Self-starters are a source of inspiration to us all; they are willing to take risks most are unwilling to take. But how easy is it to go at it alone? In Self-Starters, E&M talks to young start-ups and entrepreneurs to hear about their experiences and to introduce their businesses to a larger audience.
Spanning a range of nationalities, localities, and professional backgrounds, Maxx Feldman, Alessandro Incerto, Lerthon Theuma and Vanessa Nicole Aceves are the people behind ‘Do Up’, an app that connects beauty professionals and clients. Not only are they a multinational team, but their US-based company is going multinational, too: in 2019, Do Up launched in Malta and it is now available in the App Store all over Europe. Millennial, tech-savvy, and ambitious, the four are working on their app on top of their jobs or, in Nicole’s case, full-time studies, spending up to 15 hours a week developing and advertising their service. Technology is at the core of what they do; their office is wherever they can set up their laptop, they discuss strategy and stats in their group chat, and they hold their business meetings on Skype. I got to join such a Skype session and learned more about their business, their plans for the future, and the advice they’d give other young start-up founders.
E&M : Could you introduce yourselves?
Alessandro: We are a group of young people from different backgrounds, from software engineering to advertising, marketing, and real estate. And we got together to create this company, which aims to connect beauty professionals and clients. We are putting the focus on the individual stylists instead of the barbershop or the salon and enable them to directly interact with their customers. And we help clients find the best possible stylists in their area.
Lerthon: In one sentence – ‘An easier way to connect with stylists’.
E&M : Given your different backgrounds, how did you meet?
Alessandro: Two years ago, Maxx had the idea for the app, and he reached out to me, because of my software engineering background. I liked his idea, so I build the app with him. I did the programming part, and he worked on design and outreach, getting in touch with local salons and stylists. When we launched, we recruited Lert, who played with me on my university’s football team. He takes care of marketing and advertising. This summer, as we kept expanding, we also asked Nicole, my girlfriend’s sister, to join. She works on social media and outreach.
E&M : Not all of you grew up in the US, but all of you live there now and Do Up is based in the States. In 2019, however, you’ve started to go global – you expanded to Malta. How do European markets differ from the US?
Lerthon: The differences for sure are cultural, how things are done here vs there. Malta is somewhat of a pilot test to see how we function in a country outside of the US. But Malta is also a really special case; I’m from there and it’s such a small island, where people don’t really use online services to make appointments. I’m sure that in bigger countries, our experiences would be quite similar to what we’ve been doing in the US. And, of course, once we are reaching out to other European audiences, we will have to add new languages to the app – currently Do Up is only available in English.
Alessandro: As we are expanding, we have to take into account local currencies. When using the app in the US, you’ll see all prices in Dollars, while in Europe they are displayed in Euros. But as Lert pointed out, there are also general factors. Using an app to book an appointment or rate an experience, for example, is more common in the US than in some European countries.
E&M : Adding other languages and reaching audiences in new countries are some key challenges and chances. What other roadblocks did you have to overcome since launching the app?
Alessandro: For me, the most challenging thing has been finding time to work on Do Up. Doing this on top of my regular job requires a big amount of effort, in order to make sure the app is actually working. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to push for and develop new features.
Lerthon: Yeah, it’s definitely been tough, but that also makes it more rewarding, to look back to where we were months ago, a year ago, and to realize what we have done so far; that’s definitely a good feeling. And god knows what we could do if we had more time.
Nicole: Since I’m focused on outreach, one of the other major issues I’ve been facing is getting people to join our app. In the beginning, I was thinking that every stylist would love to join Do Up, because it is so useful. But the reality is that it can be difficult to explain the app in a way that helps people see how effective and valuable it is. A simple DM, an email might not be enough for that.
E&M : Making the time for your project is not easy – how much time do each of you devote to Do Up?
Alessandro: Over the past two years, I average around 10 to 15 hours a week.
Lerthon: In marketing, it depends on the week. When we are launching new features or having new ads come out, it takes up more time on my end; Thanksgiving or the holidays, for example, are quite busy times. In a really busy week, it’s probably around 10 to 15 hours for me, as well.
Nicole: I would say it also depends on the week. I use LinkedIn, I use Facebook, I use Instagram and email to advertise Do Up and interact with clients, so some weeks I have to do more research for a post or respond to more messages, but normally it takes me around five hours a week.
E&M : Your work can be time consuming and challenging, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. What have been some of your biggest successes so far?
Alessandro: There are weeks in which we gain a lot of new stylists and clients. It’s awesome to see that growth, and to get so much positive feedback from people saying “hey, this is really useful, and this is something that we want.”
Lerthon: When we add new features to the app, it feels good to see the users apply those changes. That’s how the app has been growing more and more. For example, we’ve added the option for people to post a bio, to share photos of their work, for stylists to sign up as freelancers, and it feels good that we can respond to our users’ needs that way.
E&M : What are your plans for the future? Are you planning to expand to more European countries?
Alessandro: We are focused on expanding to the English-speaking countries in Europe first. We also want to offer the app in more languages and to develop an Android version. But even if we have not started marketing to audiences in your country yet, as long as you have an iPhone you can already download Do Up from the App Store anywhere in Europe.
In the short term, we are launching a new feature that allows business owners the possibility to advertise job postings on our platform. Beauty professionals can directly apply through the app, using their profile. Do Up basically functions like a resume for them, with all their services listed, with photos of their work, as well as pictures and comments posted by their customers.
E&M : What advice would you give other young start-ups out there?
Lerthon: Everyone has a good idea, it just depends on how disciplined you are and how well you implement it. I think that having the right people to do so is crucial. You need a committed bunch of individuals to get things off the ground. That also means setting expectations right away.
The other thing is, don’t give up. The hardest part is the beginning. There will be bad days, when you feel like maybe this isn’t working out, but those are the days which you’ll look back at once you’re more successful and you’ll think “it was worth it all along”.
Alessandro: You should really think about the technologies you want to use and their scalability. If this is a side project, you are not going to have enough time to put in the amount of hours you would actually like to put in, so you got to use technologies that are going to help you make the most of what you have in the least amount of time.
Nicole: From the marketing side, my advice would be to reach out to people early, to advertise your product or your service even before launching it, because once you’ve launched it, getting people to join is the most challenging part. Try to personalise your message, to reach out to people directly and build up your network.
Cover Photo: Courtesy of The Do Up Group