DāO Detroit (www.daodetroit.com), an all natural, plant-based hair care company out of Detroit that is launching later this year in New York (and across the United States) that provides a transformational hair experience for all types of hair, is taking the industry by storm!
Founded by Willis Marshall and Erin Patten, the company just completed a hugely successful crowd funding campaign and is getting ready to ship to their customers worldwide. The Levity Ball sat down with Willis (who is also a former professional football player) and Erin (a Harvard Business School and Kennedy School graduate) to learn more about their company and why people can’t seem to get enough…
1. To start off: When did you first know that you both wanted to be entrepreneurs and going into this type of industry?
Erin: The product creation initially happened very organically. I was mixing ingredients in the bathroom to create the perfect conditioner for my freshly chopped hair. I wanted a product that was lightweight, easy to apply with even distribution. Willis got involved when he noticed the scent needed tweaking.
Willis: There was never an intention to distribute this handmade concoction beyond our house. However, it became crystal clear that there was a need when a few women walked up to Erin in the beauty aisle at Target with several hair products in hand, asking her “What do you use on your hair? And where can we get it?”
Erin: Yep, it was in that moment that DāO was born and we new this opportunity was meant for us.
2. Willis: You used to play professional football. Did you pay a lot of attention during those days to the haircare of other teammates and yourself, or did that all come afterwards?
The culture inside the locker room is usually a ‘Gladiator mentality,’ so how each guy handled their grooming would not be noticed until after a game. It’s at that time most guys go into grooming mode to look their best for the post game interviews, autograph signings, and parties. Obviously, haircare is part of that grooming process. I’d also notice guys share tips on self care, whether hair or nutrition, as normal locker room conversation.
3. DāO Detroit… Tell us more about how you came up with this name?
DāO (pronounced day-o) very simply is an acronym meaning Defy All Odds. And Detroit represents the city where we met and where the business began. Defy All Odds is a personal mantra we created not too long after we met. We are both free spirits and have been intentional about blazing our own paths since we were kids accomplishing things that defied all odds. It was fate that brought us together. We truly believe that our union was predetermined and we were meant to bring something special to this world that encourages others to defy all odds just as we have.
4. Your products are not solely for women, men or children, just “hair” in general. What about your formula sets you a part from other competitors on the market?
Willis: Our formula, just as you said, is for everyone! That’s the difference. The key ingredients in our formula combine to function as a “Super Vitamin.” This means that our products promote hair and scalp health, which leads to increased manageability, definition, shine, and moisture. It’s because of this foundation we noticed our product works for hair period, no matter the age or nationality of the person it’s attached to. What’s even more important is the fact that families no longer have to incur the cost that comes from purchasing a separate product for each person in the household because DāO can be used by everyone. That equates to a huge annual savings.
Erin: I would add that most other companies create products with fragrances and brand colors that are targeted to a specific demographic, i.e. African-American women, young kids, or bearded men. And we want to reach as many people as possible with DāO products no matter their gender, age, or hair type, so creating formulas with clean/refreshing scents and neutral, yet appealing packaging was also very important to us from the beginning. More importantly, we’ve found that people of all backgrounds are attracted to our brand, our diverse imagery, and especially our messaging. It’s time that all companies speak with an authentic voice and we do that proudly.
5. Your company is also more than just about haircare, you donate a portion of profits to fund the #DefyAllOdds Own Your Identity campaign. Why is this so important to you both?
Erin: Our #DefyAllOdds Own Your Identity campaign was born from personal experiences. In my first job out of college, my manager told me that my natural hair was inappropriate for the work environment and violated company policies. This set me on a career course of severe anxiety and insecurity as I desperately attempted to change my hair texture with chemical treatments and lots of heat styling to not only fit in at work, but greater society, in general. It wasn’t a healthy time for me as I sought acceptance and approval from those around me, instead of owning who I was, curly hair and all! I began to understand the value and power in this ownership after I cut off all my hair two years ago to start fresh.
Willis: We want people no matter their stage of life to learn from Erin’s experience and not feel the need to compromise who they are for a manager, a lover, a family member or frankly, anyone. It’s so critical in this day and time that people live their truth, love who they are and own their identity whatever it may be. Even though my full head of hair stopped growing the way it did at a younger age, and forced me to rock a bald look, I still care about looking my best and being well groomed. We hope through our #DefyAllOdds campaign to spread this message and empower everyone to own who they are.
6. You gained a lot of traction via crowd funding and now you are finally shipping out to consumers.. What has the consumer feedback been so far for those have received?
Erin: It’s such a blessing to learn that people L-O-V-E our product. I literally get messages everyday with pictures or testimonials about how the product has worked so well and they can’t wait until we release more products.
Willis: The feedback has been outstanding. One testament to that point is the increase in new customers we’ve been seeing lately, which were direct results of word of mouth and folks sharing their great experiences with the product.
7. What is the best advice you have each been given while pursuing this company together?
Willis: Some the best advice I’ve been given is to give our company the same Time, Love, and Passion we would give if it were an actual new born child. I believe it’s because of this mindset, and the joy that working on DāO gives us, we often don’t look at what we’re doing as work.
Erin: Be patient. I tend to have an “I want it all now”-type of attitude and frankly, in business, that’s just not how things work. There are so many “overnight success” stories, that realistically took 5 to sometimes 15 years to cultivate. I know that everything we dream for DāO will happen at the right time as long as we stay committed and patient.
8. Do you ever get to come out to New York? If so, where are some of your favorite places to hang, eat, etc.?
Erin: I used to live in NYC and still have a 646 mobile area code! I’ve lived in BK, Midtown, Harlem and traveled across the Burroughs and suburbs. With that, there are too many favorite places to name here, but if I could choose a few I’d say summertime in any NYC park (Central, Prospect, Morningside, etc.) is dreamy. I love dessert from Momofuku Milk Bar. And could walk around LES all day and night and never get bored.
Willis: Yes, we get a chance to visit New York at least twice a year. Manhattan has always been a favorite for me. Not so much because of the bright lights, but more for the fact that there is someplace to eat, party, or get some culture 24 hours a day, everyday. Being that Chinese cuisine is my absolute favorite, it helps that Manhattan is also the home of Chinatown, where I can find several outstanding restaurants.
9. Where can people go and buy your products right now? And which is your favorite so far to use?
Willis: Right now we can be found online at: daodetroit.com. We’re proud to also announce we recently launched at Détroit Is The New Black, our first retail store located in Downtown Detroit.
Erin: Hands down, DāO’s Naturel Moisturizing Spray is my go-to product. I use it everyday and sometimes twice a day. It helps to keep my hair so soft, moisturized and my curls are always refreshed, never frizzy. The product works so well that my hair has grown very quickly. Willis calls me a Chia pet!
10. And final question: What would you want DāO Detroit to be remembered for in years down the road when people look back at your brands roots?
Willis: I want people to see the DāO logo and know that the “Defy All Odds” mentality that we push was more than the promotion of quality hair products, and really the promotion of living an overall healthy way of life, that includes the mind, body, and hair.
Erin: Agreed. And I would hope that people would look back at DāO and acknowledge our organization’s ability to take risks and do things outside of the box, yet still succeed. There are so many ways businesses can be successful and we want to make sure we prove that a business can be different, do good, and still have outstanding gains.