An Interview with Lauren Katzberg and Julia Carmona

Lauren Katzberg and Julia Carmona Interview

Lauren Katzberg is the Cofounder and CEO of STYLISTED, a website and mobile app that allows women to book on-location hair styling and makeup appointments from a networked of vetted freelance beauty professionals.

Lauren began her career as a management consultant in New York, working with a top global cosmetic brand throughout her time there. She got her feet wet in the startup world at Contently before pursuing her own business. Lauren graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BS from Cornell and holds an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth.

Julia Carmona is the Cofounder and Chief Operating Officer of STYLISTED. She began her career in public relations at NARS Cosmetics before gaining startup experience with brands such as Warby Parker and Bucketfeet. Julia holds a BA from Duke University and an MBA from The University of Chicago Booth.

In this interview, Lauren and Julia share what’s unique about their business and how they started by simply solving their own problem in the beginning. Their vision is to serve 20+ states in the next 5 years and to continue connecting women with the best stylists available in their area.

Lauren and Julia’s advice for entrepreneurs starting a business:

Get comfortable asking for favors – be bold and direct in asking for what you want, and always convey your appreciation.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Lauren and Julia and how you got the idea for Stylisted?

Lauren and I met in 2011 at The University of Chicago Booth. We were randomly roomed together on a pre-first semester bonding trip to Honduras. We quickly discovered that we both came to business school for entrepreneurship (a rarity at Booth) and that we grew up ten miles apart in Westchester, NY and went to the same dance school! It was a fast friendship from there.

Stylisted was born from a personal pain point. We had quite a few weddings and school functions to attend and often wanted the help of a skilled professional to go beyond our normal beauty routine, but we had trouble identifying who was talented and who was available when and where we needed them.

We wanted to build a solution: connecting freelance hairstylists & makeup artists, eager to grow their businesses, to women like us, in need of ultimate quality and convenience.

When did you know that you had a business on your hands and not just a ‘good idea’? (The ‘Aha!’ moment)

Getting Stylisted off the ground was rather unique because we had the challenges of a dual-sided market (arguably one of the hardest business models to tackle), but we had the advantage of a business that could function with a very lean MVP.

We didn’t need to build anything (tangible or otherwise) before we could start operating. Once we had a handful of stylists on board, our peers were our first clients and a Facebook page (for messaging and fielding requests) let us start booking appointments.

We would send out a PDF’d PowerPoint deck with stylist profiles and ask our friends to pick who they liked. Friends started telling other friends and stylsits began approaching us to join the network. Once we saw demand from both sides, we knew we had something.

Is there a competitive advantage that you have over the rest? How did you find it and ‘niche down’?

Stylisted is the only true marketplace in the on-location beauty industry. Since day one, we’ve always focused on the importance of the stylist. It was never about delivering a commoditized service from a faceless, nameless stylist, but rather allowing clients to select a stylist who can work with her specific needs.

For our freelancers, Stylisted is a platform that empowers them to grow their own micro-enterprises.

In your experience, what’s the best way to find your ideal customer? Are there any mistakes that our readers can learn from?

We ask ourselves, ‘where is our client spending time before she needs our services?’ Those are the places we need to be (digitally and in real life). We waited longer than we should have to make data-driven marketing a core competency of our team.

Until recently, we admittedly lacked the expertise and the discipline to go beyond intuition and retroactive data mining. We finally have someone full-time helping us make smarter, data-driven decisions.

Do you plan to put up a physical business in the near future?

No. We actually believe the brick-and-mortar salon is antiquated and that the future of beauty is in-home.

What do you consider the biggest milestone that you’ve hit with your business? What was the number one thing you did you get there?

It’s frankly difficult to think back on past milestones, because once you reach one you’re simply on to the next, even bigger milestone. In other words, we tend to have short-term memory when it comes to our accomplishments because the bar keeps getting higher!

So for us, we try to celebrate wins and exciting milestones as they’re happening. Most recently, we moved into our own office and hired two new full-time employees that plug major gaps in our team. We’ve had to be really honest about the things we’re not good at—but need to be—in order to prioritize spend.

How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones?

I think we’ve gotten better at this over the years. In the beginning, the line was completely blurred—we were business partners, roommates, and friends. It felt like we were working around the clock, but we loved what we did and we were both single (we dated the business) so it worked!

Now life is a bit more balanced. We both live with significant others and the team is large enough that someone can always be ‘on duty’ while the other teammates disconnect from work and spend time with loved ones.

That said, our families know we’ve poured blood, sweat, and tears into Stylisted and it’s a priority. I don’t think that will ever change and it’s important that your loved ones respect that. Which brings me to a bit of advice: Find a significant other who respects the hustle. You have enough on your shoulders and don’t need to feel guilty about working hard towards a dream.

Who has been your greatest influence as an entrepreneur? How did they shape your business?

Waverly Deutsch, Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at University of Chicago Booth, has been an incredible mentor and source of support as an advisor and investor in Stylisted. Whenever we hit a wall or face a new obstacle, she provides the perfect sounding board – lets us vent while listening without judgment, breaks our issues down into digestible pieces, and provides concrete advice for a way forward.

Where do you see Stylisted in the next 5 years? Any new products/services in development?

We plan to be in 20+ cities in the next 5 years.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you’d give someone starting a business in Illinois? What do they need to know from the beginning?

  • Get comfortable asking for favors – be bold and direct in asking for what you want, and always convey your appreciation.
  • Don’t wait for perfection to launch your business. Your product will never be perfect, but you need to put something out there to prove viability, learn about your consumer, and iterate.
  • Find a co-founder, if possible. Starting a business is wildly stressful and it’s so important to have someone by your side, ideally with complimentary skills and personality traits. I don’t think either of us could do it without the other.