Kim Lewis, Founder Of CurlMix And 4C Only, Shares The Formula To Successful Crowdfunding

We all have seen the disappointing figures by now.

Less than 0.1 of Black women receive VC funding despite being the fastest growing group of new entrepreneurs in the country. Crowdfunding–raising small amounts of money over time typically by using the internet–is a great way to circumvent cap table gatekeepers, but the process is still very involved and can be daunting if you’re not sure where to start.

Fortunately, master capital raiser Kim Lewis, founder of natural hair care brands CurlMix and 4C Only is generously sharing her crowdfunding journey every step of the way, and she has our interest piqued. After all, in 2022 she managed to raise more than $4.5M in four days (with the first million raised in 4 hours) via a crowdfund campaign, and most her most recent round has reached $1M, which included an investment from Whoopi Goldberg and Don Thompson, the first Black CEO of McDonald’s.

What started in her kitchen just under 10 years ago, CurlMix and 4C Only have now raked in more than $32M in sales since its launch. The brands’ sustainability and growth is all thanks to radical transparency.

“I don’t know how to be any other way,” Lewis tells ESSENCE. “As a person. That is how I am as a founder, a leader, a friend, a partner, a lover. I am just transparent. And I think it’s also what endears people to me. They know they’re getting my honest feelings and truth, and it’s never in a painful way where I’m trying to hurt anyone or anything like that. It’s just my mom raised me this way. I love people who don’t know how to be anybody but themselves.”

Lewis regularly takes to her personal and company social media pages to share everything from her own hair struggles, family life and financial insights. From this, she says that’s helped create an engaged community that is truly invested in the brand’s success.

“I’ve strategically spent the last year making content, specifically Instagram Reels (one or two times a day) since May of last year, because I knew I was going to have to crowdfund and I recognized the importance of having personal brand audience, which I didn’t really have one before. It was just all about CurlMix and I think I maybe had 2,000 followers last April. I’m now up to a little over 12,000. Posting reels daily about business content, about life tips, gaining confidence as a woman.”

In August 2023, Lewis also launched a visual podcast, More Rounds,” about business-building and funding offering advice to women founders by way of authentic insight with her friends who are business owners. She also created a masterclass on equity-based crowdfunding that digs into exactly what she did to raise funding independently.

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“I feel like the conversations that we have as entrepreneurs, if people could be flies on the wall to those conversations, they would learn so much,” Lewis tells ESSENCE. “And it’s really hard to advise every single founder that you meet. She advises aspiring crowdfund raisers to “go back and listen to the podcast and you’ll learn about how to fundraise for your business. That’s something that’s actionable, that’s easy for both. You know what I mean? That’s something I can share and be a resource to people. And so I’ve been talking about money and all the kinds of funding for your business since August of last year. So we’re talking, I don’t know, seven, eight months of just straight money talk on my instagram.”

Identify the right crowdfunding platform for you

Lewis used We Funder for her crowdfund, a platform she says solely focuses on equitable capital raising that can immensely benefit Black founders.

Lewis mentioned other platforms that share this mission including Fund Black Founders, StartEngine, and Republic.

“I like the people there,” she says. “I remember when I was trying to talk to crowdfund company, they were really pushy and very salesy. And I remember talking to the WeFunder folks and it felt like just good people. I felt like I could trust them. If something happens, they try to fix it, no questions asked.”

We Funder is just one of many platforms available for founders to raise debt-free capital. Kickstarter, one of the oldest in the space, says they are also dedicated to helping Black women get the financial backing they need and deserve.

“Over the past 15 years, Kickstarter has helped trailblazing Black women like Issa Rae, Nia da Costa, TLC, Carla Hall, and Karyn Parsons get the funds they need to bring their creative projects to life,” Courtney Brown Warren, VP, of Brand Marketing at Kickstarter tells ESSENCE.

One founder, Nicole Cardoza, used Kickstarter to help raise funds for her inclusive kids magic kit company, Magically Me. She wound up raising $30,201.

“Black women are the fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs in the U.S. but Black-owned businesses continue to be the group least likely to be fully approved for business loans. Black women also receive less than 1% of venture capital funding. We want Black women to know that when they have an idea that they believe in, they don’t have to rely solely on traditional funding systems.”

Make sure you’re financials are clean

Lewis pointed out that it’s important not to put the cart before the horse when raising funding. She explains that crowdfunding, especially when using a third-party platform, requires a vigorous financial audit to receive the raised funds.

“You have to have clean books,” Lewis says. “Most founders, that’s where it trips them up.”

She says in an Inc. essay that “if you are raising $1 million or less, you’ll need reviewed financials from a third-party accountant. Raising more than $1 million requires a full-blown audit, and your financials must be in GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles).”

She advises sitting down with an accountant ahead of launching a campaign to avoid any pitfalls.

Bringing it all together

Overall, Lewis strongly suggests considering crowdfunding, as it’s a viable tool to raise funding in a world that continues to overlook Black women founders.

“Black women don’t really have allowances for a lot of things, including being scared of stuff. We just got to power through life, including scaling our businesses. Crowdfunding is a great way to get what you need, on your own time. And it can be done.”

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