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:Mindset / Success and goal setting

Beachwaver’s Sarah Potempa: Road from celebrity stylist to course creator

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Creators on Teachable have any and every background. And we believe everyone has a passion they can transition into a business. For Teachable creator and co-founder of Beachwaver Sarah Potempa, her background involved red carpets, A-list celebrities, braids, and an idea to make hairstyling more accessible to all.

There’s no way around it: Sarah’s resume is an impressive one. It includes working backstage at New York Fashion Week and Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, training with legendary hairstylists such as Bob Recine, and creating looks for celebrity clients like Reese Witherspoon, Busy Phillipps, Camila Cabello, and Emily Blunt. 

 

 

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But, it wasn’t until the creation of Beachwaver that her life as an entrepreneur really took off. Although The Beachwaver Co. is now a full-fledged haircare brand, it started out with one idea: a rotating curling iron. Today, Sarah runs the synonymous hair brand that she founded with her two sisters and business partners Erin Potempa-Wall, a lawyer and The Beachwaver Co. president, and Emily Potempa, a photographer and brand creative director.

We sat down with Sarah to learn about her free courses on Teachable, as well how she went from celebrity hairstylist to viral phenomenon to entrepreneur and now online course creator. Read on to see more about how Sarah and the Beachwaver team is making the jump from commerce to courses.

A lightbulb moment

As a celebrity hairstylist who worked with media on the regular, Sarah was used to giving instructions on how to recreate red carpet or TV hairstyles. Her how-tos to beauty editors involved descriptions of how to hold your curling iron, how to maneuver your hands—a process that perhaps wasn’t as simple as it could be. 

 

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Sarah recounted the moment she dreamed up the Beachwaver:

“It was really interesting because after saying the same thing over and over again, I was actually on the phone with a beauty editor and she was like, ‘I’m so confused. What do you mean by upside down? And wrapping the hair which way?’ And she was like, ‘One side looks good, the other doesn’t.’ So, I sketched out the idea for the Beachwaver. It has a left and a right button based on the side you’re curling and a go button. And honestly it was kind of one of those things. I got off the phone with her, sketched out the idea, and had this thought of, ‘OK, how could you make it to create this perfect beach-y wave?’ And that’s how the Beachwaver came to life.”

Cracking the viral code

Part of what helped Sarah and Beachwaver grow so quickly was a little boost from social media long before “content creation” was in our everyday vocabulary. 

“When I very first started to think about going on social media, my agent and team were like, ‘Hmm, not a good idea. Let’s be careful because you work with a lot of high-profile people. It’s not really mainstream right now.’” But Sarah couldn’t help but think she could take her same passion for teaching hairstyling to Instagram. 

“I think that idea of finding a way to utilize social media is what really drove me,” she noted. “I love styling hair. So, I remember going in and talking to Ali, my agent and saying, ‘What about if I just did Twitter and this thing called Instagram? And what if I just did hairstyling? What if I just did the same thing I do with the beauty editors where I’m just showing styles or creating something they could learn from.’ And she was like, ‘OK, that’s interesting!’” 

#Success

From there, Sarah jumped into creating a series of different hairstyles, which she posted on Instagram using #100daysofhair. Following her first “content” success, she aimed higher the next year: #365daysofbraids.

Although sharing content is mainstream now, six years ago when Sarah took on the challenge, many of her clients and friends laughed at the idea of posting every single day. But as it turns out, Sarah was ahead of the curve. “That hashtag turned into so many opportunities because people started to see that I was committed to it and I was doing it. And it wasn’t even the best content!”

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Sarah's signature pink hair and braid

Media relations

It was that commitment to sharing her craft and her instinct to tap into a burgeoning social media platform that opened up a world of opportunities. Soon major media outlets like Brides, POPSUGAR, and The Today Show would come knocking, asking for braid content.

Of course, Sarah still had her celebrity clients on top of her viral fame. After a chance mention of her challenge backstage to client Reese Witherspoon, who insisted upon being a braid challenge recipient, #365daysofbraids content exploded. 

