Alanna York was ready to close shop on her Controlled Chaos haircare business. A hairstylist and salon owner, York spent her entire life looking for the perfect product to tame her curly hair. So she decided to create her own solution and sell a product line. An appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank gave York and Controlled Chaos the visibility needed to keep the business going.
York talks to us about curly hair, being an entrepreneur and the “Shark Tank effect.”
Why did you create your own solution to the frizz/crunchy curls problem us curly girls face?
I struggled with frizz my entire life, so even before I became a hair stylist I was on the hunt for something – anything – that could help tame my mane.
What was the creation process like?
I worked closely with my manufacturer on every single detail. From sourcing packaging and ingredients in a healthy and cost-effective way, to developing each fragrance personally. I created every single product from A to Z. It was so fun! We tested each version on actual guests at my salon – Head Games(R) in Portland, Maine. My curly guests gave their honest feedback on everything from the fragrance, performance, texture and color. After two years, we had created the best line of eco-chic haircare, for all hair types, together. This is the first product line to be created by a hairstylist and salon owner, using everyday customers to reach hair nirvana.
What is the most rewarding part of owning a business?
I love creating, as well as working with a great team and collaborating with other creative, hard-working people. And of course, when projects are successful.
What is the most challenging part?
At times, it is like a roller coaster. Successful entrepreneurs all seem to have one trait in common: tenacity. We have loads of ideas, and only a few of them come to fruition. From the outside, it may appear as if there are so many overnight successes, but for every success, there were probably 100 ideas, 10 trials and one success. It’s all still fun, but the ups and downs can be challenging at times.
What’s the most frustrating thing about having curly hair?
Now? Nothing! I finally love my hair. It was not cool to have curls when I was growing up. Now everyone wants curls, so I’m livin’ the dream, making curl crème.
What’s the best thing about having curly hair?
It’s got character! I think it has a more fun and youthful look than some straight hair styles. Also, versatility. With the right haircut, curls can be blown out straight or styled into a wavy bombshell look. Sure, straight hair can also be worn curly, but it’s tough to get the look of naturally curly hair. We curlies can go totally wavy or straight, and nobody ever guesses that we have natural curl. In fact, 60 percent of the population has curls now, and many keep it a secret, which we are finally changing.
You were on Shark Tank in January. What was that like and how did your business grow from that opportunity?
I still can’t believe it all happened. It was so surreal. We were almost out of business completely and the show saved us. All 12 of our products had done $500,000 in sales when we went on the show, now we have beaten those sales numbers in under one year with just ONE product!
What was the most important thing you learned from being on Shark Tank?
I can’t say that being on the show taught me a lot about business. It provided the platform we needed to get the word out about how amazing and different our product truly is. Now that we have had exposure from the show, the product works so well that more than 70 percent of our customers continue to purchase Controlled Chaos. We recently did a survey to find out why people did not repurchase, and the reasons were because they had purchased for a friend, had straight hair, etc. Aside from a few curlies who prefer the crunchy, “ramen noodle” look over soft, shiny bouncy curls, product performance reviews have been as wonderful as we knew they would be.
Your product is cruelty free, mostly vegan, packed in BPA-free bottles, uses organic, U.S.-sourced ingredients and gives back to 1% for the Planet. Why is it important for your business to be socially conscious?
In this country, we vote with our wallets. I research everything I buy to be sure that I want to support the company I am giving money to. Are they doing anything to help the world? Are they at least not causing harm? I’m a bit of a minimalist, so it’s contradictory for me to have created a consumable, but I also saw are real need for a product that can help all people with curls (especially young girls/ women) be more confident about the way they look, which usually affects how we feel about ourselves on the inside.
What made you choose 1% for the Planet as the charity you donate 1% of your sales to?
We give to them consistently. They have a very organized system and use their donations for good – not on CEO salaries and expenses. We also give to many other charitable causes throughout the year, through Controlled Chaos and Head Games.
What do you have to look forward to in 2017?
WE ARE LAUNCHING FIVE NEW PRODUCTS AND TRAVEL SIZES! WOOOHOOO! Here’s what we have coming Feb 2017:
Hair cleanser (the best thing for hair since shampoo), hair moisturizer (the best thing for hair since conditioner), Curl Creme for Kids, Curl Creme for Men and fragrance-free Curl Crème – all in three-ounce sizes.
We have been working with multiple distributors from Canada to Australia, and we look forward to major growth with these partners. We have hundreds of happy salon customers and plan on certifying hundreds more Controlled Chaos stylists in 2017! The best product for curls works even better with the best cut for curls, and it is the only cut for curls that can also be worn straight. One of the best things about curls is versatility!