In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
When Lauren Remington Platt launched Vensette in 2011, her goal was to provide a consistent, at-home hair and makeup service. Her big idea: give clients a menu of hair and makeup options. The client then selects exactly what she wants, schedules an appointment and an artist makes a house call. Hair styling starts at $150 and so does makeup. (Hiring a professional makeup artist is usually upward of $800, so this is a relative bargain.)
Three years in, that mission remains relatively in tact. Along the way, though, Remington Platt has learned a lot about what her customer wants, who her customer is and, most importantly, how to scale what on paper sounds like a pretty niche business. We recently spoke with the entrepreneur about what's new and next.
How did you come up with Vensette?
After I graduated from Columbia, I was working in finance at a hedge fund. Going from the office after work, I found that I was more excited about getting my hair and makeup done than I was about ordering a new dress or a new pair of shoes. I became very interested in the space, and wondered why it was so fragmented and inconvenient. If you wanted to get your makeup done, you had to travel to one of the few places in the city that did it -- and nothing was close by. I started spending a significant amount of my free time searching for alternatives. I interviewed dozens of hair and makeup artists at Starbucks on the weekends, trying to understand how it all worked. Freelancers charge an arm and a leg to do hair and makeup on one person, so I wanted to figure out why, and what their pain points were, too.
And you were still working in finance at that point?
Yes, but I decided to leave and started applying to business school. But then I started to think about business school in a different way: What was I really going to gain from that? I was interested and excited by this project -- I wanted to solve the freelancer’s problem and the consumer’s problem. So I put applying to school on hold for a few months. It wasn’t a hard decision. I gave a talk at Harvard Business School early last year, and they wanted to know how I decided to start my own company, what metrics did I use to weigh the pluses and minuses. But there was never that moment. I just knew that I was on to something and I went for it.
Where’d you get that confidence?
I don’t know... I’m a natural-born risk taker. I’m someone who really trusts their gut. I hadn’t been in corporate America for very long, so it was easy for me to adjust to the unregimented schedule and lifestyle. And being in my twenties, I don’t have the same responsibilities that I might have 10 years from now. It’s a lot about timing.
Let’s talking funding. Did you raise money at the start?
I funded the company myself at first. The great thing about Vensette was that we started making money pretty quickly. I could conceivably bootstrap for a really long time. When I started in 2011, we were really the first to market. We built a network in New York City, and eventually we grew the company to include dozens of corporate and hotel partnerships.
Is that a big part of your business now?
B2B is 50 percent of our revenue. It’s important for these brands to be associated with another brand of the same caliber. If a corporation needs to have hair and makeup done for 15 VIP celebs, it’s the best option. If you go to a salon, an agency, or individually negotiate with artist, it’s going to be more of a production. The hotel piece was a natural fit, too -- not every hotel has a salon. But the individual appointments are still really important. I selfishly created a company that met my needs, something that I would use and my peers would use.
You eventually did take investment. What was raising money like?
One piece of advice that I would give is that it takes patience. Taking on investors just as important as making a hire. That person affects the DNA of the company. I was really looking for an investor who understood the luxury space and branding, who wouldn’t pressure me to discount and expand before we were ready. I’m tremendously happy with who we chose. It’s a little bit like dating -- you’ve got to really get out there and understand the different firms.
What was the hardest part of convincing investors that you had a good business on your hands?
I think for us, we get asked so many questions on our market size -- like, "What’s the market size for makeup application?" My answer is that Vensette is not a new idea, women have been getting their hair and makeup done forever. We’re just using technology to streamline and making it more accessible. And we’re creating a new market, too. Women who weren't going to the salon are using Vensette simply because we exist, spending serious money on hair and makeup because we exist. We really think the sky’s the limit. And we’re just focusing on one thing. We aren’t trying to do cut and color, because that’s not something that’s really in demand -- they do that in advance. We’re making an effort to do one thing and do it really well.
And expanding to different markets.
Yes, we just launched Los Angeles in February.
You’ve been around since 2011, but you only launched your app in January. Why wait?
For us, to be perfectly frank, we’ve spent a lot of time finding the right tech team. I consider us a well-branded technology company disrupting the beauty space. We could have launched the app a lot earlier, but we wanted to find the right iOS developer. We think eventually that 85 percent of bookings will be via mobile.