Primped is a marketplace application that connects beauty professionals with clients to provide at-home services. Founders, Kate Dickson and Sarah Hartkorn, are part of the Make Lemonade co-working ecosystem here in downtown Toronto. Kate is responsible for leading all planning and execution of the company’s long-term strategy. Kate was previously a derivatives trader at a top Canadian financial institution. Sarah oversees day-to-day business activities, working closely with the CEO to implement operational plans to ensure long-term goals are met. This hardworking duo won our Fireside Conference Contest. Sarah and Kate took the time to give us the real talk on Being your own Boss and launching and running your own marketplace app.
What gets you out of bed every morning and how do you start your day?
Coffee! (Half kidding). What gets us out of bed is knowing that each day we have a unique problem to solve pertaining to our business. There are probably about 50+ ways we could go about solving that problem but it’s our job to find the solution that’s right for right now. We thrive in situations where we are trying to solve a seemingly unsolvable problem, and entrepreneurship certainly provides us with many of those each day! That’s one of the aspects of running a business that we love and look forward to the most when we wake up in the morning.
What made you want to start Primped?
Like most busy women, we found keeping up with our routine beauty needs and self-care disruptive to our packed professional and personal schedules. Working on Bay Street, we often found the process of planning, booking, and even physically getting to our appointments difficult or impossible. Instead of foregoing a self-care appointment or sacrificing a personal commitment to make time for our routine beauty needs, we wanted to find a solution that allows women greater flexibility to fit these appointments into their packed schedules to ultimately solve this problem. So, we started Primped – a platform that provides greater accessibility for finding available appointments and seamless scheduling / booking, as well as the added convenience of in-home services. Primped makes fitting in routine beauty needs much easier, allowing women to book appointments that work for their schedule and on-demand.
What are the things people don’t think about when considering running their own company?
The life of an entrepreneur is similar to a rollercoaster – the highs can be very high and the lows can be very low, especially at the start when everything is new and the defined path to the your end goal is quite unclear. Starting your own business is very exciting and scary at the same time, with so much personally invested in it, it can be difficult to approach everything objectively and with a level head. However, after experiencing a few highs and lows, we’ve learned to look at everything from a broader lens, “the bigger picture,” allowing us to put things into perspective. Also as partners, we continue to lean on each other and our support systems to stay focused on our end goal.
What were the first steps you took to launch this initiative off the ground?
Step 1 and probably the most important step was understanding that this business was not going to work as a side hustle, and that we were going to need to dedicate our full-time attention to the business (read: quit our full-time jobs). Step 2 was to speak to as many entrepreneurs as possible, particularly those who are in the marketplace space, to learn about their early-phase companies. Step 3 was to engage in enough market research (without hitting paralysis by analysis) to understand what both sides of our marketplace needed from our very primitive product. Of course, there were a lot of other things that went into launching our beta, but these three are the most important, big picture steps that we took.
What was a skill you had to pick up fast and are proud you learned in order to launch Primped App yourself?
Creating and managing a website. Prior to starting Primped, we had no idea how to create a website, design graphics, utilize third party plug-ins, etc. but we had to learn quickly because the first quote we received for the design of a very simple website for our beta was not in the budget. There are a lot of tools out there that make it simple but learning how to use them (and have them work in unison) is time consuming and troubleshooting can be difficult. It took a couple of weeks locked in the office to crank the finished product out, but we’re proud of the website we built and the skills we picked up along the way.
What is a way you’ve pivoted Primped thanks to a learning experience?
We had plans to initially develop and launch a mobile app, instead of launch our business as a website. We did a lot of research at the beginning to develop an app and even spoke to several developers and agencies to contract out the work. However, during this time, we also had a several meetings with founders of successful businesses that had once found themselves in the same or a similar situation. After a few discussions, it became clear that this was not the best way to start our business. Instead of investing the time and money into app without first testing our idea and understanding the needs of our user base, we were highly encouraged to start with a simple website that we could develop ourselves. We quickly realized that this was the most effective and the fastest way to test our idea and learn every nuance of our business. This pivot will allow us to build an app at the right time in our company’s life that truly meets the needs of our users.
What is the most difficult aspect of running Primped?
The difficult parts of running Primped are dealing with the highs and lows of entrepreneurship and getting used to a less structured work-life. We both came from very corporate workplaces before starting our company and we were used to working from the same desk, for the same hours, on largely the same tasks each day. Starting a company could not be more different – we call our homes, coffee shops, and co-working spaces our office, and our hours fluctuate day-to-day. In addition, we are constantly flipping our brains to wildly different tasks, some of which we are learning as we go. Adjusting to much less structure has been difficult, but we’re finally starting to feel more comfortable with it – it just took time. Another challenge is the whirlwind of wins and losses we deal with regularly, something we think most entrepreneurs can identify with. As we’ve said, the highs are high and the lows can be really low, but what we’ve found helps is putting everything in perspective by analyzing the wins and losses are part of the broader picture rather than in isolation. That definitely keeps us sane!
What is the most rewarding aspect of running Primped?
While the launch of our beta in July was a very rewarding experience, the most rewarding aspect of running Primped is the success of an appointment and the corresponding positive feedback we receive from our customers and beauty pros. This not only validates our idea and demonstrates that there is need to solve the problem we’ve personally experienced, but also provides us with actionable information (e.g. customers likes and dislikes) that we can use to improve and grow our business. This gives us additional momentum to drive forward.
What was your goal when starting Primped and how has the evolved over time?
