Today we sit down with Melody McCloskey to talk about how she started StyleSeat. Melody dropped out of her high school C++ programming class, but she knew how to manage developers, and she worked closely with one to create a product prototype. This prototype, paired with her research and vision, helped her recruit her technical co-founder, Dan Levine. Learn how her early product traction, market research, and passion for the idea helped her raise $14.9M in funding.
StyleSeat is on a mission to help the world look and feel amazing by connecting anyone with the beauty services they need at any time. They help beauty and wellness professionals in over 15,000 cities across the US manage and grow their businesses through their online and mobile platforms.
Poornima: “Hi Melody, I appreciate you sharing your time and background with our readers! Let’s start with your background. What was your major in college?”
Melody: “I went to UC Davis and majored in International Relations and French.”
Poornima: “Did you have any experience programming?”
Melody: “In high school, I took AP C++ and dropped out of it. I was the only girl in the class, and I didn’t want to get a C! I do regret dropping it.”
Poornima: “So how did you get into tech then?”
Melody: “I first got into tech because most of my friends were engineers and founders. After college, I was was told to pursue PR [public relations] because that’s what women do. But I was the worst person on the planet for it. Then I went on to work at Seagate and startups. Soon I realized that it was an industry that I was obsessed with.”
Poornima: “And why did you decide to become a founder?”
Melody: “I worked at a startup as a product manager, and that taught me how to communicate with engineers and designers. But it took me a couple years to feel like I could start a company myself. I thought only engineers started companies. I saw that things were changing.”
Poornima: “How did you come up with the idea for StyleSeat?”
Melody: “I’ve always been into style, and I was looking for someone who was good and tried using Yelp. But after having 3 haircuts and colors, I was not happy. Then I went to someone who was amazing, and I felt really really good. And I thought, ‘how can I give this feeling to everyone else? How can I give them that experience?’ It’s not a vanity thing, it’s allowing you to be your best self.”
Poornima: “Since you mentioned you’re not technical, how did you build the prototype?”
Melody: “I loved all the details around building, and I knew how to manage a developer. I worked closely with a developer and cobbled together an initial solution.”
Poornima: “What was in the prototype?”
Melody: “It was a client tracking tool. Independent stylists love using pen and paper. It’s the only way they can keep track of their clients. The big salons have a software, but if an employee wants to leave, they can’t easily take their clients with them.”
Poornima: “Was Dan Levine the initial developer?”
Melody: “No, I recruited Dan later. Because I had cobbled together a solution, he saw the vision of what I wanted to build.”
Poornima: “Most people would think that this is a niche market. How did you convince investors it wasn’t?”
Melody: “I did market research and found out that beauty is a $78B industry in the US and $130B globally.”
Poornima: “Was that enough to convince them?”
Melody: “We also showed metrics over time. And while traction and product will speak for itself, building relationships also have value. I had to build relationships with investors.”
Poornima: “How did the product and vision change over time?”
Melody: “We began building a client tracking application, added scheduling, and in 2013 we focused on online booking and being a directory.”
Poornima: “It’s hard to have a big vision and deal with the day-to-day. How did you reconcile having a big vision and hitting your milestones?”
Melody: ”We had major milestones and mini-milestones. My co-founder Dan complements me because he is very bottoms-up and focuses on what we need to build next.”
Poornima: “What keeps you motivated and moving past rejection?”
Melody: “One of my really good mentors, Travis Kalanick, taught me that no one is as smart about your business as you. You know your customer. You’ve done the research. It’s a combination of trusting your instinct and gut. Having your act together, knowing the numbers and data. But there will be naysayers. People who don’t get it, because they don’t know. You have to help people feel as passionate about it as you do. You have to say: ‘let me tell you about the opportunity.’”
Poornima: “What is one piece of advice you’d give to those starting out?”
Melody: “Find the smartest person you can find who has already been through it and can help. I found a female entrepreneur who helped close partnerships. Now I have Justin Caldbeck, who sits on my board and helps me build an executive team. You need to find good true partners: someone with time who has done it before.”
Poornima: “Thank you, Melody!”
Just to recap, here’s what we learned from Melody McCloskey:
- You don’t need to be technical, but you do need to know how to communicate with developers and convey your vision to them.
- If you’re thinking about fundraising, you’ll need to have data, show it over time, and develop deep relationships with investors.
- When dealing with naysayers, you need to educate those who don’t get your idea on an emotional level, get them to understand the opportunity, and make them understand your passion.
Read additional interviews withe founders & early employees at companies like Pardot, Shopify, Olark and more—in How to Transform Your Ideas into Software Products.