Irish Women in Business - Niamh McHugh and Louise Dunne of Love Pucker
If you're in need of a last-minute beauty appointment and try ringing various salons only to find that EVERYWHERE is booked up, you'll appreciate the concept behind Love Pucker.
This website can organise hair, make-up or nail appointments at your home/office straight away, with zero fuss.
All of the beauty professionals have been vetted which means there's no need to worry about any major mishaps and there's a simple online method payment.
We spoke to Niamh McHugh, who runs the innovative website with her business partner Louise Dunne, to find out more for the latest in our Irish Women in Business series.
Tell us a little bit about your background and how your career began.
I studied English in college and started my first business while I was in my third year. I set up an online business, Pimp My Jumper, selling DIY Christmas Jumper Kits. It might not have been my brightest idea but it definitely gave me a taste of being an entrepreneur.
During this time I was also writing part-time for a fashion and beauty website and working as a fashion stylist and my head was all over the place. I had literally no clue what I wanted to do when I was finished college and my degree didn’t give me definite career progression.
I applied to do an internship in a beauty college once I had graduated and was kept on as a Digital Marketing Executive. It was there that I met my amazing business partner, Louise Dunne, and we came up with the idea for Pucker.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
It was always something that I had wanted to do but it all really came together when I met Louise. We both had our own problems with the beauty industry and had the same perspective on what the market needed. I was working long hours in the office and rarely had time to get my hair or nails done. On the other side of things, Louise had recently become freelance after working with MAC Cosmetics for 11 years.
She had trouble connecting with new customers and growing her freelance make-up business. We had a lightbulb moment and realised our problems were common amongst other women after doing research. I was made redundant from my job and it really gave me the push I needed to pursue the idea full time and give it a proper go.
What challenges did you meet when starting out?
Starting out we initially set up a directory for professionals which had a long list of services. It didn’t take us long to realise that it wasn’t what people wanted. We failed fast and changed direction. We asked women what 3 beauty services they couldn’t live without and the majority said hair, make-up and nails.
It is easier to be amazing at three services than a long list so we refined our offering and focused more on what consumers and beauty professionals really needed to make their lives easier rather than what we thought they needed. That’s how Pucker was born.
Talk to us about Love Pucker and how it has been received in Ireland.
We launched in November with a really basic website. We were conscious of investing a lot of money into something that might not work so really wanted to test the market. We got bookings from day one thanks to social media which was amazing and it allowed us to improve our website and also grow quicker than we expected. With no marketing budget, word of mouth has been really powerful.
We are totally aware that trust is such a massive thing when it comes to beauty services and the reality is if someone has one bad experience they won’t book again. We now have daily bookings and returning customers. We ensure that all of the professionals on our platform have a minimum of three years of experience and are the best in the industry. The beauty industry in our capital city is massive so Dublin has definitely been the best place to start the business.
We want to offer customers an incredible experience and become something which is so much more than just ‘Hailo for beauty’. We want to completely revolutionise the beauty industry and we are building a platform that includes e-commerce and social as well as a mobile beauty booking system. The fact that we have industry experience definitely makes us stand out from our competitors.
What's on the horizon for the remainder of 2015?
We will be launching the first version of our App in September which we are working on at the moment. The app will really improve our booking system and we are working hard at the moment on getting the customer journey perfect as well as sitting down with the professionals to build something that will totally improve their business.
Once the product is built we will be launching in a number of other cities in the UK and Ireland so we are really excited for the next five to six months.
What advice would you give to others hoping to start their own business?
Make sure that you are solving a genuine problem that people have. Research your idea. Try and test it and survey as many people as you can. Social Media is amazing for testing a market and asking opinions. Once you know you’re on to a winner I would definitely encourage others to take the leap.
Neither of us came from a business background so we have put a lot of focus on educating ourselves over the last 6 months by taking part in different programmes for start-ups. We went through the Google Startup Next Program and just completed the Ryan Academy Female High Fliers Program, both of which I would highly recommend for those just starting out.
What do you love most about your job?
I love that I love what I am doing. Not many people can say that they wake up in the morning excited to go to work or that it doesn’t actually feel like work most of the time! I also love that I can share everything with Louise. We have had lots of ups and downs since we started but the fact that we are in it together makes the downs a lot more bearable and the ups a lot more exciting!
The highlight of my career has definitely been seeing everything taking shape. We started off with a landing page and an email address in November 2014 that people could email for appointments.
There was definitely a moment where we were looking at the analytics and pinching ourselves because the numbers were proving to us that this was something that people really wanted. Getting our first customers and then having customers returning is a great feeling.