Our goal initially was to make routine beauty and self-care more accessible and convenient for busy women. Our experience in the beauty and self-care industry was limited to being consumers, and so our focus was much more on the demand side of the marketplace. Of course, we were always cognizant and focused on the other side of the marketplace – the beauty pros supplying the services – but as we continued along with Primped, we realized just how big of an impact our business could make on beauty professionals with respect to income earning, career flexibility, and business ownership. Our goal now is, more accurately, to reinvent the way beauty and self-care services are accessed and delivered to promote a more sustainable industry and happier consumers.
Who have you connected with at Primped that has had a lasting impact on you?
The beauty professionals we have met since the beginning of our initial research stage have left a lasting impact on us and our business. During our research phase, we met with many beauty professionals who shared their experiences and helped us learn about the industry landscape – the trends, the issues and gaps, etc. These conversations made us realize that there is currently no risk-free way for beauty professionals to try their hand at running their own business without leaving their paying job, in addition to the upfront capital and business acumen required to be successful. It also emphasized the issues facing existing freelancers who struggle to balance the operational and marketing needs of gaining news clients with the time required to service existing clients. These learnings impacted many areas of our business and the way we approached things. Our recruiting efforts (including messaging to recruit potential beauty professionals) were crafted with the feedback and information we gained in these meetings. We also built a platform that better solved many of challenges facing existing freelance beauty professionals or those who want to be freelance. We have been able to see how large of a need there is for a platform like Primped to give beauty professionals the opportunity to start and grow their own business.
Can you discuss an opportunity you’ve been able to do, thanks to running Primped?
While there is no one opportunity that comes to mind specifically, more broadly speaking we have had the opportunity to meet with so many different people and have a variety of learning experiences through running Primped. We have met with a wide range of people while running Primped including founders/co-founders of start-ups, advisors of incubators programs and VC funds, developers, beauty professionals and more. Through these meeting, we have learned about their unique journeys, the interesting problems they have solved and the valuable things they have learned along the way. We feel fortunate to have had such a wide range of experiences and new learning opportunities that we wouldn’t have had previously in our more traditional banking jobs.
What about the Hover brand ties well into Primped?
I think Hover realizes its role is taking care of domains and being the support system for all things domain-related for its clients. Primped operates in the same way – we realize our role is to connect two sides of a marketplace and serve as a support system along the way. Really, we are a connector that allows both sides of our marketplace to access what they need (for customers) and do what they do best (for beauty pros). After which, and in the words of Hover, we get out of the way as our customers and beauty pros move on to what’s next – the service!
Why is the Fireside Conference exciting to you?
We are excited to attend the Fireside Conference because of all the opportunities it offers to meet so many different people within the start-up community. As cliché as it sounds, every opportunity provides a new learning experience. We have found ourselves operating in an environment where “we don’t know, what we don’t know” and we are always looking for ways to learn new things and apply it to our business and to become better co-founders ourselves. Also, given our love for problem-solving, we are excited to hear about the experiences of other start-ups – what problems they have faced and how they solved them!
What do you hope to gain from the Fireside Conference?
We hope gain valuable learnings from meeting many different individuals that we can apply to our own business to improve and grow. We also hope to meet potential mentors in areas where we feel that we require additional expertise. Lastly, as we are still in the early stages of starting our business and have big plans for its future, we hope to meet potential investors who would look to support our business.
Which accomplishment are you most proud of/which is your favourite and why?
We’re most proud of getting our beta as far as we have gotten it without outsourcing tasks to any professionals. We’ve built the website ourselves, done all of the beauty pro recruiting ourselves and managed all of our marketing and social media initiatives (and more). As co-founders, we have both really committed to learning new skills and tools and this has afforded us a lot of flexibility and cost savings. We really have built a working product that is now facilitating appointment booking for our marketplace. We’re proud of that!
What is the number one step a person can take to get their own company off the ground?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – commit! We think too many people have this romanticized idea of a side hustle – they feel they can get a business off the ground while still enjoying the steady paycheck and comfort of a full-time gig. There may be specific businesses (or specific people) that the side hustle thing works for, but we think that in most cases, for individuals wishing to start and scale a full-fledged business, you need to be all-in. This is easier said than done, especially if you are in a high-paying job or you have dependents. Our advice in these instances is to save as much as possible, utilize all of your resources, cut back where you can, and set a deadline for the day you will quit.
What is your favourite thing to do to relax and step away from the stress?
We both value maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle, which we believe is pivotal in reducing stress. Sarah loves to cycle and Kate loves to practice yoga and get in a good workout at the gym, so we both afford each other the time to fit these items into our daily schedule. We also both love to read, and Kate meditates to help cope with stress. There’s no single solution for dealing with stress, but it’s important that co-founders allow each other to have the time that they need to do the activities and hobbies they love.
Quick – name one tool you can’t live without:
Impossible to name one, but we’d say Instagram is what helps us build both our supply and demand, which is extremely important for a marketplace.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve given or received?
The best advice we were given is from a friend and fellow founder, we’ll call him Jim. He was the first person to tell us near very beginning (while we still had plans to build an app which would have taken months), to just hit the green button and go! He told us to hack out what you can and make a website that meets the basic needs of your business. This was by far the best advice we have received, and we continued to hear this feedback from other founders. As mentioned, this turned out to be the most effective and fastest way to validate our idea. Our beta product was not perfect and there were bumps along the way, but we also learned so much so fast (such as important customer behaviours and feedback) that we can now use to build a better final product. Decisions can’t be made fast enough in our world, so at the start, we believe you should do your research but also do not be afraid to hack some of the stuff out to get those necessary learnings sooner rather than later!