When tech tackles the multi-billion beauty industry

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Before founding Shedul, a free booking platform for hair salons and spas, New Zealand natives William Zeqiri and Nick Miller, were on different career paths.

In Dubai, Miller was with the Embassy of New Zealand before moving into branding, while Zeqiri worked at Dubai Holding, launching some 15 startups and arranging angel investing. The need for a last-minute haircut before a trip to Nepal in 2015, however, changed their course.

“We booked our hotel, our flights, our tours…it was 8pm and I needed a haircut,” Zeqiri recounted. “It was really difficult to book a haircut online.” They realized they had managed to book everything in a country they hadn’t yet set foot in, but couldn’t book a haircut in the city they were currently in.

After their trip, Miller and Zeqiri looked into the beauty industry, discovering it was worth trillions of dollars globally. The duo came up with a minimum viable product idea to add value to existing salons. They launched Shedul to put the idea into effect. Recently, the company announced a Series A round of $6 million. The round was led by Dubai’s Middle East Venture Partners and Beco Capital, along with San Francisco’s Lumia Capital. The team had initially set out to raise $4 million.

Shedul founders William Zeqiri and Nick Miller. (Images via Shedul)

Shedul enables salons and spas to streamline their operations by handling customers’ bookings online, managing employees, and recording finances. On the customer end, the platform allows users to book an appointment at a nearby subscribing business and also keep track of purchases and services.

In 2015, when Zeqiri and Miller launched the platform, 25 businesses signed up overnight. Within the next few weeks, some left but many stayed. Considering the platform is free to use, those who stayed began inquiring about a possible catch.

Indeed, Zeqiri recalled, that people were initially rather skeptical that there were no hidden costs, especially in a new business. But with time, they began to see there was no cause for concern. Not only that, but even when fees come to be assessed for planned services in the future, “we will keep the main component of our platform free to eliminate barriers to entry and make it a no-brainer for anybody to sign up,” Zeqiri maintained.

“The pen and paper is our biggest competitor,” Miller observed, referring to the most common way of booking an appointment in the beauty and wellness industry. But online bookings on Shedul picked up because the platform is free and accessible to anyone with an internet connection. This has led to 95 percent of the startup’s clients being international, with 40 percent of their user base in the United States alone and 15 percent in the UK. The MENA region accounts for five percent of Shedul’s users.

The booking platform.

Zeqiri explained that this lopsided distribution is because more developed countries have seen a major transition to online bookings and other transactions. Additionally, the fact that Shedul’s services are provided in English plays a role. “In MENA,” he pointed out, “the population is big but most of them are not regular English-speakers.”

Nevertheless, as Zeqiri readily acknowledged, Dubai has been good to Shedul, and has made for a successful launching pad. In addition to the Dubai office, Shedul’s team of 19 works out of Poland, and will soon be operating in the US. Today, 700 salons in Dubai use the platform.

Leith Matthews of Akin Barber & Shop was one of the first people to sign up for Shedul’s services. Describing Shedul as central to Akin, Matthews said, “A system of this type is crucial for a business like mine. It is the only software required, and it handles almost every part of the business, aside from the actual cutting of the hair.”

While Dubai is Shedul’s home base, Zeqiri said the company does not foresee a drastic change in MENA’s five percent user ratio.

“We are not specifically targeting MENA,” Zeqiri explained. “We just happen to be a business operating out of Dubai…I don’t think MENA will overtake the rest of the market very quickly.”

Shedul remains, by design, in a pre-revenue phase. However, in the next few months, the company plans to launch a SaaS enabled marketplace like Airbnb and Booking.com, where  users can book appointments for haircuts, massages, or gym classes online. Shedul intends to charge a small fee for such bookings.

Another potential for revenue is the company’s access to data.

“Because we are global and free, we are gathering a lot of information about the industry in 120 countries around the world,” Zeqiri said. “We know the average prices, the occupancy rates, some of the challenges businesses face, the requirements for tools, and features they have. Data is really valuable in the 21st century, [and] that is helping us build a better product.”

Feature image via Pexels.

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