“That was the moment where I was like, ‘Oh wow.’ We just literally turned my job as part of the crew into a content creation moment where Reese was willing to let me do a really unique braid,” she said. Soon more celebrities such as Emily Blunt and Busy Phillips were asking for braids. Sarah’s simple idea to create the content she loved went viral.

 

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People were fascinated by her shareable content and the idea of “doing it on your own.” But Sarah noted that none of her early viral success and audience growth would’ve happened without her decision to jump into creating content simply because she wanted to. 

“Any concept that you enjoy doing, you can create your own version of an artistic portfolio through social media,” added Sarah. “You’ll be amazed at what opportunities come, but you have to take the step.” 

Building an audience

Sarah’s love of doing hair and teaching others to style hair started at a young age thanks to her sisters and sports teammates. This love of her craft is also how Sarah connected with her now large audience. 

She “got” the teenager trying a new look in her bathroom. She understood the desire to recreate a red carpet style. It’s that connection to her followers that led Sarah to continue to emphasize and grow her audience through Instagram, the 700-strong Ambassador Program, and the Beachwaver Campus Wave Program—a college ambassador program where Sarah delivers monthly webinars to each semester.

Campus connections

“What I love about Instagram and social and our Campus Wave Program is that you actually get feedback, and you can connect with that audience,” Sarah added. “You feel like it’s mutually beneficial because sometimes I forget that I’ve had all these amazing experiences that maybe not everyone has experienced. But at heart, I still feel like a kid who just loves to braid hair.”

Sarah added, “Those programs, for me, have been really incredible because I think members learn about us as female founders of a women-owned business. They learn about the ingredients in our hair care, why they’re vegan products, what an active strengthener is. So, it’s like I’m educating the fans of the brand and then they become friends of the brand!”

From in-store to online 

Like many small business owners, team Beachwaver shifted how they ran business in 2020. One major area Sarah and the team concentrated on was driving customers to their e-commerce site now that in-store shopping had all but shuttered. The team got to work building out a digital strategy, solving logistical concerns, and getting their product to consumers. 

In addition, the brand looked to other brands they could partner with and expand their reach. The brand just had their first collaboration with makeup brand Stila. “I feel like that’s what the last year has been about—connecting to your audience, finding the collaborations you really want to partner with, taking the time to plan, rebuild, and focus on the true meaning of your business. Why are you doing what you’re doing?” Sarah said.

 

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That transition to online and e-commerce also helped Sarah and the team make the decision to pivot toward content creation again.

“We really had to shift much faster than we wanted to e-com,” she said. “But, then when you do that, opportunities come—like getting back to what we love, making content, and teaching people how to do their hair. That’s why we started the business. And I think stories kind of come from there.”

Commerce to courses 

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Beachwaver Master Class

Now, the Beachwaver team is continuing their mission to teach and make hairstyling accessible to all with online courses. In their new free series, Beachwaver Master Class, Sarah recreates and teaches her most viral hairstyle videos that have propelled her and her business to success.

In the series, Sarah breaks down each look so students can learn how to master styles such as braids, space buns, Dutch fishtails, and of course, beach waves with the Beachwaver. Beyond that, Sarah reveals the tips she used to create these viral videos that earned 60 million views in a matter of 48 hours.

I’m going to talk about how hairdressing, which is my element and what I love, how that kind of connects to viral content and video creation and how you could really take that concept and put it out there,” Sarah explained. 

Creation wave

And this is only the beginning for Sarah and her sisters. 

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Beachwaver Master Class

“I think the other exciting thing is talking about growing a business because we have gone through a lot of shifts and adapting,” she said. “Being in business for over 10 years with my family, my sisters, it’s a really exciting process. And I think that what we’ve learned too is to really find people that believe in your vision too and share it. I know it’s a lot and it’s challenging, but I think that’s what I’m excited to share on Teachable. All of the things that we’ve learned and the mistakes we’ve made and the positive things that we’ve learned from all of the different retail situations, logistics, and shipping—and how to run a business.” 

You can get all of the Beachwaver courses here—for free.



Author: Caitlin Miller, Caitlin Miller is the Editorial Strategist at Teachable. In her spare time, she's often found listening to vinyl records, buying too many house plants, and enjoying a run on the streets of Brooklyn.

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