Sharmadean Reid

LONDON — Beautystack, a new booking app for beauty services, has completed a seed investment round of 4 million pounds from investors including the venture capital firm Index Ventures, which also has stakes in Farfetch, Glossier and Josh Wood Colour, among others.

The funds will go toward building the start-up’s team, so that it has the resources to continue building technology in-house and to create “a community of brand advocates.”

The focus at this stage will be internal, said Sharmadean Reid, who founded the app and puts company culture at the top of her priorities.

“In this first instance, it really is about hiring people and growing the team to allow us to build our community of brand advocates rather than just thinking of our users as customers. We really are focused on building technology to cater to the beauty services industry and on using this technology to power a very fragmented industry,” said Reid in an interview, explaining that she was drawn to Index Venture’s longtime experience of working with tech entrepreneurs.

“I’m a second-time founder, but a first-time technology founder, and for me it was important to have as much knowledge as possible from people who have backed consumer products but also marketplaces, and very importantly marketplaces by female creatives.”

Reid is also the founder of the London nail salon Wah Nails and drew from her experiences of interacting with beauty professionals and customers at her salon to identify how the process of booking beauty services has being evolving. She came up with the idea of Beautystack, which enables beauty professionals to upload pictures of their work and customers to book the exact style shown in the image.

“Because of the type of salon that we’re running and pioneering, we found that a lot of people were going on our Instagram or our Tumblr account, screen-shotting our pictures and then inquiring about that specific style. We always used to say to ourselves, it would be so much easier if someone could just book the picture,” said Reid.

“We want to close the loop between seeing something you like and actually booking it with the exact person who did it and getting the exact style you want, rather than screen-shotting it, taking it to someone else and hoping that they might be able to do something similar.”

This way of booking a beauty service also provides a digital alternative to word-of-mouth recommendations for beauty services: “My whole goal is to digitize the offline transactions that happen every day with girls always asking each other where they got their hair done. My main competitor is word of mouth,” added Reid.

Since the app is geared toward customers looking for specific styles and services, the target user is someone who is very well-versed in the world of beauty and knows exactly what she wants: “Our user tends to be someone who is very much a beauty junkie who wants very specific looks. We’re not really going with the market of busy professionals who want 7 a.m. blow-dries. We’re going for the type of customer who might be going to an event, wants a very particular cut or nail art and can only get it from a select group of people. We want to concentrate on an exclusive supply rather than convenience because we can see that there are people who travel all across town just to get their hair braided by a specific person or who are looking for really complicated nail art that only a handful of people can do.”

This approach will also empower freelance beauty professionals to build their own dedicated client bases — and, as a result, revenue streams — based on their specialized skills. That is a crucial factor for Reid, who said 98 percent of beauty professionals, including ones who work in salons, are paid on a freelance basis. That’s why she has also signed the U.N.’s sustainable development goals, and will be focused on the aim of empowering women through technology via Beautystack.

“It’s an independent market, very few people in this industry are salaried employees. So my whole idea with Beautystack was thinking how can I empower the independent professional who’s really good at social, really good at communicating with their clients, but who doesn’t have a tool that makes the whole transaction seamless,” said Reid, adding that in her own salon she encourages nail artists not to stay for longer than three years, and build their own client bases.

“That’s what most of these Millennial and Gen Z girls want: They want to be bosses, they want to build their own business. I’m just going with the demands of the market. If you understand the psychology of a beauty professional, there’s no point trying to put them under lock and key and get them to service your own client base.”

It’s also important to differentiate between sharing images of a beauty service on social media and having a separate platform that allows for direct bookings and can facilitate transactions: “Half a million followers on Instagram doesn’t equate to half a million bookings. I hope that we can build that service recommendation community, by not only providing endless commentary on recommendations but actually providing the suppliers as well.”

Reid sees expanding the Beautystack service to other markets outside the U.K. as a natural move, given that the young generation of beauty junkies she is addressing is also a highly mobile one. Her main challenge being able to hold on to the company culture as the business scales.

“We’ve got a really big wait list of beauty pros who signed up to be on the platform, and those applications have come from places like Peru, New Zealand and Chile. If you’re a global person, you’ll go to Berlin and you’ll want your brows done the same style you do in London or you’ll go to L.A. and want to know where the latest nail artist is. The Millennial community is a traveling community, so I don’t see expansion in the traditional sense of starting in London and then going city to city. If there is a girl in Seattle who has a client base and wants to use our product, she can use it.”

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