Be it to get a ride to work, or to indulge our food cravings, technology seems to be propelling most aspects of our lives today, and so, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that this kind of disruption is hitting the beauty and wellness industries too. Consider Shedul, a booking and scheduling platform for salons, spas, and other wellness businesses, the brainchild of entrepreneurs William Zeqiri and Nick Miller. “We did some research and found out that the majority of businesses in the beauty industry operate offline, without any software at all. 52% of salons in the US still manage their bookings with pen and paper,” says cofounder and CEO Zeqiri.
Looking to change that, in 2015, the duo launched Shedul, which Zeqiri declares to be “the world’s first subscription-free platform.” The cloud-based software is accessible via an internet connection on any device, with most users found to be accessing the platform on their mobiles. Besides taking the hassle out of operations management for salons by automating key processes such as appointment bookings, customer records, inventory, financial reporting and other tasks, this platform is also addressing a key challenge for the industry- that of resource utilization. “The main pain point is the inefficient utilization of appointment schedules, which is causing low occupancy rates for businesses and loss of revenue,” says co-founder and COO Miller. “Our technology is helping businesses optimize their schedule with real-time online availability, and in some cases, it has increased user revenue more than 30%.”
Shedul’s software enables salons, spas, and other wellness businesses schedule appointments, reduce no-shows with the help of automated reminders, and undertake point-of-sale activities among other tasks. The entrepreneur says given the status of occupancy rates in the beauty and wellness industry, and with industry players “losing billions of dollars [due to occupancy issues],” Shedul’s technology helps connect small businesses directly to demand. However, the biggest credit for Shedul’s growth trajectory (the portal claims over 40,000 merchant sign-ups in more than 120 countries, in under two years) should go to its free-to-use model. “Our monetization strategy is to charge a small commission fee per booking on our soon-to-be-launched consumer marketplace, and keeping the main SaaS [Software as a Service] tool free,” says Zeqiri, explaining the startup’s aggressive user acquisition strategy while keeping an eye on revenue.
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It’s also this growth (which the founders consider “almost entirely organic through word-of-mouth”) that helped the startup close a US$6 million round of Series A financing, backed by both MENA and Silicon Valley investors in June 2017. Led by Middle East Venture Partners (MEVP), and backed by Dubai’s BECO Capital and San Francisco-based Lumia Capital (a VC firm that backs the Middle East ride-hailing app Careem, among many other startups), the new round of funding also follows an earlier seed round (also led by MEVP) in October 2016. Without going into the details, the entrepreneurs say they plan to use the funds to expand their product development and engineering teams to support the roll out of some new features of their platform.
The founders’ feeling of triumph is apparent as Zeqiri notes that they had aimed for the best VCs in the region, and so managing to seal a deal with them was definitely music to their ears. “It’s critical to align on the big picture or vision with VCs, before getting into the detailed analysis [of the deal]. Being a global company, we got lots of interest from international VCs, and are proud to have San Francisco-based Lumia Capital joining the round,” he says. The investors too are upbeat about the startup and its product, with MEVP’s managing partner Walid Mansour noting in a statement that Shedul is a “truly global success story, [as] the growth they achieved in two years is remarkable.” Chris Rogers, partner at Lumia Capital noted that Shedul has “made best-in-class software accessible to the massive beauty industry, which still largely operates offline.”
While the company notes that “millions of bookings” are made through the platform each month growing at an average rate of 35% month-on-month, it’s significant (and also intriguing) to note that almost half of this Dubai-based startup’s users are in the US (40%), followed by the UK (15%), Australia (11%), and Canada (7%). The MENA market, where they have about 2,000 salons and spas using their platform till date, is hence still a growing geography for the tech startup and represents about 5% of their total user base (with more than half in the UAE). “We are a global business with most users internationally, and we just happen to start the business in Dubai… Our story is that we are serving the globe out of Dubai, rather than targeting the local market,” explains Zeqiri.
