When you think of someone who works for a start up, people usually first think of a recent college grad with a computer science degree developing the next best app, but Tamiah is not at all what you’d expect. Tamiah, a therapist turned stylist/educator and natural hair specialist decided to start Diversame, a Pittsburgh startup that creates tools which allow users to do everything from natural curl enhancement and preparing hair for protective styles to creating a canvas for hair to be braided, twisted and even flat ironed with the smoothest results possible without the use of harsh chemicals.
MS: Tell us about your company and the meet ups you host
The meet up group, It’s a Natural Thang (IANT) is something that I started back in 2010 when I noticed there were so many people who were going natural in the Pittsburgh region and there was no place for us to come together and discuss our unique hair issues.
Diversame is a direct branch of IANT. It just feels like a natural progression. I’ve been styling hair for quite some time, and women no longer want to use chemical relaxers. I met a young woman who came to one of my events. She came for a consultation and as she’s telling me about her start-up company, I realized how much I wish there was an opportunity for me to restructure the blow dryer because it’s just not working for our hair types and I’m, quite frankly, tired of doing this. When she saw the way I maneuvered my conventional dryer to work for her hair she said, “you know I think you should meet the people at Gear [Alphalab Gear]. It would be a good idea because you’re onto something”. So I went for an open coffee event. The folks there loved the idea and they pushed me to do more research. Eventually, I went through the application process, went through the cycle, and here we are!
MS: That’s amazing. What is one example of a time you struggled as a female entrepreneur?
We had an evening where we gave our elevator pitches to people who work for a large consumer facing technology company. The group was homogenous. No women (aside from the woman in charge), no people of color. The audience was asked to give us (young start up companies) feedback that we could use to grow. Everyone went and everyone got their feedback…When it was my turn to present – I was no better nor worse than anyone else but the entire room was silent, to the point that the woman in charge had to give me feedback because no one was brave enough to speak up and it was tough… I’m sure people can write that off in their minds as “oh I just didn’t know what to say” – no, everyone had something to say about everyone else, it just so happened that when I went up, nothing – just, nothing.
This was specifically because I was making a tool for women that men didn’t care to understand and a tool for (predominately) black hair that white men didn’t care to understand. Instead of using it as an opportunity to learn, silence.
I used the opportunity to my advantage, though. I took the feedback that was given to me and changed my entire pitch and also scored a mentor! She’s fantastic!
MS: What do you think has turned it around and led to your success so far? Good mentors, supportive friends and family or..?
I think I have a lot of intrinsic motivation – from the time I was a very small child if someone told me that I couldn’t or that something wasn’t possible I would dig my heels in and prove them wrong. That stayed with me and the more people discourage me, the more it drove me. With investors, I have to make sure that they understand that I know the value of my company because I know this market, I am a member of this demographic, so I know it first-hand.
My family and friends are my biggest support system/micro investors and they remind me to keep balance. I try to keep a positive outlook – if today isn’t the greatest day, still find a high in it… just try to find a silver lining and get up the next day to try again
MS: I’m sure there are days when it’s so tough and stressful. Have you ever doubted your decision or have you ever wanted to give up?
Yes. Every day. Oh gosh, ev-er-y day!
Every day I wonder “why did I do this” – it’s so much easier to work for someone else. I’m much older than everyone in my cohort – I’ve had two careers before this and I’m almost forty years old. I have grown up responsibilities and for me, it’s very, scary to take on new roles, new responsibilities, where you’re responsible for it all and that’s every single day. That’s HUGE… every day at least once a day I’m like I don’t know, I don’t know if I did the right thing but something will happen where at least once a day I’ll get a reminder as to why I do it.
MS: Being a female entrepreneur has its own difficulties. What type of advice would you give to someone who wants to go into startup?
I would definitely say: own who you are. Understand that there are societal things that people bring to the table that they will try to project onto you. Whatever they try to project onto you, that’s their thing, not yours. Know who you are, understand you are a woman, but it doesn’t mean that you are less – you may actually have a fuller view of the world and the way things go.
Sometimes you will be discouraged or your voice may not be as appreciated, but raise it anyway. Don’t silence yourself; don’t silence your voice because that is what we tend to do as women. As we start off in life we’re told to go to the corner and be quiet, but when you’re able to come to the table as an entrepreneur, you know your baby(company) the best! No one knows your company like you. Be proud of your company and celebrate your company. If you’re considered a bitch for raising your voice, then be the best bitch you can be understanding that a man wouldn’t be considered a bitch, he’d be a boss!
It’s okay to care about what people think of us, but we also have to understand that what other’s think of us is none of our business. We should care more about what the people closest to us think, because they’re actually with us day in and day out. They make us and they’re there for us to support us. They cry with us and the lift us up – that’s who matters the most.
MS: so let me ask you – who inspires you?
My mother – my mother is an amazing woman who has taught me so much about work ethic, perseverance and about how you get up and you give it your best shot no matter how you feel. Growing up, I never watched her take a day off of work. She worked for the board of education and I think they only went on strike once my whole childhood and that’s the only time I watched her call off. By the time she was my age she’d buried three husbands! She still raised her children and she still went to work. Then, she discovered a talent she had that she didn’t even know and she got involved in theater. She’s still doing shows to this day – she opens another show this Friday (August Wilson’s Seven Guitars) –When I say she’s amazing, she really is. She’s taught me so much about everything.
MS: She does sound awesome! So for your company, where do you see yourself in the near future or within the next five years?
I love this question because I have so many new ideas! I normally write everything down, particularly because I suffered a brain injury and I just have to write everything down to remember…
I would love to build a tool a year, that would be fantastic, or at least every other year. One of my longer term goals is to build an educational platform where I educate and support other stylists who come out teaching the techniques that I have using my tools. I think that would be fabulous because I know I would train fabulous stylists to do great hair.
MS: Lastly, if you were to go back in time what is one advice you would give to yourself?
I would say “Tamiah, you don’t have to do everything, you don’t have to be so hard on yourself, you don’t have to be so rigid. Life is about flexibility and it’s okay to mess up. Don’t beat yourself up if you mess up but learn from the mistakes and continue to persevere. Understanding that the things you learn become part of your tool belt, don’t get caught up in the mistakes themselves”.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Check out Diversame to Pre-Order!
A FEMINIST, who wants to eventually be an amazing soccer mom with flexible work hours. A CONSULTANT, who is thirsty for flight status and hangry for hotel cookies. A DOG LOVER, who plans to own a German Sheppard, Oreo, and a Golden Retriever, Cheerio. A PROUD TECHIE, who doesn’t enjoy coding. A SELF PROCLAIMED PRACTICAL OPTIMIST, who struggles with the difficult act of staying positive while battling with depression. #PositiveAttitudes