We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find out: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."
There’s a reason the tag #blacksalonproblems has over 4,500 posts on Instagram, and Natanya Montgomery’s out to fix it.
The entrepreneur has created a groundbreaking beauty experience for women in the San Francisco area, creating Naza Beauty, a new salon specializing in protective styling for “coily, kinky afro-textured hair.” Choose from braids, twists, weave installs and blowouts — all executed in four hours or less in a luxe, jewel-toned setting where nostalgic posters celebrate the evolution of black hair. If these walls could talk they’d say, “You’re home, sis.”
Here’s how Montgomery — who once produced corporate events in Silicon Valley — transitioned to founder and CEO.
Simone Boyce: It seems like the concept for Naza is deeply rooted in your own personal experience. How have your past hair salon experiences influenced the way you see your hair?
Natanya Montgomery: It's been complicated. I've had a love-hate relationship with my hair until very, very recently. And I've had a love-hate relationship with the salon in general. There can be issues with timeliness and double booking. For me, there’s also been this sense of being made to feel ashamed of the way that hair grows out of my head in its very kinky, very coily, Afro-textured state. I've had stylists tell me that I should have come relaxed or pressed before I come to get my braids. Or someone will say, “Wow, your scalp is dry.” And I'm like, “Oh, my God. Don't talk about my dry scalp in front of all of these people! Let me just have a dry scalp in peace, please! And help me!”
So there's that element of shame and embarrassment that has clouded a lot of my experiences. But there’s also this joy that comes with the community aspect inside a salon. Whenever you get more than two or three black women in any sort of space, it becomes magical. So we really wanted to make sure that we kept a lot of those elements. We’re just improving the overall end-to-end experience.
Boyce: You’ve raised over $1 million in venture funding. Ninety percent of Naza’s investors are women and 40% are minorities. How did you go about courting this diverse group of investors?
Montgomery: It was really important to me that every single investor, every person who works with me, understands that the ethos of the company is centering and celebrating black and brown womanhood. Every single investor had to understand that we are building a values-based company that's going to make a lot a lot of money. We were really, really fortunate and intentionally looking for a really diverse group of investors that get it. And so when I first talked to a lot of these people, they're like, either I have experienced this myself, my daughter has experienced this, my friend has experienced this. I'm listening to you and I believe that this is going to be huge and that this problem needs to be solved now.
Boyce: I've been noticing the comparisons to Drybar in press that you've received. I'm just curious how you feel about those comparisons? Do you embrace them? Or do you wish people would view Naza independently of other express styling salons that have come before it?
Montgomery: That's a really interesting question. First of all, Drybar has built something huge and amazing. They were pioneers in what I think of as luxury quick service. They've done a really great job at setting beautiful, impeccable standards for timeliness and they’ve come up with a great line of products. I see there are quite a few ways in which we are similar. It's an honor to even be mentioned in the same sentence, but what we're doing is actually quite different.
We are completely reinventing the end-to-end beauty experience for black and brown women. We have a really robust programming initiative coming very soon, where we'll have things like black girl yoga in our space and panels about mental health and entrepreneurship. We want Naza to become the center of life for black women. So while we are grateful for the comparison and excited to be even mentioned in the same sentence, this really is its own stand-alone thing that’s never been done before.
Boyce: Self-doubt prevents so many would-be entrepreneurs from following through with their vision. When did that doubt start to fall away for you?
Montgomery: It’s a very specific moment, actually. I was having a hard time and I was like, I don't think that I'm going to start this company. Not right now. So what I needed to do then is figure out where I was going to work next. I asked this woman to gelato and macarons at this place that I love that's around the corner from my old job. She was this wonderful black woman — very tall, very cool, very fancy woman who worked in tech. And I was like, she'll know what to do.
I was telling her, "Hey, I don't know what I'm supposed to do with the rest of my life. I thought I was going to be a founder. And I had this cool idea. But I don't think right now is the time I think I need more x and y and z." You know, the way that people talk themselves out of good ideas because they're silly. And she said, "Well, what's the idea?" So I tell her the idea and she's like, "Well, that's an excellent idea. This doubt, this imposter syndrome, that sounds like a you problem. So go get some therapy, fix that stuff and go build your company."
And then I did. She is a very present force of friendship and mentorship in my life now. The power of a positive word at the right time really changes the trajectory of your life drastically.
Boyce: How do you want women to feel when they leave Naza?
Montgomery: I want them to look at the wall of Afros on the left. I want them to look at these advertisements on the right. I want them to look straight ahead and see the products that are by, for and celebrating black and brown women in this space that is so elevated and intentionally and thoughtfully designed to delight them. I want them to say, “I cannot believe that there is a place that is like this for people like me.”
And then immediately have to call their mom, their sister, their friend, every person that they know, because it has been so perfectly curated for their joy.