“Build a strong team/network/community of support”, With Douglas Brown and Nikki & April Dominguez of ‘Handsome’

Have a clear vision and understanding of a problem you are solving. Start with an MVP and build, test, iterate. See how your customers are using your product and adjust. Build a strong team/network/community of support. Move on quickly and have fun. As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of […]

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Have a clear vision and understanding of a problem you are solving.

Start with an MVP and build, test, iterate.

See how your customers are using your product and adjust.

Build a strong team/network/community of support.

Move on quickly and have fun.

As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sisters, Nikki & April Dominguez.

The Dominguez sisters share the same vision and the same values, to provide resources and tools to an industry and community of people who have been overlooked. April’s background is in business, investing, and startups, formerly at a company that raised and deployed over 130M dollars. Nikki has 11 years in the beauty industry building education, salons and business programs across the nation.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Prior to Handsome, April was the 5th hire of an oil & gas start up, which she helped grow to over 50 employees. She has always been an advocate for underrepresented communities and helping others see and achieve their truest potential. Nikki had been in the beauty industry for the past 11 years working behind the chair, as an educator, and mentor to 1000’s of pros. The sisters had two vastly different career experiences and one thing was noticed — the resources available to April were not available to Nikki. April’s passion for communities and networking and Nikki’s passion for beauty and education, brought them together to fill this massive white space: A world class network for beauty and barber pros to find career advice, education, and jobs.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?

We have a knack for getting in front of people. April pitched Mark Cuban at a steak house in Austin by asking him about the last time he got his haircut. And Nikki pitched Barbara Corcoran while being interviewed on her podcast. Although neither of them invested (yet), getting in front of major names and VC’s has become a well cultivated talent.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We haven’t nailed a funny mistake, but there are funny moments when you are working together as sisters and business partners. When you are the only 2 team members, pulling all tasks, and working around the clock there are going to be moments of absolute hilarious disasters. Most of those happen when preparing for or filming pitches. April is very strategic and can memorize anything. Nikki is very off the cuff and likes to improvise. So when you put these two personalities and styles together, they do end up in some very ridiculous outtakes, laughter, and tears. Makeup needs to be reapplied.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

The hardest part of the journey has been fighting against the stigmas during fundraising on multiple levels: women, minorities, and tech. Being two LatinX/Native American women in beauty tech, has definitely presented its challenges. Not only are we representing an underrepresented group of people (beauty and barber pros) but we ARE the underrepresented people.

We had a challenging childhood. We learned at an early age that there is no such thing as giving up but learned the art of flexibility. To interpret challenges as opportunities and setting a vision strong enough to carry the rough times. There is an ingrained sense of purpose and intention to keep moving. There is no backdoor in our minds, so finding solutions to daunting problems is the only option.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

It is critical to have mentors and allies. For me, I was so fortunate to be mentored by the CEO of a growing oil & gas company as one of my first jobs out of college. As one of the only women at the company and the only minority, Cody Davis opened the door to his office so that I could learn directly from the top. I was challenged daily, expected to take a seat at the table, and expected to make my voice heard. Too often, women are dismissed when they speak up. I learned early the value of having a male ally to support me, encourage me, and hold me accountable. Learning this has made it so that I know how to sit at the table in a room full of white men, and I know that my voice matters and I do belong.

– April Dominguez

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect the dots looking backward.” — Steve Jobs. I think this says everything about faith, trusting the moment, knowing that even in the darkest times, you’ll be able to look back and go “Wow, I get it.” Which with enough of those moments you learn that everything is always unfolding for your benefit. For growth, happiness. It’s always working out.

-Nikki Dominguez

Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?

Handsome is a world class network connecting beauty and barber pros to career advice, education, and jobs. Traditionally, jobs in beauty and barbering are viewed a fall back or last resort. Because of this archaic stigma, technology solutions addressing the income gap and upskilling in the industry have been under produced and underfunded. We are addressing an antiquated industry that generates 190B dollars Globally. Handsome is bringing beauty careers and education into a digital space and providing visibility & access to peer support, education and jobs.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We are minority women in beauty tech, a trifecta which hasn’t been common or popular among investments. In 2019, less than 2.8% of all Venture Capital funding went to all female founded teams, and the number is even smaller when we talk about minority female led teams. The fact that we are Brown Female Founders serving the leading industry for women (90% of hairstylists are female) & a leading industry in diversity (66% of barbers are Black or Latinx) gives us a powerful advantage. There are more hairstylists in the US than there are doctors or police officers. Instagram brought visibility to the popularity and need for beauty professionals. Handsome is bringing visibility to the professionalism and career trajectory of the industry. We are dismantling the stigmas that claim hairstylists or makeup artists are low income with low business acumen.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We are currently closing our pre-seed fundraise and have a consortium of incredible investors backing us. Which is very exciting! We’ve built amazing brand and educator partnerships that will help professionals gain access to opportunities, education, and rewards that the professional has never had before. This is exciting for us because we are improving the lives and incomes of a large population of under-represented people.

