Blade Craft Barber Academy founder Lilly Benitez was recently asked to share her story with Canvas Rebel. Within this interview, she was excited to share her story, give some tips on what she’s learned and some things she’s had to unlearn along her journey to building a successful business.
We hope that Lilly’s story and hearing how her determination built a business that keeps giving back to the barber community and beyond inspires you to take charge and work towards your dreams, no matter what those may be.
Below are the questions and answers from the original article.
Alright, Lilly thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. Coming up with the idea is so exciting, but then comes the hard part – executing. Too often the media ignores the execution part and goes from idea to success, skipping over the nitty, gritty details of executing in the early days. We think that’s a disservice both to the entrepreneurs who built something amazing as well as the public who isn’t getting a realistic picture of what it takes to succeed.
So, we’d really appreciate if you could open up about your execution story – how did you go from idea to execution?
I started Blade Craft Barber Academy officially around 2012. The idea came about after traveling and understanding that the level of education needed to create a luxury barber wasn’t readily available. I realized I was going to have to create it myself. Being a barber full-time and being a massage therapist never really led me to having formal education on business. Therefore, I had to ask friends,utilize the resources at hand and research as much as I could. The first thing I had to tackle was writing a business plan. After that, I had to get creative on fundraising, all the while supporting myself throughout the process.
Once I qualified for am SBA loan, I partnered with a mentor. I had written a business plan, fundraised, created a solid brand, and now I oversaw the General Contracting build for my personal development, creating relationships in our community, ensuring that the quality of product I was offering was going to match up to the level of Barber I was seeking to create in order to elevate the industry of barbering (which were just SOME of the main steps that allowed me to launch my business).
The jump between writing a business plan and fundraising, to actually walking in and having my keys to the place I leased was about three years. After obtaining my keys, it took another six to eight months to get the build-out completed. It took closer to eight months to actually be open and accepting clients. So during a startup, you must understand that there are going to be expenses that are unforeseen. All the while your personal expenses are still there. My family, especially my brothers, have always been supportive throughout the whole process. They also helped me with the manual labor of the build-out aspects, as well as guidance on actually building some of the furniture. Once the school was actually open, I then had to understand that I couldn’t afford another.
I was the only educator. I was unable to afford another employee as an instructor. Thankfully, one of the students decided that their passion for educating and teaching meant that they would volunteer their time to help out. The evolution of Blade Craft Barber Academy has come solely from the support of friends, family, and the community. I am happy that students are successful. 40% of our graduates are opening up businesses and creating a positive impact in their community. They understand that their personal brand reflects on the barbering industry as a whole. Therefore, they are creating a new generation of barbers that actually lead with empathy, are seeking to communicate in a positive way with their communities, and are intentional about the services they are offering. I couldn’t be more proud and where we are headed. The team that we have is passionate about our students, our community, and our clientele as well as each other.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your back background and context?
My barber academy not only teaches the technicalities of haircutting, Beard Shaping, straight razor shaving, color and the obvious aspects of barbering. Our organization focuses on business fundamentals the success of entrepreneurship, as well as making a positive impact in the community.
What problems do you solve for your clients and/or what do you think sets you apart from others?
37% of our graduates are opening up their own businesses and doing so successfully with the skills that were obtained. We try to introduce him to add an array of experiences that will hopefully help develop them professionally while they are in school. This way, they then know how to react once they’re in their respective communities.
What’s are you most proud of and what are the main things you want potential clients/ followers/ fans to know about you/ your brand/ your work/etc.?
I am proud of the positive impact that our graduates and staff make on a daily basis with every intentional interaction. Offering barbering services offsite and in non-traditional forms allow us to bring a form of relaxation to those that most need it. Connection is a real reason, the barbering service is the excuse.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
Growing up first generation from El Salvador and parents, fear of asking for help was diminished. I learned early on as a child needing to translate things for my parents and that I needed to communicate clearly and concisely. But I have never forgotten that asking for help can be rewarding for both parties.
Can you open up about how you funded your business?
I would work Monday through Friday cutting hair at the Barbershop I worked at. Then on Saturdays and Sundays, I would fundraise for my business cutting hair onsite; ‘Lilly on Location’