Due to many life experiences of having to navigate, adapt and survive unfamiliar spaces, I’m thankfully able to find an internal place of calm in the middle of chaotic situations and focus on problem-solving over panicking. As an emerging fund manager, the pandemic is the first macro crisis Impact America has experienced, and I must admit that finding my calm place was a bit more challenging. In addition to being concerned about close friends and family members—including my mother, who has a suppressed immune system due to a successful heart transplant in 2016—I was also concerned about the health and wellbeing of my team, our portfolio companies’ teams, and the underlying businesses we have capital invested in.
Prior to the pandemic, Mayvenn, the fund’s largest investment, was experiencing meaningful growth from a new revenue model and had plans to invest heavily in marketing in the first half of 2020 to accelerate growth. The hairstylists who power the platform were also benefiting, in the form of more customers and higher incomes. Mayvenn was on track to have its best quarter ever in Q1 2020, but all of this positive momentum came to an abrupt stop in March when social distancing and lockdown orders were put in place. Mayvenn’s platform had been developed to aggregate and empower hairstylists, with an initial focus on the 250,000 Black hair stylists in America. When these stylists, the majority of whom are low and moderate income Black women, could no longer go to work and serve their clients, their incomes dried up overnight and Mayvenn’s revenue took a hit.
Though Impact America is a relatively small firm compared to Mayvenn’s other investors, which include Essence Ventures, a16z, and Trinity Ventures, we are Mayvenn’s third largest investor with millions of dollars invested over the years. Concentration risk became a very real one for us, and our team and LPs were concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on Mayvenn’s business. But after seven years of knowing Diishan Imira, the co-founder and CEO of Mayvenn, I was confident he would figure “it” out, whatever “it” was in this situation of many unknowns.
At the outset, Diishan took immediate action to move his team from the office to work from home. He then scheduled small, virtual group lunches with his 64-person team to understand how everyone was feeling and to identify any additional support they needed to successfully work from home. Diishan also held 1:1 calls with all of his close advisors and investors to get feedback on the company’s cash conservation strategy and potential business moves. Not surprisingly, the feedback he received was a mixed bag, based on each person’s experiences with past crises. While getting this feedback, Diishan stayed true to the human-centered values that are deeply embedded in the culture of Mayvenn: 1.) Unless it was absolutely necessary, the company would not make deep cuts to its team; 2.) The company would do whatever it could to support its network of hair stylists.
Thankfully, because Mayvenn had healthy revenue and a strong cash position before COVID-19, it had the freedom to choose to keep its people (employees and hairstylists) at the center of its decision-making. Once Diishan and his board were confident the company had an adequate cash runway for at least 24 months, he focused his attention on how to support its active Mayvenn hair stylists.
Impact America Fund made its first investment in Mayvenn in 2014. Back then, we understood that beauty salons and barbershops represent 20% of the Black small business community, and they are anchor institutions in our communities. This is true now more than ever, and their survival is essential to the recovery of Black communities and the economy at large. To do its part, Mayvenn launched the #SaveTheSalon campaign via GoFundMe to raise $2 million in relief funds and gave the first $100K. $500 will be distributed to each of Mayvenn’s 4,000 active stylists. Diishan tapped into his network to raise additional money from a number of philanthropists, including Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s #startsmall initiative, donors Ben and Felicia Horowitz, Libra Foundation (the Pritzker family), and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. Each has pledged to donate $10 for every $1 raised by the community up to $1 million.
Over the last 7 years, I have had the opportunity to watch Mayvenn grow, promote the buzz, and philosophize with Diishan. What I have recently witnessed from Diishan and his team is a demonstration of extraordinary leadership, deep sense of purpose, and an unrelenting commitment to do right by their community. These values have always been core to the Mayvenn ethos and I’m glad the company continues to stay true to its mission while stepping up in the most difficult times. I’m inspired by Mayvenn and truly proud to be in partnership with this great team.