After years of struggling and finally learning to manage her unruly curls, Alli Webb founded Drybar, and man are we thankful! From starting a business that consisted of doing her friends hair at their homes (we want a friend like that!) to building $70 million business, Alli’s #LADYBOSS interview is a must-read, and so is her new book, Drybar: The Guide to Good Hair for All! The book is what Alli calls, “the ultimate handbook,” bursting at the seams with all her tips and tricks as a stylist and life-long curly hair tamer, includes three in-depth sections featuring over 100 style-inspiration photographs and step-by–step tutorials, and is bright, happy, and fun — just like us girls after a bomb blowout!
1. We are so excited to read your book! Congratulations! How did it come to be?
Woman have always asked me how to make their hair look good when they blow it out themselves. When I ask them questions like, “are you sectioning at all” or “are you using the right brush size or products for your particular hair type,” I usually get a blank stare back. The truth is, most women struggle with doing their own hair (or parts of it). Which is one of the reasons I believe Drybar has resonated with so many women. I’d love for everyone to go to Drybar 2-3 times a week and let us tame their locks, but that’s not always realistic. So when I was approached about writing this book, it felt like the perfect way to share the thousands of tips, tricks, and hair secrets that I have accumulated over the course of my career, as a stylist, and a naturally curly haired girl.
2. Tell us your startup story. Did you raise money? How did you get off the ground? Did you have a hard time convincing the men in your life that women would spend money on blowouts?
I have always struggled with my naturally frizzy and curly hair and I have been on the hunt for bouncy straight locks pretty much my whole life. After exploring several career paths, becoming a professional hair stylist, and then a stay at home mom, I decided to start a mobile blow dry business, Straight at Home, where I would go to all my mommy friends’ homes and blowout their hair while their babies were napping. That little side business quickly took off and it dawned on me that I was not alone in my journey for gorgeous hair. Not only was I not alone, but there was actually a big hole in the market for a place to get a great blowout in a fun, beautiful environment at an affordable price. I realized I needed to do this. So I went to my big brother and business partner, Michael Landau, to help make Drybar a reality. He put the money down to open our first Drybar location, but that definitely took some convincing! Michael (who’s bald!) worried that people wouldn’t really understand our concept of a blowouts-only salon, but he took a chance on me. My other business partner, Cameron (also bald) got it right away — he knew all too well the difference between my naturally crazy curls and the magic of a great blowout, and how happy it made me!
3. What is your philosophy as a businesswoman and as a boss?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your opinions and thoughts. I think it took me some time to grow into my role and find the confidence to say what I was thinking. However, I spent a lot of years listening and learning, which is really important as well.
4. You had a career in PR before becoming a full-time hair stylist and starting a salon at your home. What lead you to the realization that women needed a haven where they could go for just a blow dry?
When operating my mobile blow dry business, I was seeing such high demand that I could barely keep up. I asked my clients why they didn’t go to salons for their blowouts, and their answers were all the same. Their only options were to either pay way too much money for a blowout at an overpriced salon or go to an inexpensive salon and end up with a subpar blowout. So I began thinking about opening my own shop where women could get a blowout in a fun, beautiful environment, at an affordable price. That’s where the idea of Drybar was born.
5. What do you think has made Drybar so successful even as new competitors enter the market every day? What’s your recipe for success?
I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. We put a great deal of emphasis on extraordinary customer service, training, and growing our people. We also take our 10 Core Values very seriously; one of them, “We Are Family” is another differentiator for us. When you work at Drybar, you’re part of our family and it’s nice to work somewhere that you feel taken care of.
6. We love how you really stuck to the bar concept within Drybar—the locations have bartenders and the hairstyles are named after cocktails. Where did this concept come from?
