Nikki & April Dominguez
The app for your career in beauty
- Company: Tradiies
- Based In: New York
- Industry: Beauty
- Experience: 10y COO of Major Salon Chain
Tell me a little about yourself and your company.
My name’s Nikki, I have been a hair stylist for about 10 years, and I’ve been here in New York City for about 6 years. When I first started, in Colorado, I actually built my first academy there. Here in New York, I’ve done everything from building my salons to, building innovation programs, and most recently, I was the COO of a major salon chain here in New York City. I’ve been doing that for the last 10 years. I’ve had a challenge finding quality salons back when I was working for them, but also finding quality stylists for salon programs that I was building. Even when I wanted to branch out a little bit further and get my own consulting and education basis going, there was not a professional platform other than Instagram that could really connect me to my direct audience.
Hi, I'm April, I’m in Austin, TX. Nikki and I are sisters. My background is actually in technology and startups here in Austin. I ran operations and implemented tech solutions for an oil and gas investment startup in Austin. One of my primary jobs there was to identify gaps in certain business processes that we had and implement technology solutions that would make everything run a little smoother. Over the past 10 years, Nikki and I have been mentoring each other on the business front. She’s often come to me, told me her career path aspirations within the beauty industry and what she’s looking to create, and a lot of it was focused on national consulting and helping grow the beauty industry via a consultant-style business model. She often talked to me about the major pain points she would experience, and how difficult it was for her to source quality candidates. Also how challenging and how time consuming it was for her to find these candidates, and that her primary resources for finding the candidates was from sites like instagram. My mindset, I told her, wa surely there’s a platform out there that’s linking beauty professionals to career resources and education opportunities because it exists in every other industry. It doesn’t exist for beauty, which is really shocking because it is such a large industry and is growing so rapidly. It’s actually growing at 2x the rate of the national job average.
Tradiies is a platform that connects beauty and salon professionals to jobs, education, and opportunities to help them grow in their career. It was created based on a real problem and a real issue that Nikki was facing trying to grow her own career.
Can you expand a little more on what your company/product does?
April: Tradiies, we launched our MVP back in January, which is focused on job offers, posting jobs for business owners, and enabling people to apply to jobs through our platform. So a beauty professional can go on to Tradiies, free download, and start to build out their portfolio, essentially a digital resume. You can keep your entire career online and it stands out. You can add a small bio about yourself, and that’s the main tool that beauty professionals are using. It’s about a linear timeline, instead of the full scope of your career in a snapshot. So you can go online and build your portfolio, and you can actually link all of your social media handles to our portfolio, write a bio about yourself, list all of the experience that you have, all the education that you have. You can also list products that you’re used to working with, and build up galleries of your work, so you can build up “albums” of your work instead of linear posts. On top of that, we also have a place where you can list your skill sets, whether that’s technical skill sets, what you’re actually doing, the business __ that you’ve gained along the way related to the beauty industry, and personality traits. Because this industry is very different, its very hands on, very personal, very creative, we wanted to create a platform that shows and operates a beauty professional’s career the way that we actually view the world instead of a LinkedIn style platform, which is very focused on corporate America. So with that digital portfolio, that essentially becomes your working resume, and you can take all of that information with you wherever you go, from salon to salon, you can start gaining endorsements from other beauty professionals, you can also gain recognition, which is a written feature on our app, you can actually write positive recognition on their career, so that it stays with the beauty professional for the entire lifetime of their career. Then, using that, apply to jobs using our platform. Instead of the traditional resume and cover letter and corporate layout, it’s purely digital and tailored to how beauty professionals operate, so salons can see who they’re going to be interviewing and asking in the interview before they have to do all that additional research on CraigsList and find their Instagram handles and get a sense of who they are that way. That’s the way our app currently stands.
On the back end for business owners, we have a small HR set already, so people apply through the platform, they can manage their applicants through the platform, people who they think are a good fit, they can invite them in for an interview, ---- it creates a mini HR tool all in one.
The goal and the vision is to bring the beauty career market into one ecosystem in order to simplify the hiring process for salon owners and to simplify the application process for the beauty professionals. We bring it all into one platform. It’s a 5 click set up to build your digital resume for a beauty professional, which is really needed for them because they’re not technical people, and so we make it very easy for them to make this beautiful and robust digital resume. It's a 2 click process to apply for a job at a salon. On the flip side, the salon owners, its equally simple, its a 5 click process to create a job posting, and then they can also manage their candidates through the app, they know who they’ve declined, who they’ve accepted for interviews, and actually hold a record of all of that data.
It seems that you have a very successful product. But, what 3 things do you wish you had known before you had started to build your company and your product?
April: That’s a very good question. There’s so much that I wish I had known before going in, you could actually break it down into different buckets, because there are definitely things that we wish we had known on the product side, and things we wish we had known on the development side, and things we wish we would’ve known on the building business and fundraising side. So there’s a lot of different elements that go into it.
