Watch out for Wahanda! The £40m London business conquering Europe’s beauty market

We speak to founder and CEO Lopo Champalimaud

VITAL STATISTICS

Company: Wahanda (www.wahanda.com

·         What it does, in a sentence:  Europe’s largest online booking platform for hair and beauty appointments

·         Founded: 2008, London

·         Founder/s: Lopo Champalimaud

·         Size of team: 410 employees across Europe, with headquarters in London

THE NEED-TO-KNOW

Q. What problem are you trying to solve?

Wahanda is helping drive a large and heavily fragmented industry, who manage and run their businesses primarily with pen and paper, online. Only 12% of hair and beauty venues use salon management software, at a time when over 45% of consumers are demanding to book hair and beauty online and this figure is growing exponentially. With the rise in smartphone usage completely transforming the way we organise our lives, the hair and beauty industry needs to change, and we’re playing our part in helping them to do that.

Q. How big is the market – and how much of it do you think you can own?

The UK health and beauty industry is worth £10bn alone. We have already launched our platform in Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland and we are fully focussed on pan-European expansion.

How do you make money?

We take a 20% commission off bookings that we drive directly from Wahanda to the salon. We also take a 50p booking fee for any bookings that go through our booking widget via a venue’s own Facebook page or website.

Q. Who’s on your team that makes you think you can do this?

I’m a great believer in hiring people who know more than you do. When it comes to running a business, everyone has their strengths, whether that’s organizational, financial, marketing, selling or creative development. Few people would claim to be experts in all disciplines. Once you’ve hired the right talent - making sure they not only have the right skills but also the right cultural fit - then it’s important for you as the business owner to let go and let them get on with what they’re good at. Finding talent is hard. We’ve been very lucky to have attracted a fantastic team throughout, including Klaus Nyengaard, the former CEO of online food and delivery site Just Eat, who is now our co-Chairman, along with the former MD of TopTable Chris Wood, who is our Chief Commercial Officer. Both come with a wealth of relevant experience that is helping Wahanda carve its own success story.

Q. Who’s bankrolling you?

Recruit Holdings.

Q. What advice would you give other entrepreneurs trying to secure that kind of finance?

We are relatively spoilt here in the UK. There are lots of different sources of potential investments available – from government grants, bank loans, VC firms, through to calling on your friends and family to help finance your business. Be careful however which route you opt to go down. Make sure you find an investor you can trust to be in it for the long haul, who is not going to pull out when times get rough or in it for nothing more than a ‘quick win’. Fickle money is the most dangerous thing in my mind for entrepreneurs. You want to find an investor who understands and believes in what you are building over the long term.

Q. What do you believe the key to growing this business is?

As shown by our recent acquisition of app development consultancy Lemon Labs, we are investing heavily in mobile. We believe that within a year 80% of all our appointments will be booked through a smartphone. 

Q. What metrics do you look at every day?

  • The number of new suppliers
  • The number of new & repeat customers
  • Customer satisfaction

Q. What’s been the most unexpectedly valuable lesson you’ve learnt so far?

We were the first company to really tackle this market and it took us a few different attempts before we cracked the right business model.  We started with a listing/classified business and then launched a very popular daily beauty deals site in 2010 but we realised that our customers wanted to book regular hair and beauty maintenance and not just impulse buy. You can’t run a company on impulse purchases. So in early 2012, we wound down the daily deal side of the company to focus on spa and salon bookings. We’ve never looked back.

Q. What’s been your biggest mistake so far?

In 2010, we launched a daily deals site in the States. We hadn’t thought the product through thoroughly enough and didn’t have sufficient funding. It didn’t take long to realise it wasn’t working and after 6 months, we decided to pull out.

Q. What do you think is on the horizon for your industry in the year ahead?

The broader picture is continuing to build our presence across Europe.

With the continued growth of mobile and apps, another area we will be concentrating on is mobile. All of our data points towards people booking their hair and beauty appointments out of salon opening hours and more and more last minute. Over 20% of our bookings are booked within 3 hours of the appointment and with real time availability growing rapidly we are going to see this figure increasing exponentially.  

Salon owners too are increasingly demanding to be able to run their salons from their mobile - it not only gives them greater flexibility and control over their business, but ensures they can provide a greater level of service to their customers. To this end we just released a dedicated app for our salon management software, Connect. It means salon owners, managers and staff can update their diaries ‘on the hop’. With offline capability they can check their schedules and block out times without an internet connection. All of this ensures downtime is kept to a minimum and their businesses are run as efficiently as possible.

Q. Which London startup/s are you watching, and why?

I love the UK start-up scene - I think we have a great group of entrepreneurs building some great companies but I am particularly a fan of marketplace businesses.  As a fellow Portuguese, I am proud of what Jose Neves is doing at Farfetch and I have made some seed investments in a number of exciting businesses including ClickMechanic which is disrupting the car repair market.    

 

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