Terrell “Cassius” Simpson is a celebrity barber out of Atlanta, Georgia, and CEO and owner of hair product line Rollercoaster Waves. He discusses his barber training that got him to where he is today, what it took for him to build the celebrity relationships that helped launch his business, and how he transitioned from just a barber behind a chair to a successful business owner. Learn more about his documentary, Changing the World: 1 Cut at a Time, where barbers go out into the community and offer their services to help the homeless. Simpson hopes to take an apprentice under his wing soon. “I want to bless somebody with that. It’s a big deal to me. This game has given me stability, a home, financial freedom and I want to be able give that to somebody deserving, somebody special.”
VIDEO INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT
Hi, how you doing? My name is Cassius, also known as Terrell Simpson. I am the CEO and owner of Rollercoaster Waves. I’ve been cutting hair for 15 years, licensed out of Georgia. I went to Clark Atlanta University for college, and currently I work out of the basement of my house. I’ve been doing that for the past 5 years. Before then I worked at a barber shop about a half mile away from the college I attended.
Where did you get your barber education?
When I got interested in barbering, it was really just a hobby. I had a girlfriend of mine who was entertaining this gentleman who was a shop owner at the time when I was in college. He gave her his card and it had some information about it and it gave me the opportunity to come and introduce myself to him. She told him I was a barber also. I went and cut hair for him that day and he hired me on the spot. I didn’t have a license at the time. But there was a program in Georgia that was an apprenticeship program, so I went through the apprenticeship program in Georgia, took my test and passed it the first time, and I’ve been a licensed barber for 15 years now. I had to do a certain amount of hours, take a test, do all these things – effectively kind of like hair college. It was pretty fun to me. I like the challenge of it. I went through it, got all the hours I needed to get, took the test – I really got my license apprenticeship.
Why did you choose an apprenticeship over school?
I was going to college at the time for Pharmaceutical Sciences. So I came here to Atlanta from San Diego to go to college to be a pharmacist. In my travels and going through school, I needed to make money while I was here on campus. So I started to pursue the hair part of it. I liked it. I liked the financial freedom it allowed me, I liked the creative outlets it gave me, I saw it was something I could do and make a career out of it. Actually at that moment, I didn’t think about it as a career. But I really knew I could pay my bills by doing it. As I started doing it I started falling in love with it more. As I started to fall in love with it, then I started realizing it could be a career. You know when you fall in love with something you can do it and you don’t get tired? I started doing it and I didn’t get tired. When I cut someone’s hair it’s not just about cutting hair, it’s really about – it’s almost selfish to some extent for me because I look at someone’s haircut as my personal project on their head. I want to give them 100% if they’re paying $1,000 or $20, they’re going to get the same [high quality] haircut – the only difference really is the time. You want your haircut at midnight, it might cost you more than a cut at 5:00 in the afternoon, but I’m still going to give you the same energy and I’m going to make sure I give you my level of perfection, which is pretty high.
How did you know barbering was the right career for you?
I started barbering when I was about 15 years old. I was going to a school outside of my district with some guys that were well-groomed. They had barbers. The side of town I was on, your uncle was the barber or your friend was the barber and they weren’t that good. So I took it upon myself to get some clippers and begin cutting my own hair. I started doing it and about 6 months into it started getting pretty good at it. Some friends of mine at school asked who cut my hair, and when I told them I did they didn’t believe me. After going through that for a while, I was taking some sculpting classes at the same time when I was in high school, and I realized sculpting was kind of similar to cutting hair. The process for sculpting is the takeaway game, where it’s an object of clay and you take away pieces of the clay to form your shape – same with hair. You take away the hair to get your ultimate shape. It’s a similar concept with two different textures and different techniques of course. I found them to be very similar and relaxing and soothing. Cutting hair is really soothing, it’s like sailing or flying or coasting on some skates. When you get good at it, it’s a feeling, you just flow with it. You can tell with people’s work, when you see barbers’ pictures, sometimes you can see a haircut and it’s not just a haircut. You can see a haircut and it’s special, and that’s when a haircut becomes art. That’s the level of work I like to do. Take it to the level where the haircut becomes art. Even to the design aspect of it, doing abstract – I’m more of an abstract designer. I can do shapes, faces and objects, Batman and Spiderman logos, but I really like to do more abstract designs and shapes. I really got into it for the creative aspect of it. It makes me feel good.
How did your pharmacy education influence the development of Rollercoaster Waves?
Everything you do in your life – your parents’ actual intentions are for their lessons and things that you learn to be applied for your future. So it’s really a natural progression for not just that part of it, but all the other things I learned also. My music business experience ties into it as well as the pharmaceutical side. I don’t create the product myself, I helped to create the formula for the product. I have a manufacturer that does the actual making of the product part. But to come up with it was a combination of myself and my experience. Hair products every day that are in the stores that don’t necessarily apply to the pharmaceutical part of the education, but again my life lessons and my experience as a barber, and touching products like Jam, Sporting Waves and Icy, and I know these things, how they feel, how they smell – being a barber I know what we looked for and what we don’t like. A lot of time these companies don’t have a chance to deal directly with the consumer, or maybe they do and don’t ask the right questions. Nevertheless, me being a barber and being a practiced master barber makes it a real good marriage for being involved with a hair company.
