Women We Love: Priya Dandawate

One of the great things about moving to a new city is that you uncover all sorts of talented, inspiring people you might not otherwise have ever heard about. Recently, I learned about a service here in Seattle called Tousled. It’s a super-convenient website that lets you book professional salon services–everything from blowouts, to facials, to manicures–but in the comfort of your own home. AKA, perfect for busy women trying to do it all without looking like they’re breaking a sweat.

The site’s founder, Priya Dandawate, is just as impressive as her business idea: A former Microsoft product engineer, she left her job to pursue Tousled full-time less than a year ago. Since then, she’s gone on to win Seattle’s AngelHack competition, and the attention of the local startup scene and customers alike.

Here, we chat chat with Priya about getting her business off the ground, the decision to leave her full-time gig, the highs and lows of entrepreneurship, and more.

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A snap from a recent booking.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR BUSINESS TO US?
Tousled offers on-location haircuts & beauty, so you can skip the salon and stay in your PJs! It’s perfect for weddings, busy professionals, family portraits, or simply at-home pampering. We offer services like haircuts, manis/pedis, bridal & wedding day styling, extensions, facials, and more.
At our core, we are a source for vetted stylists and beauty professionals within the area. We love creative media, using videos, photos & rich content, like user-reviews & insights, on our website, helping clients feel confident in their beauty decision. It’s is great place to browse popular stylists and discover those recommended by friends.

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR TOUSLED COME FROM?
The idea for it came through lots of conversation, and through using other on-demand apps like TaskRabbit, Zaarly, & AirBnB. After our first session, I couldn’t put the idea to rest and knew that I had to explore it a further.

I’ve found that we live in a world where there’s an ever-increasing pressure for us to look nice, all the time, for both men & women. With Tousled, we hope to make that transformation totally effortless.

I think the key to business ideas is to work with people who can see where you cannot, and to have a lot of conversations about what could be.

WHEN DID YOU FIRST REALIZE IT MIGHT BE A VIABLE BUSINESS?
I think we knew we had an interesting business idea from day 1. Though it wasn’t until after winning Seattle AngelHack that we really started to believe in the potential of the business. It was incredibly invigorating to see such tremendous support from the community, especially from local Angels and investors.

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WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST STEP IN STARTING THE COMPANY?
The first step that we took was to talk to customers. We surveyed +100 clients & beauty professionals to see what they were missing in the beauty/salon experience today, and how technology could improve upon it.

Many times, startups end up solving a problem that is feasible, rather than desirable. That’s why I believe it’s so important to have a pulse on your customer’s outlook.

WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE YOU STARTED TOUSLED?
Before Tousled, I was working as a Product Engineer at Microsoft.

Though not coolest of the tech giants, it was the team that drew me in. While there, I worked under the wing of pioneers in technology, and found that pixels were the perfect outlet for my creative muse.

Having worked at both big and small companies, I think big companies are a fantastic way to sharpen your edges and learn from more experienced players. Startups, on the other hand, are a great way to acquire new skills and to try your hand something new.

WHAT WAS THE POINT WHEN YOU DECIDED TO LEAVE YOUR FULL TIME JOB AND PURSUE TOUSLED?
After my 4th year at Microsoft, I was ready to try my hand at something new. I had been pursuing Tousled during my off hours, and it was hard to continue the balancing act for much longer. Ultimately, I think I took the plunge because the idea of looking back and not taking it was far more frightening that uncertainty of it.

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WHAT WERE THOSE FIRST FEW MONTHS ON YOUR OWN LIKE?
Both exhilarating and quite arduous. I think there’s something totally empowering about taking the bull by the horns, but it can be incredibly hard to navigate. That’s why I think it’s so important to seek out smart mentors for guidance along the way. Especially for budding female entrepreneurs, find both a female & male mentor to help grow your career (more here).

FOR WOMEN WITHOUT A TECH BACKGROUND WHO MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN THIS SORT OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP, HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT GETTING THE PLATFORM FOR TOUSLED BUILT? DID YOU HIRE ENGINEERS?
I’m actually a software engineer myself (UIUC Class of 2010), and my business partner is a lawyer in DC. I built the early prototype of the product, and continue to build the product today. As an engineer, building is totally my passion; and I find that I’m regularly sneaking in a couple extra hours of coding during my off time.

I would say this for those without a tech background – MVP, or Minimum Viable Product, is kinda like the homework that you just barely finished on time. Whether you succeed or fail, try to do it quickly. Find smart and scrappy ways to test your business ideas quickly, and if you can do it without a developer – even better! There are plethora of automation & CRM services like MailChimp, SquareSpace, LaunchRock and more.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO START THE COMPANY, FROM THE INITIAL IDEA, TO THE LAUNCH?
Surprisingly a bit longer than expected. The idea came to us in February of 2014, and I left Microsoft later that year (after our early round of winnings). Startups are particularly hard to navigate, but here’s what I would say – people, not ideas, build great products. Your team and the passion you have the product will be the driving force behind the success of it; not the equity, investors or money along the way ;).

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF YOUR BIGGEST LEARNING EXPERIENCES AS A STARTUP OWNER?
Opportunity is simply a combination of luck & preparation. On the morning of AngelHack, I had little to no concept that I would give a 30 second pitch that would change the course of my career forever. But when the moment came, I was prepared with industry statistics and a genuine fervor for the product that helped us seal a victory.

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE MOST VALUABLE RESOURCES YOU’VE FOUND AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?
Who you know will get most likely get you further than what you know.

WHAT DO YOU LOVE MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?
I’m a total product person at heart – I love building. I get excited by new ideas.

WHAT’S THE BEST CAREER ADVICE YOU’VE EVER RECEIVED?
Stay hungry, stay foolish.

Original Post by Kaitlin on Lux & Concord: http://www.luxandconcord.com/women-we-love-priya-dandawate/

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