Democratizing celebrity styling: Uber for your hair has arrived

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on January 27, 2014

From The News Desk

If Uber gives you plush, lush rides on demand, new app StyleBee gives you sexiness with the click of an app.

You hit a button on your phone, and two hours later a stylist arrives on your doorstep, beauty products in tow. They twirl their magic wands and turn you into a pretty princess. Or prince. Or drag queen. Whatever floats your boat.

StyleBee is essentially Uber for looks, allowing people to summon beauty professionals to their home in two hours (or more) via a mobile app. It just launched in San Francisco this past week, after a test run in the Los Angeles market for the last four months.

Users can request blowouts, makeup, updos, or any combo of the above, and it's all done from the comfort of their kitchen, living room, garage, or wherever they so choose. The LA market also offers haircuts and massages, although those services aren't available in SF just yet.

Just like Uber, it's affordable. Ish. Blowouts go for $50, makeup and updos for $85. That's roughly $20 more than if you went to a salon in person.

It's still a teeny tiny baby startup, with the seed backing of the William Morris talent agency and Shervin Pishevar. [Disclosure: Pishevar invested in PandoDaily while at Menlo Ventures]. It launched in the LA market in September and only just opened for the San Francisco market this past week.

The app is the brain child of the dream team of An(n)as, as I like to call them. Anna #1, Anna Santeramo, is a former lawyer -- Harvard Law, natch -- who did her time at a few prestigious firms and decided she didn't want to die a slow, exhausted death pushing papers for "people who are doing things." She'd rather "do things" herself. An(n)a #2, Ana Pishevar, is a soft-spoken, doe eyed Persian woman who is the Yin to Anna #1's Yang. She's also Shervin Pishevar's ex-wife.

The two An(n)as came up with the idea for StyleBee separately, when they found their hands full of children or work, with the need to look professional at events and functions but no time to race to the salon. Why couldn't the stylist come to them for a price they could afford?

Although "Uber for hair" seems like a silly, frivolous idea at first glance, it shouldn't be discounted.

Just like Uber itself: StyleBee is democratizing what was previously afforded to only the very wealthy. Getting your hair and makeup styled by a professional in the comfort of your own home is decadent. It's the sort of thing Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian might enjoy. If it's anything like the car service, the middle-class masses will pay up for this "baller" experience at a reasonable price.

Just like all the other companies in the sharing -- and freelancing -- economy, StyleBee is feasible because people in a variety of sectors aren't working to their full capacity. With the ease of mobile apps that match supply and demand in real time, these resources can be reallocated in a surprisingly affordable manner.

The power of Uber doesn't just have to be restricted to transportation. Beauty is a perfectly logical next step.

In LA, Santeramo says that 50 percent of the customers are repeat bookings. She's also been eyeing the enterprise space. "My instinct tells me there will be a lot of companies here that would give our gift cards as a perk, like Google giving massages to its employees," she says. "And every company has a budget for makeup and hair for their advertising campaigns no matter how boring they are."

Although the demand may be there, the challenges inherent to scaling an operation like this are daunting. In some ways, far more daunting than a transportation network company like Uber. Stylists are going into people's homes, spending long chunks of time with strangers, running their fingers through said strangers' hair and touching their faces. That sort of thing may be normal in a salon, but not in the privacy of a person's home.

Santeramo and Pishevar are aware of the "weirdness" factor, and they're carefully vetting every stylist, having their friends and family test the professionals out in person and submit reviews. The An(n)as are also checking cosmetology licenses and doing interviews.

When I asked Santeramo and Pishevar how the hell they would be able to find, vet, and manage an army of qualified stylists as StyleBee scales, they weren't concerned. Santeramo says that stylists are treated so terribly by salons and celebrities that the chance to work for themselves and make extra money is irresistible.

If their app takes off, I think the hiring pain point will hurt them much more than they expect. After all, in ridesharing the biggest issue Uber and Lyft face is driver supply. They just can't get enough drivers on the road to consistently match customer demand. That issue has led to the dreaded surge pricing and Uber's outrageous, aggressive tactics to recruit drivers off other platforms.

Stylists need far more talent and social skills than drivers. And not having enough of them could be the Achilles' Heel that brings the whole operation down.

If people rely on StyleBee to book a last minute blowout and no one is available, that will erode users' confidence in the beauty-on-demand service. Even worse, if the An(n)as have to hire less-than-excellent stylists to meet demand and individuals wind up with botched 'dos and porn star makeup as a result, the app's reputation will sour quickly.

The other challenge that I'd be remiss not to discuss, even though StyleBee is only a baby startup at this point, is safety. Individuals who have never met their customers are entering said customers' homes and spending long chunks of time with them. It's a much riskier situation than just driving with a stranger, which carries its own mishaps and conflicts.

The sharing economy is growing more and more intimate with every new company on the market.

Santeramo and Pishevar are not oblivious to the potential dangers of such an operation, and they run background checks on stylists through the company Hirease -- the same one Uber uses. Unfortunately, as Pando has reported Uber drivers with criminal records have slipped through the cracks of Hirease's database.

It's early days for StyleBee, so I suppose we can cut them just a little slack for now.