Is TheStylisted the next big beauty startup?


B-school students are known to be overachievers — that’s a given. But Julia Carmona and Lauren Katzberg take the concept to the next level. Last June, they graduated from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and launched a startup during the same week. Their brainchild, TheStylisted, allows users to book hair and makeup appointments done in their own homes. Log on, browse professional stylists, schedule your service, and then the appointment happens at your place. Easy, right? Here, the business partners talk about the successes and challenges of entrepreneurship — and the one beauty product they both have to have.

How did you take The Stylisted from just an idea to a viable business?
Julia Carmona: That was a product of being in business school at the time. We both went with the idea of getting into the startup scene and focusing on entrepreneurship. We both used to work in beauty, and [hair and makeup service] was a personal pain point. It was wedding season, and we kept running into this dilemma: Do we run to the department store makeup counter? We don’t really want to do that — we don’t know who’s going to do our makeup — and we don’t have time to do a blowout. Why can’t this be easier? Why can’t someone come to us?

Lauren Katzberg: Every woman has gone to a department store counter for makeup, and you look like a clown, and you frantically wash your face trying to get the makeup off. So then it’s plan B: throwing makeup on your face for a wedding you’ve been looking forward to forever, and then you don’t feel great. I also know that for freelance stylists, it’s incredibly challenging because they all depend on word of mouth to find clients. To answer the question of what made us really go for it, it was talking with other women. We even sent out a survey to the girls in our school, and we realized this is a common problem.

Julia: From there, it was like, “Let’s do it. This is a business.”

Is it challenging being based in Chicago as you expand to New York and LA?
Julia: It has its challenges, for sure. We want to be everywhere, especially when we do events — it’s more impactful to meet the stylists and clients and show that we are the clients ourselves. But the company is born and raised in Chicago, and we’re pretty loyal. The cost of living is just fantastic there, especially for a startup. Being in LA was a wonderful way of life, but the time change was brutal. We’re up for every appointment to ensure that there are no issues, and if there’s a 6am New York appointment, we’re up at 3 in LA.

The very first line of our formal pitch is “We know you just heard the word ‘beauty,’ but please don’t tune us out.”

That’s dedication. Because your business involves women and beauty, have you run into any issues with people taking you seriously?
Lauren: Our business was incubated at the University of Chicago, which is a male-dominated, quant-heavy place. They hear ‘beauty’ and they completely tune you out, or they’ve heard of another beauty business that has nothing to do with yours, and they say, “Oh, well, that already exists.” I think that the biggest challenge for us early on was finding a way to tell our story and our business’s story in a compelling way that would interest non-beauty people — men, mostly. It took us a really long time to refine our pitch. I think the very first line of our formal pitch is “We know you just heard the word ‘beauty,’ but please don’t tune us out.”

Julia: It was one of the first challenges, but it got to the point where we would get the men in the room more into it than the women. The men would have the wives or daughters who go to all of these events, and then there are the powerhouse women who want the Monday morning blowouts. We’ve had naysayers who started booking and now they’re addicted to the service, because they’re high-powered, busy executives. This makes sense for them. It’s wildly practical for them and their schedules.

Do you see any differences between Chicago and New York bookings?
Lauren: More updos in Chicago, I’d say, than in New York. There are more group gatherings in Chicago — maybe it’s just the way we’re positioning ourselves, but the appointments in New York tend to be one-off. In Chicago, they make a party of it.

You have to get scrappy, and scrappiness makes you smarter.

What have you learned so far from building the business?
Lauren: I’ve gotten very good at asking for favors, because we’re a small team and we don’t have a lot of funding. So you have to get scrappy, and scrappiness makes you smarter. You can’t throw money at issues, so you have to really think through the best way to attack an issue. Initially, it was hard for us to get out there, but you have to get comfortable with self-promoting and asking for favors — and being open to rejection.

Julia: For every five nos, you get one really great yes, and it’s fantastic.

It’s funny that you mention discomfort, because women are conditioned to be quiet, good girls. And to succeed as entrepreneurs, you have to go against that.
Lauren: I’m changing my tactics all the time, because I do have that innate politeness. I think it’s hard to get anywhere with that, especially because we’re fundraising now. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg was saying how women have a harder time raising money than men because men are evaluated by their potential for greatness. They’ll pitch and someone in the room will say, “I like that guy, he’s going places, we’ll invest.” But women are evaluated on their track records. So it’s really hard if you’re a first-time female entrepreneur, because you don’t have a track record. To combat that, we’ve had to become more comfortable with self-promoting and building credibility, our track record. Because we’ve learned that people aren’t just going to blindly believe in us.

Julia: The unfortunate aspect is that most investors are looking at the jockey, not the horse. The business is what it is, but who are the people riding this thing? And it’s two females hustling trying to do it, to prove ourselves.

Okay, now for the girly question. What are your must-have beauty items?
Julia: We’re very passionate about this! Nars Casino bronzer. I overuse it, but it’s because I’m sunning myself less. Dior waterproof eyeliner. And I use Caudalie for skin care.

Lauren: I’m a bronzer addict because I don’t let sun touch my face. Hoola by Benefit is everything. I can’t leave the house without it. I use Nars The Multiple and the Velvet Matte Lip Pencil in Dragon Girl. I love Benefit brow pencil and Maybelline The Falsies mascara. From my time working at the beauty brand, I learned that they put so much into R&D to find the best liquid and wand combination. They pour billions of dollars into it, so it’s going to be better than a smaller brand.

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