StyleSeat CEO, Melody McCloskey, never thought her beauty booking platform would raise millions of dollars nor generate billions in bookings. McCloskey started StyleSeat out of her own need of finding a better way to find stylists. She quickly realized there it was an even bigger necessity for stylists to have a platform to reach, communicate and book clients. StyleSeat failed to raise funding in its first few years which led the platform to bootstrap as the community grew. Being a woman without an ivy league degree made it difficult for investors to connect with McCloskey's female forward platform for the first few years. Since the bootstrapping days, the platform has raised over $40 million on top of generating billions of bookings. McCloskey shares how she and her team went from bootstrapping to billions.
Yola Robert: How did you overcome your limiting belief that you couldn’t raise millions of dollars as a woman who didn’t have an Ivy League degree?
Melody McCloskey: During our early stages, fundraising was hard because most VCs were men and weren’t interested in the beauty market. The fact that I didn’t have an Ivy League degree made it even harder. The reality is that when I first started the company, I wasn’t confident in my ability to raise funds. What I realize now is that few first-time founders are. In fact, I think that if you haven’t started a company before, believing in yourself can be the toughest obstacle to overcome. Questions like who to hire and how to build and scale a product, while important challenges, were nowhere near as daunting as simply believing that yes, I can do this. But I had no money, no connections, and no backup up option. I realized that if I really wanted this, I had to be 100% committed. If I wasn’t all-in, I wasn’t in at all. So I jumped in with both feet -- and obviously, I’m so glad I did.
Robert: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs who "think" they can’t raise money for whichever reason?
McCloskey: There has never been a better time to raise money than now. I don’t want to sugar coat it, it’s still really, really hard, but today the market is more open to women and diverse founders than it has ever been before. My recommendation to entrepreneurs is to bootstrap as long as you can, work to build a product that consumers love and build traction among a loyal community. I know it’s hard, but I had no money and managed to do this, so I know it’s doable. Once you have a community of fans who love you, it’s significantly less challenging to fundraise. So many founders try to raise funds before building their product, but getting to market and proving you can execute will not only help you stand out to investors; it’ll also help you negotiate better terms.
Robert: What was the turning point for StyleSeat going from a free platform to a monetized platform? What advice do you have for entrepreneurs changing their businesses financial models from free to a subscription?
McCloskey: I believed strongly that I needed to build an incredible product that users loved. Sure enough, the beauty professionals on our platform rely on and love our product because it helps them grow their revenue significantly while eliminating administrative headaches and freeing them to focus on the parts of their job they love. Consumers, too, love our product because it makes it easy for them to discover and book new beauty professionals and stay on top of appointments with their favorite pros. Only after we’d built the platform into something users loved did we feel comfortable shifting to a subscription model. No one will pay for a product that’s just meh; many people will pay for something they love.
Robert: What is next for StyleSeat?
McCloskey: We’ve been focused for a long time on building an incredible backend for our beauty professionals. I’m excited now to be focused on additional enhancements to the consumer experience.
Robert: What is one failure or setback that you been able to turn into a success?
McCloskey: Fundraising was so hard, but the process made me a scrappier, more resilient and more creative entrepreneur and it ultimately paved the way to the success of our business.
Robert: What advice would you give your 21-year-old self?
McCloskey: Don’t take yourself too seriously! I was so serious and put so much pressure on myself. I believe that the early twenties should be devoted to learning, growing, getting life experience and figuring out who you are. You can’t Type A yourself into building an enduring company; you have to relax enough to allow your creativity to flourish. I also believe firmly that aspiring founders should gain work experience, ideally at both large and small companies. When you look at why so many startups fail, it’s easy to find the trail of poor managers. It’s hard to be a good operator and a strong manager when you’ve never operated and you’ve never managed or been managed before. For startups to succeed, the people side of the business matters immensely.
Written by Yola Roberts
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) and MLP (Minimum Lovable Product) are product development approaches for startups. MVP is a product with just enough features to allow users to complete their primary tasks and provide valuable feedback for future development. MLP is a product with just enough features to make users fall in love with it from the start.
An app startup learned about the importance of attention to detail, process optimisation, strong work ethic, collaboration, and how to properly drink beer from German manufacturing. By adopting these principles, the startup improved efficiency and produced high-quality products.
Dating app ideas that go beyond the traditional swiping model include those that focus on shared interests and hobbies, location, compatibility quizzes and personality tests, in-person events and activities, and mutual friends. These apps offer alternative ways for users to connect and find compatible matches.