Q&A: Unplugg Co-founder and CEO Ane Guzman
RTIH: Tell us about Unplugg.
Ane Guzman: Unplugg’s mission is to make self-care simpler and smarter through our SmartMatch technology and the unparalleled expertise of our personal concierges. Our technology was created based on the need to bring the salon and spa industry into the 21st century in a way that still feels personal. It takes into account personal characteristics such as skin type or hair type and uses that to match you with pre-vetted providers with that specific expertise.
Unplugg’s smart matching feature can also be further tailored to individual preferences with options like child-friendly, desired ambiance, and distance from your current location. Our list of providers is growing every day, so we really have something for everyone. To sum it up, our ultimate purpose is to make finding personalise beauty services simpler, better, and smarter.
RTIH: What was the inspiration behind setting the company up?
AG: We were in a unique position as female founders, to really identify a hole in the beauty and wellness market. We realised that, as working women in NYC, we didn’t have time to properly keep up with our self-care regimens, which left us feeling even more stressed out.
We found that people - not just women but also men - do salon and spa services, not just to look good but also to feel good and confident about themselves - and that sense of increased self-esteem is really what motivated us to launch Unplugg. We want to make self-care services accessible in a way that is simple and highly personal, and I think we’ve been able to accomplish that.
RTIH: What has been the industry reaction thus far?
AG: The reaction has been very positive, and we’ve also been surprised along the way. For example men, in particular, have been very excited to be included in our collaterals, and have expressed interest in services that are typically thought of as female-centric. Men want to be pampered too.
We’ve also heard a lot of positive feedback from users who didn’t previously consider that some providers would have different strengths than others. Some specialise in different services, and we always work to pair up our users and providers in a way that sets them both up for success and satisfaction. To this point, our providers have been very excited about our willingness and ability to show off their strengths.
RTIH: What has been your biggest challenge/setback?
AG: Our biggest challenge has been getting the word out about Unplugg. The salon and spa industry is one of the last few spaces where people still tend to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations, so we really need to prove ourselves as not just an alternative option but one that is even more reliable and satisfying. In our minds, we’re taking your typical ‘recommendation of a friend’ to the next level and instilling it with a sense of ease and even luxu
RTIH: What are the biggest challenges facing the omnichannel retail sector right now?
AG: The biggest challenge Unplugg is facing right now is that the salon and spa industry is actually not omnichannel when the rest of the retail industry is. But of course, that’s why we believe it’s also a huge opportunity.
Many salons and spas haven’t adapted to the changing technology world, and a lot of them still take appointments with pen and paper, which hasn’t given brick and mortar salons and spas the opportunity to take advantage of the efficiency and personalisation benefits of technology. Additionally, users have become used to booking services based on word of mouth recommendations and, due to lack of customer education, it can be difficult to gain their trust.
RTIH: What's the best question about your company or the market asked of you recently by a.) an investor and b.) a customer?
One investor asked of the industry (essentially): “Is there really that much demand for personal care services for this to be a big business?”.
It was the best question because it not only demonstrated how much we can really underestimate the importance of personal care services to people (and their share of wallet, as a result) but also suggested how high the bar is set for the added value that any company entering the industry should bring. As we bring Unplugg to investors, many are still surprised to find out that not only is it a $73 billion industry but that it is still growing in many different ways.
A male customer sheepishly asked: “So, I guess you serve mostly women?”. It was an awesome question because the way he asked it suggested he was hoping the answer was “no”, which meant he wanted our help. Even better: that our answer was “Unplugg is for both women and men”. We are proud to pursue a mission of “Feel Good, Do Good” - it’s about a sense of well-being, which is something we all seek regardless of gender.
RTIH: What can we expect to see from Unplugg over the next 12 months?
AG: We recently launched Club U, a subscription-based service that gives users monthly credits towards various salon services such as free touch-ups, chip repairs, VIP perks, upgrades, and rewards. In the next 12 months, we are aiming to continuously improve Club U’s reward system, as well as make a bigger marketplace for Club U members.
We are hoping to expand into a larger network of top salons and spas within the tristate area, which would give members more providers to get their self-care from. As for the rest, we are consistently listening to our users and members to hear what they like and want, and maybe we will deliver some surprises along the way.