On the product side, one thing that we’ve learned how to do really well, and at the beginning we weren’t as good at it, is how to be very precise and very simple. One thing we did early on with the product, is we built out the onboarding with so much detail and so much care and had so many slides and so many screens. Even the job creation we built out so robustly, it was too much. It was taking people too much time to get into the app and too much time to create a job, so we had to go back, and we actually refined the entire thing and cut down what we had built out to about 10% of what it was. So, looking back, it was great and we learned from it, we need to keep in mind that it has to be really really simple on both ends, and in order to keep it simple, your own app has to be simple as far as onboarding, and keep it to the least amount of steps as possible.
Minimalism is definitely a learned art, and it's harder than you’d think to make it easy.
Nikki: One of the biggest things for me was the attention to detail. I wish I had learned to be louder about the choices we were making; whether its to do to the product or to the brand or who we’re bringing on board. One thing that we encountered from the get-go is a branding issue. Because it’s such a visual industry we had to really make sure that our brand was visually appealing to this industry, we ended up going through a very challenging branding process and then a rebrand, and I think what i wish I had known but I’m glad I learned was to be my biggest advocate. You’ve gotta be ok with being that picky and that attentive to detail, because nobody will ever care as much about your brand or product as you. People will either find shortcuts, or there will be a lack of direction, or a lack of support or opinion or agreement, I think things get off track very quickly. That’s something I’ve learned/would’ve known more is to make sure that those opinions of people that you’re bringing on board and that you’re paying to help build your business, that you stay on track and redirect quicker when you go offtrack.
Okay, very good advice. If there’s anybody that you wish had advised on your journey.
Anybody in the world??
I know mine right off the bat! I’m a huge fan of Whitney Wolf and Andrey Andreez. Whitney Wolf for me has been this guiding light of female entrepreneur who didn’t go to school for tech or business and was able to defy all the odds. Extraordinary platform and brand. Her business partner is Andrey Andreez, and he is very experienced in building technology and community. His knowledge space would be really impactful. He is the business partner that funded Google.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that’s happened to you since you started your business.
Nikki: I think the funniest for me, we were down in Austin, it was another crazy week full of investor meetings, and things like that, April and I ended up going to Bank of America, we wanted to talk to our bank representative, we get in there, and I don’t know why this is the first thing that I thought of. I guess we were just at the point of exhaustion, because whenever I get in town its just like go go go. And I don’t know why, but the gentleman sat down and asked if I wanted any water. So I was like, yeah, sure. April goes “why did you ask for water? Now it’s going to take him so long to get back!” And I was like “I don’t know! It was nice. IT wont take that long, he’ll be right back.” So, a long time, like 20 minutes goes by, we’re just sitting there, and I lean over and I go “it’ll be really funny if he just comes back with a small cup of water and not a bottle of water.” And sure enough the guy comes back with this small ass cup of water and he sits down and he was gone for 20 minutes. So we just lose it and start laughing in his office because he just sat down and looked at us like what the hell is happening because we were busting out laughing. We were literally going to marketing meetings and building our ads and going to design meetings and going to investor meetings and all of that stuff. It was one of those moments where you take a step back and you just realize that all is well and you can laugh over a small cup of water.
Most interesting story?
I actually got to pitch to Mark Cuban! It was SXSW, and my partner was having a work dinner at Bob’s Steakhouse, and she sent me a text saying “Mark Cuban is here.” and I was like, no way, he’s not there, and she said yes he’s here. So I thought I need to go pitch him! And I was like, no, I’m not going to interrupt his dinner, he’s probably got 8 people around him, and I asked who he was with. Nobody, he’s sitting alone. You’ve got to be kidding me. Just finished a 5 mile run, super sweaty, sitting on the couch, and within 5 minutes I jumped up, hair-sprayed my hair, changed my clothes, and put earrings on. Took a lyft over to Bob’s Steakhouse. So I go to the bar, I sit and order a glass of wine, there were tens of people, servers, security blocking the table because there were so many people trying to take pictures of him. My partner’s table stands up to leave, a table of 8. So everyone that was guarding Mark Cuban’s table went to open the doors for them, to be courteous and to clear their table, so the crowds parted, and I had the perfect view of Mark Cuban and I was like “this is my chance.” So I grab my glass of wine off the bar top and walked over to his table. He gave me this look like “kind of a bitch”. He was trying to avoid people from finding him, but I made eye contact and was like its too late I’m already in my stride to talk to him. So I sat my wine glass on his table and said “I have 3 questions for you and I’ll leave you alone.” And he said “Ok, have a seat.” So he actually let me sit down and ask my 3 questions, and I pitched him, and he gave me a lot of really good thoughtful feedback, and asked me some questions, and I walked away with his email address.
That’s incredible!!! I gotta know-- what were the 3 questions?
