The stress of life bears down. For those that crave a massage but can’t get an immediate appointment or even travel to the spa before it closes, there’s a fix for that.
Zeel is an on-demand massage therapist app that launched back in 2012. Considered the “Uber of massage therapists,” the platform is now the largest one of its kind in the industry. More than 8,000 massage therapists in 50 (and growing) cities are hooked to the platform. Those therapists deliver high-quality, five-star massages to wherever they are needed, such as a home, office or hotel. With them, they bring their portable massage table and their expertise, all at a fraction of the cost of a regular high-end spa massage.
PYMNTS spoke with Cynthia Irons, chief marketing officer for Zeel, about how the business has evolved, how it’s grown to work with both corporations looking to reward their employees and hotels looking to staff a massage and why just explaining that the massage table is portable was a startup hurdle.
PYMNTS: Tell us the top line on Zeel. What’s the business all about?
CI: We created massage on-demand in 2012. And now, we are the largest on-demand massage company. We have more than 8,000 massage therapists nationwide. We are in just about 50 cities. We deliver high-quality, five-star massages from licensed, vetted therapists to homes, hotels and workplaces. The idea is that you can book a massage via our app or on our website, and you can get a massage in as little as an hour. Or, you can book up to 30 days in advance. The massage therapists are available seven days a week, and you can get a massage as early as 8 a.m. or as late as 10:30 p.m., 365 days a year.
PYMNTS: What’s the background on Zeel?
CI: We initially launched in 2010, but we were more like an Angie’s List for wellness. We curated providers, and that included acupuncture and yoga. And massage was one of those offerings as well. But our early market data suggested that people wanted massages right away, and they wanted them in under four hours. A lot of them wanted them in the home. The massage industry wasn’t set up that way.
So, the lightbulb went off, and the entrepreneurs that we are we kicked it into high gear. And by 2011, we had already booked about 25,000 massages. We were certainly very familiar with the massage industry and massage therapists, but we took our learnings and created a new category and then trademarked the name “massage on-demand.” And then, we launched this new category, which is part of the $50 billion massage industry.
PYMNTS: How does it work from the consumer’s perspective?
CI: You just download the app or go to Zeel.com, and then, you choose the gender of the therapist you’d like, the time and location you would like your massage and what type of massage you want and for how long. It’s really simple for customers. You just need to sit back and relax because our massage therapist will show up at their door with the massage table, the music and the lotion. Essentially, they turn the customer’s location into a five-star spa.
PYMNTS: From the massage therapist’s perspective, how does it work?
CI: We go through a very stringent process to bring therapists onto our network. We are the most trusted name in massage. We go further than any company in terms of safety, so our vetting process is so stringent that way we only accept less than 50 percent of the therapists that apply to join our network. Therapists will apply to join, and we go through a very detailed system in order to decide who’s going to be the best fit for us. All of our therapists are licensed, insured and experienced, and we’re not looking for people that are right out of school. A lot of our therapists have worked at the finest spas in the United States. We meet them in person, and even most therapists will do a demo massage. For those that we do bring on board, they have their own app, and it’s based off of GPS and some fancy algorithms we built. So, when they are available to book appointments, we can match them with customers on the app.
PYMNTS: So, this would be the “Uber of massage therapists,” wouldn’t you say?
CI: We have been called that, yes.
PYMNTS: What does the concept “Uber of X” mean to you?
CI: For me, this means bringing great services to you by app or website, and they arrive when you want them most.
So, yes, we’ve been called the “Uber for massage therapists,” but I also like to look at it even more simply than that. When you think about it, we are all busier than ever, and the traditional spa model doesn’t always fit everyone’s schedule. So, when you’re stressed out or your muscles ache, you want a massage right then and there. But a lot of times, spas close, or they don’t have an appointment available, or they’re just inconvenient because you have to travel there. But now, because of Zeel, if you are in need of a massage, you don’t have to book weeks in advance. So, Zeel really did change the global massage industry.
PYMNTS: Have you gotten external funding?
CI: Yes, over the years, we raised a total of $15.5 million.
PYMNTS: How many users do you have on both sides of the marketplace? And what about partnerships?
CI: We have more than 8,000 therapists nationwide in our system. As for customer numbers, we don’t give that out. I can tell you that we’ve seen tremendous month-over-month growth since we launched.
We also have over 1,000 partners, which are corporations that use us. This is one of our business lines, and it was our cornerstone, but our mission is to empower massage everywhere. We also work with corporate businesses for an employee perk program. We also work with hotels for an in-room service for them to add as an amenity. We also launched recently Zeel Spa, which we deliver on-demand staffing solutions to spas. And we have over 100 spas that use our therapists.
PYMNTS: Every startup has bumps. Can you share an anecdote or two?
CI: When you’re first-to-market, you have to do so much education. For us, even something as simple as explaining to customers that a massage table is portable, that you could get a spa massage in your own home, was so novel that we had to do a lot of education about just showcasing therapists carrying a massage table. We had to show that it was light enough and that it was portable so that you could have the experience in your own home.
There’s also the question of security. We knew that we had to develop the absolute best-in-class experience and take care of security for customers, which is such a huge portion of our business now. And five years later, because we have such a stringent vetting process now, spas are using us.
PYMNTS: With no overhead in this business model, what are the savings for the customer or the gains for the therapist?
CI: So, because we don’t have any brick-and-mortar locations, our prices are about 50 percent less than the spa. Our national average is between $105 and $116 for a 50-minute massage. Our prices do vary by location. But all of our prices do include 18 percent gratuity, so it’s a great price point for customers.
We also have a massage membership for people who love massages and want to save money. They can get 20 percent off of all their massages when they join the membership. So, then, you’re getting a massage for about $87, including tip, which is a great price.
Because of the no brick-and-mortar situation, we are actually able to split the payment model with the massage therapist. We pay our therapist the most in the massage industry. We pay them, on average, 75 percent of the price of the massage, including the 18 percent tip, so that’s completely baked in, whereas that’s up for grabs for what it’s going be when you go to a salon or spa. So, we find that others in the industry aren’t paying as much, or they don’t include the tip, or they don’t pay the entire tip. So, the therapists are getting 75 percent of it, and the tips are included.
Our prices are included and explained clearly on our app and on their receipt, so customers know exactly how much the therapists are getting paid. And they love seeing that. They realize that it’s a hard job to be a massage therapist, and we like to say that a happy therapist is a happy customer because then you’re going to get a really great massage.
PYMNTS: What’s next for Zeel?
CI: We are launching between two and five cities a month, so we’ve definitely perfected our strategy and the time it takes to go to market. But that’s because we’ve been doing it for so long. We also won’t launch a city just for lunch steak. It’s really important for us to have enough therapists that are going to meet the demand. We want to promise customers that we can be at your doorstep in little as an hour. So, we make sure we have enough therapists to meet the demand before we launch a city.