Originally published in the Sunday edition of the Dallas Morning News by tech reporter Melissa Repko on November 20, 2016:
THE CONNECTORS: Conversations with visionaries, investors and entrepreneurs from North Texas who are making a mark in the business world.
Tye and Courtney Caldwell, wanted to give a boost to the changing salon industry — a business that Courtney says “touches everyone from the president of the United States to the soccer mom.” They started ShearShare after Tye, who owns a Plano salon, heard from cosmetologists and barbers who wanted a professional workplace, but also wanted flexibility and convenience.
ShearShare uses an app to match salons or barbershops with empty seats to licensed professionals who need a place to work for a few days or weeks. Salons, spas and barbershops that host a visiting stylist pay ShearShare a 3 percent booking fee. Cosmetologists, barbers or other licensed professionals pay a booking fee and 8 to 12 percent of that goes to ShearShare.
They started doing the matches by hand. Since ShearShare launched an app in February, it’s been downloaded about 600 times and been used in 246 cities and 11 countries.
ShearShare won TechCo’s Startup of the Year award, which helped the startup snag a place in one Silicon Valley’s best-known accelerators: 500 Startups. Tye and Courtney Caldwell recently spoke about the inspiration behind ShearShare. Their answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What sparked the idea for ShearShare?
Tye: When I expanded my salon, I found that over the course of a year it was just really hard to get people to come in and stay. … I found I had people asking me ‘Hey, Tye. I have a cousin who’s a stylist. She needs somewhere to work for a couple of days. She lives in Corsicana or she lives in way West Texas. Is there a possibility she can work a couple of days in your space?”
Courtney: The industry doesn’t typically do that. People graduate from beauty school or barber college and they find a home and stay there for 20-plus years. We were finding there was a huge shift in the marketplace and people were not wanting to sign a long-term contract, which has been the norm. Instead, Tye was getting these calls from people who wanted to work by the day.
Why do you think there’s been such a shift in the industry? What’s caused that shift?
Tye: A lot of people want freedom. Millennials want access over ownership, and a lot of times they don’t want to be stationary. They want to be able to travel and do a destination wedding. They want to travel to different cities and different parts of town to be able to go to their clients and make it convenient for them. Instead of losing clients when they move, they can keep those clients. They can go to Plano. They can go to McKinney. They can go to DeSoto. They can go to Corsicana.
What’s it like to start a business with your spouse? What advice would you give to other spouses who start a company together?
Tye: Make sure when it’s business, it’s business. When you get home, you can talk about it, you can dabble with it here and there, but do not breathe it all of the time.
Courtney: For us, our marriage is definitely number one. It just so happens that we both run our business together. I always tell Tye there’s no one else that I would trust with my life, so it’s so easy to trust him with business decisions. We’ve heard horror stories from different co-founder teams about trust or people stepping on each others’ toes, but we fortunately don’t have that because I trust him with the biggest decisions and the smallest decisions. It makes for a really fun working environment.
Tye: When the day is over and we’re both exhausted, and we’re both mentally drained, we say, ‘We’re going to go home and watch a movie’ or ‘We are going to go out tonight and have a glass of wine.’ Then, it’s easy to talk about the other things that are going on.
How have you funded ShearShare?
Courtney: Texas bootstrapped. We saved up a lot of money beforehand. During those two and a half years when we were doing this manually, we said if we’re serious about this, we really have to take a hard look at what this would take. We did a couple of things differently that I think some people don’t consider. For example, we paid off all of our consumer debt. We paid off our mortgage. We paid off every bill that came to the house. We wanted to be able to say, ‘That money needs to go to the app.’ That took time, but it really set us up for a really good place because we were able to build this thing ourselves and then start looking at investment capital.
Tye: So, eat a lot of rice and beans. Eat a lot of rice and beans.
Courtney: I can make a very mean bean and rice burrito, if you ever want to try one.
There are different schools of thought about giving up equity to an accelerator or going your own way, if you have enough traction. Since you already had quite a few salons working with you, why did you accept an offer with an accelerator?
Courtney: For us, it was easy. These accelerator programs — the top tier, at least — they’ve done this a million times. So why wouldn’t we want to go learn from the best of the best when the opportunity is presented? We can definitely continue to work this thing on our own, but we were looking to pour gas on the fire. Being part of an accelerator, we feel like we’ve gotten just that.
The network is vast, and that’s been another key point. Being able to say you’re part of a certain accelerator or startup family is really huge and it opens up doors that would be hard to knock down if it was just the two of us.