Rhea Papanicolaou-Frangista is a London Business School MBA graduate and formerly worked as the Deputy Director of Business Development and Marketing for a London-based alternative investment fund. She has a wealth of consulting experience from Boston Consulting Group: the world’s leading advisor on business strategy, and early stage startup experience from e-commerce platform Artfinder.com. Rhea was inspired to create PRETTLY due to her busy calendar and love of beauty, thereby discovering a niche in the market for affordable and on demand beauty services.
We had the chance to catch up with Rhea over coffee at The Botanist in Sloane Square
Tell us a bit about Prettly?
Prettly is a beauty-on-demand service that officially launched in 2014 and has been live for 2.5 years. The premise of the business is to make the lives of busy women easier by delivering beauty services on demand. The vast majority of our clients are 25-45 years of age, professionals and/or young mothers. In my experience, it’s difficult to navigate the salon system in a big city like London as they usually close after working hours. Additionally, walking home after a pedicure in winter is a nightmare!
The business’ marketplace model brings together the element of trust. All beauticians listed on Prettly are vetted and highly qualified, you can see ratings and reviews from other customers for each of them. It’s a business model that people are very familiar with, for example hiring house cleaners, cars, and laundry services on demand, all driven through an app. It’s a cash-free, tip-free environment. We want to be able to bring luxury and convenience to your home at an affordable price through our services.
Prettly is open out of hours, you can book an appointment any time between 7am to 11pm, 7 days a week. Our booking system allows you to secure an appointment in less than 20 seconds, so you can set up that manicure for when you get home during a quick coffee break at the office. Prettly offers a variety of beauty services from hair treatments and services, makeup, hair removal and nail care. The business is constantly piloting new services.
How did the idea for Prettly come to life?
I was always drawn to the world of startups, tech and entrepreneurship – it’s the reason I left my previous job to pursue an MBA. This idea started from my own pain-point – I am the perfect audience for Prettly. I was wrapping up my MBA, planning my wedding, working for another startup and coming up with ideas post-MBA. I had heard about an online beauty professional who did services online, she came to my house for a manicure and I thought this would be a great idea to make accessible to other women like me in this city.
These services are very common in Greece, where I am originally from; this kind of luxury doesn’t need to, and shouldn’t, come at an extra price. I never had to navigate the salon system growing up so coming to a big city like London I found this to be really challenging.
The professionals themselves are sometimes exploited in the larger salons, where the business structure is very rigid. Prettly on the other hand rewards 80% of the value of each service. This is vastly different to the larger more commercial entities in the industry.
How has social media supported the growth of a business like Prettly?
Prettly are present on all the large channels like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. A digital, paid marketing strategy on Facebook and Instragram is a big part of our expansion and growth.
However, we do have a strong organic focus on social media and also have a blog that we regularly update. A big part of our strategy depends on the content we post and how frequently we get relevant information out there into the market. We have actively thought about our brand from day 1, who we are and who we stand for, how we position ourselves in the market and how our services are relevant to our audiences. We work hard to make our outputs cohesive across our channels. We love engaging with our customers and a lot of the service reviews help us improve our services to meet their needs. On Instagram, our posts are visual, and customers can also share their experiences. The professionals working for Prettly have their own social media handles and promote their own work through each Prettly booking. Our customers post a lot of things or send us images with the hashtag #myprettlymoment. We love seeing these stories come alive to celebrate engagement parties, weddings, special occasions and the like. It’s rewarding to be part of that experience and to be able to share that with the wider public.
Our blogs include interviews with professional women who want to share their experiences, we also cover beauty, lifestyle, nutrition guidance as well as product promotion. Our newsletters include news about Prettly and special offers, partnerships with other brands such as Birchbox, Psycle, Floom, and Rayfeather.
As the founder of Prettly, what does your typical day look like?
