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Kelly Kovack: This episode is presented by Univar Solutions.
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Alli Webb: Hi, my name is Alli Webb and I am the President of Canopy and the co-founder of Drybar, and to me, It’s A Matter Of Purpose.
Kelly Kovack: Do what you love. I’m Kelly Kovack, founder of BeautyMatter. Some founders are driven by the monetization of an idea, while others unlock opportunities driven by passion and creativity. The confluence of these motivations can lead to game-changing brands that disrupt the beauty landscape. The concept of disruption has become ubiquitous, and the word is wildly overused; however, when the business you founded becomes ingrained in the industry’s vernacular and embedded as a reference point in funding pitch decks and creative briefs, it’s safe to say the founder and the brand are true disruptors. “The Drybar Of” has become a common reference for new service concepts in the beauty industry. Real disruption often occurs as the result of passion and a deep understanding of the consumer’s needs, rather than a clear intention.
Alli Webb, the co-founder of Drybar, built a business that created profound innovation. A consummate visionary that’s always looking forward, she is not done yet.
So, Alli, thank you so much for joining us today. I can’t believe this is the first time we’re actually meeting, because I feel like I’ve known you for a very long time, having followed your entrepreneurial path. So it’s exciting to actually kind of meet virtually, I guess, through a podcast.
Alli Webb: It’s nice to meet you too, and thanks for having me.
Kelly Kovack: Yeah. So most people in the industry know you as the founder of Drybar, so I feel like that’s the natural place to start and set the foundation for our discussion. The power of indie brands and the speed at which they scale is dramatically different than when you launched your first Drybar location in 2010. White-space opportunities are also tricky because there’s nothing to benchmark them against. So can you share a little about those early days of Drybar and what it took for the concept to gain traction? Because I think fast-forward, now we kind of take the fact that we can pop into our local Drybar location and get a blowout, and that didn’t exist when you sort of launched that first location.
Alli Webb: It is such a trip, I mean, how it just became this household name and this thing. Still even 12 years later, it feels weird that I did that.
Kelly Kovack: It’s kind of like a detachment from you and the business?
Alli Webb: Well, I think it’s more like I remember being—it was years and years ago, we were just starting to open a bunch of stores in New York City, and I lived in New York City all of my 20s and New York is very near and dear to my heart. But I’ve now lived in LA for almost 20 years. I was in New York because we were opening stores so quickly in New York and I remember—I’ve always been a walker, which I’m sure is why I love New York. And I was walking a pretty far distance in New York, and in that time I had passed, like, three or four different Drybar locations just in New York City. I remember having this moment, and they come fleetingly, of holy shit, that’s mine. I did that. I think we probably have close to, give or take, as many stores as Nordstrom. You think of Nordstrom, and Nordstrom is this big, successful company, and so are we. For most of that time of building Drybar, I was so head down, and was appreciative of the success, but just so damn busy that I didn’t take in really a lot of those moments. Those moments are far and few between. It comes in and out how I feel about that and how crazy it is that we changed an industry without knowing we were doing it. We didn’t set out to do that; it just kind of happened very organically. Yeah, it’s all been really humbling.
Kelly Kovack: That industry has also changed, I think, not only in how fast indie beauty brands can scale, but also the amount of money at play. They kind of go hand in hand, right? Today, anyway. My question was—but I think you answered it—when you launched Drybar, was it always your vision to scale the brand to an exit? Or what was the vision?
Alli Webb: There wasn’t much of a vision. I mean, I’d love to tell you I had this very well-executed, calculated plan of what was going to happen or what I wanted to happen, but there wasn’t. I was at this really interesting point in my life where I had done hair professionally for years. I grew up in south Florida, so I had frizzy hair growing up, which is ultimately kind of what led me to go to beauty school and become a hair stylist. And I had spent, I don’t know, six, seven, eight years in the industry. I was working in Boca Raton, Florida, it’s where I got my cosmetology license, and then I moved to New York City and I did hair there. I really loved blow-drying hair, and I think it was because of my own personal necessity that I loved having my hair blown out. As a teenager, I worked at hair salons as a receptionist and I loved them. I loved being in a hair salon. So I really fell in love with that.