When we were first developing the idea, we went to our incredibly talented designer/architect Josh Heitler and we described, at length, our vision, which was based on so many years working at various salons and, more recently, what I witnessed visiting clients at home. First and foremost, for reasons that could (and may some day!) fill an entire book, I didn’t want Drybar to look anything like a traditional salon. I also didn’t want women to be staring at themselves in a mirror while getting a blowout. We wanted our clients and stylists to be able to easily interact, like you would, with your friends, at your favorite bar. I proposed the idea of it looking like an actual bar and Josh and his team took all of this in and came back to us with a bunch of different prototypes and concepts, and we all immediately gravitated to the “bar” concept and ran with it!
7. Before you started Drybar, you were a stay at home mom who started taking salon clients at home “to get out of the house.” How did that transition into a $70M business?
I was actually going to their homes :). The transition to a big business was honestly, at first, way more out of necessity than opportunity. We had this crazy busy one location in Brentwood. I remember calling Michael after about three months and saying, “can you please go find us more locations asap!” He did, and we quickly opened in Studio City, West Hollywood, and The Palisades. Fortunately, we saw the same demand and success in each new location. Michael initially thought it was “an L.A. thing,” but once we opened in Dallas, TX and Scottsdale, AZ and saw the same results, we knew we were on to something big and began to get serious about hiring a team and raising real money.
8. What 3 things would you tell a mama with a dream who wants to build her own business?
Find the right partners, especially those who are good at what you’re not. In my case, it was my brother who had the business acumen and experience I lacked at the time. And for him, I brought the skills and knowledge about hair and how to operate a salon. Also, have a great support system at home so you have the time and mental energy to devote to your business.
9. What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in growing and scaling Drybar and how have you worked through that?
The toughest part of growing into a big company is learning to let go of things and allowing the really smart people we have hired, take the reins a bit. You just can’t be involved in and/or make every single decision. It’s still a constant struggle for me, but it’s all about ongoing communication with my team.
10. Any thoughts to expand your services?
Nope! We feel really passionate about focusing on one thing, and being the best at it! It takes a ton of time, energy, money and effort to properly execute.
11. Blowouts used to be just for special occasions. Taking time and doing something to make ourselves look and feel good can be a game changer for a mom in her self-confidence. That little bit of self-confidence could be the thing that seals the deal for her and helps her take things to the next level. Do you feel like beauty can be a powerful tool on our search for success? How do you think Drybar has changed up the game for busy women?
Our philosophy at Drybar has always been that it’s not just blowouts we’re selling, it’s confidence and happiness. I have always felt more confident and powerful when my hair looks great! I want women everywhere to be able to have that feeling every day, not just on special occasions. I know for sure that Drybar has been changing, and continues to change that behavior. We see it over and over (and over) again in every new city we come to. At first, ladies predominately come in for a special occasion or event; but then they quickly realize that coming to Drybar is fun, relaxing, affordable, and they look and feel great after, and think, “why shouldn’t I do this on a random Tuesday?!”
12. Can you tell us about your 10 core values?
As we expanded from just a handful of us to several hundred team members (can’t believe we’re over 3,000 now!) we wanted to establish a set of values to help keep us focused on the things that are really important to us, as well as to help us bring in new folks that would gel with our culture. We spent soooo much time discussing and debating internally to come up with just 10 ideals, which we now call the Drybar Heart & Soul. We still spend a lot of time talking about them and making sure we live by them. In fact, my sister-in-law, Sarah, who is our Director of Team Member Experience, recently launched an awesome program whereby people can callout a fellow team member who’s living our values by sending them a Heart & Soul card. The recipients are so touched when they receive one and if you visit any one of our shop’s back rooms you would see tons of them posted on the wall; it makes me very, very happy and proud.
13. What does it take to be a stylist at Drybar? What are you looking for?
Above all we are looking for really happy and friendly people. Of course, you have to be a licensed cosmetologist. But we know we can teach somebody how to do an excellent blowout– we’ve got that down pat! What can’t be taught, however, is how to be a nice and thoughtful human, and that’s what’s most important to us. As we say in our values, life is too short to be someplace lame.