We’re very familiar with Stylisted here at BYT. We even used them to book a hair and makeup artist that made us look (almost) like real human beings. The beauty on demand company has completely taken over Chicago, New York, LA and now D.C. We were so intrigued (and pleased) with the service we decided to call up co-founders Julia Carmona and Lauren Katzberg to talk about how they’ve been able to spread to so many cities so quickly, their future plans and much more.
They also gave us the delightful promo code BYT20 which you can use to get $20 off your own Stylisted session.
Let’s start back at the very beginning. Tell me about your origin story.
Julia: So Lauren and I started Stylisted in June of 2013. That was the official launch really, but the concept was developed about a year or so earlier when we were both students in business school. So we’re both from New York but we met in Chicago at the University of Chicago Booth. We were both interested in the startup space and had our own ideas but were not totally passionate about anything. The idea for Stylisted was born from a personal pain point that Lauren had, actually.
Lauren: I called Julia after I got back from a wedding I went to in Atlanta, and basically my experience there was that I had tried to get my makeup done for this wedding. I had spent $30 on a cab to go to Bloomingdales and get my makeup done by a complete stranger. I ended up looking like a clown, washed my face off in the bathroom and showed up 20 minutes late for the wedding. It was an experience I had had before, or some variation of it, and I called Julia and asker her, “Have you had this experience were it’s really difficult to know who’s good and who’s available when it comes to makeup and hair?” Not only did she completely understand where I was coming from, and had similar experiences herself, but on that call, she told me something I didn’t know. It was that stylists are always trying to find new clients, to freelance and supplement their income, but they have difficulty going beyond word of mouth. So she had known this from her time at Nars cosmetics where she had worked directly with stylists. We completely understand the client pain point, we had problems finding stylists we know and trust, and Julia understands that stylists have trouble finding clients and this light bulb moment happened on this call where we realized the Internet exists to connect these two groups, and we really couldn’t believe that it hadn’t been done before.
How did this scale up from an idea you had in business school to a real full time job?
Julia: We were first years when this wedding and phone call happened and we both decided to take internships. I stayed in Chicago, I wanted to see what the startup scene was like here and I also wanted to work with a very small company because while I had startup experience, I had never worked at a five person or less startup. Lauren went to New York to gain startup experience specifically with a dual sided market, which was definitely an early challenge that we saw and something that people told us would be very difficult especially for first time entrepreneurs to understand the challenges and the uniqueness of having a dual sided market. So we came back after our internships and we had definitely been discussing and working on Stylisted all summer long as well. In our second year of business school we decided we were still passionate about the idea and wanted to go forward with it and forgo recruiting for full time jobs to continue developing the idea.
We took it through Booth’s New Venture Challenge, which is a startup competition, and didn’t particularly do that well in the competition, but it was incredibly valuable in that we fine tuned the concept and we got our friends to start booking that second year of business school. People going to weddings or formals or interviews, we would match them up through a Facebook page and a Powerpoint deck with mock stylist profiles. Once we were seeing our friends take to it and wanted to continue booking we were motivated to take it to the next step and put some money together. We dipped into our very small savings as students and built the website. We found a developer who needed to diversify his portfolio a bit and building a beauty site was definitely different for him, he was actually based in D.C. at the time. When we graduated we had this fully functioning website. We applied to Booths summer incubator program, so we sort of had a nest to start out in, where we had support and mentorship, some office space, and a little bit of money to get going.
That was kind of the start to it all. We were in Chicago that summer, into the fall, and we decided that we really wanted to expand to New York. Even though we were so new, Lauren and I both recognized that this was going to be a trend, on location hair and makeup was something that was definitely going to happen and we wanted to be at the forefront of the industry. So having a presence in New York, which you can argue is the beauty presence of the world, was very important to us. We also had our own personal networks there, having lived there before school, so we kind of had built in clients and stylists that we had worked with prior. It was very logical for us to go there, even though it seemed very quick. New York did catch on very quickly and the industry started to blossom and we were very much apart of it from the beginning. Momentum was good there, but we were still very focused on building Chicago out as the blueprint market for how we would expand to other cities.
We felt, I guess a year later, that we wanted to have a presence on the West Coast as well, so we went out to LA. Then, finally, once we had really gotten a hold on how to grow Chicago and build this market, we were ready to move beyond New York and LA, and into other cities. I think those are more the exception and not the rule, whereas every other city in America we can use our Chicago blueprint to dive into that market and expand. Washington DC was at the top of our list. We got a ton of pull from there and we worked with a lot of women who were based in D.C. but worked in New York or LA, and they wanted the service in D.C.
