When Nikki Dominguez looks back to her early days working as a hair stylist, she mostly remembers how lonely and unprepared she felt behind the chair.
"At first, I wasn’t able to get the answers or support I needed, so I took it upon myself to pay attention and learn by making mistakes," she remembers. "Now, I want to ensure nobody feels the way I did — that I was a terrible hair stylist, which I wasn't."
That experience, combined with subsequent years educating stylists at salons in New York City, propelled Dominguez to create Handsome, an Austin-based social network for beauty professionals co-founded with her sister, April.
Formerly known as Tradiies, the platform aspires to create an all-encompassing community for beauty professionals, serving everyone from cosmetologists to nail technicians to salon owners. It's meant to address a lack of a centralized hub for job postings, technical advice, and other vital resources. "Right now, everyone is still using Craigslist for hiring, which is not what we should be using in this day and age," Nikki Dominguez says.
In fact, the platform initially focused on building out hiring features to address that Craigslist problem. But it wasn't long before the Handsome team shifted to focus more on the platform's long-term value.
"When we launched this app, we started with the core functionality behind jobs," explains April Dominguez, who has a background in investor strategy. "We did that because jobs were the number one pain point for users, and that was also a way we could monetize. But what users actually wanted was a community. Without that, beauty professionals don’t have a reason to come back, and the app fails. So, we learned not to start with the monetization model. It's about the community acquisition play first, which has been the focus ever since."
In its current iteration, Handsome remixes elements of Instagram and LinkedIn. Users can build photo-driven profiles that show off their talents via examples of previous client work, and they can also share certifications and experience with different technical skills, such as color formulation. "You can actually get endorsed by others from the community," explains Nikki Dominguez. Users are further encouraged to ask and answer technical questions and network with their fellow beauty professionals.
Why has nobody else created this type of experience yet? "A lot of beauty professionals go into this career at 16 or 17 and choose to come into this as a career that's absolutely not a fallback to anything else," explains Nikki Dominguez, reflecting on her experience in the industry. "That means a lot of people who have tech or business experience have never seen that the beauty industry needs any of these professional resources."
That unserved need is borne out in Handsome's impressive user growth. According to company data, more than 10,000 users have joined the app in the year since launch, with an estimated 25 percent of the New York cosmetology population on board. In 2020, Handsome is targeting "top hair cities" to further establish the app as the the ground floor for aspiring colorists, barbers, stylists, and everyone who wants a career in beauty.
"It’s definitely a need," Nikki Dominguez says. "We’re going to keep pushing forward to bring the best resources that have not been there."