Growing up, Ricardo Grant was surrounded by the hair care products his mother and sisters used. When he got married, he witnessed just how much of a hassle it is for women to purchase these products, as his wife took a large amount of time to research and find exactly what she needed.

“My wife, an African-American woman, walks into any retail shop or grocery store and they have very select products that she can buy,” Grant said. “She doesn’t trust the curation or the quality, and she has nothing hovering over her head to let her know that a product has been rated by her peers. It deters her from buying these products, so she spends a lot of time on online marketplaces and beauty supply shops.”

“We’re building a tech company for the consumer that’s been underserved and overlooked in the arena of beauty and style for so long that it sets us apart naturally.”

Grant said that while beauty supply shops are set in the center of every African-American community, many are margin-focused and try to sell customers the lowest-grade product for the highest price. However, Grant created a solution that he hopes will compete with beauty supply shops and become a household name for African-American hair and skin care: CrownMob, an online marketplace for beauty products.

It connects consumers to retailers of products produced and manufactured for people of color at affordable rates. With filtering options that allow consumers to search for products they need at various price points, CrownMob looks to make it easy for anyone to find products that fit their budget. Search results will yield the highest-quality product at each price point. Product reviews also help consumers to feel confident in their purchases.

“Retailers get on our platform because they know we are the place where customers come to find good products,” Grant said. “So if you have a good product as a retailer or supplier, why wouldn’t you want to be on CrownMob, providing you with a greater level of exposure to sell to people who you have made them for?”

So far, retailers across the U.S., Canada and London currently subscribe to CrownMob to sell their products. However, Grant said CrownMob has future plans to launch marketplaces for consumers across the U.K. and Africa.

Ricardo Grant. Photo Courtesy LinkedIn.

CrownMob has already expanded rapidly in the year it has been in business. Grant said much of this growth was organic — the company has spent no money on marketing. “What we realized was that we had a true product-market fit,” he said. “Once people caught onto it, they were sharing it with their family members and their friends because the problem that we’re solving is such a significant problem.”

The startup has also grown through its participation in UpTech‘s accelerator program. CrownMob received a $50,000 from the tech accelerator, and Grant and his CTO, Jordan Crowne, went through a 20-week program that taught them how to build their product, know exactly what they were building and how to understand their customers.

CrownMob also just ended a 60-day crowdfunding campaign this month, raising $32,000 from 94 investors in the African-American community.

Grant said the biggest obstacle CrownMob overcame was the notion of being an early-stage startup. At this stage, investors usually do not turn down startups that ask for investment; instead, they say it is too early to invest in the company. However, Grant killed the idea of CrownMob being “too early” with a virtue that he calls “scrappiness.”

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“Some call it ‘persistent,’ ‘consistent’ — I call it ‘scrappy.’ It’s something that you have to show whoever you need something from — whether that’s your customers, an accelerator program, or investor,” he said. “They’re looking for something that sets you apart. Once I found that out, I was able to hurdle that obstacle. I incorporate scrappiness into my day-to-day activities.”

What sets CrownMob apart is that it is a technology company built specifically for the African-American consumer. Grants said that by 2020, the buying power of African-Americans in the U.S. will be $1.7 trillion.

“We spend a lot of money collectively as a group, but there are some real things we need within our communities that have not been tackled by technology yet,” he said. “We’re building a tech company for the consumer that’s been underserved and overlooked in the arena of beauty and style for so long that it sets us apart naturally.”

In addition to his startup’s need-filling mission and his personal scrappiness, Grant also expressed gratitude for something else that he said has made a difference in his entrepreneurial journey: Cintrifuse CEO Wendy Lea’s work towards being very intentional about being diverse and inclusive in regard to the tech space and startup community in Cincinnati.