Ming Lee is more than just a hair stylist, she is a certified boss who turned her hustle into a multimillion dollar business. As an entrepreneur and the owner of SnobLife Studio and SnobLife.com, Ming comes from humble beginnings being raised by her grandmother and having to work hard in order to develop her rapport and expertise in the beauty industry.
Approximately four years ago, the Detroit native began her journey to success with a simple idea to start selling hair extensions. Originally, her goal was just to make a couple extra hundred dollars to support herself financially. Little did she know that her small investment into her hustle would turn into one of the top sellers for hair extensions and a social phenomenon.
Ming Lee’s dream of being a hair salon owner came to fruition when she took a leap of faith and put a down payment on her SnobLife Studio. Without knowing how she was going to afford it, Ming’s hair extension line was booming on the social media stratosphere and during a product sale that she implemented, her company had grossed $180,000 in 11 hours. The sale was an unexpected blessing that allowed her to bring her vision to life for her new studio by creating a salon that was suitable for queens only.
PYNK Magazine celebrates Ming Lee for her tremendous effort and business genius that has led her to becoming the CEO of her own company and being a positive force for aspiring hairstylists and business owners. After a long and prosperous journey, her studio will be celebrating its two-year anniversary in June. Continue reading as she discusses her humble beginnings, the challenges that she has faced through her journey of entrepreneurism and more.
Read our full interview with Ming Lee and her empire Snob Life on pages 2 and 3. #thinkPYNK
All Photos courtesy of Ming Lee
PYNK: What is your background and how would you describe what you do?
Ming Lee: I am the owner of SnobLife Studio. The actual flagship studio opened about 18 months ago and we are approaching our two-year anniversary in June 2015. I’ve been a hair stylist for four years. Me being a hairstylist opened up so many doors and allowed me to branch off to start my own extension company and it allowed me to sell all different types of hair accessories from brushes to flatirons. I have a shampoo and conditioner product line, which is coming out in the beginning of May. I’ve been in the beauty business for a little over four years.
How would you describe your journey of becoming a business owner?
I would say it more so started off as a hustle. I was a hair stylist, I just knew how to do hair, so I was just using my talents to provide for myself. When I first started I really just wanted to make a couple extra dollars so I could be more financially comfortable. When I first started doing hair, I was barely making enough to cover my bills, so selling hair was to just make a couple hundred dollars extra a week. It actually just blew up. It was a gift and a curse because the hardest thing to do is to turn a hustle into a business because when you hustle there is no structure you’re just getting a product and selling a product, you’re not really keeping inventory, you’re not doing analytics, you don’t have a website, you’re just getting what you can get while it’s good. You could have never told me four years ago today that I would be such a popular brand for hair extensions. I would have literally laughed.
What was your vision for SnobLife when you first created it?
My vision for SnobLife was “fun.” One of my favorite movies was Grease and I used to love the “Pink ladies.” They were so cute. They had the attitude of, “you can’t sit with us.” I wanted SnobLife to be more than just a hair company; I wanted it to become something that was a part of culture. I wanted it to become something that you wanted to be a part of—a movement. It wasn’t just, I’m selling hair and getting money, I wanted to incorporate women empowerment. My vision for SnobLife was for it to be the cool girls club, but everybody is invited.
What has been the most useful tool or outlet that you’ve used to keep your business flourishing?
The most successful tool would have to be social media, only because social media allows you to possibly reach out to millions of people every single day for free. When I say free, I mean that you never know who may click on your page. Also, investing into my visuals. I’m very conscious of how important visuals are and making sure what you put out and the products that you put out are all in line and match your brand. When I do promotional pieces I ask myself that if someone was to judge my work, would this piece I put out be good enough?
What are some challenges that you faced during your journey creating this brand?
My biggest challenge was turning my hustle into a brand.
The hardest part for me was creating that structure for my company. Between that and transitioning to having the proper team to run your company. That was hard for me because you end up hiring people that you like and sometimes the people that you like are not qualified for the job. I had to take my emotions out of it because I wasn’t being fair to myself. My company was growing and at that point, I realized that I had people that were maintaining my company and not helping its growth. If people are gunning for my spot everyday and everyone on my team is just maintaining then who’s helping me grow and keep us at the top?
Who’s on your team right now?
I employ 31 people. Within those 31 people, I have 2 creative directors and I just did a real big shoot for the spring. I have somebody that’s in charge of my day-to-day. Giving me pictures to post on my Instagram and new pictures for my website and stuff like that. I have a media fulfillment manager, I have a website manager, I have stylists, I have a Ming Lee manager, I have somebody that’s in charge of sending out email blasts and then I have bloggers. I have a full running team. I definitely can’t do all of this stuff myself.
What are 3 tips that you would give an aspiring entrepreneur?
One, get your company trademarked so nobody can use your name to make money off of something you built. I always tell people to create a business and a personal page on all social media outlets and make sure they’re not private. If you just have a business page where all you’re putting up are products, what if that product goes out of style? But if you get people to fall in love with your brand and you, then you can sell any type of product.
Also, make sure it’s something that people can relate to. People love to support something when they know who’s behind it. When they feel like you are just like them. People love to feel that emotional connection. I would also tell them to make sure that you hire correctly. Just because your cousin needs a job, it does not mean your cousin is qualified for the job, so I always tell people to make sure you hire people that are qualified for what you need them to do. At the end of the day, it’s not going to get done or you’re going to be stuck doing what you’re paying someone else to do.
Can you recall a major bump in the road that you overcame and what you learned from it?
When you’re running a business, you have bumps in the road every other day, but one of the bigger aha moments that I had was a year into my business in 2012, I had a sale and it made roughly $180,000 in like 11 hours and I didn’t have a team to help me properly execute getting these people their orders and I just completely fumbled. I had people looking for me with a flashlight in the daylight because I was personally mailing the stuff. Looking back, I should’ve hired a team, but I didn’t know any better. It took us like 4-5 days to pack up all that hair. It was over 2,000 orders and I didn’t know about printing labels from PayPal. We were literally handwriting addresses. It was a disaster. I learned so much about that process because when it was all said and done, I knew that I had to find a better way to execute. That was one major bump that had me really discourage but also taught me a lot.
Did you have any doubts?
I started doing hair in 2010, I launched my hair company in 2011 and by 2012 it made one million dollars. I didn’t have any doubts about the website. It didn’t cost me that much money to get it started, but when I opened the SnobLife studio it literally drained my account. My deposit was $30,000 and I only had like $36,000 in my bank account. That money was my savings to buy me a house, so I always tell people that I bet the house on this and I literally did because that was my down payment. I was scared shitless because I had no idea it would do well. I had dumped all this money and that was just for the space. That wasn’t for the stations and the crystal mirrors that I got. That was just for white walls and a bathroom.
I didn’t even know how I was going to start up my salon, but once I made the hair sale of $180,000, I was like I’m going to build the best salon that anyone has ever seen.
But I definitely had a lot of doubt; I didn’t know that stylists would ever want to come work for me. I didn’t even know how many people really admired my movement and how many people believed in it until I started hiring and 200 girls showed up. I didn’t know that many people cared. It still blows my mind when people ask me for pictures.
Check out Ming Lee and the rest of her team on social media:
SnobLife Studio: @snobmobb
Darius B.: @dariusb_hairstylist