Julissa Prado is a first-generation Mexican American, a native Angeleno, and the founder of Rizos Curls, a line of natural hair products. “Rizos” is “curls” in Spanish, so the business name represents Prado’s 2 halves. “I have these 2 cultures and 2 worlds coming together,” she says.
Prado formally launched in 2017, but she had been perfecting her product and building up a customer base since her youth. What began as a side hustle while she worked corporate jobs has grown from an LA garage to stores across the US and 57 other countries. She also works to help small-business owners find success through events that feature topics like how to negotiate contracts and building a brand on social media.
As part of our effort to help small businesses during the pandemic, we partnered with Prado and Rizos Curls to distribute vouchers to their community. We caught up with her to learn more about the origins of her business, the positive side of pandemic obstacles, and how vouchers became an unexpected perk to loyal customers.
Uber for Business: Tell us about your journey as a small-business owner.
Julissa Prado: I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I started Rizos Curls here in 2017. Growing up, I was always very drawn to hair. I would style my friends’ hair and my family’s while trying to figure out my own hair naturally. I came up with my own concoctions utilizing natural ingredients to treat my hair, and from there I would meet undercover “curlies” and help them with their own.
I went to UCLA for undergrad, got a master’s in business from Wake Forest, and then took a very corporate route. I never went to cosmetology school, but I was always doing women’s hair on the side. When I decided to start making the products professionally, it was more out of convenience and less of “Oh, this is a business.” I hadn’t realized all the groundwork I had already put in until I launched, and we had hundreds of orders from people I had helped over the years.
How did you learn about all the logistical elements, like manufacturing, packaging, and distribution? Did you have help or a mentor?
I have a huge family here. My dad has 13 brothers and sisters, and my mom has 11. I’m first-generation; they were born in Mexico. I have over 61 first cousins just in LA. My dad moved to this country—literally crawled through a sewer to get here—and his first job was picking oranges in the field. His dream was to own a restaurant. He was able to achieve it by working his way up.
A garage on Washington and Crenshaw became my headquarters, my cousin Vanessa drew the drawing on my bottle, the models were me and my cousins, and I built the website. Everything was good-old “fake it till you make it.” I was also lucky that the whole time I was building my side hustle, I was also building my business acumen. Working for companies like Nestlé and Pepsi taught me so much of what it takes to run a business. I was really lucky to have that background.
The pandemic caused a lot of challenges for business owners. How did COVID-19 affect Rizos Curls?
Something a lot of people don’t realize is that the pandemic affected manufacturing and sourcing. Sourcing components like the plastic for bottles was nearly impossible. It was like, “We’re closing down” or “We’re being used to make hand sanitizer” or something else needed in the moment. The demand for hair care was also going up because so many people started wearing their hair naturally during quarantine. We were in a crazy place where the demand was the highest it’s ever been. We had never had a supply issue before, but there was a time when we were sold out. It was killing me slowly every day. Since I couldn’t control that part, it did allow me to focus on product development and innovation.
Tell us about your experience using Vouchers.
It was very user-friendly. I thought it was really cool how on the back end I could choose whether to use them for meals or rides, and how I could control the length of time [for redemption]. We used them to support the launch of one of our new products. A certain number of customers who bought the product received an Uber voucher. It was really nice to have an extra incentive, especially after a crazy 2020. People couldn’t believe they were getting it for free! We also usually do in-person events, especially to celebrate something like a new launch. It was nice to have some celebratory feeling even though we couldn’t have that.
I don’t know where the world is going, but if we do another virtual event, [vouchers] would be nice to have. It would be something for people to look forward to. When we can do in-person events with speakers [again], we want to make sure it’s convenient for them. Two weeks before the world shut down in February 2020, we had a small-business summit with 300 small-business owners. [Vouchers] would have been a nice perk for them. We did [cover] transportation, but they had to invoice later.
Learn more about how Vouchers can help your small business.