She’Neil Johnson is the founder of BASE BUTTER. The Virginia Beach native and Howard University alumna made the big jump to full-time entrepreneurship at the top of the year. After achieving success with the original BASE BUTTER product, she and her team are gearing up to relaunch on August 26th. Support She’Neil’s goal to build a scalable, profitable business that is making an impact on our community, especially women of color, by donating to the BASE BUTTER Indiegogo campaign before it ends on August 6th!
What is BASE BUTTER?
BASE BUTTER is all natural skincare essentials offering holistic benefits. Our mission and vision is inspire women of color to discover, protect and love the beauty they were born with. Our purpose in all we do is to change the narrative on how women of color should feel about their beauty.
How do your efforts to change the narrative on women of color through and beyond your products tie back to your mission?
BASE BUTTER seeks to let women know that we are beautiful just the way we are. We do that through using everyday women of color in our media and marketing. We don’t have model castings. We don’t look for a specific type of person. We make sure we have diversity and that all women feel beautiful.
We protect beauty by making quality products - for us, by us. We do a lot of research, whether that’s talking to people or looking at the statistics. We ensure we’re using ingredients that are safe for our melanin-rich skin. About 80 women of color from all over the world make up our Dream Team - our brand ambassadors - who are our first line of influence. You’ll see their impact when our new products launch. They are the eyes and ears of our community.
In the future, we plan on having community events. That could be a day of meditation, a panel or a celebration. Our first will be on September 16th for our relaunch event. Digitally, we have Twitter chats on topics that speak to women of color.
How did you educate yourself on the science aspect of creating a beauty product?
I started researching because of personal experiences with my skin and beauty products. I had really bad acne until I moved to New York. I found a dermatologist here who is a woman of color and specializes in our skin. I started picking at her brain and taking it a step farther. One thing that sparked my interest is going back to our roots in Africa and learning what our ancestors used and ate. Then I started thinking strategically about making BASE BUTTER a business and a brand. I realized that I needed someone who was more specialized in the product area and brought on a VP of Product Development. I moreso come from the creative side and she is there for quality assurance. She lets me know what I can and can’t do to make sure we are creating products that are safe and healthy.
Take us along the journey from this being a personal interest to realizing there was a business opportunity.
It’s been an up and down process. When I first started it was just a hobby. BASE BUTTER organically grew as it became a purposeful product, one that connected me with other women of color. As I shared my story about why I started the brand, I realized that they had the same experiences, needs and wants. That inspired me to see the bigger picture of how a beauty product can make an impact in our community.
What is a lesson you have learned while facing hardship in building BASE BUTTER?
Figuring out how to get funding for the business and not just accepting the first check that comes. Investors sound great but you don’t want too many hands in the pot in the beginning. One thing that helped us with funding is building BASE BUTTER around community. We found our voice and niche in a saturated beauty market. I look at who’s engaging regularly and make sure I’m staying true to them. They then respond when asked to invest financially to help reach our goal of obtaining our initial start-up funds to lay a scaleable foundation for the business through community support.
What are some of the highlights? Moments when you were proud?
It happens consistently when I run into people who say they know about or love BASE BUTTER. And seeing people using the product! That motivates me to keep going when it gets hard.
Also, when we’ve had features in media outlets such as Essence, Cosmo and Nylon. Sometimes people contact you in advance and sometimes they don’t. Nylon and Cosmo were a surprise. I just woke up those mornings and saw that someone had featured us. It felt like “ok, people are actually seeing this and talking about it.”
You were in your corporate career at IBM and running BASE BUTTER at the same time. How did you arrive at the decision to become a full-time entrepreneur?
I feel like God made the decision for me. At the end of 2016, the company laid off a bunch of people, two months after I had been promoted. They offered me a completely different role that I was not interested in or I could leave with a nice severance package. I did look for a job for about a week, but it didn’t feel right. Even though it was uncomfortable, I knew this was my chance. I told myself I was going to focus on BASE BUTTER and see what happens.
When did you know it was time to expand your team?
When I knew I wanted to do BASE BUTTER full time I realized that despite the highlights, some things had been missed. I couldn’t reply to every email while making the product while running social media. I thought about what I am not great at, then brought on people who are better in those areas. And I’d always wanted to bring people on, but I never felt like it was the right time. While I knew in January, I did not reach out to anyone until the end of March. I had to make sure my vision, mission and goals were clear in my head so we could all be guided by the same purpose. During that time, I also thought about the people in my network who are good at the things I needed and would do well in my business. I can be really honest. When you’re starting a business, you don’t have a lot of money to pay people. It’s about who is going to invest their time in something that doesn’t pay out immediately, but still be passionate and work hard to build this.
You all are preparing to relaunch at the end of the month. How are you feeling as the date grows near?
I’m nervous, but I’m so excited. We’ve been working on four new products since March called Love, Radiant, Glow and Shine. I wanted to use positive affirmations as names for our new products. If BASE BUTTER makes purposeful products, purposeful packaging comes along with that.
The crowdfunding campaign ends in a few days. Your goal is to raise $10,000. How will you be investing the funds given to you by supporters?
The majority of the funds will go to product development and sourcing high quality ingredients. It costs a lot of money to develop a product - research, testing, packaging and manufacturing. And we aren’t using shea butter from 125th Street. A portion will go towards certifications; B Corp, Leaping Bunny, Certified Vegan and others that will let our customers know that we have a commitment to creating good products. We will also be making a donation to Her Success, a nonprofit that focuses on expanding the limits of extraordinary young women who are often underrepresented in their communities.
How are you connected to Her Success?
I founded the organization with two of my friends. Originally we had separate passions and didn’t know we were going to come together. Cherice and Brittany are passionate about mentoring young girls. I am passionate about empowering women through entrepreneurship. We had similar experiences growing up with having a lot of support from women in our communities and our friends, which contributed to our success. We want to give that same opportunity to girls and young women.
This year we’ve been pushing two initiatives. The first is Power Passion Planning. We’ve gone to Howard University and American University to help young women go from the ideation phase to the point of executing their ideas. In the fall, we’re looking to partner with more colleges in the DC area. Our other initiative was the Summer of Self-Love with middle and high school aged girls working on confidence and self-awareness. Also, $1 of every BASE BUTTER product sold is donated to Her Success.
As you strive to achieve your many goals, how do you remain encouraged and most importantly, energized?
I stay encouraged by keeping good people around me who are also working toward their dreams. It gets lonely and you wonder if you should just take the safe route. Having others who are going through the same struggles, asking the same questions and having the same insecurities lets me know that I’m not in this alone. I like to read stories about people who have made it too. Oprah’s ups and downs help me remember that this is just part of the process.
Staying energized is the hardest thing. I’m building a wellness beauty brand, but sometimes I’m so busy working it’s difficult to take diet and exercise into consideration. But I pay attention to my body and I give my body what it needs when it asks for it. I wish I knew in college what I know now about meditating and being peaceful. I’m a workaholic and an overachiever. Back then I would not sleep. Now that I’m older it’s not that serious. I just have to leave work for the next day. I realize that the world isn’t going to stop because I stop, and neither is my business.
What does the future hold for She’Neil, the woman?
I want to travel and see the world. I want to inspire other women to execute their ideas and to keep at it even though it gets hard. I want to continue enjoying life, getting centered and in touch with my spirituality.