Bringing beauty home and empowering women workers: Interview with Natasha Pilbrow, COO and co-founder of LeSalon

Natasha Pilbrow 4 (Photo Cred - Amy Mace)

Natasha Pilbrow is the co-founder of LeSalon, an on-demand beauty platform run by and for women that brings salons to clients’ homes and offices. LeSalon employs therapists, called “Salonettes”, to give manicures and pedicures to busy women throughout London. By working through the platform, beauty professionals who become Salonettes are also able to gain more control over their schedules and lives.

Below, Natasha talks about why she started LeSalon, the challenges facing startups and women in the workplace, and shares her advice for other women in tech.

What is your background, and what led you to co-found LeSalon?

Prior to co-founding LeSalon I was working as a lawyer in private practice. I had young children at home so found it a challenge to get to a salon for treatments outside office hours. I appreciated however the way a fresh manicure could make an instant difference to my mood in addition to being a confidence boost when I was struggling to juggle childcare and work commitments.

Finding highly skilled, trustworthy therapists to come to my home or office wasn’t easy; and after meeting with several women working in beauty therapy, I realized there were numerous obstacles that prevented therapists from working independently from a traditional salon, despite the obvious lifestyle benefits and flexibility that come with working on your own terms. Creating LeSalon seemed like a brilliant business solution, which stood to benefit the lives of both clients and therapists.

Jean-Michel and I were working independently on the at-home beauty concept when we were introduced; and with different areas of expertise and passion, we decided to move forward with LeSalon together.

Tell us more about LeSalon. What does it do, what problems does it solve, and what is your mission?

Le Salon is an on-demand beauty service, bringing the professional salon experience to clients’ homes and offices. We offer the full range of manicures, pedicures, waxing, eyelash and spray tan treatments you’d expect to see in a traditional salon.

We’re also a tech-led flexible working platform run by, for, and with women at our core: we give therapists the freedom to work flexibly, and clients an opportunity to fit restorative beauty treatments into busy schedules and sustain a better work / life / ‘me time balance.

Our mission is to help people feel confident, by empowering clients to take ownership over the way they look and feel by giving them easy and affordable access to premium beauty treatments. We also want our therapists to reap the benefits of being their own boss by empowering them to work on their terms, hone their skills and increase their earning potential. We provide all therapists with regular technical training, financial advice, emergency childcare and a host of other benefits to ensure they feel secure and supported in their career.

What are your main responsibilities in the business?

As co-founder I am involved in all aspects of the business, but my key areas of focus relate to the services we offer, and ensuring we continue to maintain the highest standard of service among our therapists as we grow. I also work with the team around Salonette engagement and community, as it’s really important to me that we offer a 360º support network for our Salonettes. I also work with our marketing team on communications, marketing, partnerships and social media. There are always so many things to be working on and towards – the biggest challenge is prioritizing the most important tasks.

What do you think are the main problems faced by women today?

From a work perspective, I think there’s still a really long way to go when it comes to catering to women’s needs in the workplace, and ensuring women feel supported and understood rather than disadvantaged and less capable. There’s a real lack of understanding around what women really want and need at work, and how companies can make lasting changes to improve workplace diversity and satisfaction.

For example, often women at C-Level, or women running their own businesses, will have the autonomy to organise their working day in order to fit childcare and other responsibilities around their job. Women further down in companies will often not have this privilege (which actually shouldn’t be a privilege at all, but a given). We need to ensure that all women, in all types of roles, are empowered to fulfill both life and work commitments with the full support of their employer. This needs to take place without the kinds of financial or professional penalties women are often fearful of facing as a result of this kind of arrangement, and without any implication that a woman who wants to flourish both at work and at home, and make time for both, is in any way taking her career less seriously than somebody else.

In the gig economy there’s also a real lack of visibility for women, despite the fact that the flexibility of gig work has the potential to be extremely empowering by allowing women to work on their own terms. The biggest gig companies like Uber and Deliveroo are hugely male dominated, meaning women often can’t see themselves in these sorts of roles. Companies within the gig economy need to change their practices in order to better champion women and offer greater support and training to employees, so that women can embrace flexible working roles whilst also having an opportunity to upskill and increase their earning potential.

As a woman in tech, what are your observations about women in tech – and what advice would you give to other women in tech?

Women in tech are doing incredible things at the moment and are brilliant role models for women, whether they’re working in the tech industry or not. It’s famously a sector that lacks diversity, so women in tech are showing others that even if they’re not being represented somewhere, that’s not to say they don’t belong there and can’t put themselves there with some hard work and a strong vision.

I’d advise other women in this industry to use their position to improve the sector for the women coming through the ranks, so that we can create a fairer and more supportive environment that encourages women to share their ideas and pursue their creative interests. If women felt as empowered as men in this sector, it’s incredible to think of all the amazing tech we could be benefitting from right now.

You started in 2014 and have raised over €300k to date. Tell us a story about a challenge you faced while starting up, and how you overcame it.

One of the biggest challenges starting a business in London is actually being able to afford office space. Like most businesses we started from the kitchen table but quickly outgrew that. Thankfully we have been a part of a couple of accelerator programmes which not only provided advice and support but also desk space, which was invaluable in the early days. After that we found a brilliant (and very affordable) co-working space which was a natural fit for our business. Often the best advice and business practice comes from other businesses and the learnings they have had, and we have many allies from our time in that co-working space!

Was it easy raising funds? How has VC funding helped you to scale your business?

Fundraising is always hard work, but with a great team, strong credentials, slick tech and a few years’ brand build behind us, setting up those important conversations with key players in the industry wasn’t too much of a challenge. It’s a busy space, so differentiating ourselves was really important when it came to attracting investors. VC funding has been hugely important in terms of helping us train and onboard therapists, test and expand our range of services, and finesse our tech so that our website and app are as quick and slick as they can be.

Tell us about some of LeSalon’s main achievements so far. What has been your happiest experience in your time as a co-founder?

It’s easy to overlook the challenges of building a team and the importance of the culture created within the company. A startup can be all consuming, and in the early days we really omitted to focus on the personal and professional development of our team. However in recent months we’ve really paid attention to this which I think is hugely important as we continue to grow our team.

My happiest experience and overall motivation for striving for growth is to see the difference LeSalon is making to the Salonettes who work with us. I really enjoy meeting Salonettes and hearing about their different backgrounds and experiences. I love that LeSalon is supporting them to work in a manner that allows them to manage their many other commitments.

What are your plans for the future of LeSalon?

We’re going to continue to offer new training opportunities for our Salonettes, and will also continue to expand our range of services in line with what our clients would like to see. We’re also looking to expand into new UK and European markets later this year, so watch this space.