Louise Dunne is CEO and Co-Founder of Glissed, an online platform that allows you to book a beauty professional to your home, office or retail space. Last year Glissed won the Bank of Ireland Start-Up award, and in February of this year Louise was the driving force behind the launch of PS… X Glissed, a hair and beauty pop-up in Penney’s.
Here she explains how the idea for Glissed was borne out of frustration at the lack of technology in the freelance beauty industry, and how the generosity of the Dublin start-up community has taught her to pay it forward.
What time do you usually get up and how do you start your day?
I get up at 7a.m. I used to do a workout, but I broke my ankle recently so I’m not allowed to do any kind of exercise for another few months. Without that routine I find that when I get up I’m straight on the phone and e-mail. I think it’s important to have at least a half an hour after you’ve woken up to be plugged out, so I’m trying to work my way back to better habits!
I’m really big into goal setting. Last thing at night or first thing in the morning I write down three things that I want to happen; three things for business, and three things on a personal level. I think it helps to manifest those ideas into reality and and puts you into a good mood. It helps you to feel like you’re in control of your day.
Take us on a jaunt through your career journey to date..
I knew I wanted to be a makeup artist when I was in school, but I didn’t really know where to go with it. I have the most supportive family, particularly my Mother, Yvonne, who’s amazing. Yvonne was like, “Look, once you’re happy, then you can do whatever you want.” I initially wanted to study Theology and Philosophy but I deferred my placement for a year so that I could train to be a makeup artist in Manchester.
Hailo had launched in Dublin, and I thought, why is there not some form of technology that could link a freelance makeup artist to a customer, and connect the two, allowing us to bring beauty appointments to your home, office, hotel, or retail space
I did a six month intensive course there, after which I came back and got my dream job working for MAC cosmetics on Grafton Street in Dublin. At that time, 2004, it was the second busiest make-up counter in the world. I stayed with the company for 10 years but towards the end I struggled to fit in the increasing amount of freelance work I was getting around a full time position, so I decided to leave. I closed one door, and it allowed others to open.
I took a job lecturing in a creative college and continued to freelance. I just saw this overwhelming need for freelance makeup artists to connect to customers. The idea for Glissed was borne out of my own frustration – Hailo had launched in Dublin, and I thought, why is there not some form of technology that could link a freelance makeup artist to a customer, and connect the two, allowing us to bring beauty appointments to your home, office, hotel, or retail space.
I was lucky enough to get into the Start Local incubator programme, supported by FCR Media in Dublin. I didn’t know anything about technology at that point – I had never worked in an office, I didn’t even own a laptop! In order for me to actually gain experience, I started linking in with all of the tech events that were happening in Dublin. I went to these events, I networked, and I got to know a lot of people.
There is a really overwhelming culture in Dublin where people pay it forward. When people come to me now I am really conscious that I want pay it forward too. If people seek me out for advice I will always sit down and have a coffee with them because it might be valuable to them in taking the next step on their journey. That’s what people have done for me and I’m very grateful for it.
My next step was to pitch to the National Digital Research Centre (NDRC) incubator programme. I pitched to get in twice and was turned down so I had to go back and look at the business model again and try to rejig things. On failing to get in the second time I wasn’t sure if I should go for it again, but when I heard that they were doing a Launch Pad programme for Female Founders in conjunction with Enterprise Ireland I felt it was good timing to give it another shot. I was successful the third time around in getting on to their six month intensive programme, which helps you to grow and become a scaleable business, and also to get investor ready.
Did you already have the tech solution in place by that stage or were you still looking for partners?
No I was still very lean at that stage. I started off with a WhatsApp group, and a Paypal account to take payments. I’m not a big believer in sinking humongous amounts of money into a product that nobody might want. The first thing that I did was market research: I put out surveys on Facebook, and asked all of my female friends if they would choose to have a beauty appointment in their home or office. The answer was yes, because of course the freelance industry already existed and the appetite was there. The unique selling point of Glissed was to offer a technical solution to help freelance beauty professionals to formalise their offering.
l’ve learned that it’s not always about the idea, it’s about the team. Investors like to invest in people.
What did you do differently the third time around to finally get accepted on to the NDRC programme?
Our platform had customers from the first day. Some other people on the programme had lots of technology and hadn’t got customers, and that was still validated. The NDRC only take early-stage companies so it wasn’t a necessity to have customers, but it helped that we did, and more importantly, that we were clearly a scalable solution. I had traction. I had a landing page, and I had already iterated on that by the third time I got there. I had proved the concept first of all, then, for scale, I was able to integrate a payment platform (we used Stripe). I was able to integrate a booking engine as well. We rebranded to Glissed.com, then in December 2016 we pitched at an NDRC Investor Day where we demoed the product and pitched for five minutes to a room full of investors and industry professionals, from all different types of business.
