I moved to Charlotte, the summer after graduating from JMU to work at Wells Fargo as a software developer. At the same time, Kush was up in NY working as an engineer at Yahoo. While at UVA, Kush interned in SF for Microsoft, where he had such a bad haircut, he immediately went bald and then proceeded to grow his hair out past shoulder length. When I first arrived in NC, I went the first 2 months without a haircut. Which for me, is entirely too long. I eventually found a man in the building, who referred me to his barber. But in the era of Uber & Airbnb, it was clear that a better solution was needed.
We had both recently moved back to Northern Virginia and were catching up over a friendly game of basketball. We realized that we both had terrible haircut experiences that had stuck with us, and that we both were passionate enough to think through a solution. After a few hours at LA Fitness, and the coaxing from a friend, we decided to venture out on this journey.
The company’s inception was February 2016 and we launched our iOS beta 3 months later in May. While Kush was building the product, I spent the 3 months generating leads via social media. Before I quit my day job, I would take hours out of my day to scroll through Instagram bios looking for barbers who were currently accepting appointments. I also DM’d barbers to get their contact information if they looked receptive to appointments. Eventually, we built a list of a few thousand barbers to reach out too. Once the app was live and available, we queued up the list and hit send. Several of the barbers on that initial email list are the most active barbers on our platform today.
How did you validate the idea?
For us, we never needed to validate the consumer end, because from personal experience we knew there were obvious issues with the haircut experience. It was a question of whether barbers would convert at scale to using technology to manage their businesses. Salons were ahead of the curve, appointment booking and central POS systems had become commonplace. However, barbershops were slower to adopt technology. We knew they needed a service like what we provided but we weren’t sure if they realized its value. As we’ve grown from 10, 100, 10k, and now 50 thousand barbers on the platform we’ve validated that barbers would use a free version of our product. Yet, it wasn’t until we introduced our barber facing monthly subscription that we can say we had found a product-market fit.
Have you raised any money? How much?
To date, we’ve raised around $850,000 thousand dollars. Our first outside capital came from local angel investors in the JMU network. Fall 2017 we were introduced to their organization after participating in a local pitch event. In early 2018, we successfully ran a crowdfunding campaign, raising nearly $100,000 from over 400 investors. Many of whom are our users. That summer we were accepted into Techstars and raised from the program and an angel investor, who was on the team that launched the Like button at Facebook. And most recently, we closed our seed round in fall 2019.
How did you fund the idea initially?
Kush and I started the company with $10k each that we both saved up from working. Fortunately, Kush was talented enough to build the first release of our app so we didn't’ have to spend money to have the product built. That initial 20k plus the few thousand that we won from pitch competitions got us to our first round of angel funding. It also helped that both Kush and I lived at home with our parents.
Kush and I met in high school. We’ve been friends since sophomore year, having played lacrosse together throughout. Actually, it’s funny, the entire team went to the same high school and played on the same team. Shoutout to CD Hylton High School in Woodbridge, Virginia. We’ve all known each other for a long time and two of us lived in the same neighborhood.
Did you run any companies prior?
Both Kush and I are first time founders; however, we both have early stage startup experience. While in college, I interned for a small neuthropic company, truBrain, where I managed analytics and built dashboards. At UVA, Kush basically built the initial version of a smart lock for a then startup,Latch. Neither of us ran these companies but being involved so early helped shape our perceptions of startups and what it takes to get an idea from 0 to 1.
What has driven the most sales?
By far our bread and butter is social media, Instagram, specifically. We built a community of nearly 100k followers. That's where a majority of our growth and brand building happens. Last year we were able to nearly triple our business without any paid advertising. Word of mouth is also huge for us. Clients love sharing fresh haircuts and the barbers who made it happen. While barbers on social media showcasing their success on theCut, is the best marketing for us.
What’s stopping us from being 3x the size we are now is the fact that the barbering industry is incredibly fragmented. No unified medium exists that connects barbers across the country. That’s what’s been fun for us, trying to discover novel ways of reaching barbers. Creating a proprietary distribution channel will definitely help us get to 5x the size we are today.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
We’ve built a brand that barbers can really identify with. Many of the existing apps today, cater to the female side of the market. By focusing just on barbers, we carved our niche in the market which they gravitate towards. With a community of over 1M users, we’re starting to see network effects start to kick in and add to our moat. We also strive to add value in other aspects of barbers' lives. This allows us to become more of a resource, which makes it harder to leave.
What are the top 3-5 apps your business could not run without?
IG, Zendesk, Slack, Metabase, and theCut
These are the apps we most frequently use. IG is our face to the community. That’s where we build relationships with your users and strengthen our brand. Zendesk manages support tickets. Slack is our favorite tool for internal communication. They have a ton of integrations that centralize activity within slack. Metabase is how we visualize our data. And ofcourse, without theCut we wouldn’t be here. It’s also used for testing new features.
What are your favourite books?
Huge Harry Potter fan. Eragon is another dope series. In regards to business books, Tipping point by Malcolm Gladwell is one of my favourites. He breaks down the science of word of mouth and what it takes for ideas to reach their tipping points. It’s a really easy read and walks through different types of people, moments, and emotions that create the perfect storm of virality.
What are your favourite podcasts?
This year, I added 20 min VC into my daily commute. This podcast is dope, because they bring on a ton of your favorite companies and VCs and you get to hear, first hand experience, their thoughts and experiences. For me, I’ve gleamed a ton of insights around specific metrics that can be used for benchmarking and thought processes on growth decisions. Once you’ve distilled what led founders to make certain decisions, it’s easier to translate that to your business.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
In 5 years, we see ourselves as the go to place for all things men’s grooming. Whether to find professionals, services, or products. Our goal is to be the one-stop shop for all your grooming needs. There's an entire offline experience embedded in barbershop culture. We’re focusing on bringing that experience into the 21st century.
What is current revenue?
This year we’re cash flow positive doing over $100k in MRR growing month over month. That’s a mix of subscriptions and Mobile Pay revenue. We’re also booking close to 1M appointments per month.
Would we ever sell? It depends, right now we’re vehemently focused on improving the barbershop experience. We’ve definitely thought about servicing salons at scale. Today, we’re keeping the brands distinct, however there could be a future where we make our solution to salons and other adjacent industries.
|Obi Omile + Kush Patel