There are more than 100,000 hair and beauty salons in the UK, but most of them are very small companies yet to make the most of what the internet has to offer. But entrepreneur Lopo Champalimaud is trying to change all that.
Born in Portugal and educated in Canada, Champalimaud founded two businesses in New York before coming to work for Lastminute.com in London. ‘It was there that I had the idea for Wahanda, the idea of creating a business around letting people book all of their hair and beauty services online,’ he tells MT.
The service began as a listings site and then had a ‘daily deals’ model in the mould of Groupon, but now functions a bit like Just Eat for waxing and facials (and in fact the online takeaway firm's former CEO Klaus Nyengaard is Wahanda's chairman). Users can search by the treatment they want and their location, check availability and book everything straight through their phone or (if they’re terribly old-fashioned) their computer. It's gained particular attention for its striking ads as pictured below), which have been plastered across London's tube network for the last few months.
Champalimaud, who speaks at a mile a minute, says the company is growing ‘several-hundred per cent’ each year, and staff numbers are growing rapidly. ‘We moved into this office in September,’ he says, referring to the company’s HQ near London’s Gray’s Inn Fields, ‘and we’re already running out of space. I thought we were going to be here two or three years.’
Wahanda’s got 11,500 salon partners across Europe and is adding around 1,500 more each month at the moment. While Champalimaud says salons have been ‘excited’ about what Wahanda can offer them, but it’s not all been plain sailing.
‘What is hard is these are really small businesses,’ he says. ‘They’re 95% single-owner operated, they’re not very tech savvy. And we are basically trying to bring them into a technology world.'
The salons will be hoping that Wahanda can add value to the market by encouraging more people to spend money on treatments, rather than simply skimming cash off the top from transactions that would otherwise be taking place anyway (and with a basic 20% commission fee it's not cheap). If the latter were to occur then we could see similar clashes as are occuring between the likes of Zoopla and Rightmove and their estate agent partners who have been kicking off.
To bring Wahanda’s partners around to the digital way of doing things, the company has just launched ‘The Wahanda Academy’, a series of training courses to help improve their business nous, which will be led by former Bliss Spas general manager Valerie Delforge.
‘We’re trying to teach them about the internet, how to run their marketing better, how to do yield management better, to do CRM, communications, all those kinds of things,’ says Champalimaud. ‘That’s the level of investment we have to make in order to make them come on board.’
That won’t come cheap. While many entrepreneurs struggle to find funding, Champalimaud’s been a lot more fortunate. ‘The biggest investor in [the] initial round was an American investor who invested in my previous business,’ he says. ‘He came to London and he said, "What are you doing at the moment?" I said, "I’m working on this new idea." He goes, "great, I’m in."’
Before even getting a chance to explain his idea, the investor was offering $1m (£670,000). ‘It was surreal,’ he adds, but a mixed blessing. ‘Some people say, "oh you’re so lucky" but at the same time there’s a huge weight placed on your shoulders when someone does that. You feel like, wow there’s a person you have to make whole, and who you have to deliver for because they’ve placed their blind trust in you.’
It’s certainly not inconceivable that trust will be rewarded – Champalimaud has big ambitions. ‘I think Wahanda has a chance to be a multi-billion pound business,’ he says. ‘I think it’s one of those great successes that Europe could build. We’re in a rare situation – we’re a European leader with a huge head start doing great work with great talent in a very large industry.
‘The opportunity is enormous – it’s bigger than the takeaway space. So if Just Eat could be a £2.5bn market cap business, I can’t see why we can’t be bigger. That’s my goal.’