The Daily Quarterly: Willis is a former professional football player, and Erin has joint Masters degrees from Harvard Business School and Kennedy School. How did each of your backgrounds influence starting your own company?
Willis Marshall: Being a professional football player definitely had its perks and privileges, even after retirement. Though many see the glitz and glamour of the packed stadiums and off the field “bling,” what they don’t see are the grueling early morning and late night hours spent on physical training or perfecting one’s craft. We are called “professional” athletes because it was up to me to self-motivate and make sure I was ready to perform at a really high level. Having a 12 year pro football career, when the average is 5-6 years, proves I took pride in being just that, a “professional.” This directly correlates with being a successful entrepreneur. No one monitors our efforts with DāO. We must continue to self motivate on a daily basis and build our brand to the highest level. We are definitely on our way!
Erin Patten: I believe that every experience, good, bad, or ugly prepares you for life’s next big adventure. I honestly couldn’t be where I am today without the educational, professional, and personal life experiences I have had. Being a Harvard Business School and Kennedy School graduate comes with its own set of expectations. Not only am I expected to pay back the hefty student loans (ha!), I’m also expected to do something great in the world and something amazing for others. DāO has become our opportunity to do just that.
TDQ: What made you want to get into the hair care industry?
EP: DāO more broadly is a beauty and wellness company, yet it was a very personal and intentional decision to start our business in the hair care industry. 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 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!
Two years ago, I decided to never straighten my hair again and started mixing natural ingredients together in my bathroom to create the perfect product for my natural hair and Will joined me in creating this amazing formula. This is when DāO began. As I felt more comfortable in my skin with my beautiful and healthy natural hair look, I began to understand the value and power in owning my true identity and we wanted to share that with the world.
TDQ: Tell us about your company, DāO Detroit
WM: DāO is a mission-based beauty and wellness company, whose plant-based products are intended for all, regardless of gender, age, or hair type. We believe that hair care and self-care in general should be simple and our products are developed sustainably with salon quality to meet your everyday needs making the hair more manageable and healthy over time.
DāO further integrates a wellness consultation approach to engage customers across the globe leveraging technology for mind, body, and hair education. Our mission to teach others to own their identity starts first with self-awareness and mindfulness learning to embrace the beautiful You that already exists. Next we teach the importance of a proper diet, exercise, and rest to ensure body balance and long-term health. The combination of these healthy habits creates an overall healthier lifestyle for individuals that manifests in a healthier exterior reflected in the hair and skin.
TDQ: You also donate a portion of your profits to the #DefyAllOdds campaign. What can you tell us about that initiative?
EP: It’s important in this day and time that companies give back to communities in a meaningful way. Being a mission-based organization, we leverage the #DefyAllOdds Own Your Identity initiative to donate a portion of profits to support programs including nationwide beauty and wellness workshops, youth education initiatives, and family-focused community events. Our goal is to cultivate diverse communities that are self-loving, committed to supporting each other and working together to accept others just as they are.WM: When we created DāO we knew we had a product that would be beneficial for a multitude of people, from all walks of life. We took that same mindset when we said our “Give Back” will be just as important to us as our products, and our #DefyallOdds campaign is a great example of this.
TDQ: Who are your influences?
WM: My influences are my parents. I have seen them both make sacrifices to give me and my siblings better opportunities in life. It’s not just the fact they made these sacrifices, as many parents would do the same. It was the effortless and joyful manner in which these sacrifices were made that taught me a very valuable lesson: When you truly love something or someone, your joy comes from their success.
EP: I’m inspired and influenced by a lot of different places, people, and things. I’d start by saying the City of Detroit is a huge influence on our business, vision and strategy. Detroit is a diverse city of doers, designers and hustlers. People work hard for what they have and they make it look good! Also, I find Harry Belafonte to be an incredible source of inspiration. Not only is the company name DāO reminiscent of his famous “Banana Boat” song, but I’ve also been influenced by his endless dedication to social activism and believe it is a critical part of my personal journey. Lastly, nature and all things related to beautiful plant life are always influencing what I do.
TDQ: What is the best advice you have ever gotten?
