Nigerian-American business mogul, “mompreneur” and philanthropist Yummie “Yummie O.” Okunfulure, is the CEO and Founder of Yummy Extensions. Starting in corporate America, she honed her skills and learned to own her talents. After ultimately taking the leap to create her own multi-million dollar business empire, she now prides herself in her ability to cultivate opportunities for other women to follow in her footsteps.
Born in Nigeria, her mom’s entrepreneurial spirit was an early influence; her background in – and love of – education was a trait Yummie adopted. Attending college in Texas, she tutored math three of her four years, and notes that teaching has always been her passion – a main reason why she hosts coaching sessions with entrepreneurs to this day.
After graduating from the University of Houston, Yummie landed a job at a prestigious consulting firm that served as a perfect complement to her technology skills. She aspired to become a Chief Information Officer, but found herself facing a seemingly unbreakable “glass ceiling,” growing to believe such a climb would not be possible. Her ten year experience in corporate America proved to be a turning point:
“I felt like women – especially women of color – are often overlooked, even with all of the successes, degrees and experience. We just weren’t given those opportunities that I knew that we could. So with that, at that point I said, ‘If I was to have my own business or my own venture, I would be that much more intentional about [empowering and giving opportunities to such individuals].'”
Yummie reflects: “I always say, in business you just have to give it a shot, give it a try. You can never be completely prepared for everything. You must just start. If you feel something in your heart about something that you want to do – just do it!”
Her ten-year experience in corporate America proved to be a turning point for Yummie. Yummie wants those aspiring to career advancement in the corporate world to understand that the means by which this happens isn’t always fair, and that one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed should not be determined by that of “corporate gatekeepers.” She reflects on the pivotal moment in her career where she adopted this outlook:
“I worked in IT, was a Business Analyst (BA) and a Project Manager. Early on, all BAs were given an exam, with no heads up that it was happening or why. So I did the test, and heard nothing more about it. Afterwards, I noticed people were getting promoted, people that weren’t my gender or color. A year later, a new director was hired. Stopping by my desk, she explained that she had the results from the BA exam, and that I was the top ranked BA in the entire company. This came as quite a surprise, as my manager at the time had never mentioned this. This woman literally handed me the job to manage all of the BAs in the company. I worked in that amazing opportunity for three years. She was a supportive manager: she identified my strengths and nurtured them. So that’s my example of how one can earn an opportunity in the corporate world but not necessarily receive it, but I was fortunate. No one ever came to me and said, ‘Yummie, you are the best. We want to give you an opportunity.’ They rather gave such opportunities to my male counterparts, to the people that were heading to drinks after work, those that they felt more comfortable around culturally. This experience allowed me to realize that, ‘Wow! I can do all of these things,’ because I have the support of my director at the time. And I said to myself, ‘Once I leave here, I’m going to be more intentional about giving women of color opportunities when I have my own business.’ And that’s exactly what I did.”
Originally beginning as a side gig to her corporate job, she never expected her passion for beauty and hair to blossom into the business it is today. After her second child was born, she knew it was time for a change. Raising young children with work that required lots of travel often keeping her away from home, she recognized this was not what she wanted for their upbringing. She craved a work-life balance that complemented her current lifestyle.
“I’ve always been a hair lover and have been wearing hair extensions for as long as I can remember. At one point I spent so much on poor quality extensions that had to be replaced every 2-3 weeks, that my husband would complain bitterly about the amount of money I was spending on hair.” But the self-described, “Queen of Research,” quickly expanded her knowledge of the market, becoming the “go to” hair extension expert among friends and family. They became her first set of customers.
Heralding “consistency” as a primary key to success, she spent four years to transition to her own company, while juggling her growing family and corporate career. She began dedicating more and more time and energy to it, which has resulted in her flourishing brand today. “I never would have thought I would have a career out of it. I didn’t go to school for hair, and I’m not a hairstylist – just a woman who had a vision and a passion and decided to act on it, and work within the beauty industry.”
Then in 2013, she took her biggest leap of faith to date, leaving her thriving corporate career behind to start her own business, and be more available to her three daughters and husband.
She traveled across the country in 2015, hosting a series of pop-up shops in Los Angeles, Maryland and New York, and by 2019, Yummy Extensions had opened its second location in NYC, had amassed 287K Instagram followers, robust sales, and had become a favorite among celebrities, worn at prestigious events such as the Met Gala.
Recognized by the likes of Allure and Essence magazines, among others, Yummy Extensions is considered one of the leading hair extension brands today, receiving praise over its powerful branding, superior customer service, and finest quality hair available in today’s market. It is this consistency that Yummie considers to be a cornerstone to ensuring business success.
Ultimately, it was Yummie’s curiosity and belief in herself which led to her becoming the leader she is today, with a trailblazing beauty brand and a highly competitive industry. Yummie believes that everyone has a story, and that hers is one that can be an inspiration to many young women, mothers and entrepreneurs. “I have learned to overcome fear and rejection. I want to help others do the same.”
Pictured: Yummy Extensions founder Yummie Okunfulure
What would you like people to know about your journey?
Yummie considers her mission and life’s work as inextricably linked with her faith and helping others find their unique niche and excel in it: “I have a strong passion for private mentorship, motivational speaking and seeing women thrive in business. Staying humble is a lesson for everyone I mentor, because I believe it is the key to unlocking one’s true potential in this world.
Ultimately, Yummy Extensions has maintained a corporate feel with a twist: “I don’t see it as a hair company, but as a ‘tech company,’ enabling me to reach so many women and add value to their lives. Our customers and our staff, we strive to cultivate an encouraging community, like family.”
“My staff is intentionally all woman that have an entrepreneurial spirit! Also, I understand what it’s like to juggle work/family life, so I prioritize making adjustments that enable my team to find that balance. We work hard and support one another to make this happen. I make sure everyone that works for me knows how much I believe in them. It’s been a joy seeing my team grow, and become successful entrepreneurs themselves.”
What advice do you have for others wanting to start their own business?
Be open to change: Put your entire spirit into your work. Allow your challenges to push you.
Be more intentional about the steps you take and the ‘why’ behind why you do what you do: This will push you to success and help you maintain your focus in the face of challenges.
Be less cautious and take more risks: when I was starting out in my first retail store, it was in a salon suite I shared with a friend. Even though I had enough money to open a space of my own, I was afraid to take such a big leap [without a net]. But the moment I gained the courage to open a space fully my own, as a result, I was rewarded with my business skyrocketing!
What do you love most about your work?
I love seeing the impact we have on people and helping customers restore their confidence in themselves. I’m passionate about creating something from nothing and seeing it flourish and being able to develop female leaders in the process.
As long as you put your hand out to succeed, I will hold that hand and we will walk through the journey together. That is what I mean by having leadership that actually cares and wants to see you succeed. And even if staff moves on to work elsewhere, I want them to feel that “working at Yummy Extensions allowed me to do [the next step in their career journey].” That is my joy and I believe in gracious giving: that money is only a tool and a blessing to help others. Giving back essentially is being able to be a blessing to others. Having wealth or riches or whatever blessings you have in life, it’s not about you yourself alone. It’s about what you can do to assist and help others around you.