How do you get celebrities and athletes in your barber chair?
Ultimately to get celebrities in your chair, it takes a combination of things, and there’s no one way to do anything just like anything in life. First of all I feel like it’s a balance – 50% skills, 50% relationships. You have to have a relationship with every single client that sits down in your chair. When you talk to them, some guys need a lot of listening, some people want some advice, some people maybe want some of your grandfather’s wisdom that you learned and you should pass down to them. Also, being in the right circles, because you can be very talented – there are a lot of talented basketball players and skiers out there, but if they’re not put into the proper situation nobody’s going to know about them. The part of my life that I have been blessed with prior to getting into the hair business seriously, was being a Little Corey. That was a big deal for me, because going through my music industry experiences, I ended up getting a lot of relationships – one in particular was with Ludacris’s manager – a guy named Chaka Zulu, who is still his manager. I still actually cut both him and Cris, and actually the whole company for that matter. That’s a relationship that’s been fostering since college. I remember when I went to school one of the first days in orientation, they said a lot of the people sitting next to you you’re going to know your whole life. When they stuff like that, and I was a kid so I didn’t think it was that serious, as my life went on, it’s something I realized came to be true. Chaka is one of those guys I met in college who ended up being a friend and being successful in his own right in the music business, who was a friend and manager of Ludacris and that’s how that relationship happened. The Usher relationship was a similar relationship, through another executive that was a friend of mine that I met throughout music business dealings. There are many other people I cut other than Luda and Usher. But those are some of the biggest people not just in Atlanta and musically in the world, so it is an honor to be affiliated with two people that are so big – one in R&B, one big in rap – and very big businessmen that have some influence to my creation of Rollercoaster Waves. I could go all the way down from NBA guys like Steve Jackson, Chris Webber, Jalen Rose – these are basketball guys. Football players, some more music people – everybody from Ice Cube down the list to T.I. That’s another thing that’s very important. You want to make sure you keep those relationships that are close to you and genuine. It’s like a plant, you can’t just leave it over there in a corner and never water it. So sometimes you gotta water those plants – and that means picking up the phone and calling, sending them a card, an e-mail, letting them know you love them. A relationship is not a relationship if you don’t relate.
Tell us about you documentary, “Changing the World, 1 Cut at a Time.”
The documentary I did called Changing the World 1 Cut at a Time, just started out as me bringing colleagues in to take footage of me working. I was invited to come down by another barber friend of mine to cut some heads down there. When I went down there, I realized it was more than cutting hair. It was a lot of listening. IT was funny because a lot of times when you are in a position to communicate with somebody and you’re on the other end of it, it requires a lot of listening. It’s a lot more listening than talking. The words you choose need to mean something, but they really want an opportunity to vent to somebody that they feel won’t take their information and run it in the street, or judge them in any way. Some of that is due to them not really knowing you very well, so it’s a level of comfort in a stranger. Knowing that someone can’t go back and tell your mom or your best friend something you wanted to get off your chest. When you go down to the [homeless] shelter, it’s a lot of listening and hearing stories. One thing that was interesting was that the men in there were men. You would see them at the shelter, you would automatically pre-judge them. You see any homeless guy and you have a story that you preconceived and built in your head already about who they are, what they are and what they’ve done to get there. Everyone has a story and they deserve the opportunity to tell it to someone. So I’m the one they tell stories to. I hear it and I give them wisdom and council because I feel it’s my God duty to do it. It’s the right thing to do. I only live in truth. I only speak in truth. Communicating with these guys is like talking to my own son, my best friend or my wife for that matter, because there’s only one way really to do it. It doesn’t have to be crass, ugly or disrespectful. There’s also timing to it. Just because it’s the truth it doesn’t mean it needs to be said at the moment. It’s a lot of listening. It’s a good experience. I would tell anyone who has any skills – we all have skills – to give of their services, whatever they are, to whatever foundation they can. You will be surprised at what type of rewards you will get to your spirit. It’s really fulfilling.
How often do you do haircuts for the local homeless?
I’ve been doing it about two years. How often varies, a lot of time depending on the flexibility of my schedule. It used to be on my friend’s schedule, but I took it upon myself to do it myself at my own pace on my own time. It made more sense for me and I started inviting people to come also. That’s how my friend JB began to get involved with it also, and he’s out of Chicago so he came a long way to do this.
Why did you feel your barber services would impact the homeless shelter?