The entrepreneurs’ lofty ambitions for their scheduling platform is to “process over $1.5 billion worth of appointment bookings by the end of 2017,” and they believe they are on track to achieve this. “Word-of-mouth factor is strong, our users are the best ambassadors spreading the word within their own community,” says Miller. “We have a solid 5/5 user rating on Capterra.com [a platform that helps businesses find the right software for their operational needs], and believe that if users require training on how to use our system, we have not done a good job building it.” In line with this belief, the team finds that merchants adopting Shedul often “rave about its easy setup and intuitive interface, as well as its personable customer support.”
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The founders are also grateful for the vocal backing they get from their partners, which, they believe, has a key role to play in their software becoming a familiar name in the global beauty and wellness industry. Moreover, from not even being in the reckoning just over a year ago, Shedul has also managed to bag top slots in Capterra’s independent review reports for 2017’s Top 20 Salon Management software under the categories of “Most Popular”, “Most User-Friendly” and “Most Affordable” software. With netizens the world over more confident than ever to book and pay for local services online, SaaS products are in fact already a norm when it comes to food delivery, transportation, and other basic services, and the entrepreneur duo behind Shedul are confident that the beauty and wellness space is also making the transition at a positive pace. Interestingly, in a bid to prevent users from leaving its apps, tech titan Google too launched “Reserve with Google” in July 2017- a feature (in the US) that lets users book health and wellness appointments directly from its Search or Maps apps via a “book” button. Such enormous competition notwithstanding, Shedul has its eyes set to help businesses in the salon and spa industry thrive- and armed as it is with a business model tailored to take advantage of the SaaS boom, as well as a passionate and ambitious team, the company seems to be well on its way to realizing its goals.
Amir Farha, co-founder and Managing Partner, BECO Capital
Why did BECO Capital decide to get on board as investors- what impressed you about Shedul?
“The management team at Shedul is extraordinary. They are second-time entrepreneurs who have a long working relationship, and have clearly demonstrated superior execution capabilities. Given the relatively short life of the company, the product they have built is outstanding, relative to others in the market with rave reviews from a sticky customer base. Furthermore, we love their vision and ambition. Will and Nick are looking to build something truly transformational that will disrupt the spa industry globally. We are honored to be part of their journey and will do our best to help them succeed.”
Do you see Shedul evolving as a profitable business with their free-software model? Financially, what excites BECO Capital in the deal?
“Every business needs to find a revenue stream that scales, and Shedul has plans to do that. At the moment, their focus is purely on product, experience and ensuring their customers are happy. Once they have achieved scale and high retention, they will be able to monetize through various business models. They already process tens of millions of dollars in bookings per month, and they are looking to launch a marketplace, which should capture some of those dollars. If they can execute on that plan, the potential revenue scale is enormous, not-tomention, the ancillary revenues that can exist in the future.”
William Zeqiri, co-founder and CEO, Shedul
What are your thoughts on the MENA entrepreneurship ecosystem, and its evolution over the years?
“The entrepreneurship ecosystem has grown tremendously over the last four years. With this fast expansion, consumer behavior is changing, and new forms of businesses are simplifying means of interaction. For [a] thriving startup ecosystem, it’s important that local policies and regulations adapt to these new technologyenabled business models. Dubai, in particular, has been very progressive at embracing the latest trends. It is refreshing to see the advent of big traditional players now entering the startup and technology ecosystem. For example, Alabbar [Mohamed Alabbar] has become very active in this space.”
Based on your current fundraising experience, what would be your top three tips for the region’s startups to pitch and clinch funding for their ventures?
“[First], solve a real-world problem with an innovative product. [Second], demonstrate traction and growth with users. [Third], articulate a clear monetization strategy. Before approaching any investors it is important to build and operate a working product that has real customers using it, to show a trend of at least three months of strong growth and traction, and to be meticulous with your unit economics, P&L reporting, and burn rate.”
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