Mobile commerce industry is growing bigger by each passing day. Once having experienced the ease and convenience of Uber, people now want to avail all types of services at their doorstep. Beauty services are no exception. Tapping the early trends and serving people with Fast Beauty On Demand, Blow LTD has become a leading name in London’s beauty industry.
Just imagine a crazy non-stop pace of life in London, tight schedule with several client meetings every day, and it is obvious to look good. Dropping by to a salon before your meeting is surely not an option and who wants to waste time travelling to and from the salon. If not this, just imagine a woman who has to attend a family function in the evening right after office hours and there’s no time to go to a salon. The expectations are such that a professional should serve its customers at a place and time of their convenience. Blow LTD is doing exactly the same by serving users on-demand.
To meet customer expectations and become a leader in the on-demand beauty industry, Blow LTD is leveraging the modern technology through their on-demand beauty app. Apart from having physical stores at some of the premium locations in London, they have an online marketplace where users can make an appointment with a beauty professional who serves them at their doorstep.
We asked Dharmash, Co-Founder & CEO of Blow Ltd., to share his experience of building the first multi-channel beauty service business from day 1 (‘hub and spoke’ model) – stores for “experience, data collection and as a testing hub” for Freelancers in off peak hours vs serving the city scalably on demand. And how the mobile platform technology, developed in partnership with Next Juggernaut has helped his business grow. Alumnus of University of Oxford, Dharmash previously held senior roles at Balderton Capital and EMAP and has been an investor & Board Member for valuable startups like – MOG (Now Apple Music), AdJug, KupiVIP, LOVEFiLM among others. Currently, he also serves as a Non Executive director at BBC and Hargreaves Lansdown.
Founder: Dharmash Mistry
Here’s a brief about the conversation we had:
Q1. Tell us about Blow LTD and your personal motivation to start this service.
We saw a change in macro structural trends which resulted in a market shift that started with media on demand and moved on to products and services on demand, enabled by technology creating platforms to aggregate fragmented markets. The development of the smartphone furthermore enabled marketplaces for exchange of services. Customers also started to expect multichannel experiences, something we have followed from day one.
Services needs to be outstanding for customers to return. Services therefore requires huge operational management to ensure the quality (“curated vs connection only marketplaces”).
Q2. What sets Blow LTD apart from the competition?
A unique business model. It provides physical stores in premium London locations as well as on-demand services. The physical stores help us to build the brand and create trust amongst our customers. Each store has 10-20,000 customers who come and experience great service and therefore play an important role in building our brand. The stores are fundamentally “operating hubs” – from Monday –Wednesday in off peak hours we use them to batch test freelancers, in groups of 30-40 in 3 shifts per day, utilising the property and people assets. The tech is a two way marketplace designed to be self sufficient from day 1 eg you can add new services, pricing, commission, cities from the backend without new development.
Q3. Put some light on the technology used to build Blow LTD?
First we have the marketplace that can be used with both iOS and android apps for customers and professionals. The marketplace works similar to a taxi application where a job is put up and can be chosen by a qualified professional. We furthermore have an admin panel that makes sure the business is scalable and manageable. We also have one platform for on demand bookings and a different one for physical stores.
Q4. What was technically the most challenging part of developing Blow LTD?
To continuously grow and create a better experience both front and backend. The heaviest work has been around the admin panel where all the work behind the scenes takes place. From here we manage amongst many things the quality of professionals, quality control and staff engagement. We are a work in progress and on a journey where everything is improving for every week (or at least in 2 week sprints).
Q5. How are you marketing Blow LTD to make it a first preference in the market?
Our physical stores are a great advantage in terms of marketing. Beside this we use a series of organic channels, seo optimised dynamic landing pages, all sort of social media and content marketing through our blog. We furthermore focus on marketing in the local market through paid advertisement, door drops, micro local marketing with an Ambassador programme and local PR. We have started experimenting with outdoor advertisment, especially underground in the subway.
Q6. How is Blow LTD empowering the on-demand beauty market?
For our customers it is all about quality and affordability. This market is not so much about “one demand” per se vs convenience – which is 7am till late, comes to you vs having to go to a salon, speed of service and consistency of quality through an extensive recruitment process, background checks and real time data with quality scores.
Our services are affordable as we roughly charge one pound a minute for a service. In a market where the pricing is fragmented and not transparent, our customers know it’s a good price for the service. We have a transparent pricing and make sure the price is fair for the right skills.
On the supply side, the importance is flexibility and making more money (roughly 1.5-2x that of working in a physical Salon). We have around 150+ professionals today, recruiting 30-40 per month. There is furthermore a trend amongst millennials to have a flexible schedule and to be able to decide over their own time. This is something we are adopting.
Q7. How are you planning to position Blow LTD against prospective competition, and how will you sustain your USP?
Our UPS is our unique ‘hub and spoke’ business model and the extensive recruitment and QC process we have built to process a high volumes on the supply side.
Q8. How has the experience with Juggernaut been?
Things have worked well, because we structured our arrangement with Juggernaut as an extension of our team and built a transparent agile process across time zones. The team that works with us is 100% exclusive and ring-fenced and understands our full 12m roadmap. We have technical leadership in the UK, along with design, product, and share our rolling 12m roadmap, which results in 2-3 week agile sprint cycles for features where we are end to end engaged. The relationship today is not with a service provider but with an integrated team on both sides; this allows us to blend different technical skills in India vs UK as we build the move to a much more hybrid offshoring relationship. The team is a blend of onsite and offshore, using agile techniques to very specific and strict acceptance criteria and timetables.
Q8. Approximately, how many orders do you book in a single day?
4000+ per month, on demand is growing at over 20% MOM.
Q9. Blow LTD has just raised another $2m. What would be your future plans for expansion?
We have just raised another $2m, led by Unilever Ventures and topped up with a “Ambassador Crowd fund”. To date we have raised $10m. We are working on city roll out, first in the UK and are testing new markets.
Q11. What is the biggest hurdle that you faced or are still facing?
To scale operations (quality of supply and consumer experience) with a creative workforce. Secondly, finding enough of the right talent.
Q12. Are you satisfied with your technology platform as it exists today?
The platform is a function of how well it has been architected to scale, we have made a good start good start. We have done a range of custom development to suit our market, conversion funnels, view of how the future might play out and most importantly build in scalability and (self service) flexibility. Each market is very different, in a way ‘uber of x’ is a very lazy and sloppy moniker – likely to lead to failing companies who have not grasped the service and operational complexities of their market. This in turn redefines the product experience and the platform you build. For example, once you realise this market is “scheduled as well as on demand” the whole UX and architecture needs building in a different way to that for taxis for example.
Q13. Any advice for startups trying to make it big in the On-Demand space?
Really understand your consumer and your professional, stay laser focused on the benefits of each side of the marketplace and prioritise ruthlessly. Depending on the market you are in, many of the models have realized that they are not pure connection platforms, but ‘curated marketplaces’ – which ultimately means your are a service business, which is tech enabled (this is very different from saying you are Uber for X).
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