I went down to the shelter with one objective – to cut hair. When I came out, I felt like they needed more. I wanted to use some of my celebrity relationships to help to parlay these guys for a better opportunity to do what they needed to do to get them on their feet. There’s no need in having 30 pairs of shoes in your closet when you can only wear 1 at a time, as an analogy. You need to give more, because when you give you get. That was the motive and the model behind my whole Changing the World 1 Cut at a Time movement. When you give you get. My father used to say way back in the day, “You shouldn’t sleep with your fists balled up.” That means a lot of things, but for my manner, it was like you shouldn’t be so uptight, you should be more open to receive the blessings people have for you sometimes. I want to be able to give some of those blessings sometimes, too. When you start doing things like that you start getting it back tenfold. I know you’ve heard it before – when you give you get – but it’s so true of life. A lot of people don’t do it so that’s why they don’t understand that. For those who do, they understand. I’m just trying to let them know just let it go – it doesn’t require money, it requires more time and energy than anything. Once you start doing that, things will open up for you. You’ll be surprised all the things on the other side of the door for you. Everybody’s situation is different, so I can’t really tell one person what to do – you have to do what’s in your heart. Even though a man may be a barber, his skill may not be in communication. He may be a great cook and he may want to come down there and offer some cooking. Another guy may be great at doing plumbing because the shelter needs plumbing. You have to add in what you feel your skills are going to best benefit your surrounding community. And that’s really ultimately the only way to grow and get stronger is by doing stuff directly with our community to build up everything around us. I think the mentality these days is to let everybody else fix our own problems. I believe we have to fix our own problems.
How did you transition from barber to product line owner?
I made the transition from barber to product line owner about two years ago. I would go on set with Ludacris, and he was coming out with a liquor line called Conjure. We would do a video shoot for a song in the same day while he had the camera crew out, he would book the camera crew for the day rate and he would use them to film the Conjure commercials all in one day. That’s a crazy day. I would see him do these things when I was touring with Usher, we’d be in New York and have a full day of stuff to do. Part of the day might be music related stuff and part of the day might be going to Macy’s for an in-store. I’m only going to cut his hair one time. The other in between part is maintenance, brushing and making sure he looks good because that camera’s right in his face and we want to make sure he looks perfect all the time. I would watch these guys go and multitask, and it didn’t make sense why I had free time and didn’t take advantage of it. One thing that would echo in the back of my mind is if all I do is cut hair, that’s all I’m going to be as a barber. Now there’s nothing wrong with being a barber, and I feel I am the best at what I do at least in my area. But I’m so much more. I’m a father. I’m a dreamer. When summertime comes around I crank that garden up. With the product part of it, there was something in me that I felt like I could be doing more. I think that applies to anyone in any situation. If you want to be doing better, you can be doing better. I wanted to multiply myself.
What is Rollercoaster Waves?
What this product does, it gives you some conditioner, some moisture and some hold. It smells great – I know you don’t have smell-o-vision yet – but it smells fantastic. I wanted to do all the things the products on the market were lacking. For example if you smell men’s products, they lack fragrance. I wanted to add fragrance that was something that smells good to us, nothing offensive, not like a brute. We like fresh-smelling stuff, too. It doesn’t always have to be cologne, lager and ale. We wanted something that would smell refreshing. I know that clients get a lot of dry scalp so we wanted to make sure it had moisture in it. Some of the products are heavily petroleum based. Our product does have some petroleum in it but it’s minimal. That petroleum – too much of anything can be bad for you. Those products can clog your pores and it weighs heavy on your hair. But it was really the only thing on the market so you would buy it even if you weren’t crazy about it. Your way of making it manageable was to use less of it. Now we have the Rollercoaster Waves CEO himself who decided to come up with something so magical it would help fill the void for all these products. We have something that’s light, non-greasy, won’t clog your pores and smells great. So please purchase it!
What are your top three pieces of advice for getting into the barber business?
Number one would be give 100%. You should give 100% anyway. You should give 100% for everything you do. If you’re washing hair, cleaning up, when you get yourself together in the morning – you should always give 100%, because you’re only cheating your own life. God gave you a purpose to be on Earth, and you’ve got time you’re going to have to be accountable for, so you should want to give 100% for you. It’s pointless not to give 100%. You wouldn’t give 100% for yourself? Give 100% and don’t even think about it as for the client, even though it is and they’re benefitting from it, but you should give 100% for you. My number one thing is to give 100% to everything all the time.
Number two is be on time. Time is the most valuable commodity on the planet. You can’t redo time. You can’t get this one second back. Watch this. [Pauses.] See that? Two seconds gone, and you can’t get them back. Nothing you do can get that time back. The time is priceless. Old people, you know what they want? Time. Time. When you get on your bed and it’s your last days, you know what people want? More time with their loved ones. More time to get their lives right. More time to fulfill their dreams. So time is my number two thing.
Number three is respect. And that means respect not just yourself, but all things around you. It’s like the balance of life, your chi, it’s an ecosystem. You have to balance everything out in life. It’s important that there’s balance, because without balance things get out of sync and it throws off the whole system. So respect is important and that’s my last thing.
So to round it off – Give 100%. Be on time. Respect. You do that you’ll probably get into Heaven. You do that you win.
Want to Learn More?
Book Terrell “Cassius” Simpson to visit your school and talk to students, incorporate the Changing the World 1 Cut at a Time video into the classroom, and learn more about being a successful barber and businessman, e-mail email@example.com.