(highlights from Episode #13 of the Gutsiest Brands podcast)
Check out the latest lessons from our Gutsiest Brands podcast as GutCheck’s Chief Revenue Officer, Jess Gaedeke, sits down with Orion Brown, the mastermind behind BlackTravelBox. They talk about knowing what you’re willing to lose, why travel is self-care, and how the market seems to ignore whole groups of people.
Orion is like a cat with nine careers instead of nine lives. She has worked for Nestlé, Kraft, Hasbro, and across many other sectors. But Orion (like many entrepreneurs before her), “had a problem, and then I thought I should make a solution, and then I went and did it.” Of course, there’s a lot more to it than that.
BlackTravelBox is a personal care products company for travelers of color. They make sure that every traveler has what they need, no matter where they are going in the world. She boils it down best when she says, “I make fun things to take with you everywhere.” Here’s a look at what Orion has learned along the way…
Takeaway #1 – Levels of Conviction
For Orion, it took multiple lessons in conviction to help her stand boldly behind her new idea. “I spent 2018 really building out the vision for BlackTravelBox and doing a lot of consumer research and talking to people. And the conviction built itself, because the more people I talked to, the more I was hearing stories of the hoops that folks were going through just to get basic stuff.” Orion then moved on to third-party data to rise to the second level of conviction. “One of the things that really irked me was there isn’t a lot of data. So that was the next layer of conviction.” Finally, Orion saw a disconnect between what the data (or lack of it) was telling her and what the market is doing. “That was the third level of conviction, this cognitive dissonance between very clear, compelling data on the consumer and the marketplace, and the growth in both of them, and this distaste for things made for and built around women of color and people of color in general.” Armed with her confidence, Orion set out to conquer the market: “Those three things came together for me and I was like, we gotta do this.”
Takeaway #2 – Know What You’re Willing to Lose
When COVID hit in 2020, Orion, like many other entrepreneurs and business-owners, had a decision to make. Instead of giving up or pivoting her business plan to home care products (like many advised her to do), she decided to keep blazing ahead with BlackTravelBox. She put everything on the line, including her personal resources and funding. She stresses, “Know what you’re willing to lose because it’s when you lose and you don’t expect it that it hits you and crushes you.” She compares it to loaning money to a friend. “Do not let friends borrow money that you were not willing to lose. Just think of it as a gift.” She reflects on the decision to stand behind BlackTravelBox then, and even now: “I may never see the return on this investment. It may just be gone. I’m ok with that. Because it’s feeding my soul at this time, and it also gave me some amazing platforms to talk about some important things. And I’m still of the mindset that even if the intent from my life and having BlackTravelBox in it is to create platforms, not to be a beauty zillionaire, I’m ok with that because I can’t tell you how many places I got to talk about beauty double–standards and representation, and why investors need to have a better eye to diversity and cultural acuity, and cultural competency. All of those things really made that time worthwhile for me. I look at my time and my money differently now. How I spend it is based off what I need in that space, it’s not based off fear. Tomorrow will worry about itself.”
Takeaway #3 – Make Inclusive Products
Market segmentation is critical to reaching the right audience with your products, but some segments are more ignored than others. The entire idea of BlackTravelBox stemmed from a lack of products made for people of color. “Everything that we make is meant to travel well, get through TSA, and it’s inclusive. It’s made for a wide variety of hair textures and skin tones,” says Orion proudly. “Some of these big brands just slap a gold label on it and say that it’s for ethnic women. And it’s the same product. You actually didn’t make a product different for her. You didn’t test it on her.” And Orion practices what she preaches. “I don’t test anything on animals, I test them on friends… it’s all about making sure that it works for a plethora of people on a broader spectrum.” Orion points out that sunscreen makers “just figured out that Black people are a part of the marketplace.” This is the problem Orion is solving for Black travelers. “It could be Toledo, Ohio, or Toledo, Spain. It’s the same thing. The fact that you can go into establishments that create things for humans, and they completely ignore a full spectrum of humans in what they carry, is a challenge.”
Takeaway #4 – Travel Is Self-Care
Orion says it best: “The number one belief that I have is travel is an important form of self-care, particularly within the Black community. We have so many sociological challenges, at least within the United States, I would argue across the world, but certainly here. So, the ability to step out of that space is its own escapism. Let me get out of this space and let me have room to breathe. It gives you an opportunity just to be in touch with who you are as a person, not as how you present in rooms. It’s also an amazing opportunity to connect with other human beings when there’s so much disconnect here. Having those moments can really help re-instill some type of faith in humanity.”
Takeaway #5 – Black Women Are Powerhouses
When it comes to her views on Black women, Orion says, “I think Black women, in general, are healers. They’re strengtheners. And while we are tired of being superwomen, we have that skillset.” Orion says this is grounded in the strongly forged community and shared experiences. “The amount of resilience that is required to function, honestly, is immense.” She says it takes an “amazing amount of nimbleness and strategic thought – not even just strategic as in how to build a business and how to run it – strategic as in how to deal with people, how to deal with situations. How to bring finesse and grace to things that really should just be cuss-outs, yells, and a last day’s notice.” Black women are at the front lines of advocating for themselves and every oppressed group. And they fight with beauty and grace. “I’m talking about that beauty and that grace and that light that comes from just being badass, and being aspirational, and offering up somewhat as a sacrifice, your gifts to make the space around you and others better.”
Orion‘s Best Advice?
Orion’s best advice is a lesson she learned from one of her mentors. She says, “you have to run on your own steam. You have to. There are going to be times that you want to get the opinions and the insights of others, the advice and sometimes the mentorship. But know that if they fall short of what you need, you have yourself to keep pushing yourself. That’s the best thing you can do.”
Catch up on Jess and Orion’s full interview by listening to the Gutsiest Brands podcast. If you are interested in how your brand can uncover the deep customer insights that can enable you to lead with empathy, pioneer new paths, stand behind bold ideas, and lean into ‘the power of AND’, we’d love to help. Drop us a note!