“Know what you don’t know and get help — It is impossible for a founder (even two co-founders) to know everything, but more importantly, it’s critical to keep learning. New skills, guidance, and inspiration are in abundant supply if you are not only humble and self-aware but also intellectually curious. Even though we were not from the beauty services sector, we have been able to partner with some of the most respected and established names in the industry, either as part of our provider network or the board of advisors. We believe it’s partly because we took the time to really understand the core issues to be able while leveraging our respective professional backgrounds to develop something that’s truly valuable and impactful.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ane Guzman and Sarena Shen, the co-founders of Unplugg. Unplugg is a unique beauty and wellness marketplace connecting salons and spas with customers in a personalized way. Having launched in New York City, Unplugg has one of the most trusted and established network of high-quality salons and spas offering hundreds of services with real-time online booking.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
Co-founder and CEO Ane Guzman has been in technology her entire career as a business-builder: transforming traditional, offline businesses into digital, and leading marketing, product management, and business development teams to create digital growth. Ane’s experience as a P&L builder and leader spans across US, Australia, and Asia.
Co-founder and CFO Sarena Shen spent 12 years before Unplugg in investment banking, helping global Consumer Retail, Consumer Product Goods, Technology, Telecommunications, and Healthcare companies and top, private equity firms raise capital to support their business operations and transactions.
We have been friends for more than 10 years, before coming together as co-founders and starting Unplugg.
Why did you found your company?
My co-founder and I have always had the entrepreneurial bug, even though we both worked for big corporations for the majority of our careers. Both of our families are also small business owners, so we were exposed to the challenges of growing a business with very limited tools, like many salons and spas do today. As avid personal care services customers, we saw so much potential in the beauty and wellness industry that wasn’t being realized. We wondered why it was still so difficult to find and try new salons and spas with confidence, especially when people could try new restaurants, travel experiences, and even dates so much more easily! We thought it was more than just a mere adoption of technology. Beauty and wellness services are by definition very personal and unique to each person, but there is nothing out there today that makes the discovery process personal. We also recognize how important personal care services are — it’s more than just good grooming or hygiene, it’s actually self-care. We knew that if we did this right, we would be helping people feel good, and when people feel good, they do good. So we thought: that’s definitely worth it. Let’s do it right with Unplugg.
What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Unplugg is making personalized beauty services simpler, quicker, and smarter! We are not only catering to your unique attributes (hair or skin type), preferences (a certain ambiance or a kid-friendly salon), and a provider’s service expertise when we’re matching you with a salon or spa, but also making sure it’s a seamless end-to-end experience all the way through to even after you leave the salon. Everything is done online, you can get a confirmed appointment as soon as 30 minutes out, and you get your services from a curated network of providers, so you’re dealing with only the best. All you need to do is show up. The best part is that with every use, Unplugg just gets smarter, making our matches, and therefore your experience, even better. You can Unplugg with absolute confidence each and every time.
We all need a little help along the journey — who have been some of your mentors?
We have been fortunate that we had amazing mentors in our previous corporate careers. They have served as a sounding board for us throughout our professional journey and it has fortunately continued on despite the industry shift as we turned entrepreneurial, largely because their advice and guidance went beyond skills and know-how. They have been a great source of support for us in more ways than one.
When we started Unplugg, we formed a board of advisors, some of whom were mentors to us before Unplugg and some were added as we searched for experts in areas where we needed help. Our board of advisors has been amazing at giving us moral support, providing invaluable insights and asking tough questions to challenge us to move faster and consider a more complete picture.
How are you going to shake things up next?
We are so excited to have just launched Club U, a VIP membership that takes the Unplugg experience to the next level. By spending at least $35 per month on bookings, you get personal concierge services, insider perks, complimentary services, and rewards. Imagine getting a whole lot more out of what you already spend today on different providers. By doing your personal care services on Unplugg, you get looked after at a more personal level and you harness the power of your total spend even if it is across different salons and spas. So, you do not only truly get the care that you need and deserve but you also get to do it all hassle-free and worry-free — just like how a true VIP gets his/her beauty and wellness experiences.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1. Know what you don’t know and get help — It is impossible for a founder (even two co-founders) to know everything, but more importantly, it’s critical to keep learning. New skills, guidance, and inspiration are in abundant supply if you are not only humble and self-aware but also intellectually curious. Even though we were not from the beauty services sector, we have been able to partner with some of the most respected and established names in the industry, either as part of our provider network or the board of advisors. We believe it’s partly because we took the time to really understand the core issues to be able while leveraging our respective professional backgrounds to develop something that’s truly valuable and impactful.
2. Be tenacious, relentlessly but productively — When you’re starting from the ground up, rejection is part of daily life and people will find an endless number of reasons to continue saying no to you. Yes, we have developed a thick skin, but we have also learned to ask the right questions and keep moving forward by using the answers. Imagine trying to sign up salons and spas when no one knows who you are or your product. The first month of outreach was really hard and we were having trouble getting the salons and spas to listen to us. But we learned why we were struggling and how to better connect with our partners. Our process and result have since improved a lot. Most importantly, we have learned to not to dwell on the rejections but to learn something from it, make changes, and try again.
3 Sweat the details — While it is important to set the overall vision and strategy of the company, execution is as much about the details, too. In every aspect of our business, we pay attention to details and we have set up ways to track and measure ourselves, including and most especially the human aspect of our business — the user experience, both our customers’ and providers’. Without the details, it is very easy to miss out on that crucial insight, which could make a big difference in what we are building.
What’s a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Share a story with us.
Two books have made a material impact on us: “Creativity” by Ed Catmull and “The Airbnb Story” by Leigh Gallagher. “Creativity” is a great source of inspiration in understanding the power of a strong culture to shape an organization’s competitive advantage. “The Airbnb Story” may seem like an obvious choice because Airbnb is a multi-sided platform like Unplugg, so of course it’s undoubtedly motivational because of how massive it has become. But we are exceptionally inspired by its mission-driven roots and way of growing and pursuing new avenues. Technology may have been the great enabler to get them to where they are today, but their mission of helping people to “truly belong” is their real growth engine from the very beginning. This relentless focus on the human aspect really resonates with us at Unplugg. We recently had a team strategy session wherein we used the “Airbnb’s 11-Star Experience” Masters of Scale podcast with Reid Hoffman as the kick-off material, and everyone finished the day inspired and energized to really learn from the user and let those insights drive what the technology prioritizes and not the other way around We strongly believe that the only way we can succeed is if our customers have the best experience, not just an okay one, especially in our industry. And this drives everything we do as a company: from training our concierge team to curating the best salons and spas, to how we work with our providers daily, to constantly improving our website.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
We would love to meet the founders of Airbnb (surprise, surprise). We are so inspired by their razor focus on customer experience, we have no doubt we can learn a lot from them (we have some burning questions!). The early part of Airbnb story is also very inspiring to us as founders: the ability to continue believing in your product and vision before any validation and to push through even when things are tough.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow us on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter @timetounplugg. It’s a very deliberate call to action because we believe in taking “me time”, so we would love it if you could tag us in any photos of you Unplugg-ing, or use our official hashtag #howiunplugg to be featured on our pages. We love seeing ways that our customers choose to make time for themselves and more importantly, the difference it makes.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Originally published at medium.com