For some founders, the entrepreneurship bug bites early, with childhood lemonade stands and trading up lunches at school. For others, the entrepreneur gene is there, but it takes a little bit longer for it to see the light of day.
For 2021 Future Founders Startup Bootcamper Kiyla Armstead, entrepreneurship was never really a career path. In fact, her dream as a young, savvy marketer was to find her way into a Chief Marketing Officer role at an iconic brand like L’Oréal. But when life turned upside down at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kiyla found herself inspired to launch a business of her very own: Gidan + Uzuri.
A wellness company centered around clean beauty and aromatherapy, Gidan + Uzuri focuses on capturing an experience through beautiful designs, captivating scents, and luxurious ingredients for their candles, body butters, and other wellness products. The name literally means “House + Beauty”, with “Gidan” translating to “house” in the Nigerian language of Hausa, and “Uzuri” translating to “beauty” in Swahili.
And this harmonious blend of home and self-care is exactly what Kiyla needed after tragedy stuck in the early days of the pandemic.
Before Kiyla began her entrepreneurial journey, she was working in sales for the Global Business Group Team at Facebook. In this role, she was able to work with a variety of small businesses and “disruptor” brands, helping them build and scale their Facebook advertising campaigns.
Though she was only one year out of college, Kiyla quickly became a cherished resource for her clients, who looked to her frequently for advice on how to scale their businesses. It was through these interactions where the thought of entrepreneurship first entered her head. Though many were well-funded startups with millions in their bank accounts, as Kiyla saw it, “…they clearly loved my help on their ads and on their website, so I must be just as smart and capable of [starting a business] myself.”
With the seed planted, Kiyla spent nearly a year ruminating on the idea of launching a business to call her own. She just needed a bit of outside force to push her over the edge…
On February 29, 2020, Kiyla moved from Chicago to New York City to start a new role on Facebook’s marketing team. Just two weeks later, the city locked down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and life as we knew it was forever changed.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck Kiyla’s family soon after, with her grandmother passing away from COVID-19 just weeks after she moved to NYC. The heartbreaking loss led Kiyla to think about all the things her grandmother loved, including the warmth and glow that a quality candle could bring to a room. As spring turned to summer, and COVID restrictions and lockdowns extended for months on end, Kiyla couldn’t stop thinking about her grandmother’s love of candles, and how it aligned perfectly with her own desire to start a business.
After months of telling her boyfriend how interested she was in starting a candle business to honor her grandmother, Kiyla’s boyfriend finally expressed to her that it was time to “stop talking about it and start doing it!”
And that’s exactly what Kiyla did, filing her business incorporation paperwork on August 12, 2020. The incorporation date for Gidan + Uzuri? August 21…the birthday of Kiyla’s grandmother.
Kiyla quickly got to work, sourcing ingredients and packaging for her first release of Gidan + Uzuri candles, body scrubs, and lotions. She had enough stock on hand to do a soft launch by October 2020, quickly selling through inventory and proving the concept for her business.
The only problem? Kiyla wasn’t entirely sure what that concept was…
While she knew Gidan + Uzuri was meant to be something more than “just another candle company,” Kiyla feared that unless she built the brand with a clear intention from the very beginning, she would risk growing a business that didn’t stand for what she believed in.
So Kiyla took a step back and spent the next four months refocusing Gidan + Uzuri, creating a clear roadmap for what the brand is meant to be, who it’s meant to serve, and where it’s meant to go.
In Kiyla’s eyes, the candle market was “saturated, but not competitive”. Meaning there was room for an up-and-coming brand to enter the market…provided they did so with purpose. And after months of research and strategizing, Kiyla realized that Gidan + Uzuri’s purpose was about more than just quality, luxurious candles. It was also to bring transparency and honesty to a notoriously cloudy industry.
When Kiyla began souring suppliers for her soft launch last October, she quickly noticed that there was very little transparency in the candle supply chains. Brands and retailers were often promoting “proprietary wax blends” which turned out to be code for “we don’t know what’s in this”. Because these proprietary blends were a secret to them too, with suppliers keeping ingredients and blending agents hidden from view.
Kiyla wanted Gidan + Uzuri to be different, and began creating custom blends of candle wax that were made from wholly-sourced ingredients. For example, she knows exactly what’s in her coconut soy wax blend because she makes it herself, right in her Brooklyn apartment. No “proprietary” blends. No secret mixes. Just pure ingredients from start to finish.
Kiyla brings this same level of transparency to her fragrances, packaging, and all other areas of her business. Because to her, Gidan + Uzuri is not a candle company…it’s a wellness company. And wellness starts by better understanding the products you put in your body, on your body, and in the environment around you.
With a clear mission and purpose, Kiyla is optimistic about the future of Gidan + Uzuri. Her goal is to turn the company into the “Glossier of wellness”, meaning a brand that’s about so much more than the products they sell.
This ambition to grow a true lifestyle and wellness brand is what prompted Kiyla to seek out the Future Founders Startup Bootcamp. After learning about the program from her close friend and 2020 Startup Bootcamper Lisa Larbi (Founder of The Toffie Shop), Kiyla applied and was accepted into the 2021 cohort. Kiyla showed so much passion and commitment during the program, she was one of just 17 founders accepted into the selective “Phase Two” portion, providing her access to continued support, coaching, and programming as she worked to scale her business.
With Startup Bootcamp wrapping up in late summer, Kiyla has returned her full attention back to applying what she learned in the program, and preparing Gidan + Uzuri for its next wave of growth. While she admits it’s incredibly tough to build a business while working full time (Kiyla moved from Facebook to Twitter back in May), she knows it’ll all be worth it in the end.
Because with a business driven by such a noble purpose, and Kiyla’s desire to leave the world a little bit better than she found it, there’s no denying that the future burns incredibly bright for this founder!
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