Working Girl: Antonia Opiah

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It’s an age-old question:  Are entrepreneurs a special breed, born into this world with a drive and need to succeed, or are they created through education, experience and mentorship? Between selling shares of her first company to her brother at age nine and years honing her skills under the tutelage of some of the best in business, this week’s “Working Girl” Antonia Opiah Founder of Unruly, proves both theories to be true!

Stats:

Name:              Antonia Opiah

Location:        Paris, France

Profession:     Founder, Un-ruly.com

Work:


How did you get started?

I’ve always wanted to own my own business. Since I was eight years old, I’ve had some sort of “hustle” and kept records to document them. I would even project the sales of my candy selling business when I was in middle school. During the last semester of my last year of college, my desire to be an entrepreneur still ran strong, but I had no idea what kind of business I wanted to launch and I didn’t have time to think about it, save I find myself incapable of paying my overpriced NYC rent. I luckily and haphazardly fell into the digital advertising world where I would spend about five years creating and executing online and retail strategies for companies like Verizon Wireless, Avon and the Dial Corporation.

Working in advertising was a great move for me because (1) the agencies I worked for were small to mid-sized and, I was, thus, able to wear a lot of hats and acquire a lot of skills in a short amount of time. (2) I was exposed to the “inner” workings of several different companies in different product categories (i.e. cosmetics, retail, telecommunications, travel), so I learned how they work, their different goals, and how they approached achieving them. It was the perfect type of training for someone who wanted to own her own business. Finally, (3) it exposed me to the then burgeoning world of digital. As new technologies and platforms, like Facebook were emerging, I was helping brands navigate them as those platforms were growing and changing. So I became extremely well-versed in digital marketing strategy and execution, which would later play an integral part in what I’m doing now.

In 2010 I decided to give myself two years to leave advertising. I had a couple of “side hustles” that I could potentially make “fore hustles.” It wasn’t until the end of 2012 did I really conceive and crystalize a plan for Un’ruly and then decide that this would be my main gig. It all happened rather quickly. The more I researched the black hair landscape, the more I saw holes in it that needed to be filled. So by December of 2012, with five years of ad experience behind me and two-ish years of savings, I quit my job and launched Un’ruly… and moved to Paris.

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What is an average day like?

It’s funny; most people despise routine, but I thrive on it and strive for it. When you don’t have anyone to answer to but yourself, getting yourself into a good routine can help build in the discipline you need to keep things moving and get things done on time. I haven’t perfected my routine. It’s a work in progress. But it generally consists of quarterly and monthly planning/progress checks. Then on a daily basis, I start with emails and creating a prioritized to do list. Then I might dedicate the rest of my day to writing, admin, marketing or new business.

Why do you do it?

Because I love business. I love the challenge of making something out of nothing. And because I need the product I’m selling–I need Un’ruly.

Ups and downs you sometimes face on the job:

There aren’t many downs, mostly ups because I’m doing what I want, how I want to. The biggest “down” would be the initial fear. I put myself in a challenging situation by not only taking the big entrepreneurial dive, but also by moving to a new country. For MONTHS I had a big knot in my stomach, constantly thinking: What am I doing? What happens if I run out of money? What happens if it doesn’t work? By about the fifth month, the fear had subsided, likely because I just powered through it. I built up momentum and just kept going despite what I was thinking. Some downs come when I lose momentum, but you just have to rev back up again. The real ups come when you get little confirmations that you’re going down the right path, whether it be someone sending me an email saying that they used Un’ruly to find a new hair style or sitting in a radio station in Paris for an NPR interview about a certain public art exhibit. I tend to focus most on the small wins. These are the ones that really matter. Things are built brick by brick so every little win is a necessary brick on the monument you’re building.

antonia_afro_arise

Your greatest achievement so far?

I’m really proud of the conversation You Can Touch My Hair spurred. But I’m most proud of just taking the jump and doing this. I had two goals this year: launch a business and learn French. My French isn’t great, but it’s pas mal. It was probably over ambitious to try and do both. But it’s been beyond rewarding. And anyway, anything worth doing or having takes time, and not too much time has even passed. Less than a year ago, Un’ruly was literally just a note on a piece of paper (actually several pieces of paper). And already it’s taken shape. So I’m proud of that. I’m proud of this “almost year.”

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What might be next for you?

So much! I have one big master plan (insert evil laughter here) that everything I’m doing now is working towards. But in the immediate future, let’s say in the next five years, I want to have fully realized my vision for Un’ruly. What we have now is just the tip of the iceberg. We have a lot of cool things planned for next year even. I can’t wait to share them.

antonia_braidout

Hair

What are your top 5 hair tips?

Ironically, I’m terrible at taking care of my own hair, which is why I created the site, to learn from all those hair experts out there. I’m also always looking for shortcuts because I’m super lazy and don’t like to spend much time on my appearance. All that said, I have three vs five tips:

  • Co-washing is a dream come true! So glad I learned about this concept. It’s a great time-saver.
  • I keep wigs in my hair rotation because I like the versatility they provide–a ‘fro on Monday, straight hair Tuesday, waves by Wednesday. They also make bad hair days manageable.
  • Do your hair for you. It’s easy to feel hair pressure from both sides–the dominate aesthete and those who see self-hate in straight hair. In life, no matter what you do, someone’s going to disagree, so it’s best just to do what makes you happy.

Fun Fact: Antonia appeared as an extra in the From Justin to Kelly Movie, LOL.

 
Photographer: Sirikitiya Mai Jensen and Others
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