Mahisha Dellinger is a study in self-sufficiency. Growing up in the Sacramento, California neighborhood of Meadowview, dubbed “Danger Island” due to its high rates of crime, Dellinger learned early on how to take care of herself. With her mother often working and her older brother entangled in gang culture, Dellinger decided her own destiny early on, telling the New York Times in 2016:
In that kind of neighborhood and environment, you can go either way. You can either become a leader and control your destiny because you’re forced to, or you can go in the opposite direction. I had to become a leader of my life, and it started there, at a young age.
Determined to beat the odds stacked against her, Dellinger depended on education and church as her armor against becoming a negative statistic. Ultimately, the wife and mother of four would become a pioneering example of a positive statistic, becoming a leader among the rising number (322 percent, as of 2015) of black female entrepreneurs.
In 2002, Dellinger launched Curls, then one of a small crop of natural haircare companies for and helmed by black women. Nearly 16 years later, Curls is a multimillion-dollar business. But Dellinger hasn’t stopped there; subscribing to an “each one, teach one” philosophy, she has consistently paid her own business expertise forward, helping other women—from unknown upstarts to celebrities like Xscape’s Tiny and Love & Hip Hop’s Yandy Smith—“boss up” in their own business ventures.
Now, Dellinger is taking her acumen to the OWN network as the host of Mind Your Business, which premieres on Saturday, August 11 at 10 p.m. EDT. As the network’s Iyanla Vanzant of entrepreneurship, Dellinger will empower struggling business owners with the tools they need to succeed, doling out a lot of tough love—and bringing the “fire” when necessary.
In conversation with The Root’s Danielle Young, Dellinger discussed how it feels to become one of Oprah’s trusted experts, the tools she used to build her business, and what she feel is our collective responsibility to elevate and support each other when no one else will.
Producers reached out to me about a show that was helping other female black businesses create success, and I had already been doing that informally with a host of different business owners, so it made sense. But it wasn’t something I thought would actually land on TV, you know? It was happenstance. It wasn’t one that I actually sought after. So, it just happened to be that black girl power situation that morphed out of just me willingly helping people and giving information. ...
It’s great to be on the OWN network, of course; I mean, anything associated with Oprah is phenomenal, right? ... But being on TV, I haven’t really internalized that. I feel like it’s like “Oh, this is a great opportunity.” But I haven’t really stopped to smell the roses ... I just kind of keep chugging along, and moving along and moving forward, and I have to stop a little more. But I am just happy that I’ve connected with such an amazing network.
One of the things that I think was beneficial in the growing of my business—even though I didn’t plan to start here—[was that] I built my business organically over time on a smaller scale. I originally wanted to launch and go big and go to the big box retailers—that could’ve wiped me out. If you launch in a big box retailer and you don’t have the support and the drive and the marketing dollars as well as a strong customer base, they will send you all your product back with a nice, large, hefty bill; a huge bill that can put you out of business.
Also, I always recommend—and some people disagree with me on this piece—but I believe that if you’re gonna grow business you have to make sure you put every single penny you make back into the business for the first five years. So I stress keep your day job as long as you can. ... I suggest keeping your day job so you can put every dollar that you make back into the business—don’t go buy that Chanel bag that you want. No, you put it back into the business and have your day job pay for your bills.
[Lastly] You have to have a strong network, a strong support system for sure, because if you don’t—if you don’t have balance and structure and organization and priorities—then you will tap out. ...
I always get the question: How do you keep a work/life balance? You just don’t—sometimes, it just doesn’t work out. Now, I have priorities, and I’ve gotta keep those priorities in order: God first, family second, business third. Does it always happen that way? No. ... That’s probably the biggest piece; if you don’t have a support system, you won’t be able to do all the things that you set out to do.
In this time and this a day and age that we are dealing with right now with Mr. Number 45, we are divided like no other time before—it feels like we’re back in the ‘50s; we’re rewinding time. No one is going to help you if you don’t help yourself, so forget asking for a handout from someone else. Let’s support each other and help uplift each other, because every other culture does that. Every other culture lifts each other up. We can do it better. So, that’s what we need to, because no one is responsible for our success but ourselves. We have to do it.
The one thing that really caught [Oprah’s] eye is that black female-based businesses are up [over] 300 percent. We have a huge growth spurt, but less than four percent make it to the million-dollar mark. And so that’s why the show is important, to help bridge that gap.
And so what do I hope? I hope that the show actually helps to inspire others to move forward and towards their goals, their dreams and put the work and see that these other women are doing it and they’re just like you—I’m just like you, so if I can do it, so can you—and get inspired, get up off their seats and get moving.