How I Did It: Melissa Black, Founder & CEO Honeycombers

I grew up the second of four daughters just outside of Boston. My mother was a stylish, beautiful, wickedly smart elementary school teacher, and my father a geeky, lanky Finance professor at MIT.

Upon graduation from Harvard in 1992, I worked in several different service industries, finally landing with a corporate childcare company called ChildrenFirst. ChildrenFirst’s charismatic female founder utterly changed my vision of my future and career. I admired her passion, incredible drive, and the mission to make excellence in child care a reality.

However, as soon as I found out I got into the Stanford GSB I high-tailed it to Palo Alto where I met my darling husband David during first years’ orientation. Developing a friendship before dating, we got on like the proverbial house on fire, and spent a year and half blissfully traveling and camping and such before marrying in June of 2000.

After a couple of delightful young married years, we found out that I was pregnant with twins. Katrina and Caroline were born in June of 2003.  The first years with them, I wrote the occasional business plan but was mostly a stay-at-home mom. Sierra, my third daughter, was born in October of 2004 and our last daughter, Annika Elise, was born in December of 2008.

In December of 2009 we decided to upgrade the guts of our budding home to try to make it less drafty and cold. A few weeks into January of 2010, David came home from work early on Friday afternoon complaining of feeling ill and having chills, fever and nausea. A visit to the doctor sent him home simply to rest. By Monday morning he was critically ill.

His doctors told me an overwhelming staph infection had been misdiagnosed as the flu, leading to endocarditis, an inflammation and infection in the heart itself.  He struggled through weeks of agonizing pain and gains and setbacks until he finally succumbed to a hemorrhagic stroke that damaged his brain stem on February 11, 2010.

We took him off life support and he passed on February 16, 2010, at the age of 37.  The girls were 6, 6, 5 and 1 at the time.

I wish I could say that I was a stoic, tough, rock of support for my family and loved ones during those first few months, but I was not. I fell apart. I didn’t sleep, I couldn’t eat, I lost 20 pounds I couldn’t afford to lose, and forgot how to turn on the stove.  I cried for 10 or 12 hours a day, sometimes so hard I would vomit in spasms of grief.

I had no way of escaping the tremendous reality that became my life after David died.  I don’t remember most of 2010, truthfully.  My sisters, my friends and my community were wonderful. I could not have done it without all of the strangers and friends who rallied around us.  One family that I barely knew even hosted us in their home for many months after the living situation just became intolerable.

A year and half after David died I finally rallied and managed to move into a rental house in the same school district.  That fall, my daughter Sierra was scratching and scratching her head. On Christmas Eve, I was brushing her hair and saw little bugs crawling all over the place. It was horrible.

I couldn’t get to the store to buy any of the drugstore remedies because they were all closed for the holiday only adding to the horror. I read online about the Nuvo treatment and luckily I had Cetaphil. I coated the girls’ heads, combed through and applied everywhere. The next morning I washed it all out (before opening presents) and had to start the whole process again the night of the 25th.  It is one Christmas I will never forget.

I called a lice treatment salon in the area and they very kindly agree to open early the next morning. Once I arrived, however, the experience was not what I expected or needed. The place was dirty and the technicians yelled at me for not combing the girls’ hair out better. There was no privacy, and I had to sit in the waiting chairs next to other customers also needing treatment for lice. Three of the four girls were diagnosed with live bugs.

After I walked out of the salon, I said to myself, that is a great idea but poor execution.  They helped with the combing but didn’t help me manage the whole problem.  I was stressed, nervous and afraid, their rude behavior only made me feel worse.

I felt strongly that I could do it better and create a caring, sanitary, professional, and calming  environment all at the same time. So the idea for my Melissa: Chapter Two was born.

My sister Ashley, a LA comedy writer and mother of four came up with the incredible name “honeycombers.”  I started researching the competition and found that lice was an incredibly common problem in the US, affecting 12 million people.

As I worked on the concept, I realized how I could make Honeycombers a real resource to families and organizations who were struggling with how to manage lice. Honeycombers is meant to partner with those who are facing the confusing and stressful issue of lice, providing all-natural products that are effective on critters, but gentle on little heads.

We guide clients through product selection and also train how to comb through your kids’ yourself. We even partner with organizations to train staff and parents on how to prevent lice as well as deal with outbreaks school, camp or church.  Most importantly, we help those suffering manage the entire process of lice eradication, treating the heads, the home and the entire environment.

My girls, now 10, 10, 8.5 and almost 5, are thriving and happy, in between the moments when they grieve and miss their daddy.  They point to the star in the sky that is named for him, and talk to him, and we share all the stories of the good (and normal, not-so-good) times.  They know that in their few short years with David, they were truly cherished by him.

Building Honeycombers has brought me something I could not have foreseen. Creating the company gave me something to focus on in my years of savage sadness and loneliness.  It gave me a reason to get out of bed.

As the active grief faded, I felt that I was truly starting a new path that sparked all of my interests:  my passion for great customer service, helping parents who were struggling like I was, and creating a beautiful, welcoming environment.

I feel lucky. Very lucky. I had ten wonderful years of marriage to a great loving husband and father, and I have four amazing kids, a great job, and fresh start.  I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

About the Author

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Melissa Allen Black grew up outside Boston, and graduated with an A.B. Cum Laude in Hispanic Studies from Harvard College in 1992. She developed her passion for excellent customer service while working in sales and marketing in the restaurant industry and the corporate child-care industry. After receiving an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Melissa co-founded founded a dot-com focusing on turning dissatisfied customers into satisfied customers. Melissa settled in the Bay Area with her late husband David Palecek and had four daughters: twins Katrina, Caroline, Sierra and Annika. After working as a personal stylist for five years, she felt the need to try her hand at a larger venture. Unfortunately, her husband David passed away suddenly at the age of 37 in 2010. The years after David's death were a blur of confusion and grief. Now, she is rebuilding her life and adjusting to the "new normal" as a single parent.

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