There is a lot of romanticism around entrepreneurship in America, and among African Americans in particular, as evidenced by the fact that black women continue to be among the fastest growing population of business owners. The heroic story of the everyday person with an innovative idea, but little or no financial resources, overcoming long odds to build a successful company by sheer passion, hard work, faith and determination alone, is the dream of many aspiring entrepreneurs.
As a mentor/advisor to entrepreneurs, a judge of business plan/pitch competitions, veteran business journalist and an entrepreneur myself, I’ve been a major promoter of the benefits of starting and growing a viable business. In the same vein, I’ve always been concerned that not enough attention is paid to the very real challenges and sacrifices necessary to create a product or service and to build a viable, profitable business model to bring it to market. That’s why I love books like Miss Jessie’s: Creating A Successful Business From Scratch—Naturally by Miko Branch with Titi Branch.
Miss Jessie’s is the story of Miko and her late sister Titi’s journey to become pioneer heroes of the natural/curly hair movement, rooted in the lessons and experiences of family, especially the example and wisdom of Miss Jessie herself, the sisters’ paternal grandmother Jessie Mae Branch. The book is written with obvious and abundant affection to the entire family, and is clearly a tribute to Miko’s sister Titi, who died in 2014.
But the true value of the book is the unflinching candor with which Miko describes her and her sister’s journey from being raised in the Borough of Queens in New York City by an African American father and Japanese American mother, to becoming a pioneering brand in the nascent natural hair products industry, to Miss Jessie’s triumphant retail deal with Target. Miko addresses the valleys of their experiences—including a lawsuit between her and her sister that nearly destroyed their relationship as well as their company—with as much honesty and detail as she does the high points of opening their first successful salon and creating breakthrough products.
It is this clear-eyed, practical truth-telling, in addition to the helpful business tips clearly broken out throughout, that makes this an invaluable book of instruction for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those in desperate need of a reality check about what it really means to build a business with no money to start and little to work with along the way. Miss Jessie’s Book not only shows that it can be done; it also shows, step-by-step, what it takes to do it.