Touré Owen, an Alpine Social Ventures (ASV) fellow and Stanford University Graduate School of Business (GSB) alumnus, has always found his community in the comfort of the Black barbershop. Whether he was working at one of the world’s largest tech companies in Silicon Valley or working in foreign countries thousands of miles away from home, Owen found community and acceptance in the chair of his local barber. Inspired by this connection, Owen traded his tech company ambitions for a chance at revitalizing the industry he truly loves most. In 2023, Owen founded Mobo, a revitalized Black barbershop and school that he envisions as a source of economic opportunity for barbers and joy for customers by solving some of the industry’s long standing challenges.

Through Mobo, Owen is an ASV fellow and part of the program’s 2023-2024 class. ASV aims to support the next generation of social-impact leaders by providing capital and insights to help them successfully launch their businesses. Built upon practices learned through Alpine Investors’ CEO-In-Training (CIT) program, ASV leverages Alpine’s playbooks and practices derived from 20+ years of private equity investing. In reflecting on his career journey and the heritage around Black barbershops, Owen shares why he’s energized by growing Mobo—and why its success journey is only just beginning.

Feeling at Home in the Barbershop

As for many Black men, my barbershop is somewhere I feel immediately comfortable the minute I walk through the doors. Growing up, my mom would drop my older brothers and I off at our shop early Saturday morning once a month, and we’d spend hours waiting for our cut. It was just a hole in the wall barbershop in a strip mall in Sacramento, California, but it felt like home—my barber knew me and my brothers in a way that felt like family.

Touré Owen and his two older brothers.

Alpine trusts me, but if I need something, the team is willing to help. What more could you ask for in a partner?

That early affinity for the barbershop as a place of gathering and cultural heritage was always a part of me, and it would one day become my passion to cherish and grow this space– but I hadn’t quite realized it yet.

For college, I received my undergraduate degree from University of California, Berkeley which led me to starting my career at Google. Working as a person of color in the tech industry felt taxing—I worried about how the way I looked, spoke, or acted would be perceived differently because of my identity. I’d look around and didn’t see many people who looked like me. I’d often take the shuttle home from Mountain View, tired and groggy, and I’d find myself on autopilot heading to the barbershop.

What started as going once every three weeks, quickly became once every two weeks, until I found myself in the chair sometimes twice a week. I’d get a haircut or a lineup, but mostly I went to be around people that looked like me—I found it therapeutic. I’d leave the shop feeling so much better and wishing I could take that sense of belonging with me everywhere I went.

Getting Involved in the Industry

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I questioned my passion for the tech industry while also processing the heaviness of our world at that time—the pandemic, George Floyd’s murder and California wildfires turning the sky orange. It was all overwhelming, and it pushed me to make a big change and decide I was going to do what mattered to me– not what looked nice on a resume. I quit my job in tech without a plan.

As I went for a run around Lake Merritt in Downtown Oakland, I saw one of my old barbers offering haircuts outside since shops were closed for social distancing. He had done his best to build a mobile set up, and while an innovative solution, it had tons of problems. I saw an opportunity—I could bring my operations and business experience and help barbers like him change the way that haircuts were delivered. It was an opportunity to apply my experience to my passion.

I launched my first business, Trimmed, which was a mobile men’s grooming marketplace. I bought a Mercedes Benz sprinter van, built a barbershop in said van, and poured everything into it. Customers would download the app and book a barber to their home for services. It was a rollercoaster of ups and down, but after two years the business ended up folding. With Trimmed closing, I learned extremely valuable lessons as a first-time founder. Most importantly, I confirmed that I loved the industry and wanted to dedicate my career to it.

I took my lessons and enrolled at GSB to get my MBA. At the same time, I decided to get my barbers license and enrolled in a local barber college. I’d take my backpack with my laptop to class, and then switch it out for my bag full of clippers and products and head to my next set of classes. I was living a dual life—one minute sitting in on a small group lunch with a prominent tech CEO and cutting the hair of a retired veteran, plumber, or college student the next. I found a deep connection to cutting hair, in particular. There’s nothing quite like the trust someone has for you while in the chair, and how easily the connection is built. I finally understood the importance of being on the other side of that chair.

Launching Mobo and Joining ASV

Graduating from Stanford and finishing out barber school, my next steps are to open my first barbershop and school, Mobo, later this year. I want to build the world’s best Black barbershop—a place that serves all customers but embodies the cultural heritage of the Black barbershop. I strive to bring my previous career experiences in tech optimization and strategy with me and apply them to the hands-on craft of haircare to give customers a level of service akin to none.

Launching Mobo was made possible in part by my participation with Alpine’s ASV program, which I first learned about through my friend and GSB classmate Andrew Leon Hanna, who was an ASV fellow the year prior. Alpine’s ASV program fulfills a unique void for social entrepreneurs like me in that it provides meaningful capital for social impact startups.

As an ASV fellow, I was paired with a pod of Alpine employees that are designated to support my venture. I found my pod to be enthusiastic about my mission and wanted to be supportive in whatever way they could to get my business started. For example, I received informal advice from Alpine’s legal team about lease negotiation for my commercial space. I’ve also regularly connected with one of Alpine’s partners for check-ins, while receiving the trust and space to run my business. Alpine trusts me, but if I need something, the team is willing to help. What more could you ask for in a partner?

While there’s an opportunity to expand the brand in the future—become, say, a prominent national brand—I think there’s something uniquely local about a shop that I want to cater to. I think focusing on local communities can provide the most impact right now. I’m just about to sign a lease on my first barbershop in Oakland, California. If I can provide that same sense of safety and acceptance for even just one person like how other shops created it for me throughout my life, then I’ll know that I’m on the right path.

Read more about Alpine’s Force For Good initiatives here and the ASV program here.

Certain statements about Alpine made by ASV fellows herein are intended to illustrate Alpine’s business relationship with such persons, including with respect to Alpine’s facilities as a business partner, rather than Alpine’s capabilities or expertise with respect to investment advisory services. ASV fellows were not compensated in connection with their participation, although they generally receive compensation and investment opportunities in connection with their ASV company roles, and in certain cases are also owners of portfolio company securities and/or investors in Alpine-sponsored vehicles. Such compensation and investments subject participants to potential conflicts of interest in making the statements herein. Past performance not indicative of future results. Results may vary materially and adversely. Please see Alpine’s Terms of Use for additional disclaimers.
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