San Diego real estate broker Noel Durity says he’s living proof that with commitment and hard work the American Dream is possible for anyone.
The opportunity to prove that to himself came during a 2018 Shark Tank casting call at the Morongo Casino Resort & Spa in Riverside County. But Durity, who, at the age of 4 emigrated with his parents from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S., would have to pay his dues before that chance became a reality.
Durity’s American Dream story started off with a low point in his life when, at age 22, he hit rock bottom after dropping out of college, crashing his car and moving back in with his mom.
After finding inspiration in the 2006 documentary The Secret, he fell in love with the hustle of making money and made moves toward obtaining financial freedom. With tunnel vision focus, Durity worked 15-hour days at a handful of menial jobs, which helped fulfill his goal of saving $100,000 in two and a half years.
“I had no life and I absolutely loved it because I knew every day I woke up my bank account would grow,” he said.
From a young age his family taught him the importance of dedication and a good work ethic. With the money he’d saved, Durity threw himself into real estate in his mid 20s and began practicing as a broker when he was sidetracked by an idea that was born out of convenience and necessity.
Durity was looking to get around the need for relaxers, conditioners and others ways to manage his afro-centric hair for work.
“African-American hair naturally grows up,” Durity said. “I can’t take a toothcomb and comb my hair backwards. It’s going to break or get pulled out.”
Dreadlocks, braids and cornrows, he said were thought of as “statement” hairstyles and not corporate friendly. So, he began using a curl sponge, first made popular in 2004 by NuDred, to embrace his natural hair.
“But the problem I saw with it as a consumer was that it got dirty really fast and I always had to replace it,” he said.
After spending about $80 on products over six months he thought to himself, there has to be a better way. In 2012, after doing some research, Durity came across a YouTube tutorial on how to create natural twists in afro-centric hair using a tennis racquet.
“I thought (the video host) was full of crap, but I tried it and it worked,” he said of the technique he would use through 2015.
Around that same time he traveled to Brazil for work. But Durity explained: It’s difficult to fit a tennis racquet into a carry-on. So he borrowed his mom’s racquetball racquet, which did fit. “I started taking that with me everywhere I went.”
After losing the racquet while on his trip and finding it difficult to locate a replacement, he returned to the U.S. with a mission to create a more portable version.
In 2015, Durity figured out a way to shrink the racquet and the resulting product, Twist It Up, became a full-fledged business the following year. By November of 2016 he had his first prototype, and a few months later he began testing the market.
The patent- and trademark-protected comb now retails for $24.95, comes in multiple colors, fits in a standard pants pocket and lasts for several years.
Made of plastic and stainless steel it creates loose or defined curls, twisting hair that’s half an inch to four inches long from the roots up. According to Durity, it styles his hair in just a few minutes, saving him at least an hour a day in maintenance.
Durity said his goal is to have Twist It Up become the modern-day afro pick, which symbolizes Black pride and identity.
“For someone who has African-American hair and roots it’s a way for them to naturally wear their hair and not go through a time-consuming process or regimen,” he said. “It allows you to wake up and embrace your natural curl, whatever that may be.”
In December 2017 Durity did about $140,000 in sales, and with demand quickly outweighing supply he decided to audition for Shark Tank during a live casting call in Las Vegas, but didn’t get a call back. This was after submitting a video to the show through YouTube earlier that year and not hearing back.
But Durity is persistent. In 2018 he decided to try out for Shark Tank again and did so by attending a casting call at Morongo Casino and 30 seconds into his pitch he was interrupted by one of the crew members.
“A coworker of the casting agent I was pitching to had my comb and knew exactly what the product was,” Durity said.
Durity was in. He was given the opportunity to pitch the sharks and said there’s not a day he wakes up and takes it for granted.
“I took a tennis racket and I shrank it ... I’m flabbergasted and humbled by this journey of growing a business and making an idea profitable,” said Durity, who is now 30. “I’m living proof that when you’re living in America you can be anything you want to be.”
See Durity’s continued journey toward the American Dream when the Shark Tank episode featuring his Twist It Up comb airs on ABC at 9 p.m. (PST) on Jan. 27.