Oh gosh they’re really silly! I had to come up with something on the way over, I couldn't just say “can I pitch you?” I had to make him intrigued. So I asked him “when was the last time you got a haircut?” He looked at me and touched his hair and got super insecure and was like “what? like 10 days ago, why?” and I was like “how did your hair stylist find the salon that she works at?” he goes “I have no idea, she’s worked there for 20 years.” And I go, “do you want to disrupt a $500 billion industry?” And he just laughs and says “haha, the beauty industry.” I say “yes”. He says, “What are you building, how far along are you, and what are you looking for?” And so I got to give him my pitch. He actually asked a lot of really good questions, about how we’re gonna build it, how we’re gonna market it, gave me some really good feedback about content, where to not spend money, and at the end of it I said “thank you for your time, I just have one more question.” He goes “what’s that?” and I said “what’s your email address?” he just laughed and he told me his email address and goes “its a long shot though.” and I was like “so you’re saying i have a chance!” so he just laughed again and I walked away. So that was my Mark Cuban moment. So I ended up sending him my pitch deck pretty quickly, and he responded quick, within 5 hours, and said “its not a fit for me but best of luck.”
I think we’ve had, as a whole, a really wonderful experience getting in front of people. We’ve been able to pitch to ____, who was the founder of B chance, who we also modeled our platform after, we’ve been able to get in front of Jen Atkins, who is the Kardashian’s hair stylist, I don’t know if you follow her on instagram. Jen has been on their glam squad for many many years, and she’s very well known in the beauty industry. We’ve been able to get in front of her, in front of Barbara Corbrand, who else have we spoken with about Tradiies? A lot of people. ……. We’ve done a really exceptional job at getting in front of really big names. And we definitely have a list of ……. We have been doing a really really great job of getting in front of these other big names and making an impact and getting feedback from them.
How are you getting these network connections? How are you getting in front of these big names?
We manifest it, we take action, we put ourselves in the right situation, and then the doors open. Daniel Caynor, the founder of Orvay. Nikki has been a huge admirer of him for a very long time, he;s a really big name in the beauty industry. We knew he was going to be at this event called Interconcierge, which is an elite event for top beauty professionals and salons for the US, held in NYC. We knew he was going to be at this event, so Nikki found a way for us to get tickets, it was Invite Only, we bought a flight out to NY, with this vision in our mind that we have to get in front of Daniel Caynor and pitch him, and we walk into this hotel, and literally within 45 seconds, and Nikki ==== contact working from Orvay, and Daniel Caynor walks up to us, reaches out, and shakes both of our hands. And its these neat situations, we both believe in the company, we have a vision, we visualize things, we manifest, and then we take action somehow to get in front of them, and everything aligns and works out, and we end up meeting the people that we’re trying to meet. Does it mean that they always invest or anything like that? No! But we get in front of them, and we are able to make an impact, and we are able to get feedback.
What has been the single largest hurdle that you’ve had to face or are currently facing?
Mine is more geared towards the product side of things. One of the biggest challenges on our product is that we have built out a truly phenomenal career tool, like a job tool, and it works really well for both sides, for both the beauty professional and the salon owner. But one of the biggest challenges about that is that you’re only searching for that every couple of years for a majority of people. And there are also people who are constantly shifting and moving salons, so for those people, yes, they’ll probably use the tool more often than not, but that’s the biggest challenge right now we have for our platform. Above and beyond building out your portfolio and searching for a job, there’s not a big draw to pull people in to keep people coming back. And we knew that early on, when we were building this out, and we recognize that. But we’re adding more features, like our recognition feature, where you can go in and hand out recognitions to beauty professionals that you know, but other than that, that’s the biggest drawback.
With any 2 sided marketplace, you have to get both sides equally engaging in the app at the same time. And that’s a challenge that any platform faces when they’re building a 2 sided marketplace. We see that challenge because we have salons posting jobs and people looking for jobs. What I was thinking is to make the premiere career resource for the beauty industry, where they are coming on to use it. They’re looking for education, cosmetology scholarship, mentors, not just jobs. Right now, focusing on jobs limited our scope a little bit, so we have plans in place to market new feathers that will widen our reach to the majority of beauty professionals, whether or not they are looking for a job.
It’s definitely been fundraising. Fundraising, as everyone knows when you’re reliant on capital to get your startup up and running is the most important thing. That’s the biggest hurdle we’re facing in this moment in time. Assets to investors who are familiar with the beauty space and who know how big the beauty space is and see the opportunity in it and are willing to come along with us in that journey. We have been fortunate that we have raised capital and we had supporters along the way. The biggest hurdle that we’re facing right now is that in the Austin market, a lot of angel investors are focused on B to B SaaS and enterprise startups. We are a very different startup! We are a mobile app, we are 2 female founders, we are focused and targeting the beauty industry, which is an industry that is not commonly looked at by angel investors. Most angel investors are looking at common industries, like B2B software in Austin, they look at oil and gas, real estate, fentech, health tech, so beauty tech is really unheard of to them, so its been a matter of us needing to get into the right angel investor names, so what that means for us is that we need to be able to tap into people who have invested in beauty before and are large beauty conglomerates, like Laura Mercier, L’Oreal, and larger corporations like that is what we’re starting to look at now.