Week 14 | Orion Brown of BlackTravelBox

Orion Brown on starting BlackTravelBox

Orion Brown is Founder & CEO of BlackTravelBox®, a premium clean beauty brand targeting women of color. She is a brand strategy professional with over fifteen years’ experience in brand strategy and business management. Before becoming a full-time entrepreneur, she led brand strategy for Oracle and consumer marketing efforts for digital brands at Hasbro. She spent the bulk of her brand career at Kraft Foods leading marketing, management, and operations initiatives across several beloved global brands. She’s a graduate of The University of Chicago and holds an MBA from Duke University. Orion is a lover of travel and food, spending most of her free time outside of career pursuing the best of both. 

THE INSPIRATION: How did you get the idea for BlackTravelBox®?

They say that necessity is the mother of invention. Well there’s no greater necessity than the “necessities" of travel when you’re far from home. On a not so recent trip to Japan I found myself thousands of miles from home with a major miscalculation of weather and a head full of hair with no hope. I didn’t have enough product to get me through the trip and there was nowhere locally I could find the products I needed. Dejected, I avoided the selfies and made the best of it. But upon reflection, I could only hope that someone would make a company to serve travelers like me. I searched and found there were none. So I created one. I started BlackTravelBox® to give women of color a brand they could trust for their travel personal care needs. As Black travelers, we have few places we can find products that work for our hair and skincare needs.

THE PITCH: What is BlackTravelBox®?

BlackTravelBox® is the only personal care products brand for travelers of color revolutionizing the $63B Black travel market. Our products are designed to last longer, travel better, and are safe to use so the only thing our customers have to worry about is enjoying the destination. 

FROM IDEA TO REALITY: Practically, how did you get started?

BlackTravelBox® began as a passion project while I worked full time at Oracle. I am an avid traveler. And as a woman of color found myself frustrated with the lack of hair and skincare options in the 'travel' aisle. As a former Brand Manager, I missed creating and building brands. So I worked on it nights and weekends as time allowed. In late 2018, I left Oracle and put my talents full time to getting the brand ready for e-commerce launch. In 2019, I divided my time between seeking pre-seed investment and building the brand.

WORK EXPERIENCE: Did you rely on any previous business experience to help you get going?

Definitely. I spent 15 years in corporate - nearly half of that in consumer goods marketing.

So the three things I started with were:

1) legitimacy (i.e. registering the business as an LLC, getting insurance, and protecting the name)

2) consumer insights (I spent nearly a year talking with other Black travelers and learning more about their needs while developing our core line of products) and

3) P&L management (basically I planned how each unit sold would make money and how that would look for both wholesale and retail)

FUNDING: Did you raise capital or did you bootstrap?

A little bit of both. I most definitely bootstrapped, and was able to secure cash from two amazing angels in my friend network, and some small grants from pitching as well.

CHALLENGES & MOTIVATION: What have been your biggest hurdles and what motivates you to keep going?

The biggest challenge has been getting out of my own way in many regards. Becoming an entrepreneur is more than just starting a business. It's a mindset. Or in my case, it has been a mind re-set. I've had to unlearn so much from my corporate days while adapting the things that are valuable from it to my current situation. Its affected everything from hiring (lord help me it’s hard) to finding and securing the right kind of funding and support. But the thing that motivates me the most is our customers. Every day I work on this business I'm keeping top of mind all the people who have hit me up on Linked In, via email, on social... saying "I see what you're doing, and I love it... keep going". The beauty industry is still broken for Black women. And there are some great new brands out there clearing a path - particularly in cosmetics. But for personal care, we've still got a long way to go industry-wise and I'm really excited to see BlackTravelBox be a part of that.

SUPPORT NETWORK: Who do you lean on the most for support?

God, my therapist, and one or two close friends. In that order, lol. 

WORK-LIFE BALANCE: How do you manage work-life balance and what do you do when you’re not working?

Right now, I wouldn't say I have balance. And that’s by design. There are a ton of stressors in the world right now, and we're all feeling it. And there are the ups and downs that life throw at us... still moving along as they do. So for me, work is cathartic. I find joy in the creation and nurturing of something. So in that way BlackTravelBox has been a godsend. Also, my primary form of self-care for the last decade and a half has been travel. Without that, working on a travel-related business gives me a great excuse to scroll Instagram and daydream about far-flung places, if you consider that work. When I'm not doing anything business-related my biggest love is cooking. It's relaxing to me. I think I enjoy the process of preparing and plating the same way someone might enjoy painting. It's a creative outlet. 

CELEBRATING THE WINS: What has been your proudest achievement so far?

We just made it to 3 years as a business. It went by so quickly looking back, but going through and building felt like an eternity. As a solopreneur though, I look back on these last three years and everything it's brought me. What I've put into it. And where I see it potentially going... and I'm so proud. I've grown so much, met amazing people, and really found the depth of my own strength. That's priceless.

ADVICE FOR FUTURE FOUNDERS: What’s your best piece of advice to other women starting a business?

Use your gut and be relentless. There is something you uniquely bring to the world and to what you do. The only way to leverage that is to be true to yourself and learn to honor it.

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