word of mouth for me has been a really big thing just because I didn’t have the money to hire the best experts who know how to properly advertise and do all those things.

That’s why I wanted to share it with people. ‘Cause a lot of people I know are struggling with online advertising, and everybody wanna try online advertising. But what happened when you don’t have the money, especially that you have to invest in marketing regardless, right? You need the monthly budget. If you do not have that budget, how do you make money?

So I think it’s something that people should know about: word of mouth, going out there, giving samples, talking to people. And now that I’m more comfortable about what I do and the fact that the products truly work, everywhere where I go now, I try to talk about my business. I go to school where my son goes to school, you know, the teachers…. I try to bring some samples. Whenever I meet people, I try to always bring the products, give it to them so that I can keep on talking about it that way.

WomensNet: I absolutely love the fact that you actually brought your product into people’s hands. You did whatever it takes… it was going to farmer’s markets, going to malls and giving out samples. You have such a high quality product, and once you get it into people’s hands, it’s just recognizing it’s awesome and they love it. And so what a fabulous idea and what a great way to start.

You have gone through so many lessons in your journeys as business women and founders of companies. What are some lessons that you’ve learned along the way?

Dr. Kanks: I feel like I’ve been learning from my mistakes. I say that a lot…especially when you’re on a budget. It’s hard, right? You don’t have the experts, you don’t have a big team. You you just navigating. And I feel like I should write a book about all the mistakes that I’ve made throughout this journey. ‘Cause it’s been crazy. But one thing that I wanna share is that 2024 for me, I said, ‘I am not putting all my eggs in one basket. I’m not doing it.’ To give you a little bit of context, when I launched my business, my business model was very simple. At that time, it was business to consumer. We were selling the product at the farmer’s market, right?

And I saw an interest and I thought, ‘well, if I wanna grow, all I have to do is do more farmer’s market, right? At first, that’s what I thought. Let’s just hire more people and then it would be great, right? That’s what I thought. And then I was like, ‘okay, farmer’s market, and only during the weekend, maybe what I should do is actually go to the mall, open a kiosk at the mall.’ And when I did that, I thought, ‘let me go and open a kiosk at the mall where we already selling products.’ You know? So it’s a new demographic. It’s like in the city where we’re actually having farmer’s market, it should be easy. It wasn’t the people who were shopping at that mall were actually different demographic from the people who were shopping at the farmer’s market.

And that’s the thing. When you’re scaling up, even when you think that you are keeping the same business model, you are not. The moment you start scaling up, it’s a different business model by itself. And I found myself in deep trouble just by opening two kiosks at two different malls — it was a disaster. I had to pay an employee to be there at the kiosk for long hours. But the mall is never busy the whole day. The mall is busy only at certain times. It was so stressful. I was able to get out of my lease, but I cannot even imagine what would have happened if not. And that’s not the only thing.

I feel like the moment I try to scale up I scale up too quickly. ‘Cause I thought, ‘well, if my revenue, my business model right now by doing Farmers Market, I’m able to, let’s say at that point I was making probably like 8,000 per month…’If I just double it, I should be able to make 16,000 per month. If I just double it…’ I thought it was going to follow that logic. It did not follow that logic. And what happened is that I have increased my expenses, my revenue increase, but I also increase my expenses like crazy.

And then there are things that will happen that you haven’t planned that you don’t know of. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are, unless you’re doing, it’s only what you’re doing. That thing that you’re going to realize that I need contingency plans, you know?

But if all the money that you have now is just to actually pay all the bills that you have, you don’t have safety. And things like the weather, that would have been a problem. Health issues. I’ve had employees who quit; I have three sales rep quit within the same day, just when we had huge events that we already paid for. And even just the economy right now, nothing is certain.

So I said 2024, I don’t wanna put myself in a situation again where I’m like stressing about money, the products…my products are great. It’s true. We have the ability to sell them when people try them and all that. It’s true. But what if people are not able to try them?

Because online I haven’t yet developed a strategy that will allow me to sell very well online. The only place right now online where we doing well, it will be Amazon and Macy’s marketplace. But on my own website, if I were to run Facebook ad on my own, I haven’t developed yet a strategy like that. And I still don’t have the budget to hire big companies to do that for me. So I said 2024, I am not putting all my eggs in one basket. It’s true. The business is growing, things are going well, but you never know. I’ve been in business for three years now. How about having different streams of income? It’s not because my business is skin and haircare that it has to be only skin and haircare.

I realize that I have a huge warehouse with office space. We ship packages to Amazon, we ship packages to Macy’s marketplace and to our customers all the time. How about opening a ship and pack business also, because those are things that I’m already doing. We have all the material to ship packages. So I’m working on it right now. I won’t have to rent space. I don’t have to do anything — just bring your packages, we get it ready for you and we’ll ship it for you.

So I said, ‘okay, that’s one stream of income that I want to kind of implement or launch.’ And then, having something that can give you, even if it’s just a little bit of money, that safety, and you put it somewhere like in the saving. You’re not using that money. Even if you can help your baby when things are getting harder, you know? But I do not want to put all my eggs ever again into one basket.

WomensNet: So powerful. Your point that you said about scaling up requires a different business plan. That is so true. And then even the idea of scaling up so quickly, but then not accounting for things like emergencies. So all of these considerations go into running a business.

Dr. Kanks: Like even just getting my products at Wegmans, it’s just one Wegmans, but it cost me a lot. I didn’t know that at that time. I thought the most difficult part was to pitch the products to them and have it on the shelf, but the most difficult part is to stay there.

I’m having conversation with them about expanding and all that… I know I’m very cautious, I’m very, very cautious and I’m going to take my time and make sure that everything is in place in case of whatever. I’m going to have like a thousand scenarios of things that could happen and make sure that everything is okay. And right now, I’m actually even looking for people who’ve worked with retailers, retailers nationwide before, so I know a little bit what I’m getting myself into before just going in blindly.

WomensNet: Well, we know that these questions are so important and these exact questions are the same things that are gonna help you to continue to have a successful business.

We’re so excited about your plans for the next few months and for how you’re gonna be using this award.

So, I know that we can purchase your product through, as you mentioned… Wegmans (Charlottesville) … where else?

Dr. Kanks: My website, which is drkanks.com, and on Amazon and Macy’s marketplace.

WomensNet: Wonderful. And so there you have it, WomensNet network, our January 2024 Amber Grant winner. We look forward to your updates at the end of the year. And we do also look forward to learning along the way all the wonderful things that you’re doing. We do follow you guys on socials, and also any emails you have to let us know, please continue to let us know, ’cause it makes us super excited when we all celebrate your successes.

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