From Harvard to Beauty Startups

How threading, an ancient hair removal technique, is going mainstream with an MBA graduate's chain of salons

Threading is an ancient hair removal technique that we use in our three New York City salons. It utilizes thread to remove unwanted hair. The thread acts like a mini-lasso and actually lifts the hair out of the follicle directly from the root. I came up with the idea of my own salon, because over the years I had taken lots of different friends to get threading done but most of the salons which used the technique weren't in mainstream areas. I always wished that there was a place that I would go to (and my friends would go to) that had more quality control, and that's when I decided I wanted to open my first salon.

As an entrepreneur, I wear many hats, which constantly evolve over time. Back in 2001, I was one of two employees, so I did almost everything except the actual hair removal treatment. I was the public relations person, head of marketing, the bookkeeper, human resources, and receptionist, to name a few. But as my team continues to grow (we're getting close to 50 employees), my role has changed.

Here's a look at a typical day:

5:30 a.m.— Wake up and check my e-mail to see if there are any surprises that I need to know about before I start my day. I am looking to see if we had any issues at any of the salons that I need to be aware of.

6 a.m— Go to the gym. I use this time to think. It's so hard to find time to just sit, think, and strategize when I am in the office so I relish this time in the morning. The two questions that I am grappling with are: 1) What is the right marketing organizational structure that we need to set up to handle all of the marketing and PR efforts for the salons and products? 2) As we expand to more salons, what is the right way to quickly train a pool of people with the skills that they need to provide superior customer service?

8 a.m.— Take the subway to our office.

8:30 a.m.— Meet with electricians who are installing new lighting for the salons. Lighting is really important for hair removal because [the beauticians] need to see the smallest hair and do a good job. I do a lot of the interior designing of my own salons. That way, the overall look and feel between all of the locations are similar.

10 a.m.— Respond to e-mails while I have my breakfast.

11 a.m. Weekly meeting with the marketing/PR honcho (we shy away from the term "manager" in our titles, so honcho is the word we use to describe our roles to folks external to the company).

Noon— Meet with our new administrative assistant/office honcho. Her first day is today. This is the first time in six years that we actually have our own space; previously we worked out of the unused treatment rooms in the salons.

12:30 p.m.— Pow-wow with our operations honcho (she is responsible for the operations of all Shobha salons) and our marketing/PR honcho about how to increase client satisfaction levels, specifically at the front desk. It feels like we have a lot of new people in these roles and our service levels are not where we'd like them to be.

1:30 p.m.— Go check on the work that the electricians are doing and make sure they are on track. We have to get this job done today because the salon is open tomorrow morning.

2 p.m.— Eat lunch and respond to e-mails.

2:30 p.m.— Meet with our product development honcho about two new products that we want to launch in a few months. We're focusing on the post-hair removal process. They are in the testing phase and I want to talk to her about the initial feedback we have received.

3 p.m.— Meet with the operations honcho to review the agenda for the weekly team meeting with all store leaders.

3:30 p.m.— Look over the lighting installation that has been completed by the electricians. I bring some folks in to test it out and make sure it works while they are doing treatments.

4 p.m.— Look over mail, organize bills, and do payroll.

5 p.m.— Fill out some final tax paperwork that's due tomorrow.

5:30 p.m.— Review résumés for a bookkeeper. As our operations are expanding, I am spending a lot of time organizing bills to be paid, submitting payroll, filing state sales taxes, following up with vendors, and a lot of other things that I should be doing. They seem to be falling through the cracks and not getting done at all, so we really need someone in this role.

6:30 p.m.— Look ahead to tomorrow and organize my schedule. I like to know what I have on my plate and have it organized before I wake up. Otherwise, I feel less efficient than I could have been if I was more organized.

7 p.m.— Catch the subway to go home.

Nowadays, I do a lot less micromanaging of day-to-day operations so that I can focus on the bigger picture. Presently, that includes our franchising strategy and new product development. We are in the process of finishing up all the paperwork to start the franchising, as well as expanding our line of post-hair removal products.

I feel that firsthand experience in a startup or a small company can give you many of the skills that are necessary to start your own company. I had worked at a startup called dash.com before I started. The people I was surrounded by were serial entrepreneurs and it inspired me to say that I could do it on my own.

As the company gets larger, I find myself calling upon a lot of knowledge from business school. The toughest struggle was both internal and familial. Was I was ready to take on a company myself and not only be responsible for my own income but that of the people that I employed? And would my father ever think I was sane again?