#TBT: Startup Grind Winston-Salem hosts Melisse Shaban (May 26, 2016)

You need to know about Melisse Shaban, and here’s why.

Flywheel had the great pleasure of hosting Melisse Shaban during our Women and Entrepreneurship night for Startup Grind on May 26. Not only is Melisse Shaban Founder & CEO of North Carolina-based startup Reason To Believe, which is creating technology-based breakthroughs for the health of hair, skin, and nails that provide visible, transformational results, but she is also an inspiring leader who provided valuable advice and stories to help aspiring entrepreneurs and business people. A strategist and marketer in the health and beauty industry, she has over 25 years of experience in consumer applications with an executive resume including senior management positions with Aveda and The Body Shop.

We got in touch with Melisse because of her new product development that her team has been working on with KeraNetics Biotech in Winston-Salem. Melisse’s whole life has been centered on the personal care sector, as her dad worked for Revlon for thirty years, initially exposing her to the Health and Beauty Aid business, which is the fourth largest in the world and valued for over $465 billion. Melisse’s career has spread far and wide, with humble beginnings behind a Macy’s counter selling lipstick for minimum wage, to Aveda, The Body Shop, and much more. Melisse talks about the entrepreneurial process, saying “To be successful, I think there has to be a high degree of passion and tenacity in your soul” and goes on to argue that the entrepreneurial spirit that exists can often become challenging.


Let’s talk about relationships.

Regardless of the monetary success that Melisse has had over her life with impressive businesses and product development, she says that her main focus in on relationship building. Through the years, Melisse has gathered a team of 18, who all bring significant and diverse skills to the table. During the time when she was starting to buy and sell businesses with her new team, Melisse realized that she is “a better cheerleader and leader than I am a practical tactician…I surrounded myself with people that I thought would actually move the ball up the hill while I sat in a helicopter above the trees, which is a great place to sit.” She told us that knowing people’s capabilities, where their strengths lie, expecting the right things, putting them in the right jobs, and letting them make their own decisions will move you from an entrepreneur to a manager. This was the time in Melisse’s life where she realized that she didn’t want to work for a “crazy entrepreneur,” she wanted to be the crazy entrepreneur.


What about investors?

As Melisse’s career advanced, her team was buying, transitioning, and selling several businesses, which began her journey of reframing herself as a CEO, ensuring that her team was good at what they were doing and that each team member knew their role. Relationship building is a common theme throughout Melisse’s career – especially when it comes to investors. When asked about having an exit strategy, she said “When you take people’s money, you have the responsibility to make them money, and I can tell you that making people money is much more pleasant.” But in order to make sure that this process runs smoothly and that the relationships remain intact, every investor from the top to the very bottom of the totem pole, regardless of contribution amount, needs to be invested in the outcome as soon as you bring them in. There seems to be a direct correlation, as well as a moral obligation, between ensuring that equity flows downstream and the quality of business execution and exit. At the end of the day, Melisse says, you’re basically getting married to the investor, so your objectives need to be aligned from the get-go.


And some tips from the successful business woman herself, of course.

If you’re looking for advice on how to go about the critical process of any business, Melisse lays out three integral steps: First, figure out your strategy. Figure out what it is you really want to do with the business and how you are going to go about doing it. Second, map out your infrastructure to the best of your ability by planning for the unexpected, knowing that you’ll need to collect data along the way. And finally, market for your product’s development. As far as the diligence process goes, Melisse says to look for every reason you can find not to make the deal. Go in with that framework, and your mistakes will be few. Look at the health of the vertical – Is it robust enough? Is there a place for me? Can I disrupt something here? And lastly, how can I get out? Do all of these things, and you just might find success. Of course, there are times of pure luck, or maybe even fate, when things just come together. If that happens (as it has for Melisse), embrace it and run with it!


So what is Reason to Believe?

Reason to Believe is the name that Melisse’s team coined for their most recent startup project – developing a hair, skin, and nail care product using a piece of biotech technology out of Wake Forest. Although the research was not originally intended for such use, Melisse is very excited that the research has yielded an unintended, yet successful consequence. Using human protein from hair, Melisse, her team, and those at biotech, along with an immense network of support, is developing a product unlike any other. When you think of the keratin that you typically see sold in stores, it is hydrolyzed, meaning in comes from animals, gets acid washed at 180 degrees, and the protein fractionates so that you are not getting the pure form of the protein. Instead of the hydrolyzed form, this product will be the real thing – created in an innovative way that has never been done before in order to provide truly transformational results!


What happens when the plan doesn’t work?

Melisse is no stranger to a challenge, especially in this project. While the price of Keratin was extremely expensive and the FDA’s regulations posed a barrier to several players, at times the effort felt useless. However, they never gave up. Melisse realized that if you’re going to have a challenge, Winston-Salem is a great place to have one. The massive network of problem-solvers in this community stood behind Melisse and her team, and they kept climbing the steep hill until progress was made. And the community’s help does not go unnoticed. Reason to Believe will create jobs in Winston-Salem, and Melisse hopes to hire veterans to fill those jobs. She looks forward to the future of the Winston-Salem community and the potential that this town has. “What do you care about? Because if it’s just making money, then it’ll be tough,” says Melisse. She says it’s about knowing that things may really suck, but you have to embrace it. The journey won’t be linear, but if you believe it in your heart, know it to be true, and have support, then you’ll find success.


Sure, Melisse is basically an entrepreneurial rock star, but what about the twenty-something-year-old who doesn’t know where to find these opportunities?

Here’s what Melisse has to say to this generation that’s carving into adulthood and is feeling overshadowed by the huge multi-million dollar companies: “You’re at the best time the world has ever seen, diversity is at its height, you’re smarter than any generation that’s ever been born, your hunger and desire is great… Get off your own backs a little bit, like it’s OK to have starter jobs, it’s OK to make 30 grand a year. Stop thinking everybody comes out of school and makes $100,000 a year, that’s crazy… You have to keep that entrepreneurial spirit alive, you gotta network your tails off, you gotta help each other, you gotta dig in and hold hands. There is plenty of business for everybody to be successful, but I think you gotta get off your own backs a little.”


Thanks for the wise words, Melisse! Now get out there, work hard, create something great, and never stop climbing up the hill for what you want.


Wanna see the full interview? Check it out here