It’s easy to see the similarities between a small beauty salon and a startup company. Both have to seek out customers and provide them with a consistently great product in order to keep them around. Beauty startup Colour found its niche in helping women of color look and feel their best regardless of busy schedules.
Clients use the free Colour app to sign up for a quick style appointment at their home. Stylists are reviewed prior to being hired to confirm that they are able to deal with every type of hair — curly, frizzy, thin, thick, you name it.
Colour co-founder Debra Shigley saw a need for professional women of color to get more than just a standard blowout. She quickly validated her idea by talking to friends and visited prospective clients. Her advice to other entrepreneurs looking to make the startup jump? “Just start!”
Shigley talks to Hypepotamus about staying bootstrapped as she grows her startup, the intersection of beauty and tech and why customer feedback is essential for growth.
How did Colour come about?
I remember being a lawyer in DC and going to a Dominican Salon on a Saturday. It was packed, with a miles long wait list, no concept of an actual “appointment”, and ended up taking 7 hours for a simple wash and set. I’m there sweating under the dryer and thought, there has got to be a better way! No one has time for this! Over the next decade (!) I watched things like Drybar pop up, but still not serve a woman like me who had super curly hair. When my family moved abroad to Mexico City for my husband’s work with Coca-Cola in May 2014, I decided to start doing the legwork on Colour.
I went to beauty school in fluent Spanish there (while pregnant with my 4th child!). I did our first iterative test– I flew back to Atlanta for a weekend Sept 2014, recruited a team of stylists and emailed fifty black friends, do you want an appointment at home? The response was incredible. So, I did some more testing, started looking for a cofounder and linked up with Stephanie, moved back to Atlanta August 2015, ran a pilot November 2015, launched May 2016.
What’s your pitch for the client looking for a little more convenience and luxury?
Ciara and Kim Kardashian don’t go to the salon — you don’t need to, either. Get the VIP treatment at home, with a personal, private hairdresser who comes to your door. No fighting traffic, no waiting at the salon. Just gorgeous hair, on the regular.
As you validated your idea while in Mexico, what advice do you have to other entrepreneurs undergoing this discovery phase?
I think as early as possible you need to just create real life experiences and seeing what matters to customers, tests where people pay for the service instead of just doing “surveys” and customers interviews. For us, there are factors like, okay, we don’t want to wash the hair because it’s a mess operationally. So, tell customers we don’t wash hair and see what happens. Or on the back end, how will we teach our stylists a certain methodology. So go test out giving a class to stylists to do black hair. We often say that everything is planning a wedding. Set a date, have an objective and show up and do the thing.
Are you seeking funding at the moment?
We’re focused on building the soul of our brand and customer base. We will consider funding when the time is right!
You recognized that you didn’t have all of the skills necessary for the startup and hired your co-founder. What characteristics did you look for when looking and why is it important to have a well-rounded team?
Well, there’s so much to do and way more fun with a partner in crime. In terms of complimentary skill sets, I have a background in beauty, law and PR/marketing. I needed someone with more traditional business experience. For example, financial modeling. How to prioritize business objectives. Operations and logistics. Stephanie is an all around great person, but also happened to have that background and a Harvard MBA.
Having a diverse team is important because the friction is where the magic happens, in my opinion. In a way you can’t overthink it too much, though. Who is available and has integrity and good aesthetic and believes in your vision too? Then, probably the best way to see how you’ll work together is to do a finite project, like a pop up shop.
Most beauty enterprises have a brick and mortar facility. How does having a mobile business help your brand’s ultimate goal?
There are many companies in the concierge beauty space, though we’re the first app to specialize in black hair. There’s a lot of overhead in brick and mortar and razor thin margins, so it’s obviously beneficial for an early-stage startup to keep validating and expanding without the pressure of 10k in rent each month! I ran the numbers to create the retail space I envisioned it would cost $200k+ before we even opened the doors and to build an app it was not 200k. Being mobile will help us scale because it’s cheaper and you can be more nimble to test a new market.
It’s also all about the convenience for the consumer. She doesn’t need to go to the salon for her weekly maintenance. We specialize in that “maintenance” weekly hairstyling. Also, as a mobile business, we’re more nimble to scale.
Why is it important for your startup to maintain consistency among its stylists? How does this affect your customer base?
Our customers are salon-going pros. Black women are known to be very finicky about our hair — rightly so, because we’ve all been traumatized by salon experiences! It’s important to always surpass their expectations and that small variations in the look and experience are only positives. We earn their trust by knowing even if they love one stylist, the next one we send could be even better and never fall below their standards.
You’ve prioritize customer feedback as you grow. Why is this important for your startup and how are you acquiring this feedback?
We send an automatic rating form after each and every appointment. Clients rate the appointment and can write in additional feedback. This is critical to know what we’re getting right in terms of the hairstyling itself, customer service, timeliness etc — and where we may have fallen short.
What are your thoughts on the current intersection of beauty and tech?
Tech helps eliminate the friction in traditional beauty. Often there’s a disconnect with the look you want and how you explain that to the stylist. Having a “set menu” of looks — a photo of the client/description of her hair before the appointment — helps start things off on the right foot. Ease of booking is also important — no one wants to be playing phone tag with a stylist or salon to set something up! The app is important to eliminate friction in booking.