In 2018, despite the fact that social networks had reached peak usership, the $532 billion beauty industry still lacked a professional space to connect, ask questions and seek support. LinkedIn lacked a user friendly experience for creatives, so beauty professionals turned to Craigslist, Instagram hashtags and door-to-door resume handouts to find jobs.
At the time, two sisters, April and Nikki Dominguez, were working on opposite sides of the country — Nikki as the COO of a major salon chain in New York City, and April as the Vice President at a startup that had raised and invested over $130MM during her time there.
As COO, part of Nikki’s mission was to help salon owners and stylists build better business practices and education programs. But throughout her career, she noticed that beyond the walls of her own salon, stylists were often at a loss when it came to finding jobs, networking, and upskilling.
Meanwhile in the startup world, April had access to a vast amount of networks and resources she could dial into. Once the stark contrast between industries became clear, April and Nikki knew they had to do something for beauty professionals, whose careers had long been judged by outsiders as frivolous and inconsequential, and they created Handsome.
COVID Leaves Lasting Mark on Beauty
Handsome was born to challenge the norms in the beauty industry with a strong emphasis on community and education. They got their first angel investment in July 2018, which was followed by more angels including Jim Schneider, the former CFO of DELL, and Eric Simone, the Founder and CEO of Clearblade. Sputnik ATX invested in July 2019.
One year into the business, the team completed Handsome 1.0 with an app that included a job board, educational resources and discussion forums.
Then COVID hit, turning the lights off in salons, barbershops, and aesthetic brick-and-mortars across the country.
Oddly enough, the shutdown benefitted Handsome as COVID helped the beauty industry recognize they needed a focal point for financial support and resources.
Eager to help, the Dominguez sisters immediately built micro-partnerships with groups such as Beauty Changes Lives, which raised $1 million for scholarships and COVID relief grants. Handsome acted as a funnel, getting information out to beauty professionals at one of the hardest times in their careers.
Handsome also launched an education tab on their app. They consolidated educational resources and information online, from Instagram Lives to Facebook posts to Zoom webinars and aggregated them into a robust education calendar that their users could easily access any day of the week.
Because beauty professionals were not able to connect in-person, they also sought out digital community in Handsome. From the beginning of COVID to date, Handsome has grown their engagement by 1,000%.
And the hunger for digital community is expected to stay. Even though more than 97,966 businesses permanently closed during the pandemic according to Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report, Handsome says one thing is clear: the beauty industry isn’t going anywhere.
“Right now, there is a major migration to sole proprietorship, but that transition was already happening before the pandemic,” April said, “COVID just accelerated the transition and amplified the need for a digital community.”
Where is Handsome Now?
Most recently, Handsome has earned recognition both on the industry side and the startup side by scoring coverage in publications like Business Insider and Modern Salon and developing a major endorsement by Barbicide. Sarah Friar, CEO of Nextdoor and former CFO of Square, also interviewed and featured Handsome on Ladies Who Launch, an organization with the mission to celebrate and empower female entrepreneurs by providing support, funding, and mentorship.
Right now, Handsome is laser focused on building brand awareness. “Beauty professionals are very loyal to brands, and they require a lot of trust to develop that loyalty,” April said.
In the next 18 months, Handsome plans to acquire 150K new users, make key hires and expand their product. Check out Handsome App at https://handsomeapp.com/.