EP: Be humble. Sit down! Yes, I also love Kendrick Lamar. There’s so much wisdom wrapped up in those simple phrases. I’m beginning to learn that the key to a healthy and happy life is remaining humble despite the successes I may achieve, because just as easily as they seemingly come, they can just as quickly be taken away. And I interpret the “sit down” statement to mean “be patient.” In this instant gratification world of nearly on-demand everything, we can sometimes grow impatient, which can lead to negative thinking and behavior. Good things do come to those who are willing to patiently and positively wait for them, and I’m definitely willing to wait for my blessings.
WM: Some of the best advice I have ever received came from my grandmother when I was a young kid. One evening I was hesitant to ask for a doughnut before bedtime because I hadn’t finished all of my veggies at dinner. When I mentioned my craving to my grandmother as she tucked me in, knowing it was too late, she gave me a message that would stick with me for life. Her reply was “Closed mouths don’t get fed.” She then went on to say, “the worst I could have said to you is no, but at least you would’ve tried.” In this situation, I didn’t quite understand the analogy, but I did understand the word “no” doesn’t physically hurt, therefore I should not fear going after what I want. As I matured, this thought process has given me a confidence to achieve my most lofty goals.
TDQ: What is the worst advice you have ever gotten?
WM: Some of the worst advice I have ever been given by a person is when Erin and I were thinking of starting DāO. We were told that it “possibly” wasn’t a good ideal to start a business with your loved one or spouse, because they typically didn’t end well for a number of reasons. This couldn’t have been further from the truth. The day to day tasks of running a business can be daunting for a lot of entrepreneurs. To have a partner that is like-minded and shares the same passion for the company, as Erin and I do, it turns those rough days into thrilling adventures with treasures awaiting.
EP: You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. I think this was the most terrible advice I could have received. I used to date a lot and would just hope that the next guy would be the one for me. Then it got to a point where I didn’t care where the relationship would go, and that’s when things got ugly. I now believe there is value in being picky and reserving yourself for that special someone who deserves a kiss from you.This takes me right back to the “sit down” statement. In this new digital dating world of swiping and liking to find a love interest, there is little effort given to being patient and waiting for the right one to come around because you can have someone right now. This is definitely not sustainable for a healthy and happy life. And I’m definitely grateful I waited for Willis. He’s awesome!TDQ: What has the consumer response been to your hair care products to date?
WM: The consumer response to our products has been overwhelmingly positive. The beautiful thing is our amazing testimonials are from both women and men, with various hair types. One of our goals was to be that brand that eliminates the need to clutter your bathroom sink or shower with “his” or “her” products because DāO is for all, and that’s what has happened. Not only that, but the savings our customers are boasting by not having to buy multiple products for the family, and having one product that works for the entire household. It’s the best thing since sliced bread.
TDQ: What advice would you give an entrepreneur trying to get into an already-established industry?
EP: Just do it! The thing about most budding entrepreneurs is they believe they need a detailed business plan, lots of money, and a super innovative idea to get started even in an already-established industry. But frankly, you just need to go out there and do something that is truly authentic to you. When you do anything with your own flair, it’s automatically going to be different. There is no one like you in the world. I’d also add that it’s important to set a vision for what you want your company to be. Visioning is such a powerful exercise because the more you can see something happening, the more likely it is to manifest for you in your life.
WM: I would tell anyone getting into an already crowded industry, to make sure they find a need within that industry, and fill it. There is always a way to improve or innovate in any field, whether it’s tech, hair care, or being a restaurateur. You have to look at it like a practice, meaning everyday is an opportunity to get better at something within your industry. The less room for glitches in the matrix, the higher likelihood of success.
TDQ: Where do you see yourselves and DāO in five years?
WM: In five years, DāO will be a global household name. We are a beauty and wellness company and are very excited about our wellness components. In that time, I foresee our mind, body, and hair retreats changing the way people look at self care and redefine what it means to live a “Natural” life. Our products will be in several hotels that align with our brand ethos, as well as retailers to give DāO the biggest global reach, faster than any other company in the hair care industry!
EP: I would say the long-term vision for DāO includes technology growth, product line expansion, and the creation of beauty and wellness spaces. As a Detroit company, community comes first and it’s important to be intentional about connecting with individuals to engage our mission. I envision DāO beauty and wellness spaces built out across the globe in cities that are ethnically diverse and culturally rich. This non-traditional retail store would be a community-centered place of healing, engagement, and commerce inspired by our appreciation of nature, mindfulness, and non-toxic products.