And it took me years to get the courage up to go to beauty school and my parents were kind of like, really, beauty school? So there was a lot of, in my mind, stigma around it. And I got to the point in my life where I was like, I don’t know what the fuck I’m going to do. The only thing I really like is hair, so I’m going to go do that. It just took me a minute to get there.
So fast-forward to I met my now ex-husband when I lived in New York, and we had two kids and moved to LA and I was a stay-at-home mom, which, by the way, I thought I kind of hit the jackpot there. I had been working since I was, like, 15, so the idea of not having to “work” seemed really cool and I could just take care of my babies. And all I really wanted from the time I was 20—I guess when I hit 20 my biological clock started ticking and I was like, I think I need babies. So when the opportunity came to be a stay-at-home mom, I really jumped at it. And I loved it. We moved to LA and I got very immersed in the mommy community in LA. I was as happy as I could be with me and my little boy, who was the greatest little baby, and he’s now 17.
Kelly Kovack: Wow.
Alli Webb: So I loved it, and I kind of never thought I’d work again. I think I thought I’d be a PTA volunteer mom and then I realized I didn’t like that and I didn’t want to do that. So everything started to shift when my boys were like, two and four, and I was like, oh god, I have to do something for myself. I started to just feel so—I loved my kids and I loved raising my boys and I was able to stay home, but I needed my own purpose and my own thing to stimulate my brain. I didn’t know what that was, and how do I do this on my own mom pace?
So I started a mobile blowout business, which was called Straight at Home, which would eventually give me the idea to start Drybar. So I was going down this path of let me just keep doing what I want to do, fulfill whatever I needed to fulfill. I have quite fond memories of that business of Straight at Home because it did get me out of the house for a couple of hours. I was only charging $40, which was again, not a very thought-out plan. Me and my best friend were like, two $20s would be an easy number for people to pay. Because I knew, instinctually, I didn’t want to charge a lot because there were tons of celebrity hair stylists in LA that were charging, easily, $150 to $300 to come to someone’s home, which is still the norm. So I felt like—my idea, my hope, was more of using this as a tool to get out of the house and see adults and not be with kids all day long and not spending another day at the park. Ugh.
So I decided to start this business and I called it Straight at Home, and my then-husband, who is a creative genius, he did all the branding for Drybar, he made me this one-page website. It was one of my early marketing lessons and he was like, if you make a cute website, people will call you. Great. So we did that, and I started posting it in all these mommy groups and I started this business. I got really busy really fast, so I thought maybe instead of me going to them, they should come to me, and then I can open a brick-and-mortar, and that was it.
I was getting really busy, which is a good problem, but I was too busy for all the demand I had because it was just me. So I did come to a bit of a fork in the road, like, do I expand this mobile-y and bring on other stylists? But I was like, I’m not going to really grow if I do that, and it seemed like a headache. So I was like, yeah, maybe I could just open a spa where my clients could come to me and I’d charge the same amount of money. That’s when I went to my brother, who is my business partner in all of this, and said, I think I want to turn my mobile business into a brick-and-mortar. And I think that if I keep the price point low, because it’s not low anywhere else, except for you could find a crappy, random place. You could find a cheap blowout, but the experience was bad, the blowout was very hit or miss. There was really nothing like Drybar and nobody was doing this very inexpensive price point. And my vision on it was to have it feel and look very high end but not have that price tag. And I think now in retrospect, looking back, my parents were entrepreneurs and they had these “little old lady” clothing stores in Del Ray Beach, Florida. They were inexpensive clothes. My dad catered to the husband. I think my brother and I both had this very strong customer service kind of background. I really felt like there would be enough women in LA who would really like an inexpensive blowout, this affordable luxury, in a beautiful space, well run, you were treated well, it looked and felt high end but didn’t have the price tag. That was it! And so I was like, let me just open this one little store. I’ll be able to still pick up my kids from school. I’ll run this shop. This would be a great exciting thing for me to do.
I think as we started building it, we kind of started to think about huh, I wonder what would happen if this thing caught on and how our lives would change and what we would do. But it was like, really, nobody was thinking past, let’s just get the doors open and hope people come, and that was it.
