In 2012, a stylist approached Tye Caldwell to ask if she could rent space in his Plano, Texas, salon a few days a week. It was serendipitous timing. The stylist had moved and was worried about losing clientele in her former neighborhood; Tye had just expanded his salon, so he had a few open suites that were going unused. A single-location salon owner at the time, Tye had never rented out space like that before, but he decided to give it a try.
Soon enough he was brokering similar deals between other stylists and salons. After years of what his wife Courtney Caldwell calls “manual matching,” the pair searched for an app to which they could direct stylists and salons instead of acting as a makeshift concierge service themselves.
But they couldn’t find one. So in September 2016, the Caldwells launched their own, called ShearShare, which lets licensed stylists book time and space at professional salons, sorting for features like free parking and wheelchair accessibility. Seventeen months later, the app is in 350 cities across 11 countries. Now a six-person team, ShearShare is still closing its seed round but is backed by VC firm Backstage Capital and recently won $100,000 through the tech incubator Capital Factory’s Diversity & Inclusion Investment Challenge.
By 2020, independent workers are projected to make up 43% of the U.S. workforce, according to fintech company Intuit (which claimed that number was already at 34% almost a year ago.) ShearShare believes that as more and more Americans participate in the gig economy, independent workers will need support systems to mirror those offered by traditional employment. As ShearShare sees it, it’s mutually beneficial for established businesses in the beauty industry to help boost those freelancers’ fortunes.
Community-Built, And Community-Building
To do that, ShearShare gives salons a chance to pocket extra cash by renting out unused space, and independent stylists a chance to service clients in professional settings–rather than, say, at home–where they can not only feel more comfortable but charge higher rates, and avoid having to lease their own real estate. And because no gig-economy platform is complete without it, an in-app rating system lets salons and stylists check up on each other before agreeing to partner.
As Tye points out, salons have more or less operated the same way since the early 1900s. “You would go to a salon as a commission-based, full-time team member, and that’s just the way it’s been,” he explains. But the Caldwells’ intimate knowledge of the current state of the industry has helped them attract salon owners who may have been resistant to opening their doors to free agents.
“This is our own community,” Courtney tells me, referring to her and Tye’s experience in the beauty and grooming space. “When [our users] call ShearShare, when they text us, when they see us in person, they go, ‘Oh my gosh, this is such a breath of fresh air. When I look at you guys, I see somebody I can trust. You’re not two random engineers who created this thing in somebody’s garage. You get what I go through every day; you get the challenges’,” she explains.
ShearShare is aimed squarely at independent workers, who the Caldwells say are proliferating in the beauty industry. (Even many full-time salon workers may freelance on the side or when they travel, Tye points out.) Many deal with the income volatility long familiar to contractors, not to mention the alienation that can come with the experience. ShearShare aims to remedy both problems simultaneously, opening up more business opportunity while also creating a sense of community. Somewhat counterintuitively, ShearShare hopes to give nomadic stylists a place to put down roots and cultivate relationships with salon owners and clientele.
Courtney says the latter element is crucial to the platform, even if it means successful stylists might come to rely on ShearShare progressively less, the more connections they build in their local ecosystem of salons. She notes, too, that ShearShare can bring together people who may not otherwise cross paths. “Maybe a black stylist goes to a white salon . . . Someone who’s gay goes to a straight salon. At the end of the day, beauty is beauty and hair is hair.”
ShearShare is now focusing on expanding its team and introducing new features based on user feedback. According to Courtney, the company also recently partnered with L’Oreal to develop a pilot program that will offer on-demand resources like insurance, tax preparation, and more to independent stylists. (Through a separate partnership, ShearShare is already providing stylists on its platform with pay stubs.)
As for funding, Tye and Courtney aren’t too worried. Like many female founders and entrepreneurs of color, the Caldwells have had to stretch their limited capital, bootstrapping ShearShare for its first year or so and finding ways to be resourceful. “We did a lot of things that I think some people probably don’t even think about because they’re chasing the money,” Courtney said. “We paid off our mortgage, believe it or not, because that’s how serious we were.”
Entrepreneurs of color and female founders are often shut out of funding (women founders got just 2% of VC funding in 2017), and access to investment is particularly limited for women of color. So as the brainchild of a black husband-wife duo, ShearShare is especially dedicated to proving it can work. Says Courtney, “We didn’t want any excuse to not build out what we knew filled a gap for a real need.”