Drybar Founder Alli Webb Offers Advice to Female Entrepreneurs
'We did have some naysayers at the beginning'
Drybar founder Alli Webb was never quite happy with her curly hair, but she turned her desire to straighten her locks into a lucrative business.
After stints as a salon stylist and stay-at-home mom, Webb, along with her brother and husband, opened up the first Drybar location in Brentwood, Calif., in 2010. Unlike other hair salons, Drybar didn’t offer cuts or color — just blowouts. Customers could choose off a menu of hair styles, cheekily named after cocktails, and indulge in champagne while getting their hair done. The whole experience initially cost just $35.
Seven years later, the brand now has over 70 locations across the country (and one in Vancouver), a line of hair products, a book and a loyal following. The DNA of the original store remains in tact — down to the bright yellow decor — though the blowouts now start at $40 or $45, depending on the city. According to Forbes, the company brought in $70 million in revenue in 2015 and was on track to make $100 million in 2016. (A company spokesperson told Motto that it doesn’t comment on financial information.)
Webb spoke with Motto about how she built her business, her advice for female entrepreneurs and how hair can be empowering.
How did you decide to get into the business of blowouts?
As a hairstylist, giving the customer a blowout at the end of the haircut was always my favorite part. I loved figuring out how to manipulate and change hair from one state to another. After getting married to my husband, we moved to L.A. and I became a stay-at-home mom to my two kids. But after five years of staying home, I got the itch to do something else. Because I had spent years and years learning how to do hair, I decided to start a mobile blowout business. I was basically blow drying all of my mommy friends in L.A., going to their houses with my little duffle bag and doing their hair, only charging $40. While operating that business, I realized there really was this hole in the market. When I wasn’t giving my friends blowouts, they were either going to discount chains or to their cut-and-color salons, where just getting a blowout was expensive. There was no place like Drybar.
What do you think is the secret of Drybar’s success?
Our grandmothers would go and get their hair coiffed once a week, but that mentality had gone away and blowouts became very cost-prohibitive. And I get it — stylists would rather spend their time doing a $200 cut and color than a blowout. With Drybar, we brought that behavior back. When we started, so few women knew what a blowout was, or the ones who did know thought it was an indulgence or a luxury only celebrities could afford. But we allowed women to get blowouts regularly at an accessible rate. It does really just give women this extra bit of confidence.
How do you train stylists to make sure that they can work on every type of hair?
I oversee the training of our stylists — and we have about 3,000. I’ve learned so much about hair — what works, what doesn’t work — so our training is very robust. They go through a boot camp before they get on the floor and work on lots of different models with different hair types and textures.
What other big challenges did you face while you were expanding the business?
We did have some naysayers at the beginning. When we were first starting, it was in the middle of the Recession. Everyone was cutting back and saying this blowout thing seemed very frivolous. For our very first lease in Brentwood, my brother and I had to personally guarantee, because nobody was taking a chance at that point. Now, it’s definitely challenging to let go of the control as you’re trying to expand, because you can’t do it all yourself. You have to let the great people that you’ve hired to do their jobs.
What’s the best advice you’ve received along the way?
To have confidence in myself and to be decisive. When I was younger, I struggled with believing in myself and my opinions and trusting my gut. When you’re trying to start a business, you really have to follow your passion. It’s very easy to get swayed by someone else’s ideas. But it’s also a tough balance: On the other hand, it’s very important to be very open to feedback and take constructive criticism to get better.
What’s your advice for other female entrepreneurs?
There’s a lot of opportunity out there. We as women know better than anyone about what those opportunities are. Drybar didn’t invent blowouts, we just created a much better space for them. It’s about following your passion and trying to find that white space out in the market. But don’t be afraid of hard work — it’s a lot of hard work, commitment, time and energy. You sacrifice a lot, but it can be all worth it in the end.
What are your best tips on how women can dry their hair on their own?
There’s not one big secret that makes it super easy. Most women rush through their blowouts at home. But if you set aside half an hour, your hair will look better, and you won’t have to do it the next day. It’s an upfront investment.
This interview has been edited and condensed.