Kelly Kovack: There’s a couple things that strike me. One is I think the passion that people who work in the hair industry or hair stylists have, it’s almost palpable, like this need to do hair. My niece went through something very similar, like go to college, she’s like college just isn’t for me. And then she was like, screw everyone, I’m going to put myself through hair school. Put herself through hair school, worked full time, set up an apprenticeship, and I find people who love hair, they’re true artists and there’s such a passion for it, and you clearly have that. And I think that’s probably one of the intangibles that’s not easily replicated.
And the other is, I remember when you guys started to get some scale. And I am incapable of blow-drying my own hair, like, you know, the two-handed, hair gets … all of it is a disaster, and so I love a good blowout. But I was thinking to myself as you guys were scaling, I don’t know, how scalable is this outside of major cities? I was really skeptical, but you totally proved me wrong.
Alli Webb: Well, you weren’t the only one who was skeptical. I mean, my brother, it was this conversation my brother and I had all the time, was, like, we’ve got to prove the concept. It works in LA and New York because LA women have too much time and too much money on their hands. I was like, I totally disagree with this. I think this works anywhere women have hair and care about how they look, which is, like, anywhere.
There were certainly markets we went into, markets that would probably surprise you. We are in all sorts of markets all over the country now. There’s over 150 locations, but places like Louisville, Kentucky kill it. What was a harder lift, surprisingly, was like, outside San Francisco, like Silicon Valley, like that area, those women took a minute to adopt it. And I think it was because there was like … I don’t know how to put it politically correctly, but I just don’t think they cared that much about their hair. They care about other things. But once we were like, listen, you go to a lot of events, you go to a lot of fundraisers, you do a lot of things. If you didn’t have to do your hair and someone else did it, it would give you this extra boost of confidence. You can bring your laptop and work while you’re there. And then you also, by the way, have great hair for the next three or four days. So, we finally got them to adopt it, and then that market turned out to be really strong.
It was interesting as we opened in more and more cities. And we did need to prove that concept, that, like, hey, does this work outside of LA and New York? And we very quickly realized it did. And, actually, our second big city outside of LA was Dallas, which was kind of an easy one, too.
Kelly Kovack: That makes sense.
Alli Webb: Yeah. Dallas is still a really strong market. Then the Chicago, Boston, DC, honestly, I couldn’t even rattle them all off, we’re in so many places. And they all perform really well.
Kelly Kovack: So it was kind of very organic how it evolved, but I think very often, entrepreneurs now—and I’m not sure it always works—have their exit strategy more planned out than the brand itself, and how they’re going to get there. But you did it the old-school way. How did you go from proving the concept to kind of funding and building the infrastructure to start scaling?
Alli Webb: Well, first of all, I think that, in my opinion, if you’re starting a business with an exit strategy—not to say there’s anything wrong with having a game plan and a vision of what you want—but I think that if your main priority is to build it and sell it, it’s … I don’t know. It’s different. Yeah, it’s different, and I think you will lack some of the, like, this is a journey, not a sprint, kind of a thing. And for us, after we had a little bit of success and realized this was really a thing, this was a big opportunity, of course we started thinking, what does this look like? Do we want to sell this? When do we want to sell it? And like, who do we want to sell it to? And do we still want to be involved? There’s a lot to consider.
But that, an exit strategy, was not a conversation we really started having until probably four or five years ago. It was like, full-growth mode, full steam ahead, how do we not fuck this thing up? That was the big priority.
Kelly Kovack: But also don’t you think, having been part of a lot of start-ups, it’s also kind of those mistakes—you have to make the mistakes to be able to grow. And I feel like brands today, especially ones that have raised a lot of money from VCs, they have this expectation of this unrealistic growth and almost perfection, right? I think those early days of making mistakes actually build the solid foundation to actually scale. If you don’t make the mistakes, then anyone could do it.
Alli Webb: For sure, there were tons of learnings, big and small, as we grew and scaled. We did always think this was always ours to mess up because it was such a new concept and nobody had done it, and just like you were saying, a lot of people were really skeptical about how does this even scale and work? When we started, it was $35; over the years, we raised a bit. But how do you make this concept work? And then we were expanding so fast because there was so much demand, which was awesome. But we were on a rocketship. And to your point, we had to realize that we needed to bring in people who knew how to run and grow and scale a company for very mundane things, like making sure payroll gets done. There was so much to do that we very quickly started to grow a very big team, especially once we raised money and we were really going full steam ahead. It was a lot, and it was nothing I had ever done.
