From the trunk of his car, Diishan Imira has now built a multimillion dollar hair company

BY Preta Peace Namasaba March 20, 2024 11:09 PM EDT
Diishan Imira. Photo credit: Mayvenn

Although technology is everywhere today, it took a while for the billions of dollars of hair products marketed to Black Americans to be impacted by distribution tech. For instance, only five percent of hair salons and stylists that cater to African-American women carry or sell the extensions they use on clients. This means that an overwhelming majority of clients have to go through the inconvenience of going to the local beauty supply store to get their hair needs. Diishan Imira discovered a gap in the distribution channels and set out to fill it with a unique business model. From selling imported hair in the trunk of his Toyota Corolla, he has managed to raise $76 million in funding and built a multimillion-dollar hair company.

“I was selling hair extensions out of the back of my car and I started to understand the bigger picture of distribution of these products. What we’re actually talking about is a $9 billion African-American hair products market that hasn’t been touched by technology,” Imira said about how his company filled a gap in the hair industry.

Growing up in Oakland,  California, Imira wanted to explore the world and see what it had to offer. He left his hometown at the age of 18 to attend Hampton University. Unsure of what he wanted to do, Imira moved to China to teach English to elementary school students. He witnessed the vibrant spirit of entrepreneurship while in China which ignited a passion for his own entrepreneurial journey.

His first business venture was exporting sneakers from China into the US.  He would buy sneakers at a buying price of $20, selling them for $70 in the US. Imira however envisioned a more significant opportunity in the import and export business beyond selling sneakers. He moved to Miami and would travel back and forth to China to import furniture. He turned his condo into a showroom where he would sell couches and sofas to people on Craigslist. Unfortunately, his business took a hit when the market crashed.

Imira found himself back home, living with his mother. He took on many side hustles at the time such as working as a valet and yard work. He craved something significant and had his sights set on Silicon Valley. Consequently, Imira enrolled for an MBA at Georgia State University to boost his business knowledge. He then served as a consultant in Business Advisory services for Ernst & Young in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 2010. He specialized in Africa-China investment by providing expert market analysis for foreign direct investors in Ethiopia.

Imira noticed a gap within the hair industry when his sister, a hair stylist, asked if he could use his contacts in China to get high-quality hair extensions and wigs at affordable prices. He started buying hair from China and selling it out of the trunk of his car. He visited various salons and formed a partnership with stylists by creating their websites to sell the hair. This arrangement offered them another stream of revenue as they would receive a commission. With $48,000 sourced from personal money and support from friends and family, Imira founded Mayvenn in 2012.

“I grew up watching hairstylists in my family run their businesses, and I noticed something… all of the hair products that our community was buying – we weren’t selling. That didn’t sit right with me. It’s the beauty supply stores that make millions of dollars selling extensions and weaves because salons don’t sell these products. But why should stylists be cut out of the action?” Imira said about his inspiration to found Mayvenn.

Mayvenn sought to find a retail solution within the salon industry. With a professional background in logistics, supply chain, and international trade, Imira knew how technology could transform the global retail industry. The company’s world-class technology allows clients and hairstylists who do not retail products to order an extensive selection of 100% virgin human hair for wigs and extensions. The platform helps independent stylists in Black community salons to eliminate inventory costs and introduces a new revenue stream by allowing them to build their own businesses and brands.

Although Imira knew the potential of the business and yearned to boost the company further through funding, it was an uphill task convincing investors. He was accepted into the 500 Startups acceleration program in 2013 but the investors doubted the viability of Mayvenn’s success as a startup in Silicon Valley. It was a challenge explaining to white investors how the business would empower independent hair stylists in black communities but Imira did not give up on his idea. He executed a strong pitch, attracted some major investors and has never looked back.

Since its launch, Mayvenn has raised funding of $76 million in over seven rounds and built a network of 50,000 stylists nationwide. It has logged $80 million in sales, paid out over $35 million to stylists and has served millions of customers across the US. A tremendous success within the African-American beauty industry, 70 percent of the company’s revenue comes from hair stylists and the rest is from its business-to-consumer business model.