Handsome is the “best salon app for beauty and barber professionals.” Within three months after the app’s 2018 launch, 25 percent of the cosmetologists in New York City had created accounts. The sky-high adoption rates made the founders, April Dominguez and Nikki Dominguez, realize that they had started something with huge potential for growth.
April, the CEO, sees their business as being much larger than just creating an app or running a job listings service. For her, the mission of Handsome is to build a strong community and empower a ton of minority solopreneurs and business owners in the process. Nikki, a beauty industry veteran and the COO, sees the app’s potential to disrupt archaic business practices in a $60B industry. Together, the Dominguez sisters created Handsome to deliver three services for beauty professionals: 1) Find jobs, 2) Learn skills, 3) Receive career advice.
“We aren’t just building a product,” say the co-founders. “We are serving a group of people who represent ourselves. We are serving a community that’s overlooked and underestimated.” About 90 percent of hairstylists and cosmetologists are women. Sixty-six percent of barbers are Black or Latinx. And 30 percent of hairstylists are Black or Latinx.
Their backgrounds are vastly different from typical Silicon Valley app creators. They are two, Hispanic, nontechnical co-founders. Their app isn’t focused on gaming, music, buying food, watching TV, or dating. It’s focused on an industry that has been, for the most part, overlooked by VCs, an industry that relies heavily on the labor and creativity of women. The co-founders were inspired by numerous aunts, cousins, and great-aunts, who worked as hairstylists and salon owners in Colorado, where they grew up.
The Handsome co-founders raised $620K initially, and they are focused on raising another $700K as their next goal. With additional capital, they plan to hire a CTO, improve their product, optimize the app for scale, acquire users over an 18-month timeframe, and develop an Android version of the app.
After their first year, Handsome had 13K members, and they’re up to 18K currently. When COVID-19 hit, Handsome quickly eliminated all marketing spend and focused on growing user engagement and retention. As a result, engagement has grown 37-64 percent, month over month. In addition, the Handsome team has negotiated five industry partnerships to boost user growth.
April’s road to the C-suite took many difficult twists and turns. By 15, she was on her own and working the graveyard shift at an assisted living facility to survive. After winning a full scholarship to attend University of Texas-El Paso, she had to drop out when her father was diagnosed with cancer. She eventually returned to college to finish her degree, landing a VP job at an investment startup. While she was there, the firm raised more than $130M. By age 28, she needed a life change, so took some time to go backpacking and volunteering in 40 countries. Her travels reinforced her desire to help women and cemented her belief that “You owe the world. Not the other way around.”
Having a global world view is something that connects the two co-founders. Nikki’s vision for Handsome is for the company to become the go-to career resource for beauty professionals worldwide. After she earned a psychology degree from University of Northern Colorado, Nikki studied cosmetology, which was her true passion. She went on to help build three beauty academies and schools, she became a beauty industry consultant, and she worked as the Director of Education & COO of a major salon chain for two years. Then she started Handsome with April. Nikki wants Handsome to give users the “tools to chase the careers of their wildest dreams.”
In addition to running Handsome, the co-founders started a podcast called Beauty Means Business Radio. It’s a savvy media move, which allows them to showcase beauty professionals from around the country, demonstrate their knowledge of the beauty industry, and raise the visibility of the Handsome brand–all at the same time. Genius. They’ve done 16 episodes and counting.