Kelly Kovack: And you also had that intangible of people. Like, you needed people to execute your vision. I mean, if you haven’t worked in the service industry, I mean, I started early on in the spa industry. It’s a challenge. There’s a lot of personalities that go into sort of delivering the $40 blowout.
Alli Webb: Yeah, it’s a labor-intensive job. I always understood, you know, stylists who didn’t want to work a big, long shift, and we were always pretty amendale to that. If you only want to work two or three hours, okay. I’m not running the company anymore, so I hope it’s still like that. We had stylists who would leave; your color business would be growing at this other salon they worked at and they would come pick up shifts at Drybar if they had a slow day, and I loved that model.
I think I felt, as a hair stylist who knows the pains of when you come out of beauty school and you have to be an assistant and then you have to wait for them to feed you clients. There’s no real fast track, it’s just the way it is. And it’s like, whatever, it’s paying our dues and I was happy to do it. But I think as a stylist, you can skip a couple steps. We were training stylists to just do blowouts, and for stylists who took advantage of it, it was a great lead generator for them. If a client loved her blowout, she loved what you did, and she trusted you because, you know, women take their blowouts very seriously, God bless them; I get it. If you like the way your stylist does your blowout, you might be willing then to let them do your haircut or your color. So that established trust builds and then they can take it to another place. I always felt really good about that.
And I remember it was like, managers, or people who worked for us who had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder about the fact that we would train people, they’d work for us for a little while, and then they would leave. It was annoying to them because we just trained them and whatever, and I never felt that. I always felt like, that’s great. This is so great. We’re serving a purpose for each other. You’re helping us because we were so busy. I mean, we’ve never been able to meet the supply; the demand has always been higher. So I’m just happy to have great stylists, and if it means we have them for a little while and they took this thing from us and they apply it to the rest of their career, I’m so happy about that. And I think it’s mainly because I’ve lived that stylist life and I wanted to make stylists the best that they could be. You know, it’s like when you get a haircut and the blowout sucks after, it’s such a bummer, and I wanted stylists to not be that way. I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve probably trained thousands and thousands and thousands of stylists over the years.
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Kelly Kovack: You know, one of the things that I honestly have always been really impressed by is the brand itself and the consistency in executing it at literally every touchpoint. I mean, I think that the service, obviously, is crucial, because that’s a product, or was at that time. But part of unlocking the opportunity, and by extension, sort of creating this culture around Drybar that you built, was really kind of tied into the brand that was built. But it’s very easy to conceptualize a brand, but they quickly fall apart in execution. But the execution was seamless. What did it take to achieve that level of brand building?
Alli Webb: You know, I mentioned my ex-husband, Cam. He was an advertising guy. He was a creative in advertising, he worked in some of the best advertising companies in New York and LA. And I had this idea from Straight at Home that was leading into Drybar. You know, he was very particular about the branding and how it looked. And he was the one that came up with the original website, which was the dark gray, and then he worked very closely with Josh Heitler, who is our architect. And we had so many meetings and they were so fun in the beginning, of, like, you know, what my vision was for the shop, which I knew I wanted it to be a bar, I knew I didn’t want mirrors right in front of people because it’s such a great learning from my mobile business that I wasn’t doing women’s hair right in front of the mirror, so it took the pressure off of me as a stylist, and it took the pressure off of the client to be micromanaging the stylist, so it was a win-win.
So Cam and Josh worked really closely together to develop a cohesiveness between the website, which is obviously a big touchpoint, and then when you’re in the shop. I really learned so much from Cam about branding and executing in the shop. And to your point, I always felt like the branding got people in the door, and then we had to keep them by giving them a really great blowout and a great experience in customer service, which they were so intrinsically tied. When you walk in the door, you’re kind of assaulted, in the best way, with the music and the smell and the sound and the movie and then you realize you can charge your iPhone and you see only yellow flowers and the shop looks really pretty. Just touchpoint after touchpoint after touchpoint, and cute little signs everywhere, just little things that made you kind of smirk. It was Cam’s idea to do … I don’t know if you remember, but when you walk in a Drybar, the floor mat says “Nice Shoes.” That was Cam’s stuff; we used to call him the King of Cute. He would just come up with these little things that just made you kind of chuckle and put a smile on your face. We used to, I guess, kind of eat those maybe, I don’t know.