Handsome provides easier access to scholarships, financial courses, and a community they can connect with, especially in these trying times where digital connection & support is needed more than ever.

Let’s zoom out a bit and talk in more broad terms. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?

No. Until there are equal amounts of women in leadership roles in tech, making equal amounts as men, raising equal amounts of funding — we will not be satisfied with the status quo of ‘Women in Tech’. These are lives and careers of smart, creative, ambitious women. Women need to be hired and compensated. They need to be funded for their vision and future potential (as white males are) versus for past proof points. We need equality. Which begins with leaders in large corporations setting a new standard. And committing to asking themselves every single time, is this equal? We can’t stop asking that question until the answer is yes.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?

There are many challenges that women face that our male counterparts do not, and it is not limited to Tech. You can include investing, leadership, and vision. Men are allowed to be bold, brash, and grandiose. Women are expected to be respectful. Women need to be consistent in proving concepts and traction. Men are allowed to talk about unproven inventions. Women are doubted if they are unmarried. Women are doubted if they are married and haven’t had children. Women are doubted if they have children. A woman’s ability is questioned every day, simply because she is a woman.

The solution is to have more women and minorites sitting at the decision making table and in the investment committee to hold the subconscious biases accountable.

What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?

Early years of success can be a tricky trap. It gives the illusion that failure or struggle is not possible. When the struggle does show up, there can be a deer in headlights moment. For any leader, “restarting their engines” can be tough. The hardest part about creating momentum for anyone is, creating that momentum. This is not limited to growth or sales, it can also include team moral and creativity. We have to remember that what got us here, won’t necessarily get us there. It takes discipline, focus, and let’s not forget about fun to get our engines started again. Being in a company working with and on something that brings value is key. When you know why you are in this, the restart becomes more enjoyable and strategic.

Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?

We haven’t yet built a sales force within Handsome, but there is one thing I know — and that is that sales is all about energy and relationship building. Sales is a science and an art — and if you want to build a high performing sales team, you need to hire an experienced sales leader who can replicate energetic teams he’s built in the past.

In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?

Being in the beauty tech space we have an advantage that there are very few platforms that focus on the career development of the beauty professional. This Industry grows by word of mouth. If the client is thrilled and bought in, they will happily share their new resources with others. Our strategy is to delight our professionals through community and education. By focusing on one customer at a time and making sure they are getting the highest quality experience, our organic growth takes care of itself.

Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?

We make sure to keep our eyes and ears constantly open to feedback and criticisms. We want to see how our users are using our product, not how we think they will use it. For this we make sure to:

1. Focus on the NPS score of our product

2. Make customer outreach apart of your business to keep up with live and personal feedback

3. Follow the most engaged areas of our product & engage in the product yourself, often

4. Roll out micro features prior to full build outs

As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?

We know that the community at Handsome is what attracts our clients and education is what retains them. It is important to identify what brings your clients in and what keep them there. We know our audience is a very emotionally driven community. We also know that because of this they want to feel connected to the product or experience they are getting. We also know, that if they do not find value during their experience that feeling alone is not enough to keep them.

Knowing the difference between acquisition motives and retention motives is key. Without these identified and differentiated your customers will not know why they showed up or why they should stay.

Here is the main question of our discussion. Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Have a clear vision and understanding of a problem you are solving.

2. Start with an MVP and build, test, iterate.

3. See how your customers are using your product and adjust.

4. Build a strong team/network/community of support.

5. Move on quickly and have fun.

Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We are inspiring a movement. To uplift an entire industry and community of people that still do not have professional recognition or resources in their daily lives. We are affecting the lives of people that impact the majority of the population. By providing career advice, education, scholarships, and job opportunities to this global community, we are creating security and growth.

When the professionals feel supported, seen, and recognized for who they are and what they do, they can show up better in their own businesses and careers. The average beauty professional is bringing in around 24K dollars a year. Most of them are minorities or single moms. When this group of people have more knowledge and tools at their fingertips they become more empowered to invest in themselves. Handsome is on this mission of redefining an entire industry.

We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

John Paul DiJoria is high on our list. We’ve been chasing down his fax number for almost 3 years! We would love to have breakfast with him. His experience and vision for the beauty professional has changed millions of lives. His dedication to the industry is very much in alignment with Handsome. Not only does his vision align but he has decades of experience in business, investing, and the business of beauty. There are not many people that have his insight and success within beauty careers.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!

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