What's New: MyBestFriendsHair

June 27, 2012
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Welcome to What’s New Wednesday, where we profile local startups and the entrepreneurs behind them. This week, we meet Janell Shaffer and Danielle McDowell, who started MyBestFriendsHair.com last year.

Type of business: Website offering consumer reviews of hair stylists and salons, plus online and mobile resources for industry professionals.

Location: Carmel

Phone: 750-8103

E-mail: info@mybestfriendshair.com

Website: www.mybestfriendshair.com

Founded: July 2011

Owners: Janell Shaffer and Danielle McDowell

Owners’ background: Shaffer and McDowell met when both were working for Indianapolis tech firm BitWise Solutions in 2010; they left the company last July.

A natural entrepreneur, Shaffer started young with the quintessential lemonade stand before moving on to selling doughnuts and offering swimming lessons.

She earned a degree in business management from Indiana University and worked as a project manager at local Alt & Witzig Engineering before moving into strategy consulting roles at Vision Cos. and BitWise.

“My mom wasn’t surprised” when she left the corporate world for her own enterprise, Shaffer said with a smile. Now 37, she lives with her husband and four children in Carmel.

McDowell, 28, graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in marketing. She landed her first job after college at local entrepreneur Scott Jones’ startup ChaCha Search. (She was employee No. 11).

As marketing communications manager, she helped to create awareness for the question-and-answer service as it rolled out nationally—and discovered she loved the rush that comes from building something from scratch.

“I almost feel like I’m destined to do this,” she said, adding that her dad and grandfather were small-business owners, too. “It comes naturally to me.”

After three years at ChaCha, she moved to Carmel-based mobile marketing startup Tetherball, then to BitWise. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband and son.

Why started business: Shaffer came up with the idea of a matchmaking site for stylists in 2010 when her own hairdresser changed salons without notice—not unusual in such a transient industry.

Janell Shaffer and Danielle McDowellJanell Shaffer, left, and Danielle McDowell rolled out MyBestFriendsHair.com nationally in January.

She started to search for someone new and found herself wishing for a consumer-review site akin to Angie’s List, which focuses on home improvement and medical services.

“I’m obsessed with reviews,” Shaffer said. “I don’t buy a thing without knowing what other people think.”

“And there are so many hair horror stories out there,” McDowell added.

Shaffer started MyBestFriendsHair.com as a hobby site while working full-time, and last year she and McDowell decided to devote themselves to fleshing out the idea. Shaffer is the company’s CEO; McDowell is chief marketing officer.

They launched the site nationwide in January 2012, and by May had listings for stylists in all 50 states. In June, MyBestFriendsHair released its mobile “Style Seeker” app for industry pros.

Basic listings on the website are free, but stylists and salons can pay for premium membership—$10 and $50 a month, respectively—to include photo galleries and appear first in search results.

“This is a phenomenal tool for stylists to market what they do,” McDowell said.

Competitive advantage: The partners say their service has a leg up on other online review sites like Yelp because of its laser focus on hair.

“We’re not doing nail salons; we’re not doing spas,” Shaffer said. The site aims to meet consumers’ needs from “top to bottom in this channel,” she added. “We’ll help you find a great stylist, a great cut and great products.”

And MyBestFriendsHair wants to help stylists, too. Its free mobile app allows professionals to manage client information from their phones—an advantage in what the partners said is a tech-averse industry. Stylists can keep track of details like the texture, length and color of their clients’ hair and store before and after pictures. The application also includes an interactive stylebook, an updated alternative to flipping through giant books of different hairstyles.

“It’s a great consultation tool,” McDowell said.

Funding source: The partners got the company started with their personal savings and began looking for additional funding in November. By mid-February, they had raised $365,000. Investors include some individual “angels” and local venture funds Elevate Ventures and Gravity Ventures.

Potential problem and contingency plan: Although MyBestFriendsHair.com continues to introduce new features for consumers and stylists alike, the partners know it won’t be easy to get hair professionals to embrace technology.

“Our biggest competition really is a tablet of paper,” Shaffer said.

Tools like the interactive stylebook and client data manager should help demonstrate the product’s value, she said, and MyBestFriendsHair is planning to partner with another firm to add online appointment booking in the next few months.

The company also is tweaking its business model to lessen the reliance on user fees and increase advertising sales. McDowell said some makers of hair-care products, for example, already have expressed an interest in the site and Style Seeker app as a way to reach stylists and their clients.

“We are partnering with brands in the industry to develop ways consumers can access information generally available only to stylists,” she said. Although manufacturers do what they can to pitch their products to salons, “there’s a big disconnect when it comes to consumers.”

Among the ideas: Step-by-step how-to videos sponsored (and produced) by a corporate partner.

One-year goal: The partners are proud of the progress the site has made since its soft launch almost a year ago, and they have high hopes for the next 12 months. Signing on the dotted line with a big partner/sponsor is at the top of the list.

“We’d like to stay on the trajectory we’re on,” Shaffer said.


Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
  1. By Mr. Lee's own admission, he basically ran pro-bono ads on the billboard. Paying advertisers didn't want ads on a controversial, ugly billboard that turned off customers. At least one of Mr. Lee's free advertisers dropped out early because they found that Mr. Lee's advertising was having negative impact. So Mr. Lee is disingenous to say the city now owes him for lost revenue. Mr. Lee quickly realized his monstrosity had a dim future and is trying to get the city to bail him out. And that's why the billboard came down so quickly.

  2. Merchants Square is back. The small strip center to the south of 116th is 100% leased, McAlister’s is doing well in the outlot building. The former O’Charleys is leased but is going through permitting with the State and the town of Carmel. Mac Grill is closing all of their Indy locations (not just Merchants) and this will allow for a new restaurant concept to backfill both of their locations. As for the north side of 116th a new dinner movie theater and brewery is under construction to fill most of the vacancy left by Hobby Lobby and Old Navy.

  3. Yes it does have an ethics commission which enforce the law which prohibits 12 specific items. google it

  4. Thanks for reading and replying. If you want to see the differentiation for research, speaking and consulting, check out the spreadsheet I linked to at the bottom of the post; it is broken out exactly that way. I can only include so much detail in a blog post before it becomes something other than a blog post.

  5. 1. There is no allegation of corruption, Marty, to imply otherwise if false. 2. Is the "State Rule" a law? I suspect not. 3. Is Mr. Woodruff obligated via an employment agreement (contractual obligation) to not work with the engineering firm? 4. In many states a right to earn a living will trump non-competes and other contractual obligations, does Mr. Woodruff's personal right to earn a living trump any contractual obligations that might or might not be out there. 5. Lawyers in state government routinely go work for law firms they were formally working with in their regulatory actions. You can see a steady stream to firms like B&D from state government. It would be interesting for IBJ to do a review of current lawyers and find out how their past decisions affected the law firms clients. Since there is a buffer between regulated company and the regulator working for a law firm technically is not in violation of ethics but you have to wonder if decisions were made in favor of certain firms and quid pro quo jobs resulted. Start with the DOI in this review. Very interesting.