It was like sophisticated whimsy—that’s what we were going for. We wanted the brand to be sophisticated but fun. We wanted it to be bright and happy and cheery; it was a California brand, I feel like it was, in a lot of ways, reflective of my personality. And all of those things were things I didn’t know or understand. And, when you think back to 2010 and branding and companies, it wasn’t a big thing back then. We were definitely part of that movement, and then it was like Soul Cycle was starting the same time as we were, Sprinkles Cupcakes. Remember those, like, old-school kind of brands that were, like, just, you knew them. You could spot them from a mile away because of the strong branding. That was something that creatives have been doing forever, but as somebody who didn’t really know anything about that or ever pay attention to it, I really started to understand how important that cohesiveness was. Our first Valentine’s Day at the shop, I wanted to get pink roses, and Cam was like, “No, you have to get yellow roses. What are you talking about?” And I was like, oh, okay.
Kelly Kovack: The interesting thing was it never, to me, felt contrived. Because sometimes when you have a brand that is, like, sort of so controlled, it feels contrived. But the brand always felt very accessible and also had this ability to flex and welcome people in, like social media and creators. And while it was clearly very well thought out and well executed, there was also the ability for it to be what your consumers wanted it to.
Alli Webb: Yeah, I think that we always approached it in this very—it looks and feels high end, but we want it to really be a mom-and-pop feel at the end of the day. I was always really beating this drum of, like, we bend over backwards for the customer the way I was taught, the way I grew up. The customer is always right; we do everything we can to please them. And we are in the service business, we are giving a service, and part of that was, like, making people feel really special and relaxed and at ease and not, like, stressed, and not so many of the things that come along in the service industry. And frankly, I think so many businesses mess it up, whether it’s hair or a restaurant, if someone doesn’t treat you well or someone is snooty or the place isn’t clean, or whatever is going on, and you don’t feel like someone is really in charge and running it, the whole thing kind of falls apart. And I think we worked really hard to create that. Which, you put people back on their heels and not feel so on edge and defensive when they were in Drybar, and to feel like this was a very transparent business. And, you know, when we did have people who were upset, and when something didn’t work, we were pretty quick to apologize and be like, we’re sorry, we messed up. Can we make it up to you? Which is really not what you get in a lot of places, and I think that is part of what created that brand loyalty and just what you’re talking about.
Kelly Kovack: Disruptor is an overused descriptor, both for founders and brand concepts. But, wildly appropriate, I think, in your case, because the “Drybar Of” has become part of the beauty vernacular. It’s been used in creative briefs, funding pitches, pitch decks. And innovation is often followed by imitation. How did you keep Drybar competitive?
Alli Webb: Well, that definitely happened, and still happens, which really, it makes me so happy and it’s such an honor. But, you know, in the earlier days, I wasn’t as evolved in that and it was really frustrating to me how many people were knocking us off, and it was a lot. I mean, just from a business perspective, we ended up spending so much money on legal fees for cease-and-desist letters and all of these people we were having to go after, and that was not budgeted for. That was a really amazing learning experience: you’re going to have to have some budget for legal if you’re doing something like this. And I think emotionally, it made me really nervous. It looked from the outside that recreating your own Drybar …
Kelly Kovack: How hard could it be?
Alli Webb: How hard could it be? You hire some stylists, you paint some walls. People were, like, putting mirrors behind the stations like I mentioned like we did, but they didn’t really know why they were doing it. It was an interesting thing. And I did get really nervous. I used to, like, drive by them and look in the window and see if they were busy. I was like, shit! I was nervous. Not to mention, I would talk to anybody who came into our stores about the business and what was working and what wasn’t. I was just such an open book because I was naïve. I didn’t think people were going to, like, rip us off, but they did.
