Missouri Startup Weekend winner Chrystal L. embraces systems. Her online platform All Hair Academy is poised for success.
Preparing for weeks or even months ahead of time and cramming to make last-minute tweaks to polished-and-shined presentations is not an uncommon description of the activity that leads up to Missouri Startup Weekend, the granddaddy of all entrepreneurial pitch fests.
But that was hardly the case for Chrystal L., the Missouri Startup Weekend 2023 winner and the namesake owner of Chrystal L. Hair & Makeup. She learned about the storied pitch event — previously called Columbia Startup Weekend — just three days before it happened. With her style and tech company All Hair Academy already available on the web, Chrystal liked the idea of pitching her business to an audience and group of other entrepreneurs.
“I knew it would be a valuable experience,” she recalls, “so, I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Chrystal was among the 12 finalists — from among a field of 100 entrepreneurs pitching their ideas — to make the final round of judging on March 12, two days after first presenting her online business platform that offers salon owners instructional videos, diversity training, and coaching that covers all aspects of building a successful beauty business.
One life. One opportunity.
The newly fleshed-out business model that she and her new team of partners crafted over Startup Weekend won over a panel of five judges, who awarded All Hair Academy first place, $7,500 prize, and the business support she will use to take her startup from fledging to full-scale success.
“We are all given one life, one opportunity. You have to go for it,” Chrystal said in a news release from EquipmentShare, which hosted the massive pitch fest. “The only fear comes from your ego. If you put your ego aside, there’s no fear. I know I’m going to inspire somebody else, just like somebody inspired me.”
The meaning of staging Missouri Startup Weekend at the EquipmentShare headquarters in east Columbia can’t be overstated. Jabbok and Willy Schlacks won the contest in 2014 for their construction tech business called EquipmentShare, which has grown into a billion-dollar nationwide company. The event was hosted by Scale, a Columbia venture studio that invests in and supports tech startups.
Fifty of the more than 100 participants made one-minute pitches on the first night of the event and a crowd vote narrowed the field to 12 finalists. The finalists formed teams that included participants who didn’t make the cut, and they spent the rest of the weekend developing their ideas. The result was a five-minute presentation and answering questions from the judges in the final round.
In addition to its first-place cash prize, All Hair Academy received a spot in the Scale cohort to help raise money and accelerate growth; a startup formation package from Transitions Law Group; and a startup branding package from Heist Collective.
“What stood out about Chrystal was her passion and her knowledge of the industry,” said judge Sarah Hill, the CEO of Healium. “She’s spent 14 years in that business and knows it like the back of her hand.”
Getting a grip on money
Chrystal said when she started her salon, she was like many newcomers to the field — she knew a lot more about styling hair than managing money. Now, she’s eager to share that knowledge with her peers.
“I probably didn’t get a grasp on my finances until my fifth year in,” she said. “If I had known about that before, I would have scaled a lot faster. We’re creatives, so we have one side of our brain that fights the side associated with business structure.”
Chrystal says, “as far back as I can remember,” she wanted to be a hair stylist, and she grew up doing her whole family’s hair. She went to college to pursue a career in education but had an even bigger passion for “helping people look and feel good about themselves.” She started Chrystal L. Hair & Makeup in 2014 after completing a beauty apprenticeship, renting a booth for two years, overcoming some obstacles, and building a solid clientele based solely off referrals.
By even the humblest of observations, Chrystal declares the salon “a huge success,” and she was recently hired to do hair and makeup for a national CBS Sports and Motorola commercial.
The business had two components: the daily behind-the-chair business of doing hair and makeup, and the traveling, mobile wedding and makeup component. Chrystal, 40, essentially “retired” from the salon part of the business in March 2022 but had employees who continued to operate that business.
A real traveling team
On May 31 this year, she sold the salon’s day-to-day book of business but continues to do wedding makeup and hair with a team, but without a physical location.
“We have got that calling card” as a traveling team, adds Chrystal, a mother of three. (Incidentally, all three of her children own or have owned businesses. Spoiler alert: It’s a family that doesn’t spend much time watching television.)
She also created an education company in 2019 and that business has “skyrocketed.” Chrystal was quickly discovered as a keynote speaker and teacher, which keeps her traveling around the country.
“I’ve coached about 173 stylists worldwide on how to make a scalable, inclusive, profitable beauty businesses,” she says. It’s a different lifestyle from being a stylist apprentice, a car sales representative, working in a dental office, working at Target, and “a million other jobs” before she got into the hair business at age 27.
“I’d done all these things that I think prepared me for entrepreneurship, but what I noticed is what worked well were corporate things, because they had systems and they were very branded,” Chrystal explains, noting the strategies she would soon learn and implement in her own businesses.
Getting a handle on how to manage her business’s money — and hiring a fractional chief financial officer — were the most significant shifts for Chrystal L. Hair & Makeup and the other businesses in her entrepreneurial portfolio.
Crystal L: Problem-solver
“There’s a difference between a successful business that makes money and then a successful business that understands the money that they’re making and what it’s doing and scaling it,” she says. And understanding that every successful business is solving a problem is a key that many businesses struggle with, she adds.
“It’s a problem I’ve been looking to solve forever and it’s an industry problem that’s been around for 200 years, but no one has ever tried to disrupt the industry and solve it. It’s a $255 billion industry in the U.S. alone.”
What is the problem she is solving?
“Most salons don’t have systems in place. They don’t understand how to scale, they don’t understand profit, they don’t understand how to price, they don’t understand how to onboard, they don’t understand how to be inclusive,” she answers. And the big issue central to the industry? “They don’t understand hair textures or different hair types. The beauty industry is one of the most segregated spaces in the world outside of churches.”
It’s a social, economic, and lifestyle challenge that she’s eager for others to join.
Chrystal lists three key factors for her success.
“The first one being God, the second one being that nothing beats a failure except not to try,” she explains. “And the last one — the answer is already ‘no,’ so it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you do all those things in life, I don’t think there’s anything that you couldn’t do.”
2015: After being gifted a salon, Chrystal L. opens Chrystal L. Hair & Makeup.
2016: Chrystal L. launches her mobile wedding and makeup business.
2017: She establishes The BOLD Academy, a nonprofit to empower black and brown girls in the COMO area. Chrystal L. is recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by the Columbia Missourian newspaper.
2019: COMO Magazine honors Chrystal L. as a 20 Under 40 winner.
2019: Chrystal L. starts the online All Hair Academy and the Beauty Collective.
2023: As one of 12 finalists, Chrystal L. pitches All Hair Academy and wins Missouri Startup Weekend.
Chrystal L. Hair & Makeup