StyleSeat Founder Melody McCloskey knew she had a good idea when she launched StyleSeat in 2011, because the concept seemed so intuitive. It is a beauty scheduling app that enables consumers to book digital appointments with their preferred stylists, while also offering a turn-key appointment solution for hairstylists looking to build an online booking hub for their clients.
It was, in her mind, like OpenTable – but for beauty appointments.
But as good as her idea seemed, shortly before getting up and running, McCloskey found her confidence waning. What if she wasn’t the right person for the job? For every reason she had to move forward with her idea, she came up with 100 more that she was certain to fail, and talked herself out of moving forward.
McCloskey went back and forth for two years before finally pursuing the idea eight years ago. As she told PYMNTS, she would like to report that from that moment on, everything was smooth sailing and completely justified her choice to take the plunge – but that is not what happened.
McCloskey knew she was in some trouble early on when she walked into a boardroom and realized she was talking to people who didn’t have any hair, and might not see the merits of this innovation – and, at first, they didn’t. They didn’t get the all-female customer side of the platform or the hairstylist side of the platform. Everything McCloskey explained mostly fell on confused ears.
StyleSeat spent much of its first few years being inventive and bootstrapping its way forward. "This was before marketplaces were cool in the Valley and everyone was looking to start one or invest in one," she said.
The firm bootstrapped for a year and a half. For the first couple years, they were never able to raise more than a couple million dollars.
And even though Valley investors didn’t get the service at first, hairstylists certainly did. Though most stylists work in salons, they aren’t employed by them – they are private contractors paying for use of the space. Standing out and building loyal customer relationships is critical to success, McCloskey said – and StyleSeat’s technology helps stylists accomplish both.
“What we are, at a fundamental level, is a platform that empowers women entrepreneurs to focus on running their businesses."
StyleSeat takes a 50 percent cut of a new client’s first appointment in what is called a “referral fee” – but in return, StyleSeat takes over the administrative side of building and running a micro-beauty brand. The platform’s features include management of scheduling, client notes, social media, email marketing promotion and payment services like credit card acceptance or direct daily payouts.
McCloskey’s next trip back to Silicon Valley’s boardrooms went a bit better than the first round: Her marketplace platform elicited a lot less laughter once the firm had been up and running for a year. Funding began to flow in, although not incredibly quickly.
“Once the numbers are undeniable, it becomes an easier conversation,” McCloskey pointed out.
To date, StyleSeat has taken in $40 million in funding and expanded its initial offering of booking hairstyling appointments to also include spa and wellness services. In addition to more funding, the firm’s success has also drawn high-profile interest. Former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and Minted Co-Founder Melissa Kim are both board members.
Going forward, McCloskey said, her goal is to continue expanding their space and stylist base, so anyone anywhere in the state has an easy way to digitally book and manage their beauty appointments. Her only regret as an entrepreneur is that she didn’t get started sooner.