And I think what we quickly realized is we kept moving and going, and I think that was for a lot of different reasons. Part of it was I do think I was uniquely qualified to do this. Like I mentioned, I’d been obsessed with blowouts since I was a little girl, I’d spent years in the industry. I’ve worked as an assistant for the owners of salons, so I knew how salons worked, I knew how they operated. I didn’t realize I knew it, but I knew it. And between me and my brother who was, like, the business sense and helping me with that side of things, and Cam, who was the creative mastermind, it’s pretty hard to do what we did. And I think I started to realize that because a lot of the places that opened were like, I remember clients coming in and being like, I couldn’t get into Drybar so I went to this place down the street, and it sucked. I can’t really tell you why, but it sucked. And I was like, I can tell you why. There was so many things off from the customer service to the lighting to the actual execution of the blowout; there was a myriad of things.
And I think that’s when I started to realize it was very hard to duplicate us and what we were doing. And it wasn’t just because of me—there was the whole team. My insane knowledge of this industry and knowing—being a pretty good read on people. I mean, I used to be in shops and I’d walk the length of the shop and I’d be looking at women’s expressions and, as somebody who wears their expressions on the outside, I’d look at women and be like, she’s not happy. And if I noticed a woman wasn’t happy, I’d casually mosey up to her and just start chatting with her, try to get a feel for does she like this blowout, does she not? And then if she wasn’t, we’d try to maybe switch a stylist or do whatever needed to be done. So it was like that level, in so many different areas, was what really set us apart.
And the more and more copycats popped up, the more we started to see that a lot of them closed, or a lot of them would add … they’d become a full-service salon or they’d start doing makeup, and that was usually when we knew their blowout business wasn’t working. And again, back to our kind of motto, which was we focus on one thing and we’re the best at it. We’re not trying to be all these other things. We have this intense focus on just blowouts. That was one of the other things that really set us apart.
Kelly Kovack: So when did you know that it was time to exit?
Alli Webb: It didn’t go down the way I thought it would, and that was thanks to good old corona, you know? Or COVID. Does anyone call it corona? I think everyone calls it COVID.
Kelly Kovack: I don’t know; it has so many iterations at this point.
Alli Webb: I know. We were starting to really consider an exit and what to do next. We were considering going public, we were playing around with a lot of things. And what we realized was that it was kind of a different buyer to buy the product and to buy the stores, and so we ended up selling to Helen of Troy in early 2020, I believe, right before the world fell apart. What felt like minutes. We got very lucky. That was definitely a weird thing, to sell the product division, because it was really like my baby. I’d developed that product line and grown it and nurtured it for years, and then we were selling it. And it was just like, that was it. And I think, to your question, how did I know, I think we all—mentally and emotionally, our lives had changed a lot.
Kelly Kovack: You were ready.
Alli Webb: We were ready. It had been almost 10 years. I think I was like, you know, I’ve made my mark on this and done what I wanted to do and I think I’m ready to kind of move on to different things now. And that really was it. The company was in a really good place. We knew that we had a lot of great people working for us, a lot of people who were executing really well, and I just felt like I was like … I think we were all starting to feel like it’s time to kind of get on to the next thing.
Kelly Kovack: Well, speaking about the next thing, you very recently joined Canopy, taking on the role of president. And I’m so curious—what was it about the business that compelled you to lead the brand to kind of its next stage of growth?
Alli Webb: Well, it was an interesting way that it happened. Obviously, we sold the Drybar product in 2020, and now fast-forward to 2022, I would say it was towards the end of last year that I was starting to get the itch to do something again. We had started other brands, like Squeeze, and Okay Humans, and I kind of joined forces with a friend of mine, Meredith Quill, and we started Becket + Quill. So I had all these little things going, but I was still like kind of—I still wanted to do something else, and I don’t know exactly what that is. And I started thinking that I know how to develop a hair product line really well, maybe I should do that. And so I started talking to different companies, almost like development companies that could help me with a vision of a product line, which I had, from execution to get it out there. And as I was going down the path, you know how when you have this voice in the back of your mind that is like, “Man, I don’t really know.” And I feel like the world has gotten so saturated. I mean, when we went into Sephora—we launched in Sephora 12 years ago. It was like us, Bumble, and Living Proof, and that was it. And now, I couldn’t even rattle off all of the different hair brands there.
