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The Side Hustle She Started in Her Princeton Dorm Room Led to a $510 Million Business: 'Don't Take No for an Answer' Danielle Cohen-Shohet launched a successful side hustle in college, combining her love for design and entrepreneurship, which ultimately led to GlossGenius.

By Amanda Breen

Key Takeaways

  • Challenges in managing a client-first business and a passion for solving them with technology inspired Cohen-Shohet to found GlossGenius in 2015.
  • GlossGenius supports over 65,000 businesses, focusing on customer-centric enhancements like GeniusAI and Genius Loans.
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This Side Hustle Spotlight Q&A features Danielle Cohen-Shohet, CEO and founder of GlossGenius, an all-in-one booking, payments and point-of-sale solution that helps beauty and wellness professionals drive bookings and grow their business.

Image Credit: Courtesy of GlossGenius. Danielle Cohen-Shohet.

When did you start your side hustle in the self-care industry, and what inspired it?

My interest began when I did freelance makeup artistry out of my Princeton University dorm room. I've always had a passion for design and art, and for as long as I can remember, I have been entrepreneurial. I have a tendency to want to become an expert at something I do, so when I became interested in makeup, I took it much further than most and started a side hustle in college. During that time, my twin sister and I also pursued a digital receipts payments venture. Those were both enriching experiences; however, I had no idea at the time that I'd later take a leap and combine those interests to start a software payments company now worth over $510 million.

Related: These Sisters Started a Side Hustle After a 'Light Bulb' Moment Standing in Line for Coffee — Now Their Business Has Done $100 Million in Total Sales

What were some of the first steps you took to get that side hustle off the ground?

I learned voraciously, strived to be the best and just rolled up my sleeves to start. Back when I was in college, makeup artistry tutorials were just starting to be democratized on YouTube, so I dove into them and just got my hands dirty practicing. I drilled college classmates and friends for feedback and just kept getting better from there. It sounds simple, but these first steps helped me succeed faster.

Were there any challenges that came with running the side hustle? If so, how did you navigate those?

Anything that you can grow from will have challenges. While doing makeup artistry, I experienced first-hand the pain points that many of our GlossGenius business customers face today: time management, coordinating schedules and growing a client base without the proper infrastructure, just to name a few. I dove headfirst into solving these challenges with manual spreadsheets and tools that I would hack together, which sparked the idea for what would later become GlossGenius. I wanted to provide other business owners with best-in-class technology and infrastructure that would make it easier to run a business.

How long did it take you to begin seeing consistent monthly revenue? On average, how much revenue did it bring in?

For me, it was originally more so about satisfying a creative interest than revenue. It took several months before I started to earn real revenue, and it was meaningful enough to cover a lot of living expenses while in college.

Related: She Spent Her Honeymoon Working on a Side Hustle. It Raised $35 Million and Counts Celebrities Among Its Investors.

When did you decide to transition into startup mode and found GlossGenius, and what motivated that move?

After understanding the problems facing service-based self-care businesses, I decided to start a software company that would solve many of these problems with technology. I had graduated college and started a career in finance at Goldman Sachs, but I kept thinking about how to help self-care entrepreneurs run better businesses. It was really hard to manage a client-first business when there were so many scattered, disconnected systems.

I had taught myself how to code, so I felt as if I could do anything. After getting a couple of years of experience at Goldman, I took a leap and left to start GlossGenius. Given the industry experience, my technical background and the digital receipts payments company I had pursued with my twin sister — who is my partner and chief business officer at GlossGenius — it just felt obvious to put all of this into a software payments company focused on the self-care industry.

Image Credit: Courtesy of GlossGenius. Danielle Cohen-Shohet and Leah Cohen-Shohet.

How have you approached scaling the company?

Before we could even think about scaling the company, we first focused on solving a real problem that is a critical part of our customers' lives. There is so much opportunity to empower entrepreneurs to run, manage and scale their own local businesses. Our platform impacts customers' livelihoods, and our solutions are an important part of their everyday lives. That focus was foundational to have in place before scaling.

With that in place, one of the things I did early on was learn everything about the business: Building products, launching products, recruiting, marketing, closing partnerships, handling customer support tickets and much more. Having a deep knowledge of all parts of the business has been important to scaling the company as it has helped me understand what excellence looks like in all parts of the business. With that type of understanding, I could surround myself with fantastic people and leaders to take teams even further.

Related: The Sweet Side Hustle She Started 'On a Whim' Turned Into a $20,000-a-Month Income Stream: 'It's Simple, It's Affordable and It's Fun'

Because there are so many problems to solve for businesses, we also had to remain disciplined in solving the most important problems for customers first. So as we've scaled, we have continued to flex discipline and only pursue initiatives that create value for our customers. We say no often and are thoughtful about how we sequence what we pursue. We obsess over our customers' needs and absorb their feedback like a sponge, as it plays a key role in driving GlossGenius' growth and new products. Keeping the connection with our customers as we've scaled is something I'm really proud of.

When you look to GlossGenius's future, what are you most excited about?

We are creating a gateway for entrepreneurship, giving self-care business owners the infrastructure to scale their businesses and empower more entrepreneurship. While we've already built a platform that is mission-critical to our customers, there is still so much for us to do to achieve our mission. With the responsibility of serving over 65,000 businesses and powering billions of dollars of transaction activity, we are working to make our software products more intuitive and magical for customers.

The recent launch of our GeniusAI, a generative AI-powered tool, is a good example of this. This tool helps beauty and wellness practitioners draft ready-made, personalized email marketing campaigns, enabling users to simply enter a few notes and receive messages tailored to their goals and brand. In an industry that has traditionally lagged in technological adoption, it is exciting that we get to be the company that puts this in customers' hands. Another recent GlossGenius product launch is Genius Loans — fast, flexible financing that helps customers grow their businesses. Products like this underscore our support of customers with what they need, when they need it — well beyond what's typically expected from SaaS platforms.

What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned over the course of your entrepreneurial journey?

I've learned that true success means helping others succeed. I am fortunate to lead a company that's so tightly aligned with our customers' success. With the opportunity to build and lead GlossGenius, I've had a masterclass in learning the special framework of how to make decisions that build long-term value for customers.

Related: She Started a Furniture-Flipping Side Hustle to Pay Off a $10,000 Dental Bill. It Surpassed Her Full-Time Job's Income Within a Year — Earning Up to $37,000 a Month.

Do you have any advice for people interested in starting a side hustle or business of their own?

Be fearless. Don't take no for an answer. And importantly, surround yourself with like-minded people. You might find this through a community like the one we've created for entrepreneurs with GlossGenius, or you might look to people closest to you. I've had many close supporters along the way, but my strongest collaborator is my twin sister, Leah. She has been a thought partner from day one and has played an invaluable role in expanding the company into what it is today. So surround yourself with people who get you.

Amanda Breen

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior Features Writer

Amanda Breen is a senior features writer at Entrepreneur.com. She is a graduate of Barnard College and received an MFA in writing at Columbia University, where she was a news fellow for the School of the Arts.

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