Ex-Barclays analyst Alanna Gregory prepares to launch beauty app Vive with her hairdresser-turned-business partner Cristin Armstrong
The relationship between hairdresser and client doesn’t usually breach beyond the casual, gossipy conversations parleyed over a blow dry. This is how Cristin Armstrong and Alanna Gregory first met; Armstrong styled Gregory’s hard-to-tame curly hair for nine years. They however, used appointment time to brainstorm a business plan for Vive, their beauty website and soon-to-be app.
“We make bookings a really easy experience,” says Gregory, the CEO of Vive. “You never have to pick up the phone, and you can get what you want when you want it.” Right now the service is exclusive to New York, though expanding is on the agenda in future.
“I came from my own personal experience of being a woman on Wall Street and working on a desk with all men. Finding time to have my hair done was hard, ” Gregory says. “I could never get an appointment at the time I wanted. I hated calling to book.”
In September last year, Gregory quit her job as a research analyst at Barclays to focus full time on Vive. “Wall Street was a fantastic experience,” she says, adding “It gave me a great background and understanding of being a business leader, understanding analysis, understanding how to present work with clients. Wall Street was really like my learning ground.”
In describing her beauty venture, Gregory still speaks like a banker. “Cristin had a lot of times when she wasn’t busy at the salon. A lot of clients wanted her to come into their homes,” she says. “It just was not optimised in terms of yield management and appointment bookings.”
A bubbly, attractive blonde, Gregory says she always knew that she wanted to be an entrepreneur. “Both my father and grandfather started their own business, so its something I really looked up to growing up.”
“I studied operations research engineering at Princeton, and banking and finance in general is a very quantitative field,” Gregory says. “So, having come from a field where I could take innovative approaches to problem solving, it was really refreshing and unique to be able to apply those techniques to beauty.”
The initial inspiration for Vive came when Armstrong began doing home appointments for Gregory. “I started going to do her hair at her apartment because she was super busy and could never get to the salon,” she says. “That’s how the business started, as an on location service, and then we pivoted into this market place for beauty professionals.”
Now, Armstrong predicts that in-home visits will make up only 10% of appointments booked via Vive. “We’re really going towards booking with salons. The salons aren’t as technologically advanced; they are still using old systems,” she says.
Armstrong herself has not given up hairdressing, balancing her time between doing hair and taking care of business. “I spend about 10 – 15 hours styling a week, and then the rest is on the business,” she says. “I’m wearing 10 hats basically, helping in every aspect”.
A Fashion Institute of Technology business marketing graduate, Armstrong is no stranger to career change. “I was originally going to start a fashion company, and then I got into hair. That was also a passion of mine,” she says. “I went to the Aveda Institute. I thought I would open a salon, that was the plan, but this worked out better. I’m going with the times.”
As well as the website, a Vive app will be released in September coinciding with fashion week, with which Armstrong, the Creative Director, is hoping to confirm a collaboration. “We’re in the works of putting something together for team Vive,” she says. “We’d love to work with an up and coming designer, that would be exciting, so we’re speaking to some people now.”
Vive expects mass expansion when the app officially launches. Essentially, the platform will act as a market place for beauty professionals. “Everyone will have their own profile,” says Armstrong, adding, “and then there will be thousands of hair and make-up people from around the city”.
Vive has a current network of 75 stylists, recruited by Armstrong. “She knows the language that stylists speak and salons speak,” Gregory says. “I think a lot of it has been leveraging her existing network and having them be the first part of Vive. And a lot of it has been word of mouth as well.”
Neither Gregory nor Armstrong had prior experience in technology before Vive. “I took one course in digital media marketing,” Gregory says. “I learnt most of it on the job.”
Gregory is both excited and realistic about the future of Vive. “You have to be really forward thinking in your product, and every aspect of the business. There are immense challenges every single day.”
Though some things never change. Despite the fact that Armstrong is now her business partner, Gregory says, “She still does my hair”.