So as I’m exploring this in my mind and talking to people about what this could look like, I was like, it’s just a very saturated spot. I don’t know if I want to … I don’t know. And so I got connected to this guy Justin Seidenfeld, who is the founder and CEO of Canopy. And what I was talking to him about, he’s also the founder and CEO of a company called Doris Dev, and they are a product development company. They make all sorts of different products and they’re really good and their branding is really good, so I was interested in talking to them. I got on the phone with Justin and we started talking about it, and he was like, I’m not sure we’re necessarily the right fit for you with hair stuff, we haven’t done a lot of that. But we do have this company called Canopy that you might find interesting. And I was like oh, okay, I’ve never heard of it. I’m like, what is it? He’s like, they’re humidifiers, and I’m like, okay … still not sure why he’s telling me this. What he quickly explained to me was that part of the reason they started this company was because one of the other co-founders, his girlfriend, was spending so much time on cleaning her humidifier every week, like would spend hours and hours and hours on this. And she had an older, like, CVS, humidifier, kind of not great. And so he was like, asking the girlfriend, why do you spend so much time on this? And she was like, well, it makes my skin look and feel so much better. It’s more hydrated and glowy and dewy. And they were like, this could be a really interesting opportunity to bring humidifiers to the beauty space. And so that’s kind of like how they started to develop the company, is like, we want to be the beauty humidifier and start to really educate women on how great this is for your skin. And then he told me that they work closely with a dermatologist and that it’s actually really great for your scalp, especially dry scalp, and it’s really hydrating for your hair. And I was like, whoa.
And then the numbers and how much revenue they had done in just over a year was, like, mind blowing. And I’d never even heard of it, and nobody I knew had heard of it.
Kelly Kovack: I had never heard of it.
Alli Webb: Yeah, which was, like, great news. You’re already doing this much business and nobody that I know has heard of you.
Kelly Kovack: Knows who you are.
Alli Webb: Yeah, so that’s really great news. So they sent me a Canopy, I loved it. Aesthetically, they look so much better in your room. They have this LED light technology built in so it keeps the water from ever getting gross and moldy. You have a filter that you change every six weeks, which is also part of their subscription, where if you sign up to be a member, every six weeks they automatically send you a new filter. You pop that one in, throw away the other one, and you can see all the shit that’s in your water in that filter. And that’s it. I mean, you can clean it by just putting the water container in the dishwasher. There’s no cleaning the way we’ve always known humidifiers to be. And it’s evaporated moisture so it doesn’t have the big droplets that puddle around a humidifier. It’s like, every humidifier I’ve ever had, we’ve thrown away, because they just get gross and disgusting and you’re like, I want this thing out of my house.
So I became really interested and intrigued by it and I thought, I’m getting older. I’m doing everything I can these days. I wish I had gotten on that train sooner and realized all of the things that I need for my skin. I loved the cross-section between beauty, health, and skin. Hair and beauty and skin and baby and health. And I was like, this is a revolutionary product and it’s such a sleeper product, yet it’s a billion-dollar industry, but just nobody is doing it—great. It was also very nostalgic and reminiscent of how I felt about blowouts. We didn’t invent blowouts, we just created a better space and experience for them. It’s the same thing with Canopy; they didn’t invent humidifiers, they just improved them quite a bit and made them very approachable and something you actually want to have in your house.
So yeah, we started talking and they really wanted to get me involved in a really meaningful way and we went back and forth on what it would look like. I loved the idea of coming in as the president because I could really inform a lot of decisions and things that were happening, that are happening. We just launched in Sephora and I’ve been able to really help push that along more. Between all of my beauty experience and friends, and they were also in the process of raising a little bit of money to kind of get to the next level. All of these things are things that are in my wheelhouse. So it just seemed like—I got really excited really quickly and felt like there was a sense of purpose that I got from doing this that I got really excited about.
