To understand Christa Lemonakis' entrepreneurial motivation, consider how the 19-year-old entrepreneur manages her busy life as a working single mom.
She wakes before dawn every day with a list of 10 things she plans to accomplish that week. Each month, she diligently reviews her lists to determine why she has or hasn't accomplished a certain task.
“I needed something to wake me up,” she laughs. “My coworkers say, 'you are crazy.'”
But Lemonakis, who is raising an 8-month-old son and works full-time in the human resource department of Hope Hospice, says she's passionate about a business she's starting to help cancer patients with hair loss.
When she was 16, Lemonakis' best friend lost her hair to a rare form of cancer called midline carcinoma. Her friend didn't cry when a doctor gave her a six-month prognosis, but she was devastated by the hair loss from treatments. “Seeing that effect on her motivated me,” Lemonakis says.
So Lemonakis started researching and learning all she could about wigs, hair extensions and adhesives. She studied cosmetology at Lee County High Tech Central and interviewed manufacturers, suppliers of human hair and salons. She has attended manufacturer association trade lunches and quizzed CEOs of import-export companies. “If they say you're crazy, you're onto something good,” she says.
Lemonakis saved $5,000 to form Extend & Mend International at her home in Cape Coral, which she plans to launch Aug. 1. She's eager to build her business using her own earnings and isn't seeking angel investors. “I'm kind of wary about that,” she says. “If I mess up, it's my money.” Anyhow, most people she knows aren't investors. “My friends are all struggling,” she says. “They're young like me.”
Meanwhile, Lemonakis says she has no plans to take on debt to fund the business. “The only people who get loans are those who don't need them,” she says.
To make the hair extensions she's selling now, Lemonakis buys top-quality human hair from reputable companies that sell to her in bulk. She then packages and sells hair extensions to cosmetologists and medical-supply stores with guidance about application on the scalp of cancer patients and others with hair loss. Because they're undergoing medical treatment, cancer patients' skin is particularly sensitive and Lemonakis' hair and adhesives are specially designed for them.
Locally, Lemonakis uses mannequins to demonstrate the application of hair extensions. She's also using her website, Extendandmend.com, to distribute globally. When the business is profitable, Lemonakis plans to donate 10% of the company's earnings to a cancer-related charity, sponsor five annual fundraising events and donate a wig each month to one patient.
Hair extensions from Extend & Mend cost $100 to $215 per pack depending on length, color and style. While they cost more than the competition, Lemonakis says her hair extensions last as long as nine months, much longer than lesser-quality hair sold by competitors.
Because she's passionate about building her business, Lemonakis says she doesn't have the time or money to party or shop with friends. “Do I sacrifice? Yes, every single day,” she says. “I'm OK with it.”
That devotion to her enterprise disappoints some of her peers. “A lot of times, they take it the wrong way,” Lemonakis says. “I save every penny and put it in my business.”
Lemonakis says one of the keys to her drive is surrounding herself with positive people. “You're going to doubt yourself if you don't have someone there,” she says. She stays away from people who don't have a sunny outlook. “Embrace successful and positive people and use that as fuel,” she says.