Get Paid To Be Yourself: The Business Of Being Kandi Burruss
Despite providing a profitable platform for established celebrities and aspiring artists alike to expand their personal brands, reality stars rarely escape the skepticism that surrounds portraying scripted lives on television.
Whether getting tangled in a spiraling web of drama, or becoming trapped in a perception that overshadows their potential -- few cast members have mastered the art of leveraging their primetime opportunity to build multifaceted businesses.
Yet, for Kandi Burruss, becoming a staple within Bravo's top-rated Real Housewives franchise only added another layer to an impressive portfolio of successful business ventures. Cementing her legacy in the music business as a multiplatinum, Grammy award-winning singer and songwriter, Burruss first made her mark in the 90's as the anchor of legendary R&B group Xscape. As a writer, she's penned hit songs for stars such as Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, TLC, Destiny's Child and Alicia Keys. In 2000, Kandi became the first female to win ASCAP Songwriter of the Year at the annual ASCAP Rhythm & Soul Awards.
As a serial entrepreneur, Kandi has founded several scalable companies, solidifying herself as not only a proven trendsetter, but a multi-million dollar mogul. Evolving from a boutique production company into a full-service multimedia agency, Kandi Koated Entertainment boasts a talented team of skilled writers and producers, offering a diverse suite of capabilities covering all aspects of the entertainment industry. Headquartered at her facility in Atlanta, her firm
Opening its doors in 2009, TAGS Boutique was Burruss' first endeavor outside of music, selling luxury women's apparel at affordable price points. The venture now consists of a successful online retail store, in addition to frequented storefronts in Atlanta and Las Vegas. Seeing the success of her first e-commerce platform, Burruss introduced her own line of adult toys under the Bedroom Kandiimprint. Within just eight months of operations, the businesses not only recouped its initial investments, but spawned a series of nationwide "Bedroom Kandi" parties that have attracted over 1,300 hosts and consultants across the country.
Developing an instinct for turning simple ideas into lucrative enterprises, Kandi shifted her focus to empowering mothers. After witnessing her one-year-old son's Instagram profile surpass 300,000 followers from sharing her first-hand experiences of potty training, the concept for Raising Ace was born. Inspired by the $1 billion blueprint Jessica Alba laid out with her Honest Company brand, Burruss launched a line of unisex children's accessories, such as bottles, bottle holders, potties, and toilet seats to make the process stress free for parents everywhere. Stepping into 2017 with the announcement of her first restaurant, Old Lady Gang, Burruss has merely scratched the surface of what's possible.
Check out the Q&A below w/ Kandi where she speaks about her business model, guiding principles, and the keys to turning big visions into profitable ventures.
The best brands in the world aren't companies, they're the foundation from which great companies are born -- What belief or personal philosophy defines how you've built your career?
Kandi Burruss: I want to build businesses that are high quality, socially conscious, and for the people. To get started is simple, but to execute is not. I’m extremely creative, but to be successful at the highest level, you need to partner with the right people who are very detailed. Surround yourself with people you can really build with, who are about taking your ideas and helping them come to life. Maintaining longevity is a major part of success to me. So many people come into an industry quick, shoot to the top, then crash and burn. It’s been a long journey for me. To say that I’m still here, still growing, and people still care about what I'm doing -- that is what I would call success. I'm driven by legacy. I want to be remembered. This about leaving something for my kids.
You've had a very successful music career, but have also solidified yourself as an accomplished entrepreneur -- What specific lesson did take from your experience in music that you've applied to building a business?
Kandi Burruss: The music industry is up and down. Sometimes the people love you, and sometimes they don’t. I wanted to be the owner of multiple businesses that were financially profitable and sustainable. Anybody can build a business, but to keep it going is the real success.Until you build a foundation that can grow and continue to be successful, there’s so much work to do. I've established a really solid team, and we’ve built a real foundation that is continuing to grow and expand in more ways than we could have imagined.
What do you believe keeps most multitalented people from taking that next step to becoming entrepreneurs or business leaders?
Kandi Burruss: Most of us talk ourselves out of our own ideas, because we’re our own worst enemy. We don’t even take the time to research how much things cost. If I have an idea, my first thought is let me see what I can do to make it happen. Even when people tell me not to do something, if I believe in it, I’m going to make it happen.
You were able to spend many successful years behind the scenes in the music -- How has being on a reality show like Real Housewives raised your profile and shaped the moves you make?
Kandi Burruss: My popularity is at an all-time high right now. For some reason, people treat reality stars unlike any other type of stars. It was almost easier when people didn’t know me from the show. In the music industry, I could be successful with just my peers and the people I’ve followed. When you're behind the scenes in music, you deal with people thinking you fell off, but I enjoyed being the quiet storm. Being on a reality show, it's completely different. People feel like they have access to every part of your life, and they aren't afraid to voice their opinions. We’re in a time where people want to blast you about everything. Whether on the blogs, or through social media, people love to throw mess on the internet. But, I’m not going to care about the image people want me to be. Being real and true to myself makes me more of the relatable woman.
It seems like the conversations around black women on television, particularly in the reality space, revolve around image -- How has the emphasis on perception shaped the business decisions you've made?
Kandi Burruss: Everybody is concerned about image. Me, as a black woman and a mother, I’m very aware of how important perception is. There are not a lot of black celebrity women who get picked to become the face of many major brands. They often use the same faces repeatedly. I had to ask myself — am I going to keep doing everything I can to hopefully be the face of whatever company, or do I want to do what I want to do and build my own brands? If you have ownership, you have more control of how your product is presented to the world.
Managing multiple businesses can have tremendous rewards, but also take a lot of hard work and collaboration -- What was a pivotal turning point that helped you effectively run all of your enterprises at a high level?
Kandi Burruss: I have an office in Atlanta, that we built 5 years ago. Prior to having my own building, I used to work out of a popular restaurant in Atlanta called Houston’s. Houston’s restaurant is everybody’s office. Then one day, Don Juan, my business partner and right hand said, 'Kandi, you are doing million-dollar business on a bootleg budget. You need a place where people can come to you.' That was the truth. That’s when I knew if I wanted to take my business to the next level, I had to build the right structure and facility to match. Now, our offices have a recording studio, rehearsal space, and pre-production rooms.
How important is it to use your platform to open doors for other women following your career to walk through?
Kandi Burruss: I love being the woman who breaks down barriers for other women. In music, I was the first one to break down barriers by being the first female to win Songwriter of the Year at the ASCAP Rhythm & Soul award. I always want to push my peers to step up their game. Sometimes, I don’t even know I’m breaking barriers down when I'm doing it. Making history is definitely success, because nobody can take that away from you. Nobody can ever take away from me being the first person to win ASCAP songwriter of the year.