I wake up around 6:45am to have breakfast with my family. I have two young daughters, so I relish the time before and after work to play with them. I usually spend the day at the office, however recently we’ve been fundraising so I’m usually running around the city for meetings. I work very closely with my co-founder Farrah, who is the COO, and a big part of my day is a constant interaction with her. In addition to my other responsibilities, I’m heavily involved with the technical product development side of the business.
As a young mother I spend between 6-8 hours at work and then I usually pick up work again later in the evening. I’m lucky I can do that as having your own business gives you that flexibility – to me it’s important to be hands-on as a mother, you need to be organised and plan your day. Having a support network around you and other people in the business to help drive it is really important. There is a constant feeling that you might not be spending enough time at work or at home!
What do you enjoy most about doing your own thing?
No other career gives you the exposure you get in a start-up – being in touch with all different parts of the business, from operation to administration, which in a large corporation you’d usually have another department dealing with those things. The hands-on execution is something I really love.
It’s such a fast-paced environment – the impact of decision making and the ability to come up with an idea and put it to practice to see if it works within days is much easier than when you’re tied down to the constraints of a larger firm. There are much fewer bureaucratic politics or challenges – if you pick the right people.
My favorite thing is growing something that didn’t exist before and we’re now reaching women across London to make small meaningful changes to working women (and others’) lives.
What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced in creating your business?
Every week brings a different challenge, which means you have to evolve with the business and be prepared for different types of problems. Particularly for first-time entrepreneurs, you don’t have the prior experience to deal with these challenges. We are a dual marketplace and have customers on the one hand, and beauty professionals on the other hand so catering to both audiences and ensuring the business serves them in a balanced manner is critical.
Who are the women who inspire you?
My mother – my parents were divorced from a young age, so my first impressions of a woman was a hardworking, ambitious professional. She always pushed me to pursue bigger things. Outside of my family, I tend to cherry pick from different women – I’ll read a book and retain key takeaways, I’ll meet someone for a coffee and get some ideas, I’m always open to learn from others.
What has been the impact or benefit of your MBA?
Prior to my MBA I worked for a niche art investment fund which was very different to the career I have now. I studied history and politics prior to that. I felt it was the right time to change my career, and I needed an MBA to do that, also to consolidate hard skills like finance and accounting to get a better understanding of the things I was dealing with at work. It was a very steep learning curve for me, but the right step to take at that stage. Your first year offers a core curriculum to get to grips with the skills and knowledge needed to set up your own business. I focused on entrepreneurial management and marketing which was a fantastic experience and gave me the best platform to apply it to a startup environment. Nothing will prepare you for that, however, an MBA gave me the tools to work with. It allows the opportunity for internships and to connect with interesting people. It’s a costly decision but allows you the time to think and learn.
What would be your top 3 words of advice for anyone thinking of branching out in this direction?
Perseverance – it’s a tough world in entrepreneurship. You will keep failing at things in order to grow and strengthen your business. You will hear a lot of no’s to start with.
Learn how to listen – your customers and data are important so take on board ideas and feedback to shape your business and inform your decisions.
Pick people you admire – other women we admire that we wanted to involve in our story. We brought onboard advisors and mentors to the business and to our teams. It’s amazing how easy it is to reach out to other women running their own businesses. Everyone out there has been helped by others along the way. I’m always pleasantly surprised how open people are to have a meeting and grab a coffee with them even if you don’t have a common contact.
Prettly has gone from strength to strength since its start up, how do you see it taking shape over the next few years?
We want to grow the business further, to add new services in London and outside of London in the UK. Eventually we would want to replicate it in other cities internationally. Growth will come in geographic and vertical extensions. We are thinking of whether we sit in the beauty market or whether we could grow into other areas like product development – it’s going to be an interesting journey!
You can explore more about Prettly here – or even better, book an appointment now with an exclusive 50% discount for Eyedea members on your first booking. Enter the code: N-EYEDEA50 (expires 31 October)