Award-Winning Singer/Songwriter, Actress & Entrepreneur

Kandi Burruss

When Kandi Burruss was a teenager, her no-nonsense single mom gave her an important piece of advice that would shape Kandi’s approach to her career. “My mom said, ‘Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,’” the Atlanta-born and bred singer, songwriter, entrepreneur, and TV personality says today. At the time, Burruss’ all-female R&B group Xscape, which she co-founded at age 14, had a platinum-selling debut album under its belt, but “my mom always felt like the group was going to fall apart,” Burruss says with a chuckle, “so she encouraged me to diversify.”

Burruss took her mother’s advice seriously. Though she is well-known in the entertainment industry —  she has starred in 10 seasons of Bravo’s cultural juggernaut The Real Housewives of Atlanta and is music royalty thanks to a nearly three-decade career as a Grammy-winning singer, songwriter, and producer — Burruss is also a formidable force in business. She is a mogul who has displayed a keen instinct for launching profitable endeavors that embody her core values of family and female empowerment. Currently, Burruss’ portfolio includes multimedia agency Kandi Koated Entertainment, adult toy and lifestyle brand Bedroom Kandi, cosmetics brand Kandi Koated Beauty, southern eateries Old Lady Gang, unisex children’s lifestyle brand Raising Ace, and luxury women’s apparel boutiques TAGS. Burruss, a social media influencer with six million Instagram followers, also appeared on the second season of CBS’ Celebrity Big Brother.

“Music is up and down,” says Burruss, who is the first woman to win ASCAP’s Rhythm & Soul Music Award for Songwriter of the Year and who has written hit songs for Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran, Pink, Whitney Houston, Destiny’s Child, ‘N Sync, Mariah Carey, Usher, Alicia Keys, Boys II Men, and TLC, including the latter’s Grammy-winning smash “No Scrubs.” “One minute you’re hot, one minute you’re not. You might have a good run of songs, but then you may not be popping them off so quick. I wanted another source of income. So many people get into music, do well, then they go broke. I was trying to figure out how not to be one of those people.”

You could say that Burruss’ financial course was charted when the success of Xscape, who got their first record deal when Burruss was 16, enabled her to purchase her first home in 1995 at the age of 19. (“LL Cool J told me back then: ‘Always have at least one house and one car that you own, so you always have a place to live and a way to get around,’” she recalls.) That same year, Burruss attended the Soul Train Music Awards and watched Queen Latifah accept the Sammy Davis Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year. “When she won, Latifah was a music artist, an actress, and had a successful management company,” Burruss says. “I turned to [Xscape bandmate] Tiny and said, ‘I’m going to get that award one day.’ Queen Latifah inspired me to believe I was going to conquer the world, just like she did. It got me thinking about what else I could do. Right after that, I started managing my high-school friend Richard Wingo’s group Jagged Edge and helped them get their record deal.”

Ever since, Burruss has drawn on the things she considers foundational in her life — family and her faith —  to help guide her in business. A wife and mother to daughter Riley and son Ace, Kandi hails from a large, supportive clan whom she credits for her outspoken nature. “Everybody in my family will say things without thinking,” she says. “They hurt your feelings and not mean it, but they’ll expect you to get over it in two seconds because that’s just the way it is with us.” Burruss’ mom Joyce (who was the youngest of 14; Kandi has more than 80 first cousins on mom’s side) and her aunts Bertha and Nora run the three outposts of Old Lady Gang in Atlanta. “It’s a real family restaurant,” Burruss says. “Somebody from my family is there every day. My aunt is always at the door shaking hands and kissing babies.”

The family vibe extends to Bedroom Kandi, which has attracted 2,500 consultants across the country selling adult toys, lingerie, and bath and body products. “With every business, I am there, because I know my consultants joined this company because of me,” says Burruss, who is one of the few Real Housewives to parlay her profile on the show into a truly viable business. “These consultants want to have a relationship with me. I try to make it as much of a family team situation that it can possibly be. When you have people who go hard for you, there’s no way to describe that feeling of love. But if you don’t show the love back, then people start feeling a different way about you and it changes things.” Launched in 2012, Bedroom Kandi recouped its initial investment within eight months. Special launch events in various cities attracted packed crowds. “There was a hospital down the street from our in-store event In Orlando and the nurses rolled their patients down the street into the store,” Burruss recalls with a laugh. “Not just in wheelchairs, they rolled entire beds down the street! That’s when I said to myself, ‘I’m on to something.’”

Bedroom Kandi is close to Burruss’ heart not only because it enables her consultants to strive for financial independence, but because it empowers them to take control of their sexual wellness and pleasure. “I am pro-woman,” Burruss declares. “I am all about making it okay for women to own their sexuality, especially in the African-American community. Because for many of us, sex is a taboo topic.”

Her passion for championing women underlies her foundation, Kandi Cares, which supports single parents (“It’s a village for parents who don’t have one,” she explains) and kids who are the product of single-parent homes, and her latest venture, Beautiful Bosses — a web platform where women can network and promote their businesses. “I love when people come up to me and say, ‘You motivated me to go out there and do something,’ and they’ll show me what they’ve accomplished,’” she says. “That’s the best feeling.”

When it comes to creating new ventures, Burruss goes with her gut. “I want businesses that will still be successful when I’m no longer on Real Housewives,” she says, adding that she insists any product mentioned on the show be completed before the season’s filming concludes. Another maxim she lives by: “Do things that you love so it doesn’t feel like work,” she says. “I do what I enjoy. It never really feels like work to me. That’s the main thing. And it’s not always about the biggest check. It’s about the chance to expand.”