We actually went on to be overall event winners that day which was a fantastic achievement. We won the Bank of Ireland Start-up award last year also which was another great moment for us. In tech you are constantly learning, constantly iterating; it changes all of the time.
I’m not a developer, but I am a domain expert and I believe our success has been the combination of using that domain expertise to build technology for an offline industry that was in serious need of automation.
As an entrepreneur, how do you deal with success and failure?
You have to develop a thick skin. l’ve learned that it’s not always about the idea, it’s about the team. Investors like to invest in people. I think that if you have traction, you’re proving your concept. I think that’s a great way to start. I would be a big believer in the concept of “fail fast.” If something is not working, stop doing it, and try something else. That’s why when it comes to tech, I don’t like to spend too much time building. You might build a feature that could take weeks to build, and cost you a lot of money, but you’re not really sure if anybody wants it, so that’s why research is so important, to see if the demand is there for what you’re trying to build.
You mentioned that you like to mentor people who are starting out. Do you find that it’s still important to you to have a mentor at this stage of your career?
Yes, I have many mentors with different expertise. I’ve got mentors in NDRC who are a big support. My fellow female founders are wonderful to bounce ideas off too because we all come from different backgrounds and different industries. They might have experienced something that I may not have yet, and vice versa. I find peer to peer mentoring really useful because you can sit down for a relaxed coffee with someone and discuss anything from strategy to tech in a supportive environment.
I do not believe in an overnight success. It takes perseverance. It takes resilience, and it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and coffee spills.
You have recently collaborated with Penneys to launch a beauty pop-up called PS…X Glissed. How did that come about and what are your hopes for the collaboration?
I knew that Penneys wanted to do experiences so it was the perfect partnership. I was able to bring them beauty expertise in both hair and makeup, then with the technology background I was able to offer an established online booking system (psbeauty.glissed.com) which allows customers to seamlessly book their appointments online.
We opened on the 5th of February and we’re here until the 28th of April. We take walk ins, and phone bookings. It is a brilliant partnership, we have loved working with them. Penneys are known for their affordable beauty and fashion, and now we are offering amazing makeup as well to expand their range. People need to get hot on their feet to get a booking in before we’re gone!
What advice would you give to someone launching a business?
Research. I think that people have lots of amazing ideas. Your friends, and your family, and everybody around you, is going to tell you how great those ideas are, but until you actually try and test that idea you just don’t know. It could be getting some people from a particular industry into a room, and ask them open-ended questions about it. See if it’s something that they would use, or if it’s something that’s needed in that particular industry. It could be doing up a survey, putting it out on Facebook. Sending it to as many people as you know and just asking them, politely, if they could take 30 seconds to do your survey.
Also, you have to make sure the market is big enough. If the opportunity is not big enough, for example, the size of the market, it’s not as attractive for investors to invest. The market could be worth millions and that sounds huge, but it needs to be worth billions. For example, the beauty industry is worth €300bn. I’m not targeting the whole beauty industry, I’m targeting an exception. Based on my market research, I know what the size of that opportunity is. It is so important for people to do that bit of research and clearly know that opportunity.
Genuinely, I do not believe in an overnight success. It takes perseverance. It takes resilience, and it takes a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and coffee spills.
What are the next steps for you and for Glissed?
We’ve recently launched in Manchester so the focus will be to build on the network there. I did a trade show in Manchester in October to test the feasibility of the marketplace and because it was a place that I had already trained in I knew a lot of makeup artists there already. The next target is London; after that I will start looking towards the U.S.
At the moment, I have 24 hair and makeup professionals from the Glissed network working in Penneys. They are here every day, seven days a week. We open from half eight in the morning to nine at night on Thursdays and Fridays. At the moment I’m a lone wolf managing the legals, tech, strategy and events. There is a lot on so I’m looking forward to hiring an executive assistant in the next couple of months, as well as a COO. Those hires will hopefully allow me the breathing space to have an aerial view on the business, and be able to think more about strategy, and where we need to go next.
How do you relax and de-stress at the end of the day or during difficult periods?
I think that when you’re a entrepreneur, there’s just so much noise – people trying to get you all of the time. They’re pulling you everywhere. For me, before I broke my ankle, that little bit of me-time was actually to do a 20-minute workout. That was my time where the only thing that I was focused on was lifting the weights, or doing that bit of exercise. My mind was free from anything else, and that’s a very useful thing to allow yourself.
While I haven’t been able to do that I’ve been focused on goal setting. If I’m feeling low, or a bit negative, and have loads of things going on, I find it really helpful to journal the things that I’m grateful for in life.
It might be, “I’m grateful that I got a free cup of coffee”, or “I’m grateful that I got to work” or “I got parking”. If you actually write down all of the things that you’re happy about, and that you’re grateful for, big or small, it tricks your mind into being in good form, and it releases all the right hormones and endorphins. I think that can start your day on a really positive course.