Some of the best businesses are built from personal experience by industry outsiders—such was the genesis of theCut. Two high school best friends, Kush Patel and Obi Omile, Jr., got the idea for theCut while talking about getting a haircut after playing basketball. “‘I hope there aren’t a million people in line,’” Patel recalls telling Omile. “We would always spend two, three hours at the barbershop. It’s an unknown.”
Realizing that the barbershop is a cornerstone for community building and confidence-boosting, there were some serious pain points for both barbers and clients that Patel and Omile knew they could solve with technology. The result is theCut, a barbershop technology platform that allows users and barbers to schedule and manage appointments.
The best friends and co-founders bootstrapped their way into the Techstar program, and onto the Forbes 30 under 30 while connecting with 65K barbers, 1.8MM+ users, and booking over 15MM+ appointments.
Can you both share a bit about your backgrounds and the impetus for leaving very impressive corporate careers for entrepreneurial life? We both wanted to start businesses but were both looking for the right opportunity. Kush most recently was working at Yahoo in New York City and before that interned for Microsoft in California while in college. While there, he had such a bad haircut that he ended up deciding to cut all his hair off and went bald. While I was working at Wells Fargo in Charlotte, North Carolina, I had gone nearly two months without a haircut because I couldn’t find a barber I trusted. For someone who gets regular bi-weekly haircuts, two months was entirely too long. We reconnected over these terrible experiences and realized that we had acquired the skills necessary to build a solution to our problem and that’s what led us to starting theCut.
There is no shortage of female-focused on-demand service apps and beauty tech solutions, but applying tech to men’s grooming has been slower to evolve. Can you share the opportunity you identified and your business model for theCut? You’re absolutely correct that there are several solutions targeting the female-dominant beauty industry. When we looked at the landscape and saw that there lacked a tool built specifically for barbers and barbershops, we knew there was an opportunity. Many of the products on the market skewed feminine in their branding and marketing. So it was harder for the male-dominated barber industry to identify with. Also for people looking for a barber, you want to use a service that highlights barbers and their haircuts to give you confidence in its ability to serve your needs.
How does the app work and how do you differentiate yourself from other booking apps targeting the barbering community? theCut is a two-sided platform. On one end we’ve built a business management tool for barbers to help them manage their business. They can schedule appointments, build deeper relationships with clients, and accept payments all within the app. And for people looking for a new barber, they can search and discover barbers anywhere around the country, then book an appointment at their convenience.
We differ from the others in the space by focusing on the individual barber. Most barbers operate as independent contractors and manage their own book of business. They rent a chair from the shop owner but generally have autonomy over their business. With theCut, the individual barber can build their unique brand and market themselves on the app. This allows them to stand out above the shop as a whole and distinguish themselves against other barbers. We like to think that theCut helps empower our barbers to become entrepreneurs.
Technology is all about evolution, refinement, and user experience. What’s been the most exciting update to date? Over the last couple of years, we’ve made many improvements to the product. One of the most exciting was definitely the app redesign. We went from a traditional light red and blue theme to a dark black and gold theme. Users loved it and it made the app a lot cooler.
Can you give us a peek into the updates you have in the pipeline? We have some very exciting features and improvements coming soon. We’re building tools to give barbers the ability to leverage their existing clients to grow their business and to strengthen engagement. Also, we’ll soon have a web version of theCut available for those who would rather book online.
theCut currently has 65K barbers, 1.8MM+ users, and booked over 15MM+ appointments nationwide on the app. The professional hair community is a bit of a tribe and sometimes cracking it can be difficult. What was your secret as outsiders to get such buy-in from barbers in a pretty short period of time? From the beginning, we put barbers first. We met them where they were, whether that be barbering expos or social media. We involved them in the development process early on and continued to provide value where possible. We built a community on social media highlighting barbers at the same time introducing them to theCut. All of which helped build trust with barbers and the industry at large.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome to date? Definitely scaling. The industry and profession are one of the oldest to date, yet still one of the most underdeveloped. It’s incredibly fragmented without any true means of distribution. We’ve had to be creative in finding ways to reach barbers.
What excites you the most about the solution you’ve created? We’re most excited by the impact we’ve been able to have on the lives of barbers and those in the barbering community. There have been a ton of barbers who’ve shared that since using theCut, they’ve been able to save an entire day’s worth of manual scheduling and spend more time with their family. Or even grow their business to the point that they opened up their own shop.
You’re graduates of the Techstars program. Can you share a bit about that experience? Participating in the Techstars program was an incredible experience and living in Los Angeles was really fun. We learned a lot and built out a network of mentors that we didn’t have prior to the program. They helped us learn how to play the start-up and venture capital game. As well as translate our story and vision into something more palatable for investors. Also, by chance, we got to meet Snoop Dogg, and a few others in the entertainment industry, so that was an added bonus!
What was your biggest takeaway, learning, or best piece of advice received? Patience—that’s the biggest takeaway from the Techstars experience. The eagerness to see change and a solution for a problem is what led us into entrepreneurship. We couldn’t wait to see if someone else would build the app needed for the industry. We took it upon ourselves to create the world in which we wanted to live. At the same time, I’ve struggled with wanting to see results or initiatives come to fruition sooner than later—so understanding that some things are outside of your control and that’s OK.
We’ve all heard the stories of high-flying venture-backed Silicon Valley unicorns. You launched the business by bootstrapping it. Can you share how you’ve funded the business to date? We started the company with money we saved up while working. We then were able to raise $40,000 from a JMU [James Madison University] angel group, my [Obi’s] alma mater. We ran an equity crowdfunding campaign in which many of our users invested in the business, which led to our acceptance and fundraising from Techstars, and eventually our first institutional venture capital investment last fall.
Can you share why you chose this path and any tips you’ve learned along the way? We have always known we wanted to start our own business and we both come from families of entrepreneurs, so it was in our DNA. The advice we would give is the same that really motivated our decision to start theCut: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you have ideas or a vision for how something should be or work, don’t let self-doubt or outside influence impact your decision. You can’t wait for others to give you approval or to do it for you. You just have to go out in the world and make things happen.
What are your growth plans and how do you intend on funding them? Over the next couple of years, we have plans to strengthen our presence in key markets and to make theCut available overseas. We’ll be raising our Series A in Q1 of 2021.
Some of the biggest innovations in the beauty industry in the past decade have come from outsiders. What’s been the biggest surprise about the industry and what would you change? I’m most surprised by how varied the rules and regulations for barbers can be between states, as well as the lack of savings and retirement planning. Both of which we plan to help remedy.
Photo: via theCut