Last week, online beauty booking service StyleSeat took over Chicago with influencer dinner at RPM Steak, media sessions at Soho House and surprise visits to salons all over the city. The startup which has been described as OpenTable for beauty booking, started as a platform for beauty professionals to grow and manage their businesses and now they are also servicing the beauty consumer. We always have the best next gen on our radar and StyleSeat co-founder Melody McCloskey is definitely a next gen-er making waves in the beauty industry and Silicon Valley. We spoke with Melody about what it’s like as a female founder, her hopes for StyleSeat in Chicago and her travel essentials.
StyleSeat began as a platform for stylists to manage and grow their presence online and they have since integrated consumer facing element where anyone can book a service depending on their budget.
SLC: How did you go from problem to the launching a startup?
Melody: Part of the reason was living in San Francisco. It’s an entrepreneurial city; A lot of people there go from, what’s the problem to let’s solve it with technology. I knew I wanted to start a business in the female sector but it had bothered me that there wasn’t a lot of investment in the female sector and there wasn’t a lot of people starting companies that focused on women and their needs.
While StyleSeat services both men and women, we have a lot of women users. It solved a particular problem that tech investors who are 99% men, hadn’t thought about or see as a problem and that to me was what I wanted to fix.
SLC: The platform has enabled and empowered hairstylists,manicurists and beauty professionals to grow their business, what made you decide to go to the consumer facing side?
Melody: It was always part of the original vision. I didn’t have a beauty background but I am a consumer of beauty.
This was something that I wanted, the discovery piece. I knew that in order to have a rich directory we needed to support these businesses in a meaningful way. In order to search for appointments you have to have the appointments
Those same businesses are now asking us for more customers. We grow the average stylist revenue by 70% the first year and that’s what we are setting our sights towards.
SLC: As a female founder, there are multiple challenges coupled with it, how are you paying it forward?
Melody: The first is that I want to grow a big business, if we are successful then we are able to support others coming up.
Investors are pattern matchers, they see what has been successful in the past and adapt that,for example say you are the open table or uber of this industry.
I really want to make a name for the business so we can really pave the way and let investors know that paying attention to these sectors is incredibly important, that women founders can be successful.
I meet with female entrepreneurs, a few a month, as often as I possibly can. I get a lot of request and can unfortunately only meet with a few people but it’s important to make the time. I had amazing supportive mentors when I was starting this business and it’s important to pass it on. If there are women I know that are starting businesses that I like, it’s about how can I help them, who can I introduce them to, who can I rep them to on the investor side.
There is a boys club in Sillicon Valley, guys support each other and put money in each others companies and women don’t do that as much because they may not be as well established or connected, so supporting other females that are starting their businesses is important.
SLC: What are your 5 travel essentials?
1) A moisturizer/antioxidant/sunscreen from my dermatologist.
2) I always get manicures whenever I get into a city and I use StyleSeat in whatever city I go in.
3) Dry Shampoo is huge
4) Water with some lemon or mint or orange
5) Running shoes, I’m more of a walker runner *laughs*
SLC: Have you had an instance where someone realized you were affiliated with StyleSeat?
Melody: Once, I went to Philippe Anthony’s salon for a color consult.
I didn’t tell him who I was initially until he asked me where I was from, where I worked, and how I heard about him; I told him I work at StyleSeat and then he asked what I did there and I told him I started it and he freaked out like I was Bono, I am starting to get used to that, to hearing stories like that outside of our meetups.
SLC: What are your hopes for StyleSeat in Chicago?
Melody: I would love for us to become a regular tool for women and men here. In Atlanta, which is one of our top markets, the average user is booking 2.5 appointments a month and it’s because women are booking their hair cuts/color, facial, manicure and their waxes so it’s not just about who is
We are becoming a regular utility for their lives and we are seeing that more and more in Chicago. I am excited to figure out what the consumers want and offer that to them. We have a team stationed here in Chicago so its great, we’re excited!
SLC: You mention top markets what cities are your top markets?
Melody: New York is actually not one of our top markets. Our top markets are: Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas & Houston and then Miami and New York
The beauty community is really connected in Atlanta. Compared to San Francisco or Seattle people are mostly booking cut/color; In Miami, it’s nails; Atlanta has a lot of blowouts, braiding and weave services, in Dallas/Houston its blowouts and makeup services.
SLC: Let’s talk about men’s services, how do you convert the male consumer?
Melody: There is a movement happening for men from a, let me just walk in to the random place down the street, to let me schedule a straight razor shave once in a while; Let’s spend a little more and have an experience. In Atlanta, guys are using StyleSeat to book their barber about once a week, getting edge ups. Booking the service while in between meetings or mullti-tasking and know that your day is scheduled out. We want them to get manicures, to treat themselves.
“The nature of a startup is you are constantly going out of business”
SLC: What kind of advice can you give to the person that decides to follow their passion and start their business but bootstrapping at the moment?
Melody: My co-founder and I bootstrapped for over a year and half. We chose not to raise money until it gave us the leverage we needed to take the business to the next level. We had offers for investments but the dilution we would have incurred was too heavy and we believe in what we had (this business will take off) and how we would get there.
My co-founder and I were very clear about our 5 year plan for the business and if we want to get there what our major milestones were and working backwards. If we think a series A (funding) was a pretty big milestone what are the things we need to do to get to the terms that we want.
I am very much about planning in metrics. How does what we do today fit into the 5 year plan. What are the ultimate priorities? We got to a point in the business where we knew exactly how we would spend $1million.
Rather than approach investors with “this is the vision, trust us we will do” it pitch. We already had thousands of businesses using us everyday; we presented the metrics, our plan for monetization which was tested with some of those businesses and we believe based on our growth thus far, we can grow it that certain % amount.
It was less believe in us and more, this is what the data is. Especially in an industry where they don’t get it as much, all they need to is how they are using our platform and our value to them.
SLC: What should one consider when thinking about bringing on a co-founder?
Melody: Alignment of vision is key. My co-founder Dan and I were fully aligned on that. Having worked together prior to this, we had good rapport. I will say conflict management is necessary.
The way we address problems is in a constructive way. We trust each other and when things happen, the nature of a startup is that you’re constantly going out of business. You will be in stressful situation so someone there to support each other especially in those dark times rather than turning on each other.
SLC: What’s one advice someone has given you that’s helped you?
Melody: It’s not so much advice rather I have had a really understanding and supportive group of people in my life. A combination of family and friends. For the first year and half of the business, I worked 7 days a week until about 2am most days. Having a good group of friends or other co-founders that get it is key.
Family, my mom babysits my dog when I’m out of town at times
Even on the advisor side, people smarter than me on the business side that can help me get to the next level and answer questions and push things forward as fast as possible has been really great.