Do different markets request different things? Or have you noticed they basically all go through the same trends?
Julia: Yeah. We definitely noticed that New York is a bit faster, I guess. More single bookings of women who need a quick service, whereas Chicago is very much special event based. A lot of group bookings, so women getting ready together. LA is also very similar, very special event based. There are just a ton of events there, given the industry. We’re still learning about our D.C. women which is exciting, but we think given that it’s an election year, and the social scene is dynamic to begin with, but will probably be robust this year. I think we’re going to see a lot of formal engagements. Traditional updos and makeup and the whole nine yards.
Is there a city Stylisted isn’t in yet that you have your eyes on?
Julia: I think we’re very focused on the four we have now. We do have a very exciting roll out plan, but we want to make sure we deliver the best stylists and the best services to the women in D.C. right now, as we do to the women in our existing markets. We’re trying to stay laser focused on you guys and your community for the moment.
How do you guys choose the stylists you work with? What are the qualifications?
Julia: At this point, we get most of our stylists from word of mouth or our referral process. Every stylist on the network has to apply and they’re vetted. The vetting process is everything from background training, where they were certified or licensed, work referrals from past clients or employers. It’s very thorough and we only bring people on that we ourselves would be comfortable hiring and welcoming into our home. Once the stylists are on the network there is constant quality monitoring. They need to maintain a four star average in order to stay on the network, and stylists get reviews from past clients so you can read about what their strengths and weaknesses are, cleanliness, all of that good stuff.
How do you set yourself apart from other beauty on demand services now that more and more are popping up?
Lauren: A lot of companies that have popped up are really Ubers for beauty service delivery. They train a crop of stylists, they keep them on retainer, a client requests an on demand appointment and the stylists get dispatched kind of at random to fulfill the request. What we’ve done is really create a marketplace for these services that the client gets to choose the stylist that she wants to work with, and we believe that women really do care who they’re hiring and who they’re letting into their house. Especially when it counts. When you have a big event that you’re looking forward to and you have a certain look in mind, you want to know about the person you’re hiring before you choose to work with them. So that’s a big difference between Stylisted and some of the other companies that have popped up in the recent years. Of course, the other side of that is that the stylists are actually able to market themselves as independent hairstylists and makeup artists. They’re creating an online presence, and online brand, and really showcasing their unique talent to our clients.
Julia: The difference being that they now have the support of Stylisted. So the administrative work, the customer service, and the quality control that the client is curious about when she is booking independent hair stylists and makeup artists. They can be reassured that the Stylisted team is supporting them and the client can be ensure they’re getting an amazing stylist that is going to show up and perform a beautiful service.
What’s next for Stylisted? Any big plans or future updates?
Lauren: We have a lot of plans and a lot of them are based on the fact that our stylists are true experts in beauty and just taking full advantage of their expertise. We often get approached by cosmetic companies and product companies to work with our stylists and that’s something we want to consider doing long term. I don’t want to get into too much detail there because none of this is public yet, but that’s something that we’re considering. Other plans, as Julia mentioned earlier, are just getting into more cities. We have a really robust pipeline. We want to be in 21 cities by the end of 2019. We’re also really just continuing to build out the suite of tools for our stylists, to really be the essential platform for them to source and manage their business. So our dev team is growing and we’re continuing to build out the functionality there on the supply side.
What do you think you guys would be doing if you weren’t doing this?
Julia: Oh god. That’s pretty interesting. I imagine I would be at another startup. I think that being in business school I definitely decided that was the track I wanted to be on. That was the reason why I went to business school in the first place. It’s not just the two year vacation people tell you it is. I do love the idea of creating something, of being a part of the creation of something. Starting a business from scratch has been terrifying and amazing and I like to think that I would be doing something in this realm.
Lauren: Yeah, I have a similar answer. The company I worked for during my internship offered me a job and I probably, if Stylisted wasn’t underway, be working for them now, but I’m happy to be working on my own baby and it’s been such an amazing two and a half years. The learning alone. From starting your own business you just have to figure it out at every step of the process because it’s likely something you’ve never done before. I’m happy that we took the risk and decided to do our own thing.