While Alli Webb didn’t set out to pen a page-turner with a whopper of an “Afterword,” there’s no question that readers of her latest book, The Messy Truth: How I Sold My Business for Millions but Almost Lost Myself (Harper Horizon), are in for a rollercoaster ride, hairpin turns included.
There’s the nail-biting, making it up by the seat of her pants approach to starting a business. There’s the needs-his-mom kid struggling with addiction. There’s the collapse of a marriage. And all of it marches swiftly toward an ending readers surely aren’t expecting.
A mashup of memoir and prescriptive journal that prods would-be entrepreneurs to dig deeper to uncover their fears, motivations, and potential stumbling blocks around launching their own venture, The Messy Truth provides a treasure trove of insight into the founding and meteoric rise of Drybar, a pioneer in the luxury-blowout space.
The physical manifestation of “Straight at Home,” a mobile blowout service Webb started as a young LA-based mother of two little boys, Drybar made its debut in 2010, with a premier location in Brentwood. Taking off like a rocket, the brand Webb started with her then-husband, Cameron Webb and brother Michael Landau, expanded to 140+ company-owned and franchised salons within a decade, and included a highly successful product line that helped consumers replicate a Drybar blowout at home.
Chatting on Zoom from Los Angeles, Webb recalls the insanity of essentially running three businesses—company-owned salons, a franchise operation, and a product line—simultaneously. "Bananas," is the word she used to describe it.
“The product line started somewhere between the second and third year,” she says. “And that was after we’d raised a lot of money from Castanea, our private equity partner—something like $26 million. I think only a million or so of that was earmarked for product, but I was pretty gung-ho about creating a line. The combination of products that I had at the time didn’t really cut it for me.”
With a tagline of “Crafted for the perfect blowout,” the Drybar range of shampoos, conditioners, and styling products launched exclusively at Sephora.
“They loved it,” she says of the retailer, which tapped Webb for countless in-store promotions. “It was all about buying yourself a little piece of the brand; of giving yourself a Drybar blowout even if you didn’t have a Drybar near you.’”
While Webb sometimes found the endless back and forth of product creation tedious, she considered one aspect utterly fascinating: developing the line’s signature scents. “I think the most fun for me was coming up with the fragrances,” she recalls. “I’m really sensitive to fragrance, and I’ve historically never worn perfume in my life. I’d much more opt for a scented lotion than a spray-on perfume.”
Webb credits her Creative Director ex-husband with teaching her the impact of stepping away from the pack. Case in point: Drybar’s wildly successful Buttercup blow dryer.
“Blow dryers in salons are black or red,” says Webb, who got her hair training at Toni&Guy and later worked as an assistant for the legendary John Sahag. “So we were like, let’s do something no one else has done, which is bright and sunny and yellow.”
But an even bigger break from tradition than lemon-hued hair tools was Drybar’s no-mirror salons.
“The idea actually came from my mobile blowout business,” Webb notes. “I was in people’s homes, in their kitchens or living rooms, and never in front of a mirror.”
That decision proved beneficial to everyone involved. “It takes the pressure off all of us. The client isn’t staring at and dissecting herself for an hour, and the stylist has the freedom to get the hair looking the way they want it to before the big reveal.”
Had she not had the mobile business, Webb says the idea of a salon without a wall of mirrors facing the clients and stylists never would have occurred to her. “I was in salons all my life, and always in front of a mirror,” she says. “We all just pick ourselves apart.”