Kelly Kovack: Well, I’m excited to see what you’re going to do with it. I have one last question. You know, the number of brand concepts launching in the beauty space and the amount of investment flowing into them, especially at the early stages, it kind of makes my head spin. And it’s certainly raised the bar on competition. You’re one of the increasing number of founders who have also become angel investors. What advice would you share with early-stage founders? And what do you look for in a founder?
Alli Webb: Like, from an investment perspective?
Kelly Kovack: Yeah.
Alli Webb: I mean, I think that first and foremost, passion. Are you really excited about this? Do you really love this? Because if that’s just not there, then I’m not interested at all. And I have come across founders who are less than passionate. Not that they don’t love what they’re doing, but you can feel it, and I need to feel it first and foremost. And then, it’s similar to my investment. I did invest in Canopy, and my excitement around it, it’s like, you’ve got to be able to prove out, on some level, what you can deliver and how you’re going to deliver it. Show me what this looks like. Not that I’m looking for a business plan, I’m just looking for, what are your plans? Where do you think this can go? And again, to use Canopy as an example, I realized very quickly that these guys have the ability to be in the beauty department of every store. They can be in the baby department of every store. They can be in the health department of every store. That is a big, big runway. I’m looking for that kind of thing. Is this product or service or whatever you’re doing, is there a big opportunity here to really do something big with it? Does it have legs and momentum? One of my investments, I do invest in a lot of friends’ companies, and one of mine was in Olive & June, which I have a feeling you probably know.
Kelly Kovack: Yep.
Alli Webb: Sarah Gibson Tuttle is a very close friend of mine, and it’s the same thing. I knew who Sarah was—the salons were great and she’s a great xand they were really well executed and operated. But she pivoted, partially because of COVID, to just doing product. And I knew—we were just having a conversation about this this weekend at my bachelorette. I knew that she was going to kill it with product because it was a sleepy category. Of course, there’s a million nail polishes out there and SE and OPI are great, but they’ve been around forever and there are not a lot of innovations. And she had such a vision for so much innovation and I knew that that product was going to continue to grow and grow and grow, and the runway was massive, not just for the United States, but for international. So for me, that was just, like, a no-brainer to invest. And I knew her passion was there. I knew she was really smart. I knew she knew this business because she really educated herself on it. So I think those are the things I’m looking for: a strong desire to really understand what you’re doing, a deep passion, and a scale to grow—or a runway, I should say, to grow. And some businesses I look at, there isn’t that that. And rightfully so, some businesses are meant to be smaller and there’s always different criteria. But I would say those are the main things I’m looking for when I’m considering investing.
Kelly Kovack: Well, Alli, it has been so nice to meet you. And it’s so nice to sort of hear your story from your perspective, after having read about it for so long. And you really have—I mean, you’re one of those people that really did kind of make a huge impact in shifting a segment of the industry kind of permanently. So that’s not easy to do. And you also didn’t set out to do it. I find that people who set out to disrupt usually are very far from disrupting anything.
Alli Webb: I think it’s like, set out to do something that you love. I think that’s the best thing you can do.
Kelly Kovack: It’s too hard if you don’t love it. You won’t succeed because it’s not easy building one of these businesses. Well, Alli, hopefully one day we’ll meet in person, now that the world is reopening.
Alli Webb: Thank goodness.
Kelly Kovack: But thank you for taking the time and also, just the generosity of information and the inspiration.
Alli Webb: Aw, thank you.
Kelly Kovack: For Alli, It’s A Matter Of Purpose. She used 15 years of experience as a professional hairstylist and the desire to continue pursuing the creative side of hairstyling at a new-mom pace to build an iconic brand that redefined an industry. Very often, innovation is followed by imitation, which has the potential of creating perpetual distraction. Oscar Wilde said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” True creatives have the ability to keep competitors and imitators in their periphery while perpetually creating differentiation through clearly defined purpose, continued innovation, and the anticipation of their customers’ need.
So in the end, It’s A Matter Of Purpose. I’m Kelly Kovack, see you next time.
Alli Webb: Hi, I’m Alli Webb, and for me, It’s A Matter Of Purpose. I believe everybody needs a purpose and that is what keeps us going.
It’s A Matter Of is a production of BeautyMatter LLC. You can find more content and insights on www.BeautyMatter.com
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