Entrepreneurship and big ideas are the new drumbeat in Detroit. Take Sebastian Jackson of The Social Club Grooming Company, a modern barbershop in Midtown that’s as smart and socially conscious as it is slick with the scissors. Opened in 2012, Jackson built out the handsome space using wood from nearby blighted homes, donates clippings for fertilizer in metro parks, and hosts a monthly Shop Talk series with seasoned Detroit business leaders. On our recent trip, we were lucky enough to catch up with Sebastian and talk shop.
Why did you decide to start The Social Club?
I started The Social Club because I saw a need for the existence of a place that brings community together. I also had over ten years of barbering experience at the time and I thought the barbershop would be the perfect hub to create that community.
What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?
If your potential customers are saying that they like your idea, that's great, but ask them to pay for it. You don’t need to have the service or product already launched to start collecting money. Start asking people to cut checks or pay for the product or services, because only then will you understand if there is truly customer demand. If people are willing to pre-pay you, you can then figure out why and replicate that over and over again.
What's been the most challenging part of starting a business in Detroit?
The most challenging part of any business or idea is, and always will be, execution.
If you could have anyone in the world speak at your monthly Shop Talk series, who would it be?
Kanye West, because he’s so passionate about what he believes in. At times people misunderstand the message, but I believe that Kanye helps connect more people than we give him credit for, and the essence of Shop Talk is connecting our community. Kanye has been using the arts to connect people throughout his career—I think he would be able to do the same with our tool.
How did you get the idea to recycle hair clippings into fertilizer?
I worked with my wife for about three weeks to identify different ways that we could recycle hair, and we discovered three or four uses. We then worked with Green Garage (a sustainable business incubator) and the University of Michigan's School of Natural Resources & Environment to discover six other ways to use them. The BP oil spill originally helped me understand that we could use hair to create positive environmental impact, because several barbershops and salons were sending hair to an organization that was using it to absorb oil from the spill. That was my eureka moment. I asked myself, "How many other ways can hair be reused? Because we sure cut a lot of it off."
What are the top three books you’d recommend to an aspiring entrepreneur?
"Outliers," by Malcolm Gladwell, "Start With Why," by Simon Sinek, and "Think and Grow Rich," by Napoleon Hill.
If you weren’t leading the charge at The Social Club, what would you be doing?
I would be pursuing an MBA in an attempt to learn what I’m learning in the field. I would never do anything unrelated to business.
What’s next for The Social Club?
I will continue to follow one course until successful. So, I am focusing on continually improving our flagship location until we’ve achieved what we’ve defined as success. Once we do that we will repeat year after year until we are the global leader in men’s grooming.
Describe Detroit in five words.
Resilient. Hopeful. Strong. Opportunity. Home.